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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Fun is in the eye of the beholder

In my last post, I highlighted four criteria one might use to consider what projects and roles to take on. I posted a link to that on my personal Facebook page, with the summary comment, "Realizing that maybe what is missing from my work is fun. Next step is figuring out why and how to get more of it..." A friend pointed out that "If everyone declined things missing the fun element, every RTP committee would be empty, as would most governance" and she is absolutely right. So let me clarify that I don't need everything I do to be fun, and certainly not all the time, as long as at least one of the other criteria are satisfied (i.e., I feel I'm growing, or it's something I feel passionately about, or it gives me a sense of accomplishment).

At the same time, if I don't feel like anything I'm doing is particularly "fun", then that's a problem too. And what I've realized is that while my work with the CTL generally provides a sense of accomplishment, and some aspects of the job certainly contribute to helping students in a way I feel passionate about, I really don't find any of the day-to-day work fun anymore. I also feel like I've hit a plateau in terms of what I am learning, and that doesn't seem likely to change unless my institution makes a very different decision about the resources it is willing to invest in faculty development. In contrast, because I was able to catch up on a bunch of stuff over Spring Break, I just spent a big chunk of my weekend mucking around in school finance data, and the time flew in a way I haven't experienced in a while. On a few other occasions recently, when I have had the opportunity to talk about education policy, or play around with data, or talk to people about economics, I have come away from those times feeling energized, rather than drained. Maybe it's a function of novelty - since my consumption of those activities is lower these days, my marginal benefit is higher :-). But I suspect there is something more meaningful going on.

This all reminds me, once again, of that quote - and I don't know where it comes from - that a professor is someone who thinks the world would be better off if everyone knew a little more about her subject. Deep down, I am an economist, not a faculty developer, and I am happiest when I get to 'do' economics. So I need to start figuring out how to make more space for that...

Sunday, February 24, 2019

What motivates you at mid-career?

My first sabbatical was in 2006-07, right after I got tenure. I took the full year and moved back to the Bay Area for a year, feeling like I really needed to get completely away from everything about my life in San Diego, in order to think more clearly about what I really wanted. I did a ton of soul-searching that year. I remember feeling really conflicted. At that point, I had spent eleven years basically working toward one goal - tenure - and I'm not sure that I had ever really stopped to think about what would happen after that. For the first time in my academic life, I could actually step back and ask, "What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Is this what I want to keep doing for, potentially, the rest of my life? If not, what do I want to be doing instead? And is San Diego State where I want to do it for, potentially, the rest of my life? " Big questions.

I can't say that I figured it all out but by the end of the year, I think I had identified the goals and values that really drive my work, and I realized that a) I really did love my research but b) I also wanted to spend more time on my teaching. I also admitted to myself that although there were (and still are) things about my department that drive me nuts, there is no other combination of location and institution that I'm aware of that could ever Pareto-dominate San Diego State. The dominance of the location is obvious (hello, San Diego!), but what it took me a while to appreciate was that being at SDSU is rewarding in ways that I don't believe I would ever find at an elite institution. I will never forget the first time I was at a commencement ceremony and one of my students came up to me with her parents who hugged me like I was a long lost relative, thanking me profusely for advising their daughter, the first in the family to attend college. Although I was attracted to doing ed policy research originally because I was raised to believe in education as the great equalizer, it is my job as an instructor at San Diego State, more than my academic research, that makes me feel like I am truly contributing to that ideal every day.

Over the years, the soul-searching I did on that sabbatical has helped me stay grounded and to navigate priorities, particularly as I moved away from ed policy research to do more work in Econ ed. I've been able to accept my dwindling publication record in certain types of journals because the other work I was doing still fit into my larger goals and values.

When I took on the CTL gig, things got a bit more complicated. At first, it was fun, and challenging, if a bit overwhelming, to think about how to help faculty across the University to be better teachers. But I have come to feel that something is missing and I wasn't quite sure what until I read a recent article in the Chronicle, "You're a Full Professor. Now What?" The author, Kathryn McDaniel, talks about the challenge of deciding how to prioritize her time and she highlights four questions that she asks about new responsibilities or projects:

- Is it fun?
- Is it helping me grow or develop in a new area?
- Is it connected to something I feel passionate about?
- Does it provide me with a sense of accomplishment?

McDaniel uses these questions to guide her choices about what projects and roles to take on. She has two rules: "The projects and roles I choose should inspire a "yes" to at least one of the questions." and "If something I am asked to do generates a "no" when applied to all four criteria, then I politely decline the request."

This really resonated with me but as I have thought about it more, I would add another rule: my work as a whole should be satisfying ALL FOUR criteria. Not everything has to be a 'yes' to all four, but at the end of the day, I want to be able to say that I've got all four covered by all the different things I am spending time on, put together.

Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more clear to me that while most of my CTL work hits three of the four, there is currently almost no aspect of my job that I think is 'fun'. So I've got to spend some time figuring out what IS fun for me and how to get some of that into my work day.

What criteria do you use to help prioritize your time?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Do you call yourself a leader? Part II

In my last post, I wrote about my resistance to calling myself a leader and how I think I've figured out where that resistance comes from: 1) it feels like bragging, 2) I don't fit the mental image I hold of what a leader looks like (i.e., white male), and 3) I don't want the responsibility I associate with being a leader. So the next questions I'm asking myself are: Does it really matter if I claim the leader label? And if it does, how do I get past this resistance I feel? Some of the conversations I had with colleagues earlier this week are helping me see that yes, it does matter, and what's particularly interesting to me is that I think some of the reasons why it matters are actually going to help me get over the resistance.

For starters, a big reason I think it matters if I call myself a leader, and that also definitely makes it easier to do so, is that those first two sources of resistance are essentially founded on sexist and racist beliefs, and that's just bullshit (pardon my language). I mean, whether I want to call myself a leader or not, I am doing the work of leadership, and others see me doing that work. So if I shy away from fully owning that, I am just perpetuating the implicit bias that says girls (and particularly Asian girls) shouldn't "brag", or that says girls taking credit for their own good work is "bragging" in the first place. I do have to say, that voice inside telling me that it's presumptuous to call myself a leader is a really hard one to shake, and I know it will continue to be. But if most men don't seem to worry about this, why should I?

As for the belief that leaders are "supposed to be" white men, that's a lot easier to reject. Not only is that just objectively wrong, but if people like me, a Japanese-American woman, don't step up and call ourselves leaders, how will we ever really get rid of that bias? The more I've thought this, the more I feel like I practically have a social obligation to get over myself and claim my leader identity.

The third source of my resistance, that sense of obligation that I feel comes with the leader label, is also hard to shake off. But one of my colleagues at the Leadership Institute said something that really resonated with me. He talked about how he views his leadership as an honor and privilege that has been bestowed on him by colleagues and he thinks about being a leader for them. Others made similar comments, about focusing on the work, on serving others, and I really like that too. I think the more I can re-frame my mental beliefs about being a leader in terms of opportunity instead of obligation, the less resistance I feel. If I focus more on the fact that being a leader is an honor and allows me to serve others, instead of focusing on the expectations and responsibility, then it feels less like something scary and stressful, and more like something I can (and should) be proud to claim. I think this is also why the leader label matters - by not thinking of myself as a leader, I wonder what opportunities I may have missed out on. Are there times when I might have been able to do more, to offer more, if I had thought of myself as a leader, as someone who could and should do more?

I suspect these ideas will be rumbling around in my head for a while and are sure to come up on this blog again. As always, I'm curious if others have similar thoughts (or complete different thoughts!) so please feel free to share in the comments... 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Are you doing leadership? Do you call yourself a leader? Part I

This week I participated in a Faculty Leadership Institute at school that has my brain kind of spinning. There are many things I want to write about but I am particularly grappling with the title questions right now. Basically, I know that I am "doing leadership" - for most of my life, I have always done work that others would call leadership, like I was in student government in high school and college, I always held leadership positions in other student organizations, I've been on Boards of professional associations, I've chaired committees, etc. And currently, I'm not only the CTL Director but a University Senator and the chair of one of the more "powerful" Senate committees. And I know I'm pretty darn effective at all that work.

But a few years ago, when a colleague first referred to me as a 'faculty leader', I had an almost visceral negative reaction and immediately wanted to disagree with him. And in the last couple weeks, I have been in a few different situations (including this Leadership Institute) where I have been asked to think of myself as a leader and I feel a HUGE resistance to the label.

As I have started to really examine why, there are three aspects of my resistance that I think I can identify. One is that it feels arrogant, presumptuous. Leaders are Important People, People who Get Things Done and, often, they are Above Others, so some part of me feels like it would be bragging to call myself a leader - and nice people don't brag. That's my judgmental nature coming out but I do know that feeling comes from values instilled in me since I was pretty young. So when I dig into that a little deeper, I also find myself wondering: is it maybe that I think nice girls don't brag? Or that nice Japanese-American girls don't brag? I don't typically bring gender or race into these sort of discussions but I can't help but wonder because a) I'm pretty sure that girls are more likely than boys to be told that it is somehow unbecoming to brag and b) I suspect that Japanese-American parents are more likely than white parents to tell their children not to call attention to themselves.

Being a Japanese-American woman is definitely related to the second aspect of my resistance that I can identify, which is that when someone uses the label "leader", the mental image I see is more likely than not a white man. That is, when someone talks about "leaders", I picture political leaders (who are mostly white men), or business leaders (who are mostly white men) or even academic leaders (who are mostly white men, certainly in economics anyway). So in my mind's eye, "leader" conjures up "white man" and that sure ain't me.

The third aspect of my resistance comes from a very different place and that is a reluctance to accept the responsibility that I feel comes with calling myself a leader. Yes, leaders are People who Get Things Done - which means that if I call myself a leader, I will then be expected to Get Things Done. From one perspective, that makes no sense because I am already doing the work (I do, in fact, Get Things Done) so why should it bother me to claim the label? But there is a difference between doing the work and being expected to do the work - the latter carries the possibility of not meeting those expectations and that's scary / stressful. It also creates a sense of obligation that I just really don't want, even if I have every confidence I can meet that obligation.

In Part II, I'll share how my thinking is evolving to address each of these but I'm curious whether others feel this same resistance and if so, does it come from similar places? Have you found ways to overcome it?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Simple way to diversify the pipeline

I don't usually mind missing the ASSA meetings - I hate to travel, I live in California so going to meetings almost always means going someplace a lot colder and an earlier time zone, and 90% of the economists I encounter at those meetings are the type of economists I dislike (and the other 10% are people I can see elsewhere). But there are occasionally sessions and papers that make me wish I had gone. One such paper in Atlanta is by Amanda Bayer, Syon Bhanot and Fernando Lozano, part of a session titled Gender in the Economics Profession I (the fact that there is more than one session with that title also makes me happy). The paper is "Does Simple Information Provision Lead to More Diverse Classrooms? Evidence from a Field Experiment on Undergraduate Economics" (link is to download the preview paper from the AEA conference site) and here's the abstract:
Significant gender and racial/ethnic gaps have been observed in the economics profession, a reality with roots in the decisions of undergraduates and their professors. Indeed, despite representing almost 60 percent of the U.S. college population, women account for only 30 percent of economics majors. While disparities in knowledge of economics and its value undoubtedly exist before students set foot on college campuses, economists could do more to directly address student misperceptions and knowledge gaps. This paper reports the results of a field experiment in which faculty provided incoming students with information about economics via two emails sent in the summer as students considered courses for their first semester of college. We evaluate whether this outreach has an impact on course taking using a randomized control trial involving 2,710 students across nine U.S. colleges with a strong record of sending students to PhD programs in economics. We randomly assign all incoming women and members of underrepresented minority groups to one of three experimental conditions: a control (no email messaging), a simple “Welcome” treatment (two emails encouraging students to consider enrolling in economics courses), and a “Welcome+Info” treatment (two emails encouraging students to consider enrolling in economics courses plus information showcasing the diversity of research and researchers within economics and providing links to educational materials on the AEA’s website). The Welcome+Info treatment increases the likelihood of completing an economics course in the first semester of college by 3.0 percentage points, which is nearly 20 percent of the baseline rate. Additional exploratory analyses suggest stronger effects on first-generation college students. Our results add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that how economics is presented at the undergraduate level affects who is attracted to the field.
That last sentence, "how economics is presented at the undergraduate level affects who is attracted to the field," highlights one of my longstanding frustrations. I hate that so many people in the world do not know the economics field that I know, that I am constantly explaining to people how the ed policy work I do is completely typical of the applied micro work that a lot of economists do, and that economics is much more about choices and behavior than business and money. Sigh.

At any rate, the intervention these authors used strikes me as a pretty darn simple way to diversify our economics classrooms and I really encourage everyone to share this with your colleagues and consider how you could do something similar at your own institution!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Getting back to blogging...

So, here I am, back to trying to blog more consistently. There are a number of things that have led to me finally getting off my butt, or out of my head, and actually sitting down at the laptop. One is that in my role as CTL Director, I repeatedly tell faculty that one aspect of being an effective teacher is being reflective - being willing to step back and look at what you're doing in the classroom, asking what is working and what isn't, how do you know what's working and what isn't, and what needs to be done to keep improving. For many years, this blog was basically my way of doing that reflection 'out loud'. I wouldn't exactly say that I've been a hypocrite in telling my faculty to do something I don't do anymore myself - I do believe I reflect regularly on my work as a faculty developer, even if not in a public forum - but I could do more, and hope blogging will help me think through a number of things in a more systematic and concrete way. I actually think self-reflection, self-awareness, is a key aspect of being an effective human being, not just an effective instructor, and writing / journaling has always helped me think through things so I hope blogging will help me be more reflective in general.

Another thing that is motivating me to get back to blogging is a desire to re-connect with my economist self. This fall, I did get back in the classroom but it wasn't an economics classroom. I'll write more about that experience in the future but one of the huge takeaways for me was the reminder that I really don't love teaching as a general thing; I love teaching economics. That is, what I love about teaching is specifically helping students understand economics, helping them develop their skills in thinking about the world like economists; everything I do to be a better teacher is in service to that purpose. This has also made me realize that I am not destined to stay in the CTL / general faculty development role forever. There was a point in time when I thought maybe this was going to be my next career stage, a fundamental shift in my identity, but I am now pretty sure that it is only a somewhat prolonged detour, albeit one that has provided a ton of lessons and new priorities I will certainly carry with me when I return to my original trajectory. That is also something I plan to write more about in the future and I hope that blogging here will help me figure out what I'm doing as I navigate my path over the next few years.

Finally, perhaps the biggest thing motivating me to get back to blogging is a desire to do more than I am currently doing to participate in what I see as a critical conversation happening in our profession, our classrooms, our country. I have always said that I believe that if everyone thought a little more like economists, the world would be a better place, and while there are many ways in which our profession is deeply flawed, I still believe that one thing the world could use a little more of these days is for more people to understand (and act on) concepts like cost-benefit analysis, positive versus normative thinking, sunk versus marginal costs. In future posts, I hope to expand on why I believe that and how, in my mind, economic thinking is completely consistent with a world of greater diversity, inclusion and equality. I have no idea who will read this but whoever you are, I hope you'll stick around for that conversation...

Monday, January 7, 2019

My word for 2019: DO

In the endless stream of stuff that comes at me in various news feeds, I recently saw an article about how, instead of making New Year's resolutions, you should choose just ONE WORD and basically use it as a mantra for the year, reminding you of whatever your other goals might be. Turns out this one word idea is A Thing (just google 'one word for the year') so clearly I'm not the only one who thinks it makes some sense.

The word that immediately came to my mind was "DO" - as in, I need to stop talking about all the things I need/want to do and just go do them (yes, like getting back to blogging - see, it's working already!). One issue I'm having is that it's hard to think "DO" without my mind expanding that to "Just Do It", and while I have nothing against Nike (especially after the Kaepernick ad campaign :-)), it's sort of annoying to think of a brand's ad slogan every time I am trying to motivate myself. And yet... I think this is what I need. There are so many things I have been saying forever that I 'should' do, from little things like getting a broken necklace fixed to bigger things like blogging more and re-learning Spanish. Now, when I think to myself, "OK, so DO that," I feel like I have to either make a specific plan to get it done, figure out what is stopping me so I can get past that, or decide I'm not going to do whatever it is but then also stop saying I should.

I should point out that I am not typically a procrastinator so if I'm putting off doing something, I tend to think it means something else is going on (that's what I mean by 'figure out what's stopping me so I can get past it'). Like, I have realized that I keep putting off writing for this blog because I don't feel like I can write the same sort of stuff I wrote about for the first several years of this blog's existence (i.e., teaching economics) but I feel like that's what people 'expect'. And I still worry about that. But it has also occurred to me that given I keep feeling like I "should" be writing more, and that I WANT to be writing more, my choices are A) continue saying "I should really blog more" but not actually do it, which doesn't help anyone and makes me feel bad about myself; B) stop blogging but also stop saying I should, which at least is consistent but also means I'm not doing something I actually want to do; C) shut down this blog and start blogging somewhere else, which would require figuring out what THAT blog should be and having to do a bunch of work to build a community of readers, which I could certainly do but it would be more of a pain; or D) just write what I want to write here, which could mean that a lot of people get annoyed with me and decide to stop reading  / following / subscribing but then they also would not be any worse off than if I weren't writing here at all, and it's the least cost/highest benefit to me. So, the Pareto optimal outcome is obviously D and as a true economist, who am I to mess with that? :-)

So all of this has been a long-winded way of saying that I am planning to blog here more often. I'm not sure how much more often but at least now, every time I think to myself that I want to write, I will also try to tell myself to go DO.

Do you choose a word for the year? Or make specific New Year's resolutions? Would love to hear your plans in the comments...