An Academic Wednesday

My plan for this blog post was originally going to be something thematic related to my field of work and research. However, due to an illness that I was still recovering from over the past two days, I didn’t have time to prepare the actual content that I wanted to cover. That’s also because today was Wednesday, and Wednesday is special in our college (German: Fakultät). On Wednesday, we have meetings, which means we don’t get much work done on actual content. In a few words, I wanted to describe what a typical Wednesday looks like for me. Perhaps you’ll see why I sometimes struggle with academia undertaken in this fashion.

  • 6:25: Leave the apartment to catch the bus (I read The Economist at the bus stop and on the bus)
  • 6:45: Arrive in my office (usually only the cleaning crew is there when I arrive, sometimes other custodial staff, as was the case today)
  • 6:45-8:00: review material for dissertation candidates from our college (I did the required reading before Christmas)
  • 8:00-8:20: breakfast
  • 8:20-9:00: correspondence (usually email, sometimes Skype or snail mail)
  • 9:00-10:00: generate final exams for students
  • 10:00-10:20: break for stretching with a quick stroll to the bakery to pick up something for lunch (I didn’t have room in my bag to bring something from home)
  • 10:20-11:15: plan conference attendances and possible paper topics (this is a special matter only at this time of year)
  • 11:15-12:00: meet with the dean to preview topics for faculty council meeting next week
  • 12:00-12:15: eat my sandwich
  • 12:15-13:00: meet with the committee for finance and personnel (planned to last until 14:15, but we finished early)
  • 13:00-14:15: spontaneous meeting with my boss to plan and strategize for an important meeting next week and layout our exams schedule (we also caught up on how the holidays were)
  • 14:15-15:15: doctoral committee (was planned to go until 16:00, but due to an unforeseen paucity of contentious issues, we finished early)
  • 15:15-16:15: further correspondence, refresh the to-do list for the rest of the semester
  • 16:15: catch the bus home (and continue reading The Economist)

From this list, it should be pretty clear that I accomplished no substantial academic work or research today. Without a doubt, much of this is important work for the future of or college, but some of it is also clearly planning to plan. In my opinion, this presents one of the great hurdles in academic life these days. All of the time that I spend in meetings is time that I am not spending reading, thinking, writing, publishing, preparing lessons, advising students, or teaching. Germans call this akademische Selbstverwaltung (“academic self-administration”), and it features prominently in the scholarly landscape here. I’d be particularly interested in hearing how this is in other academic cultures. Is it similar?

The schedule I described (generally) only reflects Wednesdays. Nonetheless, it describes a typical Wednesday, which still represents 20% of my working week (and the working week of everyone else in all of these committees). My hope is that we can someday move some of this online (many meetings could have been an email) or at least move them to rooms that don’t have chairs. (I assume if everyone had to stand, meetings would go much faster. We could even make them go faster still by holding them while walking.)

That’s all I have time for now, since my daughter just got back from her play-date and is looking to catch up with me.

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2 Comments

  1. Man, too many meetings are a workflow killer. I’m in administration at LSU now, and I recently switched departments. The one I’m currently in only has two a month, and both are succinct…makes far more time to get stuff done. I expressed so much frustration at a previous department I was in about both the frequency and nature of our meetings that one of my supervisors got me a notebook that said “NOTES FOR ANOTHER MEETING THAT COULD HAVE BEEN AN E-MAIL” on the cover…which was not appreciated by everyone calling the meetings, but I used it for every meeting (mostly to doodle) anyway.

    Reply
  2. Douglas Robker

     /  10/01/2020

    Too many meetings is not restricted to academia. After years in industry and also the military, I’ve found that many meetings can be/are counter productive. Meetings can be a good place for a transfer of vital information but generally are consumed with meaningless stuff. You are correct about meetings going more quickly if attendees are standing. During Desert Storm, LTG Pagonis would hold two staff meetings per day. At the morning meeting everyone stood except him and they never lasted more than 20 minutes. The afternoon/evening staff meetings had nearly everyone seated and were never shorter than an hour, usually 90 minutes. Meetings are just one of the afflictions of society that we all learn to live with.

    Reply

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