Sunday, April 29, 2007

Book Review: Every Other Thursday

Part self-help book, part chronicle of her circle of women scientists, this book encourages us to form a group of compatriots for problem solving in our professional lives. Ellen Daniell writes the book in a straight-forward manner, telling of "Group," seven women in the Bay Area who have supported each other through structured meetings every other Thursday for over 20 years. She describes strategies for affirming choices, managing professional relationships, attaining goals, and fostering reflection. Daniell gives us the history of Group, as well as her own story (denied tenure, became successful in industry), interspersed as anecdotes throughout the chapters. The last section of the book provides guidance on how to form your own group for professional problem solving.

Parts of the book I found kind of sappy and feel-good, but other chapters had parts that really spoke to me and made me want to underline passages. I particularly liked the chapters on working with students and employees, managing institutional politics, and managing time and establishing equilibrium. Maybe it's my perch as a terrified-I'm-in-over-my-head newbie on the tenure-track, but those chapters seemed more appropriate in this context than ones on aging or dealing with family.

Some of the tips I picked up were (paraphrased):
  • Give yourself credit for distractions. Even if it's not in your job description, you still got something done. "Putting out brushfires is part of my job."
  • Institutional bureacracy and its headaches are not aimed at you specifically. Don't take every negative situation personally.
  • In order to do a job well, you need to be able to ask for all you want and need. "Recognize what I want and ask for it."
  • If students aren't hugely enthusiastic about a subject you find compelling, tell yourself "pearls before swine" and move on.
Daniell describes Group's process of writing "contracts" for themselves. These contracts are actionable resolutions that have varying levels of specificity. They may range from "I will spend two hours working on that paper today." to "I will exercise and enjoy my authority." She also tells how group members give each other "strokes" or compliments, even turning mis-steps into something to be proud of.

A lot of Daniell's descriptions of group conversations and practices reminded me our blog community. We seek and give honest advice, respect a diversity of opinions, and compliment and support each other. I think we have an informal group here in blogland, and it's time we give ourselves credit for it. That's my stroke for the day.

As for the book, it's an easy read (a few hours) that can be done in small chunks if needed. I got it from the public library and found myself wishing to underline it in a few spots. I think if I had bought it, I would pull it off the bookshelf every couple of years. But it wasn't a life-changing book, more of a life-affirming one.


sushi said...

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