02 June 2007


So.. this is my third time at my professions annual forum. The first year, I was a sponge - I soaked up as much as I could because I was so firmly stuck in the "knowing what you don't know" spot that I just needed to learn as much as I could and hope that at least some of it stuck through the mind-stuffing. The second year, I was more targeted in what I sought out - I looked for sessions that were related to things I knew were on my professional horizon and I tried to make contacts with key people that I thought I could learn things from. This year.. I'm suffering from a touch of feeling alternately on top of my game and like the girl who thinks she's a big fish in a little pond, who is really just a little fish in the ocean. *sigh*

This is not a capability thing. And it's not really a knowledge thing. I think it's because I'm a single person office supporting an institution whose peers typically have several people filling my role. I really, really *want* to do all these things - I want to do an annual faculty salary study as a matter of routine (hell, I'd like to do *any* real study as a matter of routine); I want to be involved in the national level of debate and discussion about what's coming down the pike in terms of accreditation and accountability; I want to set up our new data warehouse so that I can drop a data mining application on top of it and run more in depth analysis that will aid my institution in planning for the future. I want to be a big office with the staff to do the things that I know an institution of this size should be doing.

And it's somewhat therapeutic to come here and know I'm not alone. I'm not the only one out there who wants to do more with less or who struggles with inadequate data for a task or who recognizes that IR can't be considered on the same level as scholarly research (because our research is used to make decisions and decisions have deadlines).

But it's also frustrating to see people be able to do those things that I want to do (and think our institution should be doing). It simultaneously makes me feel inferior and indignant. Inferior because I can't be the shining star who presents new and insightful data every year. Indignant because those who are in larger offices, who are "blessed" with the ability to do more in depth analysis, sometimes seem to judge those of us who can't as being less skilled or behind the times or at least not on the cutting (bleeding?) edge of our profession.

There's almost a snobbery to it (at least for some.. this is really not about the vast majority of my colleagues, but rather about those few who persist in a academician's bias toward "publish or perish" - a bias that's hard to shake even if you know it's inappropriate). And it's sometimes difficult not to feel inferior in the face of that; to feel like I should be staying up nights learning more about the intricacies of Markov Matrices or hierarchical linear modeling. It's hard at those times to remember that despite the limitations of my position, I am still contributing to the larger community and that I am a competent professional and that I have nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I have some small ability to shine a little light on those like me - those single person IR offices who, like Sisyphus, roll that damned boulder up the hill every single day only to wake up more behind than we were the day before. Because it's hard to think of yourself as anything and all that when you get run over by a boulder every night.


mamacate said...

We should definitely talk. I hear you on the one-person office thing, but I've been in this field almost a decade now, and even the larger offices don't do it all. I'm in the process now of deciding what direction my office will move in (I have a meeting coming up with the provost and dean about this, before I hire an associate director). There are offices that are basically IT shops. There are ones that are wholly part of the registrar's office. There are some that are enrollment focused (that used to be me). Others focus on faculty productivity. Then the student life types, the planning types, even some financial aid types. My best advice is to decide where you want to focus (even if you must be a generalist, where you want to produce one in-depth study per year), and do that. There are plenty of quant jocks (and even qual jocks) out there who do some new fancy statistical thing each year (their own emphasis), but at least for me, the complex stats sometimes obfuscate the information they're being used to analyze, rather than elucidate. And in the end, our greatest value is in elucidating institutional data for decision-makers.

Anyway, don't let it get to you. Working for a fancy place makes me feel somewhat immune because people just assume I know my stuff (and I do, but not all the stuff, not by a long shot), but I have my own skill set, and it doesn't overlap with a lot of what I see at AIR. Just remember that you have YOUR skills to contribute, and nobody has every skill you'll see demonstrated at an AIR conference. I'll say more in KC over some BBQ and yarn. :)

SaraSkates said...

Uh, yeah, what she said. See you in a bit ;)