• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


ABCs and PhD’s: Hazards of a job well done

~If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself~

August 13, 2013

I’m trying to get over this idea. It’s alluring to slide into this thinking when you’re training kids to do things, because of course you’re going to be far faster and more efficient at washing dishes (for example) than they are: you won’t leave water all over the counters, there won’t be food still stuck to the sides of the pans, you won’t be down half a bottle of dish soap after one washing and far fewer cups will lose their handles... In the experience of my family’s time limitations, more efficient is always sweeter in the short run.  It would be so much nicer to do it myself!  I grudgingly restrain myself because I know that developing my kids’ abilities requires giving them experience, no matter how frustrating it is for everyone else in the meantime.  So instead of doing the job myself, I try to praise for jobs completed maybe not quite so “right” as I would have done.

Here’s a related idea: becoming known for doing a job well. Years ago Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the “Click and Clack” Cartalk brothers of NPR, made an impression on me with their “policy”: you never want to get caught doing a job well, because then everyone will want you (in fact expect you) to continue to do it.  An example in my life: my husband and I haphazardly muddled through anything money-oriented during the several years after got married, paying fees on a plentitude of bounced checks, and “filing” statements and bills in a stack on top of the dresser.  I finally took on the job of systematically taking care of the bills and keeping track of our finances.  Lo - to this day I am the family accountant.  When bills come in, my husband glances at the envelopes only long enough to know that he should put them directly on my desk.  Fortunately, in our house, our family members balance out onerous tasks fairly equitably.  Here’s another example, this time using the converse of Tom and Ray’s theorem: if you do a terrible job, it’s likely you won’t be asked to do it again.  After forgetting to put garbage cans out on a multitude of occasions, combined with my record for accidently leaving bags of garbage from the kitchen on the back porch to be thoroughly enjoyed across the lawn by raccoons, I am absolutely not responsible for anything in the refuse department - my husband deals with everything garbage, no questions asked.  To this day, I do not know which day the recycling, yard waste, rubbish bins are collected, and I studiously keep it this way.  I have nothing to do with garbage collection (except that I pay the bill for it).  Thankfully, I’m also not involved with training kids to do trash duties.

Click and Clack may laugh (uproariously) about it, but delimiting responsibilities by how much care a person puts into a task can certainly stir up significant fairness and quality of life issues.  Last week my (full professor tenured) friend told me how thrilled she is to finally get her sabbatical year approved, more than two years after her due.  In fact, she couldn’t get the whole year approved, so she’s taking a leave of absence for half of it.  What’s the problem?  A combination of things: her teaching has become too critical to the workings of her department to let her off for a year - she teaches a huge non-majors class and an important and intensive majors course, and she excels at it.  Another stumbling block: the department knows that if they give her the task of filing out and filing annual departmental review paperwork, it will be done on time and done correctly.  Guess who is now expected to do this time-sink paperwork every year?  There are some people to whom you just DON’T want to give these responsibilities.  Are any faculty getting sabbatical approvals? I asked.  Hm, coincidentally, those that aren’t so in-demand for their commitment to teaching or service don’t seem to experience delay (there also seems to be some correlation between how smoothly the department runs in the absence of certain faculty members and how readily comes approval of sabbatical for said faculty).  Balancing out game-theory type behaviors among faculty in a department is more complicated than in a household.  Much as it might be uncomfortable to others involved, perhaps fixing this inequity can only be accomplished by pure hard-core training of other department members, letting them work things out by experience while my friend takes her time away.  On the other hand in the future she could just do a terrible job on teaching and departmental service and see how that works.  Such are the hazards of a job well done.


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