Faculty gather virtually for Conversations with Colleagues

Group of people at conference table

Our academic, work, and social lives have all been severely impacted by the pandemic. “Conversations with Colleagues” is an open Teams call where faculty gather for semi-structured informal discussions about their instructional experiences with fellow Georgia Tech instructors. Started in fall 2020, Conversations with Colleagues has provided a valuable outlet for Georgia Tech faculty to interact with others, share their experiences, and gain insight into coping with pandemic-related challenges. Dr. Rhett Mayor (Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Secretary of the Faculty) and Dr. Kyla Ross (Assistant Vice Provost for Advocacy and Conflict Resolution) prepare a topic and loose discussion structure for the meetings where they encourage colleagues to share their stories and experiences.

At the early March 2021 meeting, Ross and Mayor hosted a presentation alongside Dr. Kate Williams (Assistant Director, Center for Teaching and Learning) about faculty well-being. Discussion facilitators introduced Seligman’s PERMA model of psychological well-being – positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments – that work together to create a sense of flourishing. This framework provided a backdrop for faculty to explore how they can improve their personal and professional well-being through these elements. Faculty shared common challenges that impacted their ability to flourish during the pandemic, as well as coping strategies. For example, one instructor shared her department’s virtual weekly “Tea Time” where they drink tea and check in about how their week is going. Georgia Tech offers a variety of programs to help faculty connect outside of their academic unit. One such program from the Institute Diversity Equity and Inclusion office is Leading Women@Tech, a program that focuses on helping women in their professional development and encourages professional and social networking.

In their most recent meeting on March 30, the group discussed the Institute’s wellness days and experiences of burnout with insight from Dr. Rebecca Pope-Ruark (Faculty Teaching and Learning Specialist, Center for Teaching and Learning). Burnout is a syndrome resulting from workplace stress that hasn’t been properly managed. It is characterized by feeling energy depleted, increased inability to focus, reduced professional efficacy, and negative feelings related to your job.  Burnout leads to higher levels of depression and anxiety and makes it extremely difficult to refocus.

We’ve all probably experienced these feelings, especially in our current situation, and it can be hard to overcome burnout once it hits.

The group discussed their personal experiences of burnout and its impact on them. One person stated they felt burnout had a sort of lagging effect on them where it didn’t hit them until the winter break, and then they struggled to recover from the intensity of it. Many faculty said that they appreciated the wellness days and that it provided a breather for them away from classes and meetings.

They also discussed “toxic positivity” as a negative way to respond to and deal with burnout.  Sometimes it can seem like being positive all the time is what people need but it often comes off as superficial and can be frustrating because it feels like it diminishes the stress of a situation. A positive way to deal with burnout is setting clear boundaries for yourself in your work and not overextending yourself. It is important to be honest with yourself about what you can handle and recognize that there’s nothing wrong with not being able to handle everything all of the time. Acknowledging and respecting your limits is imperative to your mental health and combatting burnout.

If you are interested in attending the Conversations with Colleagues meetings in the future or viewing the presentations from previous meetings, you can visit https://provost.gatech.edu/conversations-colleagues.

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Camryn Burke

Student Writer for Center of Teaching and Learning

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