Post Academic


Job Burnout: How to Avoid It

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on December 16, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSo you don’t think you’re burnt out, and you think there are enough bright spots in your job to stick around. That is terrific, but you might still be susceptible to burnout. Sometimes, burnout has more to do with you than with a nasty boss or workaholic colleagues. You also need to make some adjustments so you don’t become that person who had the nervous breakdown over by the coffee machine. Here’s how to make sure you keep yourself at peak mental strength, for academics or hamsters:

Make appointments with yourself. You won’t get anything done if people are always interrupting you with new fire drills. For that reason, you need long stretches of time to focus. Dana Gionta writes in Psychology Today, “Arranging for uninterrupted time may involve: closing your door in the afternoon; responding to phone calls or e-mails at specific times; and alerting family members and friends of the best hours to reach you.” Being available at all times is a recipe for burnout.

There’s nothing wrong with leaving on time. You might think it looks good if you come in early and stay late, but that doesn’t mean you’re actually doing anything. Management professor Gayle Porter sums it up nicely: “The employee who wants to go home is the one who will be most efficient during the week, because she’s protecting her time off.” If anyone gives you crap for leaving at 5:00 or whenever you wind up the day, mention that you’ve met all your deadlines. The best bosses are the ones who don’t micromanage and who trust you to do your work well within the time limits allotted.

Image by Mr. Satay from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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Job Burnout: How to Cope With It

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on December 15, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSo, what do you do if you think you are living the nightmare that is the Maslach Burnout Inventory? To avoid frying yourself to a crisp, you have to take charge of the situation. The sad truth is that people will work you as hard as you are willing to be worked (unless there’s a union that says exactly when people must stop working, but that’s a subject for another time and another blog). You are the only one who can take back your time, care for yourself and replenish your energy. Here’s how:

Re-evaluate your work day. If you’ve read this blog, you know that most of my recommendations for an improved work life involve some form of time management–preferably GTD. Using either a standard sheet of paper or an Excel spreadsheet, track how you spend each hour of your work day. Imagine that you are tracking your day in order to figure out how to bill a client. Try this exercise for a week, and look for the places where all your time goes. For example, if you discover that much of your time goes to meetings, which means you can’t get your work done, you need to figure out how to get out of a few meetings. If much of the day goes to finding lost items, you need to start a basic filing system.

More after the jump! Image by Tristan Nitot from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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Job Burnout: Do You Have it?

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on December 13, 2010
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PhotobucketThere’s a big difference between job dissatisfaction and burnout. Burnout is an all-encompassing sensation that wrecks your personal life, too. Almost all jobs get annoying at some point, but burnout has an emotional and physical impact that’s tough to overcome, and academics are especially vulnerable to it.

This week, I’m tackling the subject of burnout–from how to figure out if you have it, how to deal with it and how to prevent it. While reading up on burnout, I realized that, if burnout could take a human form, it would be as a workplace bully. In the end, you have to know how to detect it and how to stand up to it so you can get your work done and stay sane at the same time.

So, first, how to tell if you are burnt out or just stressed. All jobs have stress, and people react to stress differently. Some people freak out if they catch a serial comma on an AP style page, while others won’t complain even if they’re asked to work until midnight. It all depends on the person, but the basic symptoms of burnout are hard to ignore.

The Maslach Burnout Inventory in French by Micthev from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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Being Thankful for Academics Who Aren’t Assholes

Posted in Housekeeping,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on November 25, 2010
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PhotobucketIf you’ve been reading Post Academic lately, you might justifiably believe that I think academics are either straight-up assholes or, to borrow the colorful language of Melissa Rivers on the “Celebrity Apprentice,” “whore pit-vipers.” That is not true. I made some of my closest friends in academia, and I had excellent advisors. Assholes just stand out because, according to Bob Sutton, interactions with assholes are five times more powerful than interactions with nice people.

Assholes know the extent of their power, which is why they do what they do. Why not undercut that power by giving a Thanksgiving shoutout to the nice people in academia?

I’m happy to start. I am thankful to all my grad student friends who checked up on me when I was sick, which was most of grad school. I am thankful for my friends who subbed for me at the SAT academy when I had to leave town. I am thankful for the advisors and friends who attended a certain weekly lunch meeting at UCI. And I am most thankful for everyone who stayed positive and didn’t let workplace gossip get to them.

More after the jump! Image of a Thanksgiving dinner by Alcinoe from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Taking Charge of Your Work Reputation

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on November 24, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionI’m always skeptical of the “self-branding” concept. It sounds like you’re taking a hot iron to your rump. And people are neither consistent or perfect, so branding is impossible. That said, you need to think about how you want to be seen in the workplace. Your workplace reputation will impact how you are treated and the types of projects you get.

Although you may think you build your work reputation over time, you really build it in a single week. People will put you in a box, and there’s no room for a do-over. You have to survey the turf with lightning speed and then decide who you want to be.

So, you need to go in knowing exactly who you want to be on the job. The Devil’s Advocate? The Loyal Assistant? The Organizer? The One Who’s Great on Deadline? (In case you haven’t guessed, I’m the Organizer.) You might have a day, tops, to survey the workplace and figure out where you fit. It’s not high school–you have control over the situation, but you have to move fast.

Whatever you do, don’t let them peg you as the gossip, the crier or the hot mess. Be on your best behavior that first week. If anything goes wrong or if you mess up, don’t let your reaction show. Think about the image you want to project, and keep projecting it. Once your colleagues get the message, you can relax a bit.

Image of a cattle branding iron by Andreas Praefcke from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

The Mencia Effect: Or, Proof That People Still Take Plagiarism Seriously

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on November 20, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionWhile on my recent marathon road trip (Post Academic Business Travel Guide coming soon …), I saw a poster advertising an upcoming show by comedian Carlos Mencia. The first two questions that popped into my head were “What happened to his TV show?” and “Didn’t he get caught stealing jokes?”

If he didn’t get caught, he’s been accused of it. The top Google Instant search terms for “Carlos Mencia” are “Carlos Mencia steals” and “Carlos Mencia steals jokes.” This guy has enemies.

L’Affaire Mencia is important to academics and post academics because, on top of all their other duties, professors must be diligent about catching lazy students … and even then the schools don’t have the teachers’ backs. In the latest depressing plagiarism-related episode, about 600 students at the University of Central Florida got caught cheating on a test in a business class.

Whether you can catch students in the act or not, it is worth noting that these student cheaters will become hamster-world cheaters. Enter Carlos Mencia. Mencia allegedly stole jokes from several comedians–including the Cos!
More after the jump! Comedian Carlos Mencia performs during the Tour for the Troops concert at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, December 1st, 2009. Photo by Sara Csurilla, U.S. Air Force. Image from Wikimedia Commons, federal image, public domain.
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First, Plagiarism. Next, Rick Astley?

Posted in Breaking Academic Stereotypes,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on November 6, 2010
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Rickroll (Internet meme): To link to a web video that promises to reveal extraordinary footage, only to connect your user to a video clip of the 1987 music video “Never Gonna Give You Up” by the high-haired, deep-voiced pop singer Rick Astley.

If you are one of the three people on the planet who do not know what “rickrolling” is, imagine that you think you’re going to click on a never-aired Internet video involving Brett Favre’s little Viking, and you get this:

“Rickrolling” is one of the milder ways to punk someone on the Internet. But did you know that some students are punking their profs with text Rickrolls?

A student snuck an acrostic version of several lyrics from “Never Gonna Give You Up” in a paper and is eagerly awaiting the results.

So, professors among you, read the papers all the way through, and be vigilant regarding the Rickroll.

Reading the No Asshole Rule So You Don’t Have To: Suppressing the Inner Asshole

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on October 30, 2010
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Image Source,Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIf you are an academic or a high-level hamster, you’re probably smart and talented. Yet the smart and talented can also be infected with the asshole virus. The rule of thumb is that talent is not an excuse for assholery. Receiving a bunch of awards doesn’t mean you don’t have to act like a normal human being. Alas, Bob Sutton warns, ” Beware that giving people–even seemingly nice and sensitive people–even a little power can turn them into big jerks.” Yes, you could be an asshole, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you know how to conduct yourself.

Don’t get personal. Ever. Focus on arguing about ideas. Work is about completing a task in a successful fashion, not about winning or losing. If you screw up or drop the ball because you want to show up someone else or make a point, chances are good you’ll both lose your jobs or your funding. Was winning an argument or proving a point worth it?

Watch how you treat those with less power than you. Sutton says that a person’s true colors shine when they interact with those who are lower on the totem pole: “… the difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know.” It might seem easy to yell at an intern or a grad student because you think you are teaching them a lesson, but what you’re really teaching them is that you’re an asshole.

More after the jump! Screengrab from the movie “Viva Zapata!” Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Reading the No Asshole Rule So You Don’t Have To: Asshole Hiring and Firing

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on October 29, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionThe best way to stop assholes in the workplace is to avoid bringing them on board in the first place. Alas, assholes are often successful precisely because they are assholes, and others might think their bad attitudes are an asset. It can be tempting to hire an asshole if she has an eye-catching resume. But is it worth it if you run the risk that everyone in your office will bail or reduce their efforts? How do you keep assholes out?

Get involved with hiring. If someone is an asshole in the interview or has an asshole reputation, that person will be an asshole in your workplace. Don’t hire that person, no matter how prestigious. As Sutton writes, ” … negative interactions had a fivefold stronger effect on mood than positive interactions–so nasty people pack a lot more wallop than their more civilized counterparts.” Even if it means extra work for you to be involved with hiring, the results will be worth it.

Assholes breed assholes. Once you hire an asshole, other people in your workplace will act like assholes at worst or slackers at best to protect themselves. The asshole will also try to hire people who are similar to him- or herself. They know their behavior is wrong, so having more assholes in the workplace is insurance. Keep them off hiring committees. Sutton describes this situation in memorable fashion: “Assholes tend to stick together, and once stuck are not easily separated.”

More after the jump! Caricature of Boss Tweed by Thomas Nast from the 1870s. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Reading the No Asshole Rule So You Don’t Have To: Evading the Asshole

Posted in Surviving Grad School,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on October 27, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSo you’re stuck with an asshole in the workplace. The best advice for dealing with a workplace asshole is to quit and work elsewhere. For advice on that, check out Post Academic’s tips for getting another job while you’re working for an asshole. If you really are stuck, Bob Sutton’s “The No Asshole Rule” has superb advice for coping:

Stay emotionally detached. Yeah, like that’s easy when someone is calling you names and humiliating you in front of others. However, setting up a wall between your job and your personality is a crucial skill. That way, when you go home, you’re still you, and the asshole can’t take that. Also, by staying detached, you’re less likely to give the asshole the reaction that she wants, which means she is more likely to leave you alone.

Stop working so hard. Do the base amount that you have to do, but don’t go the extra mile until the asshole shows you some respect. Sutton writes, “When your job feels like a prolonged personal insult, focus on just going through the motions, on caring as little as possible about the jerks around you, and think about something more pleasant as often as you can–just get through each day until something changes at your job or something better comes along.”

More after the jump! Caricature of Boss Croker by John S. Pughe from Puck, 1901. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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