Tag Archive for rejection

What I Really Do in the Summer

College students and professors all over the country are beginning their summer breaks. Courses are complete. Finals are taken. Seniors have graduated and moved away (hopefully finding jobs). Current students are enjoying the break from the daily grind of reading, writing, and studying for courses, while professors are appreciating not having to go into the office every day, taking a break from planning for classes and grading, and having more time allotted to non-teaching aspects of our jobs.

Graduation was a little over a week ago and since then, I have heard the following comments from friends, family, and acquaintances:

“You’re so lucky to have the entire summer off!”
“Aren’t you glad to be out for three whole months?”
“I wish I had as much time off as you.”

“Are you enjoying your break from work?”
“It must be nice to only work 32 weeks out of a year.”

These comments—while well-intentioned and most likely just meant to start a conversation about my summer plans—point to some faulty assumptions about academic life, especially life on the tenure-track.

Such a perspective isn’t surprising. Most of these well-meaning people have jobs with clear-cut work hours (8-5, Monday-Friday), vacation time (2 weeks), and sick time (a certain number of hours).* Others are K-12 teachers who actually do have a true break during the summer, so, they assume, I must have a break, too. My mom, for instance, was a 3rd and 1st grade teacher most of my life (she retired last year), and except for a week or two of professional development in which she was required to participate, she was “off”. She was not required or expected to do any work during her summer vacation. Of course, it wasn’t a true “vacation” for her; she was home with four kids during the summer. But she didn’t have to “work”.

*This doesn’t always apply to many people I know who own their own business and do not get any time off (perhaps they don’t have any employees or only have one or two people or just can’t afford to take off). If they take time off, they don’t make any money or their business might suffer from being closed for so long.

When professors are “off” (i.e., not teaching), however, they are *not* on vacation. Instead, we are busy doing the stuff we are unable to do during the academic school year. For today’s post, I’m going to debunk this assumption that professors are “off” all summer by explaining what I will be doing over the summer in terms of my work. My summer plans are specifically situated in my own context as a a tenure-track academic preparing to go up for tenure in the fall. Summer plans and activities may not be the same for other academics, professors, or instructors, especially ones whose primary responsibility is teaching (although they probably feel pressure to write and publish as well during the break).

1. Read. A lot. I have developed a list of about 30 (academic) books I would like to read over the summer, which equals out to about 2-3 books a week. I’ve already read three books since school ended, but I have a large stack waiting for me. Some of the books are for my research; others are for my teaching. Either way, I have a lot to read. It’s important to note that this reading does not include all the fiction and non-fiction I want to read.

2. Write. A lot. If I were ranking this list, writing would be at number 1. It is expected that academics write over the summer, even when we are not paid for our summer work through a sabbatical or grant. I hope to send out at least one article over the summer.

3. Revise an article that has been rejected. Last week, I received (bad) news that an article I wrote was rejected to the journal to which I submitted it. Rejection is no fun. It can be extremely discouraging and disheartening to receive such news. You can only send an article to one journal at a time and they hold on to it between 4-6 months (at best) before notifying you of the decision. When you receive negative news, it can depress me for days. But it’s the reality of academic life. There’s even a journal called The Journal of Universal Rejection that rejects every single article they receive. I don’t plan on submitting there, but I find the premise delightfully ironic.

4. Plan the courses I will be teaching in the Fall (and even the Spring). This activity involves several components:

a. Compose a syllabus. Decide on course objectives, assignments, grading criteria, rules and guidelines for the course. This needs to be done at least one week in advance of the semester and takes a lot of planning.

b. Draft a course schedule. Creating a course schedule for the entire semester before you ever teach a course is probably the hardest part of planning for a course. I begin work on this early and make changes all the way up to the start of class.

5. Plan for next year’s research project. I received a Baylor University Research Committee (URC) grant for a project I’m working on that examines how students write about the writing they will complete in their jobs. I will have a Research Assistant and I need to make plans for the academic year.

6. Compose a Research Leave application. I plan on applying for a Research Leave for Fall 2013 or Spring 2014. This application is detailed and time-consuming, and I plan to do much of it over the summer.

7. Compose an application for a Summer Sabbatical. I would like to have summer funding next summer, so I will also apply for a Summer Sabbatical through my university.

8. Update my technological skills. I teach writing and design courses, and my students and I use technology every day. I am quite adept at Word, Excel, Publisher, and WordPress, but I need to enhance my skills in the Adobe suite, particularly InDesign and Photoshop. I plan on learning these better over the summer.

9. Get organized. Shred paperwork. Clean out my office. Organize and delete computer files. Go through my email Inbox and delete, delete, delete.

10. Attend professional development seminars or workshops. In June, I will be attending a one-week seminar in Rhetoric and Composition at Michigan State University.

11. Begin thinking about and planning for the graduate course I will teach next Spring. Book orders will be due in October, and I need to know early what I will be doing in the course, tentatively titled “Teaching Digital Rhetoric.” I will do a lot of research for the course in terms of texts, assignments, and requirements. And, since there isn’t much time in December to plan for Spring course, I need to do most planning over the summer and during the Fall semester.

12. Put together my tenure notebook. More on this in the future.

As you can see, my summer is filled with things I must get done before school resumes in August. Yes, I appreciate that I have a break from teaching and commuting to the office every day, but it’s not a true break that the word “vacation” entails. I will take a vacation–two actually. One with my husband for my 10th anniversary and another with my family to the beach. But, the pressure to read, write, publish, and get caught up is ever present in my summer life, even when I’m playing with my children, watching a movie, or hiking in the park. That’s just the way it is.

Inventing a Winning Machine

Earlier this week, I was looking through my 1st grade daughter’s backpack and found a piece of paper from school with Elizabeth’s writing. Elizabeth wrote the following:

“My invention is the mushen that can make you win evry game. I invented the mushen that can make you win evry game.”

Children Racing Black and White

Image courtesy State Library by New South Wales. Flickr's Creative Commons License.

Two sentences. Two sentences that reveal a lot about my daughter. Elizabeth likes to win. She doesn’t like to lose. When given the opportunity to imagine a machine to invent that would make life better, easier, she chose a technology that would make winning at everything possible. (Of course, there are problems with such a tool, because someone has to lose, right?)

(Funny note: One of my friends told me that her invention already exists; it’s called “The Bribe.” Ha!)

Elizabeth comes by this desire honestly (just like she does her stubbornness, independence, and strong-willedness). She gets it from me. I like to win. But if I could invent such a machine, I would want the opposite of her; I would want something that would never allow me to lose. Because, yes, I like to win, but even more than that, I don’t like to lose.

When Shane and I first moved to Louisville, Kentucky (we had probably been married 4 months), my dad was making a speech in Indianapolis and we drove up to see him. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive to the city. We picked him up at the airport and walked around downtown for a while, visiting the statues, parks, and other outdoor sights. Indianapolis has such a lovely feel. We ate dinner and then were heading back to the car (after several hours of walking around).

On the way back to the car, Shane was arguing with me about the route we were taking back to the car. He said the car was the other way; I said it was not, that we were headed in the right direction. This was ten years ago, well before GPS and Smart Phones. Shane kept insisting that we were going the complete wrong way. He decided to ask my dad what he thought.

My dad told him that he thought we were headed in the wrong direction (my way) and that he thought Shane was right and that we had come from the other direction.

Then my dad paused and said, “But I’m going to just keep following her. I learned a long time ago that you don’t argue with Kara. Even when I disagree with her about stuff like this, I have learned to go with it. Why? Because Kara is never wrong. Really, she is always right. But, if she IS wrong, then we can give her a hard time.”

We all burst out into laughter. It was a lesson from the father-in-law to the son-in-law. My daughter/your wife is right.

At this point, I started second-guessing myself. I kept walking the way I thought was the way to the car, and, voila, I WAS RIGHT. We found the car, and, whew, I wasn’t wrong.

I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t like to lose. It comes from liking to play games, just like Elizabeth does. Card games. Board games. Sports games. I’m competitive. I don’t like to lose.

When I win, I don’t gloat. I don’t celebrate. I don’t “rejoice” (this is the term I use for athletes when they start gallivanting down the court after making a basket or a touchdown, especially when they’re on the OTHER team, and I don’t want to see such celebration!). Instead, I act like I’ve been there before.

Because I have. I have won lots of things. Small things. Big things. Things that matter. Things that don’t. Things that had major consequences for me in terms of scholarships, prestige, fame, and recognition.

[L]losing draws on my insecurities of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Losing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

[One sidenote: It is interesting when I play games with other people, which I love to do, they ALWAYS strive to beat me. They gang up on me so that I will lose. They target me (in Hearts, Double-9 dominoes, Monopoly, etc.) so that I will lose first. Then, they make big shows of it when they win. They rub it in. They jump up and down. They celebrate. They “rejoice.” I guess that’s what I get for being competitive and winning a lot. I can take it. It’s just a game, right?]

But winning isn’t what motivates me; what motivates me is NOT losing. I’m sure there’s a lot of complexities going on in this statement, but let me just say that losing draws on my insecurities of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Losing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

When an article I’ve written gets rejected.

When I don’t get a grant or sabbatical for which I’ve applied.

When I don’t get a position for which I’ve applied.

When I receive a set of negative teacher evaluations.

When someone says something negative about me.

When I compare myself to other moms. 

When my children misbehave and disobey me.

When I fail as a Christian.

My identity is wrapped up in NOT losing. And when I do lose, it hurts. So, if Elizabeth could invent that machine, I would buy it. But I don’t think it would be enough to confront the underlying insecurities of losing.