Sunday, July 28, 2013

In Sickness...

One of the more amusing conversations at the social part of the Microsoft faculty summit (initiated by the humorous commentary of Kevin Leyton-Brown) started with the idea that our support staff all have some number of sick days available to them, but faculty don't, because, I imagine, we're not supposed to get sick.  And certainly I (and I'm sure many faculty) can remember days where in less-than-perfect health we dragged ourselves in because it was our day to lecture.

Of course the truth is somewhat more complicated.  We don't have sick days, but generally professors have more flexible schedules.  We can generally schedule a doctor's appointment (or, sometimes more importantly, appointments for our children) during the week and leave work without having to check in or out.  I'm not sure I'd trade my flexibility for a number of sick days.  What we generally don't have, however, are plans for dealing with illness.  It's assumed that we'll be there when we're required.

After some number of years, this seems OK.  For my regular undergraduate class, I have complete lecture notes.  With a small amount of advance notice, I can have a grad student (or another faculty member) fill in for me, certainly for a lecture or if needed two.  My undergraduates classes are recorded;  in a real pinch, I could cancel class entirely, and get the video of the lecture from a previous class put online.  And sometimes, if the class is moving all right, it's OK just to cancel a class.  For my graduate class, there's more flexibility.  In the worst case, I could usually have a graduate student go in to lead a discussion on the reading or just talk about their own latest interesting work.  Other meetings or work just get pushed back or re-scheduled as needed, which I suppose is the same thing that happens with other professions.

Does anyone have other useful tips for faculty new or old for managing work while coping with temporary but non-trivial illnesses?

The conversation came back to me as I was sick most of this last week, and could not come in for several days.  This is summer, and I'm on sabbatical, so it was not as terrible as it would have been during the year.  But many of these issues arose.  Tuesday was a graduate student's defense that I was supposed to be at (and of course was hard to schedule);  I dragged myself in to work for it.  I believe that, if I hadn't been able to drive in, Harvard rules would have allowed me to "attend" by Skype or some other video service.  But that's obviously not the desired plan, and I admit I felt obliged to be there, having committed to going, despite feeling ill.  By Wednesday I was at the doctor's and getting antibiotics, and any meetings were either cancelled or moved to Skype/Google hangouts.  Electronic meetings while laying in bed are, for better or worse, now possible when sick.  An undergraduate doing summer research with me had set up a lunch with a group of students for me to talk to, and I had to cancel that, guiltily.

In the end the lack of sick days doesn't bother me.  Getting sick does, though.  I can't recommend it.  I feel fortunate I don't get sick that often -- maybe something about our line of work prevent us from getting sick frequently.

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