I often get requests for advice from my newsletter readers. Here is an interesting request for guidance from a professor in Asia:
I am in Higher Education in an Asian society.
I was bothered by what I read from a student’s blog in a blogring that I came across by chance. The student quoted two lines of an an e-mail message from a faculty member (Dr X) which contained an ungrounded criticism of me and which ridiculed me. I believe that the quote was genuine, and that the student was so amused that he quoted the lines to show other members of the blogring.
I wanted to report this to the department Chair but I hesitated because, after all, I read the criticism from a blog. I am afraid that I might embarrass myself by showing the Chair the source of the information.
I am a female faculty member, more senior in rank than Dr X. This professor is very popular among students. He and I are not friends -- we don’t talk to each other except in official meetings....
I would appreciate your advice. Do you think it is a trivial matter and I should just forget about it? Or does this warrant a report to the Chair?"
This certainly sounds upsetting. And I don't see it as trivial. However, my sense is that the maligned professor should not report the incident to the Chair unless it is in an informal manner asking "how do you think that I should handle this?" I fear that asking the Chair to handle the matter would just make the impugned prof look like an insecure headache-causer.
The question, to my mind, is whether the professor should raise the issue with her colleague. Should she be direct and ask the snarky professor not to belittle her to students? Or might that lead to further trouble? Perhaps the best thing would be to ignore and forget the whole incident (easier said than done, of course.)
What do you think? Have any of you had colleagues who badmouthed you?
Want to read a good self-help book about overcoming chronic procrastination?
Here's a review of my favorite self-help book about the topic. The review was written by my friend Liz Brown, an editor who is helping some of my coaching clients on their dissertation revisions and book proposals:
Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It, by Jane B. Burka, Ph.D., and Lenora M. Yuen, Ph.D.
This is a great book with something for everyone. Written by psychologists Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen, the book contains two sections: understanding why we procrastinate, and outlining how to overcome it. It’s a quick but useful read; the writing is clear, and the descriptions precise. Given brief examples of the authors’ real-life clients, readers will certainly find themselves reflected in the array of problems, excuses, insecurities, stumbling blocks, and workable solutions. Whether you’re a graduate student putting off that dissertation, or a weekend carpenter stuck with an unfinished backyard fence, you’ll discover WHY you procrastinate, and WHAT STEPS you can take to start moving forward.
Fear is the basis of all procrastination, say the authors, including fear of failure, of success, and of “losing the battle” – some of us procrastinate to show that we’re in control of the situation.“You can’t MAKE me do this!” we say, silently, as we refuse to comply with a demanding teacher, an unappreciative boss, a nagging spouse, or even (OK, some folks are REALLY stubborn) an empty gas tank!
But the authors don’t stop at the usual “whys” of putting things off, which makes this book one of the best (if not the best) in its field. Perhaps you don’t see yourself as being afraid of success, yet you delay submitting that job application because you don’t want to leave your colleagues behind – lose them as friends, make them feel inadequate or resentful as you progress in your career. On the other hand, you might be, in the authors’ words, “trying hard to be number 2,” like the graduate student who wants to remain dependent on instructors she thinks she needs to navigate the grown-up world, or the worker who prefers taking orders to taking the initiative and risking ridicule if his ideas don’t pan out.
The authors include a chapter on delving into your past – family attitudes, school patterns, etc. -- to learn why you’ve come to use procrastination as your chief coping mechanism.
The cures in the second half of the book are realistic. You didn’t start procrastinating overnight, and you’re not going to quit like that either. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it started with that first day; likewise, changing the habits and self-justifications that have served you well, (but have also worked against you), won’t come easily, or quickly, but rather methodically, one step at a time.
The authors recommend starting a 2-week program using these key techniques:
Make goals that are observable. Use a mental movie camera to truly “picture yourself” doing something specific. Instead of setting the goal to be “less overwhelmed,” picture yourself mailing out 10 resumes to prospective employers.
Be specific. Not “organize my life,” but “go through one file drawer and discard unneeded papers.”
Take small steps. Writing down a goal can help you get a more realistic timeline – sometimes longer than you guessed, other times shorter than you had feared.
Beware of “choice points” which serve as a crossroads between success and sabotage. You finally call that client, but she’s away on vacation. Take the next step, instead of giving up (and falling into the old habit which you’re trying to break).
Reward yourself! Many people procrastinate because they feel they deserve to suffer, to struggle, to stagnate. See yourself as the success you are trying to become.
Remember: “It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be done!” It’s better to get the holiday cards sent, rather than to delay them until you can personalize each one.
The “un-schedule” (from Dr. Neil Fiore) is another tool the authors include to help procrastinators learn to “tell time” more realistically.
The last chapter, “Living and Working with Procrastinators,” doesn’t go much beyond the advice to stop nagging, but that’s easier said than done if you’re a mother whose child refuses to finish homework or an employee whose boss ignores deadlines. How do you deal with someone who procrastinates to “even the score” on a cheating spouse or a rigid work environment? In small, compassionate steps.
How do you break your habits of procrastination?You start one day at a time. Get this book to help you begin.
Hey folks, I made this entry "sticky" for a while because the comments it generated are so fascinating that I wanted to continue the conversation via comments.
Please remember that I'm adding new posts beneath this one and I'd love your ideas for those entries as well.
Here is an email I received recently asking for advice:
Dear Dr. McKinney,
As an avid reader of your blog and as newly-minted faculty member who just read over student evaluations of my Winter semester courses, I would be so interested in anything you could write/blog about course evaluations. Some questions flying around in my mind:
How do I make sense out of the fact that 90% of responding students think I'm a cool person who taught a great class and 10% think I'm boring, lazy pond scum?
Why do the comments from the nasty 10% stick with us (and sting), more so than the complimentary 90%? Was it necessary for that student to write about my hair?!
How does one make use of such disparate opinions?
My university has students provide their evaluations in an online process and many students simply fail to respond––the response rate is is less than 20% across the institution. Is it like this elsewhere? Would we faculty be better off encouraging students to respond...or saying nothing while hoping that the vipers among them keep their nasty thoughts to themselves?
I have one coaching client who NEVER gets ANY negative course evals.
Well, I'm exaggerating. The truth is that he gets *almost* no criticismwhatsoever. For example, in a decade of teaching, no one has ever gone to his chair and complained about anything.
He is also liked by *all* of his colleagues. Even though the department is highly polarized and contentious.
This sounds good, right? It sounds like you should learn his secret, right?
My dear client is so accommodating, and so worried about triggering confrontations, and so talented at pleasing people that he never offends or upsets anyone. This ability to stay on everyone's good side ends up being self-destructive. His accommodations backfire because he is so non-assertive that his colleagues walk all over him.
Fortunately, he is paid as well as his junior, tenure track peers (because his institution has a good union) but he has been stuck as a Contract Asst Prof for years and years. Theoretically, he could lose his job this year. He hasn't gotten a t-t position even though his department has hired new t-t faculty while he's been there, and even though he gets talked into doing more service work than anyone at his institution. I'm convinced that someone willing to make a few enemies would have tenure already.
Don't worry; he'll never get fired because he works so hard that he is indispensable! He always ends up doing the dirty work that none of his t-t peers want to do. Wouldn't you want to keep this type of fellow around? Be honest now -- of course you would -- even if you felt guilty about taking advantage of him.
Moral of the story: It is good to have a bi-modal distribution of evaluations with some negative comments. If you please EVERY student, even the entitled few who are primed to complain, you're not taking care of your own career.
Now do you feel better about those few snarky critiques you get at the end of the semester?
(And don't worry, my goal is to get this coaching client a t-t job this year -- he's being interviewed for an open rank tt position in his dept next week. Everyone keep your fingers crossed for him -- his dept knows that he'll stay even if they give the job to a less qualified outsider.)