12 questions to help you thrive in your mid-career years

The “mid-career slump” is a well-documented dip in job satisfaction and direction that is common among recently tenured faculty members. You can read about the phenomenon in this collection of articles we’ve gathered for FAUW workshop participants over the last few years.

With some reflection and planning—and by using your new job security to take some risks and try new things—you can avoid, or at least mitigate, the mid-career slump. The articles in the folder linked above provide some practical suggestions, and the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity, which UW just joined, has a one-hour webinar on “Getting to Mid-career and Beyond” coming up on March 23. (To activate your NCFDD membership, visit www.facultydiversity.org/join and follow the prompts.)

FAUW also offers a workshop on this topic. At the most recent session in December 2020, five mid-career faculty members shared advice for avoiding the mid-career slump and mapping out the years following tenure (or the lecturer equivalent at UW: a continuing appointment).

Based on the experiences and advice of these panelists, here are 12 questions to help you design and make the most of the next few (or many) years of your career by looking at where you are now, identifying new opportunities, and planning with the end in mind.

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Let’s do more than talk

Canadians are beginning to recognize January 28 as an important day. Not only do we begin seeing the advertisements for Bell Let’s Talk day well in advance of the 28th; not only do a lot of us share their messages promoting help-seeking and mental health initiatives; but we also have begun to see a clear pattern of opinion pieces and news stories challenging Bell. It might be worth putting together some of the criticism here:

Michael Spratt reminded us that the millions of dollars Bell donates to mental health is “peanuts compared to its $23.45-billion annual revenue.” Even more disturbingly, he investigated Bell’s exclusive contract with the Ontario government to provide telephone services in jails. Under the Bell contract, Ontario inmates could only call landline telephone numbers and paid exorbitant collect-call rates. As he says, “Bell has never disclosed its profits from this exclusive and predatory phone racket, though it could amount to more money than it charitably donates during its “Bell Let’s Talk” campaign each year.” While Ontario has changed providers, Bell still holds the contract for federal prisons.

Maria McLean revealed that when she asked for a mental health leave from her job at Bell, they fired her.

Mandy Pipher argued that “during the worst years of my own mental health struggles — rough, often debilitating years — I’d dread the annual Bell mental-health-themed advertising blitz. Because that’s how it seemed: like advertising for a corporation dripping in the money desperately needed by many of those suffering from mental illness, with genuine concern for mental health sufferers a distant second.”

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(Staying) home for the Holidays: How FAUW reps are making the most of this winter break

If there’s one thing we know for sure right now, it’s that all of our members deserve a break! This has been a long, hard year for everyone and we hope you’re able to take some time for yourselves next week and get some much-needed rest. While the holidays will be different this year for many of us, we hope they’re still full of joy and peace—or whatever else you’re in need of right now.

Take it outside

If you’re thinking about adding in outdoor visits, here’s some great advice on How to Socialize in the Cold Without Being Miserable. NPR also has a great explanation of how to “dress like an onion” to stay warm: start with a sweat-wicking layer next to your skin, such as merino wool or polyester; add a heat-trapping layer, like a fleece; and top it with something wind-blocking. Cotton does not make for a good base layer, as it loses any insulating properties when you sweat. Don’t forget to apply this to your legs, too!

Need some inspiration?

From outdoor visits, to bingeing Netflix shows, to running in a Santa suit, here are some of the ways your FAUW Board, committee, and staff members are spending their time off this year:

I’m just planning to walk away from work for a week to ten days. Figuring out what shelves to clean out, what movies and shows to stream, and what routes to take on walks is about the amount of work I want to have on my plate over the break.  This term was a challenge, as it was for everyone, and January will be really tough on my end, so the rest of December is all about family time and downtime.

Joel Dubin, director

For the first time ever, we will be going on a drive around Kitchener/Waterloo to check out the light displays people have put up.

Nomair Naeem, director

I’m traveling to London, UK for theatre. Virtually, of course! I’ll be making some popcorn and tuning into a livestream production of A Christmas Carol (starring Andrew Lincoln as Scrooge) from the Old Vic Theatre. Anyone else watching? We can have a virtual coffee after!

Katy Fulfer, Indigenization Working Group
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Faculties withholding centralized scheduling support from instructors

Here’s the good news: After much discussion at Senate and behind-the-scenes lobbying, the Registrar’s Office is now scheduling synchronous meet times for fall 2020, as they normally would. 

Synchronous = students and instructor interact online in real time.
Asynchronous = weekly tasks and deadlines exist but there is no set class time.

The bad news is that at least one Faculty (maybe more) has opted not to use the Registrar’s Office (RO) to schedule synchronous activities, without appropriately engaging collegial bodies such as faculty council. FAUW believes this needs to change. 

Why not scheduling synchronous activities centrally is a problem 

  1. It’s bad for students. When scheduling synchronous activities is left to individual instructors (as in at least one Faculty), it’s very easy to create conflicts for students. That’s one big reason we have centralized scheduling in the first place. In an already confusing, difficult time, it is also unfair to expect students who are enrolled in more than one Faculty to navigate different scheduling processes. Further, instructors surveying students about their availability may inadvertently violate student privacy and confidentiality in a way that the RO won’t because the RO has existing systems in place to optimize scheduling without compromising student privacy. 
  2. It’s more work for instructors. Instructors are already working as hard as they can so let’s not ask them to do scheduling work that others normally do on their behalf (and are still employed to do).  
  3. It violates academic freedom. We are concerned that withholding central supports from instructors with the aim of constraining their pedagogical choices sets a worrisome precedent and risks violating instructors’ academic freedom to teach as they judge fit using the resources that are available.  
  4. It undermines collegial governance. Academic decisions of this type need to be made collegially through bodies established for such deliberation and decision-making. This circumvention of collegial governance is even more concerning given the substantial debate that colleagues had about this matter at Senate—the University’s highest collegial body and indeed the body charged in the University of Waterloo Act with making academic decisions.  
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COVID Coping Strategies: Avoiding communications snafus in the era of COVID-19

As our members adjust to working remotely, we’ll be featuring strategies that departments and faculty members are using to manage the transition. If you have something to share or want to suggest a person or department to feature, send a brief pitch to laura.mcdonald@uwaterloo.ca.

This is a guest post from Shannon Dea, FAUW vice president and professor in the Department of Philosophy. It was originally published in her regular University Affairs column.


“Is this thing muted? Can you hear me? Sorry, I forgot to unmute.”

As thousands of academics worldwide shift to virtual meetings and technology-mediated learning, these phrases have become ubiquitous. While many of us need to do a better job of remembering to unmute before we speak in our new Zoom and Teams reality, we also need to learn when to mute – or at least modulate – some of our communications.

Marshall McLuhan famously declared that the medium is the message. It is a good lesson to remember in the era of COVID-19. Whether we are teaching, participating in a meeting, or just grousing about stuff with our friends and colleagues, online modes of communication affect who we are communicating with, how they understand what we’re saying, and the downstream consequences of what we say. Combine this with some colleagues’ unfamiliarity with how online platforms work and you have a perfect storm.

Consider the good-hearted U.S. prof who last week tweeted out a compassionate thread detailing the hardships her students were experiencing because of COVID-19 and pleading for colleagues to be compassionate with their students. The overall message was a good one, but Twitter was the wrong place for the private details about students’ poverty, mental health and family deaths that she included in the thread. When the thread went viral, she realized her mistake and deleted the thread, but not before several people had screen-capped it. Now, that version is all over the internet, despite the original poster’s efforts to pull the thread.

While physical distancing might tempt us to talk on social media in the same way that we would at the water cooler, your social media remarks can attract a much larger and much different audience than you predict, and once your comments are public, there is no way to reel them back in.

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COVID Coping Strategies: Triaging Spring Term

As our members adjust to working remotely, we’ll be featuring strategies that departments and faculty members are using to manage the transition. If you have something to share or want to suggest a person or department to feature, send a brief pitch to laura.mcdonald@uwaterloo.ca.

This is a guest post from Johanna Wandel, FAUW Board member and Associate Professor in Geography and Environmental Management.


The past couple of weeks have challenged us in ways most of us never anticipated. We’re dealing with moving teaching online, fielding questions from students when we don’t have the answers yet, or both—on top of the other stressors and disruptions brought about by the pandemic. Academic units are making tough decisions on very short timelines, with limited information. I’m an associate chair (undergraduate) in a medium-sized unit, and want to share how we’re making some of our decisions.

Course scheduling as of two weeks ago

Undergraduate course offerings are firmed up almost six months before the start of a given term. Once students pre-enroll, the registrar’s office projects demand for courses based on previous years’ data and units decide if they need to add or remove lab sections, increase or decrease course caps, and so on. Once scheduling runs (around the middle of the previous term) rooms and times are added, at which point it becomes much more difficult to change class sizes or eliminate/add a lab section. So that’s where we all were for Spring 2020 as of early March.

Enter COVID-19

In a very short time, we’ve all been asked not only for a plan for finishing our current courses remotely, but to move the entire Spring term online. This week, all the admin teams are asked to indicate, for every course on the Spring schedule: Will it go ahead? If yes, synchronously or asynchronously? Is there a change to the cap? It was clear to my unit that we’d have to triage: Which courses can effectively meet their learning outcomes in an alternate delivery format, and which can’t? The decisions we all have to make must balance the need for a meaningful learning experience for our students with what we can realistically do. Those of us in admin roles also need to consider students who need specific courses to graduate, prerequisite sequencing, and course caps—some courses can handle larger class sizes if we go online, but others cannot.

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February at FAUW

Maybe it was the Valentine’s Day candy, or maybe it was the coming long weekend, but we got through the February 13 Board meeting in good time. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. We debriefed the recent Council of Representatives meeting. One topic at that meeting was the importance of Faculty Performance Evaluation Guidelines and departmental addenda. These documents are the place to look for information about what’s a “normal” workload in your department, how service is evaluated, or what counts as teaching. Right now is a good time to start working on updating those documents if they need it (new versions must be approved by October 15). Talk to your Council member for more information. Here are some suggestions for things to include:
    • An explicitly defined normal teaching load
    • The expected/normal supervision load
    • A statement acknowledging different types of teaching and teaching responsibilities
    • The ability to submit peer reviews of teaching and solicited comments or letters
    • That participation in CTE and other workshops counts toward teaching
    • The ability to use evidence not just from the classroom and qualitative evidence
    • Direction that student surveys should be considered with caution
  1. We noted some confusion among members about how benefits plan decisions are made. The Pension & Benefits Committee decides what’s covered in our health and dental plans, and that committee is made up of members from all the represented employee groups (FAUW, the Staff Association, and CUPE) and the Retirees Association, plus representatives from the University administration and Board of Governors. FAUW has three out of 13 votes on the committee.
  2. We heard updates from our rep on the Copyright Advisory Committee. If you have questions about copyright in your classes or your own work, read this interview with Lauren Byl, Copyright and Licensing Librarian, to find out how to get answers!
  3. We cleared up an issue about travel to Cuba. University Finance sent a memo last July stating that “international financial sanctions prevent the University from making or receiving payment for products or services related, either directly or indirectly” to certain countries including Cuba and Iran. We had serious concerns about how this might limit opportunities for research collaboration and questions about why the University was implementing American sanctions (Canada doesn’t have sanctions against Cuba). 
    We now have confirmation that the University can “reimburse an employee for travel expenses related to countries subject to sanctions, provided that the employee’s travel reimbursement is to a Canadian bank account and assuming that the travel to that particular country has not otherwise been prohibited under University of Waterloo Policy.” If you encounter any difficulties with claims for travel to countries subject to sanctions, let a FAUW Board or staff member so that we can follow up.”
  4. After hearing that definite term lecturers did not receive an email about nominations for University Senate, we reaffirmed, again, that, lecturers are regular faculty (and eligible to sit on Senate). “Regular faculty” almost exactly overlaps with “faculty represented by FAUW.” Here’s the short version: Regular faculty = lecturers and professors hired for at least one year, except research profs and adjuncts.
    • The slightly more complicated version, as defined in Policy 76 (Faculty Appointments) is that regular faculty means all lecturer and professorial rank faculty with appointments one year or longer, including clinical faculty (e.g. a clinical lecturer or clinical associate professor), but not including any faculty who have some other qualifier in their title to designate a non-regular appointment, such as “research,” “adjunct,” “visiting,” or “special.” (Sessional instructors are not regular faculty; they aren’t defined anywhere, but they all have special or adjunct appointments and are hired on contracts shorter than one year.) We’ll have more on this in a blog post from the Lecturers Committee soon.
  5. As we reported in the fall, the Media Resources office and preview room closed when the person staffing the office retired. The resources are now available through the IST Service Desk located in the Davis Centre Library. We brought concerns about this to the University, and have now heard that things are staying essentially the same. There is a new viewing room available at the DC library. To request new materials, email media.loans@uwaterloo.ca. The Associate Vice President, Academic has promised to keep an eye on this, and we will too. Let us know if the office closure creates problems for you.

Unplugging – How four professors successfully disconnect from work

A couple of months ago, FAUW hosted a panel on how faculty members can “unplug” when away from work. With reading week upon us, we thought we’d share some of the insights from that event.

These are not pie-in-the-sky ideas dreamed up by productivity bloggers or people who don’t sleep. These are real methods for protecting your time practiced by professors at UWaterloo who are approximately as busy as you are.

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UW responds to the climate crisis

From paper straws to the “Green New Deal” to the arrival of Greta Thunberg in North America, the climate crisis is a regular topic in the national and international media. But you might not know how UWaterloo is responding. Here’s a high-level overview about the status of the University’s responsible investing commitments, a faculty member’s role in the City of Kitchener declaring a climate emergency, and the September 27 global climate strike.

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What the Okanagan Charter means for Waterloo faculty

Dan Brown, FAUW Treasurer

In October, 2018, President Hamdullahpur signed the Okanagan Charter at a mental health forum about the status of the 36 recommendations of the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health (PAC-SMH) report. At our general meeting in April, we heard from Campus Wellness about some of the ways the Charter is being implemented (download the general meeting slides).

Let’s dig a little deeper into what the Charter is and how it might affect faculty at Waterloo.

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