Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#1 Establishing Your Absence


From Alison Bridger, Chair,
Meteorology Department,
San Jose State University

For me the real key to managing my time came when I realized the value of 'establishing my absence.' In the beginning, as a young assistant professor, I was mainly concerned with establishing my presence, of being seen on campus and in my office by my students, colleagues, and of course the administration. But then, during my first sabattical, I had an opportunity to spend some time at NASA and the contacts I made during this period led to my subsequently spending every Thursday at the Center. This was a really lifesaver! I was amazed at how much I could accomplish. I could collaborate with my colleagues for periods of time that just weren't available to me back on campus.

At my kind of institution (Master's granting) you have to make research a priority at least some of the time every week, otherwise everything else will fill all your available time.. I began interacting with one NASA person on a project, then another and another to the point where I am now part of a whole research group. But this didn't happen overnight, it took a lot of work and regular meetings to get to this point."

The bottom line is that I find it really helps to go somewhere else to think and set up. This time away from campus enables me to work on important, non-urgent things I would otherwise ignore. Plus, my students and colleagues are now accustomed to the fact that at certain times during the week I will not be in my office.

Setting limits for myself this way also sets limits that others have for me. When all is said and done, I give my best effort and then I don't worry myself to death. The only way you can do everything everybody wants you to do is to overdo it and wor k all hours of the day. I believe this can do great damage to both your professional and your personal life. In academia there is a syndrome of workaholics whose marriages break up, and they die early. So it got to the point where I said, "This is what I can do, take it or leave it." All you can do is give a sustained, but realistic effort. It's worked for me and to a large extent it has helped me to have a successful academic career and a balanced and satisfying personal life.