Academic Colleagues

I understand how it can go both ways in academia.  You can have colleagues who are really part of your family.  And you have colleagues you are, um, not.

Whichever way it happens, academic colleagues are completely unlike colleagues in other organizations. Academia is the last career in which you can be guaranteed lifetime employment. What this means is that we work with the same people for 30 to 40 years.

That’s a long time.

And while it is of course likely that there will be ebbs and flows in relationships and interpersonal dynamics, there are times where I don’t think there is anything like the relationships you form with the people you work with at a university.

Like this week.

This week was the trial for the murderer of our dear colleague Jeannine Skinner. She was murdered last September 1, 2017. It was hellish because Jeannine is/was extraordinary. I know that can be cliche, but at her funeral last September I found out that I was not the only person who saw her sunshine-beaming-from-her-face smile and thought “I’m going to be your friend. I will try not to freak you out by immediately pouncing into your life. But YOU! Friend! With me!!”

She was on a trajectory to be an outstanding researcher.  I reviewed her first year faculty research proposal as part of my university service duties.  It was equivalent to some of our best full professors who have been writing the proposals for 20 years.

She was driven to help under-served, minority, and low income seniors keep their health and their cognitions.  The city of Charlotte lost out on her contributions.

But we, as her colleagues and friends, lost out on what we thought was going to be at least a 30-year friendship.

This week, my work colleagues and I gathered over two days to support her family and her memory as her murderer pleaded guilty.  I’m telling you right now, I cannot imagine feeling closer to anyone else that I work with. We cried together. We hugged each other as we saw someone losing it.  We laughed when one of our own was legitimately threatened to be thrown out of court for asking if someone else needed a tissue.  They take VERY SERIOUSLY the no talking rule in court.

We spent time hugging, visiting, and praying with Jeannine’s family.  ((Who are, all three, exceptional human beings))

Academia is just not like other places.  I don’t know how other co-workers handle a tragedy in their midst. But I so love all of my colleagues right now.  I can’t imagine people say that about the other places that they work.

But that’s how I am feeling about my colleagues and my department after how we all held each other up this week.

I do wish I would stop crying for a couple of three minutes.  But I think that will stop eventually. I’m hoping this closeness stays around a while longer.

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Spring Break Study Abroad to Prague: Part 3

This entry should be titled: Professors Learn Things, too.

In addition to focusing on what the students can learn about multicultural teams in multinational organizations, I also used this trip as a way to enrich my own understanding of work and employees.  I’m an organizational scientist.  Nonetheless, I do not spend a lot of time in organizations talking with organizational leaders and regular employees about their jobs. I find that not only do I translate my copious notes during the visit into fancy pants theoretical comments (e.g., when the leader says that he told the teammates in conflict to work it out, I translated that into “Socializing the group into norms of working behavior dealing with intercultural conflict”), I also come back to my teaching with rich examples of work behavior that can help me explain organizational theories to my students.

STICK WITH ME HERE: It’s not that boring.

So last night’s graduate I/O class dealt with careers.  We talked about structure vs. agency (i.e., institutional and organizational constraints vs. individual choice). I had a great example from the trip about the constraints of a communist country over who can actually have a job (only those who support the communist party) and what education can they pursue (not what they want, but what is needed by the country) and an individual’s powerful choice to defect from said country and start a successful career on another continent in another language and then come back after communism fell and start ANOTHER career based on what he really wanted to do in the first place.

That’s not really an example that comes to mind when we think of institutional constraints and individual choice. Yet, I’d argue that this extreme example makes it easier to understand the more nuanced examples of career constraints and choices we see in the US.

Which leads me to another insight.  My 20-something students and I are DAMN tired of hearing about how Millennials and their avocado toast are ruining America. I have always had a hard time believing in “cohorts” in organizational science: that Baby boomers vs. Gen X Vs. Millennials  vs. whatever the hell is going on now are different employees and want different things out of their jobs. First of all, it doesn’t apply to me.  I’m supposed to be at the tail end of Baby Boomers but I felt more like Gen X in attitude, and, to be honest, I love avocado toast.  Second, a lot of this analysis seems like it boils down to whatever “cohort” is in power says “those young whippersnappers don’t do it the right way, like we used to as kids.”

It’s bullshit.

But when you look at countries and analyze them by their institutional constraints (these ideas are inspired by Tomlinson et al, 2018 as well as what I learned in Prague), I think you can see when cohorts *can* develop in countries.  When the institutional constraints (e.g., the country and its culture) radically change, the people within the country change.  This change probably most relevantly affects younger people coming of age. And so yes, a “cohort” of people with different (from early generations) beliefs can emerge.

In the US? The Depression.  World War II.  The sexual and gender revolution of the 60s and 70s. Those were BIG cultural changes in our country.  But since the 70s?  I argue that things have been pretty stable since then. Yes, 9/11. But was an event, not a cultural change. So is there a “Greatest Generation” and a “Boomer” cohort?  Yes.  But afterwards? I don’t think so.  I think we just got used to expecting a cohort, so we started creating them even though they don’t exist.  ((That said: one smarty pants student suggested the ubiquitous use of technology is creating a cohort. And I think it’s possible Trump/#Enough COULD create a cohort, too))

And all of this became clear to me in listening to and attending cultural events in Prague about the 1968 Prague Spring and the 1989 Velvet Revolution.  OF COURSE, the country and the institutional culture changed.  Of course, there are likely cohort effects for employees and citizens in Czech Republic because of those events, especially for the fall of communism. I don’t think there were even business schools in Czech Republic before the fall of communism, because why would you major in Satan?

So, yeah. It seems to be that we are foolish to think there is always a cohort of employees that are vastly different than the ones before them. I suggest that only if there are substantial cultural changes that affect a whole nation should we expect entire generations to be substantially different than others.

And that is something I would not have thought of if I had not left the US and immersed myself, if only for a week, in another environment.

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Spring Break Study Abroad to Prague: Part 2

Yesterday, in Part 1, I talked about some the intellectual benefits of our Spring Break Study abroad program.


Today, I want to talk about what I perceive as the personal benefits of this sort of trip. It actually surprised me after my first Study Abroad trip to Berlin how close the students became to each other and I became to them. It’s hard to spend 9 full days with folks and not develop a real knowledge and affection for them.

The interesting thing about Study Abroad program is the number of contact hours the professor has with the students during the trip. In a regular course, one has approximately 45 contact hours with kids (3 hours/week for 15 weeks or so).  Although we met several times before we left for Prague, I think it’s reasonable to say that over the 10 days we were there, we spent on average about 8 hours/day together.

80 > 45.

FORTUNATELY for them, I was not lecturing them the whole time.  HA!  But yes, I did try to engage in learning moments throughout the days, including the last day at 4:30 am discussing entitativity and being a group outsider. In the dark van heading to the airport with a bunch of sleepy kids, we decided that was enough theoretical discussion and academic learning for one day.

We also had cultural events to help students understand life in Czech Republic including a tour of the Jewish Quarter, the Museum of Communism, and an extremely challenging exhibit at the DOX Museum of Contemporary Art. One of my proudest moments of the students is how they struggled to make sense of that exhibit (focusing on mental illness, corrupt politicians, and discrimination) to come an understanding that was both enlightening, sad, and hopeful.

I also tried to engage in mentoring as much as possible with the students including What They Wanted To Do when They Grow Up and advice on Grad Schools and double majors and minors. We are a big U. I think it’s part of my responsibility to give assvice to every student I come into close contact with.

But the fun parts were the personal stories:  Which student absolutely had to have a snack every 3 hours, who asked the best questions to all the organizations, the number of students with infectious laughs, contagious smiles, and wicked sense of humors, who has the chutzpah to explore all over the city, and who hates mushrooms (A LOT of students; that is weird).

Though they were still for the most part, ahem, “undergraduates,” I was told by two separate folks that these were the best American students they had ever encountered.  The first complement came from the University of Economics presentation, in which the students were clearly very engaged and had extremely interesting questions.  The second was from our guide and supporter, Petr Zidek, who was responsible for much of positive experiences. (And is in the picture just above this)  Here is his tour guide site and you should hire him for a guided tour or two when you go.  Also, the students loved him. Petr also said that we were the best group of students he’s guided: easy going and responsible, even when they were searching for more snacks.

The other weird part? One of our students ran into a undergrad business major from Saginaw State University who knew my PhD student, Iza Szmanska. Even weirder was walking through Old Town Square and hearing my name called out. I immediately thought it would be too egocentric to think that someone was calling for me, but I turned around and saw two UNC Charlotte I/O Grads coming up to me.  I knew Heather and Milly were in Prague, but I didn’t expect to run into them at 10 am on a Saturday morning in the middle of the Old Town Square! It’s a small freaking world, people.

So, what else did we figure out? Well, first, Prague likes to use its heaters. I’m pretty that our hotel staff thinks that they way Americans walk into a building is by saying BLAAAARGH and ripping off their coats. At one organization, everyone took off as much as they could without getting down to their skivvies, we were so dang overheated. Second, Czech beer is really good and is, in all honesty, cheaper than water. The wine? Not so much. Third, goulash is basically beef stew and they could stand to add a few veggies to the mix. I’m just saying that at one point, I started fantasizing about green beans. Or even just some steamed broccoli.  There were discussions about broccoli among the students and me.

It was a great trip.  It’s really weird to be back here and to not be with the students all the time, talking about how I interpreted much of what was being said into theories of groups, communication, and diversity, listening to gossip, and occasionally advising them on hangovers (see comment about “undergraduates” above).

And because my students ALL took selfies at every event we went to, here I am at T-Mobile, trying to look somewhat cool.



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Spring Break Study Abroad to Prague: Part 1

We just returned from Prague for a Spring Break Study abroad program focusing on successful international employees, teams, and leaders.  I’m dividing this debriefing blog into two parts.

Today, I’m talking about what we learned and did.  Tomorrow, I’m talking about what it’s like to be a professor in close relationship with students for a week+ in another country.  (Spoiler: it is good)

So, the trip was to help students experientially understand what it is like to work abroad in multi-national organizations in multi-cultural teams.  We can certainly read about such experiences in the classroom, but to take the students out of  the US and plop them into a foreign country and talk with leaders of HR and of employees in these teams provides (I hope) a bit of the disorientation that comes with working overseas and lets our students hear from people who do this every day and do with successfully.

I like it.  I believe it challenges students’ previous notions about working abroad. It lets undergrads hear phenomenally insightful advice from leaders in the field. It comprehensively exposes them to cultures (including food, art, language, beliefs) that they cannot experience in a regular classroom.

For our program, in the mornings, we met with exceptional organizations like Novartis, The University of Economics, Prague, and HSBC. Before we left for the trip, my students picked out topics they wanted to write a literature review on.  During the trip, they asked questions of the organizational leaders related to their topic. Better, though, is the knowledge we created as a class learning about and responding to the information the leaders share on their own and their answers to our questions.

One thing I find so interesting on these study abroad trips is how the multinational teams and their HR managers respond to the inherent diversity on their teams.  Rare was the team composed only of Czech citizens. More common were the teams composed of Czech, German, Italian, French, American, and Indian–among other—countries.

I really appreciate the humor and the drama that comes from what these leaders shared with us.  The humor: The Italian employee wondering why his German teammate was so rude and cold to him all the time, and the manager saying “He’s not rude and cold; he’s German!” And the German teammate responding afterwards by effusively greeting and kissing his Italian teammate every morning until the Italian yelled ENOUGH!  The drama coming from a Polish and a Czech teammate (I believe?) having such a bad political fight that they wouldn’t speak to each other and their manager saying there is no place for that sort of behavior at work and they had to figure out how to work together or they are both fired.  They joyfully figured it out.

What I like about this is that it’s assumed that your teammates are going to be different than you. And it is ok to name a cultural explanation for the differences. The Italians are effusive.  If you want people awake at an early morning presentation, have an Italian teammate do it. Conflict over culture qua culture is not acceptable. You have to figure out how to get along with different people and do your work.  Period.

Or as Shawn and Gus would say on Psych, Suck it.


I do not believe that there is no discrimination in European multi-national teams.  I gather women still have a glass ceiling to shatter.  I think certain countries, certain ethnicities, and certain religions would argue they are not fully represented and possibly actively discriminated against.

And I’m not sure that saying “Oh, don’t mind Janet’s behavior, she’s just being Black” is a productive statement here in the US.  ((ETA: That is definitely not a good thing to say.)) But realizing everyone is different and it’s likely based on their “culture” and you need to figure out how to get along with them? That’s not too shabby.

But yes, I did laugh myself silly today thinking of how funny it would be to say of a teammate “Oh he is not actually being a jerk. His white male privilege is showing.”  ((Still cracking me up))

In any case, I treat all of the organizations we visit as a qualitative site visit. I hope the students get a lot out of it.  My brain always expands on these trips and I learn a lot.

Tomorrow, the best part: the kids.

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Academic Life As the Winter Olympics

SO, yeah.  I figured out this lesson in Grad School, when I was near the end of my dissertation.  I was working my booty off, scared I wasn’t going to finish, and, generally, overwhelmed by next sunrise.

A friend/peer from my peer mentor group told me he knew I was going to finish and he gave me a piece of advice that was true and has helped me through a lot of overwhelming times.


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When should you have a baby in academia?

Why the hell do they not ask men this question?  It’s a rigged system until academia figures out that half the population gives birth.  And that, actually, birthing babies takes a moment.


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Should You Go To Grad School?

No.  No, you should not. Let me tell you why.


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Writing The Truth

We all think we write the truth, right?  We all hope we are.  But what I’ve found is that when I know I’ve found a problem in my writing–that there’s something that doesn’t make sense or isn’t logical–the problem is that I haven’t uncovered the Truth for that paper.


And further, usually, writing that Truth means admitting some sort of vulnerability, usually in my logic.  Once I do that, the Truth always seems to come forward and reveal itself and vastly improve my paper.

Writing is weird, eh?  I’m writing right now.  (HA!) But writing about how to write is so dang hard.

Maybe talking about it will make it simpler:


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Behold the field…..

One piece of advice (or assvice, as it actually is) that I give my students is to not be beholden to others’ opinions about your work.  We all need to listen to feedback about how to make our work better, but we should not listen one second to people or institutions that tell us we are not worthy to be part of the conversation.

I believe so strongly about this assvice that I’ve created a physical movement to show that we cannot care what others think about us.

Here is my lab at a formal event demonstrating:

Behold the field in which I grow my f*cks.
Look upon it and note that it is empty.

You should use that movement, too.  Frequently.  Every time someone doubts you.

More information is available here:



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The Totality

My family and I went to Winnsboro, SC to watch the totality last Monday.  We had originally planned to stay in Charlotte because at 98%, that seems pretty “total” to me.  But a tweeting conversation with the local weather god, Brad Panovich, convinced me that while it would be “awesome” in Charlotte, it would be a lifetime memory in totality.

So we packed up and headed to the incredibly welcoming town of Winnsboro, SC and experienced 1:20 of totality.

Wow.  Seriously.  WOW.  I can throw some words out to explain what it was like:  really, really, really awesome; beautiful; mind-blowing; unexpected; unifying; community-building; spiritual; and heart filling.

But really, it was beyond words.

But the feelings are still there.  While listening to this podcast which started and ended with people’s reactions, I had the goosebumps all over again. And it was crazy to hear people from across the US having the same experiences and saying the same words my neighbors and I were.

Why did we react this way?

As a psychologist, I am very interested in the effects of people’s physical and online environments on their lives.  For 99.999999% of our lives, the sun rises, we see sunshine, the sun sets, and we see dark.  We’re pretty used to that rhythm.

In the solar eclipse, it got dark in the middle of the day. A dark hole in the sky had absolutely beautiful halos dancing around.  In a minute, it was gone, and we were back to normal.

This short, extremely rare disruption of what is not only “normal” but what one has experienced nearly every single day of one’s life is apparently very powerful.

We know that that the disruption of normal can have powerful negative effects (e.g., Hurricane Harvey right now).  Maybe the disruption of normal often means that something negative might happen.

And I’m sure on some planets with lots of moons, a solar eclipse may not be such a big deal, maybe it is even “normal.” I’ll ask the Doctor the next time I see him.

But here on earth, I’m going to propose that because a total solar eclipse is extremely rare for any one human being to experience and because it is perfectly safe, it produces a deep positive and unifying experience among the people who experience it.

I am going to the next Solar Eclipse in the states in 2024.  Maybe I’ll just have to test this proposition there.

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