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Finding time to think

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Helping Professors Find Time to Think (Allison Adams, 12/05/16) made me remember some of the professors I had in my undergraduate and graduate years. My degrees are in math, so very few of them looked like John Houseman from “The Paper Chase,” but several of my Social Science professors were the classic bow tie, suede elbow patch on tweed jackets pipe smoking types who for me represented what I believed a professor’s professional life must be like – sitting in their book lined office (and of course the office is in an ivy covered neoclassical building), having coffee while reading academic tomes, contemplating the universe and then having a port in the faculty club at the end of the day. Later, as I began my own academic career, I realized that this was far from the truth. Even after teaching for two decades I found that with course preparation, grading, teaching, committee work, new initiatives, curriculum review, office hours, and other commitments (now add email to this list) there never seems to be enough hours in the day.

John Houseman, a professor in “The Paper Chase,”
John Houseman, “The Paper Chase,” 20th Century Fox/Kobal Collection

Adams argues for taking time to think and reflect. “I am always on the lookout for antidotes to that counterproductive frenzy;”  “it sounds luxurious, doesn’t it? Time to think.” To which I say yes, it sounds amazing and impossible…and yet isn’t that exactly what we need to do in order to be effective at our work of helping students be successful?

The larger question in this article is how those of us in the professional development world can help faculty cope and “cultivate times and places for deep deliberation and care…” Enter The Slow Professor by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber. I am a proponent of the Slow Food movement; you should read their manifesto which includes “We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods.” If any profession is “enslaved by speed”, it surely is academia, and as Berg and Seebe write, “when we are rushed, we’re simply not the people we’re capable of being.” How do we become that person when the stress level of academics exceeds that of the general population? How do we cultivate reflection and intellectual inquiry in our lives (and in the lives of our students)? What ideas do you have for finding time to think? #cultivatereflection #slowprofessor #timetothink

The cover of the book Slow Professor by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber
The Slow Professor by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seebe


  1. It’s not directly connected to your post, Peg, but what you wrote made me think of an instructor I knew who used to begin each of her classes by ringing a small meditation chime and then asking her students to sit briefly in silence (about a minute, I think) to prepare for the class ahead. She explained this as an opportunity for each person to compose themselves, to set aside other thoughts that weren’t related to the class so they could better focus and learn, and to think about what they wanted to accomplish in the next hour. In other words, it was her way of helping students reclaim a tiny sliver of time in order to become a bit more intentional and mindful about how they were going to use their time in class. I’ve always thought it was a nice way to help students cultivate a something like a reflective practice in the classroom. Her students certainly seemed to appreciate this, and she was a very popular instructor that they frequently sought out.

    • What a great way to start my retreat presentation! Thanks, John!

    • Jeff Fennell Jeff Fennell

      Hey, somewhat related. My Environmental Science students do a class presentation on an endangered species. I had one student, who was doing monarch butterflies, ask if she could lead the class through a minute of mediation before her presentation. In a science class, this was new to me. Why not! She had us close our eyes and imagine lying in a field, and a monarch butterfly came and visited us. I can’t do her justice, but it was really calming and effective. Great way to start off our class (and a tough act to follow).

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