Reflections on the CRA-W Career Mentoring Workshop

I am writing this during my return flight from the CRA-W Career Mentoring Workshop in Phoenix.

Before leaving, I was conflicted. I decided to go because I felt a need for career mentoring, and I had professional development funds to spend. On the other hand, my previous experience with a similar workshop wasn’t super productive, and I wasn’t sure about seeking advice I might not be ready to act on. I was also reluctant to spend a weekend away from my family.

Now that the weekend is over, I think it was worth it. It was good to see a few old friends, talk more with some acquaintances, and expand my professional network. I attended some informative sessions on managing up and down, negotiating, and starting new initiatives. The highlight was something new since my last experience with a CRA-W Career Mentoring Workshop: A 1:1 mentoring session, in which I got to spend four 15-minute sessions with senior colleagues, asking for advice on four different topics, plus one bonus session with the workshop organizer when we were both had blanks in our schedules.

What happens at the workshop stays at the workshop, but I can share the advice I received myself. Here’s a sampling.

On making time for scholarship: As I’ve written, I’m newly committed to leaving work at 5. I’ve been keeping up with my responsibilities as a teacher and a department chair, but I have no major service this semester, and I’ve been doing hardly any scholarship. This worries me – at some point I will have to get back into scholarship, and it’s already a delicate balance. The advice I got was to cut myself some slack. At least while I’m chair or have other major service commitments, it may not be possible to progress on my scholarship during semesters when I’m teaching. During my sabbatical, I should try to design future projects that are easy to pick up at the start of the summer and put down at the end.

On gaining social capital: Although this is my fourth year at Whitman, I don’t feel I have the social capital I had after nine years at Grinnell. At Grinnell, I had years of committee service and week-long summer workshops in which to get to know colleagues, as well as faculty meetings, and during my first few years, Faculty House lunches. I’ve been a regular attendee at division and faculty meetings, and I will serve as Andy’s sabbatical replacement on the AITAG committee this spring, but with new motherhood and my upcoming sabbatical, this is not the time for big service. What I can do in the short term is try to arrive a little earlier for faculty meetings and sit by someone I don’t know well. I also realized I’ve had my head down since I returned from maternity leave and I’m overdue for scheduling some lunch dates.

On promotion to full professor: The key is to demonstrate leadership. I should submit my application as soon as possible. I will make an appointment with the Dean to talk about this. Adding up my time in rank at Grinnell and at Whitman, I reckon I am eligible to submit in summer 2020, at the end of my year-long sabbatical. Depending on the exact deadlines, which I don’t remember, I may need to ask colleagues to observe my classes this spring, before my sabbatical.

On professional service: Don’t jump into something big unless I’m passionate about it. I don’t know right now what that would be, so it’s okay to wait until I do know.

On time management: If things need to happen mid-semester, schedule them at the beginning of the semester so my calendar doesn’t fill up.

On new initiatives: I had thought now was not the time for new initiatives. But upon being pressed, I realize there is something new I want to get started: With the CS major thriving, we need a new student club. CS@W has been folded into the Whitman Innovation Network, and in any case I think we need something more connected to academics and more open to casual involvement by all CS students. I’m hoping to get some students interested in forming a CS student leadership club (do such things exist at Whitman?), a student ACM chapter, or a student ACM-W chapter. It’s not the right time for me to push this forward, but John could if he is interested, or it could wait until I return from my sabbatical.

Beyond all this, there are the luxuries of a weekend away from my daughter: A nice hot bath and a totally uninterrupted night’s sleep. The thing that makes me not so sure it was worth it? I’ve felt like I’m coming down with a cold all weekend, and I came close to losing my voice. We’ll see what happens upon my return.

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