Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Meetings with your academic advisor - a humorous interpretation

Is it just me or does it seem like there are two very different takes on the graduate school advisor-advisee relationship?! Allow me to introduce you to Bob Wiley - a man who can illustrate all of life's dilemmas. Ladies and gentlemen, a hypothetical (typical?) grad/advisor meeting as illustrated by "What About Bob?" (with a couple other additions).

You, upon bumping into your very busy advisor and realizing it's the perfect opportunity to get a rescheduled meeting on the calendar with them:

Still, seeing an opportunity, you try to wrangle a little time from your advisor's calendar given how many times the meeting has already been reschedule...

...and you'd REALLY like to get a little help with some suggestions for how to free yourself from the tar pit trap you seem to be slowly sinking into - the situation feels a little desperate. The interaction doesn't go exactly as you pictured it going. And now you're worried about how you think your advisor sees this interaction.

Finally, they acquiesce...

...and you get a rescheduled meeting date nailed down:

Fast forward to the day of your meeting. You realize you're not as prepared as you wanted to be (probably from poor planning) you attempt to get yourself mentally ready.

FINALLY, the moment arrives!

You sit down with your advisor for them to immediately note - quite correctly but for the umpteenth time - how little progress you've made in your research over the last few months. Then they ask you - "So, what's the problem?"

Now fully unsure of yourself and how to respond, you come up with some dim-witted excuses to try to absolve yourself of some (all?) of the responsibility, to pin the blame elsewhere, anywhere, on them!

...and my bladder explodes.

To which your already-pressed-for-time advisor responds:

Now you, feeling understandably like a heel, leave the meeting worrying about how messed up you are and wondering if it will ever get better. It feels a bit like the dark soul of night. So, to cope, you fall back into old habits.

...before wisely seeking help from the Counseling And Psychiatric Services (CAPS) program on campus.

Bill. Frickin'. Murray. Comedic genius. And perfect salve for all that ails you.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Revisiting some things core to me

I love that Facebook routinely dredges back up posts and pictures from years past. The picture Facebook brought back this morning reminded me of a couple of core, foundational aspects of who I am, of my true heart - nature inspires me and I love sharing that inspiration with others, with you.

Eight years ago today, on a tiny creek in the Willamette Valley just outside of Corvallis, Oregon, on a cold and blustery Fall day, I was warmed inside by the fascination, curiosity and inspiration I saw in the faces, minds and hearts of a bunch of homeschooled children and their parents (short photo album) as we explored parts of nature they had rarely seen or interacted with - it's one thing to know about something; it's another thing entirely to understand it, to feel the connection to something broader than our own private spaces. The collective fascination we all held that day was captivating.

I've mused about this sense of awe and wonder, curiosity and inspiration a lot over the years - still regularly do. I wrote this blog post (reflection) shortly after one of these field trips.

...then wrote about a related notion a few years later - fostering a sense of place.

Today, I was reminded these things are core to who I am as a person. And I love sharing this with you all. All of this from a simple Facebook reminder of an image I posted eight years ago today. Sometimes the little things remind me of something much larger - what a marvelous little big reminder today. Thank you, Facebook, for reminding me of this memory...and of something much larger.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Five keys to an effective team

Image credit: Google Finance

The Google re:Work project team spent two years studying one hundred eighty teams looking for the secret formula for success. What they found was quite different from what they expected.

The most successful shared five traits, four of which may be familiar to you. Team members:

  • believed their work mattered (what the re:Work team called "impact"),
  • were working on things that were personally important to them (meaning of work),
  • had clearly defined goals, roles and plans to carry out the work (structure and clarity), and
  • could count on each other to do quality work on time (dependability).

The most important team characteristic or trait the Google re:Work team found, however, was the surprise to them. Any guesses on what the fifth and seemingly most important team trait was - the cornerstone and foundation of the other four?

The team worked in a space where they felt they could take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other without fear of judgment, reprisal or being cast in a negative light (what the re:Work team called "psychological safety").

You can check out the original Google re:Work post about this research, here.
Image credit: Google re:Work

As a researcher examining the effectiveness of social learning networks, I've seen all of these characteristics or team traits play out in the network setting. And it doesn't surprise me they are important in successful network dynamics as social networks can sometimes act, in many ways, like large teams.

What struck me about this fifth and most important team characteristic, however, was the degree of similarity, the complementarity of something I see appearing time and again in discussions and interviews with learning network members: when there is little fear of reprisal (or the opposite, encouragement of "risk-taking") and team leaders actively create safe spaces for sharing, the best forms of creativity, innovations and novel approaches often emerge.

That's not to say that whole host of other factors are not important. In fact, they often are and work strongly in conjunction with each other (e.g., connectedness to and familiarity with others, trust, shared passion and interest, belief in what you're doing will make a difference, shared identity building, etc.). But this DOES underscore the importance of safe spaces to speak your mind about things without fear of reprisal or judgement.

In my work, I have been calling this characteristic - this safe space or place where network members seem to be very engaged, productive and successful because they feel they've been given the freedom to take risks, to try new things, to experiment and fail - a feeling of the "freedom to fail". And in this place where there is freedom to experiment (and fail), it seems effective network teams are fostering conditions where the most creative, the most innovative and novel solutions emerge.

Have you noticed a safe space or the freedom to take risks (and fail) creating productive and successful conditions in the spaces you work in? I'd love to hear more about your experiences in the comments, below.

#makeworkbetter #takerisks #safespaces #freedomtofail #creativity #innovation #learningnetworks #socialnetworks #solutions

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A reflective thought for the morning - life's path and a PhD

"Wonder" - flickr user Jeremy Isaacson
Fifteen years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, I would see PhD opportunities come through my email stream almost daily and I'd gaze at them, wondering if I could do it, longing to try, to test my mettle, yearning for more learning.

A little less than five years ago, at the encouragement of my partner​, we decided the timing was right to at least see if this path was one we wanted to take. After lots of discussion, even more prayer, and so. much. time listening for answers - the answers came in. And they came in by the shipload. It was clear that I was being called to teaching and education. In what capacity, I didn't know (still don't). But a PhD was THE next step to take.

Trusting in those assurances we were heading in the right direction, but not seeing/knowing the outcome - where would it lead me, what sort of job would I eventually be in, where would we be living, etc. - was incredibly difficult for me...because I'm a planner and like the control of my own destiny. But I soon came to realize I was focusing too much on the exact path and where it took me rather than lifting my head and looking around, appreciating the moment and everything around me. And it's glorious! I'm still working on honing this new perspective for me, but it's lovely, this horizon line.

After swallowing the collective lumps in our throats, steadying our nerves, and trusting in the ways that are right and just, we stepped off into the the great unknown. And what a journey it's been. It's not always easy - in fact, many times the path is fraught with troubles. But I'm so grateful to be in this PhD program, in this moment in my life, with such remarkable support from friends, family, and my partner and children.

All this, and so much more, came immediately bubbling up when I saw an email in my inbox this morning for a PhD opportunity at Iowa State University. While I have taken to passing over these PhD opportunity emails (at least for the time being), for whatever reason seeing the email this morning struck me quick. And helped me realize just how grateful I am to be here. If I wouldn't have listened to my heart, listened to trusted friends and family around me, nor had my head up and eyes and ears open to all the signs pointing me here, I may still be sailing troubled waters.

Funny how these things happen.

If YOU have ever been curious about graduate school and want to chat, I'm happy to - leave a comment here and we'll connect. If you're looking for a listing of federal jobs, check out USA Jobs. If you're looking for graduate school jobs, check out NatureJobs and ScienceCareers. If you're a recent graduate of college, or a current student, check out this job board. Looking for a fisheries career, check out the AFS jobs board (THE most visited page on their website). Looking for a wildlife career, check out TWS jobs board. Looking for academic jobs, check out Chronicles of Higher Education's job postings. Looking for non-academic jobs, check out VersatilePhD.

Thank you for sharing this reflective moment with me. Now go follow your heart.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gun violence, regulation, and love


Meriah Calvert prays during a candlelight vigil on Oct. 1 in Roseburg, Oregon.

Until this world is made new, violence will not stop. Until then, we pursue love...

Some may scoff at such things, but since about 11am Mountain Time, I've been in knots about something...something that felt both distant and near. I couldn't place my finger on it. But it was as real and tangible to me as the keyboard on which I type. Then this. Do you recall the "life force" that Yoda talks about in "Star Wars", the the force or influence that gives something its vitality or strength, the spirit or energy that animates living creatures? Being plugged into this has been something to which I seem to have been born. And a piece of it, a piece with a distinct signature (my hometown), was not right. Now I know why. But knowing why doesn't take the pain away nor make sense of the senselessness. God, please let love flow. Please help us to keep hatred and malice and blame away. Please help us to see this world made new. Please help us to love...
Get this image from the Ford Family Foundation

In response to a recent mass shooting at the community college I attended and where I met my wife, I was recently asked about my 'take' on open carry policies at schools.

I'm still not fully sure of my take.

I don't believe gun violence is the problem. The violence is symptom of larger, more deeply-seeded issue(s). Issues of poverty of mind/soul/bank accounts, people feeling unloved and in utter despair, mental illness, lack of belonging, and so many others!

I  support open and concealed carry, both. I regularly carry during hunting season and when playing in the woods (familiarity with firearm use is tremendously important, in my mind). I think a policy of MANDATED  carry is problematic (e.g., the timid/uncomfortable are probably better off not carrying). Neither do I want children carrying.

Safety is illusory. And fleeting. And the risk of something happening to you/me from a deranged shooter is so minuscule (our chances of being struck by a car are so many orders of magnitude higher) that putting guns in the hands of many more incompetent handlers without some sort of training or regular check-in on their competency levels gives me considerable pause. We don't balk at mandatory hunters safety courses before we are allowed to hunt. We don't balk at having regulations on the dairy industry keeping blood and puss levels below an "acceptable" level in our glasses of milk. We don't balk at having regular check-in with drivers license or for aged drivers. We don't allow children to drive. I don't think I have many issues with making gun ownership more rigorous (e.g., required education programs, safety, handling, situational scenario play, routine relicensing, etc.). Yet, I also worry about someone keeping track of my guns (or any of my belongings; strange that we largely find it acceptable for businesses to keep track of our purchasing/browsing habits, though; whole other topic).

Would I rather have more rigorous gun ownership requirements (presuming there is sufficient public oversight so as to keep from government overrun) than not? I think so. It would depend on the likelihood of such requirements thwarting potential attacks. The gun lobby is tremendously powerful and has ensured our right to continued bearing of arms. Sadly, I find the gun lobby and its message to have been mostly hijacked by a few individual businessmen bent primarily on profits. I get economic motivations. I like to make money, too. But profits have taken center stage over values (to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness). We cannot serve two masters (God and money).

Navy Yard Shooting, Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle
I don't see this as an all-or-nothing issue (everyone with a gun vs. nobody or just police/military with guns). It seems like there IS common ground (public opinion polls bear this out). But our governance system is so in shambles and public confidence in it at all-time lows, I'm not sure new policies would be as effective at addressing the ROOT(s) of the problem (mentioned previously) as they should be. Too many policies, in my mind, do less about addressing problems as they do addressing symptoms. If I have a cancerous tumor, I don't want to just treat the pain it brings. I want the cancer itself treated and gone. Sadly, I don't think enough policies have this sort of focus. Well-intentioned, maybe (probably?). But still missing the mark.

Long story even longer, I'm still not how to get to B (less gun violence) from A (here). But neither unregulated access nor complete lockdown seem to be viable options (either end of the spectrum). There is a middle ground, of that I'm sure (very few issues have simple yes/no, right/wrong answers). How to get there, however...another story.

But I leave you with a poem that - upon re-reading it today - struck me particularly deeply: Wendell Berry's The Peace of Wild Things. (or hear Wendell read it)

Rest in the grace of the world, and be free.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Happiness to me is...

From The Shadowwolf on DeviantArt.

Reflection and contemplation can sometimes come at the most unexpected moments and seemingly without reason (although I don't believe anything happens without purpose...but I digress).

I was sitting in my office today busily working on getting my teaching materials all buttoned up while listening to background music when a "song" prompted me to pause and listen with intention. I say "song" because it was really spoken word set to music. It was hauntingly beautiful and it elicited an almost yearning sensation in me. The "song" was called "Happiness" from the Spoken Word Album by One Hello World. He does some very interesting stuff. Check out his blog and SoundCloud site.


What is happiness for me? I certainly cannot fully capture it in a blog post. Nor with the written or spoken word. So I'll just have to list some things that bring me happiness.

Simplicity, hearts connecting, fellowship with community, loving and being loved, in tune with natural rhythms, the feeling after a good cry, helping others, giving freely, being fully immersed in music, feeling the spirit move within, a fine single malt Scotch or craft beer, time in reflection, everything about water, the feeling of a fish on the end of my line on a fly I tied, standing atop a mountain after a hard hike and taking in everything [EVERYTHING!], contemplation in an alpine meadow, smokey sunsets, laying under the stars and thinking about life and meaning, the smell of fresh rain, watching clouds, and so many other things.

In three words - LIVING FULLY ALIVE!

What is happiness for you?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Conversation. Serendipity. Inspiration.

To say the last few hours have been interesting would be to somehow shortchange the experience.

It started over lunch and conversation with a new friend. Proceeded to a sidewalk conversation with someone I didn't know from Eve. And concluded with a passing hallway conversation with a wise, old colleague. What's been most interesting, at least to me, is how conversation after conversation today, each with different people and each initiated by the other (not me), has revolved around a similar topic. It's as if each person was playing some scripted role in a play, a play in which I am participating but was unaware I was an actor. I almost feel like I'm walking through a dream or a movie. It's an odd feeling. I wonder if this is how Harold Crick felt in Stranger Than Fiction.
IMDB link here:
So strange, in fact, that I could not help but reflect on them right after they happened. Which is rather ironic considering each of the conversations was about discipline in the practice of reflecting. This whole situation is made even more interesting to me in that I've been giving 'reflection' a fair bit of thought over the last few months. It feels rather like...serendipity.

The first conversation had me thinking about spiritual reflection and personal growth. The second had me thinking about philosophical reasons for reflection. The third had me thinking about the importance of reflection in academics and for learning.

Why reflection? Beyond appreciation, compassion and community? Well, one of the key pieces of the scientific method includes reflection. Philosophers spend careers reflecting on reflecting. Some of the most influential thinkers of all time - Socrates, Plato (Aristocles) and Aristotle - advocated for reflection. And the seminal writings in nearly every world religion give considerable credence to reflection. Yet for all this, it seems too few of us in this fast-paced modern world of ours are truly good at taking time to reflect, instead too plugged in to technology we often forget to be present in the moment. So I've been disciplining myself to regularly unplug and just spend time both in the moment and reflecting on previous moments, if even just for 20 minutes each day.

It is (and I am) a work in progress. But I'm now finding it easier to see how the events and situations and people and things around me connect to each other and to my own life. And it's helping me become more aware of how it all shapes my own thinking and worldview. To me, reflection feels inspiring...and I love feeling inspired. What inspires you?