Friday, September 10, 2010


The semester started with a freakin' bang. The students are back with a vengeance. I instantaneously went from having some control over my schedule to being booked solid for weeks. I used to hate the oh-so-busy-and-important obnoxious people who could not find half an hour to meet me for weeks and weeks. I still do, only I am now one of these oh-so-busy-and-important obnoxious people: I will tell you that I cannot meet you for lunch before mid-November, and it's really not that I don't want to have lunch with you. I like you, and I looove lunch, and that's why we are scheduling it only 2 months into the future. Ridiculous, you say?

This semester I have a teaching overload, because I want to be free of teaching next semester in order to do work on some new and complex projects but I don't want to spend money on buy-out,** which is a pretty substantial amount and I'd much rather use it to pay students. At my R1 university (or MRU if you prefer), the so-called research active faculty teach one course per semester; definition of "research active" depends a bit on the department, but it is based on advising and financially supporting a certain number of graduate students, having a certain number of papers per year, and so forth, and is based on the annual reports we submit, well, annually. I think this 1-per-semester teaching load is fairly standard at R1's in the physical sciences, at least near as I can tell. People who don't meet the research activity criteria teach 2 courses per semester.

This is my first time doing the overload. I teach 2 courses instead of 1, so my spring will be free. I am teaching a large junior-level undergrad class and a surprisingly large upper-level grad class. Between classes, office hours, my own group meeting, meetings with other people for the ongoing collaborations, 1-on-1 meetings with each one of my research group members, faculty meetings, committee meetings, and undergrad student advising, there is very little time for the actual technical work, which is starting to freak me out as I have a string of papers that need to go out in the fall and a couple of proposals. A few senior colleagues who did the overload/free semester before say that it does end up being worthwhile, but not by a large margin and it surely does not seem like it when you are in the midst of it.

At the same time, I kind of enjoy having my time jam-packed. Being busy makes me feel useful. Being super busy makes me feel, if not super, then very useful. I get bored very easily and am not very good at just chilling, so a smorgasbord of commitments is strangely comforting. Definitely more like a big comfy blanket than a ball-and-chain. There is a fair bit of laziness in this too, as a lot of busy work is easy, and is a good excuse to not do the really hard stuff.

The students seem pretty cool in both my courses. Even in the the large undergrad one things are going pretty well, although I think they may still be scared shitless of me and/or the material. I will bask in their terror while it lasts. :)

Happy fall!

** Buy-out: paying a portion of your academic-year salary from a research grant, which enables you to get some teaching release in order to spend more time on the research project supported by said grant.


prodigal academic said...

I so hear you. And I have a nasty cold too. :-(
A colleague of mine has done 0/2 the past few years, but he is tired of it and plans to switch back to 1/1 next year. He said the first year or two it really helped with research, but after that everyone knew he was 0/2 and asked him to guest/help out/do service in his off semester.

Good luck digging out, and it is nice to be in demand!

namnezia said...

Don't you get sabbaticals? We get a semester every 3 1/2 semesters, or a year every 7.

GMP said...

Thanks, Prodigal. It's good to know not to make a habit of 0/2 (or 2/0), because people start thinking you're idle/always available. Sending warm thoughts your way so you get better soon!

Namnezia, we have sabbaticals but they are much less generous than what you describe. At my institution, we have the right to a sabbatical leave only once every 7 years, with the option to either have 1 semester off at 100% salary or 2 semesters off at 60% salary. (This year is not my sabbatical year, but I have lots of stuff to do in the spring.)

But this is interesting -- I wonder how many places have sabbatical like what Namnezia suggests (semester every 3.5 yrs or a year every 7 yrs)? I used to think they are all once every 7 years, but maybe there are other schedules? Does the amount of sabbatical leave correlate in any way with the ranking of the university?

Female Science Professor said...

I've gone through the same thing: teaching 2 courses in a term and wondering if the big hit to my research and advising time was worth it, especially if I have a lot of committee work as well and some grant proposal deadlines and some reviews and editing and so on (and on). But then I always decide it was worth it, especially if I enjoyed the classes and if I can get a lot done the next term. I hope you survive it too!

GMP said...

FSP, thanks for the encouragement!

Neo said...

I think these might be be useful to you...


GMP said...

Thanks for the links, Neo!
Does this mean you're saying I need to work on getting more/better comments? :)

Neo said...

You can consider it as a friendly tip from another Nerd. :)
(I got score of 96..., the link from your old url...)

Neo the NERD GOD