January 21, 2011

Avoiding my department

Yesterday, I ran into a professor I hadn't seen for a while. Not one that I work with, but one who would be good to have on my side. She mentioned that she hadn't seen me around the department much lately.

Without thinking, I said brightly, "I'm on fellowship now, so I don't have to come in unless I want to!"

I had the sense not to finish with "and it turns out I almost never want to." And then I rambled about being very busy with field work to make up for it... but it still felt like a really dumb thing to say.

This year, I have been mostly absent from lectures, department parties, job talks. This is mostly because the lectures haven't been relevant, the job talks aren't in my field, and I don't feel like going to the parties... but also because I feel like I should protect my research time.

I already have a hard time making myself sit down and work for an entire day. If I go to campus for anything, I spend up to two hours getting ready and traveling there by bus, then there's the event itself, the ride home, and the decompress time. Which means I don't do any work for the entire afternoon. When I had an office, I could spend the day working on campus, taking a break for the talk. But now that I don't have anywhere to work in my department, I have to turn around and go home when the event is over, making it a very inefficient use of my time.

So the "con" for attending most events is 1) I don't want to go, 2) It's a hassle to get to campus, 3) I won't do any work for hours. While the "pro" is 1) it looks good to show up for that stuff. Con wins almost every time. Occasionally I actually want to go to a talk, and then I do show up -- but in a department with four subfields, the majority of talks are not related to my area at all.

I know that faculty members are expected to show up for everything, but I get the sense that grad students get more of a pass, especially advanced students on dissertation work. Most students in my program travel to distant locations during 5th year, and 6th+ years just avoid the department, so there are almost never advanced students at this stuff. I certainly don't feel like my advisors hold my lack of attendance against me, especially since they know I'm doing field work now.

But other professors might hold it against me, and that could be bad. Also, when you disappear, people forget about you, and you are even less likely to be offered things like summer opportunities.

Still, on any given day, the rational choice seems to be "stay home and work." I have the rest of my life to be obligated to attend every damn thing... right?


  • I also am in a dept with four subfields, and try to avoid most dept functions for a variety of reasons, one of which is that talks, etc. are rarely relevant. This is my second semester back from field work abroad, and I have been focusing mostly on lab work and dissertation writing. i have a job on campus, but rarely visit my dept even when I'm on campus.

    Unfortunately, my advisor does not look kindly upon grad students skipping out on dept functions, and neither do the other faculty members. I may refer my advisor to your post, however, because you lay out my argument for my lack of attendance. :-) Thanks

    By Anonymous Bushbaby, at 1/22/11, 1:45 PM  

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