Katie Linder

On season 1 episode 2 of *the agile academic* podcast for women in higher ed, I talk to Dr. Katie Linder, higher education administrator, writer, podcaster, coach, and so much more.

Transcript and Show Notes

On this episode of the agile academic podcast, I talk to Dr. Katie Linder who you might know from her prolific writing, speaking, podcasting, and coaching work. Katie and I talk about how to live your values and work with purpose in higher ed.

Hello listeners. Welcome to the agile academic, a podcast for women in and around higher education and its first season. I talk with our special guests from all over academia, about a wide range of topics from teaching and research to writing and speaking to career by tally and burnout and everything in between. I’m your host, Dr. Rebecca Pope-Ruark.

RPR: Hi Katie. Thank you for being here today.

KL: Hi, Rebecca, I’m so happy to be here with you.

RPR: Katie’s like my guru. So I’m really excited that she’s talking to us today.

Katie: Rebecca’s like my guru, so I’m really glad.

RPR: So I’m really excited to have Katie here because she has such a wide breadth of experience to share with us and to talk with us about, so do you want to just tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, Katie and the work that you do?

KL: Sure. So, um, I am, my name is Katie Linder, and I am currently a full-time administrator at Kansas State University. And before that I was at Oregon State University and then I was at Suffolk university in Boston before that. So I’ve kind of hopped around a little bit. Um, but I’ve been doing full-time administrative work at this point for, um, over 10 years. And some of that work has been in faculty development. Some of it has been in research in online teaching and learning. And now I do more kind of general administrative oversight of online teaching and learning programs. Um, marketing, student success, recruitments, all the things. And, um, the side of that, I have a coaching business, um, that encompasses a range of things: group coaching, private coaching, coach training. Um, and then I also offer some online products and services around different courses and, um, uh, some kind of group programming and community building and things along those lines. So, um, I’m excited about this conversation today because it’s going to give me some nice insights, I think, as I reflect on all the things and how they’re kind of coming together at this stage of my career.

RPR: And I think so many of us are interested in side gigs that might become something else for us. Um, you know, as, as higher ed changes, um, and how we approach higher ed changes, what are the, what are things that we can be looking for to take advantage of, or to offer more services to our coworkers or, you know, other folks that I’m in Katie’s training, coach training. Um, and I’m, I’m taking a lot of that back to work, um, and how interacting with faculty, but also interacting with my colleagues. So it’s valuable to me in terms of my current full-time job, but also as I’m looking toward side gig or consulting or seeing what’s possible there. Um, so what led you to start the business?

KL: There were several things. I mean, I kind of had a more informal business when I was in the Boston area. I had started to do some speaking and kind of workshop facilitation, locally, around course design and assessment and some of the work that I’ve been doing in faculty development. And, um, I didn’t really treat it as a business at that point. I just thought like, Oh, I have a little bit of extra, you know, money from these fees. And, and I remember very distinctly, um, buying, uh, a very expensive blender, um, because as a vegan, you know, like smoothies are important to me. And that was like a big deal that I was able to buy this blender with my, my first speaking beat. Um, but when I moved to the job I had at Oregon state, um, that was my first time working for a public institution. And I wanted to really separate out what I was doing at my day job from what I was doing on the side. And I had formed an LLC at that point and, um, started to kind of expand the offerings within the business. And I started selling some webinar products and other kinds of things, and it kind of grew from there.

So it was definitely, um, a kind of natural evolution of, of, you know, growing it over time. But I also think that it’s interesting what you were saying Rebecca about higher ed and kind of try to develop something on the side that could come into something more. For a long time, I really felt like I needed to keep these things very separate, you know, in my own mind for financial purposes, for tax purposes, for ethics purposes, you know, and at the same time, I really felt the tension of like, I’m just one person, you know, it’s not like I’m two different people running two different careers. Like I, I actually am one person who’s bringing the strengths that I bring to the business also to my day job. Like you said, so as a coach, you know, I bring elements of my coaching skills to my day job, and I’m able to bring it into my business and serve and provide services to clients there.

So it’s really been kind of an interesting journey to think about how those things overlap and how they inform each other. And I’ve gotten much more comfortable over time with talking about how I have these different elements of my professional life. And I’m very open about it, you know, with my boss, with the people I work with, because I think we have kind of this sense of like, these things need to be hidden or like we’re supposed to be doing stuff on the side. And I just really disagree with that. I think that this is just different aspects of our personalities and our professional gifts and strengths that we have that come out in different ways and that they can really like positively support each other if we let that happen. So over time, I’ve, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with that. But in the beginning, I definitely was kind of doing that really strict separation, um, until I felt like I fully understood kind of what I was trying to do in the business and how it could positively impact the work that I had in my new job.

RPR: Right. I love that that point that we are not different people when we go to different. When we go to our office to work on our coaching or when we go to our office at work or virtually go to our office at work, um, these days that we do bring our whole selves into all of that and the professional development that’s happening on, on, if we want to call them both sides are the things that you’re, you’re bringing into those environments are going to help the other environment, right. That, that extra experience, that, those opportunities and those, those conversations just come into play as we grow. And I’m also, I, you know, that I’ve moved to, um, a public institution as well. So that’s something that I’ve really been thinking about. How do you keep at least that part separate. I even had a conversation with one of my colleagues about, you know, if I use our computer to do this right, what, what, what is that? Is that okay? Right. Cause I’ve never had to deal with FOIA or things like that before. So, um, it it’s been interesting. It’s been an interesting move, but it also kind of, um, has encouraged me to develop both of those sides of my interests and think about how those make me a better coach, a better consultant, a better speaker, um, and a better faculty developer as well.

KL: Yeah. I mean, I think that, you know, there’s definitely good reasons for that separation, you know, conflict of interest, you know, those kinds of things. But when we only focus on that, we lose so much more, you know, like when we’re not, when we’re really trying to separate out and it does kind of create this kind of split personality of like, well, I’m this person over here, I’m just person over there and I’m taking on and off different hats. And I’ve been really, I think, working toward for a long time, having more, um, overlap and, um, kind of mutual benefits from these two things. Um, and being able to kind of cross those skills over in different ways. Um, and I feel like I’m getting closer every, you know, every time I shift, you know, to a new job or to new responsibilities, it’s helping me to see more connection there. Um, and that’s good. I mean, I think integration and alignment, I mean, those are things that I’m, I’m always really focused on in myself personally and also for my coaching clients. And so, you know, being able to model that as being really important.

RPR: Yeah. And I think that is one of the things that I definitely learned from you in terms of focusing on values and focusing on purpose and held those do, um, those are north stars, right? And, and sometimes they change that. You need to just keep checking back in with yourself and doing some of that metacognition, but those drivers of who we are and what we do are important. And those cover multiple sections of our work and multiple sections of our, who we are and what we bring to the table. So I’m curious about, you know, on the show that we talk about, um, four specific kind of areas, right? Purpose, connection, compassion, and balance. So before the show, you and I talked a little bit about both compassion and purpose, so I’m just wondering which of those stands out to you and maybe how you would define that term?

KL: I think right now, um, I mean all of the terms are like, no, they just hit me right in the heart. Like they’re really good. Um, right now I think though, just kind of wearing that in my career, purpose has been that area that I’ve really been kind of just personally focusing on. And I recently took a class on a kind of coaching called somatic coaching, which is basically embodied coaching. And one of the things that they talked about was working with clients to develop an understanding of what you are a commitment to, and using the language, “I am a commitment to…” whatever it is, you know, kind of your purpose. And I loved that. I think that it’s such a great way to think about what is my purpose. And like you said, it can change, it can shift, it can grow, it can evolve, it can mature, you know, like I don’t think these things are static.

But it got me thinking a lot about like, what is my purpose right now? You know, it feels kind of, um, integrated for me. And how does that relate to my set of values that are being prioritized in my, in my life and my career right now. And for a long time, I’ve been kind of playing with this language around radical self-trust and as a taxonomy that I’ve developed for myself, for my business, for my clients to better understand kind of our own sense of self-awareness and self-loyalty. I do think in higher ed, we’re asked to be loyal to a lot of things outside of ourselves, um, which can be challenging as you’re trying to kind of grow your career and develop over time. Um, and so that’s been kind of interesting to think about what does it mean to be a commitment to radical self-trust and how does it, you know, then come out in my life in various ways in how I run my business, which is very values centered in how I work with clients and how I show up, you know, day at work.

Um, and so I purpose I think is really, I think it’s scary for some people, but I just like to dig into it. I mean, I just find it really interesting and I know it can be kind of overwhelming or feel really pressure-filled of like, what is my purpose? You know, like it feels so big. Um, but I, I just kind of approach it with curiosity, you know, all the time, you know, like, has this shifted, what does this feel like to me today? And as I especially tie it in with specific values, those values have specific intentions. There are certain practices that I associate with those values. I mean, there’s different layers of all this stuff that, I mean, this is why I’m the values coach. I just, I find it really fascinating. And so living in out of my own life has been really fun. 

RPR: And I think, especially when we’re talking about higher ed and we’re talking about faculty, you know, things like values and purpose can come off a little “woo-woo” sometimes. Yeah. And I know I felt that way before burnout. Right. And that, you know, my students were my purpose, but when that falls away, what’s left. Who are you when you’re not doing higher ed? So that’s been an interesting, um, it’s been an interesting journey for me to kind of look into those aspects of myself, and you always advocate planning and looking ahead and really that deep reflection and for a long time that, it scared me, but it made me angry that it scared me at the same time.

So I was just looking at, um, my Power Sheets from that. I started at the beginning of the year and I’ll share in the show notes, a link to the Power Sheets. And I have written goals in January, but I hadn’t looked at them since then, because all the worksheets and things for goal setting and actions were kind of freaking me out, honestly. Um, but I look back at those goals and they were not achievement goals. Like typically they are, they were connection goals and community goals. Um, and that was really, that really kind of filled me up when I really looked at those again and said, okay, I am growing from the person that I used to be. And not that she was a bad person, just that, you know, it’s time for me to grow and it’s time for me to change. And that’s been really gratifying and rewarding to look at and yeah,

KL: Yeah, the documentation of our goals and our, I mean, I think of those things sometimes not even as goals, but like intentions, you know, like these are things we’re trying to grow and referring our own lives. And I also have enjoyed, you know, Power Sheets as a tool. Um, I’ve been using it for a couple of years now and yeah, the 80 pages of reflective work, you know, in the beginning can be a little bit intimidating. Um, but I do appreciate kind of the lens that they, the creators of this tool put on it, which is basically like get messy, you know, like it’s okay. And, and there is a possibility within the Power Sheets to kind of revisit every quarter or so what are your goals, which I love, cause mine are always shifting and changing, but I do think that there is this, um, there’s a difference for me, at least in terms of separating out goals from these kind of bigger understandings of values, intentions, and what I call life practices that are more consistent over time in terms of how we’re trying to nurture them and what they can show up as in our clients kind of on a day-to-day basis.

Um, and then the goals, I think sometimes people think of those as kind of the highest level thing. Right. And I just feel like there’s so much more that comes before that in terms of like laying a foundation for why you would have those goals or why you would be working toward those metrics. And then we have to make sure that the metrics we associate with goals are actually meaningful and sometimes they’re not. And so that to me is like one of the really interesting things about higher ed is that we’ve been kind of given a set of metrics in some ways for some positions. And I think especially faculty roles of what are the metrics we should be paying attention to. And for some of my clients, especially like these are just not meaningful. So helping them to develop more meaningful metrics around their values, around their intentions and my practices I think is really helpful. Um, so yeah, I mean, it’s these tools for me just helped me to kind of dig into that more and see it from different angles and try to better understand what does it personally mean to me to personalize the practice of goal setting and personalizing practices is like one of my favorite things to talk about right now, because we all do it in different ways and it has different meaning to each of us.

RPR: Yeah. And those are the different tools, then the different aspects of your, of your purpose and your values, especially if you’re a professor, as you said, if you’re an academic, those, those hoops that you jump through are predefined for you. And we spend a lot of time waiting for other people’s approval for things, right, for tenure, for getting a contract for getting a grant or for getting, you know, an article published. So separating our kind of our purpose for what we do versus those things that higher ed sets up for us is one of the things that’s going to help us thrive, right? It’s one of those things that’s going to help us have a vital career or potentially realize that maybe this isn’t the place where I can have a vital career or, you know, uh, a healthy self-image, even in this kind of this kind of context that I know that probably changes, uh, across different stages of an academic career. So do you see kind of different things about purpose and values playing out maybe with clients who are maybe a little newer or junior versus folks who are more senior?

RPR: Definitely. Um, I mean, I would say though that across all of the career stages, I see people who have somehow become disconnected from their values, and it may be that they never knew what they were to begin with. They never really had a conversation with themselves. And the pattern I’ve seen is that this is just not something we talk about, you know? And like in grad school, there’s not really a discussion of trying to identify what your professional values are. And like you said earlier, Rebecca, it’s like, people think it’s like a “woo” conversation. And it’s like, actually it’s very practical in some ways it really does help you to make decisions, think about future direction. I mean, when I think about the values I’ve laid out for myself, like right now there’s five that I I’m really kind of focused on. They’re really informing my decisions like on a day-to-day basis.

And when I get asked to do a new project or something like that, I’ll think about, you know, does this align with where I’m headed and in terms of my own professional development, I mean, like there’s a lot of things that I’m tying in with these values and if you’ve never been guided through that kind of exploration before, it can feel a little rudderless, you know? So I found across the life cycle, you know, of career cycles where people, um, I see that at every stage. So it’s not like if you’re, I, I wouldn’t want anyone listening to this being like, Oh, I met the senior level, and I really don’t feel like I know what this is like, what’s wrong with me. Like I talk with senior-level people all the time who don’t know what this is.

Um, I would say though that the difference I see is once you get to kind of mid-career or beyond, there’s more of a willingness to explore and separate yourself out from maybe predetermined values that have been given to you, um, people who are earlier in their careers and especially pre-tenure folks, you know, like there still is kind of a, um, obligation or maybe responsibility to try to continue to jump through those hoops a little bit, which makes complete sense because you’re earlier in your career, some people are fresh out of grad school. Like this is what they’ve been told their whole education that they should be aiming toward. So I do see kind of a little bit more of a, an openness to other ideas and also a willingness to kind of explore values, um, from a personal perspective, a little bit more from people who are just a little bit further along. Um, and it may be that they’re more disillusioned too. Like they’ve gotten to a point where they’re just like, this is not working for me. And I know it’s not working for me. What else is there? Whereas some people earlier in their careers are not quite there yet. They’re still kind of trying to, and maybe have some self-doubt about, you know, this is me, not the academy, you know? And, and so they’re not quite ready to kind of do that more inward facing work.

Um, but yeah, across the, across the span, there are a lot of people who have that sense of disconnect and just miss the alignment, you know, the end, they may not know what it is, but it’s there and something feels off and they don’t know what to call it. Um, and so when we do work around values, it often does help people to kind of identify like, Oh, this is what’s felt off for me, is that I’ve taken on a set of values that I really personally believe in. Um, and I need to be doing some work to figure out my own personal sense of what my values are.

RPR: And that was definitely something I struggled with. I hated taking those values tests or not tests, but you know, those, those activities that you would do and you would circle your values. And I was always frustrated because my values were always around achievement and respect and kind of some, some level of authority, right. There’s things that I didn’t, I knew about myself, but I didn’t want those to be the things that continued to guide me. So kind of started kind of doing well, these are what I think my goals are. These are what I’m aspiring to, how do I get there, right? How do I, what mindsets do I need to change? Or what ways that I communicate with people, or I relate to people need to change to be able to be this more aspirational person that, that I think I want to be as an adult, basically as a woman in a field.

Um, and that’s been really powerful that really does help me make decisions. And four of those values are the values of this, this podcast and of the burnout book, right? Purpose, compassion, connection, and balance. And those aren’t necessarily things that I was always good at, and I’m still learning and I’ll always be learning to take those things seriously, but I feel like I have a broader purpose now. I feel like I’m connecting to people better. There’s more self-compassion. I actually feel like as awful as the pandemic was, is, um, and we’re recording this in early October, there has been a lot of opportunity to really sit down and focus on connecting with people, right. Just doing these interviews has been amazing. And just, I feel like I’m connected to my colleagues in ways that I haven’t been, um, I’ve been taking coaching classes. So I met this whole other set of people who are wonderful in higher ed who care about similar things, right. So it’s, it’s been really gratifying and interesting to see all of those relationships develop. Um, and just the connection is just empowering, I think. And it’s just, I mean, not to be cheesy, but it’s kind of a beautiful thing.

KL: No, it is a really beautiful thing. I mean, there’s, there’s a lot of silver linings coming out of this pandemic time. For me, I think there was a lot of possibilities coming out of it for people as much as there are challenges. But the other thing I would say that’s kind of interesting about values is I think about them often on kind of a “why, how, what “meant like matrix, you know, all up Simon Sinek, um, for people who are familiar with his work in his TED talk. And I think sometimes values over time shift from being less about a why once they’re kind of really embedded in ourselves to more of a how so I think about, you know, several years ago, I really was associating, um, the concept of documentation as one of my values, because I, I love to podcast. I journal, um, I do a lot of strategic planning. Like there’s a lot of things around documentation is really tied in with kind of who I am and what I’m about.

But over time I realized that had kind of shifted for me into more of the how column, you know, like this is how I do things. This is how I live out particular kinds of other values that I have in my life. So I think that these things can kind of shift around a little bit. Um, and that’s something that over time has been helpful to understand because in the beginning I kind of thought, Oh, this is just a set of values that you have, that don’t change and you can see them from your childhood. You can see them into your, you know, um, as you grow and mature over time, and now I’m really feeling like they do change and that you do have things you learn and grow with over time that you insert into your value system as you kind of come to a better understanding of those things. So anyway, I just find that really interesting that sometimes what we, um, maybe didn’t recognize as a value becomes more in the “why” column of like what gets us up in the morning and then some of the stuff that wasn’t the “why” column once it really becomes a life practice for us. It’s more of the how of, of what is it that we’re doing. That’s really, um, a practice that shows up in our lives on a day-to-day basis.

RPR: And one of the aspects of your radical trust, um, framework is kind of playful experimentation. And I think we can do that with values. And we could do that with purpose as just a way to kind of experiment, play a little bit in your head about how these things might play out, how they might become life practices to make it more of an active intention with your values, rather than just these I’m going to write these four things and they’re going to stay on my wall and remind me that that’s, those are my particular values. We don’t, I don’t think, it’s interesting though, because most of us are trained to do a miracle types of research, but it’s okay to have a research problem or challenge, but it’s not necessarily okay to have this kind of personal, it’s not even a challenge. It’s just kind of thinking about who you are more frequently because we are given those values in higher ed that we push.

KL: Yeah. I mean, I recently I did some kind of values work to try to, I was coming up with kind of a, a longer term strategy for the next two-to-three years of things I’ve really wanted to focus on and prioritize. And I wanted to really lay my values out, you know, like what are the things that are gonna help me make decisions and really be prioritizing things during this period. And with each of my values, I wrote down, what are the practices I’m currently doing that I associate with those values? Like, is there an intention that I kind of associate with that value? And then what are the practices?

So for example, I have an alignment of value where I’m trying to leverage systems, thinking strategy, planning to foster alignment, across various projects, systems values in my life. You know, there’s an alignment piece and a connection piece I’m trying to do there. So my practices associated with alignment are taking quarterly retreats, doing monthly goal setting and quarterly goal setting with Power Sheets, doing a lot of advanced calendaring. So I can kind of do that strategic work ahead of time.

So I have specific things that are associated that value that I, it’s not just me saying, Oh, I value that thing. It’s actually looking in my life to say, where am I, where does that show up on my to-do list in my time, you know, in my energy, where does that go? So for each of my values, I’ve done that. And that’s actually been really helpful because then I can also cross-check and say, is there anything happening in my day-to-day life as a practice that I don’t see reflected in these values? And does that mean there’s another value kind of hidden in there somewhere because I am spending time and energy on this particular practice, how does it tie in, you know, with all these other things? So it’s kind of a little bit of a check and balance to see what’s going on with the values, but also what’s going on with where are you putting your time and your energy and your prioritization on a much smaller scale, because values can be so big and nebulous, but we do really need to bring them down to the day-to-day. So that’s been a helpful thing for me to really associate what are the practices that I’m tying in specifically with each of these values?

RPR: We talked a little bit earlier about being a whole person. So when you do that kind of work and look at alignments and you’re kind of mapping those practices out, do you include both the personal and the professional in that? Or do you kind of see a little bit?

KL: Yeah, no, I do. Um, I think about, for example, I’m looking at my, I have my values kind of pulled up, cause I knew we were going to be talking about this. Um, I mean, I think for example, like one of my values right now that I’m very focused on is holding space. And for me, this is really connected to developing mind-body relationship and a lot of the work that I’ve been doing recently to understand how things like yoga relate to coaching. Um, and I’ve been pursuing some professional development around that, and this is a tool that holds space for me and for other people, you know, so how do I kind of embed that in different ways? So the practices that I associate that with that would be things like somatic coaching methods, which is tied in with kind of my, my work and my profession as a coach, but also personally for me meditation, my personal yoga practice, and the concept of silence, which I bring into my own kind of solitude practices as a dedicated introvert.

Um, but also in meetings, you know, like I, I will sometimes use silence very effectively, you know, when we’re having a meeting about a difficult topic or, you know, something along those lines. So the concept of holding space shows up in a lot of different ways. It shows up in my personal life, it shows up in my day job, it shows up in my coaching. And I, that to me is part of what makes it aligned. That kind of concept of alignment is that it is showing up everywhere. Um, and I think things show up in different ways, and over time that can shift and change. But, um, for me, yeah, I, I definitely look across, um, and that kind of goes back to the earlier thing we were talking about. I don’t want to be two people. I don’t want to be one set of values in my personal life and another set of values in my professional life. What does it mean for example, to hold space for my partner? You know, like that, that is equally as important to me, or maybe even more important to me, than holding space for people at work. You know, so there’s lots of different ways. And the more that I expand understanding of how I’m applying these things in different parts of my life, the more I grow, um, as a practitioner of that thing, um, because I have a better understanding of all the ways it can be applied.

RPR: Um, I’m glad you shared those values because I think often when we look at the values list that you see in activities, there, there’s almost kind of like emotion words in some ways, um, and ways of being, but holding space, having documentation as a value, I don’t think those are necessarily things that people would, would think about or call values that expands the, you know, for a good thing, it expands it, but maybe it’s also a struggle because you expand the possibilities of how you’re going to articulate your goals, but you, your values are your values, right? They don’t have to fit on this list. They don’t have to appear somewhere else. So do you have tips for helping people, maybe some sort of activity or something to help people think through it, their values a little bit more?

KL: Well, there’s definitely like, yeah. Google around and find values list because they’re out there. I mean, if you know, you’ve mentioned, Rebecca, that, that wasn’t a fit for you and it’s not always a fit for everyone, but, um, I think it’s a good start to just kind of think about, you know, what are the categories or the themes that you’re noticing when you look at a values list and what are you circling? What are you drawn to? But the challenge, I think for a lot of people is they see things on that list that they think they should value. And what I always tell people is there’s a difference between seeing the value of something. For example, I see the value of collaboration. I understand how it’s contributed to my work, to my professional life, to my relationships over time, but it is not kind of in my heart, you know, centrally what is helping me to make decisions about projects.

I’m not going to choose a collaborative project over a project. That’s not collaborative because that’s not kind of a central value for me. And in part, because I’m an introvert, you know, like, so I can see the value of collaboration, but it’s also kind of exhausting to me to do that collaboration. So being able to separate those things out into, I can see the value of something in my life, but it’s not necessarily a central core value that shaping my decisions and actions. I think that’s step one is to kind of pull those things apart and to really try to use, I mean, and I hesitate to use the word “intuition,” but it has kind of a gut feeling of like, what is it that’s really like speaking to you in, in that moment. And also recognizing like right now, your values could look different than they did five years ago or five years from now.

So one of my values right now is focused around recovery and self-care, totally related to being in a pandemic. I mean, it’s like absolutely a big part of right now for me is having practices around yoga and, you know, sleeping more and really trying to take care of myself and give myself recovery time. So that personalization of not just you and your personality and kind of your strengths are things that are tied with your kind of core understanding of yourself, but also like, where are you in this moment right now? Where are you geographically? Career-wise with family, with external circumstances that might be impacting what you’re prioritizing or valuing? All those factors come into play And I think sometimes we, like you said, we narrow it too much. So we don’t think about things like documentation or, um, you know, other kinds of things that are very personal to us and kind of what we want to focus on, but the more flexible we get around it And I think the more that we talk about it and kind of think through it that it starts to solidify. I mean, I feel like it’s a little bit like Jello; like in the beginning, it’s just like liquid and it’s everywhere and it’s, you know, like it’s not, there’s no solidity there, but over time you start to get to a place where it feels a little bit more solid and you start to think like, yeah, this is tied in with my identity. This is tied in with core elements of who I consider myself to be. I do feel like I could share this in a way that would make sense to other people that, you know, so those kinds of things, I think help us to solidify that over time, but it’s not a rushed process. I feel like I’ve spent years coming to understand what my values are and how they are shaped over time.

And, you know, ask me a year from now, and I might have different values than, than what is kind of on the table right now, but it doesn’t mean these other things have gone away. It might be that holding space has again moved into that “how” column instead of the “why” column. And it’s part of my practice of, of how I infuse these things into my life. And maybe it’s been replaced by something else that’s developing into a practice for me. So that’s another way I think to think about it is, are there things in your life that are developing into practices for you and does that signal a value in some way?

KRPR: Right. I was reading something the other day that was interesting in the sense that it said, I think it was a book about like not doing things all of the time. Um, and, and the author was talking about personal growth is almost economic at this point or kind of capitalist at this point that we always have to be growing and rather than just necessarily settling into ourselves or, you know, doing that work and understanding our values and our purpose and letting that be the guide rather than some sort of artificial I’m going to continue to improve myself for the next 50 years kind of, um, kind of thing. So does that resonate with you at all that I found that statements would be kind of interesting and I’m curious what you think about it.

KL: I, I do think it’s interesting because there is a lot of pressure to, like you said, you need to develop and grow and, and maybe for other people’s metrics, you know, like it’s not necessarily our own personal choices. That said I’m definitely a lifelong learner. I’m definitely one of those people who pursues credentials and likes to learn. And I’m always out, you know, figuring something out for my own professional development. But I do think that there is a difference between deepening aspects of ourselves and like just pursuing something for the sake of pursuing it. And I think like this year, my phrase of the year was “deeply rooted.” I chose that pre-pandemic. Um, I was moving, I was moving to a new state. I was moving to a new job and I really wanted to kind of re into my values. And that was like a big thing that I was really focused on.

And so there’s a lot of things that I’ve done this year that would from the look like personally professional development growth, you know, I, I pursued a yoga teacher training for example, but to me that was more about deepening something that I already knew, and it was expansive and it allowed me to grow and shift and change and evolve in lots of important ways. And those things will continue, but there’s also an element of it that is more rooting to me than it is expansive. And the more we root, the more we can expand. So if you think about like a tree with a really extensive root system, you know, it can grow there because it has that extensive root system underneath it. So I think that we don’t often talk about that. We focus more on the outward tree. That’s like growing, growing, growing, and not necessarily on the root system.

And when we talk about things like values, I think it is shining a light a little bit more on that to do you have a strong foundation that’s really expansive underneath the ground that is allowing you to kind of do these other explorations? Um, so I mean, I, I think that it depends a lot on like, how does it make you feel when you think about that? And I have a podcast episode coming out that I’m sure it will be out before this is released. That’s basically talking about, you know, is something expansive or contracting, and how can we make a decision based on, is it energizing us? Is it taking away energy from us? Like there there’s several different frameworks I offer for like making big decisions. And it reminds me of what you’re describing here, because I think it is about everyone personally is going to feel different about some of these big decisions for some people moving will feel expansive; for other people, it will feel contracting. So you have to have that kind of personal sense of how do you respond, you know, when you hear that and some people are going to be like, Ooh, that, that doesn’t feel good to me. And other people are going to say, yes, that’s what I need in my life right now.

RPR: That makes a lot of sense. So I’m curious across your coaching clients, maybe are there some things that, that are, especially your women, clients that are coming out that are specific maybe to this time period or to the, to the purpose work that we’re doing? Um, as we’re in this crazy time in the world, right. So how are you, how are your clients doing with that?

KL: I mean, there’s a lot of questioning. Um, there’s a lot of just, you know, there is more turning inward and questioning, am I doing what I should be doing? Am I giving energy to the things that I should be giving energy to? And that is not always a fun process. I mean, it can be a very scary thing to ask those questions and to say, for example, am I in the right job? You know, or, and now really is the time that everybody’s asking that question. And my coaching clientele has expanded a lot because there are a lot of people who are trying to root into their values and have a better understanding of, you know, how they can use those values to make decisions right now, or post pandemics, you know, when they feel like they can be more mobile or, you know, shift.

Um, but those questions have been around with my clients for years, you know, like especially clients who feel geographically bound or they feel constrained in some way in their job. And there’s always that question of, should I stay, or should I go, you know, like if you’ve been in a job for more than a year, I mean, we’re always asking, you know, is the grass greener somewhere else? I think especially around our careers, you know, this is something that is a big question for a lot of us. Um, and that’s a very different thing than I think was originally intended in higher ed. I mean the whole tenure system is really about keeping you at the same institution for a very long period of time. And now that that’s in your system is really being disrupted. There’s a lot of people who are way more mobile, uh, in terms of their careers, whether that means, you know, they’re contingent faculty or they’re adjuncting where their administrative roles or whatever.

Um, it just changes the landscape. A lot of the kinds of decisions that professionals in higher ed are making now. So I see that happening right now with a lot of my clients really trying to have a better understanding of, um, at a, at a macro-level, why are they making the decisions that they’re making, but also really going into a micro-level of like the day-to-day practices, because it’s hard to be motivated right now for a lot of people and the things that motivated them before feel out of reach; you know, they may not feel like they can do their research right now. And maybe literally they can’t collect data right now because of the pandemic, uh, limitations. And so that just throws a lot of things into a tizzy. So, I mean, I do think that this is what draws me to coaching is that it allows you to take something that feels really messy, like a big old knot, you know, of just string and slowly unravel it. And S and with support, you know, and, and with someone else who can kind of help you find clarity, pull the string apart, start to understand what is going on here. What are the factors that I need to be thinking about and a way that’s not necessarily overwhelming when you’re trying to do it on your own? I think it can feel really hard. Um, and not that it’s not hard at all when you do it with a coach, but I think it’s easier when you have that kind of support.

RPR: Yeah. And I feel like when you were with me kind of last year, when I was going through the burnout and making some hard decisions and, um, leaving a place that I thought I would be at for my entire career, um, and making those choices to try something very, very different. I think my values started to come into more clarity when I was making those decisions. So I made the choice to leave a tenured role, and I was eligible for full, and I could have gone up for full. And I think my case would have been very strong. I chose not to do that because my value had shifted to a personal value rather than a higher ed value. And I had different, I had different goals for my life than I had prior to making that decision. And I was actually surprised how supportive almost everyone was of that decision.

Um, and I wasn’t at an R1 or something like that. Right. I was at a teaching focused institution, which I loved, and that was where I needed to be for a long time, but almost no one kind of pushed back on that for me, a lot of people were just like, that sounds like a really good decision. And if you’re not happy, you should go do that. Right. And that’s not what I expected. I even emailed, I remember emailing my dissertation director been retired for 13 years now, and I said, I’m going to do this. You know, I hope that I hope that’s okay. Just looking for, I don’t know, a little bit of validation from her. And she’s like, that’s awesome. You know, do what makes you happy because tenure doesn’t necessarily make anyone happy. It’s just kind of a state of your personal career at that point and your career is not everything go be where you’re going to be happy for the longest amount of time. And that might be Georgia tech for a few years. It could be for a long time, but as academics, we don’t often think of ourselves as mobile. And even as I was thinking about leaving higher ed, there was always this kind of niggling thought in the back of my head of if I leave, can I get back in? Which is kind of a terrible way to think about your career and the things that you care about, right. It’s, it’s the, how are you beholden to this? So it was a really powerful experience going through the hard work that I had to do for burnout and think about what do I value and where do I want to be? And what does that look like if I take this whole thing that had been, that had me guiding me for 17 years, if I take that out, what’s left, and who am I? And what do I value about that? So it’s powerful work to do that kind of work and that kind of introspection.

KL: Yeah, it is really powerful. And I think sometimes we have the option of choosing that work, um, because of just wherever we are in our lives or careers. Sometimes I feel like that work is forced on us a little bit. I think about clients I’ve had who have been denied tenure, and then they’re like, okay, so this is a crossroads and I need to decide, am I going back on the market? Am I doing something entirely different? And so I think, you know, when you have the choice of doing the work, obviously that may be a little bit of a more pleasant experience. But, um, but I think that it’s also something where like, learning comes out of hard things.

And I think we’re seeing that even right now with the pandemic, you know, like there’s a lot that we can take away from this experience. It’s shining a light on a lot of things that maybe we should have been paying attention to before that we were not. Um, and with the social justice elements that have come out during this experience as well, like there’s a lot of things that are kind of being layered together. And there is an element of me that’s grateful for that. You know, it’s difficult as things have been during this period for a number of reasons, and it’s different for everyone. You know, there’s also really important lessons that I’m taking from this period as well about myself, about people around me, um, that have been very important and that will shape things for me in the years to come. So I’m always looking for that. I mean, I think that there is always a way in the hard moments to learn from that and to kind of lean into the core understandings we have of ourselves, because those core understandings come out more. I think when we’re dealing with difficult things,

RPR: It reminds me of it like a slightly different version of the Mr. Rogers saying, right, when there’s a crisis, look for the helpers. Right. I think that’s, it’s just sounds really similar in that sense. So as we wrap up, I’m going to thank you so much for your time, but I’m curious, what is one thing that you wish women in higher ed in or around higher ed really took to heart?

KL: One thing? Well, I mean, I think for me, it has to be tied to radical self-trust, um, that I guess what I would say is self-loyalty and self-awareness and self-knowledge is not synonymous with selfishness. And I think that sometimes that’s what we think. We think that, you know, if we focus on ourselves and we’re loyal to ourselves first and what we really need in order to be aligned and kind of focused and living our best lives, being our best selves, that, that somehow takes away from other people. And I think that, um, it’s, uh, it’s, you know, we always hear they’ll put your own mask on first, you know, um, the metaphor and I guess it’s kind of like that, but I’m also really focused on this concept that when you know yourself really well, it becomes way easier to do that.

Like when you have a deep understanding of like, I look at my calendar this week and while I’m on Zoom a lot, and I’m going to need some recovery time because I know myself and I know that I, I’m not, I’m going to hit a limit or I’m going to have a capacity issue here. Like, that’s something that impacts my partner positively. It impacts the people I work with positively. Like it, it kind of has this ripple effect of when I take care of myself. And when I have a deep understanding of my core needs and my value system and how I’m making those decisions, it has positive impacts on everyone around me. And that includes my clients. It includes, you know, people who are, um, in the communities that I run, you know, all different kinds of areas of my life. So I think that, that is the thing I would say is that, you know, you shouldn’t be afraid to lean into that because it is going to have positive effects overall. And I think we’re given messaging particularly gendered messaging that that can be very selfish to do that. Um, and it’s not, it’s kind of the opposite.

RPR: That’s such good advice, Katie. Thank you. Thank you so much for being here today. It’s always a pleasure.

RPR: Thank you for having me. This was really wonderful.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the agile academic podcast for women in higher ed. To make sure you don’t miss an episode, follow the show on Apple and Google podcasting apps and bookmark the show page where you’ll find show notes and a transcript with each episode, you’ll find the show at Rebecca Pope-Ruark.com/podcast. If you’d like to recommend someone to interview, please just complete the contact form at the bottom of the page. Take care and stay well.

Backchanneling for Higher Ed Women

In this first episode of *the agile academic* podcast, I chat with three women who have had a substantial and crucial impact on my professional life with their support, advice, and friendship. Meet my colleagues Drs. Sandy French of Radford University, Ashley Patriarca from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and Jennifer Veltsos of Minnesota State University Mankato. We talk about the importance of having women academics at other institutions who you trust and value, how our ten-year Facebook chat backchannel has impacted each of us, and some advice for finding your own tribe of supportive women in higher ed.


RPR: On this first episode of the agile academic podcast, I talk with Dr. Sandy, French, Ashley Patriarca and Jennifer Veltsos on the importance of having women outside of your institution to talk with vent, to and cheer on, and we offer some tips for assembling your own backchannel group.

Hello listeners, welcome to *the agile academic*, a podcast for women in and around higher education and its first season. I talked with our special guests from all over academia, about a wide range of topics from teaching and research to writing and speaking to career by tally and burnout and everything in between. I’m your host, Dr. Rebecca Pope.

Well, I am so excited to have three of my absolute favorite people with us on this very first episode of the podcast. I’d like to welcome Dr. Jennifer. Veltsos, Dr. Sandy French, and Dr. Ashley Patriarca for joining us today. And these are three of my very, very best friends. And we’re going to talk about how we came to be how we came to connect to each other and how we use those connections to support ourselves and each other during our careers. So, hello ladies? Hello. Hi. Did I say that was kind of sad? Actually, it was just like, we are hoping we are hoping listeners that we’ll be able to make it through this without laughing extensively for the entire hour. So we’ll see how it goes. Um, so why don’t you guys go ahead and introduce yourselves then, um, where you’re at and what you do.

Dr. Jennifer Vetsos (JV): I’m Jennifer Veltsos. I’m a professor in the English department at Minnesota state university Mankato, but for the past year and probably at least one more, I’m the interim associate vice president for undergraduate education. So it’s a temporary gig sort of coordinating undergraduate curriculum.

Dr. Sandy French (SF): I’m Sandy French. I’m a professor in the school of communication at Radford university in Virginia, and I teach rhetoric. I also teach and our honors program.

Dr. Ashley Patriarca (AP): Hi, I’m Ashley Patriarca. I’m an associate professor of English at mass Chester university in Pennsylvania. I teach primarily in business and tech writing. Although I occasionally get to teach senior English seminars and first-year writing.

RPR: So you can probably tell where we all came from. Since our degrees are really relatively similar. We all, most of us either met at graduate school or at a disciplinary organization conference, the association for business communication. Jen and I went to grad school together at Iowa state. And then we picked up Ashley and some folks from Virginia tech at the conference. Then we became like a little pod of graduate students together at the conference. And then we pulled Sandy in when Jen co coordinated the conference with Sandy and decided that Sandy was just a sister from another mother. So she had to join us on the back channel.

JV: That picture actually came up my Facebook, the photograph of Sandy and me and it’s titled my soul sister.

RPR: It feels like it was so long ago, but it feels like it was yesterday in lots of ways. So one of the reasons I wanted to have you guys on the show other than, because you’re awesome is that our back channel has become kind of crucially important to my professional development and sometimes my personal salvation going through so many different things over the last 10 years that we’ve been back-channeling and Ashley and Jen and I have known each other longer than we’ve known Sandy, but she just merged right into, into our group. And it’s such a supportive, um, forced in the group that we have as well. So, um, on the podcast, I like to talk about four things that I kind of see as pillars of community, um, pillars of burnout resilience, especially in higher ed. And those pillars are purpose, compassion, connection, and balance.

And I think for us, at least for me, the connection piece has fed all of the other things. I think we, you know, we started out as friends. We started out as supporting each other. It’s turned into developing projects together. Um, and so many other things. So I’m just curious what each of your perspective is on our back channels. So we have a Facebook chat that we’ve had for 10 years. I would love to download the records on that thing. Can you imagine it would be like eight feet tall? Um, so we started out on Facebook and it just seems to have worked there. So, um, what is your perception of our back channel? How is it useful to you, or how does it fit into your professional life?

AP: You all are the place where I run when I have questions. And I often have a lot of questions because, you know, going through the tenure process a few years back now, or when I was on the job market and y’all were telling me to calm down and everything was going to be okay, and I didn’t believe you in both situations. And then it was fine. I know that’s not the case all the time, but it was really important for me to have that sort of reassurance that other folks had gone through the process and had survived and made it through. And that even if it didn’t feel like it was going to work out at that point, for me, it did. And it was so helpful that mentorship, that guidance, that reassurance.

SF: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say of the four things you like to talk about. I’m thinking all four of them apply, but I’m thinking specifically of connections and balance. I think it’s very cool that we’re all we’re close in age, but we’re not all the same age. We’re close in where we are in our careers, but not exactly the same place in our careers. And so every time someone has a question, there’s a, there’s a balanced perspective that comes from being close to people who are not in your institution, because there’s a, uh, an objectivity in the sounding that you may not get from the connections you have at your own institution, which are also important. But, but for me, that, that balanced perspective, where we’re just as likely to cheer each other on, as we are to say, you know, maybe your Dean has a point, or maybe that student had something else going on. Those, those kinds of a safe place where people can kind of tell you to check yourself, but it’s not the end of a relationship. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible professor, that kind of balance. I think there’s something really beautiful about being able to talk to people who aren’t at your institution

JV: As usual. Sandy says everything I’m thinking much better. Cause that’s literally what, how I was thinking about how to describe you all. I imagine a continuum and on one end it’s I actually have cheerleading. And on the other end, I have no committee. You are also my no committee. If I’m not sure about something and I need some other perspectives that I can trust and I need to be vulnerable, and I can do that with you all. And then there’s like everything in between, and there’s no judgment. It really helps. And I probably have not mentioned this particular benefit to you all, but in this past year, as an administrator, I really have to self-censor. And so you all have helped me when I need to vent. Sometimes you’re the only ones that I can talk to about things, because you’re completely removed from the situation. So thank you for that.

RPR: Yeah. I feel that the venting has been me recently, but you guys were there with me when I was on the job market when I was going through the burnout and pre burnout, not knowing what was happening to me. Um, and then post burnout, you know, I got some misdiagnoses along the way, which were kind of crazy. And we talked through those to see, you know, what can I reasonably do? Is it okay if I decide to leave my institution, even though I’d been there for so long and assumed that I was going to retire there? Um, I think for a lot of us, um, and there are also a couple more people in our back channels, but they’re men, so they’re not invited to the women’s podcast

JV: To be fair. This is the sub back channel.

RPR: That channel, there are some things that only that it’s only appropriate for the ladies, like, and we’ve done that too with like sexism things that we’ve, that have come up and where we needed to just, just the four of us kind of share that perspective. That’s been important too. Luckily there hasn’t been too many of those, um, I think, but we definitely shared those kinds of issues as well.

AP: Also, to be fair Quinn Warnick is the reason why I’m in that back channel to begin with it’s his fault. He said, Hey, why don’t you come to the rhetoric special interest group? It’s right after your presentation at the very first ABC I ever attended. And he basically dragged me off and that’s how I met you all.

RPR: Yeah. And I think that Jim Dubinsky was in there too scheming to get them with the Virginia tech folks to be as cool as the Iowa state folks at ABC. So we’ve been through a lot together in terms of changing roles and changing positions. Like Sandy mentioned being able to be at different parts of, in an academic career. So what are maybe some of the things that stand out to you specifically about a time in your life or in your career where we were really able to help each other through something, you know, with me, it was obviously burnout and it was so many things before that. Um, right. Cause for, for a while, I was a little bit on the leading edge of everyone and hit the burnout and had to back off. And now Jen is kind of the leading edge of the group because she’s made it into administration or made it or had to do it whichever

JV: Fell forward into it.

RPR: Right. So you guys were able to help me, you know, I wasn’t, I wasn’t willing to talk about it for a long time to anybody, but you guys, because I knew that I wouldn’t get that judgment. And I knew that you knew that the behaviors that I was exhibiting weren’t me at the time that something else was going on and you were able to kind of see that, but also, um, support me through it no matter what we thought was going on. So I’m forever grateful to you all for that. Now we’re all crying.

JV: I think there’s a couple of places where, where y’all have really helped me. And one was the drama with my former dissertation advisor who ended up, I don’t know how to describe, not quite bullying, but definitely cutting me in public places. And you all always had my back and you understood how much that hurt and kind of talked me through it. And that meant a lot. Um, and then I’m not sure that this, this got to all of you, but I know I’ve talked about it with, with you at different times. Um, bullying in my department, um, some frustrations with, with employees. And again, it’s the kind of stuff that I can talk with because you don’t know who’s involved and you can give me an honest perspective.

SF: I’d say also on the flip side of that, since we do have this conference connection, um, one of the things that stands out in my mind is the recovery of years in a row, where I was attempting to move into certain leadership roles in the organization and I kept getting rejected. And that’s, it’s, it’s hard to face rejection at any point in your professional life, but since the conference was the touchstone for all of us, you know, failing to secure those leadership positions or that kind of recognition really rocks you. And, and so again, that notion of, of compassion in the back channel and saying, you know, we still think you do great work and you know, what, whatever people were saying to me at the moment, but not just being like, well, she couldn’t rise into those leadership positions. So I guess we’ll just phase her out of the group, you know, that, that kind of, of recognition that, that your work is still valuable and what you bring to the group just as an individual woman is valuable, um, will always be really meaningful to me.

RPR: They missed out on several of us in leadership roles. Definitely you. So we formed our own.

SF: That’s true. And it’s amazing.

AP: Yeah, for me, I already mentioned the, um, the fact that you all were there for me during the job search during very disastrous in a lot of ways, tenure process that involved some snafoos with my HR and some other communication challenges that happens like the notice of tenure being sent to the wrong address. Uh, but I think what’s going to stick out for me the most, especially as the years go by is the fact that you all have been there for me this year in particular, not just because of the general pandemic state that we’re in, but because of my mother’s illness and having that come on so suddenly, and at the same time as the pandemic, it was a whammy. And to know that you all have been there, you’ve been listening to me vent the entire time and just let me talk through all of the rather overwhelming emotions that I’ve been dealing with this year, while also trying to navigate teaching and working and doing all of the things that we’re supposed to be doing right now. Um, it’s, I’m going to cry because it means so much to me to know that you all have been there the whole way and that you will be there the rest of the way.

RPR: I think these back channels are just so important, especially for women in higher education, um, you know, back channels in general, with, with, you know, maybe friends you went to graduate school with, or colleagues from a past job or something like that. Even colleagues at the same institution, even though that’s a little bit different, um, being able to have that as you know, we’ve all said that, that, that voice in the background, that’s there to hold you up no matter what happens, but also, you know, like Sandy said, check us, check you if it needs, if it needs to be checked, but we know how to do it in a way that’s, that’s calming almost. I think, you know, that you can vent, but you’re not going to vent back at me. We’re going to share experiences or you’re going to commiserate. And then you’re either going to offer me some wonderful advice, or you’re going to tell me that I need to step back and rethink something. And that’s, you know, that’s a long-term relationship to be able to do that, especially, I mean, we’re talking over text, right? We’re talking, you know, we are all writing professors. We can hold our own, but we know most of this really is over, over Facebook chat. So we’re not writing huge long messages to each other. They’re not epistles, you know, they’re just kind of little vents or little questions or this thing happened. Or I saw this in the news. Did you see this thing? Um, can be really powerful just, and just holding us together. So I’m curious if you guys know anybody else who maybe has a back channel like ours?

SF: I don’t know anyone else who has this kind of back channel that we have, but one of the things I did want to say about it, um, and to maybe encourage your listeners is in this era of the pandemic and zoom fatigue, which is real. And it’s encourage your listeners to think about these low stakes kinds of connections. You know, like you said, it’s a text-based connection in this Facebook chat. So, you know, your hair doesn’t have to be done. You don’t have to be in a pretty room. It’s okay. If your dog comes up and sits on your lap and all of those kinds of things, um, that I would just encourage your listeners to think about it. There’s something really powerful about getting high impact connection from a low stakes activity

RPR: And mostly asynchronous, right? Sometimes we’re all there at the same time, but a lot of it really is asynchronous or it’ll be synchronous for a few of us. And then a couple of us will pop in later and add some, some thoughts. So

JV: I was just thinking about the number of times when one of us has been like, I was just teaching for an hour and a half.

RPR: Yeah. We had a lot of things to say, it’s hard to kind of go back and we tried separating out some topics and to other boards and they all ended up just back in the seat, but that’s our safe spot, right? I mean, that’s, that’s the place where we know we can just be us and not have to apologize for that, but not, not also not have to live up to something some standard.

AP: Yeah. I do have one other back channel going With some colleagues and friends in my own department, um, which is great For thinking through issues that are emerging in the department. Um, so there are, you know, other, you know, low stakes back channels happening. It’s just, this is one of my favorites.

JV: This kind of connection. And the conversations that we have, this is what a lot of, I guess, what a lot of advice is. And a lot of I’ve, I’ve been in organizations and training that try to create this. And I don’t think you can create it. I think it, it just has to happen organically. I mean, we certainly, weren’t texting back and forth all the time back in 2011. Um, I think we took it. We were just more careful back then, and now it’s just kind of random thoughts and popping in, but have y’all ever noticed, like we never go a week with nothing on the back channel,

RPR: Even in the summers?

SF: Yeah, I think that’s a good point. It started if I remember correctly, I mean, it started as a very sort of focused conference related sort of back channel for that. And over the years, it’s grown as the relationships have grown and expanded, the back channel has grown and expanded to include more aspects of your professional life, more aspects of your personal life. Um, and like you said, I don’t think you can set out to do that. You have to let that happen, but, but faculty members should be looking, I think for those, those opportunities. Right. And again, it comes back to the things that you want to talk about, Rebecca, it comes back to compassion and purpose and you know, this channel for whatever reason would never have started, if the people who started it, weren’t the kind of professionals, um, all of you, the kinds of people who are open to meeting new people and welcoming them into the group. Right. So, uh, so I encourage, I don’t want somebody to listen to it and think, well, I could never have what they have. It just requires being open and being willing to be vulnerable with people and to welcome people and not always be in that sort of cutthroat academia headspace.

RPR: And we had the conference as the touchstone for, for a long time. Right. We would all, we were all going annually. So we would see each other at the conference every year. So we were making, we were making the friend connections even more when we were in person and watching each other’s work. So we were, it wasn’t just the back channel as well. Right. We were, we had those in-person touchstones and those adventures often the cities where we were, we were conferencing. I think we went somewhere everywhere, probably who doesn’t. Right. That’s the way you’re supposed to conference. Yeah.

So how do we, how do we encourage people to create something like this, right. Especially women. And I think now is a moment where the, where the connection is so important. Um, and I think, you know, in my research with burnout, isolation is one of the first signs, but we’re all kind of isolated. So we’re all in danger. I think of, of burnout at this point because we are dealing with so many of our own traumas and then the students, secondary trauma is, and we’re all isolated in different ways. So, you know, at some times in our careers and in our lives, that back channel probably kept us sane in a, in a lot of different ways. So how, how do we help people to create these kinds of things? So Sandy talks about it being kind of the people themselves, like figuring out who you can connect with, who can have similar perspectives with, and then let that grow. Any other advice, Ashley or Jen?

AP: I would say maybe if there’s a galvanizing event, like perhaps a, a conference that’s coming up, whether that’s a virtual conference or a future in-person conference, thinking about ways to chat with folks who are, you know, in your sessions or that you’ve know from past versions of the conference. Um, and perhaps, you know, starting a conversation about what you’re seeing in the upcoming conference, which sessions are you going to attend, all of this stuff that we would do on in a normal year, um, just sort of bringing it into this year’s experience or updating it for this year’s experience.

JV: I think there’s also a certain, almost like being on a blind date, like it, well, it’s networking is what it is. Like Becca, I knew you at Iowa State. And so that’s, that’s one type of connection, but almost everybody else in the back channel, I met through someone else. Um, and, and so it’s almost like being set up on a date like, Oh, you should talk to so-and-so because I think you’d really have a lot in common. And so being open to, okay, I guess I’ll talk to so-and-so. Um, it is a really good way of finding people with similar interests or, or, um, perspectives. And that’s not something that people tend to feel comfortable doing.

RPR: Yeah. There is that very competitive aspects of higher ed, you know, as I’ve been writing about burnout, you know, and I posted this on Facebook the other day, and you guys responded to this, you know, me kind of asking what are the values of higher education, right? And y’all were being way nicer than I was being nicer than the values that I was coming up with. But I think we’ve all seen them, you know, we’ve all seen those positive values and those negative values, and we’ve seen them in ourselves, right. So, you know, how do we help each other through that?

SF: And I hope that institutions are also kind of like what Ashley said, conferencing isn’t normal this year, but still happening while for new faculty who are joining our institutions, new faculty development, new faculty, orientation, whatever you might call it, that should still be happening too. And so there’s some opportunities there. I think, uh, I know at Radford, we just recently, I’m part of a smaller group that, um, in my college to help, um, mentor and assist new faculty who come into our specific college, the college of humanities and behavioral sciences. So we recently did a zoom just for new faculty, just to kind of introduce each other. We played some funny, silly games. We put them in breakout rooms, gave him a chance to talk to each other. So still trying to foster some of those connections, especially among our new faculty who have no idea how to do this job outside of a crisis situation. Right? So I hope all of our institutions are still trying to use those opportunities to get faculty connected to one another. Um, if they’re not traveling or that doing virtual conferences, you know, some places are still hiring people and seats are still being filled and we’ve still got to find ways to help those faculty members.

AP: That’s an excellent point, Sandy. Um, one of my colleagues in comm studies here at Westchester, she started a group, a group on Facebook back in March for all of the, uh, Westchester professors as part of the online transition to give everybody a place to ask questions, get feedback, vent a little about, you know, the whole suddenness of the transition. And it’s been a really important site for community among colleagues I haven’t had a chance to meet yet cause they’re in very different departments and it’s been really lovely to see how folks are, how quickly folks will come together in that Facebook group. It’s just, it’s been great. Um, so thinking about new faculty, that could be a site for new faculty, but they also need their own spaces.

RPR: Yeah. That peer mentoring is crucially important, right? That’s what, that’s what our group has become peer mentoring. Um, as well as, you know, deep and abiding love for each other, right. We are all still faculty members and I’m sure we would still talk to each other if we weren’t, but we are all in the same kind of context we’re dealing with similar issues. And because of what higher ed is, things are pretty similar at the different institutions. You know, we can compare notes on the tenure process or union versus non-union and those kinds of things with each other. But we all basically are going through similar things in similar contexts, just to maybe a different points of our career and considering different ways of moving through our careers and having the kind of the bouncing off board is really helpful.

I’m like staring at Jen. (laughter)

JV: I felt like I should answer that. But you all said the same things. I would’ve said (laughter)

RPR: Switching gears a little bit. We were checking Jen’s notes to see if there was anything important that we haven’t covered, but I think we’re good. So we’re going to go. So in today’s context, outside of today’s context, what is most inspiring to you about women in higher ed right now?

JV: You know, what’s funny is I posted something on Facebook and it was something else entirely it had to do with wording. And, but I mentioned how I got a lot of demerits when I was in elementary school, and someone asked what for, and I said was talking. It was always like talking to people, talking out of turn and someone else said me too, I always got, and it was like, but look at us now.

So what I, what inspires me about higher ed is yeah, it’s, it’s women speaking up and, and speaking up for themselves, speaking up for each other, for feeling more comfortable, moving into leadership roles of different sorts. And speaking up when we see things that we don’t like. I remember, gosh, this was probably around 2009. I was in a, um, I was in a committee that was preparing a professional event. And one of the men, the older white men on this committee was writing a skit that was really misogynistic and really offensive about students. And, um, and I said, Oh, you know, I think I’m going to have to say something. And at that point, people were telling me like, no, this could ruin your career. You cannot tell this man not to make these jokes. I don’t think the answer would be the same today. I think I would have a whole bunch of women at my back. And that inspires me a lot.

SF: Yeah, I think you’re right. Uh, I think what inspires me right now in the moment is the way that women continue to show up. Um, we already know from research women do the second shift at home, whether you’re taking care of pets, whether you’re taking care of little people, whether you were cooking dinner and cleaning house or helping the neighbor across the street, um, women continue to be thought of as the helpers in every profession they are in. And so the, I feel like the risk of burnout for women in higher education has never been greater because, uh, when you, when you think of all the traumas, our students are going through, I think research and certainly anecdotal evidence would bear out that the women professors still get told the stories of student trauma more than their male colleagues. And so to me, I’m inspired, some days, I feel like it’s all I can do to get out of bed and teach my class. And that’s not because my own life is so horrible necessarily. No, the world is a little bit horrible right now. And students are struggling right now. And just the, the emotional labor of carrying all of those experiences, I think continues to fall primarily in higher education, on the shoulders of women. And so I’m inspired all the time by women, just continuing to show up and continuing to try and do the best that they can for themselves, for their colleagues, their students, for their universities.

RPR: I think we have to do a shout out to our, our colleagues of color as well, dealing with that emotional labor, um, especially women of color in those contexts as well.

SF: Yes, absolutely.

AP: Building on what you both said. I find myself so inspired by a lot of the grad students who are coming up right now and watching them take on not just positions of leadership within the field, not just, not just taking on roles in grad student organizations or in our professional organizations, but speaking out against the injustices that they see in our fields and in our programs and in our professional organizations, it is amazing. It is remarkable. And I just find myself really impressed and amazed and inspired by them all. And I learned so much from them honestly, and it keeps pushing me to want to be, or keep pushing me to be better. It makes me want to be better. And it pushes me to be better just watching the labor and the thought that they put into everything that they do.

RPR: Yeah. I think about often with the graduate students, you know, what the things that they have to cope with now in terms of, of general struggles, in terms of what they need to do to get out, honestly, to graduate, to get a tenure track job, if that’s what they, what they’re interested in. I don’t think I published my first article until my third year on the tenure track. Right. And they’re coming out with two or three just to even be remotely marketable. So they’re doing the kind of work that I didn’t do, um, at that time. And they are still standing up. We have a, we have a disciplinary, um, listserv that, that has challenges sometimes. And in some of those grad students have stood their ground. They created new spaces for themselves to move out of those toxic environments. They are kind of social justice warriors in the disciplines really. And that’s, it’s really inspiring to see them come up. I’m not sure that we can take any credit for that. Maybe we opened the door a teeny little bit for them by being strong women, but they are definitely empowered and they’re going to make a difference. And I hope that’s happening across disciplines, just not ours. I mean, I see it on Twitter, especially with grad student mental health, um, people finally really standing up for those kinds of issues, um, issues with PIs and mentors. So those, those issues are becoming much more public, at least in those contexts, which is just, I don’t know if I, I don’t know if I would’ve had the strength to do it as a graduate student, kind of like Jen said earlier.

AP: Yeah. It makes me want to make the discipline better and the jobs better for them to make them make there be jobs for them. Because especially this year, the job market is not great, but it’s been not great for a while and thinking about the kinds of things that they have to do to get a job that we did not have to do that I did not even have to do seven years ago, seven years ago, it’s mind boggling and frustrating and some sort of systematic and systemic change needs to happen.

RPR: Yeah. And talk about acknowledging things. I think we also have to acknowledge all of our privilege, right? I mean, we are white women who got tenure track tenured positions. Right. And I mean, I’ve read things that say, you know, you shouldn’t think of yourself as lucky cause you did work hard to get where you are, but there is that element of luck to this. You were on the market at the right time, or you made the right connection, um, you know, with a, with a search committee. Um, and if there are 14 jobs, last I heard there were 14 jobs, um, in our field compared to 60 or 80 last year at this time. We are coming from a place of privilege when, and any one of us could have ended up doing adjuncting work and do being cause we are all really dedicated teachers. We care about our students deeply just like all of our adjunct and colleagues do. So if there were ways to change our disciplines and to make homes for them and stable homes for them in our institutions, our students can only benefit from that.

So as we start to wrap it up, um, we’ve talked about our back channel. We talked about, women’s showing up, we’ve talked about women being a power and, and the next generations coming up, being empowered. So what is one thing that you wish all women associated with higher education? So in it, or around it or outside of it, what do you wish they knew? Or what do you wish they practiced?

AP: Compassion for themselves. I find it much easier to have compassion towards others than myself when I have a lot on my plate. And I suspect the same is true for a lot of us.

JV: My pet peeve, the thing that I wish all women would know and do is stop apologizing. Reframe it. I’ve been working on this for about two or three years now. I don’t say, I’m sorry. I’m late. I say, thank you for your patience. Thank you for waiting. I don’t say, you know, I’m sorry that I forgot to reply to your message, which happened this morning. I’ll say things like thank you for reminding me that when I see women do it and, and I see it happening in administration too. And that’s where it drives me batty is when women apologize for taking up space, and they have great ideas, the men in the room just share their ideas. And the women are like, Oh, you know, well, I was thinking, and maybe in, you know, but it’s, but it’s a Friday. So who knows? And I’m just like, no, you have good ideas, state them. So I, I just, if there was one Thing I wish women would do Or knew it is don’t apologize. And especially don’t apologize for taking up space.

SF: Yeah. I think they’ve already, they’ve already said all the things I was thinking about, but you can see the common theme here is that, you know, that old adage that, um, women take care and men take charge and, and, and although it might sound strange, the one thing I wish women in higher education would do would be to take less care of everyone else and, and stop feeling like the department’s problems are, are your problems. I, sometimes we have to own part of, you know, we’re part of the problem. We have to own that. Um, but we own our students’ problems and we own our university’s problems and we own the bookstores problems when the students can’t get their books on time. And, and so I, I wish women, I guess what I wish is that women would, I’ll try to combine them all, have compassion for themselves and stop apologizing for having good boundaries, like protect your space, you know, protect yourself, protect your space. And don’t apologize for doing that.

RPR: One of the things that I’m thinking, you know, adding to what, what you all have said is this, this idea that there is not a single ounce of competition among any of us. Right. It’s just not there. We would start laughing if someone tried to

JV: we’re so competitive, ironic part of it!

RPR: there’s just nothing there. We all value each other for our different strengths. Um, and for who we are as people. So, and we’ve talked about it being kind of, it’s not something that created immediately, right? It is something that we built up over time, but I, my wish is for women in higher ed to find those people, right. It doesn’t have to be a group of 10 people. It doesn’t have to be a women’s group. You know, it can be two people, right. That you connect to and that you feel comfortable with having these conversations because these conversations make be a better person and a better professional. Right. Who knows how I would have handled certain situations if I hadn’t run it through you guys first. Right. And, and I, and I know the same has happened for you too. Right. And it’s not that I was weak or didn’t know how to handle a situation. It was, you know, I need a gut check. Is, am I on the right track here? Because I’m going to respond badly if I don’t just test this a little bit with folks, or is my anger justified here, or is my concern justified here? And the opportunity to return that, to return that support I think is, is, is one of the most important things. It’s not, I don’t never feel like I’m taking from role feel like we’re always giving to each other, even when it seems like we might be taking, if that makes any sense.

SF: Yeah. And I think to find those people, you have to be willing to be those people, right? So it’s, it’s the first time your colleague or somebody you may not know very well comes to you. And they’re excited because they got a grant or they got a publication and you have to quell that imposter syndrome that rises up in all of us to say, you got something good. And that must say something bad about me. Right. So we have to be those people that say, I can share on your accomplishment and I can be happy for you. And that doesn’t mean there’s not space for me in the discipline. There’s not value to the research that I’m doing, or this person got a teaching award, so I must not be a great teacher. You have to be that person. I think that opens up the space and says there’s room for all of us. And then you, you tend to attract like attracts like, right. When you say, gosh, so-and-so took that. So, well, I really want to talk to her again. So I think we have to be those people.

RPR: So any last minute thoughts about back channels, about women in higher ed, before we go ahead and wrap it up?

JV: my thought was, as I was writing out, my notes for today was that, um, you know, humans are pack animals and you all are my pack.

SF: I love it.

RPR: And we’re all crying now.

AP: And you know, I especially love it as a dog person.

RPR: We will include pictures of Ashley’s dog, Martypants, in the show notes, because he is the best dog ever standing. Your dog is adorable too, but he’s younger. So he went to the bachelor award when the senior, the senior citizen award. Well, thank you guys so much for being here as always. It’s lovely to chat with you and we should do this face to face much more often. Thanks for having us.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the agile academic podcast for women in higher ed, to make sure you don’t miss an episode. Follow the show on Apple and Google podcasting apps and bookmark the show page where you’ll find show notes and a transcript with each episode, you’ll find the show at Rebecca Pope brewer.com/podcast. If you’d like to recommend someone to interview, please just complete the contact form at the bottom of the page. Take care and stay well.


The Agile Academic Podcast

Welcome to the agile academic, a podcast for women in and around higher education. In this first season, I talk with my guests from all over academia about a wide range of topics, from teaching and research, to writing and speaking, to career vitality and burnout and everything in between.

The podcast launches January 26, 2021, so watch this space! Here’s a little hint of what you’ll find on the show!


Minisode Transcript

Hello listeners! Welcome to episode 0.5 of the agile academic, a podcast for women in and around higher education. I talk with our special guests about career vitality to burnout and everything in between. I’m your host, Dr. Rebecca Pope-Ruark.

In this minisode, I thought I’d tell you a little about myself, the concept of the show, and even tease some moments with guests in the first 8 episodes coming this spring.

I’ve been wanting to do a podcast for a while, but it was actually the pandemic that spurred me to make it happen. I’m usually pretty introverted when it comes to reaching out to people I don’t know very well – or at all – but that became standard practice once many of us started working from home. I found myself reaching out to people I’d connected with on Twitter and other internet groups to just schedule chats to break up the day and meet someone face-to-face.

So, I’m having these really interesting conversations, and realized that this is the podcast. Telling stories with women in a and around higher education, some faculty, some administrators, some outside of traditional academia. Each with their own unique story to tell about their relationship to higher education, what drives them, what excites them, what drains them, what inspires them.

My goal for the show is to interview 100 inspiring women about their experiences pursuing purpose, compassion, connection, and balance in the academy and beyond. Why purpose, compassion, connection, and balance? That takes us a little bit into my story.

I taught writing, professional communication, and rhetoric to undergrads for 17 years, including five years as a graduate instructor of record during my PhD. Out of grad school I landed my dream job at a medium-sized, private, liberal arts-focused where I eventually earned tenure.

It was the perfect job. Until it just wasn’t. I was a productive faculty member – good teaching evals, good publications including a couple books, good scholarly reputation. I loved teaching, did quite a bit of service, and tried to keep up by research agenda.

But eventually I pushed myself over a cliff of overwork and into a deep period of burnout, that took me 3 years and a few major life changes to get over.

So where does my focus on purpose, compassion, connection, and balance come from? They are the four aspects of my life and work that helped me to overcome burnout. I’m writing about it now in a book about burnout and women faculty. In interviewing and doing research for that book, I’ve realized how important these four, let’s call them pillars, shape our professional and personal well-being.

And that’s the point of the podcast. My goal for the show is to interview 100 inspiring women about their experiences pursuing purpose, compassion, connection, and balance in the in and around higher ed.

So, what can you expect? Every Tuesday in this 8 episode season, you can expect a new interview with an agile academic woman from all walks across and adjacent to higher ed. We’ll talk about our stories, compare notes, share insights, and have a laugh. We talk about teaching writing, researching, serving, and generally living as a human in higher education.

Who will I be talking to, you ask? Here are some hints…

Guest: The word higher and higher education. It does mean something to me. And you know, I, I know we might touch on purpose, the topic of purpose today. Um, I think sometimes I feel like we’ve lost our way a bit in higher ed and I wish we talked more about what are we doing here? What is our, why? Uh, what is our purpose as higher educators? What does the word higher mean to us? For me in part, it means helping our students to become happier, healthier, more fulfilled people for like three or four weeks.

Guest: I noticed that like, I go to bed. It doesn’t matter when I go to bed, I somehow wound up with like between four or five hours of sleep. And like, this is not, no, this is not where we live. And I realized that the, that was a way that anxiety had reappeared in my life. Like it was really undermining. It’s like I actually had to yell at my brain and say, I’m not working at 2:30 in the morning. I’m tired. I’ve taught the body body, mind and soul me to sleep.

Guest: I think it’s very cool that we’re all we’re close in age, but we’re not all the same age we’re close and where we are in our careers, but not exactly the same place in our careers. And so every time someone has a question, there’s a, there’s a balanced perspective that comes from being close to people who are not in your institution, because there’s a, uh, an objectivity in the sounding board that you may not get from the connections you have at your own institution, which are also important. But, but for me, that, that balanced perspective where we’re just as likely to cheer each other on, as we are to say, you know, maybe your Dean has a point or maybe that student had something else going on. Those, those kinds of a safe place where people can kind of tell you to check yourself, but it’s not the end of a relationship. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible professor, that kind of balance. I think there’s something really beautiful about being able to talk to people who aren’t at your institution.

I hope you’ll join me for each of these wonderful conversations for episode one. I chat with three of the most influential women in my life and career over the last 10 years. I couldn’t imagine kicking off the podcast with anyone else. Can’t wait to share that first episode with you. Thanks for joining me on the agile academic podcast. More soon. Thanks for listening to this episode of the agile academic podcast for women in higher ed, to make sure you don’t miss an episode. Follow the show on Apple and Google podcasting apps and bookmark the show page where you’ll find show notes and a transcript with each episode, you’ll find the show@rebeccapopethrougharc.com slash podcast. Take care and stay well.

I hope you’ll join me for each conversation. For the episode 1, I chat with three of the most influential women in my life and career over the last 10 years. I couldn’t imagine kicking the podcast off with anyone else!

So you don’t miss an episode, follow the show on the Apple and Google podcasting apps (coming soon!), and bookmark the show page listed in the show notes. You’ll find show notes and a transcript with each episode. If you’d like to recommend someone to interview, please just complete the contact form at the bottom of the page.

Thanks for joining me on the agile academic, and more soon!

Agile Evolution

TL;DR: I’m excited about 2020 – I have a great job and am loving my new city! I got a book contract! I’m starting coaching training! I’m taking a hiatus from regular blogging, but I’ll be posting the occasional worksheet here and sharing my project progress on Twitter. Read More

Why SWOT when you can SOAR? Read More

Hi Agile Faculty! It’s Worksheet Wednesday, and as promised, here is a short video walk-through of the team assessment rubric worksheet and how I use it. Read More

Our November theme is assessing group projects, which can be challenging no matter how complex the project. Do you assign a group grade for the final product? Assign individual students a grade based on how their peers say they contributed to the project? Read More

Why don’t my students know how to collaborate? Why do they only ever divide and conquer? I realized over time that this was the wrong question, a classic “it’s me, not you” scenario. Read More

Here’s a video of me talking through the Creating Strong Teams worksheet, sharing where the idea came from, how it might be useful for both you in thinking about setting up your student teams for success and for the students themselves to establish ground rules and early group cohesion. Read More

Dealing with Proposal Rejection

So I sent my Professor Burnout proposal to the publisher I thought most likely to appreciate the potential of the book. After about six weeks of waiting to hear back, I found out they had decided to pass. Read More