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Duke Faculty Share Tips on Juggling Professional and Personal Priorities

Like faculty members all across Duke, Claudia Gunsch is busier than ever. In her roles as Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering and Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement, she’s teaching three classes, running a research program and carrying out myriad administrative responsibilities. She is also the mother of three children in middle school. Due to the pandemic, her heavy schedule has gotten squeezed even more.

To help other faculty members navigate this challenging period, Gunsch led an online workshop with five panelists and about 50 participants on September 9. “Finding a Balance” was part of the Faculty Advancement and Success (FAS) workshop series.

Here are selected words of advice that panelists shared during the conversation, followed by a list of resources.

Don’t Worry About the Tenure Clock

Sally Kornbluth, Provost and Jo Rae Wright University Distinguished Professor

“Earlier in the spring, we granted a six-month extension for the tenure clock, and soon we’ll offer a blanket one-year extension to all pre-tenure faculty. They can just let chairs and deans know they’re taking it.”

Make Time for Your Own Work

Shai Ginsburg, Chair, Associate Professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies

“The first thing I do every morning is research. I block an hour during my most productive time of day. Even on my busiest days, I know I have at least an hour for working on my own research.”

Moira Rynn, Chair, Consulting Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

“Get very focused on what you really need to do for yourself. Be selfish about your own time for your needs and academic development.”

Be Specific About Your Contributions

Sally Kornbluth

“In the realm of career advancement, promotion and tenure, I’ll be talking with the deans and thinking about how we might change our dossiers. [One issue] is the ‘service tax’ on women and underrepresented faculty, those who are doing an unfair share of service. There’s no question that continued progress on scholarship will be important, but I do understand the struggle to balance research, teaching and service. I advise people to be very explicit in the dossier about how they think about teaching and service. It’s an opportunity that some people miss in terms of speaking directly and explaining what they’ve done with their time. [Another issue is] about how individuals contribute to creating a more inclusive environment, particularly in mentoring. We need to be more explicit about this. It’s an opportunity for people to think about how they will contribute to this, going forward.”

Request and Offer Flexibility

Heather Stapleton, Ronie-Richele Garcia-Johnson Distinguished Professor of Environmental Health

“I run a research lab with 14 people, and it was hard for us to accommodate social distancing [when labs reopened] in the summer. People have different approaches to how they respond to COVID. Try to find compromises. Keep in mind that some people are afraid to ask questions, so reach out to them.”

Moira Rynn

“[Due to parents’ responsibilities], we have changed the times at which we hold our meetings, which was an important switch for us. We are trying to have fewer meetings that are shorter, recorded and with an option to watch the recording instead of attending.”

Ask Your Chair for Help

Shai Ginsburg

“I have been meeting with faculty one-on-one and also in groups. My main job [as chair] is to make their life as comfortable as possible within the resources that I have. That includes being flexible about service and timelines but also reminding them we can help with technology and work settings. If you don’t have a good connection at home, we can do something about that. We can help faculty be comfortable working in this new environment.”

Be Honest About Your Limitations

Kimberly Blackshear, Director of the Time Away Office

“Your answer doesn’t have to be no, but ‘not right now.’ Anyone should be able to say, ‘I just can’t get to this now.’ Be honest about what your limitations are and why.”

Heather Stapleton

“My husband is an essential worker, and I’m home with my kids. I’ve let people know that everything will take longer. I have a big research program, and I get over 100 emails a day. I’ve started building in blocks to my calendar and schedule 2-3 hours when I can catch up. And I don’t schedule as many meetings as I normally do. We have to think about ourselves and not feel guilty about it.”

Share the Load

Moira Rynn

“Work with other colleagues and ask how can we divvy up the tasks. The more we can collaborate and work as team, the better we’ll get through this.”

Seek Help With Child Care

Kimberly Blackshear

“The Duke Parent listserv is for any parent in the Duke system. It’s like getting a referral or a recommendation from a colleague. We posted that we’re a family of six, seeking a nanny. It’s a wonderful resource, and it invites a lot of conversation.”

Moira Rynn

“We’ve been encouraging faculty and staff in my department to utilize Duke List to find child care options or for tutoring, etc. You can post that you’re looking for a particular kind of help.”

Give Yourself a Break

Kimberly Blackshear

“We are oftentimes our biggest critic. That can weigh on you and impact yourself physically. Accept the work you have done. Acknowledge feelings of stress and anxiety, instead of offering judgment to ourselves. PAS can help you develop an individualized wellness plan, for example. They offer virtual support, and faculty and staff can get up to eight sessions per year. If you’re able to maintain a portion of what you were doing [before the pandemic], know that that is productive.”

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Main image: Claudia Gunsch (far left) moderated the September 9 workshop, “Finding a Balance,” with panelists Sally Kornbluth, Shai Ginsburg, Moira Rynn, Heather Stapleton and Kimberly Blackshear