Friday, November 19, 2010

Renewed by student research

Previously I posted about the wonderful ability of our undergraduates to embrace research and to tackle challenges that we place before them. I want to reiterate how effective this has been for me this semester and add emphasis to the personal benefits that exist for faculty members when we include our students in the research process. I have been fortunate to work with a Junior as a Research Mentor for our Undergraduate Research Day on campus. It has been really powerful for me to navigate this role with such a promising scholar -- but also to revisit some of the things I love about research and share those things with the students. Considering what goes in an abstract, the credibility of sources, the flow of ideas, and the heart of a project are parts of research that have become mundane, but were seen with fresh eyes when exploring this new world with the student. I have been so rewarded by this experience that I asked my students to work on submissions for a regional communication conference which offers a forum for undergraduate work. This can be challenging since I don't have a major and so there are no upper-level courses. However, the students have responded and several are working with me to submit their work to the conference by the end of next week. Feeling the pressure of the tenure clock can certainly make research feel like a chore or a burden. I wanted to post to encourage all of us in higher education to take a moment and remember the possibility and excitement of research and to, perhaps, feel ourselves rejuvenated by the process.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Communicating through and with our work environment

Consider what your office-space says about it cluttered or obsessively tidy, comfortable or rigid, sparse or decorated? Do you have sticky notes everywhere and family pictures smiling at you? Or do you prefer a de-personalized space to work? I've been exploring the issue of work environments as our campus has spent the past five years in FEMA trailers/temporary buildings since Hurricane Katrina struck the New Orleans area.

When I first began working in the recovery area in Fall 2007, there were 23 people in half of a FEMA building and we had library study carrels that we shared where each person had a two-drawer file cabinet stored underneath the study carrel. You couldn't fit your knees under the desk area and the computer hard drive and monitor barely fit on the work surface. We shared a single departmental phone. After a year and a half, some members were moved to rehabilitated building spaces and there were 13 of us left -- we each got two study carrels to work from, our own phone lines, and our own printers. The open working space made a loud, unproductive area in which to meet students and try to accomplish research, but the small improvements in space allocation seemed as if we could move around and really own our space a bit more than before. Despite the improvement, many of us struggled to maintain a steady pace with the research elements of our work. Just six months ago our tiny study carrels were replaced with actual desks and we received bookcases--but as my family would say, "you can put lipstick on a pig--but it is still a pig" -- and though the environment was improving, the space was rather depressing and difficult to work in, though I didn't quite realize that until today. After three and a half years, I am moving out of the shared FEMA building to a rehabilitated space on the second floor of a previously flood-damaged building. The space is an office suite with five smaller offices. Each individual office has its own door, but the walls stop about a foot shy of the ceiling, meaning the privacy is not complete. However, it is so much more than what we've had! We will no longer have to go outside and walk to another building for restrooms or water fountains (no small feat in the rain!). We will have the ability to close out the rest of the office, to not see and hear every student meeting and every phone call made by our colleagues. My whole outlook is shifting and I find myself much more content, positive, and excited about research and what I may tackle in this new space. Even though the office space is older and not truly individual, the step up is wonderful. It is a true morale boost.

My excitement over the move has startled me. I didn't realize how much my work space impacted the feelings I had when I went to work or as I tried to tackle certain elements of work.

That prompts the question, what does your work space say TO you and ABOUT you? Do you find you draw energy from the work environment? Does it motivate you? I have spent many long hours in this FEMA building and as I stare at the boxes piled around me I feel as though I am shedding several years of unrecognized sadness/frustration while embracing a bright, new outlook.