Update: Resigned from DePaul

I am back after a really long hiatus. A lot happened between writing my last blog and posting this current one. Among life’s major macro-transition was one that will perhaps, forever, change the course of my career. I resigned from DePaul University early in the Spring Quarter (2015) after six amazing years in order to relocate to the West Coast with my family. I have truly appreciated the time I spent at DePaul and in Chicago.

At DePaul, I got to work alongside some really brilliant and inspiring minds; colleagues who became friends; who are stalwarts in their respective sub-disciplines but down-to-earth and humble, friendly and loyal, not to mention great people with whom you actually want to hang out outside of work. I wrote and turned in that resignation letter with a heavy heart completely mindful of my agency in this matter as well as the subsequent consequences. No matter where I end up professionally, I shall remain eternally grateful to DePaul and its people for all the opportunities given to me; the relationships I was fortunate enough to foster; the lessons learned and taught, literally and figuratively speaking; and of course the many, many students I had the opportunity to teach, learn from, and mentor. What a privilege and pleasure the six years have been!



Guest Speaker: India’s Working Women and Career Discourses

I was invited as a guest speaker to one of DePaul’s Liberal Studies Program courses (Focal Point – Women and Work) taught by Dr. Nila Ginger Hofman, a professor in the Anthropology department. I was thrilled at the opportunity to speak to the mostly first year students. The students had read a chapter from my book, “India’s Working Women and Career Discourses: Society, Socialization, and Agency” and had prepared questions for me. Continue reading “Guest Speaker: India’s Working Women and Career Discourses”

Janice, the taxi driver

Given the extremely cold days that Chicago and Chicagoans have had to endure this winter, I have reluctantly given in to the luxury of taking a cab home after teaching my graduate seminar this quarter. Yesterday, my cab driver was Janice, an older African-American woman. I was pleased to be in my very first car ride with a woman driver. After exchanging pleasantries and admitting to her that this was my first time being driven by a woman, I started asking her about her work.

Because I love what I study and research – careers and meanings of work – every encounter with a “working” individual is a chance to learn more about their constructions of meaningful work and Janice was an engaged interviewee. I asked her why she rode a cab. (I did confess that I am a professor and that I study and teach about work and it’s meanings) She said it was like a business to her because she leases the cab for 24 hours and gets to set her schedule. As we continued to chat, I learned that she had been driving a cab for 9 years and really enjoyed it. Why does she enjoy it? She answered jovially by saying that “people are always coming and going” in her cab and she enjoys meeting so many new people all the time. I also learned that Janice is voluntary cook at a shelter. When I asked her what the meaning of this work was for her, she repeated her ability to have a flexible schedule. Then, she said that she liked that she helped people in her job. “How so?” She believes she helps people because she takes people to their destinations. She said she wasn’t very religious but still felt there was a hand of God in what she did and “it is also very good money!”, she said smilingly.

Before we could chat more, I had arrived home and Janice had indeed helped me get to my destination thereby fulfilling the meaning she saw in her work everyday. She is an amazing conversationalist and throughout our 5-6 minute cab ride, her smile never once left her face. She was very pleasant to chat to and I really wished I had had more time to engage with her.

With regard to meanings of work, Janice appeared to have both, intrinsic as well as extrinsic reasons to find meaningfulness in her work. Her subjective interpretation of meaningful work as helping someone was unexpected for me just because I never saw the role of a cab driver from a purely functional angle. Of course it absolutely makes sense now but to see it internalized and expressed clearly from a cab driver’s perspective was new for me.

I hope to continue interviewing more people  “at work” and will update this blog accordingly. To see some of the amazing interviews my students have conducted in the past, go to https://themeaningofworkproject.wordpress.com

Meditation in the Classroom

Last Wednesday, Hillary Johnson of Calm Chicago came to my class and spoke to my students about ‘Mindfulness and Meditation’. After connecting via LinkedIn in the Spring, I first met Hillary at a coffee shop to pitch my idea of her visiting my class and speaking to my students, an engagement she graciously accepted. A few weeks ago, Chris Cinnamon visited my class and spoke to my students about the significance of breathing right, and posture and alignment, in addition to demonstrating a few Tai Chi moves. He even invited my students and me to try a couple of classes at Enso Tai Chi, something I might actually take him up on in a few months.

Many of my students have taken on meditation as part of their Happiness Projects and were therefore looking forward to Hillary’s visit to understand and learn more about what they had potentially, hitherto, only read about. Some were practicing meditation but as it became evident from students’ comments on their Reflections assignment, none had done so in a guided manner. Hillary’s guest presentation included an explanation of the need for a holistic understanding/rationale for prioritizing our mental health/emotional well-being. She explained and elaborated on the concepts symbolized by RAIN or Recognize, Accept, Investigate, and Not-Identify/not-self, among other things, and then led a meditation session in the classroom that lasted a little over 20 minutes.

Hillary Johnson, Founder, CalmChicago presents 'Mindfulness and Meditation'
Hillary Johnson, Founder, CalmChicago presents ‘Mindfulness and Meditation’

Students’ reactions at the end of the meditation session were a bag of emotions ranging from feelings of calm and restfulness, to surprise (many thought they had only been meditating for under 5 minutes and were surprised to find that we had been at it for 23 minutes), ease of physical pain, focus, and reduced stress. During our discussion, students talked about how they had never had a guided meditation session before and the impact of what they had experienced was truly profound. Several of them are now seriously considering doing this as a matter of habit. I am proud of my students for being open to new experiences. Perhaps some of them will indeed be able to pursue lifelong meditation and some may not but the intentions are noble and a good place to start.

I am further encouraged to introduce a quick 5 minutes ‘Centering of the Self’ time for all my face-to-face classes from now on. Of course, 5 minutes aren’t enough but it will force all of us, students and instructor, to just hit ‘pause’ for a few minutes, take a few deep breaths, re-center ourselves from the craziness that life before and after our class will unleash on us, and just use those few minutes to calm ourselves. I think I really will incorporate this into all my classes.

New course on Happiness

This fall I am teaching a new course called, “Communication and the Art of Happiness at Work”. A huge shout out goes to Sarah Tracy at Arizona State University (who unbeknownst to her is someone I consider my mentor :)) for her incredible generosity, kindness, and willingness to share not only her syllabus but other resources from which I have drawn content to use for my own class. I attended a short course she offered at NCA last year (The power of positive scholarship: How to create an entire class, specific curricula, and ⁄or an action research project related to the bright side of communication) in Washington, DC and learned a lot. I really think it is important for members of our scholarly community to share resources, best practices, pedagogical insights, and such with others willing to learn and implement such efforts in their own teaching, research, and other engagements.

I am really excited about the course. I am offering this course in a new hybrid format where I have some face-to-face and some online classes. I am eager to see how the format with work with such a course. What I am also super excited about is having guest presenters come in to two of my face-to-face meetings. On October 15, Chris Cinnamon will attend my class and teach my students and me some basic Tai Chi moves. You can read more about him here. On October 29, I will have Hillary Johnson of Calm Chicago introduce to my students and me new research on mindfulness and meditation as well as lead us into a direct experience of the two. For more information on Calm Chicago, click here.

In addition, students complete weekly activities and reflections, complete a happiness project and presentation, read peer-reviewed journal articles, and complete two exams. I look forward to a new quarter with new experiences.

My book, ‘India’s Working Women and Career Discourses…” is released

India's Working Women  India’s Working Women and Career Discourses: Society, Socialization, and Agency

This study investigates Indian working women’s sense of the discourses surrounding work and careers. In interviews conducted with seventy-eight women across socioeconomic statuses, castes, classes, and occupational and generational categories in the city of Pune, India, women express how feeling bound by tradition confronts excitement about ongoing changes in the country. The work lives of these women are influenced symbiotically by India’s sociocultural practices and the contemporary phenomenon of globalization. Using feminist standpoint theory as a theoretical lens, Suchitra Shenoy-Packer explores how women deconstruct, coconstruct, and reconstruct systems of knowledge about their worlds of work as embedded within and influenced by the intersections of society, socialization, and individual agency. The meanings that Indian women associate with their work as well as their definition of a career in twenty-first-century India will be of interest to students and scholars of feminist theory, women’s studies, globalization, Asian studies, and labor studies.

Last week, I received a shipment of 10 copies of my first solo-authored book. Needless to say, I am excited at its release and look forward to it being read and used as a text, reference guide, or even leisure reading by others. The project has been a long time in the making. This book is the culmination of three months of data collection in India in 2008 and several years of continued and updated research since then. I absolutely enjoyed the process of meeting with my amazing participants, learning from them, and listening to their experiences. What a delightful way to engage other individuals…by talking about their work!! Because I wanted to understand my participants or my research collaborators beyond their framing of their worlds of work, I asked many a questions related to their lives as well. The answers I got were almost always candid and often inspirational. What other profession or career choice would give one this kind of an opportunity!

Journalism comes close and I am fortunate to have had experience working as a journalist for The Indian Express in Pune, back in the day. Talking to people, getting out of my comfort zone to research topics I didn’t start out knowing much about, engaging interviewees in a conversation about themselves (which is usually not difficult), and just soaking in all that information, is something I really, really love doing. I truly enjoy getting to know people from the perspective of my research questions. Whether it is journalistic investigation (although granted, much of my work as a stringer was interviewing celebrities, writing about food, music, movies, and the teen-college generation, I was very dedicated to my work and took every assignment seriously with the amount of commitment it deserved) or scholarly inquiries, I live for that engagement. I am so thrilled to be working in a profession I love.

ICA 2014

I just got back from Seattle after attending a pre-conference I had organized along with my friend and collaborator Dr. Elena Gabor. The pre-conference titled, ‘(Re)Defining and (Re)Negotiating the Meaning of Work, Career, Happiness, and Good Life’ was sponsored by Bradley University, DePaul University, and Management Communication Quarterly.

This was my first time organizing a pre-conference. It was back in August that I accepted the Organizational Communication Division Chair, Ted Zorn’s request to organize this pre-conference with a very short turnaround of less than a week. It seemed like a really interesting thing to do and I am always up for new challenges so I immediately said yes. I, then, persuaded Elena to collaborate with me on this project since we were collaborators on our book project as well, an invitation Elena very graciously accepted despite the time constraints.

We put together a proposal and submitted it by the September 1 deadline. It was subsequently accepted…but then the real work began. I was pregnant during the entire process and later, as the actual conference date got closer, I was even closer to my delivery date and had my baby three months before the 2014 conference. As you can imagine, balancing the pre-conference work with a newborn was very challenging. I honestly can’t imagine how I would have managed to organize it by myself and without Elena’s help. For her commitment to this pre-conference, to her friendship, to her unquestioning taking on of more of the workload when a completely sleep-deprived, emotionally and physically exhausted me couldn’t even keep her eyes open during the day lagged behind, and for her support throughout this process, I shall eternally be grateful.

The day of the pre-conference was a really good day. In addition to Elena and I, we had four facilitators/topic experts for group discussions – Majia Nadesan, Patrice Buzzanell, Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, and Daniel Lair. Everything went well from our perspective. We did have a few glitches that mostly had to do with time allocations but overall, it was a well attended session with some very thoughtful discussions. There are a number of things I would do differently if I was to ever host another pre-conference but for now, I am going to feel extremely content and even proud of having managed to put together this preconference post-partum.

Perhaps, the thing I will remember the most will be wearing my baby during one part of the session. Given the title of the pre-conference, I was quite confident of doing what I was planning on doing – I am breastfeeding my baby and so naturally, I would have to excuse myself every now and then to go be a mom (not that, that is only limited to breastfeeding). I also expressed this during my introduction and informed attendees that I might need to excuse myself on occasion. Anyway, so at one point, I did get a message saying that Baby had been crying on and off for almost two hours. Even though I was in the midst of small group discussions, with Elena’s permission, I excused myself and went to our room upstairs. After I fed him, Baby was calmer but then because M had to get some work done, I just strapped Baby on me using my Ergo Baby and off I went to continue the session. I even gave my short presentation on Immigrants and Meanings of Work with Baby on me.

The amazing thing about this whole experience was that I was totally confident and sure of what I was doing. Later on, a number of participants came over and told me their own experiences with their newborns or infants and breastfeeding and balancing work and babies. I feel grateful to belong to a community of parents who instinctively ‘get’ each other and at least in my experience so far, have been extremely supportive. Baby got quite a few admirers. At one point, however, I have to admit, I did wonder if I was being unprofessional, bringing a baby to this session but any doubts I might have were quickly dismissed by Majia Nadesan (Thanks, Majia) who told me to NEVER FEEL GUILTY and encouraged me to do what is right for my family. Who gets to decide what is professional and what is not? Who makes these rules anyway?

This Seattle ICA was quite the adventure. Not only was this Baby’s first plane ride since he was born (he traveled four times by air while in the womb), it was our first long trip as a family. Based on my experiences personally and professionally, I wonder if my research will get new meaning and added layers as I continue working on issues and topics that interest me.