Reflections on the first weeks of summer

Almost three weeks after Commencement, it finally feels like summer.

What has kept the last three weeks from feeling like summer? During the first week after commencement, final grades were due, I participated in a workshop, and my husband and I left for a week-long trip to the Midwest. We visited relatives, friends, and colleagues. That trip wasn’t exactly work, but it wasn’t exactly a vacation either.

During the last week, I’ve been working towards several deadlines:

  • to submit a co-authored extended abstract for a book chapter, for which I had already obtained a two-week extension so that it wasn’t due at the same time as final grades;
  • to select a textbook for the forthcoming Newly Revised and Expanded™ intro CS course;
  • to register at the Early Bird rate for the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing (which might not sound like a big deal, but is much complicated by the worthy endeavor of taking a group of students);
  • to prepare for the Professor’s Open Source Software Experience (POSSE) workshop in Philadelphia next week;
  • to prepare for the arrival of my summer research student. (Hi, Emma!)

All fun and a nice change of pace, but not exactly the lazy days of summer¹

What makes it finally seem like summer now? I’ve been home for the last week. The cooler weather has made it much more pleasant to work from my back porch—in my estimation, one of the greatest privileges of being faculty. (It’s funny that cooler weather makes it feel more like summer, but there it is.) The evenings are long and the mornings are all too early.

And once summer research starts, there will be no doubt it is summer.

One of my other tasks for this week was to step back and review my goals and projects for the summer. This required a much overdue “weekly” review.

It doesn’t really feel like summer until I have a plan. At Grinnell, planning would have happened sooner. I would probably have prepared my summer plan during finals week to discuss with my SWAG ² group. This spring, I have no regular accountability group (though I did have a lovely happy hour with my SWAG group in Grinnell), and anyway, I was in San Jose for CHI 2016 during most of finals week. So my summer planning did not happen until two weeks into summer, when normally it would have happened the week before summer actually started.

I suppose it’s a sign of how effective SWAG mentoring was for me that it doesn’t feel like summer until I have some kind of plan.

I discovered all my fall deadlines are piled up in September, adding to the usual (self-imposed?) pressure to have a productive summer. At the same time, it is a tremendous relief to know what is on my plate and not just have an overwhelming heap of un-doability looming over me.

Some of my summer projects build on several of the deadlines I mentioned earlier:

  • Eight weeks of summer research (hi, Emma!), hopefully culminating in the submission of a CHI Note (though I am thinking of a couple of alternative venues as well);
  • Co-writing the aforementioned book chapter;
  • Revising the intro course, in collaboration with my new colleague Andy;
  • Planning a software development or software design course, hopefully leveraging what I learn/accomplish in the POSSE workshop.

But wait, there’s more:

  • Preparing materials for my second tenure review (I never really planned on a second, and heaven help me, there will not be a third);
  • Orchestrating the nomination of a colleague for a major award (something I had promised to do last summer without appreciating the scope of the project);
  • Working through the Discrete Math & Functional Programming textbook (my Grinnell colleague John Stone approved of my textbook choice but warned me it’s not a class where you can be just a step ahead of the students);
  • Moving to my new office downstairs, where I will eagerly await the arrival of my new colleagues;
  • Firming up plans for the major, to the extent possible.

Oh, and we will be breaking ground on our new house in Walla Walla.

I also have a couple more short trips—to Williams College for the annual Liberal Arts Computer Science Consortium meeting, and to the Bay Area to meet more alumni and corporate recruiters—but fortunately neither of these requires much planning on my part. I will have an orientation for new pre-major advisers, at the same time as John and Andy are in New Faculty Orientation.

None of these projects is insurmountably huge, but it feels like a lot to juggle, especially for summer.

How am I going to juggle? Ideally, by not trying to keep too many balls in the air at once. One thing I liked about last summer is that the move from Grinnell to Walla Walla neatly divided my summer into two parts—Pre-Move and Post-Move—with obvious deadlines for each.  This summer doesn’t have such a clear-cut barrier. Nonetheless, I’d like to be conscious about picking up a few projects at a time and setting reasonable deadlines for them, rather than trying to make progress on everything at once. One of the things I like about summer is the opportunity to do more batch processing (my natural inclination, when I’m in project mode) and less context switching.

Summer is also a time for recovering from the academic year and trying to establish better habits. The spring semester was not sustainable for me.

I was very wise to negotiate for a 1-2 teaching load for this past academic year. When people ask how my spring semester was, I tell them that if the fall had been like the spring I would have been knocking at Grinnell’s door asking for my old job back.

While the search was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, it wasn’t the bulk of the work: Teaching two new courses was. Looking back at my first year at Grinnell, I relied a lot on syllabi and materials prepared by my colleagues, and I was often just a day (or less) ahead of my students. As a brand new teacher, that didn’t bother me. As a seasoned teacher, it does. For the intro course, I was grateful to have Albert teaching alongside me and happy to share some assignments and learn from his approach, but it also grated a bit not to be doing things my way. (At least now I have a better appreciation of which way is my way.) I also realized how much I depended on the materials that my colleagues developed (and I contributed to) over some 20 years at Grinnell. In the systems course, I was excited to be learning new things, but I had to apologize to my students for getting so behind on grading. I told them they were getting my love in the form of assignment prep instead. Assignment prep which I will not get to reuse myself anytime soon, but which I am to pass on to John for the class next spring. Being behind on grading is the one thing that, far more than writing, makes me feel guilty about not working.

In short, I worked too much, and I often found it hard at times to enjoy my time away from work. On the bright side, I will have a good deal of empathy for my new colleagues next year.

But if I want to avoid a repeat performance this fall, it won’t be enough to get ahead on my work. I discovered yesterday that I gained five pounds during the spring semester. Like my weekly reviews, weighing myself regularly was one of the many habits that fell by the wayside during the spring semester. Gaining a few pounds is not the end of the world, but I was feeling it even before I weighed myself, and it’s meant having to buy some new clothes. I really don’t want this to happen again.

So this week has also been a week of re-establishing healthy habits. Brooks has been out of town at his annual conference in Ottawa, which in some ways makes things easier. I’ve done Sun Salutations five mornings in a row, and I’m starting to think about how to fit in a longer practice once a week. (Fortunately, I recovered from my second bout of plantar fasciitis sometime during the spring semester despite letting go of the morning yoga.) I’ve been getting a daily walk, if not necessarily the morning walk I’d prefer. I’ve been enjoying the fresh fruit and vegetables from the farmer’s market. I’ve been buying sweet peas (my favorite flower) at the farmers’ market, too, and cutting roses from our lot. I cooked dinner for myself four nights this week and met friends for the fifth. I’ve been trying to keep regular hours and limit my screen time. That’s something that’s much easier when I’m with Brooks; I’m doing better than I often do when I’m home alone. I’ve finished a book that I packed in my luggage for winter holiday travels, and almost finished another I started in January.

Although I’m off to a good start, the next couple weeks’ travel will be a challenge. Worst comes to worst, my return will be an opportunity to start again.


Another habit I hope to resume this summer is blogging on a more regular basis. Look for posts on topics such as office and lab design, preparations for next year’s classes, and proposed major requirements. I may even be able to reconstruct my thoughts on those SIGCSE plenaries.

¹ If I were a social scientist, I would analyze what is going on in this video racially. I’m not so I won’t. But I will say I haven’t been able to listen to one of the favorite summer songs of my childhood quite the same way since growing into feminism.

² I just realized I’m not exactly sure what SWAG stands for beyond the “SW.” Scholarly Women At Grinnell? Scholarly Women’s Achievement Group? Scholarly Women’s Accountability Group? ³

³ I seem to have caught footnotes from my Grinnell colleague Sam Rebelsky, as well as rhetorical questions. If you’re hungry for more reflections from CS educators, then go browse his musings, which are explicitly not a blog.

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