Career Ambitions and Family

So, I’ve got about 30 minutes before I take my twin son to the pulminologist.  You can read about what is going on with pneumonia in our family here, here, here, and here.  My personal blog is where I focus on my children and my experiences of being a mother.

In this blog entry, I want to focus on the challenges of being a professional with some (actually, more than some) ambitions in her career while also dealing with children with a chronic illness.  My twins have asthma: they came out before they were fully cooked.  So, we have challenges that  other families don’t.  For example, I’m really not sure whether or not my twin son will end up in the hospital this afternoon, tonight, or tomorrow–or whether we’ve been able to dodge that bullet.  The one thing I will say about that is it’s Wednesday, and we’ve been in this hospital frequently enough to know and be excited that they serve fried chicken and collard greens on Wednesday.  #Silverlinings

My family comes first.  When they are sick I am focused on their health, throwing as much attention into the data points of their fevers and oxygen levels as I do in finalizing a confirmatory factor analysis.  I don’t go to meetings; I make alternative arrangement for classes.  I ask for extensions on deadlines.

But that doesn’t mean (even when I’m focusing 100% on them), that I’m not ALSO wishing I was working on some of my really fun (and I think important) research projects and working with some of my students and helping them progress through the program.

I know that by saying this I risk looking an uncaring mother, right?  “While my children are sick, I’d really rather be working on analyzing that latest data and getting our paper out to JPSP!” What I mean though is that I focus on my family. I put them ahead of everything else.  But I still really, really like my work.  And I see the sacrifice(s) in my career that I have to make. I do it willingly.  But it is a loss for me.

I have to mourn that loss a little.  And then focus back on making sure my little man doesn’t get any sicker.  And that my little squirrel doesn’t end up in the hospital too.  Oddly, hospitals do not offer two-for-one specials.



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Front Porch Behavior Settings

I’ve been debating about whether to put this on my personal blog or my professional one.  The professional one won out!

So, as some of my other blog posts have talked about, I am interested in how the environment, particularly physical objects in the environment, affect behavior.  I’ve taken this research online in my virtual behavior settings research.  Over the last 20 years or so (YIKES!) of doing this research, I’ve come to the conclusion that people have more control and power than objects on the actual behavior enacted in a particular setting. That is, objects are important, but people really control the space is used.


And it’s the oddest way that this conclusion has come about: It’s from the new rocking chairs we have on our front porch.

We’ve lived in this house for 13 years.  We’ve had a variety of furniture on the front porch from a swing to a couple of ratty old wicker chairs.  We’ve used the front porch during that time.  HOWEVER, we recently received two new-to-us pretty rocking chairs with cushions.  And I am here to tell you, we spend hours every day now on our front porch.  Sometimes in our pajamas.  I know that is not normal.  But we love our front porch now.

We live in a neighborhood where folks spend time on their porches and neighbors walk around.  We’ve sometimes taken an hour to go around the block because of how many people we’ve run into.  So being on the front porch is a normal thing.

But we’re doing it so much more now, and I have to attribute the change in our behavior to the rocking chairs.  One of the “benefits” of being a researcher is always living meta; I’m always analyzing what is going on from some organizational or interpersonal or group theory or another.  So of course, I’ve been observing and analyzing our behavior in our pjs on the front porch.  (We are concerned some neighbors are going to take a different route)

My conclusion at this point is that the comfort and attractiveness of these chairs suggest that objects in one’s environment may be subtle and we may underestimate them, but in this situation, they clearly have powerful effects on human behavior.

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The Op-Ed Project

Once, a bazillion years ago, when I worked for Citicorp POS, I had a life changing experience.  The executives took the entire company down to Florida from Connecticut for a three day ropes team building course.  It was amazing, but not for the reason the executives anticipated.

I have an enormous fear of heights.  So while I was climbing telephone poles 40 feet up in the air, harnessed and completely safe, I understood that building trust for my teammates was important.  But more so, building trust that life was not as risky as I was living it and “jumping” out of one career I didn’t like and into one I did was not as risky as I was telling myself.

So I quit my job in the real world, went for my PhD in Organizational Psychology, and became a professor.

My experience in last week’s Op-Ed Project workshop at UNC Charlotte feels pretty close to that level of revolution about a new future.  I’m not going to change careers; I love being a professor. But all of a sudden, I feel like a new and very attractive avenue in my career has just opened up.

So what s the Op-Ed Project?  It’s a non-profit organization whose goal is to increase the number of women and minority voices contributing to the public discourse in our society.  ((This is obviously my interpretation; the leaders of the Op-Ed Project may have a different perspective)) While writing Op-Eds is one way to do this, the real goal is to increase women and minority contributions to all forms of public thought.


I never thought about doing that. I know things. I have things I’d like to say. And I want to say them. I was trained at Claremont Graduate University where one of our maxims in psychology was “Giving Psychology Away.” Again, wow.  I’ve wanted to “Give Psychology Away” since I started graduate school, but didn’t know how to do it.  (And free consulting is not really where we are financially)

So with a bit of confidence building, insight into writing op-eds, a bit o’ training for live discussions, and a lot of peer support, I am ready to see what is next along this path. There was some talk among the facilitators of having a public Op-Ed Project workshop in Charlotte.  I think it would be a great idea!! We have a lot of people in Charlotte community who have ideas they should be sharing with others in a public forum.

Let’s see how we can work this out so that more of us find a new path in our careers that we can start exploring, sharing, and contributing.


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Paying for Online “Gifts”

This is one of those blog posts where I’m not sure I’m supposed to post it on my personal blog or my professional one.  This topic is one that I’m using in my personal life, but I can’t stop analyzing from my research/academic perspective.  So I’m opting for the professional one and leaving out links that might financially benefit me (DOH!).

So, I hate to shop.  I’m cheap and I hate parting with my money.

HOWEVER, I have recently become a true fan (I won’t use addicted because it’s such a loaded term) of monthly shopping services.  It started with Stitch Fix, the gateway drug into additional shopping.  Then I tried Ipsy, Club W, and Glossy Box.  That makes up one clothing, two make ups, and one wine club I am now “subscribed” to.

So why is a woman who hates shopping and parting with her money spending so much money on clothing, cosmetics, and wine?  ((This is particularly ironic considering how much time I spend working at home in my pjs with dirty hair and a clean face.  The wine is not surprising))

Because it’s like getting gifts every month (or two)!!  Yes, I *know* I’m paying for my gifts.  But all people get in the mail now are bills, advertisements, and magazines.  We never send personal letters to each other.  Snail mail is rare and. in our house. goes between the Grandkids and the Grandparents.  There’s little reason to get excited about what arrives in the mail.  Even Amazon.  I know what I’m getting.  We have a subscription for paper towels arriving today.  Woo. Hoo.

But these other services are surprises!!  Gifts!! From some kind stylist who picked them out Just For Me!  Yes, rationally, I know I’ve paid for these and some items are higher quality than others.  But irrationally, I absolutely love my stylist picked gifts arriving as surprises every month in the mail.  And I’m pretty sure that is what the retailers are hoping for.

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Productivity Hints

It is ironic that I am writing this blog entry today.  My 5 year old twin son is home sick with a tummy bug and my “productivity” is suffering as I hear the strains of “NinjaaaaGO!”  And “Go! Go! Samurai!” wafting up the stairs from his resting place on the sofa.  Yes, my productivity is suffering as well as my mental health.  I *HATE* the Power Rangers.  Ninja-go is a treat compared to the Power Ranges.


In our lab, we have been exchanging productivity tips.  This is relevant and important because as academics, we often determine our own time line (apart from conference and grant due dates) for when we turn things in.  This is beneficial as we work to make our intellectual contributions the best they can be.  It’s a real negative because our intellectual work can always be improved and at some point, we just need to get it out for review and move on.

We like to run my lab as a way for all of us (from the faculty co-directors, to the grad students to the undergrads) to  share what we think.  This ranges from debating research strategies to interpreting results to construct conceptualizations to best practices for working efficiently.

A couple of the latest tips have been particularly useful and thus, I am sharing them.

First, lists are important.  I can self sabotage by saying “oh, I know what I need to do” and not making a list.   I always think I have it under control AND I DO NOT.  So while I’ve used notebooks and Evernote for my keeping and maintaining lists, I have recently started putting my daily tasks at the top of my gmail calendar.  This has worked out really well.  I put the weeks’ tasks on top of the day.  I have the day’s appointments/activities in place and I can organize what I am doing.  DIGGING THAT.

There is a trick though to “to do” lists, particularly if you have them on particular days.  Some research suggests that putting too many things on your list, or having unrealistic expectations of how much you can do in one day, is self-defeating.  It feels good to cross something off your list.  But if you end up leaving 5 important things (that you really couldn’t have done anyway), then you end up feeling bad about yourself and discouraged at your abilities.  I’ve been trying to put realistic amounts of work on, and if I have some extra time, I check the master To Do list and do something from there.

The second strategy our lab has been working on is called “Hot Potato.”  My Lab RA named it as we were describing the strategy of another very productive grad student.  The philosophy on Hot Potato is to that if someone gives you a task on a group project, your goal is to get it back to them as fast as possible so you don’t hold the team back.  While for some people, this might mean sloppy work.  For those of us who tend toward the perfectionist column, this is a great strategy to just GET MOVING.  I actually say to myself, “HOT POTATO!  DON’T HOLD THE TEAM BACK!!” I say that because I am a nut and I talk to myself all the time.

Finally, we’re all trying the strategy of only touching each email once.  I am really bad at this.  I understand that by not responding as soon as you receive the email, you are likely to write the email in your head many, many, many, MANY more times than if you would just DO IT THEN.  It’s hard though to only check email when I have 30 minutes to do everything that needs to be done.  Especially when some of that doing is so freaking boring.  (Yes, work is boring sometimes.  Especially the administrative stuff).  Blergh.

So that’s our productivity tips for the week.  What are yours?  What strategies do you use to keep yourself moving forward?

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Working Mom

In conjunction with my personal blog, I’m posting about my summer  work schedule.  This entry focuses on the “Working” aspect of being a professor who is also  a mother (i.e., a MoFessor).

Academics know that the summer is supposed to be our most productive working time, even though many of us are not paid for it.  Because my children have been young, they have usually been in daycare during the summer.  Some academics  take their children out of daycare during the summer, but with young children, I haven’t seen how that is possible. Because our youngest (i.e., the twinnies) are starting kindergarten this fall and, thus, we don’t need to hold their daycare spots, and  because it  saves us  $4800 tax free, we’ve pulled them from daycare.

But, um, I’m still supposed to be  working.

Anticipating this schedule last spring and also teaching a grad course on how  to  write well and be  productive, I started a “Rise at 5” schedule for  my research.  When a GREAT DEAL of the research and personal accounts of being a  productive writer converge on daily devoted time for writing, usually first thing in the morning, I think we ought to pay attention to it as a valid data point.

And honestly, it works  out  very  well for me, too,  I decide before I go to bed what my primary task will be.  And on my best mornings, I  roll out  of bed and even before I have my first cup  of coffee, I  start working.

I wish I’d figured this out years ago.  I am truly getting more  work done now than I ever have in my life.  And I like it.  It’s fun to get the hardest part of the day  out of the way first thing.  Writing is still hard.  And there is still all that self-doubt associated with it.  But it’s so rewarding to start to tick off tasks and projects.

There is one problem. The reason I wasn’t writing first thing in the morning before is that I was running.  It was great and it ensured that I exercised every day.  Now, I’m prioritizing writing  first thing in the morning.  But I still need to exercise.  Health is on the same level  as  work productivity in a fulfilled life.

Once I figure that out, I’ll let you know.

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Online Classes

I would love to start a discussion of online classes in this post (so I must remember to turn on comments).

So, I just finished my second online class.  Despite being someone who studies online groups and who has been on email since ((gulp)) 1984, I have not wanted to teach online.  Why?  Because I think the teacher and students lose the informal social interactions that are least 50% of what students get out of the courses they take.

Nonetheless, I decided to teach an online course  in the spring, mainly because it would allow me to teach one in the summer.  I am pragmatic; I have three children.  I need the summer salary and the face-to-face classes are having problems getting student enrollment.

So, I have been pleasantly surprised at the whole experience.

First, my students have scored WAY  HIGHER (for the most part) on their assignments in the online class than the FtF  class.  Like 5 to 7 points higher on tests I’ve been using for years. Why?? ACTIVE LEARNING. I don’t lecture.  The kids have to read the book.  I have a few “lessons” in which I walk/coach the students through some tough topics using written text, but they have to do the work themselves.  Even the final  paper, in which many students in the FtF do not get how to do it, the online class ROCKED IT.  I’m going to have to start grading harder and/or giving harder assignments to keep my overall grade distribution from going up—because the students are actually learning more!!

The second surprising thing is that my classes *do* have more social interactions than I thought they would.  This summer in particular, about half the classes has posted in our “Howdy Do” forums.  YES, I am a big  geek and I have a discussion forum called “Howdy  Do” where each week folks can post what they are doing.  YES I AM A GEEK AND I KNOW THIS ALREADY.

In the spring, only a few folks posted.  But this summer, over  half the class has checked in to let us know what they are doing.  I LOVE IT!  I miss seeing my kidlets in class, so I actually really love hearing from them on this forum.  And I know that because this is summer school, it’s more appropriate to post in the forum that you are checking in to class from the beach, or heading to the Grand Canyon with your family and finishing up the classwork in hotels on the road.

No, the social interactions are not the same online as FtF.  Lots of research and experience support that.  But having my students perform better AND working out better ways  for us to get  to know each other better during the class?  That sort  of rocks.

I  would LOVE to hear what other folks do who teach online courses.  Comments on this post, emails, tweets, Facebook messages.  I’m open to it all.  I’d love to learn what you do.

PS: And yes, I  do know that one  my characteristics (strengths or weaknesses, I do not know) is that my online interactions are pretty dadgum similar to my FtF interactions.  Whatever the textual version of waving one’s hands around and walking across the classroom while talking, I  do that in my writing.  At least, I  think I do.  You may not.  But now I am pensively reflecting with my eyes looking up and toward the left.  Soooo….. Um, yeah.


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Writing By Hand

So  sometime during the last semester, a study came out demonstrating that taking notes by hand (i.e., writing) helps students retain more information than typing notes on their keyboard.  I posted that to both my undergrad and graduate class online pages.  But it ended  up sparking a discussion a few weeks later in my grad class when one of my students shared that she was getting SO MUCH MORE out of the readings of a very difficult course by writing her notes instead  of typing them.  And later in the semester, she and I had a research meeting in which she had brought in her handwritten notes to an article I had annotated online (through Mendeley) and her insights into the paper were remarkable.  This was a paper, I’d read and cited several times, but she  was able to get something new out it.




So I’ve started writing by hand my notes from articles again, my notes in meetings, my to do lists.  I’m printing off my students’ papers and reading them and writing on them.  Bless their poor little hearts because my writing mimics that of an MD, not a PhD.


I feel like I have gone back to the future.  But  I also feel like I’m getting a great deal more  out of my work.  I wrote everything by hand in grad school.  (Back in the stone ages)  I finally felt like I was getting  with the program when I typed my first draft on the computer.  I always did my serious editing by writing.  But I’ve been trying to even stop that.


No longer though.  I’ll Mendeley for storage  of the documents I read and also for their in text citing.  But I’m going  back to note cards  for my notes.  And  I will ride my horse and buggy to campus.  I notice a difference.  It could be that I’m an old f@rt and so that works for me.  Or  it may be that  all those  multiple  cues of  touch and movement encode these thoughts deeper.


I’d  love to  hear what you do.

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Writing and Thinking and Theorizing

So I’m teaching my Writing And Thinking in the Organizational Sciences graduate class again.  (Wow!  My academic blog is two years old.  I really need to post more often)  This is a course that I took with Allan Wicker many years ago and is based upon Allan’s (1985) paper on getting out of one’s conceptual ruts.   The gist of this course is to help the students think deeply and creatively about their research topics while also discussing issues of writing and working effectively.

I have to be honest:  it’s an amazing class (if I do say so myself).  I can see the intellectual growth among the students.  In this last exercise, in which the students conducted a analysis of their major concepts, I could actually see the wheels turning and the Deep Thoughts Being Thunk.

Here’s the other things that is quite exciting to me:  Allan was quite prescient in his Conceptual Ruts paper.  It took 30 years or so, but some of the A level journals (specifically Academy of Management Journal and Academy of Management Review among others) are starting to advocate some of the exercises to their authors, even though they neglect the origins of these ideas in Allan’s paper.

I also realize that I might be able to better publicize this class–and what we’re doing in it–as “theorizing.”  That’s certainly the approach that AMJ and AMR are taking.

I would love to turn this course into a book for other social science graduate programs to use to help their PhD students develop and apply theory to their research.  ((I’m waiting for the next sentence to jump into my head and out of my fingers to conclude this essay.  I’ve been waiting a long time.))

So let’s just finish it here by adding that the other parts of the class are on WRITING and secrets to PRODUCTIVITY. Because all the great thoughts (and book ideas) don’t add up to diddly squat until we get our booties in the chair and put the words down on paper.  And then edit them.  And re-edit them.  And edit them again.  And have a few friendly (or not) reviewers tell us where our thoughts and writing don’t make sense.

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New and Old Media

Well, we’re waiting for the Winter Storm of the Decade to arrive. The kids are still asleep.  The husband is not yet driving nurses all over the county in scary weather.  And I’m not prepping for class because i’m pretty sure the University is going to be closed tomorrow.  Sounds like a prime opportunity to take advantage of the time to update my academic blog.

During the build up to this storm, I’ve become a big fan of Brad Panovich’s Facebook page.  And I am not the only one.  A few days ago, he even updated his status expressing amazement about all his new “likes” had come from and could they explain how they got there.

I have my own ideas about why he is so popular.

1)  He’s funny.  He has great graphics about when it’s time to buy bread and milk and when it’s time to buy a sled.  We in the South raid the grocery store for bread and milk at 1″ of snow. It’s funny.  He even introduced a new graphic about how many loaves one should buy to weather this storm.

2)  He’s informative.  The graphs are cute, but I think he’s figured out the formula of using Facebook to inform us about the weather and promote his “real job” as head meteorologist at the local NBC affiliate.  He posts youtube videos about his interpretation of the weather models.  And he does from home early in the morning, at night before he goes to bed, and yesterday in between TV broadcasts.  In these, he briefly talks about his family and going to pre-school parent-teacher conferences and then he teaches us about what he sees in the variety of models he uses to make his decisions.  I feel like a student.  And like a student, sometimes I have no idea what the hell he is talking about.  But when I do get it, I feel like an insider on the weather forecast. He even explains why his forecast is different from others and it  makes sense to me.

3) He makes the audience feel like an insider.  Academically, this is interesting to me.  I refer to him now as “Brad” around the house.  (The husband* is confused.)  It feels intimate for him to be explaining to *me* about the weather and tiny insights about his family. He wears a t-shirt on YouTube and a suit on TV.  I recognize his voice before I recognize his appearance.  I prefer his t-shirts to his suits.  His jokes are funny feel like insider jokes between him and me.  Between him, a couple of 20,000 other people, and me.

I think this could be one path to the future with traditional and new media.  I have started watching the TV broadcast this week because of him.  That said, I’m COMPLETELY prefer his videos.  But I am watching the TV.  (I never watch TV during the day and never local broadcasts, I suppose that is saying something.  Well, it also says the kids are home and the Olympics are on)  I’m wondering whether and how other traditional media could use this.  It could be that his example only generalizes to particular developing news topics. I love Kathleen Purvis’ column and blog on The Charlotte Observer, but I don’t know how she could incorporate a video into her weekly news.  That said, if she did sit down and video tape her thoughts about food and cooking every week, I’d totally watch it.

I’m going to ponder this.  And I’d love to hear your thoughts about the intimacy of videos. I’m sure there’s been research on these media with Hollywood celebrities.  That bores me.  But old media become new media celebrities:  that sounds interesting.


*Yes, I do realize it’s sexist to call my husband “The Husband” and I could use the abbreviation “DH” for Dear Husband, but that seems too precious for an academic post.  Plus, it’s kind of funny.

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