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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Working the System
February 2, 2009 - 9:54pm

There’s a block of time on my calendar this morning marked “work at home or behind closed doors: grade” and another one commanding me, an hour later, to shift over to my research project for another couple of hours.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Last week I participated in a lunchtime panel discussion of balancing research and teaching, and one of the other panelists mentioned that her own ability to do so was vastly improved by her rigid scheduling. She mentioned to-do lists and blocks of time on a calendar, and I dutifully took notes, and even gave it a try.

I’m not giving up yet, but I will say that today’s experiment demonstrated why rigid scheduling doesn’t work well for me. First of all, I’m a little unrealistic sometimes about time. I had the first block of time starting at 8, which is reasonable on a normal school day: NIck is out of the house at 7 and I can either follow soon after or head up to my office. But he’s got the day off today, so I started a little later (this shouldn’t necessarily follow, but today it did) and, besides, he was sick and I felt like hanging around a little while to see how things were going to go. But it’s not just the family time that got me off track; it’s my own resistance to scheduling and rules. Sigh.

So, bottom line: enough grading got done, but very little research. What did I learn? First, that one size does not fit all. Just because a very productive colleague has a method doesn’t mean I should adopt that method. My colleague with the system, by the way, also noted that she found one hour was plenty of prep time for her classes; that after that, she was just spinning her wheels. In the moment, when she said it, I nodded my head: one hour right before class is about what I need, too.

After I’ve done the reading and the grading, that is. I’m teaching Victorian novels, and I usually end up bringing them home for 4-5 hours of evening reading when the “work day” is done. She’s an economist, and I’m not; I’m going to need a little more time.

On the other hand, second, one day of only partial success should probably not be justification for dumping the whole system. I’ll keep trying to block out time for research, and grading, but I’ll also be a little more flexible, recognizing that the unexpected will happen, and that I can deal with it. After all, I got into this job partly for the flexibility; I just need to remember to use it more effectively.


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