Friday, March 13, 2009

Impostor Syndrome + Frustration + Impatience = Me

Regular readers may remember that just over two weeks ago I had a phone interview for a faculty position at a small university where I would very, very much like to teach and have awesome colleagues, several of whom I've met in person or via social media.

Here's the part I shouldn't be writing about from the perspective of Awesome University, my current institution, or my future career. But hell, I've been in "speaking truth to power" mode for some time now, so it might as well make its way into exhibits and wall labels in the Clutter Museum:

***UPDATE: I just want to say that I don't intend this post to be a pity party with the theme "Why the heck haven't I heard from Awesome University yet? Pick me! Pick me!" Though re-reading it in the light of morning, I see it might come across that way. Instead, it's a way for me to process some frustration I'm feeling about my current situation, with the delay since the Awesome University phone interview serving only to provoke a little crisis of self-reflection. Colleagues and friends at my university have assured me that it's still entirely possible that Awesome University is hung up on some bureaucratic point related to hiring, but the waiting has driven me to reflection--which is a good thing for me right now.***

Well, still no news. The search committee met on Monday to forward to the provost a list of candidates they'd like to invite to campus.

So I had hopes that I might get a phone call this week. But with every passing day, I move more from "I nailed that phone call" to a deeper level of self-doubt. I'd like to think it's Impostor Syndrome, but increasingly I just think of myself as an actual impostor. And not an impostor in the sense that I don't know what I'm talking about, but an impostor as in someone who is terribly, horribly out of place.

And it's totally not the fault of anyone at Awesome University Where I've Applied for a Truly Stellar Job. I want to make that clear.

This one's on me and my current institution.

Fact: On my campus, there are 2.5 people, not counting the half-time (and soon retiring) faculty director who runs our center, who perform the kinds of consultation and offer the specific forms of inspiration and experience that I do.

Fact: The university has ~2,000 faculty.

Fact: We reach hundreds of them in person each year, without giving a single traditional "workshop" where we "train" them how to teach. Thanks to our investments of time as well as intellectual and emotional energy, we have formed a peer-to-peer faculty development program with an awesome ROI.

Fact: Both inside my unit and in collaborations outside of it, I work with some of the best people at the university, faculty or staff.

My perception, perhaps fact: All of this labor goes largely unacknowledged by the university administration. I have never had a conversation with the administrator who oversees our unit (note: this person is different from our unit's faculty director), and I'm discouraged from doing so because I'm told this person is too busy. Meanwhile, I have had interesting conversations with, and received gestures of good will and confidence from, an administrator with this person's exact same title, but who oversees another giant campus unit whose primary mission is not teaching and learning. Since I'm a big believer, organizationally speaking, in webs rather than hierarchies, I'm unsettled by this gap between our office and the administration.

Fact: We're being moved into a cube farm at the end of this year. It will be in a converted veterinary sciences lab in a "temporary" building made by the same company, I believe, who made the Quonset huts during WWII. The architecture and materials definitely take a page from the Quonset hut book, and the building is of a similar vintage, I suspect. The building next door to it, which shares a name and fabrication techniques, recently suffered from a flea infestation, probably due to rats. (Fun fact: The building has never been named after anyone, and thus it bears the attractive name of "Surge III.")

Fact: This move will take us away from central campus, where much of the actual teaching of undergraduates takes place.

Fact: This is considered a cost-saving measure.

Fact: I oversee four big application cycles (2 grants, one fellowship, one grad student hiring) each year, and the programs that accompany them. I redesigned the unit's website and moved it to WordPress, initially with the invaluable help of a grad student friend and now with an undergraduate tech assistant that we can only afford for 30 more part-time days--which means I'll be the go-to person for the website soon. I organize one major half-day symposium each year, as well as co-chair and co-organize a week-long institute on teaching and technology. This summer, we're once again hosting international scholars from Asia and the Middle East for an intensive seminar on teaching in the Western world. I present at conferences. I publish in my academic fields. I consult with faculty by appointment and chat with faculty who drop by the center. I interview entire classes of students for mid-quarter interviews. I teach first-year seminars as well as a graduate seminar in college teaching. I publish bimonthly (formerly monthly) newsletters highlighting teaching and learning resources and best practices on campus and elsewhere. I sit on more committees than I care to count, and I chair a few of them. I consult with other organizations on campus regarding social media. I'm also working on a visual literacy initiative, for which I've been asked to produce a weekly newsletter and establish a considerable and innovative Web 2.0 presence. And I moonlight at another university, overseeing 14 master's theses for museum studies students.

Fact: We're so short on clerical support that in the past two days, a significant portion of my time has been spent doing data merges, printing form letters, stuffing envelopes, printing labels, and applying labels to envelopes.

Fact: My salary has been frozen.

Fact: I am 300% more productive in an office with a door than I am in a cubicle.

Fact: By coincidence (and, I think, cultural context), the men w/Ph.D.s who are affiliated with our unit (each .5 FTE) will have offices elsewhere to where they can retreat. The two women (both FTE, myself included) w/Ph.D.s will have cubicles and only cubicles.

Fact: My workload continues to climb, not decrease, even though I know that my transformation back into a cubicle-dweller will mean working in an environment where I am constantly interrupted, have little privacy for consultations with faculty who drop by, and where I do not feel valued by the bureaucratic unit that sits "above" ours on the university org chart.

So: I'm girding myself for a politely worded, thanks-but-no-thanks letter from Awesome University. In another context I might be able to take such a rejection in stride--after all, I love my job as it is now. However, the impending move and the perceived decrease in respect that inevitably comes with being a cubicle dweller means my immediate future is looking pretty bleak. Toss in Mr. Trillwing's gradually declining income (thanks again, newspaper industry!), and I'm just a handle short of being a basket case.

* * *

Here's a quick sketch I made that depicts how I feel right now. Those of you "in the know" may recognize a cartoonish, mouthy version of Awesome University's logo at upper left. At lower right is, well, my vision of my future working environment, with a shout-out to my current institution's big ag leanings.

* * *

I was talking yesterday to a history professor with whom I'm serving on the campus's electronic accessibility steering committee. She likes to think she savaged the final draft of my dissertation when she was on my dissertation committee, but really she has always been quite kind and supportive of my work as a scholar and a teaching consultant.

I shared with her my frustrations, and she gave me a big hug. We chatted a while longer, and when we parted, she assured me--as friends do--that if I don't get a campus interview, Awesome University has made a terrible mistake. (But all along she has also expressed her dismay at possibly losing me to another institution, also like an excellent friend and colleague.)

"Well, if I don't get an interview, will you send in some kind of scholarly SWAT team to kick some Awesome University ass?" I asked as we parted.

"Are you kidding?!?" she said. "I'm going to send them flowers."

It felt good to laugh.


Bardiac said...

I used to work in Surge IV.

I'm sorry to hear they haven't called you to beg you to come work for them. I'm guessing it has more to do with budget hell than with you. Cold comfort, sorry. :(

My fingers are crossed for you.

BrightStar (B*) said...

It's still possible that they could be calling to interview you, but I understand why you're processing it as if they might not invite you to interview, though.

I like the metaphor of webs rather than hierarchies.

It sounds to me as if the work that you do is very interesting and important for the university! I'm especially troubled by the differential treatment, particularly by gender, that you observed. You said that this is by coincidence, though? I wonder if any adjustments can be made somehow so that you could at least share an office with someone so that you have a space with a door that you can shut.

Leslie M-B (trillwing) said...

Bardiac and B*,

Thanks for your support.

Bardiac, You should see the canopy over Surge IV today. Ick!

B*, one very kind English prof has offered to share her office w/me because she's only in it a few hours each week. But the university would have to approve that sharing, and who knows. . .?

susan said...

That office move/reorganizaiton sounds crazy--esp with all the budget pressures, offices like yours need to be more central, more easily accessible, as you're one of the few parts of the university that's actually supporting faculty at a time when we're being asked to do a lot more with a lot less (well, that's the deal at my university, anyway!). I hope you get the share the office with the door.

Anonymous said...

Wow. There's all kinds of stuff that goes on your head that doesn't begin with me and end with the boy. Reckon I'm gonna have to chew that one over for a spell.

-The Mister

Breena Ronan said...

Can you have a two woman strike? ;) A work slowdown? Seriously,let us know when you hear something, OK? You aren't an impostor, you just work at a U. that cares very little for teaching, so you feel like a cygnet in a flock of ducks.

grumpyabdadjunct said...

Why the heck would the university have to approve an office share? That seems overly controlling to me, but then I have to do something actually illegal to get anyone at either of my universities to even notice that I exist!