Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Modeling life in academia

A few of my students (both grad and undergrad) have told me that they really appreciate the way I don't hide my life from them. At first, I had no idea what they meant, but then I remembered that when I was a student, I didn't know any professors with young kids. As a result, I was pretty sure that family life was incompatible with academia, which is why I originally planned to leave academia when I finished my PhD. I also had no idea what my advisor did all day. We used to joke about it in the student office.

One thing I really appreciated about my PhD advisor was that he never pretended that being a professor was anything other than an interesting job. He went on vacations (and told us about them) and left work early sometimes to do fun things. Sometimes, he would walk though the lab in the afternoon, tell us we needed a mental health day, and take us all out for drinks/snacks/coffee. Of course, he was late career, and had a stay at home wife, which was why I didn't think of him as a life role model.

I find that I do similar things sometimes. I don't treat my job like a calling. I tell my students when I am going on vacation vs. travel for work. I don't talk much about myself in general, but when I need to reschedule something because of a sick kid, I don't hide my reasons for doing so. Everyone in my group is aware that I have children, that I usually don't stay late at ProdigalU so I can spend time with them, and that I don't spend all of my free time working (nor do I expect them to do so).

I take my turn presenting in group meeting, and once a year or so, I talk to my group about finances and proposals (how to write them, how long I spend on it, what goes into one). My group has a general idea of how we are doing in terms of how freely we can spend on things. I go through my annual budget, so the group is aware of how much we spend on consumables, travel, and user fees. All of these things were mysteries to me before I joined the staff at National Lab. Few of my students come in interested in an academic career, but you never know where life will take you. I make sure my students leave my group with a good idea about what the academic life is like (good and bad).