Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Guest Post: Changing 20%

A couple weeks ago, I had a post that was related to teaching about how to better your teaching slowly, but making 20% Changes. From that post, I received this inspiring guest post on the topic of changing 20% from a PreTenure WomanOfScience, which I am posting here. She correctly realized that the 20% ChangeModel does not need to be limited to teaching or even to your career. I hope you enjoy it and remind you again that you can follow this blog by pressing the Follow Button, but you can also lead this blog, by guest posting or commenting. Consider doing both as we expand this blog over the next few years and hopefully open up a real dialogue to help women’s success in academic science. Here is the post:

The recent post on changing 20% in teaching inspired a sort of new year’s resolution list for me. The theme of the list is to change 20% in tasks in my work and life. Different from the usual new year’s resolutions that always seem to require drastic, or 100% changes, I am only aiming for small changes.

I am posting this because I feel that this is an entirely novel approach to self-improvement. It’s novel, because small changes are more doable. In some ways I suspect that we add extra pressure to ourselves to be perfect. The process of getting there can be overwhelming and stifling. I am convinced that this 20% change approach is not that different from laying out specific aims for the over-arching goal in a proposal.

Changing 20% in teaching:

  1. Use the half hour before each lecture as office hour.
  2. Use the last five minutes of each lecture as an open floor Q&A.

I teach a small class this semester, the students who take it are extremely motivated, because the class (new but super awesome) is not yet part of their graduation requirement. Even so, the first time I taught it, no one came to my office hour. Rather, I find them hanging out in the classroom for the half hour before class. So this year I will split my office hour into two half hour sections, held in the same classroom as the lecture. There is minimal effort required for either the students or me. We all have to go to class, and I have to hold office hours. I also find that not all students have the guts to ask questions after class. I speculate that designating 5 minutes of lecture time for open floor Q&A will force the students to verbalize questions that they might have. Both of my 20% changes probably only works for a small class, but that is okay.
Changing 20% in networking:

  1. Talk to 20% more people at a conference.
  2. Practice listening skills when talking to colleagues on campus.

This is a change that I have started to implement. Taking is incredibly difficult to me. It’s worse than squeezing that last dollop of toothpaste. (Awkward pause.) But, like most scientists, I’m obsessed about my project. So my change will focus on the science aspect. Instead of waiting passively for people to come to my poster at this conference, I identified and specifically invited those who will have important feedback to my work (not yet published). Everyone I reached out to came and I got a lot out of it. There was only one person who did not come by, but the invitation may have been better registered had it been a few beers earlier. The invitation process was pretty rocky for the most part: it’s odd to demand people’s time without giving a good reason. What seemed to work well, in particular for those who don’t know me, is to identify strange observations that they might care about in a quick sentence. Tying into project interest, my next goal is to practice listening skills when talking to colleagues on campus. Scientists are very specific and meticulous, if there is something they want to tell me, I want to stop being anxious and actually hear it.

Other: There are other tasks that no one will care about other than myself, such as folding 20% of my socks.

This post is obviously different, it’s more of a planned test run, rather than learned wisdom. The message that I want to send is not only that this blog impacts the reader (at least me), but also to verbalize that the pressure of being perfect or else is very annoying. Changing 20% at a time is much better!

Thanks so much for this post. I found it super inspirational. Hopefully, you will write again in a couple months to update your progress on this change model.

Do you have a story or anecdote you would like to share to help others? If so, please do guest post or comment.

Comments on: "Guest Post: Changing 20%" (3)

  1. […] following post was written by a fellow WomanOfScience. She wrote previously about Changing 20% (here) after I blogged about this as an effective way to make changes in teaching (here). I am so happy […]

  2. […] incremental changes to your teaching to be more effective and get better evaluations (here, here, here, here). But, you cannot implement changes if you do not get to teach the course […]

  3. […] which is the scheme I advocate for making any changes for your life in general (for instance, see here and here). Based on my conversation with my junior colleague, I thought about some things I could […]

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