Dear Ally,

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Monthly Archives: September 2017

Beware the Time Vampires

Dear Ally,

I was talking with a student the other day who is an RA. She was telling me how hard it is to get her homework done when she’s on duty in the RA office. Apparently at least one resident will come down there to hang out exclaiming she’s bored and there’s a security guard that often comes around to chat. I said to her, “Oh no, you have got to put a stop to that! Those people are time vampires.”

We’ve all experienced that “trapped in conversation” feeling where you’ve gotta go, you have things to do, and some person is going on and on and your day is slipping away. These people probably don’t have enough self-awareness to realize what they’re doing, especially if you’re like me and have worked on being a good listener, so they don’t mean to be sucking up all your time. But what do you do? You don’t want to be rude, especially mid-westerners like us. For me, this is compounded by the fact that I do actually enjoy talking to people, so I need to make sure I’m not a time vampire myself.

Recognize the time vampires. Once bitten, twice shy.

  • Will ask if you have a minute, are you busy, or can they ask a quick question.
  • Often seen hanging out talking by the water cooler or coffee pot.
  • Generally unproductive.
  • May be known drama queens or gossip gremlins.
  • Any salesperson or similar.
  • “Friendly” strangers.

Avoid, ignore, or flee from them. It’s best not to get stuck in a never-ending conversation in the first place, especially if you’re still working on your assertiveness skills.

  • Take the stairs, not the elevator.
  • Use unisex/ one-seater restrooms.
  • Do not stop walking.
  • Do not make eye contact.
  • Keep your door closed.
  • Do not answer that phone call or e-mail until you have the time (or ignore it completely if it’s unnecessary).
  • Do not linger after meetings, church, yoga, etc.
  • Anticipate questions and communicate all the details the first time.
  • Just say no.

Never invite them in. It’s easier for you to leave than to ask someone else to leave.

  • Arrange to meet in their space or a neutral location, so you have the option to physically leave. Or better yet, speak over the phone or video chat.
  • If they appear at your door, hide and don’t answer, if possible.
  • Make up a reason for which you were just leaving.
  • Tell them to come back later (unless you don’t want them to).

Set aside time to feed them. You’re going to have to interact with some known time vampires, so do it on your terms when you have control over the situation rather than being ambushed.

  • Plan your exit strategy beforehand.
  • Schedule to meet/talk before something else that you must attend so there is a definite time it must end.
  • Never plan to meet/talk before personal time like working out, eating lunch, etc.
  • Multi-task by meeting for a meal or using your phone’s headphones so you can do housework or laundry while chatting.

Slay them. Get away, get away, get away now!

  • Practice using assertive, but polite conversation ending phrases. My favorite is “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to kick you out now,” one my boss often uses. More good ones here.
  • Utilize your phone by setting an alarm to go off when it’s time for lunch or to go home so you’ll realize you need to go and so will the person who’s trapped you. They don’t need to know it’s an alarm, could be a text or a meeting reminder.
  • Have a friend bail you out either in person or via text.
  • If another person joins in, that’s your opportunity to get out.


I’m writing this to myself as much as to you and hopefully I am not coming off completely anti-social or passive aggressive. The point is that we all have work to do, if we want to achieve our goals, and some people can sometimes kill our productivity. We must not let them.

Hope this help you gain some time back!

Aunt Sarah

Letters of Recommendation – What’s in them?

Dear Ally,

I’m sure you know about the newest member of our household, Tootsie the Tortoiseshell kitten. We didn’t get much sleep last night because her and Woodward’s fighting woke everyone up before dawn. So this one will be short and sweet.

Tootsie 8 weeks 8 -week old Tootsie

Last week, I wrote the first of what will be several letters of recommendation for students who are now juniors that were in my sophomore organic class last year. Most students waive their right to read the actual letter or see the recommendation form, so what they contain might be a mystery.

This particular student is applying to Physician Assistant school and, in addition to a letter, this is what I was asked:

Relationship section:

  • How long have you known the applicant?
  • How well do you know the applicant? (multiple choice)
  • In what capacity do you know the applicant? (also multiple choice)

Likert criteria section:

(answer choices = Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, Poor, Not Observed)

  • Adaptability
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Empathy
  • Intellectual Ability
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Oral Communication
  • Reaction to Criticism
  • Reliability
  • Self Awareness
  • Team Skills
  • Written Communication
  • Overall Evaluation

Overall Recommendation:

  • Recommendation concerning admission choices:
    • I highly recommend this applicant.
    • I recommend this applicant.
    • I recommend this applicant with reservation.
    • I do not recommend this applicant.

And then it asks you to upload a letter.

I’ve been given recommendation forms that ask about similar or additional criteria such as professionalism, emotional intelligence, cultural competence, maturity, etc. There is always something about collaboration/team skills as well as communication. The “empathy” and “reaction to criticism” were categories that I had not seen before.

Very soon, if not already, you are going to be asking your professors to judge you in these same areas. That fact should be in the back of your mind every time you interact with them and your classmates in their classes. Hopefully, having this list will also help you know who to ask because you’ll know who will best be able to speak to each and every one of these criteria. You should also be thinking about ways in which you can demonstrate or opportunities to develop these skills.

It’s time for bed now, goodnight!

Aunt Sarah