Title

The Hardest Part of My Job

And how I deal with it. 

November 18, 2019
 
 

What is the hardest part of your job and how do you deal with it? There is probably someone out there dealing with the same challenge who would love some advice.

Lee Skallerup Bessette, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., USA

The hardest part of my job was the effective balancing act I had to learn how to play in order to successfully work with faculty in my new alt-ac role. So much so that I started writing about it, as well as editing a collected volume of essays (forthcoming from Kansas University Press, look for it!). It still is a challenge, although a couple of years in I am figuring out how to manage my emotions and expectations around faculty and administrative interactions.

Janni Aragon, University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C., Canada

This question is hard for me to answer. I find so many parts of my job easy and rewarding. As an academic administrator for almost five years, the hardest part of my job was “death by meetings,” and most of the meetings were unnecessary. As a full-time teaching-track faculty member, the hardest part is staggering my marking so that I return feedback in a timely manner to my students. I am a strong believer in fast, frequent feedback to help my students learn and do better. But what makes this hard is that I am always marking and this can lead to a sore arm, neck and back.

Melissa Nicolas, Washington State University, Pullman, Wash., USA

The hardest part of my job is remembering that I don’t have to be on-call 24-7. Up until quite recently, I would check email until I went to bed and all weekend long. My kids used to make fun of me for checking messages at every stoplight. I prided myself on returning every email within just a few hours of receiving it, regardless of its urgency, and I would schedule meetings at any time that was convenient for the person wanting the meeting, ignoring my own needs to research and write, take care of administrative tasks, prep for courses or even eat.

Since I do have responsibility for a large academic program (first-year writing), there are times I need to respond quickly and be available to students or faculty on short notice, but I am also not a brain surgeon or an EMT or a firefighter; no one is going to die if it takes me a few hours or even 48 hours to answer a request for enrollment data. There are no real emergencies in the work I do, so I am trying to reorient my work life to reflect that reality.

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., USA

The hardest part of my job is supporting students through disappointment. When students have thrown themselves into applications that do not result in the desired “win,” I have to put my own belief in the value of the application process to the test and remind us of how much they already gained despite the fact they will not have the victory lap to which we aspired. I have a long list of advisees who met with initial disappointment but went on to thrive. I turn to them as a way to raise my spirits as well as students. I often reference the received wisdom that a mother is only as happy as her least happy child. In the academy, where we have so many surrogate children, the moment will never arrive when all of our charges are joyous. I strive to be sufficiently emotionally limber that I can sustain simultaneous joy and sorrow, but no matter how much I stretch, I still wind up reaching for some liniment.

Yves Salomon-Fernández, Greenfield Community College, Pioneer Valley, Mass., USA

The hardest part of my job is managing change. That is change based on what we see and know, what we know to expect and what cannot be predicted. The academy is being forced to change due to a number of external factors, including evolving consumer preferences, demographic change, technological evolution, increasing fixed costs associated with delivering our mission and other variables.

As a sector, higher education is steeped in tradition. And as humans, we also like predictability and consistency. As leaders what we encounter is that, even when we effectively make the case for change from cognitive and empirical standpoints, the normal human reaction for many is to resist change. Drawing a picture of what can happen if we continue with business as usual can also be demoralizing. So, for me, the biggest challenge is helping folks see the future that awaits us if we do not take risks and change, without dwelling on that gloomy forecast. And empowering our teams, across the institution, to envision, plan and execute strategies that will lead to a brighter future. Highlighting the incremental successes, failing fast and learning from our failures, and lifting up the folks that make our institution great while working hard to get them the resources they need are the ways that I go about effecting change. It’s both a challenging and exciting time to be in the industry that has the most profound effect in society. We prepare the professionals and citizens of the world.

Meg Palladino, Yale University, New Haven, Conn., USA

The hardest part of my job at Summer Session is having glorious summer be the busiest months of the year. When my friends and my family and my son are on vacation, that’s when we have our blackout vacation time, weekend work and evening events. I miss beach trips, family events, gatherings with old friends -- even the Fourth of July is a grind. Of course, it’s lovely to go on vacation at the end of August, when my colleagues across campus are gearing up for the upcoming school year, but never getting a summer vacation, year after year, becomes a grind. The way that I manage it is to be sure to maximize the free time that I have and enjoy those moments, and also to try to enjoy the beauty of our campus in the summer.

Dear readers, any advice you would like to share with one another?

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