Alt-Ac for the Holidays

When your faculty friends are far from campus, what's an alt-ac administrator to do? Brenda Bethman has a plan.

December 19, 2014

“Have a good break!” With Thanksgiving behind us and the winter holidays about to start, the signoff to many emails changes to this phrase. Or, if you’re an alt-ac with many faculty friends, social media feeds begin to feature discussions of winter break research plans, travel, leading study abroad programs, etc.

But as an alt-ac, you have a 12-month contract and are thus looking at spending your time in the office except for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. If, like most alt-acs, you started graduate school with plans of becoming a faculty member, the notion of trudging daily to the office in early January can seem daunting. In this column, I outline some tips for coping when it feels as if you are the only one on campus.

But first, a couple of caveats: 1) I am well aware that my faculty colleagues (tenure-track, tenured, contingent) do not have their breaks “off,” but they are generally able to make their own schedules and work where they wish during the time between semesters, and 2) I am also very aware that precariously employed contingent faculty would be happy to have the “problem” of having to work during the break. My remarks here are addressed to those making the transition from having flexible schedules to the more fixed hours of the majority of alt-acs.

I am also aware that not all alt-ac jobs are office jobs with fixed schedules, but a large majority are – even in student affairs, for example, staff are expected to be in the office daily during the break and may also be working at orientations for students starting in the spring semester. If this describes your job, read on for our tips on having happy alt-ac holidays in the office:

  • Vacation: For many, winter break is a good time to take vacation, as life on campus tends to slow down (especially for those whose work involves working with students and/or teaching). So take advantage of that quiet time and plan your own vacation if possible. It could be a longer vacation (one to two weeks) or even just a long weekend here and there. The key thing is to make it a real vacation by unplugging from the office – turn that office email on your phone off. If you absolutely have to check in, do so once a day for a limited amount of time. But don’t underestimate the restoring value of leaving it all behind for a bit.
  • Connect with colleagues: Winter break is a perfect time for finally connecting with colleagues you may not have time to get together with during the academic year or for getting to know new people. Plan a lunch or coffee date with a colleague (or a few) and use the break to build your campus network.
  • Plan your food: This sounds silly, but unless you have previously worked on a campus during breaks, you may not realize that most of the food service options have reduced options, or are closed completely. Additionally, there is usually a period when everything is closed (at the university where I work, it’s during the intersession when there are no classes being held). If you’re used to walking to the campus Starbucks for your afternoon caffeine fix, be sure to think about how you going to get that fix when the Starbucks is closed. Similarly, you’ll need to either leave campus for lunch or brown-bag it.

Winter break can be a lonely time for alt-acs working on campuses that feel deserted. It can also be a productive time as it can be easier to get to those larger projects without the constant interruptions that come with the semesters. Following these tips should help combat the loneliness and leave you recharged for the spring semester (that will be here before you know it!).  


Brenda Bethman is director of the Women's Center and the Women's and Gender Studies Program at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.


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