Finishing up my Second Year at UW

As I finish up the last batch of generally amazing student projects for my digital history course, the 2013-14 academic year comes to a close. And with it, my second year (ok, technically my second academic year rather than calendar year, but that’s how we think) on the tenure track here at the University of Waterloo.

It’s been a great year that crucially saw me falling into some good work cycles. The first year was quite a bit of a whirlwind as I learned new things constantly (from how to fill out a travel claim, to an expense report, to where you go when you need a key for the A/V podium, etc.). While I still feel like I darken our administrative coordinator’s door a wee bit too often with questions, and occasionally run into administrative snafus (did you know what the definition of ‘capital equipment’ is? I do now – don’t try to buy such things with your personal credit card…), for the most part the time has begun to whizz by as I fall into routines.

So in this post, I just want to reflect a bit on what’s working well, and what I want to work on a bit more..

What’s been working well?

  • Writing a little bit at the same time every day: Every morning, I try to wake up relatively early (my partner wakes up around 6:45/6:50 every day, so that’s a good incentive to get up not too shortly thereafter) and hit the computer. When things are light and I can dedicate an entire morning to it, I can manage 1,000 words. At other times, its in the low hundreds.
    • This isn’t just to crank out a final product: it’s stress relief. No matter what happens: meetings, office hours that become oversubscribed, an afternoon headache, I’ll end the day a little bit closer to the final goal than I was at the beginning. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
    • Plus, crappy prose is OK at this stage. Better in Scrivener than in my head, soon to be forgotten.
  • Part of the appeal of my walk to work is that it involves walking through an animal farm.
    Part of the appeal of my walk to work is that it involves walking through an animal farm.

    Found a balance of working at home and working out of the office. Turns out I do both well, so I try to do both every day. Lately, I’ve been working from home in the morning and out of my on-campus office in the afternoon. The walk to work rejuvenates me, and gives me that ‘second start’ to the day that I need. Plus I get to see colleagues every day, because academia can often involve long hours and loneliness.

  • Learning to express myself when in administrative roles: There’s a prevailing school of wisdom online, the STFU one, when it comes to many departmental and faculty matters. It’s generally a good starting point: newcomers don’t know the structures of a department, the reasons for policies, and charging in like a bull in a china shop is a good way to alienate your colleagues. I’m sure we’ve all been around that person before.. But, I tell myself, they didn’t just hire me to sit like a lump in meetings, so I have been trying to make sure my views are on the table.
  • Trying to find the right balance of letting people know when things go well: I used to be extremely bad with this. In fact, I went through the first two years of my doctoral program without I think anybody knowing that I had external funding (I didn’t have the two main scholarships for graduate students in Ontario – OGS or SSHRC, but a more random Canadian history-specific one). But it’s important to not shortchange yourself, and let people know when things have gone well. So I’ve tried to make sure colleagues know that my book is coming out, or that my research has been funded. Not to be obnoxious, but it doesn’t make sense to hide it all away (especially when you’re trying to impress your colleagues!). This was also advice from senior colleagues, so it was good to hear others reinforce this idea.
  • Teaching: Knock on wood, at least according to student evaluations and my gut feel, teaching is going well. Next fall, I’m going to arrange a peer visit from my chair or someone else senior in the department, to get their view as well.

Things I Hope to Work On

  • Moving past the Writing/Coding Binary That I’ve Developed: I sometimes seem to get into these binary periods: when I’m coding a lot, I don’t write as much; when I write a lot, I don’t get around to coding. While this would be natural to some degree, if I don’t reguarly code, I start to forget little things.
    • Learn to Comment my Code Better: See above, so if I take a break, I know what the heck I was doing.
  • Learn How to Say No: This is more to myself than to others – I am generally completely delighted to do invited events and talks (although I did turn down my first one this year). I probably need to learn to conserve my energy a bit better, or I’ll end up like this summer where I return from one conference and head to a second one two days later… and the second one isn’t really in my area of active research. Oh well – it’ll help me get over jet lag and to meet up with some colleagues again! I’d be too tired to write those two days.. right?
  • Think About Policing my Time Better: This is tough, because I don’t see myself frittering away my time on frivolous things. But I do a few time intensive things throughout the year, notably scheduling 20-30 minute meetings with each of my undergraduates in my smaller classes. As my classes slowly get larger (word’s getting out, I think), I may have to reconsider this. But I genuinely look forward to those meetings as one of the highlights of the year…
It's not as disorganized as many professorial offices, but it's not as tidy as I wish it was.
It’s not as disorganized as many professorial offices, but it’s not as tidy as I wish it was.
  • Organization: Many professors apparently suffer from this. One speculation as to why might be that when in graduate school, I really only had one big project to focus on: the dissertation. That’s no longer the case: I’m often teaching two courses, sit on multiple committees, have collaborative projects, and a few different projects on the go (some of which involve grants, opaque 20-digit flex field numbers, and many more spreadsheets than I’d ever seen before). So I need to start use filing cabinets better, actually organize my Dropbox folders into something that makes sense, and start paring down the number of software programs that I’m using to generate basic word processed documents (i.e. a mix of Pages, Word, TextEdit, and Scrivener is a mistake).

What I’ll Be Doing this Summer

I can put my research assistant to work, though, when I'm on the road. (He's a lot friendlier than the hissing geese that have otherwise taken over campus)
The geese have taken over campus anyways, so why not give them root access..

This summer is going to be busy! First, I’ll start the process of applying for “probationary renewal,” which is essentially our three-year review. It’s a “baby tenure” process, where I go up before the Departmental Tenure and Promotion Committee as well as the Dean’s office. Fingers crossed for a smooth process, and the resulting document should give me tangible feedback on my progress towards tenure here at UW to date.

The other main goal is to, by September, have the extremely rough draft of a new book manuscript sketched out. At that stage the prose is allowed to be awful, the footnotes bare, and it can be replete with [‘add more here’], but I want the skeleton done. Realistically, I don’t think it will be into a real, i.e. showable format until the following summer. But my goal is that by my first sabbatical (the 2015-16 academic year), it’s going to be submittable. That’s relatively ambitious, so I may eat these words later. I’m on track so far though – and I have been working on this research since the winter break of 2010-11!

Plus we’re hoping to get the Historian’s Macroscope out for peer review by Canada Day (1 July 2014). I’m extremely happy with how the manuscript has turned out so far, working with Scott and Shawn is incredible, and I genuinely think the Macroscope would be a great addition as a backbone to many undergraduate classes!

Finally, I think I’ve got five conferences coming up, so if you’re attending any of them, try to seek me out.

  • The Canadian Historical Association annual meeting in St. Catharine’s, Ontario. Here I’ll be putting on my more traditional historian hat, and present some findings from my work on 1990s debates around Internet regulation. This was a fun project to do: basically, I used web archives, and used all the methods I’ve been researching to do a ‘real’ historical paper.
  • A workshop on developing new research directions with the Internet Archive at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA in mid-June.
  • The annual conference of the Association of Canadian Archivists in Victoria, BC, where I’ll be presenting some work I’ve done with the #FreeDaleAskey archive with Nick Ruest and Anna St. Onge. Another avenue to use the tools I’ve been working on for a discrete research question.
  • And finally, at the Digital Humanities 2014 conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, I’ll be speaking on how I’ve used clustering search algorithms to fruitfully explore Internet Archive WARC files.

Plus we’ve got weddings coming up (four between now and September), which are always so much fun, and I’m going to take an extra week when I’m over in Europe for a quick vacation.

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