Guilt and Shame in Academia

So, I’m beginning this post by saying I took a day off today.  By taking a day off, I mean that I’m not officially grading or following my schedule.  I am, however, blogging (obviously), answering emails, and dealing with administrative issues.

At my Institution of Higher Education (IHE), I’m lucky to have a Supervisor and Dean who both respect that family comes first and work second. Neither of them batted an eye when I had to attend three funerals in the span of two weeks – in fact, they checked to make sure I was ok.  The majority of students are understanding when you tell them, and some even sent condolences when one of my parents died. 

But there was this one time…this was in the days before smartphones, in-flight internet, and wifi. I installed email on my Razr because I thought it was important to be available. Got on the plane to fly from the East Coast to the West Coast.  Once we landed, I checked my emails.  There were no less than 20 from a student, the last one simply saying, “I guess you just don’t care about your students.”

Inappropriate?  Yes.  Effective?  Oh yeah. 

Maybe it is conditioned when we get into grad school.  You should be writing.  Why aren’t you writing? What do you mean you’re at the beach? Are you writing there?  How many of us carried around a book because we were suppose to be writing, read a few pages here and there, then closed it?  Or was that just me? I felt like everyone else had more discipline in their right pinky than I would ever have. 

When I looked into the literature, the guilt piece seems to be studied most in women with children and people of color.  We are expected to get things done, and many of us work long hours to do it. In this article by Delello, et al., one of the pluses of academic life is flexibility; however, there is no one to tell you to turn off the light and go home.  Boundaries seem to be important to longevity. That said, “Presenteeism” is a chronic concern in academia. So what are some ways to make sure we are making time for both work and rest? I’m using rest deliberately here – I am very aware of the work that happens “after work” – caring for children and/or aging parents, property upkeep, paying bills and taxes, etc… and I’m going to insist that you put in at least a little rest while juggling all that.

The dreaded PSS (Post-Semester Sickness)

Christmas Eve 2014, I went shopping for dinner, which we were taking to my family the next day.  It was our first Christmas in our new home.  I started getting what I thought was a migraine. Nope. Christmas Day, I got Tamiflu as a gift from Santa. And no family visit. Yay me.

I’m sure that many of you can relate to the Post-Semester Sickness phenomenon. The illness you get right after the stress of the semester ends. Of course, it isn’t restricted to the end of semester. Right after that big grant application. Turned in your promotion or annual review.  The list goes on and on.

This year for me it’s just a nasty head cold and sinus infection. But it got me wondering – how does the stress of academia affect our immunity?

To delve into this, I had to read outside my comfort (and possibly my comprehension) zone. The medical articles I read didn’t really get to what I was looking for – most of them were talking about chronic stressors or major illnesses such as heart attacks and strokes. There was lots of literature about mental illness and stress. Important topics, but not what I wanted to know. I wanted to know about small illnesses after big stressors. 

I found nothing in my search. Nonetheless, I have been told by friends and physicians alike getting sick after big projects is not uncommon.  It’s a thing, but of course scientific evidence of a thing is superior to anecdotal.

If science ever says Post-Semester Sickness is a thing, I’m wondering if it is preventable?  Sure, we need our flu shots and to wash our hands more. But could it be that we put the project’s needs before our own health?  Would engaging in regular exercise, stress reduction, and a good diet mitigate illness after stress in an otherwise healthy population?

Anyone want to take this project on?  If you can find literature that I didn’t, please let me know! Now bundle up, wash your hands, and head towards the finish line!

TAGteaching Optimism?

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I saw a photo on Facebook the other day and it got me thinking. In the photo, a poster said they went to school with someone who used a clicker whenever they had an event or happening that made them feel good.  Then someone mused whether the clicker could elicit good feelings on its own when needed.

It makes pretty sound behavioral sense.  Clicker training has long been used with both animals and humans.  The idea is that the clicker is more precise than praise would be.  Here is a short video on an application of clicker training called TAGteach:

I’m a pessimist by nature.  In college, I was given a book 101 Reasons Why We’re Doomed. I got the message, but it’s still easy for me to see the problems and the reasons “why not.” According to the popular press, we are hardwired to see aversive stimuli and ignore the more pleasant stimuli in our environment.  I did a cursory lit review and didn’t come up with anything on that front, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t evidence to support it.  Nor could I find anything about the praise-to-corrective ratio of 5:1 often talked about.  Of course, if anyone has any references, I’ll be sure to add them.

Why couldn’t it be used to help with positivity?  If TAGTeach has been shown to teach behaviors such as golf swings, dance moves, and yoga poses, why not use it to increase well-being and positive general outlook?

I think it goes without saying that we could all use a little more positivity in academia. It is, by its nature, competitive and filled with rejection. My colleagues in other settings are often amazed at things like day-long interviews and the peer review process. How does one stay above it? 

When there are no data to support a research question, what should we as behavior analysts do?  Collect data, of course! Of course, positive outlook isn’t observable or measurable, but counting the number of “positive happenings” in my environment is. I won’t say that increases in counts of positive happenings is a proxy for my emotions – only I can know that for sure.  But, this seems like a reasonable way to see if self-monitoring using a clicker increases reports of positive daily events.

Unfortunately, the mechanism for data collection I’ll use will also be my feedback tool. I plan on using a counter (often either called a “golf counter” or a “church counter”) to provide both the click and the count. Therefore, it won’t really be a controlled experiment. I am looking forward to charting my progress using a Standard Celeration Chart. That way, I can see if noting positive happenings increases. Not JABA worthy, I know, but hey, what do I have to lose?

Are you going to try it?  Let me know – share your chart on the Facebook page!