We Are Compassion

This week we banded together to support Diane Yoder (the PPEM Office Manager) and her family in the aftermath of the devastating fire that gutted their home Friday morning. Just IMG_4260as they have only begun to pull their lives back together, we have only begun to support them. Diane, Steve, their children, and their extended families are grateful for the support members of the department and college have been giving. When I think of the term WE ARE, it is our compassion for one another and our sense of community that I think of.

There will be plenty of opportunities to help in the coming weeks. The family will be moving into temporary housing and will be having their home rebuilt. We are still collecting clothing and household items for them. You can bring items to the conference room on Fridays or to my house (we are starting to store stuff in our garage). You might consider an anonymous cash donation which can be given to Christina Dorsey or you might give to the online campaign https://www.generosity.com/emergencies-fundraising/steve-and-diane-yoder-house-fire-fundraiser–2. In just two days we have raised ~$2000 mostly from donations of $25 and $50 online and more in cash. That is amazing. It is also impressive how many donations are coming from people in the college outside of our department.

IMG_4261Keep your eyes open for an opportunity to share more than a meal at our April potluck. Nancy and Judy are already scheming.

One thing that I truly appreciate about this department is that we come together to support each other. We are individuals with differences of opinion, but we work together for the good of the whole, while supporting each individual. Now more than ever the PPEM feels like family and like home. I am sure that Diane will appreciate that more than ever when she returns to work.

Thank you all for your compassion.



Wild and Precious Life

“She’s my favorite!” Rachel Martin said of Mary Oliver three days ago on NPR in discussing a new poetry book celebrating poets. She’s my favorite too and oddly, in the last week, I have heard three women including a yoga instructor, an author of a book on untapped skills, and now Rachel Martin talk about this American poet and winner of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize with veneration. It brought me back to her poem The Summer Day. When I interviewed for my current position I start my presentation to PPEM with a quote from this poem, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” This phrase is inspirational, full of possibility, and reminds us that we have something unique to contribute, a personal mission. The larger poem contemplates mortality and simple pleasures while inviting us to step out of our day-to-day to see the larger picture. I see this as my job for the department. I step out of the focus on my own research and pay attention to the larger picture of how our department fits within the college, the university, and our disciplines. I am conscious that our department can be inspired to reach its potential.

The value of working on something meaningful and fulfilling comes alive any time we are reviewing our plans for the coming year. We are now in the season when the faculty review their accomplishments for the last year and goals for the coming year with me. I ask, what is it you plan to do with this one year of your one wild and precious life and did your work this year take you closer to your ultimate goal and mission? Hopefully the work we did last year will inspire us to move forward to ensure that our choices continue to be something worthy of our limited time.

As spring begins tomorrow, I am contemplating how to accomplish all that I want to do this year while balancing time for hearth, heart, and health. Another rich and rewarding quarter year has come and gone. Each quarter adds up to a year and those slowly but surely add up to a lifetime. Now is the time to decide what will we do this spring to add to our “wild and precious life”?

Happy Spring Everyone,

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver


My personal mission statement is based on two principles. The first is the philosophy of Ubuntu which when directly translated into English from Bantu, means humanity. Ubuntu has many nuances. This video recording of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, describes the Bantu word Ubuntu and I think it is a part of this philosophy that most of the members of PPEM understand. We open our doors and welcome strangers. I often think that strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet.

Speaking of welcoming strangers, I want to thank everyone who participated in the Graduate Recruitment Weekend last week. We had 11 bright and dynamic students from


Friends we just hadn’t met yet. Graduate Student Recruiting Weekend 2017

around the US and Costa Rica travel to our PPEM home. I believe that they felt welcomed. We opened our doors and shared what we have to give. They are strangers no more. Thanks to the recruitment committee who did a great job of selecting outstanding candidates for us to interact with. We have two additional students headed our way in the next few weeks and I know you will make them feel as welcome. Thanks to the heroic job that Carol Boring and Beth Gugino did to make sure that the 11 students this week arrived here in time for their interviews despite Thursday’s weather. Thank you all for meeting with them, showing them around, and for giving them your honest opinions about the department and the university. We want them to know who we are before they get here. I believe that like last year and the years before, many of the top candidates will choose our department for our strengths. It was the potential of the department and the feeling of Ubuntu that was the tipping point for me in my choice to come here.

The other meanings of Ubuntu also speak to me because I believe in the value and agency of all human beings. The expressions of this philosophy that echo in my head are that: 1) we are not diminished when lift others up, and 2) I am who I am by the role I play in the human family. I have always found joy in the success of others and therefore have tried to help those that are investing in themselves and ask for advice. My role in the human family is as a connector and guide and it is my goal to help others feel joy when others are lifted up. I am feel grateful to be in a position where it is my job to help others to achieve their goals and to be of service, even when they aren’t directly in line with the department’s or my own. This is one reason that my emotions were so mixed when one of last year’s recruits decided that an academic life would not serve his personal mission. I was happy for him to be heading toward his more authentic self, but sad to lose a great researcher. In the end, I was rewarded to know that his reflection in the #OwnBestMentor workshop helped him make this choice. His happiness is worth the effort of being away from my family and putting on those weekend workshops.

Although I juggle the chaos of the department head’s office, I always have time to help you take you next step on your career or with problems you may be having in the department. That is part of the PPEM and my commitment to you even when you leave and go on to be successful elsewhere. So far, I have helped PPEM members craft excellent letters of application, CVs, nominations, letters of recommendation, and other promotion documents. I have helped them strategize the best start up and retention packages. I have helped students to peacefully transition from a lab in which they were not successful to one where they could be. You may think I am here to only help members of my lab, or the faculty, or one group, or another, but in truth, I am ready to help and promote anyone who invests in themselves. Although we are taught to be insular and independent, seeking and taking help is one hallmark of success. Reaching out helps put you in context with the rest of your community. If you don’t feel like you can work with me to take your next step, please reach out to someone else in the department for help. Because our department lives Ubuntu, those around you are willing to lift you up.

Have an uplifting week.

Who is on your board of directors?

Members of an academic department are peak achievers. When we are fulfilling our mission we are advancing and extending knowledge through education of our students and the public at a brisk pace. In order to keep up our extraordinary impact and high energy we must be able to keep one eye on the ultimate goal of our work. Understanding what drives us is crucial to motivate us to excel during those late nights (or early mornings) when we need to get one more replication of an experiment completed, we need to proof read a paper again before we send it out the door, or any other task that requires that we work longer and harder. That is one reason why a personal mission statement, displayed prominently in our work space, can be useful and why I try to help people craft their personal mission statements (https://bullpennblog.wordpress.com/personal-mission-bull/). Personal mission statements help us keep focused on what is important.

What if in addition to our personal mission statements, we had a board of directors too? A board of directors is an elected group of individuals that are responsible for overseeing the activities of an organization. They are responsible for the long-term welfare of the


The Board of Directors Chez Carolee & Jean-Philippe

organization. They discuss and vote on affairs of the organization to ensure that the organization has the resources to advance its mission. If you could recruit anyone, who would you have on your personal board of directors? Who among your mentors, family, colleagues, and most respected influences are your top advisors? Whose views do you want guiding and encouraging your activities and actions?

This weekend I spent time making a slide show/collage of my virtual board of directors. I chose photos of the people whose opinions, actions, and impact I want to be part of the organization that is me. Next time I have a sticky issue to solve, I am going to pull out this slide show/collage and “ask” my virtual board how to solve the problem. I have often done this with individuals in the past. I have thought, “gee, how would Patti handle this situation.” That gives me more options than just my own reaction and way of functioning. I look forward to looking at issues through the lens of the entire board of directors. In some cases, I will actually reach out to the living breathing board members, but not all my board members are alive. Additionally, I have set up a virtual board meeting at the end of each month to give me time to ask the big questions of my board:  Am I being positive about the products and services or am I being self-deprecating and thus not inspiring my organizations? Am I getting the training and education I need to excel in my personal mission? Am I truly leading or just pushing the ball in the direction it has always been headed?

I hope you are intentionally building the support system you need and that you are working in ways that make others count you as part of their board of directors.

Have a great week.

Saying yes strategically

Thursday and Friday of this week I spent at the Big 10 Academic Alliance training for Departmental Executive Officers (DEO). There are many things that I learned from my


Traveling from the DEO Workshop!

colleagues at this meeting. It was really useful to brainstorm with other departmental leaders about ways of moving our departments forward.

One thing we talked a lot about is how do we get things done when everyone begins to protect their time and say no. A recent blog post from the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity talked about how to say no to requests. It is good to protect your time so that you can be successful and in a community there are chores that need to get done. Some of the chores are enjoyable while others are dreaded by most of us. Still we need to take turns doing them and saying no to these over and over again distance you from the rest of the community. The very next week the same blog had to comment about the emails and comments received explaining how it is a bad strategy to say no too often and can hurt early career professionals. At the DEO meeting we talked about the tension between being a participating member of a community (department) and protecting your time so that you can accomplish your goals.

Strategic service or thinking of service as one chapter in the book of your career is some of the advice given by the blog cited. I like both of those ideas. Can you use these tips to develop a significant role in our community without overwhelming yourself? I encourage students, postdocs, staff, and faculty to serve in ways that additively make a story that tells who they really are as a community member. The students in our department applying for the NSF-GRFP this year are really working on these narratives. These service opportunities directly lead to demonstration of your broader impacts. I have always been drawn to issues of mentorship, others to outreach, some want to encourage the more social aspects of departmental life. The key is to find something you authentically like and then do something significant within that realm. If you continually serve your passion, you will soon have a coherent story to tell about your service that may lead to other opportunities that could help multiply your efforts.

So the question of the week is, what will you build with your service?


Planning for the New Year

It is good that recycling is a positive thing because at the end of September I am always going to be talking about making New Year’s Resolutions and recycling my original late September post. October 1st is when I set my resolutions for the new year and decide what kind of shape I will be in on January 1. Usually I am talking about physical shape and I work to counteract the end of the year celebrations and effects of hibernation so that I feel the best I possibly can on New Year’s Day.

This year I am thinking that the next three months represent a quarter of the year and a quarter of everything that I hope to accomplish in 2016. I spent time this weekend penciling in time to accomplish some of my major goals. When you spell it out like that, there isn’t really that much time to get it all done. So this weekend was about prioritization and the realization that some things will just have to wait for next year.

So although it is early, I am wishing you a happy new year and suggesting that now is the time to do what you can to make it be just that.

Have an inspired week.

Thank you notes

I served as the minister at the wedding of the daughter of some of my dearest friends a few years ago. I wore a simple silver chain with an acorn charm around my neck that the mother of the bride had given me. I wore it that day to let her fullsizerenderknow that I appreciated her gift and recognized the effort she made in giving it to me and how it connected us. My conscious effort in choosing and wearing it was yet another way of saying thank you and was not lost on the mother of the bride.

As department head I say thank you a lot. What we do as a department is the sum of what we do as individuals. As the leader of the department I am now helping to steer our vision and efforts to a common success, but the success of the department is made up of our unique contributions. Although I would like to say thank you for each of these contributions, I realize that I am only aware of a small fraction of what you do to enhance the success of those around you. This year Jean-Philippe and I hosted an Autumn Open House specifically to thank faculty, staff, emeriti, and retirees for what they are doing and have done to make this department a success and a wonderful place to live and work. It is another way for me to recognize the larger impact of what you do daily and let you know that I consciously appreciate your efforts.

This year I would have many more thank you cards to write if I were to acknowledge the numerous times individuals with the best motives for the department, made significant efforts to steer me in the right direction as I learned the ropes. I hope that I have made you feel that I was listening to your comments even if broader departmental or university concerns kept me from acting on them in the way you might have liked.

One thing that Marianne has been helping me with this week is sending letters to those who took the time and invested their psychic energy in applying for the positions we recruited this year. Many qualified applicants put their skills forward with the desire to join our department. Although most searches don’t send acknowledgements of receipt of the applications and final thank you notes, we have done both because I truly hope our department is different and that we take the time to recognize and appreciate the efforts of others.

If you have the chance this week, let someone in the department know that you appreciate the work they do on the behalf of others. As we move into the heart of the semester it is a good time to note our thanks.