Category Archives: Thoughts on profession

Does being a better person make you a better business person?

I had the benefit of having a small research group that worked on critical business librarianship for a year together. They would meet online and discuss how they could implement some of the ideas behind the concept of the business librarianship and critical pedagogy. We found that there was quite a bit of different ways to do it. We found that there was the critical management studies group of scholars to whom I presented a paper last year.

We kept circling back to the concept of social entrepreneurship, meaning the idea that people should do things to benefit society but also try to make money while they do those things. When we thought about how to sell the idea to students, we often thought about it in terms of how it would be beneficial. After all, empathy has been shown to be a very good business practice, especially for students who are just starting out in the business world. Knowing what people want and how to give it to them is always a life skills.

That always seems a little strange to your ears. We wondered if you can help society and make money. Should you want to be a good person because it’s going to get you ahead in life? It seemed like you should do those things because you want to do them, and maybe because you want to be a good person.

On one side, I am not certain that I really have the type of training to teach someone to be a good person. That seems religious. On one hand, my students are adults, they should be allowed to make their own decisions. At the same time, their brains are not currently developed. If they are taught the wrong information about the way that business works, then they might have long term effects on how they understand the business world around them. How can you ask for more time in to make sure that your students are good humans?

Finally: what right do I have to interrupt the behavior of students to try and make them think about the ways that information is presented? While many people give lip service to information literacy and the importance of the right information in the right places, this is by no means a mandate. Do students have a right to the information that they want? Do I have the choice to control what students do with the information that I give them?

 

 

Your Best Students

So every semester, as the school starts, I take stock of the students in my classes. I ask myself, who are going to be my best students? As someone who has taught for six years, I would think that I have started to see what makes students successful in my classes. I tend to highlight the students who on the first day of class have read the syllabus, the ones who introduce themselves to me, who introduce themselves to the students around them, who ask good questions and who seem very attentive.

I try to write down who I think will be my best students. Then at the end of the semester, I do a sort on the who has the highest grade in my class.

I am wrong every single semester. EVERY. SINGLE. SEMESTER. What’s worse, I’m usually dead wrong.

I tend to assume that the extroverts will do better. It’s not an impossible thing to imagine, since I teach a team-based class. But it’s not just the great team players. I also tend to assume the students who do best are those who reach out, who check in when they are struggled. There are student often (I teach large classes) where the students who are doing best often haven’t built a relationship with me at all.

I also tend to assume that it’s the students that are outwardly engaged, and by outwardly engaged, I mean students who are friendly. And probably those students are more likely to get the lions share of the recommendations and the mentoring, but in terms of the grades, those people aren’t the people who are killing it.

Sometimes I think it’s my point system, like it rewards some type of perfectionist behaviors (like making sure you do an assignment perfectly) or perhaps overly stresses turning things in over graded work. But I have founded that when I revise my grading schema, I still am surprised by the results.

The point of this story is that you may think that you know your students, and you may consider yourself a “fair” professor, but your attempts to understand what will make someone successful in your class is flawed because we all make assumptions about people. We think we know what types of behavior that makes people successful, in reality we just scratching the surface.

I’m a pretty complicated computer. I know a lot about my students and I know a lot about what makes them successful. I teach the same class over and over again so I see what works for students and what makes them less successful. But even I can’t predict what will make the students successful.

In some ways a computer algorithm is going to be better than me because it probably has less implicit bias. I’m not sure though. A lot of the socio economic indicators that makes a student seem more extroverted or committed to class could also show up in lots of other data. What about the common correlation between “at risk” youth, or students who come from “weak” high schools? They could easier thrive in this new environment. Additionally, as a qualitative human, I process lots of other behaviors and attitudes that a computer would probably not see. For example, I can tell if a student says my name right on the first day of class, or bring a pencil to write on the syllabus, or introduces themselves to classmates. That’s not stuff that I would hope that a university would gather on their students, nor would I think that a computer could guess all the things that might affect how I guess who will be my best students.

What I’m going for here is that people are complicated, and we think that because we give out the grades we understand what going to make students successful. I’m not we do, and I don’t think that we ever will. The important part is to make the interventions and the changes as they happen and when we see them, so that people can become as successful as I would like them all to be, as I eagerly scan my first day of class.

 

Ease-Resentment: What to Do When You Get What You Want and You Still Feel Salty

When you struggle at something for a long time, and suddenly you get what you wanted, it often feels terrible. I thought of this when I was recently talking to an undergraduate student. This student had been trying for a full semester to get a department to start putting information about a specific program on their website. And it just seemed like she couldn’t get anyone to listen. Then she got into the right room with the right people, and suddenly everything was easier.

People had listened to her, they had seen that she was right, and they had done what she had asked. Why was that so hard? She should be over the moon. But instead she was bitter.

She was bitter because of all the time she spent trying to get people to understand. She was bitter because it was so obvious. It was the sort thing that had been a no-brainer for the department. When people looked back at that process, they would never again think about how that page once was.

There’s no word for this experience, so I decided to make up a word. It seemed like the sort of thing that might exist in the German language, so made up a German phrase: leicht wütend, or ease-resentment.

I know you should be happy, but you can’t be happy because you remember all the lost time you spent caring about that thing. That’s time you are never going to get back. You are never going to know what you could have done instead. Instead of trying to change a couple of minds, you could have been doing something else.

I think leicht wütend is something that is particularly a challenge for women and people of color. Most of the time you are just trying to get people to see something they should see. I know that some people will be surprised to find out that women and people of color do not want to spend all their time trying to persuade white men. They could spend that labor on something more important, like trying out new ice cream flavors, spending time with their family, or reading a good book. You will probably only think of that thing when you remember how hard it was to do that thing in the first place. When you get someone to understand their own assumptions, they often want to their change their behavior. But then you get ease-resentment: why was that so hard?

Understanding the range of emotions one has is important. I think leicht wütend is real and valid. Sometimes you feel guilty because you think that once you get whatever it is that you wanted done, you think that your life will be easier.

Some tips for dealing with leicht wütend:

  • Look on the bright side. Try to focus on something positive that came out of what you did. For example, you might have been recognized. Maybe you are getting to do something now that you have been really interested in doing for a while.
  • Don’t gaslight yourself. What you did really was scary and hard, you really did work on it for a while, and you should be proud.
  • Let it go. It’s hard to do, but sometimes you need to pick your battles and understand that things are better now.
  • Knowledge is power. Know that you are going to feel bad, and that’s okay. We have a culture that prizes happiness over all things. Sometimes you need more.
  • Practice self-care.
  • Be salty. You know, maybe if you do you’ll feel better. Go and bitch to a friend about it. You will probably feel a little bit better and less alone.
  • Go find something else to be passionate about. The good thing about struggle is that here is always more of it. Go out and find anew thing to get involved in.

Guilt (and Academia)

I went to the International Critical Management Studies conference this last summer in Liverpool, England. For sure, I was most interested in understanding how management, arguably one of the most neoliberal parts of the academy, arguably the inventor of neoliberalism, arguably the force behind many of the problems that we see in the world today. In my studies I have found this to be a very robust community and at the conference I was not disappointed.

In my own work I see a lot tension within the work I try to do in terms of empathy and sometimes the practicality of making things “work” for now. I wondered if they saw this problem as well, or perhaps they were too focused on their own struggles (the struggle for a recognition for qualitative approach and against free market, for example). Critical management scholars (or critters as they are most adorably called) were very aware in some ways of how their work affects themselves and others often in ways they can’t control or anticipate.

During my time with critters, we talked of many things. I was in an action research track that was interested in making an impact on the community in which they work. Towards the end, there was an activity where people tried in our smaller group to draw findings. One thing we talked about, which was quickly dismissed but was incredibly interesting to me, was when someone pointed out how guilt played so much into what we did. I found that so incredibly interesting, I wrote it down on the piece of paper, and that was the thing that I ended up taking home. How do we process our work as academics, in writing, thinking, action? That was my momento from my short time in England.

So many things I do are motivated by guilt, especially when I do things involving social justice. There’s guilt I feel as part of being in the librarian community, as being an academic person, being a business educator, being part of a double-income no-kids family where both of us are paid living wages, being white and female.

I didn’t think about it until this conference, but I have done a lot of good because of that guilt. But not all good. The thing about guilt is that it feels good when you are doing it. You feel bad, you want to do better, and the best way to do better is to learn to do better, and actually do better. You feel like you have gotten beyond your guilt when that happens. You feel like you know more.

The thing about guilt is that doing things from a place a guilt is probably the most selfish thing you can do. Because in the end you are doing it because you want to feel better. You are ultimately not doing it to make the world a better place, or because it should be done, but simply for your own feelings Once you feel better, you are not going to motivated to do other things. And if you can’t feel better, in fact if you actually feel worse, you are likely to do even more destructive things in the future.

Guilt often motivates you to do things that are wrong for the people involved. In academia, we are really interested in getting involved in the community. I think that academics do try to understand the world all around us. We really want to get involved. We often push each other into working more with community often out of a place of guilt. I think that’s the most destructive type of guilt – the guilt that we have as a community. We also should know that the world is always, always more complicated than academia, so our attempts to change it might be slow, much slower that our guilt allows. Yet still we push and pressure each other into getting involved. We suggest that people make themselves burn out doing things for community because that is only way.

I think it’s very dangerous to do things out of guilt. It feels good, but guilt isn’t what should motivate you. So what should you do if you are motivated out of guilt? I think it’s important to use reflection to find ways other than guilt to motivate you to do good work. Motivation is so important. Maybe we do things for that moment where we make a difference. We might also do other things because we want to try something new, or maybe we like the thrill of learning new things. Maybe we like to do things because they challenging.

Let’s try to not do things because we want to be better, let’s try as academic to do things which we think are valuable. If we are teaching on purpose, let’s teach not for the purpose of making ourselves feel better. Let’s teach because we believe we can make the world better. That’s vital.

WAAL 2018 “All Hands on Deck: Social Justice, Empathy in the Age of Information Literacy”

I was invited to give the Keynote at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians’ Annual Conference. It was a blast! Not least of which because I won beer.

I won delicious home brewer beer for tweeting. #waal2018 pretty much best library conference ever pic.twitter.com/yUZWYKLg9Q

Slides below:

Thank you to everyone who attended!

Being on the cutting edge is lonely: on comfort and innovation

via GIPHY

I work on at a university library that is often very innovative. I am a naturally innovative person. I have IDEAS ALL THE TIME. Because I am a really odd person, and because I tend to question authority (e.g. I just don’t like being told what to do), I often end up doing various innovative things.

So let’s say you have an idea. You start looking around and see that other people haven’t done it. You have a lot of respect for other people. Other people, as a rule, are generally collective smarter than you.You immediately think that there must be something very wrong with idea. I mean people are generally smart. Why have they not done this thing before? This idea must be a bad idea. But maybe you revisit the idea­­ you had because when you bring it up to other people, it seemed like people haven’t done it yet. It seems like maybe people have intentionally not done this thing. That is after all the main reason much work doesn’t get done, because people aren’t stupid enough to do it. You feel at once very stupid and very uncertain.

This is a blog post about what it feels like to do innovative things, because I think that they way that people often talk about innovative thing is very different than how I experience them. Innovation always looks very exciting, like people are about to discover the cure for cancer any minute or invent the next thing everyone is addicted to. Innovative people are always shown as being very confident and usually very popular, and usually men. [i]

This is how innovation often feels to me: lonely and a little scary. Being innovative is also often only something realized in hindsight. If you try something new and fail, is that still innovation. Some of the innovation I do is successful, some of it is definitive failure, but much of it in the murky, hard to tell middle. It’s hard to tell where innovative projects are going to end up. I’ve become aware from meeting various different people I know who I could classify innovative is innovative collective people are the least relaxed people I know.

Talking with innovative people, they often seem just as twitchy as me. It seems like when you look at media like being who are innovative always look like they are having a good time. People who are innovative often look so comfortable being there. Sometimes I think we don’t want to discuss how lonely and disorienting innovation can be. There’s an incredible fear in innovative work. We only feel comfortable talking about that fear if innovation is successful, but innovation is risky. If we keep talking about being innovative like it’s all confidently men yelling “eureka!” we may lose some of our most innovative people.

So to all innovative people, I can now confidently say, I have no idea if any of my ideas will work either. I don’t know the future. I’m scared some of them won’t work out. But I keep trying because we are more than fear. We are bright lights. We are progress.

[i] I read a book called The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkum, and all the innovators profiled in the book were men.

Better Conference Presentations

So as a tenure-track newly tenured library person, I tend to think a lot about how to present better. I would never say I am an expert presenter, but if you combine my teaching with my presenting of my findings, you would see that I do quite a bit of presenting.

Here are my tips for conference presentations.

  • Test, test, test again. If you plan on playing any sort of video, make sure that you test the sound. Test any graphics that you are going to use. Test your Powerpoint to make sure all the fonts have come over. Over time I’ve been less and less reliant on internet widgets.
  • Back things up. I tend to bring my laptop to presentations (in case there isn’t a laptop in the room) with my presentation downloaded onto the desktop. I save my presentation onto Dropbox, and email it myself. I also bring it on a flash drive. I also save my presentation in both ppt and pdf form in case the formatting gets messed up.
  • Keep it simple, or have a backup plan. Videos sometimes don’t work. Internet is spotty in conferences. I like to keep things simple. Versus using something like Poll everywhere, just have participants raise their hands, or vote via thumbs up and thumbs down. If you want people to respond, put the prompt up on the board and have them do so via worksheet.
  • Remember that your audience is TIRED and OVERLOADED. I want to imagine that conference participants are more attentive, but that’s a lie. I’ve learned the hard way that if you want people to remember something, you need to say it more than once. As part of a recent conference I even said it three times. If you have a complicated idea, make sure to slow down and explain it.
  • Watch your breath and volume. I first started presenting as a Girl Scout camp counselor so I would call my presentation style “VERY EXCITED TO BE HERE” When you are very excited you tend to speak very fast. Speaking very fast is not a good way to confirm that people have heard what you have to say. So try to take breaks, try not to fill every moment, and try to find a balance between talking loud and fast.
  • Bring your business cards. I think that this is great way to connect with people. Sure, they could probably find all of the same information online since when you present they do know your name, but I find that giving someone your card is a great way of making a little to-do task that they should contact you. People assume that just because people have a lot of questions for you that many people will follow up with you about collaborations, questions, sharing, but it’s really not the case. You want to try to find some way to encourage them.
  • On your last slide put a question for your audience. Often people have their own questions, but having a question can help center the conversation on things that you might be interested in exploring further.

Some more specific tips and hacks:

  • You can embedded animated GIFs into Powerpoint presentations. It makes the Powerpoint very large, but it often a great effect.
  • You can embed a timer into Powerpoint. I only recently found out about this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuB4YrxWvLQ What if you could start a timer without leaving Powerpoint? How awesome is that?
  • Slideshare is great way to share slides. Often in the past I’ve posted my slides on slide share and had them tweet out as my conference ends.
  • Twitter is a great way to get conference feedback. At larger conferences, I try to pay attention the tweets. Sometimes people will ask you questions, but it’s also interested to see what sorts of conversations grows as you continue your presentation. I do not recommend having a Twitter feed going behind presenters, I find that very distracting because you don’t really have much control that and more specifically it is very hard to respond in real time while presenting.
  • Buy a slide advancer. Most slides advancers work with all sorts of presentation systems. They really allow you to move around. Put it in your purse. Bring it with you. It really makes a difference.

 

Teaching, Talking, and Talking about Teaching

Talking, teaching, and talking about teaching are all very different activities.

When I was in grad school at the University of Michigan I had a chance to work for the New York Public Library as part of their Alternative Spring Break program. The program was wonderful. University of Michigan provided the housing and gas money. I wasn’t paid for the week but I did get to work with such a cool group as the New York Public Library.

I worked for the Bronx branch, which has a beautiful building. The project that I worked in was called “Demonstrating a Dozen Databases”. The idea was that you would learn as much as you could about their library databases and then run a workshop on the databases for paraprofessionals. This was a perfect blending of my interests as a budding business librarian. I got to play around with a bunch of different databases and then tell people about them. There was a pretty clear deliverable. I could say at the end that I had presented to a whole room of people about something that I was relatively knowledgeable about. The workshop was one hour. One hour, 12 databases. I ended up picking 13 databases to trial because I wanted to be thorough. The picture is of me in 2013, but I probably looked pretty similar in 2011.

Thirteen databases, one hour, you can tell where this is going. I wanted to be thorough, so I decided as opposed to doing live demonstrations I would make screenshots. In the end my perfectly crafted presentation was over 120 slides long.

I practiced it. I know how to present in an engaging way. I added jokes. I had lots of outlines. I think I made a handout. I gave my presentation. It fell completely flat. Even I got a little bored listening to myself. It was at that point that I realized that teaching wasn’t the same talking. It was also about considering where your users were, what they could listen to, how you provide that information them. You could be really good at one but not as good at the other. That’s when I discovered a new respect for teachers.

Talking about teaching is its own skill. For a year I was an IMPACT consultant and I spent one day each week talking about teaching, and then going and teaching. I was very surprised to find that talking about teaching is very different from actually teaching. In fact, that’s some of my impetus for doing this blog. I also talk about teaching quite a bit as part of my job.

Talking is about preparation. As long as you are prepared you should be able to talk. Teaching is very contextual to your students and where you are at. As long as you general understand where they are and where they need to be, then you should be able to be successful at teaching. But talking about teaching is all about story telling. The person to which you are explaining the teaching is by definition not in the class where you are teaching. So they need to understand where you are coming from.

 

 

Leaving space by being my usual not-fitting-in self

Very early in my career, I started thinking about the people who will come after me. I think a lot about how I impact the environment in which I work. I care about leaving that environment better than I found it. I have been blessed by knowing all sorts of really great people who have made the environment better and they inspire me.

Fitting in is hard. Even now in 2018, I found myself sometimes entering all white all male rooms or all baby-boomer rooms and it’s surreal for someone like me who entered a deeply feminized and increasingly millennial profession. In these positions I feel a great pressure to emulate women that came before me. I can feel the woman-shaped shadow that they have left.

Sometimes I can fit into that shadow, sometimes I just can’t. It’s not other women’s fault that I am not them. The legacy left behind can feel as if difference is frozen in glass, like being in this space means you can only be a specific type of person or as a specific type of worker from specific time or place, because great incredible people who look like you were a specific type of person or from a specific type of place.

When you are the first in an environment, the most important part is sometimes making sure that there is still a spot for those people who come after you. In these environments, I think the part where I can be my most effective is if I be my usual weird self. You know, the normal person that I am. With my sarcastic sense of humor. With my own bad handwriting. And my love of pictures of guinea pigs in cups.

I think that being weird is the most responsible thing I can do. Because in the end, it’s the most I can do. I just try to bring my whole self to work, because I hope that if I am as much of my whole self as I can be, then I will encourage others to be themselves as well, or at least the best versions of themselves that they can bring to work. They won’t spend all their time trying to fit into the leader shaped shadows that others have left before them.

Your Imposter Syndrome is Environmental

I have imposter syndrome and it’s something that affects my professional life. At my institution, librarians are often tenure-track and full rank. They do research, teach classes, and act as “professors” on the campus. I had never intended to become a professor. My masters program, while innovative, was not academic focused. I wrote code. I managed clients. I ran usability tests. I like my job and there are many aspects of it which I think are important and engaging, so I have chosen to manage my imposter syndrome. One of the ways I manage it is that I acknowledge the ways my imposter syndrome is environmental.

Those who have not read the Wikipedia page, Impostor syndrome is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as “fraud”. First observed among high-achieving women, it is also common among men. The part of the phenomenon which most stood out is this point: imposter syndrome is studied as a reaction to certain stimuli and events.

Not an ingrained personality trait, nor some sort of neurosis where I can’t see my own success, imposter syndrome is understood as a response to stimuli and is situational.

As I get older it becomes clear to me that my imposter syndrome is never going to go away entirely, because I haven’t changed the situation or my response to it. This makes sense because I never felt like an imposter in previous environments. My imposter syndrome is something I can overcome, as long as I don’t ignore it.

Below are some of the ways I manage my imposter syndrome through the management of environment.

  1. I acknowledge the ways environment may have led to my imposter syndrome. If you look at how psychologists examine imposter syndrome, it is not as “mental disorder” but as a “reaction to certain stimulus and events.” And yet people often talk about imposter syndrome in terms of their own feelings and not the environment that led to those feelings. So do think: when are you an imposter and why? In what situations do you feel most fake? Are people surprised when they meet you? Do they make comments that ask you about your personal story, such as where you are from, that may be hinting they are surprised at your rank or position? Do secretaries ask you to leave rooms so that meetings of professors can start? Do undergraduates ask you what your major is? In what ways do people expect you to do things you don’t actually know how to do, like operate SAP systems?
  2. I manage the environment to lessen impacts. Think about ways you can eliminate barriers to get your work done in the environment in which you work. Say No to things which don’t help you get work done and which make your imposter syndrome worse. If there’s a certain event or activity where you feel more like an imposter, then don’t go to that event. For me, it was events at the President’s house where I didn’t know people and there are no nametags with rank on them.
  3. I become part of the solution, not to the problem. I was in a meeting with another younger professor where an older professor commented about how great it was that the first professor looks so young. I called the professor out on this. Does that fix the whole environment? Not always. But we all need to weed our environments.
  4. I find mentors who believe in me. The thing about imposter syndrome is that most people with it can get along. It can be done, but you need advocates. Find mentors you trust, who believe in you. Accountability is a wonderful thing. Sometimes you can trust other people to call you out when you don’t give yourself enough credit, or you don’t take risks because you are afraid of being “uncovered”.

You deserve to be able to function in your environment. You are wonderful person who can benefit society greatly.