Thriving Faculty is a regular column highlighting individual or collective UBC Faculty who exemplify integration of health and wellbeing into their classrooms, research, departments and/or communities. Thriving Faculty support others’ health and wellbeing in addition to making a commitment to their own self-care. This column highlights personal and professional stories of Thriving Faculty.
Read an interview with Dr. Elizabeth Croft.
Q. What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as Faculty?
I constantly remind myself about the big rocks strategy – prioritize important things in my life first and then fit other stuff around those “big things”. Otherwise, the most important things don’t happen.
I exercise regularly – the mental and physical health benefits are enormous.
I partner on projects. Together is better – and a lot more fun.
I accept that I cannot do it all in my personal and professional life. I get help where I can.
I intentionally follow opportunities which align with my core values as a person and to the commitments I have made as a UBC faculty member, researcher and professional engineer. I really like to help other people and I care about doing things well and sustainably – and I would like to develop into an effective leader. I’m also very passionate about my research in robotics – so projects and opportunities that meet those values and align with my commitments are ones that particularly attract me.
A great process that I have used personally is called the values exercise. Essentially you identify your top N values, and then you narrow this down into smaller and smaller sets until you get down to what is core for you. Not every value is written on the page so you can always “write in” the values that are important to you. The point is to spend some time thinking about what you care about. Once you know what your values are, it’s much easier to be intentional about them
Q. Are they any specific initiatives and/or research you are involved in that promote health, mental health and wellbeing?
- As NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the BC/Yukon region, I support a number of initiatives that help girls and women advance in Science and Engineering careers.
- I am a Principal Investigator of a SSHRC-funded study on the impact of workplace climate of women working in engineering. For this research, we bring together an interdisciplinary team combining expertise in engineering, organizational study of workplace dynamics, and social psychology of implicit bias to better understand and dismantle the obstacles that workplace culture can create for women in engineering. We will engage directly with practicing women engineers as well as managers and industry leaders to systematically examine current policies and practices and to quantitatively identify successful strategies.
- As a robotics researcher, I am working on several rehabilitation robotics projects aimed at helping people with stroke or other disorders recover function.
- I am also working with the Associate Deans of Science and of Applied Science on the Faculty Working Climate study undertaken jointly in the Faculties of Science and Applied Science at the University of British Columbia. The aim of the study is to identify, understand, and remediate aspects of the academic climate that are creating barriers to faculty success. A faculty survey was developed, piloted and then deployed during September – November 2012 with a nearly 50% response rate. The survey data, along with information from the heads and statistical HR data from the faculties has been processed and analyzed. A draft report is near completion, and findings and recommendations will be presented to the Deans this fall.
Q. How does wellbeing show up for you in your working relationships with colleagues and staff?
I work with amazing smart and talented people and I appreciate how much they do to help achieve our common goals at UBC. Having good relationships with the people that I work with is essential to my enjoyment of my work environment.
I think it is important to start every interaction from a point of respect for the individual. When I was a very young (and impulsive) student intern, a “crusty old engineer” told me that I needed to start every conversation with finding out how the other person was feeling – to take a few minutes to make a positive personal connection and to start from a point of listening. His advice was golden. Starting from that positive, open, perspective helps in all relationships. Yes, there are always challenges, but I think the people who challenge me the most have most contributed to my personal growth. The most important thing in relationships is to try to understand the other person’s point of view and motivations – knowing what is their “why” makes negotiation much easier. I believe that people generally want to help, to do their job well, and to make a positive contribution. Looking from that perspective, it is much easier to navigate difficult interactions.
Q. Are there any resources on campus or external resources that you have found to be helpful for promoting wellbeing for either yourself or your students?
I think that the student associations and clubs are excellent resources. In engineering, students have established great student project teams that help them gain experience, clubs that support professional development activities, and tutoring resources that help them get help when they are struggling. All of these initiatives are amazing. I have been very fortunate to work with the Engineering Tri-Mentoring Program from its inception and also the Women in Engineering program – both have been excellent in supporting student development and promoting diversity in engineering.
I have benefited immensely from being mentored and supported by colleagues across the university. I’m very grateful and I think this is why I think mentoring and other support programs are so essential.
When I started at UBC, as very fresh Ph.D. and a new parent, I felt quite out of place. There wasn’t any formal mentoring in my department, but older colleagues were very kind and gave me very important advice about how to prepare for tenure. That was very helpful, but I think what I craved was life advice that was relevant to my personal situation. I reached out to the few senior woman I could find – both in engineering and science – and they were all wonderfully supportive in giving practical life advice and lots of encouragement. I also found informal peer mentoring to be extremely helpful. New colleagues who joined the department shortly after me, and who were also young parents, provided a great deal of community support. I also joined a women-in-engineering industry group and found great support, and life long friends, in that group.
To me, a supportive mentor is some who is willing to listen and to help you find your own answers. They are sounding board that helps you develop your own personal analysis and reflection skills. They provide perspective and help you reframe and even redirect your thought process. As the person being mentored it is essential to be in a good frame of mind, focused, attentive and open to new ideas. Make sure you keep a positive outlook and that you are benefiting from the support. Don’t complain about problems, instead use the time to propose and work out solutions. Of course, you should value your mentor’s time – be prompt, be prepared and say thank you! This should be a positive experience for both parties.
Q. In your role as faculty, please describe your experience balancing work-life commitments? Is there a metaphor that depicts this relationship?
For me, balance isn’t a good metaphor. I prefer to talk about work life juggling. I think the static nature of the balance metaphor is the problem. In fact, even achieving simple standing balance require constant movement – after all, we are all unstable inverted pendulums when we stand – constantly correcting to stay upright. But I don’t want to just stand, I like to run! And that is a very dynamic process requiring significant effort.
I think the most important thing is to develop a strong support network so if you are getting overwhelmed you can move from juggling to catch. My husband and I are in the “sandwich generation” – older parents on one side and three kids on the other. I find that both work and family require focused, concentrated time and high energy input. For me, it is important to be able to hand things off to people I trust in order to feel that I can truly give my all to the person or project I am focusing on and be truly present, rather than worrying or being distracted by something else.
Elizabeth A. Croft, Ph.D., P.Eng., Fellow Engineers Canada, Fellow American Society of Mechanical Engineers, is Professor and NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, BC-Yukon at UBC and leader of the WWEST program for women in engineering, science and technology. As director of the Collaborative Advanced Robotics and Intelligent Systems (CARIS) Laboratory at UBC, her research investigates how robotic systems can behave, and be perceived to behave, in a safe, predictable, and helpful manner, and how people interact with and understand robotic systems. She manages a girls’ soccer team and enjoys running and quiet beaches.
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