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Volume 55     Number 2    October 2017      Editor: Tara Behrend

Meredith Turner
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Academic's Forum: On Reminding Yourself That Everything (Truly) Is Fine

Allison S. Gabriel, University of Arizona

I skipped writing an article for the July 2017 TIP, and that was intentional. When Morrie Mullins approached me back in 2014 to write this column, he told me that he wanted me to write about my experience as an assistant professor—the good, the bad, and the in between—and I like to think that thus far I’ve held up my end of the bargain. By and large, as I read back columns I’ve written, I can hear my voice in all of them, and I hope that the things I’m saying are not only helpful but also a realistic view into my experiences and various thoughts thus far in my career. But, when I was writing my July 2017 column, I realized that what I was doing was writing a shiny version of a difficult time professionally—I was coming off a string of (sometimes really hurtful) manuscript rejections and was trying to write a column about how to deal with difficult news (first, do this… then, do this…). As I wrote and rewrote the column, I kept coming to the same conclusion: This doesn’t sound like me, and it’s not the truth. I emailed Tara Behrend quickly to say I couldn’t turn in a column because it wasn’t coming together and it didn’t sound like me, and she was gracious and understanding and gave me a much needed pass on the deadline.

The truth is, I love my job. I still can’t believe a lot of days that I get to go to work and solve academic puzzles and work with students and colleagues on research. But, the other truth is that this job requires a lot of mental toughness, and some days I don’t have it, and the process we are in as academics wears me down. For instance, publishing is constant a battle, and although I think I’ve been able to figure some things out—I try to keep my general panic tied to the words “high risk” to a minimum as much as possible, though my coauthors probably actively disagree with that—publishing is always going to take a lot of psychological and emotional stamina. As I mentioned above, about 3 months ago, I received a rejection and it hurt. If you talk to my coauthors, they’d tell you that I was frustrated, upset, and slightly shaken up more than I’d like to admit. I say this not looking for sympathy but rather because I worry that we don’t talk about this side of the story as much as we should. The journal publishing statistics are out there, and we know it’s a small numbers game—this is something I tell my students to prepare them for the realities of publishing in our field. Yet, we often just see the CVs that are polished and clean and hide the battle scars, unless you look at this professor’s CV, to which I bow down.

Around the time of the aforementioned rejection, a friend of mine received a rejection as well (from the same journal, to boot). We consoled each other via texts full of gifs and emojis to cheer each other up, and the next day we spoke on the phone because—rejections aside—we still had work on a paper that needed to get done. After rehashing our rejections and the reviewer comments that were so right or so wrong and everything else we could have maybe done differently, we both proclaimed: “Everything’s FINE.” We weren’t being sarcastic—everything is fine even when it’s not, because things come in waves with this type of job. There are periods where everything hits, and there are periods where everything crashes, but it all tends to balance out in the end. With everything going on in the world (and lately, there is a lot), I know that my stressors are peanuts in the bigger picture. So, this column isn’t about how to overcome rejection, or how to handle reviewers, because there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for either of those issues other than saying “stay resilient” and “answer all the things.” Instead, I’d like to take a few hundred words to highlight the people—in some very broad categories—that have helped me remember that everything’s fine while “on the mill.”

The person in your department who gets you/your work. I’m lucky to have worked in three departments counting my graduate program where I had folks up the hall or next door with whom I could be myself. I mean my absolute, authentic self—people who I could go into their office to vent, to celebrate, and to just express my frustration or anxiety with in a 100% judgment-free way. I realize that these people don’t always exist in a department, or there may be politics within a department that may preclude these kind of conversations from happening. But, that is yet to be my experience, and I’m hoping that never changes. As I mentioned a few columns back, this is even my policy when it comes to my doctoral students working with me—we talk about all of the feelings and thoughts tied to publishing, because what are we doing if we are pretending that there aren’t the ups and downs tied to this crazy research process?

The person in another academic department who knows the publishing process but not your work. I like the fact that I have several colleagues who have become close friends in other departments in the business school as well as outside the business school who can simply commiserate about the publication process without getting into the nitty gritty details of our research. Sometimes, I don’t want to talk about theoretical implications I’m trying to sell or the issues with the methods I’m applying or the complications I’m experiencing with a new type of analysis. That’s OK, because these conversations tend to take a deeper dive into discussions of well-being. Lunches focus on questions of whether I’m still running/training for any races as a way to cope with stress or how to balance work–family demands (work–husband–pet demands as of present is what I can contribute to this conversation). Sometimes, the conversations shift towards comparing tenure expectations across the different departments and the type of identity we are trying to create in the field. It’s nice to have people who are in the tenure process but not my exact tenure process. It’s just pure emotional support, and sometimes that’s all you need.

The coauthor at another school who will call you out when you need to calm down. I’m fortunate that a lot of my coauthors are the people I want to hang out with at a happy hour or dinner. In fact, I’ve literally traveled to spend time with colleagues at their universities to hang out and work for a few days (with a heavy emphasis on the hanging out part at times). Everyone needs the collaborators that they can call when a reviewer comment has you confused or perhaps feeling something a tiny bit stronger than confused. But, more importantly, I need collaborators who can sense when I’m a bit on edge and who feel comfortable enough telling me to get a grip or that the analyses are fine or the theorizing/construct labeling is working out as planned. Not only has finding collaborators like this made the research process more enjoyable all around, but they truly have helped me maintain my sanity when I’ve needed it the most.

The friend or family member that kind of has no idea what it is you actually do. Of course all of my friends and family outside of academia know what I do—they know I teach and that I write a lot and that I’m closing in on my tenure packet being submitted in the near future, and that’s a big deal requiring lots of champagne. But, they don’t all necessarily know the ins and outs of what I’m researching, and that’s nice for two reasons. First, when we do talk about what I’m researching, we really get to talk about it—it’s all new, and it’s fun to explain some of my projects. (Based on these conversations, one friend of mine thinks I have a love affair with Qualtrics, and it’s now a hilarious inside joke for both of us). But, the second reason it’s nice is research and tenure-related stress does not enter the daily conversation within these relationships. For me, I really need that. I need to have people in my life where I know that when I pick up the phone, we are going to talk about our spouses, and our pets, and the latest thing that happened on X trashy TV show that we enjoy watching. (I know you’re wondering, it’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette—and no, I’m not embarrassed by it.) Sometimes I need to be the person that isn’t analyzing latent profiles or creating panels in Qualtrics for the next data collection; instead, I need to be the person sharing the story of my cat who ate a foot of ribbon and the heroics Mike and I went through to…um, get the ribbon back. True story.

Cats. Just to perpetuate my cat-lady status, especially in light of that ribbon story.

The spouse, partner, significant other, or bed-rock figure(s) in your life. I don’t know if this makes Mike happy, sad, or indifferent, but he can now name the acronyms for most major I-O and management journals. He knows the names of my analysis software. He knows the latest reason why I’m pretty sure Reviewer 2 is out to get me. He knows how to help navigate my panic when I forget to pack my clothes for an interview and need to find a suit in a department store at 8PM the night before my job talk. (True story, again—this column is just highlighting that it is taking a literal village to keep me functioning.) He knows that this process is going to have a lot of ups and downs, even post-hopeful-tenure. In the 7 years we have been together, we’ve worked at three schools in three different states, lived in six houses, and the one thing that has remained constant is Mike’s support, even when it’s early in the morning and I haven’t had my coffee yet after a late night of writing. I feel fortunate that my parents have also been very much “in the know” during the tenure process—they too know the difference between AMJ and JAP—and that I have a collection of people who have been cheering since I started my Ph.D. program and decided it was a path to academia I wanted to follow.

So, as I find myself feeling a bit too overwhelmed with gratitude, I just want to finish this column by saying a huge thank you. And to my friends on the mill who are also living through the ups and downs, you know where to find me if you ever need me. Everything’s fine. Truly.

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