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!

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My Biggest Sabbatical Surprise? I’m Ready to Return to Reality.

It’s July 14. I report back to work on August 16. One month remains to think my own thoughts, do my own thing, dig in the dirt, row.

Except I don’t have one month. In order to be ready for the fall semester, I have to work now. This puts me in a quandary. I want to squeeze every last drop out of My Year Away—except I’m being drawn back into the “real world.” Sort of like the time traveller who is content to wander around a different century and then makes the mistake of touching a coin from the present day mistakenly left in his pocket, and wham! Yanked into the present.

I’m teaching two new classes in the fall. So I’m reading all sorts of books, determined to make these classes current, cutting edge, challenging and fun. Heck, I’m shooting for life altering. This takes time. Lots and lots of time and all of a sudden, I’m finding myself short on time. My beach office is a mess, with books strewn across my desk, barely started syllabi on my desktop, links to potential articles bookmarked.

I’ll also be the chair of our tenure and promotion committee this year, which means I have to usher through the process anyone who is going up for tenure. I’m currently soliciting external reviewers for the candidate’s dossier, which is due August 1. (If I contact you, please say yes!) All this takes time. Time away from my sabbatical.

But here’s the thing. I’m excited about the semester. I’m enjoying getting ready for the fall. We have moved into a renovated space in the historic part of campus—really, the soul of the university. As the former head of the school, I was deeply involved in the design of our building and it’s gratifying to see the results of all those meetings. I love our new building. And I love my new office. I have windows(!) with a beautiful view. I have everything arranged perfectly thanks to my friend Marcie, a fellow academic also known as the Design Whisperer.

Here's my new office.

Here’s my new office.

As I look back over the past year, I am grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’ve loved my travel, I’ve loved seeing friends, I’ve loved my garden, I’ve loved cooking for my husband, I’ve loved being able to row more.

And I’ve loved doing research. In other posts, I’ve written about the need to “fill the pipeline.” I might not have accomplished as much as I set out to do (who ever does?), but I’ve worked hard and am starting to reap the effort. Since beginning my sabbatical, I have had one journal article published, two more accepted for publication, two in review at top journals, two in early writing stages, and a couple in the “we should work on this” stage.

I’ve improved my technology skills, my social media savvy, my statistics ability. I’ve even continued trying to learn R programming (which makes my right brain throb).

What I haven’t done, however, is work on my administrative skills. Oh, I’ve kept up with the Chronicle of Higher Education. And I even read a lengthy article about what’s wrong with journalism education (I can tell you, there is a lot wrong with J-education, but this article didn’t tell me a single thing that I–and just about everyone else—didn’t already know.)

Personally, I’d much rather spend my time learning from those excited about the future of communications. Like Faris Yakob. I discovered Faris’ book Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World and then contacted him via Twitter. This book just came out and is making quite the splash in advertising circles. As of today, Faris has 27,000 followers on Twitter. Yet, when I tweeted him, he replied in about 30 seconds. And get this! He has agreed to Skype in to one of my class sessions. Woo hoo!

As my family and friends know, I love to move. I can thank my dad for this. He moved our family around the country during his heyday as a General Electric poobah. (Sometimes multiple times in one year.) Nothing like packing boxes to get a girl’s juices flowing!  However, this year, I’ve learned that there might be something even better than moving: Getting a fresh start in the very same place. I’ve got a new building, a new office, new classes, some new colleagues, new students, new committee assignments.

As Malcolm X once said, “The future belongs to those who prepare for it.” My sabbatical is coming to an end. I’ve spent the year preparing for the future. I am ready. In the immortal words of the Pointer Sisters, “I’m so excited. And I just can’t hide it.


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Sailing. Sunshine. And Surprises.

My husband and I just returned from a sailing trip through the British Virgin Islands (another sabbatical voyage!). We chartered a 45-foot monohull, invited friends Jack and Kathy to come along, and headed out for island hopping. It was an adventure, that’s for sure.

Taken from our boat moored at Anegada Island, an island which never exceeds 28 feet above sea level.

Taken from our boat moored at Anegada Island, an island which never exceeds 28 feet above sea level.

The sailing was spectacular, weather cooperative, water inviting. But, the real surprises were the people we encountered. Here are a few of the highlights:

  1. Katie. We met Katie early in our week. We had picked up a mooring ball at the Cooper Island Beach Resort, a small restaurant/hotel on a teeny private island. We hopped in our dinghy (a small rubber raft that you have to drag behind your sailboat all week if you plan to get off your boat) and putt-putted to the dinghy dock. We tied up, scooted through the sand and found ourselves seated at a lovely little open-air eatery. Katie was our waitress and while this sounds incredibly corny, she truly was a beam of sunshine. Katie is Welsh, thrilled to be working on a remote island and beside herself with the culinary offerings from which we would choose. Mahi Mahi? “Oooh, my second favorite thing ever!” The tuna? “Yes, that’s even better!” “The carrot soup is delectable! It’s so simple! You’ll love it!” She might be the most optimistic person ever and the four of us were clearly smitten. We ate our way through the menu, oohing and ahhing through it all—I think, in part, to please Katie. Even though a service charge was included (the food, like everything in the BVI, is expensive), we all agreed that Katie deserved more. We talked about Katie all week long. How would she like her job a month from now? How long will she last on the island? Will she stay with her boyfriend?   Will people be nice to her? While this is far-fetched, you have to believe me when I say we almost returned to Cooper Island on the sail back to Tortola just to check on Katie. We were invested.
  2. Barry. We came across Barry about 30 seconds after running aground at Anegada Island. It wasn’t our fault. Some dorkhead decided that the bay could take another round of mooring balls. Trouble was there was only about 5 feet of water there. Our boat required at least 6. We just barely got stuck and quick as a wink, Barry pushed with his dinghy and helped us get free and find deeper water. Then he charged us for the mooring—and handed us a menu from his beachfront restaurant. Opportunist? Or just a really nice and helpful islander? We discussed this at length. But the bottom line was Barry was so happy, it was impossible not to go along. He was thrilled to be living on a remote island. And he really wanted us to eat at his restaurant. Of course we did. We sat outside, in plastic chairs on the beach, which sunk a few inches into the sand every time we squiggled. We watched the sun set, the moon rise (it was a full moon and spectacular), we listened to music (apparently every island in the BVI has the perfect music list for 50-60 year olds. Wherever we went, it was Aretha, Beatles, and Ronstadt.) Barry was in no hurry and neither were we, but we were also hungry. We eventually got our food. We listened to him sing (not all that well). We watched him dance (better). This guy was just plain content with his lot in life. And he was determined to share his contentment with us.
  3. Thomas. Thomas was one of the last people we met on our trip. He was part of the family that was trying to make a go of a small hotel on St. Thomas where we stayed the night before heading back to South Carolina. Thomas fixed our clogged sink, explained why the chef had decided not to come to work that day, brought us a corkscrew, walked with us through the winding streets to explain how to get to a restaurant. He was confident, had ideas, and was clearly working hard to improve the hotel. Turns out he had spent most of his life stateside and had graduated from Georgia Tech with a computer degree. His dad died so he needed to come home to help with the family hotel. And he did. Clearly this was not an easy life for Thomas, but he didn’t show an inch of resentment.

When you go on a weeklong sailing trip, you have to be over-prepared—but ready to throw out your plans and go with Plan B. Or C. Or D. Sailing is fun, but it’s not easy. It takes muscle to raise the sails on a 45-foot boat. (I never thought I would admit this, but I actually quite enjoyed the electric winch for the mainsail that came with this model!) It takes balance to hang over the side, trying to retrieve a mooring ball or letting out anchor rode. You have to be willing to do math and know the difference between longitude and latitude. It’s helpful if you can tie a few appropriate knots. (After sailing for over a decade, I’m still barely squeaking by with my bowline knot.) And you have to be willing to obey the captain (in this case aka my husband). Always. Not always intuitive for this independent woman.

A sailing adventure like we took is a break from the world. It’s difficult to remember what day it is, let alone what time of the day it is.   Since I’m on sabbatical and already fairly rested up from administrative mayhem (after all, I’ve been away for almost a year now!), I began the week raring to go. Maybe that’s why I was more observant of the people we encountered on this trip. Or maybe I was ready to think about my life in relation to theirs. Or maybe I was just more interested in others for a change because I’ve gotten my head out of the administrative sand long enough to look around and see the delights around me. Who knows? But one thing I do know is that I loved my week in the BVI. We got in some terrific sailing, I got to spend a solid week with my husband (all my other sabbatical trips have been without him). And, I crossed paths with some incredible people who call the British Virgin Islands home. Just ordinary, joyful, calm, self-assured people. Plenty to think about as the new academic year looms around the corner. Jibe, ho!


I Just Got a Big Dose of Administration—and I Was Ready to Run Pell-Mell Back Home to Curl up with my Statistics Book!

Although my yearlong sabbatical is all about reinvigorating my scholarly life, periodically I have a few administrative duties that call, forcing me out of my flip-flops and reluctantly into a business suit. One of those duties is going on schools of journalism site accreditation visits. I sit on the national ACEJMC Accreditation Council, the group of academics and professionals who oversee accreditation for our J-Schools so I didn’t think it was right for me to bow out of visits this year.

Normally, I love going on these visits. They usually come at a time in the semester when I’m ready for a break from my own university. It’s always fun to see a different school. I usually come back with at least one great idea to think about—and even more thankful for my own university.

Going on these visits while on sabbatical is a different beast altogether. It’s a bit jarring. First, you receive a ginormous box of reading material that the unit sends to convince the accrediting team that it’s at the top of its game. Then you have to get on a plane and travel to the school for three days of intense inspection and report writing. For some reason, I always seem to get the cold schools so I leave the comforts of the south and head into weather. Always.

This visit was no different. I arrived at Kent State University just in time for a snowstorm. My husband thought it would be helpful to text me a picture of the weather report while I was gone. A balmy 70 degrees at the beach.

Part of the beautiful (but snowy) Kent State University

Part of the beautiful (but snowy) Kent State University

I was the only non-administrator on the recent visit. All the other team members know me as a fellow administrator so I had to remind them a few times that that wasn’t my life any longer. My fellow teammates had to have conference calls back at their universities, had to keep up with emails, had to check in with their administrative assistants. They were giving close attention to our task at hand—but they had to keep one eye on things at home.

I did not. In fact, I hardly even know what’s happening at my own university these days. It’s taken me a number of months to unplug from (most of) the academic gossip, but I am deep, deep, deep into life now as a sabbatican (I think I’ve made up that word; don’t you think it should be accepted into the lexicon?). As I’ve written before, one of the frustrating things for me as an administrator was the amount of space it took up in my brain. But now, as a regular professor, I can think long, deep thoughts without interruption.

Currently, what I’m thinking about is how to run a MANOVA with two independent variables and three dependent variables while trying to show the interaction between each level of each independent variable simultaneously. My stats ability remains rusty, but I have spent considerable amount of time this year trying to master statistics. I’ve taken MOOCs, I’ve read books, I’ve run everything there is to run on SPSS, I’ve read what other scholars have done in similar situations. In short, I’m thinking deep and hard about statistics.

On the plane out to Ohio, I sat with the accreditation self study, reviewing the report again making sure I would be ready to hit the ground running when I got there (of course, there was no real running since I had to do everything I could to stay upright on the slippery sidewalks).

On the plane out of Ohio, I sat hunkered over, huddled with my most recently purchased stats book. I was determined to get to the end of this multivariate conundrum.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.” Who knows if that is true, but I’d like to think it is. I’ll tell you. I nearly cried when I finally got the model to run and watched all those beautiful statistical significant results scroll down my computer. Hey, I’m a numbers nerd. And that makes me happy.


Water, Water, Everywhere. An Ideal State of Being.

Finding books to expand my thinking during My Year Away has been a serendipitous treasure hunt. I knew I would spend part of this year reading presidential biographies. Nothing like a list to keep a person organized! Just in case you’re counting we’ve had 43 different presidents. (I include Grover Cleveland only once considering he served two non-consecutive terms—and I’m definitely not reading two biographies of Cleveland!) That’s a doable list—especially when you discover books like The Bully Pulpit, which covers two presidents.

Still, I can’t just read books about presidents. So far, I’ve also read books on rowing, the perils of higher education and Alzheimer’s. Today I write about water. Wallace J. Nichols’ Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do (ISBN 978-0-316-25208-9) is a book that made think about water in ways I had never imagined—and I thought I knew quite a bit about the stuff.

photo[2]Apparently there is a whole group of scientists around the world who conduct experiments about the properties of water. They publish their research (in journals this social scientist has yet to discover) and they even get together for academic conferences in exotic, water-oriented locales. (I might need to put one of these conferences on my Bucket List.)

In a nutshell, Blue Mind lays out the science that provides convincing evidence that being around water is a good thing.  It not only reduces stress, it can even make us smarter! The importance of water is multi-layered. It’s the actual water, it’s the sound of water, and it’s even the color of water.

Is blue your favorite color? According to Blue Mind, it’s lots of people’s favorite color for the basic reason that blue makes us all feel better. With apologies to Elvis’ crooning that he’ll be blue, blue, blue this Christmas, research indicates that blue lifts our spirits, cures our depression, lets us concentrate.

Before reading Blue Mind, I knew I loved the beach. I knew I was a more productive writer on the days I could hunker down at our beach house. I knew when faced with a choice for new house paint or new dishes, I tended to pick blue. But I didn’t know that this was all related.

Blue Mind is not the kind of book that you can read in one sitting. You might even want to have another book on your nightstand to reach for periodically while you’re making your way through the science presented in this book. But, it’s definitely worth a read.

As I journey through my sabbatical, I’m trying to better understand who I am as a scholar, writer, teacher. I think knowing just a little bit more about why I’m drawn to water will help me navigate my academic life wherever it takes me.

Blue, I love you. (And that’s the only line from Joni Mitchell’s song that is even mildly coherent.)


A Sabbatical and a Cruise. Who Would Have Thought?

As I have written about in other posts, part of the goal of My Year Away is to try new things. One of the things on my list is to take a cruise. While this might seem like a strange item to put on a sabbatical list, I added it for two reasons: 1. I would go with my best friend, Kathy, who loves cruises. I have long been curious about why Kathy enjoys cruising so much. Personally, I didn’t see the appeal, but I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. 2. It’s good to try new things. I don’t know why, but it is.

So, off to a cruise. I drove 10 hours straight south until I hit Miami, met up with Kathy and hopped on our 1,000 foot vessel, the Norwegian Getaway. Considering most of my boating experience has involved sailboats or my rowing shell, it was difficult to get my mind wrapped around what a 1,000 foot-long boat would be like. The most common phrase I had heard was “floating hotel.” Let me just say that the Getaway was not like any hotel (floating or otherwise) I have ever visited.

It was fairly incomprehensible from bow to stern. Getaway

First, the ship reaches port at 8 every Saturday morning. It offloads 4,000 people; someone cleans all the staterooms and then 4,000 different people get back on at noon. (I’m not making this up.) And this is all done with a “hey, it’s no big deal” confidence.  This might be hard to believe, but we parked the car (and spent a few minutes memorizing where we had parked it), went through security, filled out health forms, went through another kind of security, and walked on to the ship in under an hour. The whole week was like that. Organized, non-frenetic, easy peasy.

Besides my one bout with seasickness (I know, it’s hard to believe that I could get sick on a ship that size.), I had a blast. And I learned some things over the week. Here are my top four.

  1. Being disconnected is a good—albeit, rare–experience. When I go on vacation, I try to stay away from digital things. But “staying away” and being totally disconnected are two different things. Even while I was a gazillion miles away in Tbilisi last June, I was able to email people, check in on Facebook, and talk to my husband via Skype. You can’t do any of that on a cruise ship unless you want to pay for it. On principle, I was not willing to shell out 75 cents a minute to connect with the world so I was completely offline for an entire week. It was lovely.
  1. A cruise ship might be mammoth, but compared to the ocean, it’s actually just a tiny bobbing blip. So the prevalent image you see while cruising is water. Every inch of the ship (except the casinos, the stores, and the auditoriums, in which I spent next to no time) is geared toward a water view. Windows are everywhere. And, there are multiple outdoor areas—many more than I expected. Besides our balcony where I could read in private, or hang over the railing and look at the miles of ocean with no one to bother me, there were pools (I have no idea if we discovered all of them, but we saw at least five), a basketball court (where we attempted Salsa and Zumba exercise classes), an outdoor giant chess board, a ¼ mile jogging track, an outdoor promenade with restaurants and bars and plenty of quiet seating areas (it took us four days to discover this deck!), and that is just a partial list. I looked at the water all day long. This is a good thing, which I’ll write about in my next post when I review Blue Mind (which I read on the cruise), a book about the science behind the benefits of water.sunset

I felt like I was on a boat. I was glad, because I was worried that it really would feel like a hotel and if that was the case, why not just stay at a Hilton?

  1. People sort themselves into communities wherever they are. On a cruise ship, there are an unlimited number of activities. While they are all supposed to be fun, some to me sounded dreadful. Uh, Bingo? No thanks! Fun with balloon animals? Are you kidding me? Bidding on Thomas Kinkade art? You can’t make these things up. But, amidst all the goofy things on a cruise ship, there are plenty of things to do that I did find appealing. One of the favorite evening activities we discovered early in the week was listening to Brazilian pianist and vocalist Paulo del Souza. No matter what bar he was playing in, we found him—and so did lots of other people. Kathy and I started to notice his groupies. “Hey, wasn’t that couple here last night?” By the end of the week, we noticed each other, talked to each other, even shared a few bottles of bubbly together. In between Paulo’s sets, we would talk about all sorts of things and found we had lots in common. We even joked about some of the other activities on board that we agreed were sub-optimal.  It didn’t take long, but we had, indeed, found “our people” on this cruise.

Yes, I was on a vacation, completely out of my comfort zone, but I still found comfort by discovering a community of like-minded people. I also started being more observant around the ship and noticed other groupies: the group gathered around the Backgammon sets. Or the Trivia Challenge group. (I’m guessing there was a community of Thomas Kinkade art collectors, too, but I definitely didn’t see them!)

  1. Developing a routine helps us sort out our lives. Given how new cruising was to me, I didn’t expect to develop a routine so quickly, but I did. Without saying “Hey, Kathy, let’s develop a routine to make the most of our trip,” it just happened. By the first full day, here is basically how our days shaped up.
    1. Wake up.
    2. Grab workout clothes and hit the jogging track for a mile wake up stretch.
    3. Leisurely breakfast, chatting about anything and everything.
    4. Work out, either in a class or on the machines.
    5. Hit the therapy pool, the sauna, and the salt room.
    6. Leisurely lunch, chatting about anything and everything.
    7. We’d go our separate ways for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I would typically sit outside in the shade and read.
    8. Reconvene early evening where we would get ready for dinner.
    9. Leisurely dinner, chatting about anything and everything.
    10. Go find Paulo and listen to his set while drinking Prosecco.

There were variations, of course. While there are no pictures to prove this, we did, indeed, dance the night away at the Disco party under the stars. And we did watch a fairly bizarre musical rendition of Legally Blonde. But, we basically found a rhythm and a routine that was comforting, helpful, restorative, and productive. (We each got a good amount of writing accomplished during the week as well.)

It’s taken me about a half a century to realize how much I like a routine.

And, so here I am on my sabbatical where, theoretically, I can do anything I want for an entire year. I’m finding that what I want is to lead a productive life. And I’m realizing more and more that routine helps me do that. So does having a community to rely on. And so does disconnecting sometimes.

And so does going on a cruise.


(Not) Lost in Translation: Why Working in Another Country Is an Excellent Segue into My Year Away

I’m in Tbilisi, Georgia, for three weeks. When I return to the states, I’ll go to the office for one day. And then I’m done. The sabbatical begins.

What was I thinking? I’ve got too much work to do before I begin My Year Away. But, alas, I’m here. Tbilisi makes me discombobulated. It’s a collision of Old World and New. Soviet influences and democratic ideals. Breathtaking scenery and traffic-jamming pollution. Mouthwatering organic, locally grown food and cigarette choking-smoke everywhere. The language doesn’t look or sound like anything I’ve seen before. I’ve been here 10 days now, and I’ve had my days. But once I realized I could create a routine, it’s been better.

On days I teach, it’s easy. I get up. Have breakfast. Work a bit. Walk 45 minutes to school. Get ready for class. Teach. Walk 45 minutes back to hotel. Eat dinner. Go to bed.

On days I don’t teach, I get up. Have breakfast. Work a bit. Walk 45 minutes in a different direction than I would go if I were going to the school. I walk up the hill to a Georgian bakery where the baker does not speak a word of English, but now recognizes me and, I think, is glad to see me. I give him a one gel coin (about 56 cents) and he gives me several coins back. Then he hands me a loaf of gigantic, straight-from-the-oven Georgian bread. I stop at the corner apothecary and buy a big bottle of Borjormi (very strong seltzer water) and an itsy-bitsy slice of Georgian cheese (as small as I can convince the counter girl to cut it since she doesn’t speak English either and seems confused on why I want such a teeny piece). I work in the afternoon at my desk with the French door open. Then I walk again. Eat dinner. Watch an hour of Discovery channel (the only channel in English; it only seems to air “Baggage Battles” and “Dirty Money”). I take care of some work issues back in South Carolina (with an eight-hour difference, the best time to communicate for me is in the evening). Then I drift to sleep as I think about the next day.

I suppose it’s not the worst way to live. But, it’s strange. On days I don’t teach, I don’t talk. There is no one to talk to. And while everyone wants to be helpful, it’s not like the South where you “Hey, how are you?” to every passerby.

Perhaps this is good practice for My Year Away.

I realize that I’ve created a good routine that is helping me do my work the best way I can in the situation I am currently experiencing. And I’m noticing the world in ways I might not when I have everything instantaneously at my fingers. While I’m working at my desk, I look out at the high-rise apartments that surround my hotel. Most of the windows are open. In one apartment, someone practices the piano. I think she is better than she was 10 days ago. In another apartment I see a woman hanging clothes to dry. In others, women wash windows. Lots of people wash windows here.

On my way to the school, I see the same hunched-over women clad in black, sitting on the steps of the underground walkways, hands outstretched, holding a note that I can’t read. I put coins in some of their hands, hoping that it helps.

I see the same workers at restaurants I’ve visited in the evenings, sweeping and washing windows, waiting for customers. I see the parking monitors ready to help five cars fit in parking spaces made for two. I see the same teeny Smart car that doubles as a coffee shop, parked and ready for business.

I miss South Carolina. I still have work to do to finish up my administrative duties there. But I can tell the change is in progress. Faculty have clearly begun to make the adjustment to the new administrative team.

When I return at the end of June, I’ll have to carve out a new routine. I hope this time in Tbilisi is helping me get ready for the change. Meanwhile, as they say in Georgia, “კარგია.” Seriously. This is what they say.


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!)


Hooray for Writing Deadlines!

Anyone who is an academic in the field of journalism and mass communications knows how traumatic April 1 is. And I’m not talking about navigating the school newspaper that takes its First Amendment rights to places it probably shouldn’t go by publishing the April Fools Edition. Instead, April 1 is the deadline for paper submissions for the national conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). Given budget realities in many universities, having a paper accepted for presentation is the only way to get funding to attend the conference—and even then, full funding is a distant memory for many.

At the J-School that I lead, I try to be supportive of all things AEJMC. As a former president of the organization, I have a sweet spot in my heart for this conference. I want my faculty there. I want other schools to see how successful our faculty and graduate students are with their research.

Therefore, I encourage any faculty member who has even the mildest legitimate reason to attend the conference.   I fund each faculty member at $1,200. It’s not unusual for us to have 15 or more instructors attend so it’s a lot of money. Some complain that it’s not enough. (I tell them to talk to some faculty at other universities and they might not feel so bad.)

But it’s not the money that brings me to my point today. It’s the stress of waiting to see if your paper is accepted. When I was a regular professor, I didn’t worry about this very much. I had lots of research in the pipeline and it was always fairly easy to whip something into shape that would be a sure bet for the conference.

But it’s different now. I’m a full-time administrator without a lot research time—especially this semester because I’m trying to finish up my administrative duties by tying up as many loose ends as possible and at the same time launch my “regular professor” life that begins on July 1 with My Year Away.

True, I can probably justify one more conference without a paper but I will need a legitimate reason next time. Since this is my transition year, I decided I might as well start experiencing the trauma just like everyone else.

I had to get a paper ready for April 1. I figured I better hedge my bets and get two papers ready. I needed a strategy. First, I called one of my long-ago research colleagues (who also happens to be a best friend, which makes it all the easier) and said “hey, let’s do a paper for AEJMC.” Even though she’s a provost with absolutely zero free time, she was in.

Second, I called a former graduate student who is in her first year as a tenure-track assistant professor. We had talked about doing some research together and she had a lot of unused data from her dissertation. Plus, the girl is a research machine. She, too, was in.

All this occurred in the fall when it seemed like there was lots of time to get this done. Then, of course, work got in the way of all our plans and we all found ourselves down to the last week with more work to do.

Today is April 1. Phew. Both papers are done and uploaded into the mysterious “All Academic” site that begins the blind review process.

I really didn’t want anyone to know that I was submitting papers because I didn’t want to deal with the humiliation of having to tell people if they were rejected. (And at least half of the submitted papers will, indeed, be rejected, so this is not a case of false humility.) But one reason I started this blog was to write what’s on my heart, to let people peek inside the life of an academic, to allow me a venue for working out my fears and joys about giving up administration and to head toward my sabbatical with my head in the right place. Somehow, owning up to insecurities about research, in my mind, is part of the process.

Plus, I wanted to publically declare that I love writing with these two academics: one a just-washed-behind-the ears assistant professor and one a senior academic with an awesome (the classic definition being “terrifying”) job. Social science research tends to be collaborative and I’m glad. I couldn’t have written these papers without them. I learned from them both. I was amazed at each of their strengths. The “young one” is a statistical whirling dervish (in the best sense of the word) and the “mature one” is a writing fiend.   She can spit out an elegant opening to a paper in about 30 seconds. I am second author on both of these papers and I couldn’t be prouder.

The academic life has some warts, no doubt. But, one of the best parts is sharing in the joys, the frustrations and, yes, the trepidation of rejection as we try to create new knowledge. We do this together. Full professors, brand-new assistant professors, graduate students. We might be at different places on the continuum of tenure, but as one of my favorite professors from graduate school said, “We are all colleagues-in-training.” Nothing like an April 1 deadline to remind us of that.

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I Taught All Day Today. And It Was Okay.

I don’t admit this always, but one of the reasons I was hesitant to give up administration was because I didn’t know how much I would like being in the classroom full time again.

Before I became a full-time administrator, I was a competent teacher, garnering excellent student evaluations and a handful of teaching awards. But as my research productivity increased, I started teaching fewer classes as my funded research “bought out” my teaching time. Sometimes people would ask me why I didn’t teach more since I was so good at it. I used to respond that teaching was a lot like fertilizer. You didn’t need very much to reap the full benefit.

Academics talk a lot about teaching load. A lighter teaching load is almost always considered the ideal. Even for those professors who love to teach.

So now here I am, getting ready to abandon administration. Since my scholarship is currently in a wee bit of a shambles, when I return to the faculty after My Year Away, I will not have any kind of teaching reduction. Sure, I’m at a flagship so that means just two courses a semester, but four classes a year feels like a lot to me. It’s been over a decade since I’ve taught a full load.

In this blog, I’ve been writing a lot about the things I’ve been doing to ready myself for my sabbatical including studying statistics, creating various research groups, reading a variety of books, etc. I also decided that sucking it up and teaching more right now would be a good idea as well.

This semester I’m teaching a doctoral seminar in pedagogy. I’m also overseeing three undergraduate independent studies—and just recently, I starting teaching a five-week course I created called Historical Milestones in American Advertising. On Tuesdays, I do it all—finishing the day with the three-hour doctoral seminar. It wears me out. But, it is also exhilarating. My ad students are amazing. We meet at 8:30 a.m. They are ready to go. Today we talked about the history of self-regulation in the advertising industry—a topic I wasn’t expecting them to embrace. But they did.

The doctoral students are simply fantastic. Today’s topic was technology in the classroom. We covered a lot of topics. (Princess Di’s funeral, The West Wing, MOOCs, Twitter, Blackboard, and this blog were just a handful of subjects we explored.) The three hours zipped by. (For me, anyway. You might have to check with my students to get their take on the afternoon!)

The good news is that I taught all day today. And, I did more than survive. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed preparing for class. I enjoyed being in class. I enjoyed my students, both undergrads and grads. And, maybe. most important of all, it felt normal. I’ve got a few months to go before I start my sabbatical, but I’m already beginning to see a glimmer of hope that spending my days as a teacher and a researcher are going to be good days. Maybe even great days.