Faculty Futures Lab Podcast


The Faculty Futures Lab Podcast is a project of the SDSU Initiative for Inclusive Leadership and features Initiative alum as guests and producers. Find us and subscribe on Apple Podcasts.

Bonus content from episode 1.1:

Five Tips for Faculty Women + Parents Struggling with the Research Shame Spiral – Taking Back Control

Lacie Barber, Ph.D. (Psychology, SDSU)

Women faculty have always struggled to manage work and care responsibilities given the unequal division of labor of child/elder care and household activities across gender. Being a mother with young children was shown to be particularly detrimental to research progress for women compared to men even before the current COVID-19.

 This issue has been brought into sharper focus as women faculty with kids struggle to find enough time for research activities. Additionally, it’s difficult to take advantage of any limited time available given the emotional drain of care responsibilities. This is completely normal – research is a highly complex and creative activity that requires high focus and attention. Extremely high exposure to stressful environments saps creative performance, especially when events are uncontrollable.

It’s hard to reboot research motivation and general productivity in these conditions, especially because you already feel so behind. These tips are intended to help you navigate issues with taking back some control and boost your ability to cope with such a stressful situation. 

  • Break The Research Shame Spiral. When research gets shifted to the back burner for so long, we experience a whole host of negative emotions. Guilt and shame are the most common when people feel they haven’t done something they know they should. Yet these two emotions have different consequences for our work motivation. Guilt can be channeled to motivate action and connect with others at work. Shame makes us feel worthless and avoid social connection – sending us down an unproductive shame spiral. Use self-compassion exercises to break the shame spiral. Self-compassion includes being kind to yourself about failures, considering that failure is part of the shared human experience, and being attentive to your feelings and emotions with an accepting mindset. Acknowledging your emotional reactions and dealing with them directly gets you in the right headspace to identify strategic solutions that are proactive rather than reactive.
  • Seek Out Social Support. Unfortunately, work-related guilt can only be useful if you have enough resources to cope with whatever made you guilty. This may not be true right now – your resource tank is running on empty. After breaking the shame spiral, reach out to others to fill your resource tank to tackle your guilt. Social support at work is critical for not only reducing feelings of stress, but also reducing situations that prompt stress in the first place. There are many ways to boost social support, so diversify your support portfolio and try them all. Ask for instrumental support on getting some tasks done (or getting started) – even small favors related to your most dreaded tasks can make a big difference. Seek out other junior colleagues or trusted work friends for emotional support by having well-being check-ins with to bond over shared work frustrations and concerns. Ask senior colleagues for informational support – what advice and suggestions to they have for keeping their research afloat or making teaching/service expectations more efficient? Reach out to other academic moms who can share their strategies for working from home with infants or toddlers? Through these conversations, you might even unexpectedly get appraisal support – your colleagues telling you how much they value your skills and contributions during this tough time.
  • Win Back Self-Trust by Celebrating Small Wins. You also need to build your resources from within. People assume that feeling good about your abilities (self-efficacy) is what drives better productivity. Actually, it’s the reverse—productivity boosts self-efficacy. You’ve lost trust in yourself because so many balls have dropped while managing childcare. Once you finally get time, you feel overwhelmed with the backlog because the urge is to eat the frog and start undesirable and high effort tasks first. That approach is not helpful when the resource tank is low. Earn back self-trust in your abilities by focusing on minor research tasks that allow you to make quick progress on your to-do list with minimal time commitment. Most importantly, celebrate these small wins by rewarding yourself and reflecting on how small tasks connect to exciting and long-term goals. Goal progress can improve our self-efficacy and so we’re motivated to tackle bigger goals later, and boosts well-being the most when we progress on meaningful goals.
  • Advocate for Inclusive Meetings. A big source of stress for those with childcare responsibilities are real time meetings related to research, teaching, and service. If you are in charge of scheduling these meetings, this pressure is self-imposed - give yourself permission to replace most meetings with a time flexible format that puts you back in control of your time (or prune the wrong kind of meetings anyway). If real time meetings are scheduled by others, advocate for alternative and more inclusive formats. Frame your suggestions as wider concerns about holding accessible meetings based on a variety of issues rather than just childcare concerns. Real time meetings are fine if everyone has a quiet living space at all times, an excellent internet connection, and no disabilities that limit full engagement in the new format. These conditions are rarely met for all attendees with or without kids. Moving to flexible time formats maximizes informational access (and contributions) for everyone. When real time meetings are a necessity, keep them brief, focused, and interactive.
  • Understand Your Boundary Management Style Needs. People have different work-family boundary management styles. Segmentors prefer to keep work and family activities separate and need time to transition between roles. Integrators love blending or switching back and forth between work and home tasks very quickly. No style is inherently good or bad – both are just as happy as long as they have control over WHEN and HOW they divide or blend their activities. However, segmentors are having a really hard time right now because they thrive when the can schedule long periods of dedicated work time before switching back to childcare roles. Segmentors need structure on their time to feel engaged in tasks, so regularly scheduled hours devoted to work versus family tasks needs to be negotiated with partners and work colleagues. Integrators, on the other hand, tend to switch back and forth between these roles just fine –occasional kid interruptions during lectures or meetings is not a problem when your work-family role switch is easy to flip. However, integrators also need to feel in control of when they integrate – they still need to choose which meetings/tasks they are most comfortable integrating with family roles. Understanding your own style, as well as the style of work colleagues, can be useful for communicating your needs to others to maximize your situational work-family boundary management style fit.