Sunday, August 25, 2013

How to Welcome New Faculty with Children: Three Tips

There has been a lot of talk going around the Internet lately about how difficult it is to be a parent – particularly a mother – and an academic. A recent article even called having a baby a “career killer” for women.

As many of you know, I have three school-aged children and I don’t think it is that difficult to be an academic and a mother.

On a research trip with my 3 kids

Nevertheless, in the spirit of offering practical advice instead of entering into a debate about whether or not it is possible to be a good professor and a good parent, I would like to offer some suggestions for how faculty members can make life easier and more pleasant for new parents who join their departments.

Hiring new faculty is one of the most important investments that a university and a department make. Thus, when you learn that a new faculty member has a child or children, it is in your interest to make sure that the transition is as smooth as possible and to cultivate a family-friendly environment for the new faculty.

Tip #1: Introduce them to other parents

Find out how old the faculty member’s children are and introduce them to other people with children in the same age range. There may not be anyone in your department that also has a two-year-old, but you can ask around and find out if someone in another department also has preschoolers. It is important for parents to meet people who have children the same age as their children so that they can share information about schools, activities, and events. If they get along, they may also organize playdates or become good friends.

To introduce the new faculty to others with children of the same age, you could just put them in email contact. It is important to do this before they move into town, such that they can share information about childcare and schools before they move. Once the new faculty member is in town, you could invite them all to lunch or coffee. Or, if you are going to organize a welcoming event for the new faculty, be sure to invite faculty from other departments who also have children. It is very helpful for new faculty to make connections with other faculty members who are also parents.

As I write this, I realize that this advice may be particular to people who live in college towns. However, even when I was in Chicago, it was helpful for me to meet other faculty who had children. We may not have had many playdates because we lived far apart, but we did share experiences and it was important for me to be connected to other parents.

Tip #2: Keep their schedules in mind when planning events or meetings

People who have children often have them in some sort of care arrangement that ends around 5pm or 6pm and is exclusive to weekdays. Keep this in mind and avoid scheduling meetings after this time or on the weekends.

If your department has an annual retreat on the first Saturday of the semester, consider moving it to a weekday. If that is not possible, make sure you talk to the new faculty member to help them figure out care options. Keep in mind that if they just moved to town, they likely do not know anyone they feel comfortable leaving their child with for an entire day. If they are a single parent or have a spouse who is traveling or working on that day, they may simply be unable to attend a Saturday event.

If your department has a tradition of evening or weekend events, think of ways to make those events family-friendly. Faculty members can seek out baby-sitters on occasion to evening attend events, but, we’d often prefer not to. Usually, we have children because we actually want to spend time with them. Therefore, if there are ways to make events family-friendly, think of ways to do so.

Some of your events may already be family-friendly, for example, if you have a yearly welcoming picnic, let new faculty members know they are welcome to bring their children.

If you have an annual faculty dinner, think of ways to make it family-friendly. One way to do this is to have the event at a faculty member’s home and hire a babysitter who keeps the small children in a separate room. Alternatively, have the event earlier in the day and have it in someone’s backyard where children can run freely. Be sure to note that children are welcome on the invitation.

Tip #3: Never Insinuate That Being a Parent Makes Professors Less Valuable or Productive

Having children does not automatically make a person a less valuable or productive professor. There may be a “motherhood penalty” but that is due to unfavorable policies and practices, not to the simple fact of having children.

Working mom

If your department is not family-friendly, then, yes, having children will make your colleagues less productive. But, that is because your department or university has failed to provide a structure that facilitates their success, not because they chose to have children.

It is true that parents of small children have to attend to their children. They need to pick up their kids from daycare at 6pm and they need and want to spend time with them on the weekends. However, if their children are in full-time care, which generally runs from 7am to 6pm, Monday to Friday, they have plenty of time to be productive during that time period. Some of us even do extra reading or other work in the evenings once the children go to bed. We may even respond to emails while holding a baby. It is certainly possible to be a parent and a productive academic, so never assume that it is not.

I have already written extensively about how academics can be productive by working forty hours a week. As parents, many of us have no choice but to figure out how to do this – to be productive within the time that we have.

So, remember to think of your new colleagues with children as a wonderful asset to your department. And, make them feel welcome. That way, the tremendous investment the university has put in them through their hire will be sure to pay off.

Professors who are parents: What are your ideas for things departments can do (or should not do) when welcoming new faculty who are parents?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Start the Semester off Right: Make a Weekly Template

How are you feeling about starting the semester?


One strategy I find useful to allay anxieties about the semester is to take some time and plan out how my workweek will look. Doing this allows me to feel as if I am in control of my semester and makes it clear that it is possible to have a cool and calm semester. (I explain the importance of taking control here.)

The end of summer usually involves a shift in the daily and weekly workflow for academics. During the summer, most of us have fewer commitments and many of us do not teach. Personally, I have always made a point to avoid the lure of extra income and not teach during the summer. As for administrative responsibilities, these accrue as one advances in one’s career. However, I try to keep those to a minimum during the summer months. Because of my research interests, I also usually spend nearly all of my summer outside the United States.

This past summer, I traveled to Guatemala and Mexico - which also explains why I have not been posting to this blog all summer.

This August, once again, I find myself looking towards the fall semester and thinking about how I am going to organize my time. My children start school on Monday, and I teach my first class on September 4. This gives me some time to get used to the rhythm before the semester starts in full force. During this time, I plan to try out a new schedule and see how it works for me.

The idea is that I will create a weekly schedule that has my fixed appointments for the semester and also carves out time for things I need to do but could do at any time: prepare class, read, write, exercise, eat, and respond to emails.

Kerry Ann Rockqeumore calls this schedule your “skeleton.” She suggests making one each week. Mine does not look like a skeleton at all, so I prefer to refer to it as a template. I find it useful to make a template at the beginning of the semester and setting up repeating appointments in your calendar so that your template is ready each week when you decide on your specific goals.

How to make a weekly template

When making my weekly template for the semester, the first thing I think about is teaching, as teaching has a fixed schedule and I need to set aside time to teach and to prepare for class. I am fortunate to only be teaching one class this semester. Thus, I block out the time I will teach as well as a few hours to read and prepare for class. I am teaching a graduate seminar and we will be reading a book each week. Thus, I need to set aside time to ensure I finish reading the book. I will have time to read for this class in the evenings, after the kids go to bed, but, from experience, I know I also have to set aside time during the day to read and think about the books before class.

The next thing up is office hours. I have set those on Thursday afternoons.

Up next is writing. I know I write best in the mornings. My children will leave the house by 8:30am each morning. And, my goal is to write for two hours each morning. From experience, I know I need to set aside two and a half hours in order to get in two hours of writing, so I will set aside 8:30am to 11:00am each morning. Once I do that, I remember that I need to be more efficient on Wednesdays when I teach, so I cut Wednesdays back to 10:30 and give myself some extra time to prepare class.

I need to go up to campus on Wednesdays to teach and on Thursdays for office hours. I usually bike to campus, and it takes me about 45 minutes. So, I set aside an hour to get to campus on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Biking to and from campus also counts as exercise for those two days. Once I do that, I remember that I often don’t finish all of my administrative tasks during office hours on Thursdays. So, I decide I should go to campus on Fridays as well and take care of business. I can use Friday afternoons to write reports, submit receipts, review materials, and clean out my email inbox.

We all know how time-consuming email can be. So, I set aside another hour before lunch each day to take care of email. If I focus on email and avoid being sucked into the Internet vortex, this should be enough time.

Then, I remember I also need to set aside some time to read. As I mentioned earlier, I do find time to read in the evenings. However, I also need time during the day to download articles, order books, and select what I will read. So, I decide to set aside Monday afternoons to select readings and to read for the week.

I also need to get in my daily exercise. I will get in enough exercise from Wednesdays to Fridays by biking ten miles back and forth to work. So, on Mondays and Tuesdays, I set aside an hour for exercise each day.

I color-coded my schedule so that I can see at a glance how much time I am dedicating to writing (red), admin (green), teaching (orange), and self-care (purple).

The Weekly Template is a Model, not a Mandate

As I make this schedule, I know from experience that probably no week will go exactly like this. However, it helps me to have a structure. It also is a reminder that I am very busy and have lots of things to do, even though I am only teaching one course.

Inevitably, someone will ask to have a meeting with me during one of the times I have set aside for something else. That will be fine, though. Having this visualization of my ideal week will allow me to see what I need to move around in order to make time for a meeting.

If I need to have a one-on-one meeting, my first suggestion will be that the person come to my office hours. If that does not work, I have also set aside time on Thursday and Friday afternoons to meet. If neither of those times work, I will move things around. For example, if I need to meet on Tuesday afternoon, I will have to spend some time on Monday preparing for class. Or, if we meet on Friday at 11, I will have to get an early start on my writing and pack my lunch to take to the office. If the meeting is casual, I can suggest we meet for lunch any day of the week.

If I am asked to join a group meeting, I will suggest that the meeting happen on Thursday or Friday afternoon. My next preferred time will be a different afternoon. As usual, I will do my best not to schedule meetings during my writing time, as I know from experience that mornings are my most productive times for writing.

Student Biking

What about you? What will your ideal week look like? Do you find making this kind of schedule helpful?