October 28, 2005

Professors as Thought Leaders

My article in Inside Higher Ed on the idea of the "Humanities Lab" has received such insightful comments -- I've really enjoyed reading them. The first comment referenced John P. Kotter, a retired Harvard professor:

In the March 1999 issues of Harvard Business Review, John P. Kotter penned a classic, “What Effective General Managers Really Do” that, in spite of what business textbooks were advocating, suggested that “... seemingly wasteful activities like chatting in hallways and having impromptu meetings are, in fact, quite efficient.” Kotter goes on to emphasize that “flexible agendas and broad networks of relationships” enable opportunity and accomplishment “... through a large and diverse set of people despite having little direct control over most of them.”
This prompted me to read more from Kotter. I became fascinated with his distinction between managers and leaders. In Leaders Talk Leadership: Top Executives Speak Their Minds, he states that "Leadership is, most fundamentally, about change." He goes on to say:

Most often, leadership creates a picture of the future or a vision or some sense of strategy, a primary strategy for achieving that vision, of making sure enough people understand it and buy into it and then creating the conditions that motivate them to act.

Although the idea of the professor being a thought leader is not a new one, it is interesting to look at what Kotter suggests a person needs in order to be a great leader:

Great leaders have the capacity to communicate broad notions about purpose and direction so that people not only hear and understand, but connect on some deeper, emotional level as well. Emotionally related skills associated with helping people tap into their sources of energy and helping them to break through boundaries are also very important for great leaders.

This suggests to me that the successful academic will have excellent communication skills and also a high "Emotional Intelligence" (or EQ, as it is often called), which has been defined by Robert K. Cooper in EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Organizations as

The ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection, and influence.

So, to sum up my ramblings, I'm making a case that

  • In order to be a great scholar, you need to be a thought leader
  • In order to be a thought leader, you need excellent communication skills
  • In order to communicate effectively, you need to have excellent Emotional Intelligence

Luckily, each of these qualities can be learned. Watch other highly effective academics, read about effective communication skills and EQ, get feedback from others, and get help if needed. You have a right to have your greatness come out and be seen.

October 26, 2005

The Humanities Lab

My article came out today in Inside Higher Ed. It's entitled "We Need Humanities Labs". Although it is a bit tongue-in-cheek to suggest the idea that those in the humanities need to gather in "labs", I believe that more interaction and collegiality would improve the quality of the academic experience for grad students and also increase their creativity and productivity.

I wrote it in response to the epidemic of lonely, isolated, or even abandoned graduate students that I have talked to, heard about, and read about, mostly in the humanities. I find it interesting that one of the comments to the article stated that maybe "isolation is good for you." The writer went on to say that it might be help you with independent thinking not to interact with others in your field as often as weekly. As that writer is far from his/her campus, I suspect that there may be more than a little rationalization -- I can't have it so it must be bad for you. I doubt that most scientists would say they've lost their ability to think independently because they are in regular contact with each other.

Most of the comments so far, except for one silly one (and I know who you are) have been quite thought provoking. It's clear that some people can find their own communities, and those are the students who don't suffer. There's something about the critical nature of the interactions with certain professors, or the negative amosphere in some departments, that causes some grad students not to be able to go after that kind of community on their own. For some, it's their introverted nature. But I don't think that academia should only reward extroverts.

Let the (Grad) Students Take Some of the Teaching Load

I just came upon this post on teaching strategies for a graduate seminar by Anbruch:

This being my third and most successful graduate seminar, I thought I'd write out some of the things that have worked for me this time around.
Frontload the reading. Students can absorb a heavy reading load early in the semester. Being fresh, they are also more enthusiastic about the readings so discussion goes better.
Have the students do the work for you. Well, not in so many words: you set the readings and the agenda, but you assign various student groups to lead the discussion each week. The way I've worked it this semester is like this: the group meets with me for about 30 minutes a week before they lead discussion. I give them talking points, the issues they should bring to the table, and how they might think about organizing the class. But the class itself is more or less theirs. I try to stay out of the way as much as possible, intervening only to get things back on track if things move too far off course.
If you have any inkling of the students in the class, assign your most capable students to lead the initial discussions. The idea is to have those students set the expectations for the other students.
Those are the basics. And there is nothing particularly novel about it. But I've added a few twists this semester and I'll report on how these work out come December.
We're reading intensely for roughly half the semester (seven weeks). Then the seminar will go on hiatus for a month so students can work on their seminar papers. While I think the idea of a hiatus is a good one, and I've thought about it for previous seminars, I've never felt I could risk it. But this semester, my conference schedule required it, so here we are. And so far I'm liking it a lot.
During the third week of the hiatus, I will meet with each student individually for roughly 30 minutes. This meeting has two functions. First, to ensure that the student has been making adequate progress on the paper during the hiatus. Second, to ensure that the student hasn't veered dangerously off-course.
When we reconvene, we will have seminar presentations. Again there's nothing particularly novel about this, but I've structured the seminar presentations as a sort of conference extended across three weeks. Once again, I will place the most capable students first, both because they are likely to be the ones who can pull a paper together most quickly, but also because they will set the tone for the papers to follow.
Finally, I will have the students produce article-length seminar papers.
The point to the seminar is therefore not simply to help the students master a certain body of scholarship, but also to introduce them to writing in the genres that dominate the discipline. In the case of my discipline, this entails delivering written conference papers of a certain length and writing articles. If nothing else, it should prove a good exercise.

There is a lot of appeal in this technique -- obviously not taking it all on yourself is paramount. I remember the grad students running a lot of the classes in this manner when I was in grad school.

I also like the hiatus idea -- breathing room for all. But combining it with the individual meetings is a fantastic addition.

October 25, 2005

Non-academic careers -- think out of the box

I just got off the phone with a client and she raised the topic I had wanted to blog about. So many graduate students see being a professor as the only possible outcome of getting an advanced degree. And yet, the truth is that many will not be professors. Here is a quote from a Chronicle Article, which is entitled "A Ph.D. and a Failure":

But there are countless faculty members, administrators, and students themselves who continue to perpetuate a narrow definition of success in academe. Anything else is "less than."

Unfortunately, the hard facts show again and again that only a small percentage of doctoral students can achieve the success of becoming a tenure-track professor at a research institution. In their study, "Ph.D.'s -- 10 Years Later," Maresi Nerad and Joseph Cerny found that only 58 percent of Ph.D.'s in English were on the tenure track or tenured 10 years after graduation. Of those, less than a fifth worked at top research universities (The Chronicle, September 10, 1999).

Those numbers do not include the approximately 50 percent of students -- cited by Barbara E. Lovitts in Leaving the Ivory Tower: The Causes and Consequences of the Departure From Doctoral Study -- who never even completed their Ph.D.'s. Thus, a great majority of students who begin doctoral programs will never reach the "nirvana" of the tenure track. What happens to all of those students who don't make the cut?

Perhaps such figures help explain the recent finding that "depression and other forms of mental distress" were a serious problem in a study of more than 3,100 graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley. According to the study: "Nearly half of all survey respondents (45 percent) reported an emotional or stress-related problem that significantly impacted their academic performance or well-being." Another 67 percent reported feeling hopeless at times, 95 percent felt overwhelmed in graduate school, and 54 percent said they had felt so "depressed that it was difficult to function." About 10 percent had seriously considered suicide, and one in 200 had actually attempted suicide in the last year.

This sorry state of affairs is scandalous. I urge all people in academia to realize that jobs in the "real world" can be just as interesting, rewarding, fruitful, enjoyable and lucrative (often more so) than those in academia. My client had met a Ph.D. who had a career that sounded fascinating to me, doing all kinds of different things including writing, editing, researching, consulting and teaching. She had urged my client to think outside the box and embrace all the possibilities that her degree and training would give her.

I urge all of you who are feeling like a failure (despite all the academic success you have clearly had) to do the same.

October 19, 2005

A challenge to professors: tell your students the truth and help them find non-academic jobs!

Here is a quote from "At Cross Purposes: What the experiences of doctoral students reveal about doctoral education." By Chris M. Golde and Timothy M. Dore. January, 2001. A report prepared for The Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia, PA. www.phd-survey.org

This information is based on The Survey on Doctoral Education and Career Preparation, a 1999 survey of 4,114 students in 27 universities.

The data from this study show that in today's doctoral programs, there is a three-way mismatch between student goals, training and actual careers. Despite a decade of attention, the mismatch between the purpose of doctoral education, aspirations of the students, and the realities of their careers within and outside academia continues. Doctoral students persist in pursuing careers as faculty members, and graduate programs persist in preparing them for careers at research universities, despite the well-publicized paucity of academic jobs and efforts to diversify the options available for doctorate-holders. The result: Students are not well prepared to assume the faculty positions that are available, nor do they have a clear concept of their suitability for work outside of research.

I don't know who is perpetuating this ridiculous situation, but someone needs to take responsibility. If I were a professor today, I'd be urging all my graduate students to reconsider their career choice, and I'd be helping them to be aware of the non-academic alternatives available to them.

I'd go so far as to challenge one professor to level with her/his students. If you know of anyone who has done so, let me know!

October 17, 2005

Create 100 research ideas

I frequently help my clients to free themselves up enough to create new research ideas. It's clear what kind of thinking gets in their way. Here are some of the protests that I hear when I ask clients to brainstorm new ideas:
  • It's probably already been done
  • That's a stupid idea -- I can't believe I said it
  • It's too obvious
  • It doesn't seem important enough
  • My mind is blank; I can't think of anything

I suggest that you get into a real brainstorming mode when you try to come up with research ideas. Here's a reminder of what's needed to brainstorm effectively:

  • You can't critique your ideas
  • All ideas, no matter how bad they seem, should be written down
  • Create as many ideas as you can. Aim for an impossibly high number. One hundred seems about right!
  • If possible, do this with someone else, who is in on the rules of brainstorming.
  • It sometimes helps to purposely come up with outlandish ideas, to help your brain break out of its box.

Another way to help generate research ideas is to start with a theory. Find a theory that intrigues you and see how many ideas can come from it. Here is a list of ten ways to use theory to generate research ideas, from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. It was originally written for psychology, so I've made it more generic.

  1. Apply the theory to solve a practical problem.
  2. Use the theory to understand a real-life situation.
  3. Apply it to a different sub-field than it was intended for.
  4. Apply it in a related field (I suggest considering theories from related fields; e.g., cognitive psychology theories as they relate to marketing)
  5. Look for moderator variables: slight changes that you could apply that would change the findings that others got in their work.
  6. Apply the theory to a different subject population (e.g., theory about the effect of slavery in America applied to theories about slavery in Ancient Egypt)
  7. Take it "to the limit": exagerrate the theory and see what it predicts
  8. Improve the accuracy of the theory
  9. Go for the jugular (not sure; maybe they mean try to tear it apart)
  10. Pit two theories against each other

Use these ideas to jump start your list of 100 research ideas.


Innovation always brings out the nay-sayers. All research involves innovation. Be alert to others who would put down your ideas. You have enough self doubt bombarding you from within.

Here is a comment on negativity from The Daily Innovator: "Don't let others' insecurities deter you from your mission." Another way to say this is: "Illegitimi Non Carborundum." He also points out a quote from Joel Orr on the challenge of innovation:

    Innovation is an unnatural act. It induces fear, unmitigated by the promise of great gains in productivity. The fear is fear of personal loss - prestige; power; respect...
    But the consensus is that the future belongs to those who innovate - and who are willing to try innovative tools.

    Will you own your future?

    October 15, 2005

    Are You a Creative Researcher and/or Writer?

    A secret fear of many graduate students and professors is that they're not creative enough, or if they have been, that the well of creativity is drying up. Of course, this fear itself is crippling. Perhaps the most difficult time is coming up with dissertation topics, when the term papers have always been assigned before. But getting a Ph.D. is not enough for many -- the fears about a creativity drought continue into the professoriate.

    Here are some ideas about discovering and maintaining your creativity, from a list by Hugh MacLeod (one of the most creative people I know of) at Gaping Void.com. I've added some comments in italics, and also deleted some comments of his directed at business people.

    1. Ignore everybody. Especially the naysayers.

    2. Put the hours in. Read a little and write a little every day.

    3. You are responsible for your own experience. No matter what they throw at you.

    4. Everyone is born creative. Your anxiety gets in the way of realizing it.

    5. Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were born to climb.

    6. Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.

    7. If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you. Pain is part of academic life, or any high level career. It will hurt, but you will get over it.

    8. Never compare your inside with someone else’s outside. Just because their article looks so good doesn’t mean they didn’t sweat bullets writing it.

    9. The world is changing. There will be room for your take on it. And you can help it change by being a strong voice.

    10. Sing in your own voice.

    11. Nobody cares. Do it for yourself. Do work on what you love, or it’s not worth it.

    12. Don’t worry about finding inspiration. It comes eventually. Especially if you write every day.

    13. Write from the heart. If you are passionate, your work will be good.

    14. The best way to get approval is not to need it. Especially from that one person.

    15. Power is never given. Power is taken. And if you don’t grab it in academia, you won’t get it.

    16. The hardest part of being creative is getting used to it.

    Here are his comments on #1 above: "Ignore everybody", again edited by me (in italics.)

    The more original your idea is, the less good advice other people will be able to give you.

    You don't know if your idea is any good the moment it's created. Neither does anyone else. The most you can hope for is a strong gut feeling that it is. And trusting your feelings is not as easy as the optimists say it is. There's a reason why feelings scare us.

    And asking close friends never works quite as well as you hope, either. It's not that they deliberately want to be unhelpful. It's just they don't know your world one millionth as well as you know your world, no matter how hard they try, no matter how hard you try to explain.

    Plus a big idea will change you. Your friends may love you, but they don't want you to change. If you change, then their dynamic with you also changes. They like things the way they are, that's how they love you- the way you are, not the way you may become.

    Ergo, they have no incentive to see you change. And they will be resistant to anything that catalyzes it. That's human nature. And you would do the same, if the shoe was on the other foot.

    The same may be true of your advisor if you are a graduate student. The best advisors want you to do even better than they. Many are insecure and will not encourage you to be your most creative. They're used to dealing with you in a certain way. They're used to having a certain level of control over the relationship. If your idea is so good that it changes your dynamic enough to where you need them less, or God forbid, they seem less than you in the eyes of the academy, then they're going to resist your idea every chance they can.

    Again, that's human nature.


    Good ideas come with a heavy burden. Which is why so few people have them. So few people can handle it.

      October 13, 2005

      Writing and Grant Writing Resources

      One of my dissertation coaching groups has members from various social sciences, which at times has included everything from psychology to marketing. They are a very supportive and cohesive group, and I'm always impressed with how much they value each other's input and their posts to the listserv (a private one I maintain for my coaching groups.)

      Today one of them forwarded some resources, both from Harvard, her alma mater. The first one is aimed towards undergrads, but has useful tips for any academic writer: Harvard Writing Center. The second one has links for grants that you might want to try for: Grantseeker's Toolbox

      October 12, 2005

      Academic Bloggers

      So, I've entered into the fray -- the blogging on bloggers in academia. Having been interviewed by Scott Jasich, one of the founding editors of Inside Higher Education, about Daniel Drezner's denial of tenure, I've now written about it in today's newsletter. Although Drezner, a highly respected and well-published scholar, stays away from stating it, the evidence points to the fact that his blogging was a part of the negative tenure decision.

      Although this seems hard to believe, consider the fact that the most senior tenured faculty are the least likely to read, and certainly to write blogs. The older you are, the more difficult to grasp technology. I've been told that there is something called "network effects" in marketing -- the idea that until there is a venue and a raison d'etre for something new, people will be slow to adopt it. And face it, older people are the slowest to adopt something new. This mistrust of "new-fangled" technology is often seen in caricatures of the elderly. I'm closing in on elderly myself, and I can see among my cohort far less use of text messaging, cell phone picture taking, and blogging than among 20- and 30- somethings.

      Now I'm not saying that tenured faculty are elderly, just that they would tend to be later adopters of the more advance uses of technology. I remember when my son was a teenager and he had 10 messages on i.m. at the same time. I couldn't see the point. Now I spend half the day on yahoo i.m. with my webmaster (hi, Kera). I had to have the need and someone who was a peer who shared that need.

      All this adds up to
      1. some, not all, tenured faculty mistrusting the motives of the people the most involved in blogging.
      2. a very sorry state of affairs for higher education.