Over the last few months, I have been considering my direction in life and deciding where to focus my energy next. Many people would say their goal in life is similar to world domination, to be the best and promote themselves above others to get where they want to be. But I keep asking, is this an accurate measure of success and where I want to be?
As an academic, I have spent ten years watching the system we work in make or break us with headlines or tag lines of “publish or perish” and the stress associated with surviving a complex work environment with constantly changing competing demands. This week I was reminded why I chose to do the job – to help and inspire others to be the best they can be.
Recently Covid-19 has caused some changes in the delivery of our content, some for the better and some challenging. Being back in front of the class in person, using multiple modalities to help our students achieve their dreams while getting to know a particular cohort of students learn while figuring out how I can best assist or facilitate their learning, is one of the places where I am happiest and feel I can make a difference.
My second love is in innovation, ideas and problem solving, which lately has been in planning and implementing research. This year, I have had the opportunity to work with the Te Kukunetanga: Developing Cycle of Life Research Programme, which has allowed me to learn from some amazing people and extend my research knowledge. For example, how to manage a large study and use my curiosity and passion for data and data management to drive this direction for this particular study and then “cross fingers” the University. What I particularly value about this team is the level playing field anyone can suggest. Everyone gets stuck in making things happen regardless of their experience, position, knowledge. From this experience, I have learned some valuable skills around building a research team and having a small research project I am leading underway where I am applying these skills.
There have been both ups and downs; for example, I have a student who will submit her work to complete her Master’s Degree in three weeks. It has been amazing to see her develop and complete an excellent project. On the downside, this experience bought new challenges. For example, I was coaching this student formatting her thesis, and I struggled with something that has always been simple in the past. Being familiar with technology (and PhD in computing), I could not figure out how to remove the shadow font throughout her document. I found it so distracting, time-consuming and frustrating. Neither of us realised at this time that the document wasn’t in a shadow font, but this was a change in my vision. This had to become the new normal quickly and yet was just another thing to slow me down.
As someone who holds myself to high standards, the need to ask for help and extra time to complete something was a new experience this year and not an easy thing for me to do; until now, I have managed to finish things early and ahead of others so the fact I couldn’t come as a rather large hurdle. Several months ago, I wrote a blog post titled “is the inclusion or equity a series of workarounds“, noting the need to work with systems that were not accessible and therefore caused an environment that was not as inclusive and slowed my work. What struck me when I was reflecting on asking for help and the post on workarounds was the number of things that have recently become the new normal and the realisation that the constant change and figuring out solutions and relearning everyday things can become a job in itself. However, I have also learned that using small tweaks or lateral thinking/working can help.
Thursday, I watched a live stream of my second cousin’s graduation from a university in England. What struck me was the formality and stark differences from our graduation. Yesterday I was privileged to attend what I consider the best graduation ceremony I have attended in my career thus far. It was filled with celebration of individuals and their place in the world; families in the audience participated in the ceremony more than I have ever seen before. It reminded me of the people we serve, the families and sacrifices that many make to attend university and why it is important to celebrate this. This and the last few weeks of teaching have reminded me that I am in the right place to make a difference for those I encounter.