Kirsten Ellis on shifting goalposts, motivation, flying & being a working mum with a disabled child

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Kirsten Ellis is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Information Technology at Monash University in Melbourne. She discusses how she deals with changing goalposts around performance outputs, being passionate about her research, having success at getting grants but trouble getting published. She discusses the impact that repeated rounds of redundancy have on morale and culture, and on being open and authentic at work. Authenticity comes through as theme throughout. And she talks about how she manages being a mother of three teenage girls, including one with a disability, as well as having a mother who is sick. Her non-negotiable going flying time every week is a key part of how she cares for herself so she can care for others.

Notes: For context, she also mentions a session with me around values. This was done as part of a Career Development Workshop that I ran at Monash at the beginning of the year, where I first met Kirsten. The audio quality is a little problematic in places but still understandable hopefully.

“Tell me to do amazing research and I will. I’m passionate. Having a matrix that says you have to submit blah papers per year is not going to motivate me.”

“If I look after myself first, I’m a much nicer person and can look after everyone else and bear a much greater burden the rest of the week.”

“Authenticity, this is part of me… my work is not completely separate to everything at home. I am a whole person.”

“Know your strengths, know your weaknesses…leave the ones that don’t matter to you, and work on the ones that are going to make a strategic difference.”.

She talks about (times approximate) …

1:30 Kirsten introduces her background in multimedia, starting PhD, and permanently employed 3 months into PhD as a lecturer, the advantages and disadvantages (missing mentoring, everyone very junior). Has been at Monash Uni since ’95 and at senior lecturer level (second level) and received her PhD 10 years ago in Oct.

4:55 Reflects that her honours student maybe didn't get as much support due to her inexperience; and as faculty they used to publish where ever they wanted, now there is much more pressure. Persistence beyond stupidity is her motto – serves her well as an academic. A lot of grant success. Also a lot of grant failure. So persistence an important aspect.

6:50 Goal posts changing. Originally encouraged to send out papers to count three times. So understands that the national research assessment exercise ERA is trying to stop this. Her research is in children and disability but her preferred publishing venues were not ERA ranked as high/A*. Told “not allowed to publish there anymore”. Driven by politicians who want to be accountable.

9:05 “Management in universities an interesting thing. One of my big bugbears is: Tell me to do amazing research and I will. I’m passionate. Having a matrix that says you have to submit blah papers per year is not going to motivate me to do amazing research. Tell me to do amazing research and it’ll get published because it is amazing, it will break new ground, it will help people. That’s going to inspire me, that’s going to make me work hard. But telling me I have to produce an unreasonable number of things per year. I don’t know that many people are motivated by the big stick, especially people in academia. You’re a HD (high distinction) student before you arrive. So they’re managing people the wrong way around for the type of people they have.” Discusses how the message comes down from vice chancellor level to the message she then gets that she has to publish 5 high quality papers in X venues and guess those venues 3 years in advance.

11:15 Strategies: went ERA chasing for a while and got a whole lot of rejections. De-motivating. And got confused about what she needed to do to get published. Grants above professor level but can’t get published but what she is doing has really good social impact. Discusses her work developing software for sign language teaching, 100% uptake in the market but can’t get published, very applied, can’t prove learning. Her strategy now: “I want to do amazing research that has huge impact. And if I do really good research it should get published.” So shifted from chasing ERA to focusing on research. And should be able to publish. Other strategy is using creativity as antidote to bean counting measures. Creative work eg braille keyboard. A lot of people like to have a clear separation between work and home. But for her sitting at home in front of the TV at night building new circuits is fun. “I’ve made it in the world. I get to have a job where I get to play with play doh and make a puppet without having to put up with children.” Using it in a grown-up way and doing good in the world. May also address gender gap as it appeals to different people. Easy to do creative things with technology now.

16:55 Importance of re-framing. Did a session ‘with me’ around values (Note: ‘with me’, Geri Fitz, at a Career Development Workshop GF ran at Monash) – recognizes equity and making a difference in the world are things she values so if she can do research around this it is motivating but ticking boxing is not. How to hook into people’s own motivation.

18:05 Is she benefiting from emphasis on impact? Impact becoming more important in other countries but not so much in Australia at the moment. Starting to have impact stories and that will make a difference to the acceptance of her work. Faculty is also changing. Great things happening and getting support through those mechanisms and clear definitions of where she needs to target, more acceptable to her work. Works in sign language teaching. But only 5 people in the world working on this. So won’t get high citations. How do you define quality? Is it popularity ie number of citations? “What is popular is not necessarily what is important.” And sometimes hard to get published when breaking new ground and proposing things that haven’t been done before and people aren’t there with you but doesn’t mean it’s not unique, important. A problem with the reviewing process, overwhelmed, reviewed by junior people, different reasons for rejecting the paper – is it rejection bias to get down to certain number of papers rather than a problem with the paper?

21:40 Most frustrating thing is not the rejection on paper but that this information is not distributed into the community, losing out on papers that could add value but don’t fit in the box of what is acceptable. A loss to the community. Her response: Using mentors. Taking feedback and speaking to people about what she is not getting quite right, how to present it so people can understand it. Discusses an issue where reviewers raise a critique about not focusing on children but it’s the teachers/parents who need help. Shows they don’t understand the context. All people she has approached for help have been helpful. Feedback is often around re-framing.

24:20 Being a senior lecturer level impacted by these publication issues? Explains the Australian context and what it takes to advance to the next step of associate professor. First time applied for senior lecturer, told she didn’t have ARC grants but a 10% success rate, hard to get, and hadn’t needed one 3 years prior. Shifting goalposts. Need to jump through hoops but the hoops are getting smaller and higher every year. Can miss a hoop because don’t know how they are going to change.

26:30 “Love my work! Do stuff that interests me.” Talks about how she spends time exploring/learning things to “put in the toolbox”. “It’s not about the technology it’s how we use the technology”. But have to learn those technologies. Often tech is a solution looking for a problem. She has things in her toolbox and can apply to a problem.

28:30 Biggest challenges now? Re-vamping a unit so the unknown and exciting. Department is growing and have now started an assistive technology group. Now feels she has more of a community happening, no longer on the outer, has a place. So change is not always bad. Some fantastic things happening. One course she’s not inspired about but have to take your load.

29:30 Has a daughter with a disability so a challenge being a mum working, with a disabled child. Difficult but also modelling for her three daughters. Mother is sick. Balancing out time at home and time at work. Careful about looking after herself. Always had a horse riding lesson every week but has hurt her hip. So need a certain amount of adrenaline to function. So now flying! That time when all problems go away. Just there and have to concentrate to survive. That puts the week in perspective. “ It’s a non-negotiable that I have this time every week.” Can be flexible when that time is. “If I look after myself first, I’m a much nicer person and can look after everyone else and bear a much greater burden the rest of the week as ensured my footings are strong first.” “Very important to me. It’s almost like mindfulness.” Did mindfulness with students with one of her courses. “My activity is a form of mindfulness. It’s where nothing else matters for a couple of hours a week. And that’s enough for me. … Resets everything and makes the world function better.”

32:40 Other strategies? Using creativity, children would say craziness. Reflect on stuff a lot. Having a growth mindset. Recognising you don’t have to be perfect, reflecting on what didn’t you get right, what would you change. In everything. In teaching. Continuously improving.

34:25 Importance of protected time each week. And strategies in place to be able to function eg with handling mother being sick. But we don’t talk about these sorts of things enough together. Using time before meetings to say hi, build relationships, not sit on the phone. How she also tries to care the sessionals (casual lecturers) below her. How does she have those conversations? Overshare … “authenticity, this is part of me… my work is not completely separate to everything at home. I am a whole person.”

37:38 Been through three rounds of retrenchments. Has effects on her. Thinks management don’t understand the impacts or manage the process well or recognize how much damage it does to culture. Impacts mentoring, collegiality, if concerned about yourself, hard to mentor others. Establishes competitive rather than collegial environment. No easy solution. Complex. Articulation of vision from the top can help to understand and process the changes, understanding where they are coming from, the reason. It’s not only about the bad news but the way it is delivered. Change often comes from government. But if we can have an articulation of why things are happening it can help make more sense.

43:20 Being a female in IT has some advantages, and some disadvantages. She is currently participating in a women’s shadowing program, to see why some of those decisions were being made and to understand the process more. Shadowing a Dean of Education in another faculty. Key insights? Book about ‘managing clevers’, managing smart people who are already motivated, get more out of them if give them freedom. And understanding structure of uni. Leaders at every level, always power relationships.

47:00 How does she play out her leadership role? Importance of being realistic and having a career plan, being strategic, whether in or out of academia, what skills are needed. “Know your strengths, know your weaknesses…leave the ones that don’t matter to you, and work on the ones that are going to make a strategic difference.”. So having a plan with staff she works with on. Tradeoffs of being in a teaching and research role rather the 3yr limited research only role. Permanent position enables taking a long-term view with research. If you are on a 3yr contract, difficulty of taking on a PhD student.

50:27 Two ways of moving through academia: those with a commitment to being in the one city because of family/other commitments; others who can move around because that works for them, easier for those without family. Different journey. So importance of having realistic conversations with people you work with/lead. Changing landscape of academia. Fine as long as people know what they are participating in.

52:15 Dealing with sick mother, and 3 daughters, one disabled? Actually working 0.8 not full time. Kids at an alternative school. Drops them off/picks them up. Works every evening. But that works for her, not a burden, a joy. Three teenage daughters. Always struggled going to conferences. Problem when submitting a paper of predicting what space her daughter will be in at the time of conference travel. Makes sure she writes those statements about “Relative to opportunity” on grant applications to explain impact of her circumstances on her academic track record. Not a whinge. But stating the facts and where the impact is.  Helping people interpret what they are reading.

57:20 Daughter with aspergers and anxiety. Thinks there might be clusters around IT/engineering. Wonders if there are things we can do as organisations around this to support people with children where there are clusters. Having conversations together. “You will get to the other side of this.”. Does this face to face. Not on facebook. Authenticity of connections.

1:01:46 End

Related Links

 Kirsten Ellis: https://research.monash.edu/en/persons/kirsten-ellis ; https://sites.google.com/site/drkirstenellis/

Book on leading clever people: Goffee R. & Jones G., 2009. Clever: Leading Your Smartest, Most Creative People, Harvard Business Press.  https://www.amazon.com.au/Clever-Leading-Smartest-Creative-People/dp/1422122964

Book on Growth Mindset: Dweck, C. 2009. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Ballantine Books.  https://www.amazon.com/Mindset-Psychology-Carol-S-Dweck/dp/0345472322

Carman Neustaedter on research identity, work tracking surprises, and taking perspective

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Carman Neustaedter is an Associate Professor in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada and is also Director of the Connections Lab (cLab) research group. He talks about the importance for him of taking time to reconnect with his identity and values, and building in regular time for reflection, both on the bigger issues of where he is going and also on day to day work like writing challenges. He also discusses feeling overwhelmed and deciding to track his work time over a whole year, which led to surprising findings about how he actually spent his time and how he worked fewer hours than he thought he did. He also touches on issues around handling reviewer critique, managing his email inbox and how he structures time and prioritises family. A thread through a couple of stories is also the importance of being able to take on the perspective of others, whether these are the critical reviewers or colleagues.

“It’s really hard to figure out who you are because you’re often so focused…, you don’t stop to step back and say who am I and what is my path. But it’s so valuable to do.”

“It’s easy to slip into the habit of doing work at all sorts of hours. … It’s about choice and recognizing ahead of time what my priority is and making sure that priority is my family in the evening and at the weekend.”

“When I’m working, I’m really on and working really hard but then I purposely stop and say you know what it’s family time now, they deserve my time.”

“It’s really valuable for all walks of life just to empathise and understand others.”

He talks about (times approximate) …

2:09 Start

2:39 Current position, PhD from Calgary, experience working in Kodak Research Labs for three years before moving back to academia; how he got to the industry position as a post doc; finding it routine, and the decision to come back to academia and loving it.

5:02 Trigger for coming into academia – working with students, the agency and flexibility. Considered thinking to come back. Lucky to land something back in Canada, close to family. Obvious move back. Now in academia 8 years.

6:19 Experience of shifting back into academia – a struggle, paid far less, working way harder, so many things coming at him, hard to transition back into. Having the break allowed him to understand the situation a lot more, more reflection on own lifestyle and work-life balance. At Kodak, emails stopped coming in at 5pm on Fri and not much at weekend and as an academic getting emails from students at all hours. Had to adjust to it.

8:04 Other challenges in trying to set up as a new prof – establishing his identity and setting up a research group, what to focus on and how to present it to the world; critical to have a web page early; trying to establish identity and use that as framing for everything else he was trying to do. Finding the focus tricky but the job hunt helped as had to figure out ‘who are you, what’s your vision for the next few years’. “It’s an especially challenging task… it’s really hard to figure out who you are because you’re often so focused with your head down on your work, you don’t stop to step back and say who am I and what is my path. But it’s so valuable to do.”

9:54 How to do that practically? “It’s time. I can work on another paper or spend a half day thinking about what my identity is and how I want to project myself… it’s important to reassess that identity.” Example of using a hike or run on sabbatical last year to do this figuring out. Answer was realizing he had actually accomplished a lot and pretty proud of it and to continue on the same track, with tweaks. “Being happy with what I accomplished was really key.”; talking of being, purpose; “About what’s important and that thread weaves through the work we do, what we choose to do for [service, teaching, research] and weaves through how we balance work and family life and the personal endeavours we want.

12:09 Values as a researcher – being real, true to yourself and what you do. Talks about example of writing papers in a certain way, telling people what you did and why and not being afraid of the scrutiny. A tough profession when we have so many people critiquing us but it’s ok to show you and what you’re doing and stand up for it.

13:29 Handling the critiques – a long process but now tries to empathise with the reviewer and think about where they are coming from. Trying to connect with the reviewer, sees it as a conversation, understanding their perspective. More often than not getting critiqued rather than praised about the work we do. Probably not a lot of professions that get critiqued that much.

15:59 Other ways for helping handle this? Likes to go running, several times a week early morning, time to get out there and gives chance for reflection on what I’m doing, think up new ideas, and reconnect with myself”.

16:54 Other routines? Particular about when he works, tries hard not to work on evenings or weekends. Family and evening routines makes it easier to achieve. Weekends are family time with wife and kids. “When I’m working I’m really on and working really hard but then I purposely stop and say you know what it’s family time now, they deserve my time and so I’ll spend it with them.” Not like that before he had family. Notices he works more when he is away at conferences. “It’s easy to slip into the habit of doing work at all sorts of hours.”  “It’s about choice and recognizing ahead of time what my priority is and making sure that priority is my family in the evening and at the weekend.”

18:59 Hard when requests for stuff keep coming in.  Gives example of email on weekend with a request. Has a habit of inbox at zero 80% of the time. So if something comes in at the weekend it bothers him. Needs to handle it by getting it out of his inbox and onto a to-do then he can leave it for Monday. But if it sits in email he will think about it. Didn’t always do this but helps to keep his weekend to himself. Other email strategies – touching email only once;

21:49 Talks about tracking his work for a year. 2014, approaching tenure time, felt he was working tons of hours, feeling overwhelmed. Decided to figure out where he spent his time. Used a spreadsheet and recorded in 15 min time blocks. Tracked tasks, time of day, weekend. Tracked for a year. What time of day, who it was spent on, and how the numbers came out.

23:19 How tracking for a year was a pain but why he kept doing and the slivers of insight he got on the way.

26:00 Results surprising. Thought he did way more service and teaching than research but not the case. Research time was actually 67% over the year. Teaching was only 15% and only 18% was service. “So it was way different than what I thought. I was spending most of the doing the research stuff I really loved and not a lot time doing the teaching things that I thought was taking up a lot of my time.” On average worked about 39 hours a week. Felt over 50 hours. “It felt like I was completely overwhelmed and working all the time.” Didn’t realise how many hours he was actually working.

26:50 Flexible way of handling his day, on campus between 4-8 hours, will work from home when he can. Works early morning time. Helps kids. Finish up in the afternoon. Email in the evening. Some days only 4 hours. Flexibility of the job to let him do this lifestyle structure. Balances out with 10 hr day.

28:22 What contributes to it feeling so much more? Asked himself some tough questions about why feeling overwhelmed, exhausted. Maybe a lot of it comes down to choice.  So many demands on attention can be overwhelming, A lot of contact points. So many things coming at him overwhelming. The sense of responsibility and loving helping people. Feeling obligated and wanting to help.  Lack of getting to what he wants to do, don’t feel he has as much as choice as he wants to. Teaching feels a little more like work, less control over it. Loves teaching, reinvigorates but freedom of choice issue.

32:09 How does it feel now with requests? Looking through time makes it easy to recognize this is happening and use it to leverage different choices, and also figuring out when he works best and how to adjust his schedule. Talks about how he structures his work now. Also gives example of writing the discussion section that he finds hard, and timing it before a run or a break (drive into work) so he can then think back on what he just wrote and see if new insights come up.  Works well except for keeping notes. Wouldn’t have tracked that as work time. 34:54 “Work is on my brain a lot of the time. It’s hard to get it off my brain.” Think best ideas come when he is not working. Never know what you are going to see that is going to spawn a great idea. Fluid work and locations makes it even muddier. Even though ideas flow in non-work time, easy enough to separate them and not linger. Gets a note down and then get back to the personal stuff.

38:19 Not managed so well … when family visiting, guests, etc. But also forces you to engage with family and friends more.

39:09 Criteria for making choices, saying no? “Doing what I know I love to do”. Gives example of telepresence chair service role. “It’s stuff I love doing so it’s not really like work.”

40:34 Sabbatical experience. Three months recognized missed his normal job and couldn’t do research full on. Needed the breaks. Realised how much he valued them when gone. Feeling of guilt for not working. Tension of should and wants. Wanting to get away from the job but then realizing he really loved it. His choice to re-engage with some teaching and service while on sabbatical. Still mental turmoil, would he wish he stepped back more. But felt good at the end of the year. Accomplished more than planned. Happy with what he did because he was making choices, saying no and also saying yes to things he really loved.

44:54 “It was a turning point, and I realized moving forward - get back that choice. Really think about what I want to do and don’t be afraid to do that.”

45:29 Seeing career moving forward. Knows research direction, more admin work in department coming up, understanding internal politics. Talks about getting to know people more now and seeing where they are coming from. Tries hard to understand people from their perspective. Easiest way of getting policies through is understanding people’s perspectives and incorporating them. Talks a lot with people, prep work, understanding people. Came out of empathy training some years ago (in context of running a study) but “it’s really valuable for all walks of life just to empathise and understand others.”. Created less butting heads, faster to get on same page, accomplish more. But takes time/work.

50:51 Gives other examples of other situations where empathy helps, from family/kids to co-author/grad student and teasing out what is going on. Involves a lot of listening. Aim to get the best work, mutual goals.

52:59 Tries to foster a lab culture, about being dependent on each other, helping each other. Learnt from advisor Saul Greenberg. Shared responsibility in helping people out, a team, a family.

54:49 Final thoughts – “I think so much of our time is spent with our heads down and trying to get things done. I still really struggle with lifting my head up and getting that broader perspective. But I really think scheduling in even a little bit of time every once in a while to get that perspective back is super important.”. Advice from Joanna McGrenere – schedule time on sabbatical for personal reflection. Applicable beyond sabbatical. Schedule that time block eg for a run, walk, or silent drive. Making it a point of your regular routine is so incredibly invaluable. Recognise you are doing good stuff and how to keep that path going forward and how to have time for yourself.

57:35 My reflections on harmonious passion.

59:55 End

Related Links

Saul Greenberg podcast – on supervising, building a lab, creating good work life balance  

Sheelagh Carpendale - http://pages.cpsc.ucalgary.ca/~sheelagh/wiki/pmwiki.php

Joanna McGrenere - http://www.cs.ubc.ca/~joanna/

Jolanta Burke podcast – on burnout, harmonious passion, positive workplaces & helping others

Some articles on passion, obsessive passion and harmonious passion:

Evan Peck on making choices, accepting trade-offs, and liberal arts as a great middle way

Evan Peck is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Bucknell University in the US. Evan has a passion for teaching and also wants to do good research but when he was looking around for a faculty position, he decided he didn’t want to trade off family life and life quality to do it all, as he considered he might have to at a top-rated school. He also wasn’t sure about industry where he could have better life quality but would miss teaching. He is now an evangelist for Liberal Arts Colleges, like Bucknell, as a middle way for PhD students to include when considering career options. Evan talks about his decision processes getting there and his current experiences as a new faculty in learning to be deliberate about his use of time so that he can include teaching, research and time for family. He also has a great blog post written on this topic.

"It's all trade-offs."

“Put on the calendar, this is when I am done for the day and this is the amount of time I have to get work done and if it doesn’t get done it happens tomorrow and not through dinner”

“So have to be deliberate about how you use your time.”

“In Grad School it’s really easy to fall into this trap that your identity is the work you are doing and that’s why these rejections feel so much more personal”

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:30 Start

02:15 Background starting out at a Liberal Arts College and having a broad education, teaching focus, courses capped at 30 students

04:30 Path getting to Bucknell  via an UG degree at a Liberal Arts College and a PhD at Tufts Uni with Rob Jacob on Brain Computer Interaction, having a child during Grad School and starting to think about what measures of success and impact means and what he wanted

06:00 Up to then a typical grad student perspective re rankings and top school as measures of success; realised “even if I were to be productive at the rate of someone at a top school, I think I would be miserable doing it” – something about the pace, can fit others beautifully but grants and away from teaching not how he wanted to spend his time, or emotionally or the stress of the tenure process

08:20 “They say, here are the things that are valuable to us and if those don’t align with the things that are valuable to you ... things you don’t want to do are more taxing … if you are at a university where the benchmarks involve things that you don’t what to spend all your time doing… then it can seem very overwhelming”

09:00 Thought he was going into industry because he thought academic was two pillars, either research or teaching focussed. Loves doing research but not all the time. Had industry internship and saw good work life balance, didn’t consume them, not their entire identity and this aspect appealed to him. And getting to end of grad school was a grind so it seemed attractive.

11:15 After having a kid, shifting own work habits. If he continued his old schedule he would lonely see his son half hour a day. So getting up early and trying to set boundaries on the upper limit.

12:42 How to put up boundaries – scheduling wise, almost “put on the calendar, this is when I am done for the day and this is the amount of time I have to get work done and if it doesn’t get done it happens tomorrow and not through dinner”. Priorities becoming much more important and industry seemed more appealing as could see structure in industry. And in appealing places to live. Factors line up.

14:15 Very lucky in lab culture and advisor who was very sensitive to family issues, told him to go be with his family; the only he can figure out how to do 3 CHI papers is to work 15 hrs a day, may be different for others.

Challenges when you set these boundaries – could be more productive without boundaries but “It’s all trade-offs”. “First level says I’m missing out on something, second level says would I trade it” and no he wouldn’t, helps come to terms with those decisions

16:20 Role of supervisor in setting culture, and previous grad students who had children so wasn’t breaking new ground

17:15 Comparing self to others – very challenging, easy to compare yourself to the best teacher and the best researcher, very tempting – but remembering they only take one of the jobs

18:15 Heading back to liberal arts via advice to apply everywhere, supervisor a wealth of good advice, can always decide you don’t like it later; hoping grad students think about this more in advance; having options and opportunity to figure out priorities on the fly; “I really like my job. Many ways I could have missed it. How could I mitigate this for other people coming on?”

20:35 Being more deliberate? Written about in blog post. Perception that things fit cleanly into categories of academia vs industry, research vs teaching school but not does not fit reality. Representation of academia at conferences most visible but not representative. Muddied when you visit these places. Careful to say this is about him, he wouldn’t be able to do all, others he knows can.

22:20 “What are the things that I take joy doing?” Knew wherever he went he would want to spend significant time in teaching, loves getting students excited about computer science. “The question was, if I’m spending time in this [teaching] is it going to be rewarded or not? Will the people around me say this is part of you excelling in your job or is it something…that’s an obstruction to your research?”

Told at one place the way to succeed was to make sure students don’t hate you but don’t do too much more. Feels like he is doing fewer hours because it is investing in things he wants to be doing.

25:00 First year of teaching really taxing but didn’t feel like he was doing as many hours as in his PhD. Something he wanted to invest time in. Towards end of PhD everything felt like a grind, exhausting. If teaching more then getting faster feedback. So the feedback loops are a lot faster but slower feedback loops in research can be tough. Took a long time to get first paper accepted. Can go years without those reward feelings it takes your toll.

26:40 The big shift to grad school. Difference in identity between undergrad and grad school; “In Grad School it’s really easy to fall into this trap that your identity is the work you are doing and that’s why these rejections feel so much more personal” because this is what he chose; Handling rejection by keeping on working, but pretty demoralising when rejections start piling up, but also short term thinking so did finally have a year when work comes through. But again a comparison point. An exhausting way to go about things,

28:40 Importance of making this message that there are alternatives in Liberal Arts schools. Integrating teaching and research. Saw another lab member to go to a liberal arts and still be able to do research so had a hint.

30:00 Making the decision in the end. Thinking about mobility in academia, some directions harder than others. One concern was about moving out of liberal arts to focus on research? And many school sin very rural areas. Big family decisions. Are these places we want to live? Factors that played into decision – visiting the campus and the faculty and getting a sense of people’s lives there. At Bucknell and some others, impressed with seriousness of work and also talking about other aspects of life – sole identity not inside the office.

32:35 One of the interesting side benefits of smaller school in a more isolated place is the community that forms around it is very strong, most people live within three miles of each, a real sense of community and that the community values not just you but your family; had meals provided for a month and half after daughter born. Those factors really important on the family side. And not conceding professionally either to deal with family side.

35:00 Biggest challenge moving from grad student to faculty member – working on 10 things at once, now time splintered, needing to be much more organised, needing to be productive with small pockets of time, need to be more deliberate about research. Understanding what your strengths are, the rhythm of the semester, being reflective. Different strategies during semester vs during summer. Now uses a calendar. Setting in calendar these are the time to do research, otherwise can always improve lectures. “So have to be deliberate about how you use your time.”

37:20 Learning process re being deliberate: Understanding where he can be high impact. Always concessions. “How can I be high impact given I’m not going to publish 4 papers a year, that I don’t have grad students, what topics are more high impact, what resources do I have and voices do I have in the community that other people have?” So in the first year he determined that his time in the classroom most valuable, working to what he was strong at. At some point “I only have this much time. What benefits the students the most? If I only had 2 hrs to prep for this, how am I going to spend those 2 hrs?” A little structure one year helps the next. Slow process getting the pieces that work together.

40:15 Always been reflective and strategic thinker to some degree. People around in grad school very reflective. Seeing value on reflecting on the structural pieces that help. More honed now out of necessity. More constrained about his resources and so has to think more about what would be valuable. Letting grad students know there is a huge spectrum of jobs. Could be miserable in grad school but be an excellent professor. Feel like he is a much better professor than a grad student. “Fits me a lot better.” Thought was a one off for a long time, not knowing what the landscape was. After faculty position, talked to senior grad students and same things came up. And they would be amazed that a place like this exists. 

43:40 [Option of liberal arts college] should be a liberating thought. In PhD where you start out with big visions about how you are going to change the world and do research and then realise it is only small corner of research and keep working, still excited, but somewhere along the lines think “Oh no, I’ve been working on something for 5, 6, 7 years, and maybe I’m in the wrong profession, or maybe I still love this stuff but the way but the way the jobs line up don’t seem very exciting. That’s just horrifying.”

44:45 Goes to a bigger picture of computer science education. All these students at all these universities, computers impact us in all parts of life, and students not at big research schools. All PhDs graduating, passionate about these ideas but not connecting pieces well. The best educators who leave or go to industry, not because it is best fit, but their personal priorities don’t map to the big research schools.

47:26 End

Related Links

Evan Peck: https://www.eg.bucknell.edu/~emp017/

Evan’s blog post on “The jobs I didn’t see: My misconceptions of the Academic job market”: https://medium.com/bucknell-hci/the-jobs-i-didnt-see-my-misconceptions-of-the-academic-job-market-9cb98b057422  

Rob Jacob: https://www.cs.tufts.edu/~jacob/

Liberal Arts College: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_arts_college

Scott Robertson on missing tenure, persevering, and connecting to mission & community

Scott Robertson comes from a psychology and cognitive science background and is now a Professor in the Information and Computer Sciences Department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Scott shares the experiences of being rejected for tenure twice and how he dealt with that. His story is one of perseverance and courage, doing what you care about, and the importance of mentors and being part of a community. He is now in a tenured position and enjoying the freedom to follow his mission around civic engagement and to get back to acting.

UPDATE: Scott has just been made Chair of his department! So not getting tenure is definitely not the end of a story!

“You have to do what you care about”

“So [failure/rejection] is survivable, not just survivable but also then you can go on to the next thing and make the best of whatever situation you are in.”

 “[Don’t] define yourself by your position or your affiliation [but] by your mission in life.”

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:30 His early career as a child actor eg on the Brady Bunch! Current acting interests and how it has enriched his academic and personal life – acting like HCI as understanding other human beings. And inhabiting another world.

05:38 Time to focus, becoming present to the moment, a centreing exercise

06:35 Discussion of early career: social science at UCI, then cognitive psychology masters, then cognitive science PhD at Yale; first using a big Vax computer in a statistics class and getting interested in computing at Yale; dissertation in how people use text editors and presenting at the first CHI in ~1981, feeling intimidated by Don Norman in the front row; HCI as his direction then

10:30 End of the story: full prof at Uni of Hawaii but not a straight forward to get there; started usual ass prof pathway in a psych dept publishing in HCI; tenure evaluation ‘what is CHI/HCI’, not publishing in APA journals etc; failed to get tenure

12:10 Still an issue for several people, feeling misunderstood in their dept, ‘what is HCI’ still

13:00 Mentors who helped at these transition points; feeling part of the CHI community but alone in the Dept so able to rely on mentors in CHI community eg Gary Olson wrote a letter, Jack Carroll helped figure out next step to IBM

14:45 Incredibly devastating – work hard, trajectory going nicely, so quite a shock; “when you look back on it you wonder why you spent so much time thinking about it” but did take a long time to settle it; move to IBM a smooth transition though intimidated as no idea how to be a researcher in a company

16:20 Felt out of place in the year after tenure denial as have to go back to the institution, the so-called terminal year; tenure denial because of vote he missed by less than half a percentage point so felt like it was random – those kind of things did occupy his mind for quite a time

18:10 Thinking back, it did allow him to move on; “so it is survivable, not just survivable but also then you can go on to the next thing and make the best of whatever situation you are in.” Doesn’t believe that ‘everything happens for a reason’ as he was often told, but “I do believe that you can turn a situation to your advantage if you focus on it and try”

19:10 In industry/research labs at IBM and US West in Colorado, doing quite different work than what he would have done in a psychology dept; chairing the CHI conference during this time and a talk he gave about the importance of the CHI community, an anchor.

21:08 Going back to academia, starting trail to tenure a second time, this time in an iSchool; better fit however also missed tenure so two tenure denials; continuing story of ‘what is CHI’ and also had decided to change research interests, looking at e-voting systems and political participation which might have cost in terms of publishing but another close decision

23:55 Shift of topic area – wanting research to have some impact and where he could make a difference; realised not the voting machine per se but the education beforehand where the real challenge is for technology

26:40 Awareness of impact/risk re tenure? Didn’t think the shift of topic was not a good idea. “I feel like you have to do what you care about.” Never thought of them as risky decisions, never focussed on the tenure issue, focused instead on what he cared about. No regrets about anything.

29:04 Experience of second denial, again surprised as had good feedback; a good lesson re having to be clear with non-tenure professors about how they are going; went through appeal process but a waste of time, should have moved on more quickly; did win an appeal that process not followed correctly but same outcome when done over again

31: 45 Still glad he went on a new direction of tech to support political decision making so easy to slide into current research on use of social media for political decision making

32:15 Same people around to support eg Jack Carroll, “so important to have a mentor all the way through” not just in tangible way but other intangible ways of advice, listening, see at conferences and ping him when he needed support/advice

34:30 Dealing with the second tenure denial, focussed more on it than the first time, later in his career; and partner/wife also an academic in humanities going through tenure process that also didn’t work out – spent half of marriage living in different places, decided not to do that any more

36:50 “Need to keep a confidence of some kind, that you are doing the right thing. It’s important to have your community.”

37:50 Difficulty putting down roots, friends in local community, getting back into theatre when in Philadelphia, dislodging from that difficult when moving on; value of getting back into theatre, like CHI, people interested in others and wanting to impact them

41:10 Moving on to another faculty position in Hawaii, the only one he got. Most of these transitions, only got one option each time. Prepared also to go back into industry and would have seen it just as ‘next step’ and how to make the best of it

42:45 Can’t help having something in your mind that you didn’t live up to expectations, being nervous coming back to conferences because people would know it happened but very different experience, people on his side

43:54 “When something like these things happen I think it is important to just pick yourself up and put yourself back into the game”; practical tips eg centering, who am I at the core, did these really change me, being able to see it as an external event; not an easy thing

45:00 Hawaii hard for partner’s work – not landed a job there yet but has a community;

46:00 Perspective on where you are at any given time has changed, from thinking it would be a model of prof with tenure staying put, to more jumping from one thing to another, “people are going to have to re-define themselves several times during their career … think tenure model will come to an end”; “Wouldn’t define yourself by your position or your affiliation [but] by your mission in life”; Scott’s mission around civic engagement

48:30 Tenure process at Uni of Hawaii, now in a computer science dept, supportive colleagues, tenure process opposite of everything before, smooth; one thing that has changed for academics is need to bring in money but harder to get  but also more needed to support students; success rates down around 10%; half of all writing and effort goes into proposals but not a total waste of time, making up your dream, what I want to do, creative writing of an aspirational document; if don’t get the grant then re-work it, “Persistence is extremely important”; also dealing with rejection in acting

53:00 Celebrating tenure and then having to think about what to do now so deciding to write more for general public; can’t do this though before getting tenure

55:22 Liking the computer science department, interested in work of colleagues doing things he doesn’t do, more so than when in psychology

57:00 Final thoughts – now can tell this story, “my responsibility to say that these things happen, and you can preserve through these things, but the critical issue is knowing who you are, …research direction and who you are as a person.” And realising you can jump across icebergs and be fine. And focussing on the larger community.

01:00:39 End

Related Links

Scott Robertson - http://www2.hawaii.edu/~scottpr/

Art Graesser - http://art.graesser.us

Gary Olson - https://garymolson.com

Jack Carroll - https://ist.psu.edu/directory/faculty/jmc56

Mary-Beth Rossen - https://mrosson.ist.psu.edu

CHI2017 Career Development Symposium - https://chi2017.acm.org/careerdev.html

CHI Stories - https://chi2017.acm.org/stories.html

Margaret Burnett on pioneering, mentoring, changing the world & GenderMag

Margaret Burnett is a professor of Computer Science in the School of EECS at Oregon State University. She is a pioneer woman in computer science whose work has been honoured with numerous awards, including ACM Distinguished Scientist. Her passion is to change the world by designing more gender-inclusive software. In this conversation, she shares experiences being the first woman software developer at Proctor & Gamble Ivorydale in the 1970s, and creating two start-ups as well as a women’s business network in the 1980s. She also talks about her work in academia, in particular about her GenderMag project, as well as practical experiences including mentoring and management using dove-tailing strategies as well as managing family life by drawing fences. She also tries to do one thing every day to make the world a better place. An inspirational person in so many ways!

“Don’t ever say yes unless you know why you are saying yes. ” “No one person can do everything.”

“Try to do something every day that makes me feel like the world is a little better”

 “Please help me change the world! … When people change their products [to be gender inclusive] everyone likes them better.”

She talks about (times approximate) …

1:30 Being the first woman software developer hired by Proctor&Gamble Ivorydale and navigating how to fit in as a women in this era and in this industry, “not having a vocabulary”

8:00 Pulling up roots and moving to Santa Fe New Mexico, following husband; starting up a new business, and doing freelance programming

11:54 Dealing with reactions to being a woman in IT and a client who didn’t want to deal with her because she was a woman

13:27 Moving into academia – influence of professor as an undergrad; being dragged ‘kicking and screaming’ to a new town pregnant with first child, doing a Masters degree at Uni of Kansas and starting another business; dealing with two careers and daycare issues

15:30 Going to social events where everyone wanting to know what husband did for a living but not wanting to know what she did for a living; deciding to start an organisation of professional women to help them network, the ‘Lawrence Women’s Network’; starting to teach a course at the university and discovering she really liked teaching, which became the motivator to go and do a PhD

17:45 Doing a PhD to become a faculty member, the second woman to ever get a PhD; Going back to university to get a PhD from Uni of Kansas in Computer Science

18:25 Starting in faculty job, promoting women’s issues but almost sub-consciously and serving own interests, bringing women into her lab, win-win-win team working style; how she includes her undergrad researchers into work;

21:35 Her academic children and grandchildren all over the world

22:30 Now 25 years at Oregon State; Taking more academic risks after tenure; Considering it a badge of honour if she gets all 1s on a paper ... 5s are good too … but shows she is ‘out there’;

24:45 Whenever she says ‘yes’ she has to have a reason; Reasons for saying yes and for not saying yes

27:25 Reflecting on ways she has changed – loves taking risks academically. GenderMag as an example; the beginnings of GenderMag, with Laura Beckwith, looking at software and whether there were gender biases at the user-facing part of it; reading literature from diverse disciplines, hypotheses ‘dropping into her lap’; clustering tendencies, women tend to take a bursty style, men tend to take a tight iteration style when problem solving; gender differences in the way people use software, spending about 10 years running studies

31:20 Working with a medical company where (mostly women) practitioners hated their software; collaborators especially Simone Stumpf very good at helping keep an eye on the practicality

32:50 Led to method, GenderMag – gender inclusiveness magnifier – now downloadable, and a CHI17 paper about research-backed personas built into a method and a vocabulary about problem solving and information processing style; study with Nicola Marsden, multi-personas that don’t invoke stereotyping

37:00 The story of a Distinguished Speaker talk on GenderMag- changing the language from ‘you’ to the personal ‘Abby’; average is 1 feature out of every 3 they evaluate they find a gender inclusiveness problem with their own software

39:18 Not advocating for a pink or blue version but thinking of it as a bug; “If there is a feature that is not gender inclusive then…there is a barrier to some segment of the population”; tooltips as an example; also risk aversion

42:15 Getting the toolkit and methodology out into the world – still learning; GenderMag teach resources; talking to industry; downloadable kit; needing top-down and grassroots interest; call to listeners who might have ideas for changing policy, changing the world

46:24 When people change their products [to be gender inclusive] everyone likes them better

47:00 “Try to do something every day that makes me feel like the world is a little better” – something ‘that counts’

49:20 Dove-tailing work strategies through setting up collaborations, and saying no - “No one person can do everything. My bit is GenderMag … that’s my corner of the diversity world.”  Drawing the boundaries, the purposeful yes.

51:40 Managing the group: weekly group meeting, project sub group meetings, various GenderMag meetings, one-on-one meetings with graduate students; collaborative writing style; involving students in reviewing papers (mentoring dove-tailing with professional workload)

55:10 Other mentoring strategies – ‘pushing’ people forward, encouraging people to consider ‘the brain is a muscle’ and it’s ok to be ‘bad’ initially;

59:30 Managing life and work with kids – drawing fences around the day, avoids “always feeling like it is the wrong thing”, but no extra hobbies until after the kids graduated; “don’t have the fences anymore because I don’t need them so much anymore and energy patterns have changed”

01:04:04 End

Related Links

Margaret’s home pages - http://eecs.oregonstate.edu/people/burnett-margaret ; http://web.engr.oregonstate.edu/~burnett/

The Lawrence Women’s Network - https://www.lawrencewomensnetwork.org   

The GenderMag Project - http://gendermag.org

Laura Beckwith - http://hciresearcher.com//

Simone Stumpf - http://www.city.ac.uk/people/academics/simone-stumpf

Nicola Marsden - https://www.hs-heilbronn.de/nicola.marsden

CHI2017 paper: “Gender-Inclusiveness Personas vs. Stereotyping: Can We Have it Both Ways?” - http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=3025453.3025609

ACM Distinguished Speaker - http://www.dsp.acm.org/view_lecturer.cfm?lecturer_id=3543#lecturer_id#

Tom Rodden on doing good work, metrics, failure, funding, and family

Tom Rodden is a Professor of Interactive Computing and Director of Research for the Faculty of Science at the University of Nottingham. He has led the Mixed Reality Laboratory and founded and co-directed the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute. He is currently Deputy CEO of the UK research funding council, EPSRC. In this podcast we cover lots of issues from personal career choices, what drives his research and dealing with insecurities and rejections, to bigger issues around funding models and metrics and what universities are about. He also discusses being part of a two-academic family and their strategies for managing this.

“There’s always another, whatever it is, there’s always another […] and it’s only a job”

“Research is never perfect, it never pans out perfectly and actually remembering the things you’ve done and the successes you’ve had is important.”

"I am not an income source, I am a researcher!"

He talks about (times approximate) …

01:20 Early days of the EU COMIC project

05:30 Worrying about whether the system now allows the same space and risk taking and the impact of metrication of research

07:00 His role as Deputy CEO of UK funding council, EPSRC and journey to this current secondment

08:50 Understanding his skills as a researcher – energy and enthusiasm, making connections and focusing on doing interesting things rather than thinking strategically

12:10 The difference between drive and ambition and targets, and where achievements become the incidental things along the way

13:50 The tendency to focus on the things that are failing than celebrating successes

16:20 Managing rejections, taking a while to not personalize the failure, and taking solace in the statistics and that you don’t always get ideas right the first time

20:20 Advice from his grand supervisor - Do good work and everything else works itself out.

21:30 Unpacking metrication and the responsibility to interpret metrics – that citations don’t equal impact and influence; and that metrics aren’t the issue, it’s the pressure that the institutions puts on individuals

26:40 The path of a new idea and taking a while to be socialized and understood; and the dilemma of needing to think of your career over 30 years vs the next 3 years

29:00 Understanding the rhythm of a university and that they are complex and slow to change; and having informal mentors and people you can talk with

31:00 Creating the space to do good work, and thinking of your work as the resources to build a good narrative, then figure out how to match it the funder’s expectations – the craft of doing projects

33:25 Talking about different funding models - remembering that the income is only the means to deliver the research and remembering there’s good and bad funding, thinking about whether the type of research you do matches the funding model

37:40 Building a research identity – moving between fields vs being focused, enjoying opening up new questions but also beating himself up about not having a deeper focus

40:00 Always being able to find people that you feel are doing a much better job than you, and this is at every level. “Still the case for me. I still get nervous about things.” But having a better armory of coping tactics now.

 42:30 Strategies for when both partners are academics and having a family – changing tactics, throwing selection not time to problems, understanding each other’s pressures and job dynamics,

47:38 Compartmentalizing, being tactical, planning in rewards and the Achilles heel of marking procrastination

50:45 Remembering ‘there’s always another’ and ‘it’s only a job’!

Reflecting on the incredible freedom and flexibility and opportunities in this job

55:20 Every yes is a no, but also being careful not to give up the bits of the job you love too quickly - the mid career challenge or ‘the problem of demonstrating competency’

58:40 Final reflections

59:34 The ‘go home’ announcement!

1:00:45 End

Related Links:

EPSRC - https://www.epsrc.ac.uk

REF Research Excellence Framework - http://www.ref.ac.uk

Steve Benford – https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/computerscience/people/steve.benford 

Boriana Koleva - https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/computerscience/people/b.koleva  

Roger Needham - https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/archive/ksj21/RogerNeedham.html

 

Carl Gutwin on academic life, making choices, getting perspective

carl-gutwin2.png

Carl Gutwin, a Professor in the Computer Science Department at University of Saskatchewan, describes himself as a gentleman farmer in Saskatoon who happens to be a university professor as well.

"Even with all the bumps, being an academic is the best job in the world"

He talks about (times approximate) …

2:40 How he moved into a computer science degree and PhD program

8:30 How he decided on a faculty position, and the experiences of setting up a new lab, learning how to teach, applying for grants etc

10:50 On being told that “the best part of this job is the flexibility, you can work any 80 hours of the week that you want”

12:00 On working in academia while others were making money in the tech boom and how after 3 years you figure things out more

On always wanting to be a scientist …  where the best thing really is the freedom and flexibility, especially after getting tenure

15:40 On the practical things to help deal with the stresses of early career, on making choices and the advantages of being a medium large fish in a medium small pond

17:50 On first having grad students and moving to the other side of the desk, being a supervisor

21:30 On appearing to be calm, prioritizing work and life – a continuous struggle

On getting the perspective even as a young academic to realize that it really doesn't matter whether you get that paper submitted – there is always another deadline and every paper will find a home

On dealing with rejection and good old reviewer number 2

27:50 On now working more of a regular work week and cycling to work in the snow.

31:15 And how even with all the bumps, being an academic is the best job in the world … make it through those first three years and things do get better after that … we could make institutional changes … we have the chance to change the way it works … and you just have to decide what you want and go and do it!

33:08