GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘communication’

So it’s Sunday evening and I’m in my office on campus.

In Janine's Posts on 2011/10/24 at 00:09

Janine Utell, writing from Chester, Pennsylvania in the US.

I like being here when it’s unnervingly deserted. It’s a great time to make sure I’m up to speed on everything, and plan for the week ahead. I especially needed this time to regroup and catch up because of the way the previous week ended.

Not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with an obnoxious flurry of emails for which I would like to right now offer a public apology to all my colleagues. They are generous, patient, and I enjoy working with them. I don’t want them to dread seeing me in their inbox.

Why so many emails, you ask? Well, you don’t ask, really, because you know. It’s because I had to schedule meetings. As chair of both a department and a pretty active committee, I have to schedule meetings. I’m really bad at it. When my dean suggests that I have a future in administration (a topic for a later post), part of why I scoff is because someone as bad at scheduling meetings as I am should not be allowed to run anything.

A combination of frustration at my own utter failure to fulfill this most basic of obligations, and a week reading The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters by Benjamin Ginsberg, got me thinking about the ways I am potentially torturing my colleagues with tasks that take them away from what they think they should be doing as teachers and scholars, as well as their own heavy service obligations.

According to Ginsberg, part of the problem with higher ed today is a disconnect between how faculty and administrators perceive their respective missions. For professors, their primary purpose is research and teaching: the creation and dissemination of knowledge essential and enriching to the human endeavor and condition. For administrators, their primary purpose is to create an ever-expanding bureaucracy that encroaches on all areas of university work and life. Again, according to Ginsberg (who seems to have had some unpleasant workplace experiences in the past few years, and strikes me as something of a crank – but not completely incorrect in his assessments), administrators are more concerned with imagining new positions and titles for themselves, then demonstrating their necessity by coming up with retreats, task forces, strategic plans, and meetings, ever more meetings.

If this is what it means to be an administrator, then I’m afraid I’m not interested. (For more on what it means to be an “academic,” see this great U of Venus post by Liana Silva.) Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe in their book Practical Wisdom (which I wrote about for ProfHacker) talk about how meaningful work has to have purpose. For me, my purpose, my mission, is to find new ways of thinking about the human experience, and then find new ways of sharing that work: online forums; articles and books; and good, responsive, exciting teaching. I feel a strong connection with my discipline, and a bond with people at my institution and beyond who share that mission and that connection (even if they are in disciplines other than my own).

So I want to rethink the way I work in my administrative and governance capacities, perhaps thinking of what we’re doing in terms of being a “maker” rather than a “manager,” in Paul Graham’s terms. I started by asking colleagues for a wish list of questions people might ask before they schedule a meeting:

  • What is the point of the meeting? Is the agenda clear and reasonable?
  • Where is the agenda coming from? Do we own the work of the meeting?
  • Is this facilitating either the greater purpose of the department/committee, individual colleagues, or both?
  • Would it be quicker/more efficient/less painful to have a shorter meeting/one-on-one conversation/email exchange?
  • Does the potential for hostility/anger/resentment exist and how can I head it off?

And my favorite, from Twitter colleague Stephen Ross (@GhostProf): “Am I the problem?” Part of why I love this is there are so many ways to answer it; it doesn’t hurt to be mindful of at least a few of them.

None of this is to say we don’t have important work, and sometimes the best way to do it is to get a bunch of smart and focused people in a room to do something productive. I just want to make sure that’s actually what we’re doing.


Related posts at University of Venus:

This post was also published at Inside Higher Ed.

The Professor Has Left the Building. Thank You, and Goodnight.

In Uncategorized on 2011/02/23 at 03:40

Afshan Jafar, writing from Connecticut in the USA.

Ever see this clip from Seinfeld? 

It captures how we all feel about telemarketers calling us at home. Now if only I could figure out a way to get this message across to my students. No, they haven’t called me at home (probably because I haven’t made my number public) but they email me – constantly. They email me at midnight, 3 am, 6 am, while I’m on vacation, and while we’re on semester break.

Now, I tell my students at the beginning of every semester not to email me the night before an assignment is due to ask for an extension; not to send me panicky emails about whether they could skip a quiz and make it up later – two hours before class; not to send me emails asking for their final grades in the course when we’re on winter break, simply because they can’t wait the few days until grades are posted. Yet, the emails keep coming. In fact, with each incoming cohort over the last three years, the numbers of such emails showing up in my inbox has increased exponentially.

It would be one thing if the emails at 3 am didn’t expect an answer from me. But they do. I’ve had students email me a couple of times in the middle of the same night, in the hopes, I imagine, of somehow “squeezing” a response from me – during the time that I am, quite naturally, asleep in my bed. If it’s not the email that comes in at 3 am, it’s the email that arrives at 7 pm and demands a response before I go to bed that night. Do we, as professors, not get to “go home” from our jobs? Do we not have families and other obligations? Do we not need sleep? Do we not observe weekends and holidays? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

Of course one could argue that professors are not obligated to answer poorly-timed emails right away. But if you don’t, you could very well have twenty more emails in your inbox by the next day, all desperately demanding an answer. Or the email-happy student could go to your chair or another colleague to complain about your failure to respond. The Work-Life Caregiver Equity Study at UMass-Amherst produced a report that corroborates some of the above. It further states that even when professors set clear rules regarding emails, such as a 24-hour response time, it is more likely to “lead to negative student evaluations regarding the faculty member’s availability and accessibility for students.”

I am not arguing that we shouldn’t be available to our students at all. Of course our students need to get in touch with us at odd hours sometimes; of course emergencies happensometimes. But as the UMass-Amherst report also states, our students often email us with questions that they can find answers for in their syllabi or assignment instructions: When are your office hours? How long is the paper supposed to be? Or they email us about things which are better discussed in person: Why did I get a “C” on this assignment? Nor am I bothered by the emails that come in at odd hours but don’t require responses: Here’s a news story I came across that seemed relevant to this class. In fact, I welcome such emails! But I am bothered by emails that come at all hours of the night and demand immediate responses.

The UMass report recommends developing an email etiquette guide to be included on departmental websites and faculty syllabi. The first and perhaps the most significant recommendation is: “Expect faculty to respond to emails between 9am and 5pm on Monday through Friday with a forty-eight hour lag time.” Even though such rules are not enforceable, they have the benefit of taking the burden off of individual faculty who wish to impose such limits on email communication. We can also safely assume that female academics would benefit from such family-friendly policies since they often do a disproportionate amount of child-care and housework, and thus probably feel more pressed for time when it comes to answering student emails.

But we can expect that such policies will not be widely adopted by colleges (even though some corporate work places do have email policies). So until the day comes when we have college-wide policies to help us curb the flow of student emails to our in-boxes, perhaps I should take my inspiration from Seinfeld, and email my students at 2:30 am on a Saturday and ask them to complete an assignment by 9 am on Sunday.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Effective Use of Chocolate aka How to Bribe your Registrar

In Information Minoration on 2010/08/26 at 00:31

Heather Alderfer, writing from New Haven, Connecticut in the USA.

A good friend of mine claims that when he was an undergraduate, he always returned to school late, bearing a big box of chocolates or salt-water taffy, and charmed the Registrar’s Office into waiving any late enrollment fees. Whether it was his deliberate charm or the sugar, he claims his tactics were successful.

While most fees are automated now (and I’m not recommending actual bribes), getting off to a good start with the gatekeepers of student records will save headaches and time down the road. We’re not here to enforce arcane rules (unless the faculty voted on them); we just want to keep the all the moving parts working the best they can.

As the end of the summer approaches, and faculty and students begin preparing to head back to school, here are a few ways to work collaboratively with the Registrar’s Office.

For faculty joining a new institution, try to stop by the Registrar’s Office when visiting campus, preferably before student orientation begins. Introduce yourself. Know who to go to when a student sends an email requesting to take a class pass/fail or claims he is “blocked” from registering and writes an email asking, “but couldn’t you, as the faculty, just let me in”? If I can put a face to a name, the next time you call, I’m more likely to go an extra step to help or explain.

Find out what the policy is for students who don’t show up to class, never hand in work or plagiarize. Ask colleagues what they include in syllabi about re-grading, attendance, and collaboration. My first question to faculty when they approach me with questions around these topics is “what did you include in the syllabus?” – the de facto contract with students. It is easy to overlook student judicial policies amid the optimism of the start of the term. Knowing a friendly registrar or academic affairs staff person can make navigating complex problems easier.

If nothing else, turn grades in on time. Many institutions now use electronic grading – you may never have to interact with the Registrar’s Office.

While these are just a few of my suggestions, the blogosphere is rife with semester “to do” lists – I especially like ProfHacker’s post at the Chronicle and Instant Mentor’s ASAP post.

I would like to debunk the myth of the Registrar’s Office as automaton spitting out “No” to every request, or the idea that a set of Kafka-esque rules and forms takes precedence over the actual lives of students and faculty. I also try to maintain a fine balance of firmness and fairness, while realizing information overloaded students may need some guidance navigating the bureaucracy of the first few weeks of the term. As Meg recently wrote, finding compassion while saying no reminds us to not forget the human side of higher ed administration. How about a little familiarity and friendliness too?

So before the semester starts, I recommend stocking up on some good quality chocolate. I guarantee it will brighten the day of almost any administrator.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

Taking it to the Academic Whiteboard: From Great Idea to Winning Idea

In Happy Mondays on 2010/07/09 at 09:00

Mary Churchill, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA

A great idea is only five percent of what ends up being a “winning” idea.

Graduate training is all about coming up with good ideas – the best ideas possible. You read, read, read everyone’s great ideas. You write to distill the best of the best. You create a research plan to test the best ideas and to come back from the field with brand new great ideas. You are rewarded for the quality of your thinking, your ideas. There is a bit of politicking – picking the right committee members, making sure they play nice, etc.  For the most part we bemoan the politics and complain that they detract from the real work of academia – thinking big thoughts and being brilliant.

And then we enter the real world.

In the real world, there are lots of great ideas – millions every day. A good conversation or a productive meeting can generate a hundred ideas. They flit out of your mouth, bounce around a room, perhaps they even make it up to the whiteboard. If you have done the necessary groundwork, your idea might just remain on the whiteboard – surviving the meeting and being circled rather than crossed out.

What necessary groundwork? Don’t great ideas stand on their own? No.

The necessary groundwork is the social and cultural labor you extend in getting the group in that conference room to buy in to your great idea.  This is particularly crucial for women and members of groups that are not normally represented at the head of the conference table. In the USA, if you are not an older white man, then this means you. People are accustomed to receiving leadership from older white men. When a man in a meeting speaks, most of us will stop and listen. The rest of us have to work much harder to get the attention of the folks in the room.

Fair?   Not at all. True?    Definitely so.

When you send your great idea from your brain to your mouth and into the chaos of the social space that is this meeting, it is received by others who may or may not know you. If you have built relationships of mutual respect and you have done the necessary groundwork, those who know you and respect your work will support your “great idea”. Those who do not yet know you or your work will listen to those who choose to “sponsor” you. It is important to develop strategic alliances with powerful “sponsors” – people in power who support you and your ideas.

It is both what you know and who you know.

When you walk into that conference room, you bring your social and cultural capital to the meeting.

Additionally, it is crucial that when you present your idea, you present it as a contribution that invites collaboration and input. People want to be part of a “winning” idea. When you present your idea to your colleagues, you are selling it. Plain and simple. If you cannot show them how they are crucial to the success of the project, they will tune out and start answering e-mail on their iPhones and Blackberrys. If your idea does not “need” them to be successful and does not “invite” them to collaborate, it will get less support.

Your idea can be anything from developing a new academic program to re-thinking the way your department delivers its fall orientation.  To make your “great idea” stick: think it through, gather your supporters, and present it well. This is not an oral defense of your dissertation. This is team work. You are no longer a lone academic in an ivory tower. You are part of a larger whole and communication is key.

Once your great idea passes the initial whiteboard test, it is up to you to make sure that the idea stays alive, gets publicity, is successfully implemented and goes down in history as a “winning” idea.

Good luck at your annual retreat!

Mary Churchill

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Engaging International Families: Re-Drawing the International Student Picture

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/07/02 at 09:00

Meg Palladino, writing from Boston in the USA.

The thing that impresses me the most about America is the way parents obey their children.

-          King Edward VIII (1894 – 1972)

It’s summertime in Boston and just about this time of the year, I become  envious of my friends who teach in the public schools.  One friend is off to Corsica for the summer; another is spending two months in Spain. I seriously consider the idea of getting certified to teach in the Boston Public Schools.  And then I remember the parents.

One of the luxuries of working with international students in higher education is that I hardly ever  encounter parents. Not only are the parents of my students several thousand miles away, but very few feel comfortable communicating with me in English.   In the past, I have always taken  pride in teaching these young adults, free for the first time in a new environment. I like to help them find themselves and become independent. Sometimes I even encourage them to  rebel.

Now that I have more experience creating and managing programs, my attitude is changing.  I am troubled by the alienation of parents and I am interested in finding ways to engage them.  I realize that they are making a  big leap of faith in sending their  child to college in another country. Most families are also making considerable sacrifices  to afford the staggering costs of a US education.  Over the years, I’ve fought to make sure more information is translated into multiple languages and available to parents.

I have noticed more and more  American parents on campus tours and participating in parent and family weekends.  They are invited to  brunches, dinners, and meetings with University leaders.  Institutions are increasingly creating orientation programs and special tours just for parents.  Information for parents is published in brochures and FAQ’s and parents receive a list of emergency phone numbers to call. I can see how inaccessible this information is for the parents of international students.  As higher education has become a hefty financial investment for the whole family, universities have responded by  catering to parents and families as well as to their enrolled students.

When I was 18 years old, I studied in Paris during my junior year of college (yes, I was young).  I had to find my own place to live. After three days in France, I remember calling my parents in tears because I didn’t know how to find an apartment.  I had never even done it in the US.  I don’t think my parents had ever felt so powerless to help me.  I had to solve the problem by myself.

American universities gain many benefits from having international students enrolled in their institutions:  diversity of the student body, enriched cultural experiences for American students, the caché of being a world-class institution that is able to attract students from all over the globe,  and the revenue from the real tuition dollars that most international students must pay. As universities reach out to a global audience, the parents of international students must be drawn into the conversation.  After all, this is also their investment and they are often the ones paying for that investment.

Meg Palladino

Social Distortion: Blurring the Professional and the Personal on Twitter

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/05/14 at 09:18

One of the most memorable applications I have ever reviewed was submitted from  a student from China who was the owner of a small chain of shops that sold scarves and accessories.  Included with her application was a glossy brochure that she had had professionally printed in full color.  It showed photos of her in her shops, photos from her vacations, and photos of her with her friends and family.  It also included her biography, a history of her company, and a page on her likes and pet peeves.  Although it was unconventional, this woman was very confident about selling herself to us in a way that she had well thought out.

Yesterday, Mary and I met for coffee and of course, University of Venus came up.   Mary has been encouraging me to build my personal brand through social media: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  I have been resisting Mary’s advice for months.

I mainly use Facebook to entertain.  My Facebook friends are actually my friends and family.  I am a regular Facebook user; it is my main form of communication with people that I don’t see every day.  Until the launch of this blog, I had never used it for anything professional.  Each day the line dividing personal and professional blurs a little more.

I am a lurker on Twitter.  I follow a few people, and have 5 close friends that follow me, but I rarely tweet and my tweets are private.   I have been reluctant to start publicly tweeting, until I know what I want to use it for. Twitter seems to need a strategy, a marketing plan of sorts.  In the meanwhile, I read other people’s tweets, and try to learn from their strategies.

I am terrified of LinkedIn.  I put up my resume, connected with a few people, and have been afraid to log in ever since.  I suppose I am an avoider. It is clear that LinkedIn is Professional. A friend who is also new to social media once said the following: “I’ve been told that LinkedIn is the office, Facebook is the neighborhood cookout, and MySpace is the bar.” When your home office and the local coffee shop become extensions of your workplace, where do you draw the line? Are you a different person in different contexts?

Although my relationship with these three networks varies, I do think that building my brand is important.

I am in a strange place in my career.  I am no longer new to the world of work, and I am a member of the senior leadership team.  However, I don’t think I have paused to think about what I stand for or what I want to be known for.   I need to focus on thinking  of myself as an asset that is compelling, authentic, and consistent.  I need to create my own definition of success and ensure that it motivates me.  I am finding this task to be somewhat intimidating. I always thought that hard work would speak for itself. However, I now realize that self-promotion is not only a good idea but a 21st century necessity.

What do you think? Is personal branding vital for success at work? Is the concept relevant only to Western audiences, or is it also important in other areas of the world? Are there any drawbacks to marketing yourself in this way? If so, what should you do about it?

Meg Palladino

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Sitting on Both Sides of the Table

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/04/23 at 09:00

When I made the transition from instructor to Program Director, I had a meeting with my  budget analyst to be sure that I understood the budget.  Clearly suspicious, he told me a story about the last instructor-turned-administrative person he had worked with.    The woman had waged a protest against a tuition hike for the program.  She felt it was unfair to the students.   He asked her one question, “Are you willing to give up your raise for the year so that we don’t have to increase tuition?”  That ended her protest.  This story illustrated to me that although faculty and administration are often at odds, they need to work together.

I am currently part of the administrative team at one institution, and part of the adjunct faculty at another.  Around the teacher room, I hear some complaining about “the administration.”  While I am in my administrative meetings, I hear some apprehension about faculty.  I frequently find myself siding with both teams.    Both sides have valid points and are doing the right thing for their positions.  Often, the goals are simply not aligned.

At one institution, I am a cog in the administrative wheel, part of a senior leadership team.  I know that it is my role to support the senior management team and to implement the institutional vision. I also must protect the institution, bearing in mind budgets and revenue goals, quality assurance, and delivering the educational program that we advertise.

At the other institution, I show up in the evenings, prep and teach my classes, and have little administrative oversight or support.  I have wonderful academic freedom to teach my class the way I want to teach it.  I am bothered by the administrative housekeeping of filling out forms and the logistics of finding a DVD player or a textbook.   I don’t miss the oversight; I do miss the support at times.   My goal is to provide my students with an engaging, challenging class that meets their academic needs.

Last night, rushing from my 9 -5 administrative job, I arrived late to a faculty meeting at the institution where I am part of the adjunct faculty.  I found the program director sitting on one side of the table, and the adjunct instructors on the other side.  I sat down next to the Program Director.  After I sat, I wondered if I should have sat on the side with my fellow adjuncts.  Then I realized that my experiences on both sides of the court give me legitimacy from both teams.  Both faculty and leadership know that I understand them.

I believe that the skill of translation is one of the most important skills that my generation brings to the 21st century workplace. We translate across languages, cultures, generations, and genders. In this case, I successfully translate between the culture of faculty and the culture of administration. I align the goals through translation.

Meg Palladino

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Are We Having Fun Yet?

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/04/16 at 09:00

“People don’t need to be managed, they need to be unleashed”
Richard Florida, 2002

Generation X comes with a set of traits typically assigned: laid back, informal, with a flexible approach to the working environment. They want the environment to have elements of fun and relaxation. Likes: sharing, chilling, being individualistic, flexibility and freedom, involvement, change.  Dislikes: Bossiness and corporate culture.   As a manager and as a person who is managed, I, too, hold these values.

In academic administration, I have seen many brilliant people crushed by poor management.   People who come in with a positive attitude and high energy get sucked in to the gossip, the office politics, the backstabbing, moaning and complaining about everything.

I have been invited to many team-building events that are intended to improve our morale.  We have played golf, eaten many lunches, visited an arcade, decorated cupcakes, and celebrated birthdays.  I won third prize in our office snowflake making competition.  All of these events have been fun in some way.  They have all required work to stop while we take time out to bond.

I feel that the two things need to be integrated.  We must deliver great service to our students while building the morale of our administrative team.  Having fun at work stimulates our courage and creativity.  It can relieve stress and eliminate fear.  It connects the human spirit to the workplace, and invites people to be the best that they can be in the environment.  People are more productive and motivated if they are having fun.

Performance evaluation time is coming up, and one question I would like to ask my team members is “Are you having fun?” Being mindful of fun as a goal will help create a healthy work environment.    It will help us all unleash our brilliance and empower us to be the best that we can be.

Meg Palladino

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Compromise: An agreement between two men to do what both agree is wrong.

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/03/19 at 09:00

I started my first professional teaching job at the age of 22. I taught English as a Second Language at a private language school. I was armed with a Master’s degree, a three-month teaching practicum, and some informal teaching experience. In other words, I was completely unprepared.

My students were wealthy international students who came to the US for one or two months to study English while exploring the city and American culture. They went to a lot of clubs and enjoyed freedom that they would not have at home. Many of them were about my age; some were considerably older.
I taught an older doctor from Egypt who was very serious about his grammar studies. I had a Bulgarian judo master with a stutter. I taught a teenager from Mexico who wore black lipstick, and a young German woman who wanted to practice swearing-in English, and couldn’t understand why I was upset when she swore in class. During the world cup, I had a group of Brazilian students who came to class dressed in their national flag, and skipped class for several days to watch soccer in a Brazilian bar. I had one class that had only four students: Maria, Jose, Jesus and a priest. We all attended the priest’s first mass in English. (I was so proud!) I learned something about teaching from each of these students.

The student that made the biggest impact on me was a young Russian student. He was fun-loving, rebellious, self-important and stubborn. He challenged me in class constantly. During the first exam in my class, he blatantly cheated. He looked directly at me, smiled, looked at his neighbor’s paper, copied the answer, looked back at me, and then at his neighbor’s paper, copied another answer. It was a direct challenge, and I had no idea what to do.

After a night of tossing and turning, I went to the class the next day with the exams. I told the whole class that someone in the class had cheated, and I threw away all of the exams. I gave them a second test. They all quietly took the second exam. My Russian student did not cheat this time. His attitude changed; he had a new respect for me.

Teachers have expectations about the students in their classes, and their motivations for taking the course. Likewise, students have their own expectations from their classes and teachers. Both must meet in the middle.

Note: The title is a quote by Lord Edward Cecil

Meg Palladino

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The Daughters at the String Shop

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/03/12 at 09:00

There are two daughters at the string shop in Osaka
The oldest daughter is sixteen years old and the youngest daughter is fourteen years old.
Japanese samurai kill their enemies with arrows.
The Japanese daughters at the string shop kill men with their eyes.

This poem is used to teach Japanese students how to write a proper essay. Japanese essay style is made up of the “ki” (introduction), “sho” (development), “ten” (turning point), and the “ketsu” (conclusion).

The cultural nature of writing makes teaching and evaluating it very difficult and learning to write in a new culture is one of the most difficult things about learning a new language. In some cultures, you only give main ideas and let the readers supply details. Other cultures will only give small details and let the reader decide the main idea. Other cultures take a long time building up the relationship between the writer and the reader before coming to the main point. In the Japanese style, the “ten” is used to get the reader’s attention. American style is to give big ideas up front, provide the details and examples, and to repeat them again and again; the reader has few responsibilities.

On a daily basis, I confront careful decision-making about student writing, trying to decide what is good enough writing for a student to be successful in an American academic classroom. Expecting international students to write perfectly, with no accent, is unrealistic. I look for writing that has meaningful ideas that are clearly expressed. I don’t want to struggle to understand what the student is trying to say. Grammatical errors that don’t interfere with meaning are unimportant.

Every summer, I grow tomatoes in containers on my back porch. I take special pains to get good, organic seeds, and tend to them very carefully, feeding them and watering them. I am so excited when I see the first green tomatoes. My dog gets excited too. He has a special talent for choosing them at his perfect moment of ripeness, ripping them off the vine, and eating them the day before I want to pick them. His estimate of the perfect tomato is one day off from mine.

Every fall, students write their essays for their classes. They take special pains to choose the perfect words, and correct all of the grammar. They think they are ready when they have checked them for spelling and grammar. One teacher looks at organization and tries to perfect the grammar. I look for clear meaning. Both are good enough.

Meg Palladino

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