My Year Away. Again.

First, I went on Sabbatical. Now, I'm beginning My Year Away again as I start my first year of Retirement!


And So, The End Is Near…But Did I Do It My Way?

It’s June. That means I’m in my last month of administration. In the words of Frank Sinatra “The end is near.” July 1 is right around the corner. Here’s what I have to do before I check out and begin My Year Away.

  1. Faculty Evaluations. Yuck. I don’t know why I find this an unpleasant task, but I do. I enjoy reading what the faculty have accomplished over the past year. I just don’t like to write the letters commending them for the good stuff (that part is easy) but nudging them to improve in areas that need work. More times than not, I’m impressed with all of the willing service to the university they provide. Even so, it’s an interesting exercise to read 40 self-reports. Garrison Keillor isn’t the only one who lives in a town where Everyone Is Above Average.
  2. Finding adjuncts to cover the classes we have scheduled, but don’t have enough faculty to teach. We’ve got a record number of students returning to campus in August and somebody’s got to teach them. Finding qualified adjuncts who are available to teach at paltry sums and who have the academic credentials to satisfy the university accreditation watchdogs is a challenge, that’s for sure.
  3. Finding someone to take over our graduate program. Yup. Our brand-new grad director jumped ship after one semester. I’m trying not to take it personally.
  4. Read dissertations or dissertation proposals and participate in the defenses. Over the past week, I’ve had three. It’s just that time of year.
  5. Launch four faculty searches to start in August. Let’s see, five faculty members and one graduate student for each committee, justification paperwork for central administration, selection of advertising venues.
  6. Go to Tbilisi, Georgia, to teach a doctoral seminar on academic writing and to lead a workshop on pedagogy.   Georgia, in case you don’t know, is next door to Ukraine and eight time zones away. You might question why I would do such a thing during my last month of full-time administration. Let me just say that I have asked myself this question many times.
  7. Clean my office and move to my new (smaller) office. It’s amazing how much paper a person can accumulate in the era of paperless digitation.

There’s more, but I’d rather not think about it right now.

As I wrote in my March 12 post “When Administration Duties Backslap You..” (, it’s been one crazy semester that has just about done me in. But, as I look back, I’ve accomplished quite a lot, both as an administrator and in preparation for becoming a regular faculty member. I got word that both my papers for AEJMC ( accepted for presentation in August. I successfully completed the first course in the Data Scientist Specialization via Johns Hopkins and Coursera. (I’ve decided I need to read more about R and practice writing code more before I tackle the R Programming course. One more thing to add to my sabbatical list!) I successfully completed teaching two courses and three independent studies (  My teaching evaluations were solid. One student even suggested that I was a cool hippie back in the day. Whatever that means.

I helped my new administrative assistant adjust to her new job responsibilities. By the way, she is phenomenal. Every day at work, I marvel that such a qualified (and crazy young) professional found her way to our school.

We completed our search for our new Big Data assistant professor. The process continues because our choice is an international graduate student who has just completed his PhD. (Visas, work papers, spreadsheets, etc. It’s quite amazing what it takes to demonstrate to the government that there is not a U.S. citizen more qualified for the job.) He is excited about joining us, which makes me happy. I love seeing young scholars decide that the J-School at South Carolina is the place to launch a career.

The renovations for our new building began this semester. Our meetings with the architects, construction team, interior designers and technology consultants have taken up hours upon hours this semester, but the meetings have been worth it. The construction is underway and when I get back from My Year Away, I will be in an office on the third floor with two windows and a tremendous view. (Our school has been stuck in the basement of the coliseum—yes, a real coliseum—for years. No windows does things to people. Just sayin’.)

And then there’s all the other regular stuff that goes into running a journalism program with too many students, not enough faculty, and bare-bones staff support. Perhaps I didn’t always go about things in the most conventional ways, but I got the work done. So with apologies to Sinatra, “Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew/When I bit off more than I could chew/But through it all, when there was doubt/I ate it up and spit it out/I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way…The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!”

Okay, taking the blows, absolutely; however, a lot of times I didn’t really get to do things my way. ( Instead, it was often compromise, pleading, trying another angle, more compromise. But, still our school has made progress over the past six years. So that’s what I choose to remember.

Meanwhile, it’s 30 days to go. I can do that. And if it get’s too harried, I’ll just start humming a little Frank Sinatra. That ought to clear the office!



Riding the Train and Taking a Sabbatical Is Statistically Significant

When I think about My Year Away (which starts in just under two months, but who’s counting?), I know I have to be strategic in order to return to the university with renewed vigor for teaching and research. How to do this? Is writing all day every day an option? Crunching data? Mining the literature?

If I’ve learned anything about being an effective scholar/teacher, it’s that I have to pace myself. Read, write, think, analyze, read some more, write some more, think, think, think. But not all day, every day. I’ve often found that if I do something else, I can solve problems and get ideas that will then help me get back on (insert train metaphor here) track.

When I wrote my dissertation 22 years ago, I did two things primarily to fuel my brain. First, I picked up pinecones in our front yard. Living in Atlanta at the time, we lived on a very woody lot. Let’s just say that the yard was pristine by the time I defended my dissertation (right on time I might add).

I also took piano lessons. I had taken lessons as a kid, but thought that the discipline of piano practice might help me keep a regular schedule for writing. It actually worked. I became a bit obsessed with Bach. My piano teacher insisted I (re)learn Bach’s Two-Part Inventions with the fingering that Bach used, which, just trust me, was bizarre. She even made me write a little piece of music “in the style of Bach.” (I’m not sure Bach would have approved of my effort, but I was kind of proud of it.)

I found these little exercises of discipline helpful. That’s why I’m already creating my list of things I might try during my sabbatical in order to keep chugging away at my research.

And that’s why I’m riding the train today.   I thought it might be fun to take a cross-country train trip during My Year Away. The idea would be to write and read along the way, see new sights, and come home with renewed vim and vigor. My husband was all for this trip, but reminded me that I am prone to extreme motion sickness. How prone? Let me put it this way. When we were shopping for our first sailboat, we went to a boat show in a convention center. On land. I boarded a boat (mounted on the concrete!) and proceeded to get seasick. Over the years, I’ve learned techniques for getting control of my motion sickness. When I sail in the ocean, I know how to grab the helm and stare at the far horizon before I blow. I know how to make sure I don’t fixate on the water while I’m rowing (sitting backwards while rowing presents some challenges). I still can’t use my reading glasses. And I only made it 15 minutes with Google Glass.

So my very smart husband suggested I “try” a train trip before we “buy” the long-haul (and expensive!) cross-country excursion. A business trip to DC seemed the perfect trial run. Ten hours on the train. Would I be able to read? Write?

Yes and no. I’m writing right now and it’s going pretty well, but I can tell that I’m starting to reach my limit. Horizon-gazing time! I’m not yet sure about whether the coast-to-coast trip is going to happen. But it’s still on the list. And here’s what else is on the list. (I reserve the right to add or subtract from the list at any time!)

  1. Rowing camp. I’ve been before and it’s always incredible. Rowing three times a day with coaches yelling at me through every stroke. I concentrate too hard (and I’m in too much pain, anyway!) to think of anything other than improving my rowing. I always return with renewed energy for the academic life after four days of intense rowing.
  2. Stand Up Comedy workshop. I think I’m pretty funny—but not necessarily when I have to plan it out. How in the world does someone write a joke, practice it for cryin’ out loud–and still deliver it funny?
  3. Grow English peas. Seriously. Peas are awesome.
  4. A cruise. I have resisted the cruise line industry for my whole life. My friend and academic soul sister, Kathy, on the other hand, loves cruises. I hate “shows.” I hate watching people eat copious amounts of food. I don’t gamble. I’ve sailed in the Caribbean on a real sailboat. (where you can really, truly experience the water and the islands.) Still, since I’m trying new things, Kathy and I have hatched a plan. We’ll get a room with an ocean-view balcony and sit out there and talk/write about our research in the mornings. Then we’ll do whatever we want in the afternoons.
  5. Play in the hand bell choir. I’ve never touched a hand bell. I don’t know a thing about them, other than I’m intrigued about how a group of people can stand there holding one or two bells, swing them back and forth periodically, and come out with a song that I sometimes recognize.
  6. More statistics courses. As I wrote about several months ago, I took a stats class from a Princeton professor via a MOOC. I loved it. I’ve just finished the first course in a Data Scientist specialization from Johns Hopkins. (Once I figured out how to set the lectures to regular speed rather than 1.5 speed, the instructors were a whole lot easier to understand.) I’m ready for the next course.

And maybe I’ll take a coast-to coast train trip with my husband. So far this current train trip is going well. I’ve only had a few moments when I thought I might get sick. I’ve been able to read (although not for hours) and as you can see, I am able to write.

One thing I’ve learned is that when I want to do something, I need to start planning for it now. That’s why, even though My Year Away doesn’t start for two months, I’ve already started doing some of the things on the list. They are helping me get ready for what I hope will be a very productive sabbatical.

So far, I’d say this planning ahead seems to be working. I’ve already gotten more done this semester than I would have thought possible. In addition to doing administration full time, I’ve written a lot, I’ve begun working on some research with colleagues, I’ve read more than I have in a long time, and I’ve been thinking.

I’ve got a lot to accomplish before July 1 (faculty annual reviews, lots of meetings about our new building, a business trip eight time zones away, just to name a few.)

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Full steam ahead. (And thus ends my train metaphors!)