As we all approach Thanksgiving, I’m wondering what your plans are. Specifically: how much of a “break” is a faculty member supposed to take?
I used to fill carry-on bags with grading, notebooks, and papers to bring home with me for the holidays, certain that this is my chance to finally get caught up. Which, obviously, I wouldn’t need to do if I’d just worked hard enough all semester like I should have.
Most of the time, the bags were never even opened, just dragged through airports as a physical manifestation of guilt; an academic’s hairshirt.
This year, I’ve got exams and projects to grade, the last weeks of classes to plan, a couple of papers that have been “almost done” for a while now, some grant and travel applications coming due, and an impending talk that could really use one more new result.
But I need to try something different. So after 5pm on Tuesday, I won’t think about any of this until Sunday.
Some family is coming to town that I don’t see that often. I’m hosting a bunch of my awesome new faculty cohort at my house for a potluck dinner. I have a few days to spend with my overworked first-year-teacher spouse while he gets a little break from his grading and planning. I’ll be running a Turkey Trot, finishing an afghan, building a PC, playing a couple instruments, and doing some non-academic reading. By Sunday, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be excited to get back to work.
I could maybe devote more time to working over the long weekend. But I wouldn’t get as much done as I’d hoped for, and I’d come back to work exhausted on Monday and drag myself through the week in a fog. I know, because I’ve done it a hundred times before. Since I started giving myself regularly scheduled breaks this year, my productivity has actually gone up.
I’ve talked to a lot of other young academics about this, and we confess to each other in hushed tones that we take a day off on the weekends, or refuse to grade in the evenings, or struggle to not answer emails during date night. But this still doesn’t seem like an easy thing to admit publicly, that you can’t be superprofessor all the time.
I’m fortunate that my department is very supportive about having a life outside of the office. When some people talk about work-life balance, what they seem to mean is that you should effortlessly have a perfect home life while you also effortlessly crush it professionally. But my chair apologized for sending emails late one weekend night. My colleagues tell me to go home if I stay in the office too late. They know it’s impossible to work effectively when you’re burned out. Why doesn’t everybody?Those of you with more experience navigating “breaks”: what’s your strategy for time off without guilt? How do you keep your standards high while acknowledging your physical limits? And fellow new faculty: what are your expectations for yourself? Do you feel like you can take enough time for yourself and your family without sacrificing your career?