Katie Siek on dual careers & children, mentoring & lobbying, & dealing with illness

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Katie Siek is an associate professor in Informatics at Indiana University in the US Katie shares her experiences being part of a dual career couple and has some excellent advice for faculties on how to handle this better. She talks about the challenges having children and learning to take proper time off with her second child. She talks about her passion for mentoring, recognized by a special mentor award and learning how to lobby upwards to effect policy change; also about building her group and their wall sit challenge. We finish with her very personal story of managing an invisible illness at work, and she calls us to have more open and honest discussions about these issues and to advocate for and support one another.

“I like to call it a dual career opportunity [because] it's really great to have your partner who is committed and passionate about the areas and understands your struggles.”

“I would encourage all my colleagues not propagate the Amazon Warrior woman myths.”

[To create change] “Get involved with your faculty council, see if you can create policy at the university level.”

[Dealing with an invisible illness] “How do you show you're a good colleague and you're there, and [also give yourself] that time to recover.”

[Supporting colleagues with illness] “Advocate to administrators that if you allow someone to recover now they're going to be a stronger colleague…next year in two years or whatever they need.”

Full Transcript- click here

She talks about (times approximate) …

01:59 Her computer science background and the experience of her mother having cancer being the motivation for shifting her PhD topic to health informatics.

04:50 Coming back to Indiana as faculty, being part of a dual career couple, and both getting an offer –a two body opportunity. This was in contrast to previous positions in Colorado where only Katie was tenure track and her partner had a research position.

07:40 Getting pregnant during tenure process, and also going out on the job market to find a tenure position for both of them while pregnant.

11:40 Advice for how to handle dual career couples, for faculties to go after both people.

15:20 What she has learnt in having a child, getting out of algorithmic thinking and getting balance and the difficulties juggling baby and work (but worth it).

20:04 What she would recommend now – if you have leave do it correctly and don’t propagate the amazon woman lore.

23:37 The different experience with her second child. And the importance of a male colleague encouraging them to ‘do it right’ this time.

26:02 The pros and cons of remote participation at a PC meeting.

29:44 Strategies for making transitions between work and home and doing shifted working windows between them.

33:27 Her special mentor award for her women in computing group on campus and her passion about diversity work.

37:44 Strategies for how she practically manages her passion research and her mentoring passions, e.g., being selective about events, finding collaborators

40:38 Lobbying upwards and learning how to get involved in the Faculty at a policy level. Having people to ask for feedback.

47:28 The wall sits.

50:25 Reflections on setting up a group coming back to Indiana and establishing the family in the community.

55:41 Looking after her own health and wellbeing through goal-setting around running.

59:33 Dealing with illness, invisible illnesses, being an advocate for one another.

1:10:07 End 

Related Links

Yvonne Rogers - https://uclic.ucl.ac.uk/people/yvonne-rogers

Kay Connelly - https://wphomes.soic.indiana.edu/connelly/

Judy Olson - http://www.changingacademiclife.com/blog/2016/6/6/judy-olson

Book: David Sedaris (2001) Me talk pretty one day

Mike Twidale on agile research, leading from strengths, and story-telling

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Mike Twidale is a professor in the School of Information Sciences at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, recipient of numerous teaching awards including Outstanding IS teacher in 2017, and more recently becoming program director for a new Masers degree. We talk about how he handled the tenure process, his teaching approaches, and his notion of agile research and what this means. We also discuss stepping up into leadership roles. Having thought he would never be any good at leadership, he has developed his own leadership style by playing to his own strengths and the complementary strengths of those around him, among other effective strategies. We also talk about the value of story-telling to make more explicit the multiple different ways and realities of how we do academia. And he talks about metrics as just being an indicator of something and looking for other complementary ways to also explore that something.

“Our job as we get more senior is to speak up for a diversity of different ways of doing scholarship.”

“If it’s really research we don’t actually know what the answer is.” 

“How do you design something so that it is easy to change rather than how do you design something so it is right so you don’t need to change it?”

“When a faculty works well it is nurturing and it’s like a family.”

Overview:

04:26 How thinking about getting tenure matters

10:15 Teaching

15:05 Agile research

25:00 Stepping into a leadership role

43:05 Storytelling, self-care and metrics

And in more detail, he talks about (times approximate) …

01:40 Moving from Computer Science in the UK to a School of Information Sciences at UIUC in the US in 1997 as an adventure to “try it out”. Seeing how he could go with the teaching. The challenges of multi-disciplinarity. Learning the US academic tradition including tenure.

How thinking about getting tenure matters

04:26 Going into a tenure track position, via an exception as a Q appointment. He talks about how he approached the tenure process. Was successful but always in the back of his mind was that he could always go back to the UK. Didn’t put pressure on himself – viewing it as an adventure, had a backup of being able to find another job if needed, and realizing it is “just a set of rules rather than something that is about my identity”. Vs treating it as about identity creates pressure and leads to conformist about what will be acceptable to the tenure committee. The paradoxes. And the value of the uni documents about tenure rules creating many different opportunities for excellence.

09:05 “Our job as we get more senior is to speak up for a diversity of different ways of doing scholarship.”

Teaching

10:15 Winning an excellent teaching award. How excellent mentoring helped him. A strong culture of excellent teaching in the school. Talks about the contrast of being a soft person in a computer science and then being the hard techie person in the iSchool. All relative.

11:55 The formal and informal mentoring he received – an Australian historian, Boyd Raywood, who could help translate the US academic system for him; Betsy Hearn and the power of storytelling. The teaching techniques he has developed – more hands-on activities

Agile Research

15:05 Drawing inspiration from agile software development to ask what might agile research look like and how can we speed up the iterations. Compares this to the ‘straw man’ logical waterfall method for computers but it doesn’t work as the world is a lot messier than we would like and we are fallible human beings who can’t follow rational methods. Compares this to grant and thesis proposals which look like the waterfall method but we all know that this doesn’t work like this.

19:40 Influencing funding bodies about this? So far no but he has a plan. He has just written a paper to justify agile as a reasonable research method. And talks about how it can fit into deliverables reporting requirements for funded research. Needing more honesty and transparency about the process of doing research. Not doing anyone a favour particularly our students who look at the post-hoc constructed representations of senior researchers’ work and compare it their messiness of their own. Honesty especially important given the increasing interest in reproducible research. “So long as you admit that thing you are doing is a legal fiction to save other people the time and bother and not pretend that is the thing we did.”

22:55 “If it’s really research we don’t actually know what the answer is… have some guesses… but time and again we discover something far more interesting than what we intended to look for.”

Stepping into a leadership role

25:00 Reflecting on his program director role. 5-6 years would have said he had no desire to do any academic leadership thing as didn’t think he would be good at it. No ambition. Thought he would be a bad fit as good at divergent thinking but not good at details, keeping track of things, person management. However the need and opportunity arose to be director of new masters program. Thought he would have a go. Brand new degree to be created out of nothing with help of fellow faculty. So an opportunity to build something new and interesting. That piqued his interest. He had written an article about what an agile university might look like. So given they didn’t know what should be in this program, how could he design the process to learn as they go? So coming up with structures and getting input from people and nudge it so they are not getting locked into early commitments. “How do you design something so that it is easy to change rather than how do you design something so that it is right so you don’t need to change it?”

29:08 Setting it up to enable learning from the start. Helped by colleagues working with him and delegating things to people who were really good at doing things that he was bad at doing. A struggle at times as can egocentrically think that if I hate doing it others do too. [30:34] Learning what it is that plays to other people’s strengths – so getting to know people, reading from their body language that this is something they like. Meg Edwards is very good at systematizing things. Having someone who has complementary skills but also not embarrassed about raising things that really need to be done. An important culture thing (mid-western nice, being polite, not wanting to offend – so have to move it along to see if people actually agree or disagree and what do we disagree about)

32:41 The important role of the leader in setting the culture. The importance of having lots of very small meetings including one-on-ones. Lots of little conversations more productive. And if it goes wrong it’s my fault, my job.

33:51 The people he learnt his leadership skills from – actual and implicit mentors. Discusses Doug Shepherd, Ian Sommerville disagreeing; Doug Shepherd – managing by walking around; Alan Dix - playfulness; Tom Rodden – sharing and including people;

38:35 The value of managing by walking around, understanding needs. Staying curious. Bringing research interests to management/leadership, figuring out strengths and what other things are needed, who can do those. “If you play to your strengths you are going more with the grain as opposed to against the grain.”

41:50 Role of systematization, structuring, as program matures and as you get bigger. Breaking into small teams work because of way humans work.

Storytelling, self-care and metrics

43:05 Role of story-telling. For example telling graduate students how to get a job – collections of stories that reveals getting jobs in different ways.

45:20 Story-telling in the faculty as well? Some happens already. Easier when smaller faculty and now needs more effort.  Stories – for new professors and doctoral students who want an academic career – stories of struggling around and how people overcame adversity, or even admitting not knowing and then things clicking into place. Those stories revealing the processes. Also stories of people who are successful and how much appears to be luck, seizing opportunity – “the factor of luck, happenstance, we often don’t want to tell because it doesn’t fit the heroic story but it is still an issue of seizing that, but helping people to realise, don’t be dispirited if one doesn’t work out, these things happen.”

48:25 We’d like to believe the world is rational. Same in the hiring process. But it’s not. Discussion of trying to be fair in hiring, to see the whole person, being open to different research approaches. Still times when you are not sure. Incredibly difficult issue.

51:05 Story of Leigh Estabrook who recruited him – one of her famous phrases was no grant proposal is ever wasted. You will be benefitting from that in the future in a way you don’t know about. “When a faculty works well it is nurturing and it’s like a family, that recognises that each individual in the family is different and unique.”. Other practices building a nurturing culture – always there, sustaining it via eg faculty retreats, sharing ideas, sharing stories. Key is inviting more than one story. Hallway conversations. Collaborations around teaching. Also need to recognize it can be intimidating for new people and need to be welcoming. The problems of comparing yourself to many others and thinking you need to be the union set of all those people.

55:55 Self-care – needing to do more on this. Commute time of 12 mins on average. Always temptation to do more and more work. Tries to make time for himself at the weekends. Travels a lot and tacks on an extra day of sightseeing. Sets a puzzle in his head and leaves his subconscious to chew over it but this needs time and relaxation and can’t force it. 

58:15 Talks about listening to podcast with Tom Rodden – do good work and other things will flow. Problems with metrics. Interested in looking at metrics as part of a socio-technical system, the doing of science. Have to remember is it the proxy and not the think itself. The challenge is to allow the telling of other stories. What you lose by turning it into a number. Getting qualitative and quantitative data working together. Numbers can help us when we want to be fair. But numbers are not unbiased. And what’s that something else we are actually looking for and how can we look for that. Eg looking for potential. What are some indicators of potential? Different people show potential in different ways. “Reminding ourselves it [metric number] is just a proxy and what are wanting it to be a proxy for may help.”

01:03:20 The challenge of academics being encouraged to be individualist. But you don’t have to do it all on your own.

01:05:13 End

Related Links

Boyd Rayward - https://ischool.illinois.edu/people/w-boyd-rayward

Betsy Hearne - https://ischool.illinois.edu/people/betsy-hearne

Meg Edwards - https://ischool.illinois.edu/people/meg-edwards

Leigh Estabrook - http://cirss.ischool.illinois.edu/person.php?id=69

Twidale & Nichols, ‘Agile Methods for Agile Universities’ - https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/129936578.pdf

Kjeld Schmidt – ‘The trouble with “tacit knowledge”’, Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): The Journal of Collaborative Computing and Work Practices, vol. 21, no. 2-3, June 2012, pp. 163-225.

Tom Rodden podcast - http://www.changingacademiclife.com/blog/2016/11/2/tom-rodden

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

Yunan Chen on getting tenure, the two-body experience & negotiating motherhood

Yunan Chen is an associate professor in the Department of Informatics at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS), and the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (ICTS) at the University of California, Irvine.  Yunan shares her experiences moving from a medical degree in China to a PhD at the intersection of medical informatics and human computer interaction in the US. She also speaks out about her tenure experiences, being part of a long distance relationship, and the struggles negotiating academia and becoming a new mother.  

“We don’t talk about our stress publicly.” “Give yourself a break after the baby.” “It’s ok to be lost [after getting tenure]”

She talks about (times approximate) …

01:35 Moving from medical school in China to a PhD in the US

09:00 Applying for faculty positions, getting applications rejected, moving to Irvine

12:41 Challenges being a new faculty member, learning paper and grant writing

17:20 Having great mentors

19:30 Having a baby, learning about life beyond work

21:10 Having a long distance relationship with a partner who is also an academic, working hard

22:10 No longer being able to count on evenings/weekends for working

24:00 Having a baby puts in a boundary on time, and using time more wisely

25:30 The first year with the baby, after tenure

27:08 Making the mistake of thinking it was still possible to be on a Program Committee, “if others can do it, maybe I can … but it turns out to be very difficult” … “First time I realised my life is forever different” … “My time is not as flexible as before”

30:20 Posting to Facebook that she “just feel very tired doing this”, one lesson, “I didn’t have to do it”; Her advice “give yourself a break” and “no-one talks about the challenges”

33:00 Trying to build a work-life balance and family life little by little, and moving to a bigger house and lowering expectations lower (ok if home not perfect, a bit messy) to achieve a better and happier life

38:48 Experiences of a mother support group, struggling with being a good mum and being a good researcher and quitting the support group, and stopping feeling guilty

41:38 Final thoughts: talk to a lot of people, we don’t talk about our stress publicly, don’t be afraid of approaching others, don’t be too harsh on yourself, things get easier

43:58 Being on academic mamas Facebook group and learning from other people’s experiences

48:00 Being lost after having a baby and after getting tenure, and finding what to do next, but it’s ok to be lost

51:45 End