Category Archives: Uncategorized

On academic burnout and time management during a pandemic

Like many of my colleagues, I have been struggling with burnout. I’ve been ruminating about why this is the case, why I have been feeling more burned out lately, and what are some strategies for preventing burnout. I ended up writing a tweet thread about burnout a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to include on the blog. Here is the thread. At the end, I also offer some insights into what I am doing to manage time and stay on top of research. I also encourage academic leaders to consider flexibility as a potential tool to prevent burnout.

A major challenge has balancing care responsibilities with academic responsibilities. This is the context of my thread. My three kids attend three different schools, and all have returned at three different times. The changes to my children’s routines and their K12 instructional models have required a lot from me in terms of time and emotional energy. I wrote the tweet thread after hearing that the school district was once again changing their instructional model for two of my three children. The good news is that my children are doing well at school and I felt a lot better after writing this tweet thread. Feedback is welcome.

The tweet thread

I am a solo parent of 3 and a professor, I am experiencing massive role conflict and am burned out. A thread. #AcademicChatter

Star Wars R2D2 GIF

Since the winter break, there has been a major instructional change at one of my daughters' 3 schools almost every week. I am the sole parent who handles their education with a full time job, my roles are increasingly in conflict. It is getting much, much worse.

Not Interested GIF

Every week I have to adapt to a new schedule or instructional change at one of my daughters' schools. I have to constantly change my workflow and routine.

Multitasking GIF

I shouldn't use the term routine to refer to this year. This year hasn't been routine, and I've been operating in a state of flux. It is wearing me down.

Arrested Development Deflated GIF

I have to be responsive to new K12 school requirements and new requirements at work. Each change or new requirement slowly chips away at any remaining flexibility in my schedule.

Star Wars Fail GIF

I am trying to find ways to restore my energy, but it's impossible when I am adapting to new changes and requirements.

Iod Iodiod GIF

Years ago, I learned to function at a high level as a single parent by setting routines & exploiting flexibility in my schedule to maximize performance and achieve work-life integration. But without a steady routine & little flexibility, this is no longer a tool at my disposal

Spinning Plates GIF

Meanwhile, my university has implemented many new procedures that have inflexible requirements and deadlines. This was necessary (I know it's a tough year!), but flexibility did not appear elsewhere.

David Rose Schitts Creek GIF

If this resonates with you, know that I see you and that you are not alone. And I get it.

princess leia GIF by Star Wars

Solutions at work:
Fewer new demands ✅
Flexible deadlines & requirements✅
More support ✅
Fewer & shorter emails✅
Cancel/sunset ✅

The solution does not involve setting up an additional hour-long zoom meeting to address 🚫

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/03/how-tell-if-you-have-burnout/618250/

Solutions I've been trying:
Replace hour-long 1-on-1 zoom calls with a 15 min phone call ✅
Replace some meetings with asynchronous work/email check ins ✅
Reduced cmte meetings to 1 hour (from 90 min)✅
Saying no more ✅
Blocking off times for research ✅

Other tips are very welcome! I know I'm missing some good strategies. I want to learn from this and also to not be the source of burnout to my colleagues.

And I want reiterate that flexibility is an underutilized tool for better work-life integration. Have a great day.

Also: I now have a wonderful partner in my life who provides much-appreciated support. But I'm still the solo/primary parent b/c my kids' dad lives out of state, and that's been tough during the pandemic.

Originally tweeted by 𝕃 𝔸 𝕌 ℝ 𝔸 🍀 𝔸 𝕃 𝔹 𝔼 ℝ 𝕋 (@lauraalbertphd) on March 26, 2021.

A template for time management

After writing the above tweet thread, I thought about what I was doing well. I have a pretty decent weekly routine and have been working in some self-care in the form of a daily walk and some exercise.


The Packers should have gone for it on 4th and goal

The Green Bay Packers were defeated by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last night. The Packers trailed 31-23 when it was fourth down and goal with 2:22 to go in the fourth quarter. The Packers decided to kick a field goal instead of trying for a touchdown. The decision was universally criticized. Without crunching the numbers, I knew it would be better to go for it and attempt to get a touchdown, even though either decision was a longshot. The Packers lost 31-26.

Since the game ended, I crunched the numbers.

Here is how I approached the decision. First, the Packers needed a series of events to occur, with all or nearly all events working in their favor to win. Computing the probability of the intersection of multiple events occurring is likely to be a small number. I examined the pathways to winning below. There were some fluke ways to win that I left out because those probabilities were negligible. My calculations are in this spreadsheet.

Decision #1: Go for it on fourth down. There are two ways to win in this scenario.

  1. Score a touchdown.
  2. Make the two point conversion to tie the game.
  3. Stop the Buccaneers defensively (a TB field goal means the Packers lose).
  4. Win by scoring within regulation or in overtime if time expires.

I estimate that the Packers had a probability of 0.6 of scoring a touchdown based on Aaron Rodgers’s pass completion numbers. Teams have a probability of 0.48 of getting the two point conversion. Teams have a probability of 0.68 of stopping their opponent from scoring on a possession. There was not much time on the clock, so this may have been an underestimate. However, both teams had multiple time out to stop the clock, and there had not yet been the two minute warning. Winning in overtime for two evenly matched teams is 50-50. Winning within regulation with very little time left has a small probability (say, 0.03). Putting this together, I estimate that the Packers had a win probability of 0.104.

Decision #2: Make a field goal attempt. There are also two ways to win in this scenario:

  1. Make the field goal.
  2. Stop the Buccaneers defensively while leaving enough time on the clock to score.
  3. Win by scoring a touchdown within regulation.

or

  1. Miss the field goal.
  2. Stop the Buccaneers defensively while leaving enough time on the clock to score.
  3. Score a touchdown within regulation, make the two point conversion to tie, and win in overtime (see Decision #1).

I estimate that the Packers had a probability of 0.96 of scoring a field goal. Teams normally have a probability of 0.68 of stopping their opponent from scoring, but I lowered that to 0.5 here because it needed to happen in such a way that the Packers had enough time for one last drive. That is likely an optimistic estimate. I estimate that the Packers could score a touchdown with a probability of 0.15 with the remaining time (Rodgers had an MVP worthy season). The second way to win involved missing the field goal and tying the game in regulation with a last second touchdown and later winning in overtime. Putting this together, I estimate that the Packers had a probability of 0.076. I believe this is optimistic.

Takeaways

  1. Going for a touchdown increasing the win probability by about 3% compared to kicking a field goal. It’s not a huge different, but it’s also not insignificant.
  2. Either way, the Packers were unlikely to win. So while the decision was bad, it wasn’t a decision that likely cost the Packers the game.
  3. Kicking the field goal (Decision #2) could make sense with high confidence in a defensive stop or scoring a TD with time expiring. For the best defensive team in the NFL, decision #2 might be the better option. If Tampa Bay had, say, the worst defense in the country, especially if their secondary was weak, Decision #2 would be more attractive.
  4. The Packers had two bad choices.

Reflections on 2020 and New Year’s resolutions for 2021

A new year begins tomorrow. I’m taking the opportunity to reflect upon the past year. 2020 was a historic and terrible year in many ways. The COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we know it and demanded many sacrifices. I lost my sabbatical (read my sabbatical posts here).

But 2020 was not entirely a bad year. I took on new hobbies, habits, and challenges. As 2020 comes to an end, I reflected upon what I was able to achieve in 2020.

  • I started new research related to the pandemic and critical infrastructure resilience. It has been a creative year.
  • I did more media outreach to improve public understanding of risk management.
  • I wrote my first op-ed. Actually, I wrote four.
  • I was selected as a IISE Fellow and a AAAS Fellow.
  • I learned about best practices for inclusive teaching in online environments and updated my teaching materials and improved my pedagogy. I am a better teacher now than I was a year ago.
  • I developed a new routine at home that helped my productivity.
  • Virtual K12 school at home is not easy for my three kids, but they are doing about as well as anyone can.
  • I started new hobbies, including jigsaw puzzles and tennis. I even went to the driving range and (sort of) golfed for the first time.
  • I expanded my vegetable garden and was able to grow a lot more than in the past.
  • I love being able to cook and bake. Working from home means I can knead bread dough between meetings and cook elaborate and healthy dinners. I have been eating very well.
  • Extra quality time with my family has been wonderful.
  • I have been able to appreciate the small things all year long.

New Year’s resolutions in 2021

  1. Less doom scrolling.
  2. Create more, consume less.
  3. Continue high levels of public outreach through media appearances and public lectures.
  4. Fewer zoom meetings. I often did not meet my goal of 4 hours or or less of meetings in 2020.
  5. Replace one-on-one zoom meetings with phone calls, where I can go on a walk and stretch my legs during the call.
  6. Write and edit my writing every day, even if only for a few minutes.
  7. Become a better vegetable gardener. I’m good at growing tomatoes and herbs. I want to learn how to grow more vegetables, including the cool weather vegetables like greens and root vegetables.
  8. Go on vacation.

For more reading, check out my New Year’s resolutions in 2018 and 2019. Dijkstra’s 10 commandments of academic research also serve as potential New Year’s resolutions.


How to use the title “Dr.” in academia: possible best practices

I was upset to read the Wall Street Journal op/ed entitled, “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D. Jill Biden should think about dropping the honorific, which feels fraudulent, even comic.” The op/ed was upsetting, because it suggested that anyone who has earned a degree that comes with the title of “Dr., such as those with a PhD or Ed.D., should not use their titles for degrees they earned.

This is concerning because research has shown that women doctors are less likely to be called by their titles then men, almost half of Black and Latina professors report having been mistaken for janitorial staff, and women and BIPOC professors routinely have their credentials ignored. Women over-invest in credentials, in part because research has shown that women need more credentials than men to be considered for awards and promotions.

The problem is not with Dr. Biden, it is with the cultural construct of expertise, who is presumed to have it, and who is given permission to wield the terms of power that signify it. In dominant culture, the construct of “expert” is based on false hierarchies – crafted to exclude the vast majority of the world’s knowledge (including the expertise of women and people of color).

Katie Orenstein from the twitter thread below about the WSJ article.

Mis-titling and de-titling professors is an equity issue. I gave some thought as to how to address this issue. I have a few suggestions below that are based on my experiences.

Here is some background. I used to ask students in my research group to use my title and last name. Students in other research groups often called me by my first name without my permission, and I found it strange that they addressed me in a casual way even after hearing the students in my research group address me in a formal way. There seemed to be two causes. (1) Students on a first name basis with their advisors and possibly other professors incorrectly assume that all professors let students call them by their first name. (2) Other professors, with whom I am on a first name basis, refer to me using only my first name in front of other students, which gives the students “permission” to call me by my first name. But I did not given permission. The students’ advisors in these situations have almost entirely been male, which possibly reflects societal constructs of power. Men inadvertently signal to students when it is acceptable to de-title and mis-title others, and these signals carry a lot of weight, especially if the person in question is a woman and/or is BIPOC. It seems that is was worth explicitly addressing these two mechanisms to reduce the chances that other professors are not mis-titled or de-titled.

I now ask students in my research group to call me by my first name. I wanted to make sure that all students knew what to call me while also not de-titling other professors, since new students have joined my group. In this conversation, I was surprised that not everyone knew about this rule, so I was glad we revisited this so I could make corrections and make sure that no one feels singled out.

I discussed the article with the students in my lab and this is what I suggest.

  1. On a regular basis, remind all students how you would like to be addressed in a group meeting , such as when new students join the lab. This can also be included in a lab compact.
  2. Use professors’ titles (Professor or Dr.) in informal settings unless they say otherwise. If they have given you permission to call them by their first name, it is still appropriate to sometimes use their titles, such as when there are other professors or students in a conversation.
  3. Use professors’ titles in formal settings, such as when introducing a speaker or in a committee meeting.
  4. When in doubt, ask someone what they want to be called.

What else is missing from this list?

In full disclosure, I have not always followed these rules in practice, and I will make a conscious effort to do better. I am a work in progress. I try to learn and make adjustments on a regular basis for continuous improvement.

For more reading, read my post about changing my name:


PhD development seminar: Time management and work-life balance

I am teaching a PhD development seminar for first year PhD students in industrial engineering and related disciplines. The purpose of this course is to prepare students for the dissertation research in industrial and systems engineering. The course helps set expectations, introduces campus resources to students, and creates a cohort of student to connect students with their peers.

Last week, a student panel composed of three senior PhD students discussed time management and work-life balance. The panelists were fantastic. Below are some highlights from the panel.

I am creating a series of blog posts featuring some of the classes from the semester. Those, along with previous PhD related posts, are tagged with the “PhD support” tag.

Other posts in this series:


Time management and work-life balance for (new) academics

I was on a panel about time management for the 2020 INFORMS New Faculty Colloquium (NFC). I recorded a video sharing my tips for time management with assistant professors in mind. I posted my video on YouTube below.

The live Q&A was fantastic, and I learned a lot from my fellow panelists Professors Tom Sharkey and Jonathan Helm. I want to give a big thank you to Professor Siqian Shen, who organized the NFC.


PhD development seminar: getting started with research

I am teaching a PhD development seminar for first year PhD students in industrial engineering and related disciplines. The purpose of this course is to prepare students for the dissertation research in industrial and systems engineering. The course helps set expectations, introduces campus resources to students, and creates a cohort of student to connect students with their peers.

I am creating a series of blog posts featuring some of the classes from the semester. Those, along with previous PhD related posts, are tagged with the “PhD support” tag.

Other posts in this series:


PhD development seminar: first steps in writing

I am teaching a PhD development seminar for first year PhD students in industrial engineering and related disciplines. The purpose of this course is to prepare students for the dissertation research in industrial and systems engineering. The course helps set expectations, introduces campus resources to students, and creates a cohort of student to connect students with their peers.






I am creating a series of blog posts featuring some of the classes from the semester. Those, along with previous PhD related posts, are tagged with the “PhD support” tag.

Other posts in this series:


PhD development seminar: first steps in research

Last year, I developed a new PhD development seminar for first year PhD students in industrial engineering and related disciplines.

The purpose of this course is to prepare students for the dissertation research in industrial and systems engineering. The main focus is on initial steps and skills required to get started with research. Topics include understanding degree requirements, first steps in research, conducting a literature review, working with citation managers, time management, research ethics, data management, technical writing, and research organization. I invite a number of guest speakers to class sessions to introduce topics, connect students with campus resources, and answer questions.

By the end of the semester: each student should achieve these learning outcomes

  • Understand requirements for a PhD in Industrial Engineering or other PhD program.
  • Understand expectations for a dissertation and how to get started with research.
  • Understand what campus resources are available for writing, finding resources at the library, mental health, and others.
  • Understand research concepts such as research safety, research ethics, time management principles, setting expectations, meeting milestones, and plagiarism.

The course helps set expectations, introduces campus resources to students, and creates a cohort of student to connect students with their peers.

I am again offering the course in Fall 2020 but in a virtual format. So far, we are off to a great start. I will create a series of blog posts featuring some of the classes from the semester. Those, along with previous PhD related posts, are tagged with the “PhD support” tag.

First steps in research

This week’s class was about first steps in research, where two professors discussed how they helped new PhD students started on research. Professors Vicki Bier and Doug Wiegmann came to class and were wonderful. Some of their terrific advice was captured in my tweetstorm below.

Stay tuned for more blog posts about the course.


Resilient voting systems during the COVID-19 pandemic: A discrete event simulation approach

Holding a Presidential election during a pandemic is not simple, and election officials are considering new procedures to support elections and minimize COVID-19 transmission risks. I became award of these issues earlier this summer, when I had a fascinating conversation with Professor Barry Burden about queueing, location analysis, and Presidential elections. Professor Burden is a professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a founding director of the Elections Research Center, and an election expert.

I was intrigued by the relevance of location analysis and queueing theory in this important and timely problem in public sector critical infrastructure (elections are critical infrastructure). I looked into the issue further with Adam Schmidt, a PhD student in my lab. We created a detailed discrete event simulation model of in-person voting, and we analyzed it using a detailed study.

We present an executive summary of our paper below. Read the full paper here: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.12985436.v1

 

Resilient voting systems during the COVID-19 pandemic:
A discrete event simulation approach

Adam Schmidt and Laura A. Albert
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Industrial and Systems Engineering
1513 University Avenue
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
laura@engr.wisc.edu
September 21, 2020

Executive Summary

The 2020 General Election will occur during a global outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Planning for an election requires months of preparation to ensure that voting is effective, equitable, accessible, and that the risk from the COVID-19 virus to voters and poll workers is minimal. Preparing for the 2020 General Election is challenging given these multiple objectives and the time required to implement mitigating strategies.

The Spring 2020 Election and Presidential Preference Primary on April 7, 2020 in Wisconsin occurred during the statewide “Stay-at-home” order associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. This election was extraordinarily challenging for election officials, poll workers, and voters. The 2020 Wisconsin Spring Primary experienced a record-setting number of ballots cast by mail, and some polling locations experienced long waiting times caused by consolidated polling locations and longer-than-typical check-in and voting times due to increased social distancing and protective measures. A number of lawsuits followed the 2020 Wisconsin Spring Primary, highlighting the need for more robust planning for the 2020 General Election on November 3, 2020.

This paper studies how to design and operate in-person voting for the 2020 General Election. We consider and evaluate different design alternatives using discrete event simulation, since this methodology captures the key facets of how voters cast their votes and has been widely used in the scientific literature to model voting systems. Through a discrete event simulation analysis, we identify election design principles that are likely to have short wait times, have a low-risk of COVID-19 transmission for voters and poll workers, and can accommodate sanitation procedures and personal protective equipment (PPE).

We analyze a case study based on Milwaukee, Wisconsin data. The analysis considers different election conditions, including different levels of voter turnout, early voting participation, the number of check-in booths, and the polling location capacity to consider a range of operating conditions. Additionally, we evaluate the impact of COVID-19 protective measures on check-in and voting times. We consider several design choices for mitigating the risks of long wait times and the risks of the COVID-19 virus, including consolidating polling locations to a small number of locations, using an National Basketball Association (NBA) arena as an alternative polling location, and implementing a priority queue for voters who are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

As we look toward the General Election on November 3, 2020, we make the following observations based on the discrete event simulation results that consider a variety of voting conditions using the Milwaukee case study.

  1. Many polling locations may experience unprecedented waiting times, which can be caused by at least one of three main factors: 1) a high turnout for in-person voting on Election Day, 2) not having enough poll workers to staff an adequate number of check-in booths, 3) an increased time spent checking in, marking a ballot, and submitting a ballot due to personal protective equipment (PPE) usage and other protective measures taken to reduce COVID-19 transmission. Any one of these factors is enough to result in long wait times, and as a result, election officials must implement strategies to mitigate all three of these factors.
  2. The amount of time spent inside may be long enough for voters to acquire the COVID-19 virus. The risk to voters and poll workers from COVID-19 can be mitigated by adopting strategies to reduce voter wait times, especially for those who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and encourage physical distancing through the placement and spacing of voting booths.
  3. Consolidating polling locations into a few large polling locations offers the potential to use fewer poll workers and decrease average voter wait times. However, the consolidated polling locations likely cannot support the large number of check-in booths required to maintain low voter wait times without creating confusion for voters and interfering with the socially distant placement of check-in and voting booths. As a result, consolidated polling locations require high levels of staffing and could result in long voter wait times.
  4. The NBA has offered the use of its basketball arenas as an alternative polling location for voters to use on Election Day as a resource to mitigate long voter wait times. An NBA arena introduces complexity into the voting process, since all voters have a choice between their standard polling location and the arena. This could create a mismatch between where voters choose to vote and where resources are allocated. As a result, some voters may face long wait times at both locations.

We recommend that entities overseeing elections make the following preparations for the 2020 General Election. Our recommendations have five main elements:

  1. More poll workers are required for the 2020 General Election than for previous presidential elections. Protective measures such as sanitation of voting booths and PPE usage to reduce COVID-19 transmission will lead to slightly longer times for voters to check-in and to fill out ballots, possibly causing unprecedented waiting times at many polling locations if in-person voter turnout on Election Day is high. We recommend having enough poll workers to staff one additional check-in booth per polling location (based on prior presidential elections or based on what election management toolkits recommend), to sanitize voting areas and to manage lines outside of polling locations.
  2. To reduce the transmission of COVID-19 to vulnerable populations during the voting process, election officials should consider the use of a priority queue, where voters who self-identify as being at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 (e.g., voters with compromised immune systems) can enter the front of the check-in queue.
  3. In-person voting on Election Day should occur at the standard polling locations instead of at consolidated polling locations. Consolidated polling locations require many check-in booths to ensure short voting queues, and doing so requires high staffing levels. Election officials should ensure that an adequate number of voting booths (based on prior presidential elections or based on what election management toolkits recommend) can be safely located within the voting area at the standard polling locations, placing booths outside if necessary.
  4. We do not recommend using sports arenas as supplementary polling locations for in-person voting on Election Day. Alternative polling locations introduce complexity and could create a mismatch between where voters choose to go and where resources are allocated, potentially leading to longer waiting times for many voters. This drawback can be avoided by instead allocating the would-be resources at the sports arena to the standard polling locations.
  5. The results emphasize the importance of high levels of early voting for preventing long voter queues (i.e., one half to three quarters of all votes being cast early). This can be achieved by expanding in-person early voting, in terms of both the timeframe and locations for early in-person early voting, adding new drop box locations for voters to deposit absentee ballots on or before Election Day, and educating voters on properly completing and submitting a mail-in absentee ballot.

The results are based on a detailed case study using data from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is worth noting that the discrete event simulation model reflects standard voting procedures used throughout the country and can be applied to other settings. Since the data from the Milwaukee case study are reflective of many other settings, the results, observations, and recommendations can be applied to voting precincts throughout Wisconsin and in other states that hold in-person voting on Election Day.

Resilient voting systems during the COVID-19 pandemic: A discrete event simulation approach