Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

More on Academic Skills: Conflict Resolution, Time Management, Work/Life Balance

Posted by Neal on January 27, 2011

And now for the last of the LSA2011 panel on skills for academic success. In addition to the presentations on networking and collaborating, there were talks on advisor/advisee relationships, conflict resolution, and time management. I’m combining these because I didn’t have as many notes on these talks. Also, I’m not going to post a summary on advisor/advisee relationships, because unlike the rest of the topics, that’s one that really is specific to graduate students, and won’t be as interesting or useful to a wider audience. Besides, I got there late for that talk, and missed a lot of what was said.

Robin Queen

So with that, let’s move on to the fourth presentation from the panel, Robin Queen of the University of Michigan on conflict resolution with a gripping tale of submitting a chapter of her dissertation to her committee members. Her advisor had given her positive comments on it, so when one of the other committee members flagged her down in the hall a few days later, she was eager to hear what had to say about it. She followed him into his office, and for the next half hour he berated her for just about every aspect of that chapter. His face was inches from hers, she kept backing away, he kept advancing, until literally she was backed up against a file cabinet waiting for him to run out of steam.

She later talked with her advisor about this incident, and they both decided that it was so out of character for the other professor that they should just pretend it hadn’t happened, and from then on, that one committee member was helpful, friendly, and kind, as if the confrontation had never happened. The moral? Actually, I didn’t get the moral, but luckily, Maryam Bakht (one of the organizers of the panel), did get it, and clued me in. As Maryam wrote to me, Queen was saying that “you needed to assess to see what was the right course of action for each situation. However, you need to think hard before either inaction (or hiding) or aggressive fighting for every point. In other words, choose your battles wisely.”

After that introduction, Queen said that a lot of conflict resolution in academia was like conflict resolution anywhere else, and it was hard to focus on issues specific to that setting. She noted, however, that academic discourse is founded on conflict, so a lot of conflict is not personal.

Maryam Bakht adds:

One of the takeaway points that Robin had is that linguistics/academia is a workplace. It isn’t the whole of your life. Thus, one should be mindful of the ramifications and consequences that come with the different choices that one makes. While people are and should be their own agents, it’s also the case that people should also be mindful that they will have to deal with the consequences to come.

Judith Tonhauser

Following Robin Queen was Judith Tonhauser of Ohio State University, but I was on my way to an American Dialect Society talk on what phonetic factors made someone sound gay. (The answer: It’s better to ask what makes someone sound straight; significant differences from that in any direction can increase perceptions of gayness.) The talks had been interesting enough, though, that I had already decided I was going to blog about them, and after the conference, fellow audience member Hui-wen Cheng of Boston University was kind enough to provide me the following notes:

[Tonhauser] said time management is actually career management. You should have a plan about how long it takes to get your PhD degree, to do a post doc, and to get a tenure.

After becoming a faculty member, you won’t have a big block of time to write papers, so you have to learn how to make use of any small amount of time that you have. She suggested to pick a certain period of time of the day to do writing, and to organize a support group with your peers to push your progress. She recommended a book, How to Write a Lot. Actually the two suggestions come from the book. She and other faculty members organize a support group which meets regularly and works very well for them.

One audience member asked about her dilemma: She and her boyfriend/husband live in two countries in different time zones. The time that her boyfriend/husband is able to talk to her happens to be the time that she feels most productive of the day. She doesn’t want to ruin her relationship or delay her academic progress. The speakers ended up telling her both she and her boyfriend/husband have to comprise to some point.

The final speaker was Monica Macaulay of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (who blogs at Mr. Verb). Maryam Bakht reports that this presentation was basically a synthesis of the earlier ones, but that there was special focus on the issue of having children. From Hui-wen Cheng’s notes:

This talk ended up a discussion about when is a best time for female researchers to have babies. She told a story about a young faculty member who is warned by other senior faculty members not to have more babies when she was pregnant with her first baby, otherwise she won’t get her tenure. This is because when an institution hires a new faculty member, they expect him/her to contribute a certain amount of time and energy to the institution. Having a baby is a distraction for a female faculty member. It is sad that whether and when to have a baby sometimes is not only your personal decision. You also have to put other faculty members’ opinions into consideration, because this is about what image you want to have for yourself.

So that’s all for the panel on skills for academic success. The last summary I’ll post will be from the previous night’s panel discussion on the academic job search.

12 Responses to “More on Academic Skills: Conflict Resolution, Time Management, Work/Life Balance”

  1. bearing said

    As a woman who had two babies in graduate school, I would just like to say that the last quote makes me want to vomit.

    Which is perhaps why I ditched academia and never looked back. “Having a baby is a distraction” from your job. Indeed. Not the way I want to live my life, or my children’s lives.

    • Neal said

      Yes, it occurs to me that the information in these workshops can be useful in different ways. It might be useful indeed to know that this attitude’s out there sooner rather than later.

  2. Manuela said

    I agree with the previous commenter. Why on earth is a female academic telling other women that “You also have to put other faculty members’ opinions into consideration, because this is about what image you want to have for yourself”? Since when do we allow work colleagues to have a say on what we do with our private lives and our own body? Was this comment challenged at all during the conference?

    I also cannot but wonder why a whole panel session was organised so that someone could say something as trivial as “you needed to assess to see what was the right course of action for each situation.” I wasn’t at the conference, but did anyone raise any objections with having such management-like presentations at an academic conference?

  3. Ran said

    @Bearing and Manuela: Had you rather that women tried to blind each other to the sexism they face? If the decision to have children at a certain time can result in discrimination from male co-workers and hurt a woman’s career, then that’s a horrible reality — but ignoring it won’t make it less horrible, and won’t make it less of a reality.

  4. Ran said

    (Actually, correction: my last comment is really only for Manuela. Manuela says that she agrees with the Bearing, but by my read, Bearing is blaming academia, not the women who accurately describe it. I do agree with Bearing.)

  5. Manuela said

    @ Ran, I’m all for women discussing sexism on the work place, and it’s fine for a woman to tell another that having children may be difficult and that it may be ostracised. But that’s quite different from saying that you have to consider other faculty members’ opinion. That’s just accepting and reinforcing the status quo, and it’s very sad that it was said (by a woman) to the next generation of female academics.

    P.S. I was not at the conference, so I’m expressing judgement on a quote out of context, and I am aware that the speaker may have qualified and/or explained her comment.

  6. bearing said

    You read me right — I’m expressing disgust that things still aren’t changing much. It’s definitely useful to know that this attitude is still out there, but I would prefer to see it expressed in a way that doesn’t treat it as if this is the way it ought to be.

    • Neal said

      Yes, this would have been a good place for some editorializing on my part. By the time I got those last summaries, though, I was basically ready to be done with this series of posts. I was only completing these summaries out of a sense that I needed to make good on my declaration that I was going to do so (at least for those on topics of interest to other people than just grad students). And since the material for the last two talks was secondhand anyway, I especially didn’t spend too much time assessing it.

      In the future, I’ll stick to blogging about only those talks that I personally found interesting or useful, and which I can comment on myself, even if they came in a package with other talks that don’t meet all those criteria.

  7. Phil said

    I’m perplexed by the conflict resolution story. The behaviour of the professor doesn’t seem acceptable to me at all – in any context (academia, general workplace, whatever). I’ve certainly never heard of anything like that in my field (physics). Is it normal in linguistics? Surely not…

    • Neal said

      Definitely unacceptable, and I didn’t take it as typical linguistics-professor behavior–though I suppose that there are people like this here and there in linguistics as there are in any other field.

      • Phil said

        Good to hear – along with your other comment on not editorializing, I understand it a bit better now.

  8. Glen said

    Maybe this is just my perception as someone employed at a less-high-intensity institution, but it was my impression that academia was a *better* environment for child-bearing. The relative flexibility of hours makes it easier to (for example) have your husband take care of the baby while you teach an evening class. And because academics is largely a solo activity, there’s a smaller probability that co-workers will have to pick up the slack for someone distracted by baby duties. Of course, this doesn’t touch on the attitudes of other faculty — but on the whole, I had perceived academic types as less judgmental on that front.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: