End-of-year reflections, 2016

With the busy-ness of the semester over and the turning of another year, it is a time for looking back and looking forward.

Last week my Grinnell colleague Sam Rebelsky shared some end-of-semester reflections. I’m going to try this exercise too.

Sam introduces his reflections with the following paragraphs:

A few years ago, when the amazing Karla Erickson began her term as Associate Dean, she decided that part of her role would be improving our support for what she called “mid-career faculty”, which she identified as faculty anywhere between tenure and Senior-Faculty Status. One of the things she does is hold regular end-of-semester reflection sessions in which she asks us to think about a variety of prompts and then to talk about related issues. Today’s essay is an extended version of my responses to her prompts at today’s session. I’ve put my inadequate summary of her prompts in bold. I’d encourage you to think about doing a similar self assessment.

Oh, Karla had us start with three deep breaths and then ninety seconds of silence. I’d recommend that you do that first, too.

I am going to answer the prompts that Sam shared. I am going to try to answer them strictly in order and not go back to revise. [I mostly succeeded at this.] There will be bulleted lists.

Make a list of at least three items of things of which you are proud this past year. It does not have to be something that won an award. It could be something as simple as a conversation.

Make a list of three or so people you have supported in meaningful ways.

  • My new colleagues John and Andy, as well as our technical specialist Dustin.
  • Two colleagues at other institutions who shall remain nameless, one who is going through a difficult workplace situation and another who may accept a position similar to mine at a peer institution.
  • My summer research student, Emma Twersky.

Make a list of three or so people who have supported you in meaningful ways.

  • My wonderful husband Brooks has been taking care of me in so many ways.
  • I took my Whitman mentor, Jan Crouter, out to lunch yesterday to thank her.
  • My colleagues who wrote letters for my tenure case, at Whitman, Grinnell, and beyond.
  • Tim Machonkin shepherded the CS major proposal through the Curriculum Committee.
  • The CS Steering Committee supported me both in hiring and in developing the major proposal.
  • Albert Schueller has continued to support me personally, as well.
  • David Guichard sat in on my Discrete Math & Functional Programming course throughout the semester.
  • Andy shared a lot of his CS 167 materials with me. I am grateful both for his assignments, which were way easier to grade than mine, and for a sounding board on making decisions about the course. Similarly, I am grateful to have John as a sounding board. They are both already contributing to Whitman’s CS program in ways beyond teaching, and it would be lonely here without them.
  • My dad looked after my cat every time both Brooks and I were both traveling. My mother is proud of me.

You have approximately 38 25 days (starting today) between now and the start of the next semester. What will you do to recover from this semester and prepare for next semester? Try to be creative, and think of things that you wouldn’t normally do but you know other people do.

  • I am taking ten days over the holidays completely off of work.
  • I am going to set a vacation message on my work email. Having achieved inbox zero yesterday, I may declare email bankruptcy when I return.
  • I plan to tidy up my office and finish my annual activity report before I leave work tomorrow, so that I am really, really done with fall semester and I can return from the holidays to a clean slate.
  • I want to go through my to do list and delete a lot of things. Not do them; just delete them. Or at least mark them as things I don’t plan to do anytime soon.
  • I already updated my career plan for the spring.
  • I should think more systematically about what needs to be done for the CS program. (As soon as the major proposal passed, things started rushing into my head, but that is not the same as thinking systematically.)
  • It really helped me to work through the Discrete Math textbook and assignments before the fall semester started. I plan to spend the bulk of my work time in January before the start of classes doing the same for the new Software Design course.
  • When I get back into my work routine in January, I am going to start doing a little daily morning yoga again.
  • I also want to spend more time cooking over the break.

Make a list of the projects you hope to or have to accomplish during the next semester or calendar year.

  • I have a new course to teach.
  • I have a book chapter to finish.
  • I have a summer conference to host.
  • I may have a summer research student.
  • There is a lot more work to do to get the major off the ground now that it has been approved.
  • I get to teach the same two classes again next fall, and I want to improve them.
  • I want to participate in an Intro CS POGIL workshop this summer and use what I learn in my fall classes.
  • We will get to/have to move into our new house.

Look back on that list and pick a few that seem particularly “bright and shiny” to you. Then think about what will help you accomplish those projects. What do you need to do to build momentum for those projects? Do you need to set up some accountability structures?

  • We have lots of momentum on the house already.
  • Starting work on my new course right after the holidays should give me good forward momentum. I already have in hand a copy of the textbook, assignments, and a model syllabus, so I will be ready to go. I should go over them and set a schedule for myself, like I did for working through the Discrete Math textbook, so I don’t dawdle and waste my time.
  • The book chapter isn’t exactly “bright and shiny” but it needs to get done. I’d like to set aside every other Tuesday to work on it from the start of classes through the April deadline. The feedback we are getting in January should be a good impetus to return to the project. I should have an explicit conversation with my co-author about work schedules and checking in.
  • I want to get tasks for the CS program into either my to-do system (I use Omnifocus) or the list of future meeting agenda topics so that I will be prompted to do them when the time comes.

Apply the original set of responses to these projects. What are you proud of? Who helps or doesn’t help?

  • I am already proud of our new house (though hopefully not too proud). We have great people working for us. I’ve already cautioned Brooks that if we get to move in May, he may be responsible for doing most of the work of getting us moved out of our rental house.
  • I’m proud that I did as well as I did this fall teaching material I hadn’t studied in 20 years. Similarly, this spring I will teach a class with Java, a programming language I haven’t used in 15 years. I think I teach well in the “senior learner” role and I plan to take advantage of that. I also am proud of how much I’ve learned about software design through teaching software engineering in recent years, and I want to leverage that. This fall my course design relied heavily on materials from the textbook author; I should reopen lines of communication with my textbook author for this spring.
  • I want to make sure the book chapter is something I can be proud of. I need the help of my co-author as noted above. The editors and other chapter authors are others who I can look to for support.
  • I will continue to take pride in the development of the CS program. My colleagues are helping a lot. I wonder if there are more things I can enlist students’ help with.

If you find another hour to work, how should you use it?

  • I don’t really think I should work for another hour every week. I worked about 60 hours most weeks this fall and I imagine spring will be similar. If anything, I should try to work an hour less each week, or at least pick a night to go home earlier.
  • If I find another hour to work before leaving for the holidays, or on the plane, I should spend it on a so-called “weekly” review. I also have some short, business-y books I want to read; I should pack at least one to take with me.

I am going to go home now and cook dinner for my parents. Happy holidays!

1 thought on “End-of-year reflections, 2016

  1. Samuel A. Rebelsky

    A great set of reflections, Janet. However, it looks ilke you have as much trouble counting as I do. It’s wonderful that both of us have so many people who support us (and so many people we support). You’ve also done a wonderful job of limiting what you’re going to do during winter break. Congrats!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *