There’s this phrase that you seem to hear popping up an awful lot during your first year at CSC (and probably many other places as well).
You probably feel like you are drinking from the fire hose…
Now, I know we have you drinking from the fire hose…
You all have so much going on right now and it’s like drinking from the firehose…
Yes. Yes it is.
As a career academic, this isn’t really all that new of a concept for me. Traveling way back in time, I can recall my first year as an undergraduate. New city, new school, new job, new teachers, new friends…it was all pretty overwhelming and, despite my excitement, balancing work and school with some semblance of a personal life was a big challenge. I was a chronic over-achiever throughout high school, so I had developed some skills to help with this, but I was not yet very good at the time management piece. That blur of a freshman year hit me unexpectedly as the fire hose was opened for the first time. There was so much to read…so much to write…so much to study…and not nearly enough hours in the day or enough caffeine to keep me going even though I worked for Starbucks throughout the time that I was pursuing my undergraduate degree.
Four years later and I am able to say that I successfully survived the B.S. I then decided to keep learning about biology and became a graduate student. I worked on my M.S. at the same institution, so I didn’t have to start all over on the finding friends or building up my professional reputation bit. However, this was still a pretty transitional time for me. I was being hit with more information and starting to realize just how little I understood about this field that I had just earned a degree in. The pressure from that fire hose increased as all of these new data came pouring into my consciousness, and I struggled to hold on to every drop that I could (often failing miserably and eventually redefining success as my ability to fill a bucket here and a bucket there rather than trying to get it all). By the time I started my master’s program, I had already been teaching for a year (as a senior undergraduate lab instructor), and I was beginning to develop confidence, competence, and comfort in the classroom. I somehow also balanced my thesis research, an independent research project, and writing an in-house lab manual while taking classes and teaching over the next three years.
Then came the Ph.D. years. There I was, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed graduate with two shiny new letters to tack on to the end of my new last name, Johnica J. Morrow, M.S. Being able to call myself a “master of science” had a nice ring to it. My new husband and I moved from the state we had both called home our whole lives so that I could further master my trade. There we were, newly married, moving to a new city in a new state so that I could start a new program. Cue fire hose. Not only was I teaching and conducting research for my dissertation, now I found myself also having to write grant proposals, attend training workshops, work on a number of side projects and contract jobs, deal with a whole new level of financial uncertainty from one semester to the next (I was not brought in on a grant or permanent contract for my program), build a professional reputation by attending seminars and conferences, and find time to also serve my discipline and my department. I picked up more and more responsibilities, side projects, and other obligations with each passing year. While it was certainly a fire hose situation for the next four years, the amount coming out of the hydrant was steadily increased rather than opened full-blast from day one. I eventually made it through my program, spent a year chasing a tenure-track position, and eventually wound up on the other side of the state, right here in Chadron, Nebraska.
Which brings us to where we are now. That fire hose is full-blast, high-pressure, you-had-better-get-all-that-you-can-while-you-can at this point. Oddly enough, it seems to be more of an off-and-on situation. I have had weeks of barely managing not to drown in my own feeble attempts to stay ahead of the material that I will be using in my classrooms. These weeks have been punctuated by a few days of sweet relief in which I could go home before 10 pm, actually make a decent dinner, and even shower before falling asleep so that I could start the next day that would end with me already being behind again. The fire hose is back on, but at least now I’m wearing a swimsuit.
I think one of the reasons that this semester has seemed to be so simultaneously daunting and manageable has been that I don’t feel unsupported or abandoned. I don’t feel like there is nowhere to go and no one to turn to when I inevitably need help. I don’t feel alone. I’m part of a new faculty cohort that meets every other week to encourage one another to keep drinking from this fire hose we are all dealing with. My dean has been wonderful in meeting with me to address concerns and map out a plan for me to be able to reach my goals by the end of this first semester. The good people down at UNMC who met with me this summer have continued to provide support for my efforts to build my courses here at CSC. My colleagues in my department are frequently checking in with me to see if I need help and offering words of encouragement when they see that fire hose bulging from the increased fluid rushing my direction.
This work atmosphere is so unlike what I have been exposed to at other institutions. It is so unlike what I have heard colleagues outside of CSC talk about with their home institutions. It’s so unlike all of the horror stories that I’ve read about the notoriously dysfunctional departments found in some institutions…and it all comes down to people. CSC has great people. Great faculty. Great support staff. Great administrators. Even great students, despite the few whiny moments that hit some of them from time to time.
It is certainly easier to keep drinking when you have a crowd cheering you on. It’s starting to feel like that water pressure is decreasing ever so slightly. For now, it remains….long days, late nights, a million meetings, and enough paperwork to build an igloo that could keep me warm on days when the college doesn’t think it’s cold enough to turn on the heater (these natives are much better adapted for this climate than I am, even after spending the past six years this far north).
Of course there are things that can, and hopefully will, change for the better at CSC in the coming years, but for the moment I am loving the chaos that has been my first semester. I’m exhausted, but not burnt out or prematurely jaded by the system. I’m looking forward to finishing out the year and enjoying the holidays, but I’m also looking forward to the spring semester. The good news is that even with all of this water rushing out of the fire hose and drenching me, I’m still thirsty.