Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2007

Where I Used to Procrastinate

..................................... Where I Used to Procrastinate Lyrics by Gina Hiatt Sung to the tune of Where I Used to Have a Heart , by Martina McBride ...................................... There were times I’d want to eat Paint pretty toenails on my feet Do anything but write I’ll get to it later tonight ——————————– Find me another closet to clean Make a call to my Aunt Jean Think I’ll read another blog Or maybe go out for a jog ——————————– Then I found you, Writing Club Almost as fun as my old pub

Perfectionism + Academia = Misery

" The graveyard is filled with indispensable people. " A recent NY Times article, " Unhappy? Self-Critical? Maybe You're Just a Perfectionist ," discusses the price you pay for expecting too much of yourself, engaging in all-or-none thinking, and being too self-critical. In other words, if you act like 99% of academics. Although this article does not mention academics, it does describe three types of perfectionists. Academics tend to fall into the first category: "Self-oriented strivers who struggle to live up to their high standards." These unfortunate people are at risk for self-critical depression. The article describes how a counselor at U.C. Davis had some perfectionists "slack off, " in order to discover that the world didn't collapse when they didn't push themselves to excel. Although I wouldn't prescribe slacking off for most academics I work with, they probably could use some help in being more reasonable in their ex

Start your own dissertation group

Graduate students who participate in departmental dissertation groups or groups led by their dissertation advisor (which I will call "formal groups") can count themselves lucky. The vast majority of grad students, especially in the humanities and social sciences, are not members of a dissertation group. The good news is: You can start your own dissertation group It might even be more useful than the formal groups mentioned above. I've written about the difference between such formal groups and the coaching groups we run at Academic Ladder . There is another solution, however, for those of you who don't have access to a formal group and cannot afford to sign up for a coaching group with us. Start your own group! The trick is to start thinking outside of the box. Here are some features of the standard formal group, which I would suggest you consider changing, in order to meet the needs of your particular group: They meet monthly They meet in person. You submit a chap

How to be an academic original

My newsletter for October 10 will be on "Six Steps to an Original Contribution." Of course, the way to be original is to think creatively. In Barbara Lovitts' new book Making the Implicit Explicit: Creating Performance Expectations for the Dissertation , she clarifies what the 270 faculty members who took part in her focus groups indicated went into an original contribution. So what is an original contribution? The description starts out: "Something that has not been done, found, known, proved, said, or seen before that results from:" I won't write out the rest of her description -- the book is worth reading in its entirety, plus I don't have permission! But I want to note the actions that cause the "something new" to be created: Asking or identifying Applying Developing Inventing Creating Finding Coming up with Producing Combining Synthesizing Clearly these are all actions that demand creativity. Let's assume that you are trying to

Jerry Seinfeld's Productivity Secret

A tenure coaching client just sent me this link describing Jerry Seinfeld's advice on how to become a successful comedian . It is remarkably similar to my advice on how to become a productive academic. The secret to his success was that he put a big red "X" on his wall calendar each day that he worked on writing his jokes. This is just like our Writ ing Club format, only we use little green checkmarks. It's amazing how reinforcing it can be to have your row of x's or checkmarks, especially if you're sharing your data with someone else, as we do in the club. So if you don't believe me, listen to Jerry. He knows how to be successful.

Write your dissertation faster or I'll take away your funding

Graduate schools are always looking for ways to help their graduate students finish their dissertations in a timely manner. In a recent N.Y. Times article, " Exploring Ways to Shorten the Ascent to a Ph.D. ," by Joseph Berger, one method is emphasized -- taking away the students' money. What bothers me about this article is that he concludes that the main reason that Princeton supposedly has a faster rate of graduate is that the students' funding is cut off at five years. As a secondary note they mention that it "has developed a culture where professors keep after students." Hopefully, they do more than "keep after" students, although the example given is in the lab sciences , where the exigencies of grants demands that there is adequate oversight of progress. I wish that graduate schools and departments would realize that it is the frequency and type of attention that advisors and departments give to graduate students that is an incredibly impo

Don’t Borrow Time

Do you procrastinate? I do. We all do. Procrastinating is especially common for academics when it comes to working on their long term writing projects. It's probably the main reason that people contact Academic Ladder about dissertation coaching or tenure coaching. If you procrastinate, it’s like living on credit, way above your means. You can buy and buy, but eventually you’ll have to pay up, with interest. And it won’t be any easier to pay it later, if you’re living above your means. The same is true of time. When you procrastinate, you’re borrowing time from the future. You’ll still have to do the dreaded chore eventually, when you’re less fresh, less able and more miserable. That misery is the interest payment for having borrowed time. If, on the other hand, you live within your means, you don’t assume that tomorrow will have 25 hours, or that there is a magical hour in the day that is more pain-free on Tuesday, and you’ll wait until then to do your dreaded work. You

Help us spread the word about Academic Ladder and win $50!

For those of you who are not on my newsletter list: You have until September 10! Enter for three chances to win a $50 gift certificate from and help Academic Ladder reach more suffering academics! Help us Stop the Insanity! At Academic Ladder we are on a crusade to bring light to the dark halls of academia and to stop the suffering for all those grad students and professors who have never heard about Academic Ladder. We need your help and we are willing to pay for your help! Enter these 3 raffles for 3 chances to win a $50 gift certificate! 1.) The “Tell-a-Friend” Raffle Go here and enter the name of anyone who you think would like to visit our website and have light shine on their dull corner of academia. You will receive a raffle entry for each person you refer. Every 50 entries will be entered in a draw for a $50 gift certificate! 2.) The Listserv Raffle Send this link to our homepage to your academic listerv, perhaps with the words “An interestin

The costs of writer fatigue

As is often the case, after having a session with a client, I find a perfect quote for the discussion we were having. This client noticed that he became more and more down on himself as he pushed himself to write for 1 1/2, 2, and then 3 hours. Of course, this is contrary to what I advise, which is to write in 30-45 minute segments, with restful breaks in between. My favorite writer on this, as on many things writing, is Robert Boice. In How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure , he writes about fatigue: ...Fatigue makes writing, now and later, less desirable; it can trigger impatience as productivity lags and as the tempation grows to pick up the pace; it can bring anxiety and its pernicious narrowing; and it heightens susceptibility to irrationality. And: ...Our attention wanders and we fight back, much like a sleepy driver trying to stay awake and on the road. Next, commonly, we come to sudden doubts about what we are doing; we begin to question the purp

A good reminder for teachers

I've read this before, but thanks to Patricia Crane and Rick Nichols for a reminder. THE 30 SECOND QUIZ Don't bother getting a pen and paper... just read... if you can't spontaneously answer the question, just keep going. 1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world. 2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners. 3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest. 4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer prize. 5. Name the last five Academy Award winners for Best Actor and Actress. How did you do? The point is, none of us remembers the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers, they're the best in their fields. But applause dies, awards tarnish, and achievements are forgotten as the accolades and certificates are buried with their owners. Now here's another quiz. See how you do on this one: 1. Name three teachers who aided your journey through life. 2. Name three friends who helped you through a difficult time. 3. Name five pe

Writing - a "bone-crushing, nausea-inducing festival of self-loathing"

I love this description of the writing process by Tom Shroder, Editor of the Washington Post Magazine : I'm sure there are writers who don't find writing to be a bone-crushing, nausea-inducing festival of self-loathing. I just don't happen to be one of them. Faced with a blank screen and a deadline for even the shortest, simplest piece, I am seized with the overwhelming desire to clean out my garage. Or do anything other than writing (up to and including root canal). The problem seems to be standards. I have some. And I'm terrified I can't live up to them. I've found that to make myself write anything at all, I have to begin by lowering my sights, and simply try to write something bad. Don't even write, I tell myself, just type. He goes on to introduce a piece on Ralph Ellison, who never finished his second book. As his page count rose, so, too, did his standards. No matter who told him his work was brilliant, it was never brilliant enough for Ellison. Actu

I love Text Block Writer!

I don't know what I'd do without Text Block Writer, a fantastic piece of free software that I downloaded at Software by Brian . A writing club member recommended it in a message board thread about " advanced writing techniques " six months ago (thank you, whoever you are!) and I've been using it ever since. This picture doesn't begin to do it justice. It is a "virtual index card" system that allows you to arrange and rearrange paragraphs, sections, or chapter headings, in order to get a handle on the overall organization or logic of your argument, chapter, article or book. I don't even use it to the extent that Brian suggests on the site (he's even written a book about how to use it to write a book , which I haven't read.) His recommendation is that you can write the whole thing in the little blocks, then export it all to Word or another program. You can decide how many columns you want, you can minimize the little blocks until they are

Grad Skool Rulz

I've just discovered a great blog: . The whole "academia" category makes for interesting reading. But graduate students will particularly like the "Grad Skool Rulz" by Fabio Rojas. There are 13 so far, with such topics as " writing your [bleep] dissertation " (he used characters in the title that won't allow me to hyperlink; hence the "bleep") and " learn the unspoken rules ," these "Rulz" offer insights that you don't usually read in the official university manuals. So far the Rulz haven't been given their own category, so your best bet to locate them all is to go to the blog and search "Grad Skool Rulz #." This will give you just the Rulz posts and not mentions of them.

Academic success is a muscle

I've just read " Leadership is a Muscle ," an article by Chip and Dan Heath in the July 2007 issue of Fast Company Magazine . They review a book by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, who has just published a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success . The findings of her research are fascinating to me. Her research with children has shown that if you train them to think of intelligence as something that can be built up with practice, they will perform better on tests in areas such as mathematics. If the same can be said of academics, then this would put the lie to the "either ya' got it or ya' don't" attitude that many have ascribed to in the past. In other words, if each professor or grad student could tackle her work with the idea that she will continue to get better and better at it each day, it will help with the constant feeling of failure that so many people struggle with. Sure the writing you did today may suck, but it will be that much

How the organized people live

Ever wonder how those highly-organized people do it? Here is a post from the message board of one of the writing clubs, from a person in the sciences who has to coordinate many things including patients appointments for various studies. She manages to find time to write every day, and gets a tremendous amount done in general. Other people in the group noticed this and asked her to write down how she does it. Reprinted with her permission and names of study trials changed. If only I could be more like her.... (sigh)... General organisation I have a white board in my office that is divided into 7 sections, each one representing an aspect of my work. (“Writing” in one, the others are related to projects, and a miscellaneous box.) I use this to keep a global track of things that need doing. Specific planning and organising At the end of each week (or over the weekend), I list the highest priority tasks (across projects and writing tasks), which become my goals for the next week. I write th

CASBAT: The Campaign Against Screaming Babies at Talks

This blog post by Scott Aaronson on crying babies at conferences, and the comments to the post, are both hilarious and thoughtful (not necessarily at the same time.) Scott and his readers discuss topics ranging from suggestions about funding childcare during conferences, the difficulty involved in getting tenure during the childbearing years, to the fact that 'academia has the “trifecta” of low pay, long hours, and tenure pressure."

What you do changes your brain

"The second half of a man's life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half." -- Fyodor Dostoevsky This NY Times book review of Norman Doidge's book, The Brain that Changes Itself , reminds me of the reasons I'm so rabid about the negative statements that people make to themselves. The reviewer, Abigail Zuger, cites numerous examples where changes in "wiring" in the brain occur because of changes in behavior. If you practice thinking nasty things about yourself, your brain will become accustomed to those neural pathways and allow those thoughts more easily in the future. If you sit down and write for 10 minutes every morning, your brain expects this and finds it easier to write. I've just ordered this book.

Areas of Competence

Here is an excellent discussion on the question of how do you list your areas of competence or areas of specialization on your CV. This is for the discipline of philosophy, but there is much to be learned if you are in other disciplines. The comments range into how what you list in these areas may influence what you are asked in an interview and what you are eventually asked to teach.

Report from the Council of Graduate Schools: The devil is in the details

A short article in the Chronicle yesterday alerted me to this recently released report (note: it's a pdf file) from the Council of Graduate Schools. It's entitled "Graduate Education: The Backbone of American Competitiveness and Innovation: A report from the Council of Graduate Schools Advisory Committee on Graduate Education and American Competitiveness." Because of my experience working with graduate students both as a coach, and along with Jayne London, running our Writing Clubs , I became excited reading this report. The Advisory Committee suggested many items in their "Action Agenda" that I endorse. Of course, the devil is in the details. And the funding. The report offers recommendations to those in higher education, business and policy. Here are a few selected tidbits that I liked, with my comments. Interdisciplinary research preparation and education are central to future competitiveness, because knowledge creation and innovation frequently occur

Trains and planes: creativity bursts on public transportation

I just got back from a business/pleasure trip to Philadelphia. I took Amtrak from Union Station in D.C. to Philly; a 2-hour train ride. I cannot believe how much work I got done on the train! It's not just the amount of time I spent writing; I was able to revise my book in a much more creative way. What is it about public transportation that is so conducive to creativity, at least writing creativity, for me? One Writing Club member had this opinion: I think people get work done on public transportation because we surrender our control to the driver of the vehicle, which frees us to focus on our other concerns. Also, being in a bubble of sorts (a train car, a bus, a car) kind of feels like a safe place. The fact that the trip won't last for ever puts a limit on how much a person will work (an outside timer or sorts). I agree with everything she says. There is something safe about knowing that you are waiting for a specified period of time, in a place where there are few distrac

Better Lectures

The latest message from the Tomorrow's Professor's Mailing List was called "How to Create Memorable Lectures." It was from the newsletter, Speaking of Teaching, produced by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), Stanford University -, Winter 2005, Vol. 14, No.1. It never hurts to have reminders about how to lecture, because, let's face it, all academics do it. I remember being highly influenced by the best lecturers when I was an undergraduate, many years ago. The whole article is good, but I liked this reminder of how to help students take in the information you're presenting: Once we have students' attention, we need to consider how quickly students can process information. Short-term memory requires time to process the sensory input we receive; students are not sponges and cannot immediately "absorb" new information. Give students short breaks throughout lecture to review their notes and ask questions.

Helping your students cope with the Virginia Tech Tragedy

The news of the massacre at Virginia Tech hit close to home for me, as I'm sure it did for many of you. Having both of my children graduate from a Virginia university (U. VA), one of them just last spring, I had the immediate thought that most parents have had -- "That could have been my child." You might be wondering how to deal with this in your classes today. I'm a member of POD: Professional and Organizational Network in Higher Education. Today I received an email from their listserv that may help you decide. This is from Dr. Therese Huston, who is the director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Seattle University (I'm only quoting part of her letter): For those faculty and faculty developers who are thinking about addressing the tragedy in the days to come, there is [a] resource that might be helpful. Michele DiPietro and I published an article in the most recent edition of To Improve the Academy (2007) that reported on a study examining

Themes from a professor coaching group meeting

I always learn something from the brilliant professors in my coaching groups. 1.) A deep thought from Despair, Inc .: Hard work always pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now. 2.) The difficulty of getting into "flow" in your research and writing, when there's so much external pressure to publish, etc. Paradoxically, you have to let go of caring about what "they" want, in order to enjoy what you really want to be doing for your career. How can you sit down and "dance" with your work in a curious and joyful way (these are my words) if you feel your chair or dean breathing down your neck? For some people, the answer may be actively practicing relaxation, meditation , or self-hypnosis. It takes a real effort to be present and relax into your work. 3.) Coping with the last stretch of the semester when you're burned out but want to keep researching and writing. Yes, 15 minutes day does work, and it's better than nothing. 4.) Ways of co