Three summers of moving

This is the first summer in three years that I haven’t had to move offices. Nonetheless, this summer has its own disruptive events that have made planning difficult.

Two summers ago, I moved from Grinnell to Walla Walla. I remember that as a surprisingly productive summer. It was neatly divided into Pre-Move, Move, and Post-Move, because with the move my life completely changed.

Before the move, I had three big goals: 1) to run a workshop on concepts of leadership, which I had committed to do before accepting the job at Whitman; 2) to write the annual report for my first (and only) year as Director of the Wilson Program in Leadership and Enterprise; 3) to hand over my new software development courses to my colleague Sam Rebelsky who would be teaching them next. I also needed to pack my office and lab.

From my perspective, the move took about two weeks. We hired full-service movers, and my husband Brooks held down the fort at home. I took a day off to help clean between the movers leaving and our flight, but that was really all the time I took off in Grinnell. After we arrived in Walla Walla, I took over and spend a couple of weeks mostly unpacking.

After the move, I focused on new things: Settling into my new office (a project unto itself), preparing the advertisement for the other two CS positions, preparing for classes, New Faculty Orientation. I did not write the SIGCSE paper I had planned on Grinnell’s new software development course—and I fear that moment has now long passed—but I did find a new co-author for a book chapter proposal, now completed and in press. I also made time to read, doodle, and daydream.

What I failed to plan for was vacation, since Brooks used up all his vacation time moving. We decided to take Thanksgiving that year for ourselves (a quiet trip to Coeur d’Alene) and also spent a week in Hawaii over the January break.

Last summer, both my first office on the second floor and my new office on the first floor were under construction. Moreover, the elevator was out of service for the entire summer. This meant that I packed up most of my belongings at the beginning of the summer and didn’t move into my new office until days before classes started, which was stressful to say the least. I sometimes worked out of my denuded office on the second floor, though it was often too dusty or noisy. Most often I worked from home.

Though my work was peripatetic, I had clearly defined projects and goals:

  • My summer research project with Emma Twersky ’10 concluded with a technical report that was ready to revise into a conference paper. Fortunately she was very independent, and coped fine with meeting just a few times a week at restaurants and coffee shops.
  • The first draft of the aforementioned book chapter was due at the end of the summer.
  • I participated in the POSSE workshop at Drexel, which helped me to think through alternatives for our software design course.
  • I participated in my first LACS meeting as a full member, which helped me to think through alternatives for our senior assessment (as well as sparking a blog post later published in CACM).
  • I worked with my new colleagues (remotely) to hammer out most of the CS major curriculum.
  • I worked with Andy to develop a common syllabus for CS 167.
  • I worked through the first six chapters of the Discrete Math & Functional Programming textbook by setting aside one day a week for six weeks to do nothing but work problems.
  • I visited the Bay Area with Kim Rolfe, our Director of Business Engagement.
  • I saw the CS Commons ready just in time for classes to start.
  • Last but far from least, I needed to prepare my tenure case before the fall semester started.

It was a productive summer. Busy, but productive. Once again what I failed to plan for was a summer vacation, and with family and work travel using up my breaks, that was never really rectified.

This summer, thankfully, I do not have to move offices. However, I am moving house.

We are moving into a brand new house. That means we have had access to it for a while, and have gotten to do some things before moving in, like installing closet organizers, that we didn’t get around to in our previous house until we had lived there a few years. On the other hand, there is the extra work of all the final choices (most recently, closet knobs) and things that ordinarily prior owners would have done, like establishing mail and trash service (which, thankfully, Brooks has taken care of).

The move is only three blocks, which simplifies some things but not others. There is more we can do ourselves, but we are still hiring help with moving furniture and boxes.

The movers come on Monday, and I’ve already told my summer research student, Andrew, that I won’t be in on Monday or Tuesday. I am counting my lucky stars that he is taking this week off, because it has freed me to spend time at home packing. While we started packing our books weeks ago, the kitchen would have been really disruptive to start packing before now, and it is an even bigger job.


Andrew and I started summer research the day after Commencement. In some ways, that was clearly the right choice. My motivation was to have Andrew start at the same time as my colleague’s summer students, which has worked out well for department lunches and research presentations. Having started a week earlier than we initially planned, Andrew can take this week off and still finish by the end of July. This means I can follow my husband on his work trip to Cambridge, where we plan to take some vacation over our anniversary, which we missed celebrating altogether last year. (We have another short vacation planned later in August, when a few of our college friends will come up from California to see the solar eclipse with us.)

The unfortunate consequence is that I didn’t get any down time between the end of the semester and the start of summer research. In particular, I didn’t take the time to map out projects and goals for the summer. I feel like I’ve been lurching from one thing to the next:

  • Working with Andrew has been great, but the nature of the project and his lack of prior experience means he’s needed me at unpredictable times.
  • I’m program chair for CCSC-NW 2017, which has meant a decent amount of not difficult but nonetheless urgent administrative work.
  • The movers coming on Monday is a hard deadline which makes it difficult to focus on anything else this week (including this blog post).
  • Next month I am hosting the 2017 meeting of the Liberal Arts CS (LACS) Consortium at Whitman. At the moment that’s on the back burner, but it will have to come back to the front as soon as we hit July.

I’ve also been helping John think through his CS 270 assignments. I know I have work to do on my own classes, too, but I haven’t thought that work through in detail yet. I don’t have a current writing project: the final book chapter was due in April (it’s a miracle we made that deadline) and I haven’t decided whether to expand the conference paper Emma and I wrote into a journal article.

With such a short list of projects, I’ve been motivated to work only a few hours a day. Is that okay? I’m not sure. I do think I need some time to rest. And moving, in particular, will be a lot less stressful by virtue of the time I’ve been able to take off work to pack our belongings. At the same time, if I don’t start a new writing project this summer, I will have to think hard about how to motivate myself to start writing in the fall when I will have much less time for it. And working on my classes this summer will make the semester a lot more pleasant—not to mention the work on the syllabus that needs to be done before the semester starts if I am going to do it at all.

Writing this, I’m starting to feel inclined to write off now through the LACS meeting, and think hard about how to make best use of the second half of July and the first half of August. Four weeks is as long as our winter break, and I’ll have a similar scope of work to get done.

Looking back at my goals and projects for the last two summers also reminded me of my quarterly planning worksheet, in which I list events, goals, and an action plan for each semester and break. I got this from colleagues in the Scholarly Women At Grinnell (SWAG) group, which I miss dearly. I also realize I haven’t completed a planning worksheet for this summer, probably because I haven’t had a meeting to provide me with a deadline for doing so. I suppose that’s a job for next week or so, after we move.

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