Thursday, June 03, 2010

What Work to Give Up?

I'm not yet sure how many hours a week being a Chair (oops, "Area Dean") will chew up, but I think it's safe to say it will be a non-trivial number.  I'm generally a fairly busy person, and while I imagine I'll have to (somewhat happily!) cut down on my bad TV-watching habit, I'll also be cutting back on some of my other work responsibilities.  Obviously, as much as possible, I'd like "research time" not to be part of those cutbacks.  (I've heard that's a problem with this job in general.)  As Matt's blog post on secret lives of professors calls attention to, professors are just naturally overloaded;  it's good to stop and think once in a while about what you can happily and safely do less of.

So, what could you give up to get yourself back a few hours a week?

For me, the blog is (sadly) one of those things.  Here's some other things on my list:

1)  Giving up an editor position:  I'm going to step down as an editor of SICOMP.  I've found I really don't enjoy being an editor -- the only thing worse than reviewing a paper yourself is having to cajole someone into agreeing to review a paper and then, after getting reminded yourself by the automatic system how long it has been since the paper was submitted, having to go back and cajole the reviewers into actually finishing the review.  I'm happy to give it up.  On the other hand, it won't save me so much time;  I dislike the job so much I already avoid spending time on it now...

2)  Fewer PC committees:  I'm generally a bit too friendly about agreeing to serve on PCs.   I counted and it looks like I've done about 35 over the last 10 years.  Some have been small and some have been big, but that seems, from what I can tell, to be more than average.  (What's the "average"?  Is it different for networking people than for theory people?) 

I don't want to give up on doing PCs completely.  I find they're fun and interesting.  But I think I'll cut it to 1 or 2 a year while on the job.  Strangely, I'm most likely to say no to "small" conferences (like FUN, or ANALCO, say).  They take less time, but I find they're less fun and interesting to do. 

There's one thing that would definitely get me to a PC.  I chaired STOC last year, and think it could be fun to instead (co)-chair a networking conference.  Hint, hint, hint, powers-that-be...

3)  Less reviewing.  I seem to get asked to review papers a lot.  (In part, I suppose, because I'm "well-branded".  If it says "Bloom filter" on the title, and I didn't write it, odds are it's being sent to me.  To a lesser extent, that's also true for "cuckoo hashing", "deletion codes", and things related to the power of two choices.  I aslo get lots of things related to various flavors of LDPC codes and power laws.  Like other bloggers I hope to do a post on "branding" in the future, but this is one of the downsides.)

I've gotten much better about saying no to reviewing since tenure, and even moreso since our third child was born.  But I'm sure I can do better about saying no.  (And I'm sure I'm still doing more than average.)

4)  Less "other university work".   I'm on one or two university committees that don't take much time but aren't really important.  Good time to drop those.

Looking at all these things, it's clear I'm aiming at reducing other service activities, which happily makes sense.  Since serving as Area Dean is really a service activity (for Harvard), other service activities are the first to cut in its place.  As much as possible, I don't want my home life, research, teaching, advising, and consulting time to suffer. 


Dimitris Leventeas said...

Is it painful to make these choices or do they come naturally to you as you mature/grow up?

I would prefer an answer in a more an abstract level. I am a student curious about how a(n) (well-known) academic feels about these things.

Anonymous said...

What is it about your TV-watching habit that is bad?

Dave Backus said...

It's like having kids, you're forced to be ruthlessly efficient with your time. Just remember: despite periodic complaints, being a professor is a wonderful thing. Enjoy it.

My question: what to watch now that I've seen all the Buffy's.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Dave: The rest of the Whedon oeuvre is excellent too. I really recommend Firefly, which I admit I didn't watch when it was on, but is available on Hulu. I really enjoyed much of Angel -- at times I recall enjoying it more than Buffy when both were on. And of course if you haven't seen Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, you're really missing something.

Perhaps Veronica Mars? For current shows, my wife and I find Modern Family really funny. I have a weakness for Chuck.

Anon #2: My problem is I watch too much bad TV. (I also watch some good TV, although of course some people would argue there is no such thing.)

Anonymous said...

Best series ever: The Wire. The Wire will transform your understanding of institutions, individuals, and how the former fail the latter.

Runners up: Curb your enthusiasm, Mad Men, Sopranos, Lost seasons 2-5, Battlestar seasons 1-2.

Jico said...

Lol, and I was wondering where the Buffy questions came from.

Unknown said...

I have a weakness for Chuck.

How dare you call that "bad TV"! I too, though, was curious about your TV-watching habits.

Less reviewing. I seem to get asked to review papers a lot. In part, I suppose, because I'm "well-branded"

I know what you mean; just the other day this Harvard professor I knew asked me to review a paper on my subject of expertise....