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Author Topic: VAP Support Thread  (Read 239420 times)
normative_
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« on: May 15, 2008, 2:42:14 AM »

Hi folks. Being a VAP isn't easy, at least from what I read. This morning it became clear that a support thread for VAPs might be a useful resource. They're popular in almost every other area.

And the concrete trigger is the following post. My heart went out to Porcupine.

I have had the worst day I have yet had in my current job. I am typing this vent because I cannot sleep. I cannot sleep because I cannot stop crying. This is somewhat embarrassing, yet unavoidably true. Ergo, vent.

Things that happened today, demonstrating that my life sucks:

1. My student emailed me to tell me that they have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, and wanted to know what I thought they should do about the final exam for my course;

2. My department chair humiliated me (I am a full-time VAP) by describing me, with no little sarcasm in their tone, as a tenured professor's 'assistant' at our student awards ceremony - in front of at least 30 students and colleagues. This was after the chair had congratulated my senior colleague on having run a successful conference, to which I had contributed at least 50% of the effort, and my colleague had immediately said that they wanted to share these congratulations with me in acknowledgement of my work;

3. An assistant professor embarrassed me by interrupting my conversation with her partner (who shares my research interests and who seemed, at least at face value, to be genuinely interested in speaking with me on that topic) three times, the latter time audibly remarking to her partner that she "was trying to get him away from me";

4. (2) & (3) suggest to me that no matter how hard I work for my current department dealing with situations like (1) sensitively, they really do not value my efforts.

I have worked 60+ hours a week for these people since August and am completely exhausted, and to what purpose? Apparently, being perceived as the sort of person from whom one wants to extricate one's partner, and being seen as deserving of public sarcasm.

5. The icing on the cake. After they all left for the day, and feeling utterly depressed, I did the damned dishes from the awards ceremony. I really hate myself for doing this, especially as nobody will either notice or care.



Many of these posts require you to make the best of a one-year stay, if I understand it correctly. What are conditions like where you are and how are you coping? Do you have advice for your fellow forumites?
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noof_
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« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2008, 3:12:02 AM »

Normative, thanks for starting this thread.

Porcupine, I am sorry that your department doesn't appreciate you. How awful.

My first suggestion: do not take on tasks that others (maintenance/cleaning crew, administrative assistant, grad students) are supposed to do.

I hope you are looking elsewhere.
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finallyfullprof
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« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2008, 3:14:52 AM »

I remember all too vividly having days exactly like Porcupine's. In fact, despite the fact that my VI appointment was renewable up to three years, I began looking for a new position within a month of beginning. Here's a sampling of what went on during that year:

1. I was told during the interview that all VI/VAP hirees would be treated as "full members of the faculty, albeit junior ones."  I learned very quickly that in voting matters, we were given one vote per three faculty while the "real" faculty got one person, one vote rights.

2. Tenured faculty actually told a third-year VI who was trying to solve a problem for our students, "Why should you care? After all, it's not as if you'll even be here next year!"

3. Some of the more senior people never even bothered to learn our names. When I was a finalist for a position, the prospective department called my department to do a reference check.  My regular chairperson (who was a decent person) was out of town and had left another senior person in charge. I was mortified when the subbing chairperson told the other college he didn't know who I was or anything about me other than that I worked in the department!  (And this was not a huge department by any means--a dozen full time TT faculty and six VI/VAPs plus six adjuncts.)

4. I had to get my chairperson to go with me in person to the business office to get a faculty parking permit.  The lovely people at the bursar's looked at my contract and said, "We don't give faculty permits to visitors."

5. When I was hired, I had to report in mid-August. No one bothered to tell me I would not be paid until October 15th. My spouse had no job and no prospects.  Spouse ended up working at a local dry cleaners to help us make ends meet. Ironically, when my spouse finally got a job at my uni, it was so much better than mine that our move for my eventual tt position ended up being much more difficult due to spouse's great position!

Nevertheless, my one-year VI stint was a big contributor to getting the job I have today, so if you are a VI/VAP, know that it can make a difference in the hiring process. I picked up a lot of valuable experience, and having the 4/4 load helped me get a good start on my dissertation. I think if I'd gotten tt right away, the extra committee work would have kept me from finishing.
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watermarkup
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« Reply #3 on: May 15, 2008, 3:32:34 AM »

I find it helps if I start lowering expectations early, like in May, rather than all at once in August. That way, as long as the pay check arrives regularly, I don't get too upset.

In my experience, R1s with 2-2 teaching loads are prone to treat their instructors and VAPs less well than teaching institutions where the tenure-track faculty are teaching a similar load as the VAPs.
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porcupine
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« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2008, 8:05:47 AM »

Thanks, everyone. I wish I worked at 'Forum College' with such supportive colleagues!

I finally managed to get some sleep at about 2.30am (until my cat sat on me, anyway). The VAP support thread is a great idea - thanks for starting it, Normative. I would hope I would learn enough from my current experiences to offer support as well as receive it.

One issue with my current institution is that our department doesn't have graduate students of its own, though it 'borrows' them from nearby. Our administrator is frequently absent, too. So unless someone else steps in, the department chair actually ends up having to do a lot of tasks that they should not in theory have to do, such as dishes, dealing with basic student inquiries, etc. 'Someones' often do not step in. This week has been an especially busy one for the department for a number of reasons, and so while I know it's a good plan to avoid taking on tasks that are not my responsibility, I also know that the chair is actually at (if not well past) the point of cracking up, so I was trying to be a decent colleague amidst the general chaos. Actually, the chair is usually not bad at saying thank you and appreciating everyone's efforts, as well as making sure that people don't take on too much, which was what made yesterday's experience all the more upsetting. Their overly-sarcastic attitude was within character, but had never previously been directed at me or, in my experience, at anyone who had not screwed up at least slightly. It might well have had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the chair's own emotional state, but I still think it was an awful way to behave. Going in to work today will be difficult.

More specifically, I think the problem is my status as a VAP. This just does not seem to matter so much in and of itself in other places I have worked. Here, sometimes I am treated as a regular faculty member, and sometimes I am not. In terms of teaching, I am certainly treated as a regular faculty member and receive the chair's full support. I am also expected to return a research output, for which I receive a course release. In terms of office space, research/travel funding, and other such 'perks', however, I am not treated as a regular faculty member. I get invitations to attend department events, but quite often, in conversations when people ask tt faculty if they will be attending such an event, everyone frequently 'forgets' to ask me and leaves me standing there feeling like a spare part. If I do attend, everyone seems to be vaguely embarrassed to see me there.

I also have a significant service expectation that is linked to my research (and which in retrospect was one of the main reasons that I was hired), and this in turn is linked to the event we organized this year. The chair either genuinely believes that I did very little to organize it (in which case he would honestly have to be blind), or he is determined not to acknowledge that I did a significant amount of the work for it as a direct extension of my regular service commitment, presumably on the basis that he thinks this would be inappropriate for a VAP to have done. 

In any case, I am constantly confused as to where the line is actually drawn between meeting and exceeding VAP performance expectations. Part of the problem is that I suspect the line shifts, depending on the circumstances.

finallyfullprof, thanks for the encouragement - maybe this will help me to get that elusive permanent job. watermarkup - in my case this IS a teaching institution...


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nanoo
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« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2008, 8:23:26 AM »

Hi all, I'm starting a VAP this fall. I'm sure this thread will be useful - thanks for starting it, Normative. Porcupine, you've had a rough go of it. I hope your situation improves (both short term and longer term!).
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onlyanne
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« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2008, 9:30:19 AM »

Thanks for starting this thread! 

I'm at an institution that treats VAPs pretty well, but there are still plenty of awkward moments. 

Many of the activities that will ingratiate me with my current power structure (chair, tenured and tenure-track faculty) will also make me more appealing to other schools' search committees.

Some activities that will ingratiate me with my current power structure will mean #@$! all to other schools' search committees.

So I try to work hard at the former and avoid the latter like the plague.

There are times when I find myself (metaphorically) washing dishes, but there are also times when I find myself still being courted like an interviewee.
 
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porcupine
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« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2008, 10:00:19 AM »

Apparently my chair was indeed having a *really bad day* yesterday. This morning I got an email thanking me for my help. We all also got a vaguely apologetic email concerning various 'errors' on the chair's part yesterday. This helps, actually. I did not want to have to change my opinion of my chair as basically a very decent, but badly overworked, person.

I think the key lesson of yesterday for me is that I need better strategies to help me realize when I am becoming emotionally exhausted, and to help me deal with this throughout the semester, not all in one go at the end. I had not properly recognized that the oddity of my status in the department adds so much to the usual stress of the job and to my resultant psychological state. If I had really thought about this earlier on and taken steps to keep on top of it, I might not have been so bothered by yesterday's events. Clearly, denial is not a great strategy in the long term... can anyone help with some better ones for helping with this side of things?
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onlyanne
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« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2008, 2:40:33 PM »

This is going to make me look cowardly and trite, but sometimes I just acknowledge that there are things I can't change and celebrate the fact that in a year they won't matter because I won't be here. 

I'm really sorry you had such a dreadful day, porcupine.  It sounds like some of  your coworkers don't get enough of that lovely being-superior feeling from their interactions with students and have to take it out on you.  Maybe it would help to visualize being TT somewhere better. 
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goldengate
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« Reply #9 on: May 15, 2008, 4:29:23 PM »

I think this thread is a good idea, and I am sorry that you had a terrible day, porcupine.

I am a little puzzled as to why anyone would think it is more appropriate for grad students to do dishes after a departmental event than VAPs. If admins aren't expected to fetch coffee, and they shouldn't be, food waste cleanup isn't an appropriate expectation of them, either.

There are connections to be drawn here with bad hierarchical treatment of VAPs. If VAPs think it's OK to push scutwork work down to grad students or admins instead of hourly dining staff or janitors who may have unpleasant jobs, but who at least signed up for those specific jobs, it's not so surprising that those who are senior to VAPs in the pecking order  will treat them poorly as well.
« Last Edit: May 15, 2008, 4:34:53 PM by goldengate » Logged
conjugate
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« Reply #10 on: May 15, 2008, 5:57:31 PM »

VAP treatment varies according to discipline (somewhat) and institution (greatly).  I'm very glad Porcupine got acknowledgement from people expressing thanks.  The value of this is that those people will be good writers of LORs when it comes time to become AP without the V (so to speak).  Think of your efforts as laboring in the vineyards for good letters of recommendation.

Then, when the time comes to start the big job search (which, for most VAPs, should be within a couple of weeks of New Faculty Orientation), ask for a good letter.  "I thought you would be willing to speak to teaching/research/service/collegiality because of ___ and ___ and ___, not to mention ___ and that lovely e-mail you sent me thanking me for ___, and I can send you a copy if you'd like to refresh your memory."  Hmm...that might be a little blunt.  Well, polish it up and get people willing to promise positive LORs early, while the glow of appreciation has not faded.  Good luck to you (unless you are going to be competing in the job market with me, in Math, in which case, well, not quite so much.  :-))
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normative_
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Check, please.


« Reply #11 on: May 16, 2008, 3:38:18 AM »


 Hmm...that might be a little blunt.  Well, polish it up and get people willing to promise positive LORs early, while the glow of appreciation has not faded. 

There's nothing wrong with assembling some supporting evidence for them. It writing the letter within weeks of arrival that I can imagine might be difficult.

Unless you've been in regular contact in the period between your appointment and the start of your VAP contract.

That's something I recommend, by the by, for any position you have. It works wonders in ensuring a smooth start. And in this case, getting  you a better shot at a good letter that can actually say something.
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Quote from: mountainguy
Excellent analysis by Normative.
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All hail Normie!
Quote from: systeme_d
Normative, that was superb.
porcupine
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« Reply #12 on: May 16, 2008, 9:59:12 AM »


 Hmm...that might be a little blunt.  Well, polish it up and get people willing to promise positive LORs early, while the glow of appreciation has not faded. 

There's nothing wrong with assembling some supporting evidence for them. It writing the letter within weeks of arrival that I can imagine might be difficult.

Unless you've been in regular contact in the period between your appointment and the start of your VAP contract.

That's something I recommend, by the by, for any position you have. It works wonders in ensuring a smooth start. And in this case, getting  you a better shot at a good letter that can actually say something.

If you can possibly move to your new VAP location early, do it. I only got to my new location three weeks before the start of the semester (I was too poor to move sooner), and it made life much more difficult: not only did I have to get to know the new institution, I had to get to know a new city, all at the same time. This will also help with the letter problem: if you are there early, you can get to know everyone on their own terms before the madness begins.

The other thing that might help with letters is to have someone sit in on a class after a few weeks to observe your teaching. If someone has observed your teaching, they will be in a better position to write a strong letter for you. Teaching obersvations will be done anyway, so you could try to kill two birds with one stone by asking to have yours done a little early, or simply ask for an additional, informal, observation from your preferred colleague.

goldengate: you're right. I wanted to clarify that it's not that I think grad students or admin staff should be doing cleanup in preference to dining staff or indeed other persons. Sorry not to have been clearer: this was an event that was organized without assistance from dining services, so someone other than dining services staff had to take responsibility for cleanup. It would have been unreasonable to expect janitors to do extra work not specified in their contracts. Hence, someone from the department faculty (which includes graduate students who teach as adjuncts) or administrative staff needed to take responsibility for this.
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jacaranda_
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« Reply #13 on: May 16, 2008, 10:39:41 AM »

This is a really great thread.  I wish something like this had been around when I was in an earlier miserable VAP position.  One of the things that I am hearing in porcupine's series of posts is that the psychological stresses of being in this sort of liminal position can quickly drive you mad.  It's very hard to interpret the behavior of your colleagues, and it's easy to read too much into all kinds of daily interactions.  As some of you probably know from reading a couple other threads here, if the VAP spot also entails being a candidate for a subsequent TT hire, that can make you completely bonkers (my experience).  But I've also had the opposite experience of being treated with great, completely unexpected kindness in another VAP position at a R1 institution, where I was actually expecting to be treated far worse.  I think the chair of that department simply had a lot more class.  One thing that I found very helpful was to have a lot of friendships with people outside of your own department, people with whom you don't feel like you have to watch every word, and who might be a sympathetic sounding board when you think you're going to lose it.  I agree with others that the VAP positions were very valuable professionally for eventually landing a TT position.  So hang in there.
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wild_rose
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« Reply #14 on: June 16, 2008, 6:07:41 PM »

I will probably be spending much time on this thread, myself, beginning this fall. And so I happily post in order to bump it back up to the first page.
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