The New Work-Life Balance
A Q&A Between Alia White and Valerie Wrenn
Covid-19’s impact on the world was unexpected, unprecedented, and forced many to adjust to a ‘new normal’, not only for students but faculty and staff as well. Working from home became a new way of life and has influenced a greater meaning of work/life balance. For over 18 months, Weingarten adapted their services to an online platform. Beginning in July, Weingarten staff began to migrate back to the office on a hybrid schedule, to eventually, transitioning entirely to in-office operations.
Valerie Wrenn, The Associate Director of Tutoring Services, had an even more eventful 2020-2021, as she welcomed a baby boy earlier this year. As a new mom and being back in the office full-time, Valerie shares her thoughts on working from home and transitioning back into the office while caring for an infant. Below, Valerie shares with us her thoughts and processes through the following questions:
Q: What were you immediate thoughts on working from home beginning March 2020 and how well did you adjust?
When we first made the transition, we all thought it would be temporary. It was exciting and new, a different way of doing things. I thrive on a challenge, so figuring out how to build new systems and working habits for myself was exciting. However, I definitely had some difficulties creating new organizational systems and separating my life from work. But I loved that I could work with my cat on my lap!
Q: After the birth of your son, Myles, and getting back to work, what were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
The return to campus has been overwhelming. Being a new mom of an infant means that I’m still juggling a lot of anxiety around interacting with people. But I am managing this by getting tested regularly and continuing to take all precautions like wearing a mask and avoiding overly crowded spaces.
Q: Now that the Weingarten Staff are back in the office full-time, what are some of the things you have enjoyed about being back in the space?
I love getting to see our colleagues. The staff here are such welcoming people and truly care about supporting students. It’s great to be able to tap into their energy when my own reserves are running low.
Q: Lastly, please share your thoughts on how you think we as a staff can bring our work-from-home practices (or work/life balance habits) into the office.
First, remembering to accept what we can control and what we can’t. There is more to get done in any workday than is reasonable to ask of someone. We have to be kind to ourselves when we find that we can’t get to something. The best we can do is prioritize the most important things (and sometimes that’s going to be our mental health, our kids, doctor’s appointments, etc.) and understand that some of the other stuff may have to wait. The second is a quote that I heard by a writer named G.K. Chesterton: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” The idea is that exercising for 10 minutes once a week is better than not exercising at all. This principle can apply to a lot of things. Don’t get frustrated that you might not be able to cook a healthy meal every day, but figure out what you can do with your resources and time.
By: Alia White, Financial Administrative Coordinator
Pandemic Life as a Student Parent: A Learning Specialist’s Journey
Shortly after Penn shut down in March 2020, I learned I was pregnant. I was tremendously excited, but there were moments of anxiety as I dealt with the pandemic and a huge life transition. I loved my life as a grad student at Penn and my work helped me stay grounded amongst chaos. Although the fatigue, nausea, and other pregnancy symptoms led to some rough patches, the strategies I learned as a busy doctoral student and a learning specialist at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center kept me on track. I had a weekly planner where I kept important deadlines, grouped into different categories so they were easier to remember. On days where I felt overwhelmed or exhausted, I wrote a few encouraging words in my planner to help me stay calm. At Weingarten, supporting students over Zoom and working through their challenges together helped me feel connected.
In December, my son was born and eight weeks later I returned to being a student and my fellowship at Weingarten. Many of the time management and study strategies I had previously relied on were now impossible. For example, I often recommend mapping out a weekly and daily schedule as a great way to get started with better time management. Dr. Rashmi Kumar’s Structure the Unstructured Time post provides a helpful guide. Now that I was caring for my son most days, my schedule was extremely unpredictable. Sometimes he would nap for 2-3 hours when I could get work done, other days he might nap in 20 minute increments or not at all.
Through a mom blogger, I learned a new phrase that became my mantra: “Flexible routine: not rigid schedule!” Each day, I have one or two priorities in mind. I still find it hard, but I am learning to think more about the big picture of my week, versus getting too caught up in what I can’t get done some days. I know I will get to each and every task, it just may take longer than I had anticipated. That is okay.
I want to end with a positive outcome of my new schedule. Being forced to work in small chunks of 20-30 minutes has led to increased creativity and motivation for writing. Somehow I ended up with a 65-page dissertation proposal which I will defend in May! Before my son was born, I often set aside one day a week for writing tasks, but much of that time would be spent on distractions like social media or texting friends. Writing in short chunks almost every day and taking lots of time in between to think about the logical arguments of my proposal has led to a much more positive experience, and helped me become a stronger writer. I would recommend this strategy for any student who is struggling with writing.
Ask The Staff: Philadelphia Favorites
In January 2021, many students will return to Philadelphia or move here for the first time. In preparation, we asked our staff for their Philly favorites in hopes of inspiring your own adventures.
What’s your favorite thing about Philadelphia?
“When was the last time that you visited The Franklin Institute? This museum brings out the child in the adult. Crawling through the human heart rises to the top of my list as a memorable, favorite experience. It has been a few years since my last “crawl,” but I look forward to snaking through the ventricles.” – Jane
“My favorite thing about Philly is the food. I’ve discovered a new restaurant every week this entire summer for outdoor dining. It’s always a great experience and, even being born and raised here, this was such a surprise for me.” – Alia
“What I love about Philly is the variety available in everything. There is literally something for everyone and every occasion. Every type of food you can think of, great museums, concerts, athletics, high-end or casual, funky shops, and elegant boutiques. If you want it, you can find it here–it keeps life interesting!”– Valerie
“It is kind of cheesy, but the thing I love most about Philadelphia is that my brothers live here. I have three brothers who live in the area and before I moved back to Philadelphia, I missed them so much! Now I see them all the time. I also love Philadelphia’s Magic Garden on South Street. I always take friends there when they come to visit! “ – Erica
“Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. In the city, I love the Arts; they add culture to the city. As for a place on campus, I loved Beijing restaurant – used to be on Spruce street.” – Pat
“I feel incredibly lucky to have access to the Wissahickon Valley Park, which offers 1800 acres and 50+ miles of trails for hiking and biking all within the city limits. I’m always encouraging Penn students to venture there by riding a bike up the Schuylkill River Trail or catching the 125 bus from Market Street to the Wissahickon Transportation Center.” -Ryan
“One of my favorite things about Philly is all the great cafés and restaurants. My all-time favorite café is Red Hook Tea & Coffee, which is just down the block from me in my Queen Village neighborhood. Pre-COVID, I enjoyed sitting in their window seats for hours catching up with friends over coffee. Nowadays, I make a point to get take out from them about once a week to help them stay in business (and indulge my cravings for their delicious sandwiches!).” – Julianne
“My favorite thing about Philly would have to be the bookstores, especially Black-owned and operated bookstores. There are few Black-owned bookstores around the world, but Philadelphia is a city where there are many to choose from. I love Harriett’s, Hakim‘s, Amalgam, Uncle Bobbie’s, Black and Nobel, Black Reserve, Books & Stuff. I love them all. They are great community spaces with tons of resources and always shining a spotlight on emerging authors.” – Daris
“I love all the concerts and comedy shows that Philadelphia offers. From small black box theaters like Good Good Comedy Theatre in Chinatown, to big arenas like the Wells Fargo Center, I’ve gotten to see so many of my favorite performers. I look forward to live shows being a thing again!” – Jackie
Ask the Staff: End-of-Day Transitions
Staying connected is more essential than ever. Ask The Staff is a column that will provide glimpses into the diverse lives of our Weingarten Center staff. Get to know us!
How do you transition out of your workday and into “home mode”?
“Soon as 5pm hits, I order ahead to pick up a drink from my local Starbucks. The staff already recognize me, even with my mask on. It’s fattening but it’s a small joy that I look forward to.” – Alia
“Walking is therapeutic for my physical and emotional well-being. My aim is to walk at least 90 minutes daily, so my walk after 5pm is essential in maintaining an equilibrium. Listening to an audiobook while exploring a local neighborhood symbolizes my way of life.” – Jane
“At the end of my workday, I like to take a few moments to reflect. Sometimes this means writing in my journal, doing a guided meditation, or a yoga sequence to help combat the effects of sitting for most of my day. After that, I will start cooking dinner (my new quarantine hobby!) and watch an episode of The Crown or The Great British Baking show to fully unwind.” – Jordi
I start my workday with a walk in the morning. In the evening, I spend time peeking into the fridge and/or pantry to explore what is there that can be transformed into dinner.” -Rashmi
“After work, I like to lose myself in the kitchen. Whether I’m braiding challah bread, peeling vegetables, or grilling outdoors, I love the way preparing food to share with my family immerses me in my senses after a long day of Zoom meetings.“ – Aaron
“I power down and close my laptop, switch off the power strip, and walk away from my desk. I try not to do anything on the computer “after hours” so that even if I don’t have a physical separation of living space and working space, I can still feel like I’m off-duty.” Julianne
“Transitioning from work to home needs to be a bit more intentional these days because I have no commute. I like to sit in the living room and get away from my phone and other screens. Sometimes I just light a candle or put on some soothing music. I try to remember that whatever happened today, tomorrow is a new day.” – Jen
“It’s not always very easy for me to transition into ‘home mode’ actually. I often have to leave my bedroom (current office) and start cooking or run an errand to detach from my workday. Otherwise, I’ll take a good nap!” – Gabe
“I take my dog, Dewey, to the local dog park. It’s my favorite way to unwind, get fresh air, mingle with neighbors, and pet a bunch of pups. I think sometimes I’m having more fun than him!” – Jackie
Summer Reflection: Examining Our Academic Writing Processes
Maybe you are taking an alternative summer break and doing community service in a remote pacific village, and taking time in between to soak in the clear ocean air. Or maybe you have accepted an internship position with a financial consulting firm in New York City. Or maybe you have joined a summer co-op opportunity with a technology start-up firm in the CA bay area. Or maybe you are back at your childhood home, getting re-acquainted with your town and civic organizations. Wherever you may be this summer, and however you may have chosen to spend your time, we hope that you will carve out a little time for academic reflection. Here’s a simple framework for reflecting, and doing some meta-cognitive self-assessment so that you can reap the benefits of lessons learned and start your Fall semester in gear:
Reflecting and analyzing your writing
It’s so easy to dust our hands off, catalog our papers away, and turn a new page. And it’s completely natural and understandable to do that since you’ve just spent so much time intensively researching, drafting, and revising your paper. You did your best, submitted your paper, and accepted your grade. Well done, and do step away; however, be intentional about scheduling time to return and assess the product of your labor:
- What type of feedback have you received from your teaching team or peers? What was helpful? Are there areas for further development? Would it be helpful to schedule a follow-up appointment/call with your professor during the summer or in the fall?
- Was the process of conceptualizing your ideas, thesis, and argument coherent for you? How close did you stay to your original plan or how far did you depart from it? Looking back, was the initial scope of your main thesis realistic? What can we learn about zooming in or out in our scope given the requirements of the project?
- Which resources were most helpful? Are there integral literary sources that have become a critical part of your interpretive lens and you know you will be returning to? Are there new journals, research, or professional organizations that you will be utilizing more henceforth? Is there a new theory, practice, or research/data analysis instrument that you have adopted?
- Have you shifted your thinking in any way? Have you added a complementary perspective that helped further stratify or nuance your thinking? Have you developed a deeper understanding of your guiding principles? Have you moved away from your prior positionality to think in a new mode or from a different perspective?
Journal, journal, journal! Keep a writing reflection journal. I know that writing may be the last thing that you may want to do during your summer break, but you may be pleasantly surprised to realize later in the new academic year that these reflections have planted seeds that will germinate new ideas for your forthcoming papers. And most importantly, through reflection, we grow as writers and analysts!
Wishing you a Happy Summer, speckled with opportunities to reflect on your academic writing!
By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow
“Lifewide Learning:” Developing Resiliency Wherever Life Takes You
Many of us may have heard the term ‘lifelong learning,’ as it relates to an educational journey that may span several decades or even a lifetime. However, this term is often used to refer to the kids of education that happens within formal settings for adults – in classrooms such as on college campuses, or certificate programs that might prepare us for a career in a specific field. The term ‘lifewide learning,’ was created to acknowledge that adult learning happens in a nearly infinite range of places and situations, most of them outside the traditional classroom. Although we generally think of learning as intentional or deliberate, lifewide learning acknowledges that learning frequently happens unintentionally. Navigating these unexpected situations as opportunities for growth, no matter how frustrating, help us to develop resilience.
For students ending the semester
and reflecting on what they learned from classes, the biggest takeaways may not
have been from the syllabus or class assignments. For example, maybe the shock
of receiving a bad grade on an important exam caused you to reexamine your time
management and study strategies in ways that will ultimately help you succeed later
in life. As students across Campus embark on summer internships, or perhaps a
new job after graduation, remember that your biggest opportunities for growth
may also be spontaneous or unplanned. You might find that your next job
experience is something very different than what you expected. Again, rather
than dwelling on this disconnect, be open to what you do learn. Uncomfortable
or challenging situations can be particularly important opportunities for
personal growth, if we are open to the lessons they bring.
 Source: Reischmann, J. (2019). Lifewide learning – Challenges for Andragogy. Journal of Adult Learning, Knowledge and Innovation, 1(1), 43–50. https://doi.org/10.1556/2059.01.2017.2
By Staff Writer: Jennifer Kobrin, Learning Fellow
Bigger Pictures: Procrastivity’s Greatest Hits
“Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he’s supposed to be doing at the moment.”
~ Robert Benchley
You know what’s annoying? Spell check. Let me tell you why. The neologism “procrastivity” shows up no later than 2008, and spell check wants me to change “procrastivity” to procreativity. Needless to say, procreativity requires not only a different blog post, but an entirely different blog.
Anyway, now that we’ve dispensed with that minor annoyance, let’s delve, shall we?
Procrastivity as a neologism comes from the merging of “procrastination” and “activity”. In other words, we engage in procrastivity when we are supposed to be doing one thing, a thing of great importance, and we instead do some other thing, also a thing of importance, but a thing of decidedly lesser importance. Groan if any of these sound familiar:
- It’s time to study for your calculus final, but before you wrestle with limits and area under the curve, you first have to clean up your study space. You tell yourself that a tidy desk is a productive desk. But once your desk has reached the state of blissful efficiency, you realize you simply moved items to the bed and the surrounding environment which, of course, now demands organizing. Two and a half hours later you’ve cleaned your room for the first time in months, but you have yet to look at any calc.
- Your final paper is due on the last day of exams. Nothing short of perfection will give you the final grade you so deeply covet. So you read. And you read some more. Over a period of days you even run back and forth to the library grabbing more books that turn out to be unneeded, which you knew before you checked them out but you just had to make sure. The day before it is due, you’ve written less than a page of the 20 or so you need to turn in.
- You know you have to go through your Bio slides because the exam is a mere 37 hours away. But there’s so much to be done. You need to send a follow up email to the members of your performance group, thanking them again for all the extra work they did to make the semester ending show such a rousing success. You then double check the treasurer’s report and send her an email thanking her for getting you the numbers before summer break. You then check your airline reservation since you’re flying out of PHL in a mere 43 hours. Slides? What slides?
Slippery slope, thy name is procrastivity.
This type of procrastination hurts because the other things you do instead have legitimate importance. But you are still not doing what you need to be doing.
So: Beware. Be careful. Be vigilant.
And as finals draw ever closer, remember: You got this.
Senior Learning Instructor
Bigger Pictures: Perils of Perfection, Part 2
“If I waited for perfection… I wouldn’t write a word.”
~ Margaret Atwood
I’ve been a Margaret Atwood fan for decades. I came across her work in the late ‘80s when I took a Dystopian Literature course. Some of the books, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I devoured years before. But I didn’t know The Handmaid’s Tale, or its Canadian author.
Margaret Atwood blew me away.
Not only did Atwood’s novel excel at the dystopian level, it also sparkled at the sentence level, and every self-respecting writing student of that distant age (like yours truly) developed an almost perverse eye for what happened in a text at the sentence level. To my developing eye, Margaret Atwood’s sentences were perfect. They shimmer with clarity and convey complex human thought lucidly, even if the character isn’t particularly lucid. This kind of thing doesn’t come through on Hulu.
So, of course, like any novice besotted with the work of a master writer, I got intimidated by her prowess. I mean, if I couldn’t write like that…well, what was the point?
Which brings us back again to our opening quote: If I waited for perfection I wouldn’t write a word. Come, unpack with me.
If I waited. Our great woman of letters tells us that avoidance isn’t going to get it done. Atwood knows writing something even just “good enough” requires work. (She also quipped that the greatest writing invention is the trash can.) Moreover, she implies that perfection at that earliest stage is out of the question.
And then we get I wouldn’t write a word, the frightening inertia that too often tags along with being overly perfectionist.
I once went through a bout of writer’s block that lasted nearly two years. While there were more than a few factors that dried me up, I later determined that the biggest factor was fear, and a very special type of fear at that. I called it fear of criticism not yet voiced. The damning criticism that blocked the flow of words I once took for granted didn’t come from anyone actually directing criticism from the outside, all the nagging criticism lived in my only in my own head, whispered in my own voice. Criticism not yet voiced.
What I had to learn (the hard way, of course) is that I had to get out of my own way. Nobody else said the things I heard in my head. Workshop taught me to filter outside criticism, to consider the source and what have you. But once I realized that I had gotten in my own way, I was able to write again. I just had to get by criticism not yet voiced.
This little epiphany got me writing again. It can work for you, too.
By Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor
Bigger Pictures: The Perils of Perfection, Part 1
“The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement.”
~ George Will
As we rapidly approach the end game of the semester, it seems appropriate that we take a moment or two to consider the Penn student’s perennial perplexing predicament: perfectionism. (Loyal readers of this space should be well aware by now of your humble blogger’s penchant for alliteration – and if you weren’t… well, you are now.)
Perfection seems to be an intrinsic part of the Penn student body DNA. It starts before the acceptance letter from Penn arrives, when future Quakers set sights not only on achievement but on flawless achievement. In short, perfection.
In fact, the flawless achievement mind set often takes root at an early age, and left unexamined, can lead to all kinds of academics-related problems. Just a few, in no particular order:
- Writers block – it is hard to jump into the writing process if you’re already worried about how the paper won’t pass muster, even if you haven’t written word one.
- Non selective exam prep – this happens when you’re so worried about knowing absolutely everything for the test that you fail to prioritize and master the material most likely to be on the test.
- Procrastination – why not avoid a task that you’re convinced will not meet your self-imposed standard of perfection?
You don’t need to be a Weingarten learning instructor to recognize how detrimental to academic achievement any of the above can be.
Some things, of course, need to be perfect or as close to perfect as humanly possible. But honestly, those things are few and far between. Stressing out and losing sleep over how everything has to be absolutely perfect is no way to live.
So, might I suggest going for simple excellence?
Striving for excellence is a different matter entirely than constantly grinding away at perfection. Excellence does not carry with it the notion of flawlessness that perfection brings along. Excellence accepts that working towards excellence can, in fact, lead to something that approaches perfection, even attain perfection.
In other words, don’t let perfectionism get in the way of excellence.
By Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor
Study Strategies: A Fresh Take on “Procrastination”
At Weingarten, we like to ask, “What’s your favorite form of procrastination?”
The question is often welcomed with puzzled enthusiasm. Students are at first taken aback by our directness, but find relief in the straightforward candidness and empathy. The discussion that ensues is always lively!
This is the time of the year, Spring semester, when things are ramping up (e.g. 2nd mid-term examinations, finalizing mid-term projects, and launching final term papers), and many students struggle with procrastination.
Perspective is important. Let’s first acknowledge that there are many varied and legitimate reasons for procrastination, with differing impact on the student-scholar. For instance, procrastination can often be a form of perfectionism. Also, procrastination is often a direct result of additive and competing demands upon our schedules. In other words, it is never a character flaw. It is a response, and often, an internal coping mechanism.
Today, I’m offering a fresh take on procrastination: “Is procrastination keeping you from reaching the world or is it helping you to stay connected to the world?”
For instance, if you know that a task only actually takes you 2-hours to complete, is it really necessary to spread it out over two-weeks or 8-hours just because of an arbitrarily imposed external norm?
Imagine instead, what you could do during those extra weeks or hours to nourish your wellness or enrich your other personal, academic or professional goals.
This requires, of course, self-knowledge and (evidence-based) discernment. But no one is born with this precise form of calibration and insight. It takes commitment, mindfulness and reflection.
At Weingarten, we recommend keeping a procrastination and productivity diary. Take an inventory of your habits and life. When, how, how often, and in what patterns do you procrastinate? It reveals what you value, what you crave, where the redundancies are, which gates (e.g. activities, tasks, relationships) require opening up…
A strategic, intentional and mindful reflection on procrastination may actually help us to “march by our own drumbeat”, with the result being self-knowledge, awareness and acceptance instead of criticism and guilt. So, “What’s your favorite form of procrastination?”
By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Instructor