Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Passing the Peak Moment of the Semester

I recently wrote about how I am struggling with my schedule during my first semester of teaching. All those journal papers that I was going to churn out quickly from my dissertation - don't ask me about them!

But the tides are turning. The peak moment of the semester seems to be beyond me, and things start to look a little more manageable now. I needed a lot of time to prepare my lecture notes. Generally, I need 4 hours of preparation time for an hour of lecture. For the Reinforced Concrete design classes, I can sometimes make it in 1,5 hours to 2 hours, but for Pavements, a course that is slightly outside of my field of expertise, I need more time to look for extra material. I just don't have that many books and stories readily available for that class.

I'm still trying to get all my paperwork under control. I still need to get my local driver's license. I am still familiarizing myself with the procedure of the new university. I still need to find out from which stores to find certain things (becoming rather urgent: finding who can import the eye contacts that I wear - I have a large correction so these contacts are typically not readily available).

Moving countries always induces culture shock as well. I'm still going through that whole process, and there are days that I longingly look for a light-blue KLM plane in the sky and secretly wish they could take me "home". And other days I enjoy the pleasant climate, smile at the abundance of produce in my home-delivered box of organic fruit and veggies, realize how fortunate I am to be hired at the same institution as my husband, and think that I landed in the perfect spot at the perfect time.

Now that my proposal for the first stage of the laboratory is in the hands of the People With The Money and my class notes are prepared, I finally can get back to what I enjoy doing most - my own research.

Grading takes time, but I'm approaching it more and more in efficient ways. I start to get a feeling of control over the situation.

It took a good number of months, but I'm finally getting back into a good exercise routine. I lost a lot of strength, and 10 minutes on the treadmill feels like running to the end of the world, but at least I am doing something. And yes, exercising give me more energy, exercising helps me sleep more soundly at night, and generally makes me feel better. So it was long overdue that I signed up for the gym.

Admin stuff still takes a tremendous amount of time. I get way more email than when I was a PhD student, and it takes me about an hour every day to weed through it all, reply, and archive the messages that require these actions. Since I'm still relatively new, I still have to make quite a number of trips to the Human Resources office to get documents sorted out. I'm really looking forward to the day that all this admin stuff will be behind me - but I'm afraid that's just part of the deal.

One of the challenges that I am facing as well, is that I get interrupted a lot. While I encourage students to come to my office for whichever doubts or trouble they have, it is not very productive when I switch between cracking a research problem and attending to students. I might over time need to retreat to my home office for a couple of hours a day to do my deep work. One solution has been to go to the office early, at 7am, to use the silent hours for difficult work.

Since I've tried to set a limit to the hours I work on a daily basis, and since I've tried not to work past 6pm (with moderate success), I've noticed some improvements in my self-care routines. I'm not finding a way to fit it all into my days yet, but I've been spending some enjoyable evenings crafting with my sister-in-law, studying a Food Science MOOC, playing Zelda, and cooking experimental dishes. I've also had a few mornings in which I actually woke up before my alarm started ringing.

To conclude, I can say that this has been (and still is!) an awfully busy semester. But I started to get a few projects under control, take more time for myself (it's not like I need to get tenure by the age of 35 or that my life depends on it...) and to take a more relaxed approach to work and life.

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