Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2008

Boost your creativity by asking questions

What is creativity?

It involves seeing a problem in a new light.

What are some ways to see a problem in a new light?

Ask yourself questions about the problem or the underlying issues.

When you're working on a long-term writing project, it's not uncommon to feel stuck in a rut. You can feel like your argument is stale and that you're not offering anything new. At that point, it may be helpful to try posing questions to yourself that jolt you out of that rut.

What got me started thinking about this was an article I was reading called "The Role of Socratic Questioning in Thinking, Teaching, & Learning". The authors point out that thinking comes from questions: "Questions define tasks, express problems and delineate issues. Answers on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought. Only when an answer generates a further question does thought continue its life as such." As they point out, "The art of Socratic questioning is important for the cr…

A few important streets on the road to tenure

Creating a tenure file is a daunting task, which is made more overwhelming if you're not prepared. Here is a thread (shared here with permission) from the listserv of one of my faculty coaching groups, between two professors who have each had their tenure approved by their respective departments this month. (Hurray for Profs J and L!)




Prof J:

Here's my advice for those who still have a few years left before tenure. It is all obvious stuff but somehow it escaped me:

Buy a large three ring binder (or possibly three binders). Buy some divider tabs. Optional: buy a bunch of sheet protector thingies that are meant to be put into a three ring binder (they are punched with three holes).Divide the notebook into three main sections: teaching, research/publication, service (using the tabs).Get a hold of the published document identifying the criteria for tenure. Hopefully they will provide more specific criteria for each of the three main criteria. Subdivide each of the three secti…

Hiring online coaches

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT

Academic Ladder LLC is currently seeking one or more part-time academic coaches for its expanding 28-day online coaching program, the Academic Writing Club. The program is designed to advise, guide and support graduate students and professors as they learn techniques for becoming daily writers.

We are seeking a warm, articulate individual who has had experience coaching or supervising, or who has worked in higher education. The ideal candidate will someone who
communicates well in writingcan create a positive and encouraging environment in their online groupsis knowledgeable about academia and the challenges of long-term writing projectswill take a collaborative and flexible approach to working with the Academic Writing Club teamAcademic Ladder LLC is a company whose mission is to help academics reach their career goals and lead a well-balanced life.

This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about working with academics and coaching, to work with a diverse team o…

An example of a concept map

Here is an excellent example of a concept map that a Writing Club member sent me recently, and which I'm including with her permission. You can click on the picture to see an enlarged version. Here's (some of) what she had to say about it:
I'm finding this a very easy way to visualize my grounded theory...
I used a very simple program called Inspiration - you can get a free trial at Inspiration.com. The program is designed for kids, so it's very easy. I purchased the software for making flow charts for a different project, but now that I have it I use it for all sorts of things.She has removed any identifying information. But I think this visual gives you a good idea of how using visual techniques can clarify and yes, inspire.

An organizing schema for organizing

A Writing Club member who was feeling disorganized this week, came up with a nice way to start dealing with this problem. In response to one of the questions on the progress log ("What are your specific goals for tomorrow?"), she made the following list.

Here is my organization strategy for putting that mountain of papers in its place: Step 1: (Create the categories) Create paper folders based on subject/topic (eg: stat notes; emotion articles; pilot analysis; chapter feedback etc)Step 2: (Start filing) Start filing papers into the folder created above.Step 3: (Revise categories) Go through papers that have not found a home and see if you want to create more subfolders or combine some.Step 4: ( Containerize): Now when all papers have found a home, based on sub folders, if any are too large- house them all in a box/ file holder, with sub-categorizations if it helps.Step 5: (Create a reference): List all folders and boxes and stick it where you can see it. T…

Do you have time to think?

If you race around all day like a chicken with your head cut off, running from one task to another without time to think, you may be paying a price, according to some experts. This article from BBC news looks at how setting aside time to think can help you feel better and be more productive. Some food for thought as you start contemplating the upcoming semester. Just don't think about eating chicken!

Death by tenure track

A 45- year old Japanese chief engineer working for Toyota had worked "nights and weekends and often traveled abroad" for six months. When he died of heart failure, a local Japanese government agency ruled that his death had been caused by overwork, reports an article today in the Washington Post. Apparently death caused by working too much has become so common in Japan that they have a word for it -- karoshi.

The thing is, this description -- working nights and weekends and often traveling abroad -- reminded me of so many of the professors I talk to. Could it be that academia is quietly killing tenure-track professors?

I've never heard of any statistics that indicate that academics go to an early grave. I do see a lot of people, especially pre-tenure, who suffer from what are probably stress-induced illnesses.

Perhaps there is no increased incidence of karoshi in academia because the tenure track has an ending. Your body says, "Hang in there; there is hope; this…

What's your crap quotient?

I just got off the phone with a wise and experienced tenured professor client who I'm coaching. She recounted some advice that one of her mentors had given her long ago. This person had been an extremely prolific writer with many publications.

She said, "Your crap quotient is too low."

What did she mean by this? One way to look at it is this: If every article you send out is accepted for publication, it probably means that you could have sent out more. In order to learn how to write better, you need to write more. In order to improve your research and writing, you need feedback. Even article rejections help you learn. You might find out what kind of article is or isn't appropriate for that journal. You might get suggestions from reviewers, that as much as you hate them, are helpful for improving the article.

If you're holding on to your work until it's perfect, then you're not publishing as much as you might, and you're probably holding yourse…

"ABD" -- what does it really mean?

I thought I knew what the definition of ABD was. It was exactly the same as defined here in Carnegie Mellon's University Doctoral Candidate Policies for All But Dissertation (ABD):
After the completion of all formal degree requirements other than the completion of and approval of the doctoral dissertation and the public final examination, doctoral candidates shall be regarded as All But Dissertation(ABD).I have, though, occasionally run into the term ABD being used as a somewhat disparaging designation for one who fulfills the formal degree requirements of the Ph.D. but never finishes the dissertation, and then quits the program. Most recently, I saw it in What They Didn't Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career, by Paul Gray and David E. Drew.

Number 9 of their helpful hints is one that I strongly agree with: "Remember that a Ph.D. is primarily an indication of survivorship." They go on to say, "You stuck with it …

The psychological mine fields of grad school

You must establish a firm psychological stance early in your graduate career to keep from being buffeted by the many demands that will be made on your time. If you don't watch out, the pressures of course work, teaching, language requirements and who knows what else will push you around like a large, docile molecule in Brownian motion.
That quote is from an excellent list of tips for graduate students, entitled "Some Modest Advice for Graduate Students," by Yale professor Stephen C. Stearns. I particularly like the section called "Psychological Problems are the Biggest Barrier." As a psychologist, I see all the time that the grad students I coach are plenty smart enough to do the job. What impedes their progress are the psychological mine fields that are in their path. I suggest reading this article if you have been running into these mines.

Anti-Procrastination Tips

An Academic Writing Club member recently posted these anti-procrastination techniques on the message board. Here are the tips I try to use to get myself to work:1) WARM UP ROUTINE -- Instead of starting with email, news sites, or any of the other things that I find lead to hours of procrastination ... I try to have a "prep time" for writing as warm up:I put on the same mix cd each time I write (mental cue) Open the diss chapter (NOTHING ELSE except EndNote -- Close email and web browser) Then clean off my desk Warm up my coffee Set the kitchen timer for the min. amount of time I want to write Finally -- And this may sound quite odd, I light a prayer candle (I use the Virgin of Guadalupe, because I have deemed her patron saint of anthropologists, given the role she played in colonization and the Catholic church's stance on indigenous Mexicans). Although I am not really religious -- I say a little prayer (a mantra would be good to) to just write something, rega…

Shame about being a mother and an academic

A recent pseudonymous article in The Chronicle of Higher Education brings to light a theme that I've heard from academic mothers in the Writing Club. They struggle with a feeling of shame, starting in graduate school, when they have to "admit" that they are parents. This feeling of shame is not necessarily brought on by the particular person or situation that they are dealing with at the moment, but by the attitude that they feel is rampant in academia, towards any non-scholarly activity in academia. For example, one person wrote, "I once APOLOGIZED to my advisor (when I had my first child) for being a mom in academia."

This gets back to the theme I've been writing about lately; that of finding balance in academia. If the appropriate amount of balance existed, then it should be possible for half of the human race to participate equally in academia while raising a family. While not feeling ashamed.

Balanced Life Chart

Balanced Life: Myth or Possibility?

Tracking what you're doing on a daily basis can help you realize what is missing in your life.

The latest issue of my newsletter, entitled "Get a Life! A Chart for Living a Balanced Life(Even if You're an Academic)" just came out on Wednesday. In it, I wrote about the fact that academics feel that they're never good enough and that there's always someone better than them. Both of these factors, among others, lead to a guilt-caused imbalance in their lives.  You can find the PDF of the Balanced Life Chart here:

Balanced Life Chart
You are Worthy, so Reward Yourself

One way to motivate you to take some time for yourself is for you to notice what you are accomplishing on a daily basis.

If you realize how much you're accomplishing, then you will feel that you deserve to take time to savor a cup of tea, to schedule a lunch or squash game with friends, or to read a book for pleasure!

So, reward yourself in a way that is me…

Making endless decisions -- that's why writing is so hard!

From the Washington Post today:
Having to make too many choices can affect one's ability to stay focused, finish work and do complex mental tasks, finds a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Almost 400 people took part in seven experiments in which some were asked to make choices or rate various products. The more choices individuals had to make and the more time they spent deciding, the worse they fared on later tasks, regardless of the complexity of the choices.

That's what makes writing so difficult. Every word you write, every turn of phrase, every decision to add or omit content -- they all involve decisions. Deciding whether to expand on a point or whether you've done enough explaining can leave you feeling as though you've run a marathon.

This makes it clear why binge writing is so bad for you. It literally drains you of brain power, so that the next day, and the day after that, you feel ill when you consider sitting down to write.

Just writ…

Maybe you need a nap

"Forgoing sleep is like borrowing from a loan shark. Sure you get that extra hours right now to cover for your overly-optimistic estimation, but at what price? The shark will be back and if you can’t pay, he’ll break your creativity, morale, and good-mannered nature as virtue twigs."
This quote, from a post called "Sleep deprivation is not a badge of honor,"by David Heinemeier at 37signals, really caught my attention. Like overwork, some people seem to be proud of how little sleep they get. Yet, as he points out, you pay for the extra time that you eke out by sleeping less. Reduced creativity is clearly one price you pay.

I'm particularly sensitive to this as someone who needs a lot of sleep, and whose husband doesn't.

This NY Times article reviews recent research on the role that sleeping plays in the formation of new memories and in the consolidation of recent learning.

As a matter of fact, this recent study shows that a 90 minute short nap can speed up t…

Academic bureaucracy

From the NY Times: A tenured professor leaves academia in order to enter the world of business. He is now the chief executive of Kelly Services. Here is his comment comparing business to academia:
In business you learn at a faster rate, and there’s a lack of bureaucracy and better pay. I tell associates you don’t really know bureaucracy until you experience academic institutions.

Depression in Graduate School

I have just run into two fantastic posts on the experience of having depression in graduate school. The first, "Even Scientists Get the Blues,"is by a science student who puts a personal face on the isolation, lack of structure and open-ended nature of running experiments as you work on your dissertation. The second is a short slide-show/movie with personal comments by three graduate students who are struggling with issues such as the competitiveness of fellow students, the harshness of professors, and the endless hours of work. It's called "Depression in Graduate Students."

I applaud these people for telling their first-person stories. So many graduate students have told me that just knowing that they were not alone in their suffering made them feel less pain while in graduate school.

Deconstruction gone wild

Grad Student Deconstructs Take-Out MenuCAMBRIDGE, MA-Out of sheer habit, English grad student Jon Rosenblatt tried to interpret the message within his Burrito Bandito menu. It's finally happened. As reported in the Onion, a Harvard University English graduate student has gone off the deep end and used his hard-earned skills of deconstructing for evil instead of good. Yes, Jon Rosenblatt has deconstructed a Mexican fast-food menu.As his roommate explained, "He has become so steeped in the complex jargon of critical theory that he's unable to resist the urge to deconstruct even the most mundane things."You can read all the details of this tragic story here.

Grad-school-ruled notebook paper

Mead Releases New Grad-School-Ruled Notebook RICHMOND, VA—Company officials say the new notebooks feature lines 3.55 millimeters apart, making them "infinitely more practical" for postgraduate work than the 7.1 millimeter college-ruled notebooks.

The Onion, always up-to-date with the latest innovations for highly educated people, reports that graduate students will no longer have to put up with inferior college-ruled paper, which is only meant for undergraduates. Because of the higher level of learning demanded of graduate students, they will get their own paper, with even more narrow lines.

You'll be happy to know that "the notebooks are currently available in several special grad-school-edition colors, including alabaster, saffron, vermilion, and, for girl graduate students, periwinkle."

What they didn't teach you in graduate school

This article from the Chronicle of Higher Education has some truly useful career tips for junior professors. It is adapted from What They Didn't Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career (Stylus Publishing, 2008). Included are tips about topics such as:
Departmental politicsWhere to publishWhen to serve as an editorWhy to change your career or move
I've just ordered the book from Stylus -- I'll let you know what I think.

Don't overdo your will power quotient

We only have a limited supply of willpower in our brains at any one time, reports an article in the NY Times. If we use up that supply resisting dessert, giving extra time to students instead of taking a nap, or staying within our budget, we won't have anything left over.

How does this willpower limitation apply to academics? One of the biggest struggles for academics is having the willpower to write on a daily basis. Because there is no one out there calling up each graduate student or professor and asking them how their writing went that day, it is extremely difficult for them to nail their butt to the chair and just write something. So days without writing become weeks without writing, which leads to unfinished dissertations, low publication records, and reams of research that the world isn't learning about.

The fact that we all struggle with willpower in so many areas of life is one reason I came up with the Academic Writing Club. Why use up all your energy trying to g…

Mini-hint to help with editing: fact sheets

A client of mine recently told me about a technique one of her grad school peers uses to get a handle on all the information he's trying to incorporate into a chapter. He creates what he calls "fact sheets." Each fact sheet has one sub-topic or question at the top of a page, and under it he collects his notes and thoughts on that one topic. My client has been using this technique as she edits a chapter, and says that this helps her review her notes in a "somewhat orderly fashion."

How do you get a handle on all the information that is piling up in folders in your computer or on your desk? How do you make sure it all makes it into your writing?

Warning to Ph.D.'s going to Germany

Do you plan to present a paper at a conference in Germany? Or even worse, are you applying for a job there? Then you'd be better be careful what you call yourself. A Washington Post Article that came out today states, "Americans with PhDs beware: Telling people in Germany that you're a doctor could land you in jail." Apparently no one outside of the European Union can call herself "Dr.," even if she has worked at the Max Planck Institute for 10 years and has a Ph.D. from an elite university in the States. So, caveat scholasticus (ok, I don't speak Latin, but that's my best guess at "Scholar, beware"). Or perhaps I should say, Herr oder Frau Doktor, seien Sie vorsichtig (ok, I don't speak German, either.) But consider yourself warned.

Using EverNote for academic research

I have been rediscovering EverNote today. One of the members of the Friends group in the Academic Writing Club, which I participate in as well as run, brought up EverNote today and wondered who had introduced her to it. Well, it was me! I had tried an early beta version once and it had crashed my computer, so I had been wary to try it again. But she said she used it daily, so I re-downloaded it, and I'm excited about it all over again.

It's a deceptively simple program. I say deceptive because it appears at first glance that it's like a running note pad or journal, where you can write notes, copy and paste, or drag and drop anything that you find online or that you're working on in your computer, and store it chronologically. And that would be reason enough to use it, as far as I'm concerned. But it's a whole lot more. You can assign keywords and categories to each note, use the various templates that are loaded on to create to-do lists, or meeting not…

Searching for meaning in academia

One of the more psychologically-minded and empathic professors who blog about teaching, Louis Schmier writes a blog called "Random Thoughts." His most recent post touches on an issue that I often hear professors talk about: how to find meaning and purpose in academia as you struggle your way up the academic ladder. In an atmosphere where over-working and not having a life can seem to be prized, and where in the years before tenure you feel the need to hide your real self and cater to bureaucratic demands, it's hard to stay in touch with the idealistic visions or intense intellectual passions that got you into academia in the first place. I'm encouraged that he describes having been to a conference (The Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching) where people were able to discuss their feelings about the loss of connection to a "meaningful purpose."

Don't wait until you get tenure to think about these issues. You don't want to arrive at y…

Advice for choosing your graduate school

My latest newsletter, "Mean and Nasty Academics," generated a lot of email and also comments in the Writing Club. Here are some comments from Writing Club members on a thread on the message board called "Advice for Prospective Graduate Students." I've edited out confusing or identifying details.

I have another suggestion for potential grad students when evaluating departments. Most of the time, current grad students will not say anything negative about the people in their department for fear it will get back to the professors. I personally will give a realistic picture of everything administrative (requirements, money, office space, all of which are not the best in my program), but would NEVER EVER say which professors are bad to work with. In general, I have a nice department with friendly, helpful people, but there is one professor in particular who is a nightmare (not the one on my committee, btw!). She is just awful. Abusive is a GREAT word for her. She i…

Do you feel pressured by your mentors?

So many professors have told me that they feel "overly mentored" by their chair or others in their department, in their quest for tenure. Even though the mentoring may be meant in a kindly, helpful way, it can result in the mentee feeling inadequate, bullied, or even paralyzed.

If you are in this situation, and giving direct feedback to the mentor is either not helping, or not advisable in your situation, then you need to work on your own point of view. You need to work on not giving too much power to the mentor, and feeling like you are the one in control; the one making decisions for yourself.

Here is a great 6 minute video by Byron Katie, illustrating a cognitive-behavioral technique for convincing yourself that you have choices, even if you are being pressured.

You can also see examples of the process she calls "The Work" which is a series of techniques for questioning your beliefs that keep you trapped.

I haven't read anywhere else about this problem of ov…

Hazing and Bullying: One Academic's Story

In response to my newsletter article ("Mean and Nasty Academics" -- see previous post), I received some insightful replies. One of them is reprinted in full here, with permission of the author, leaving out any identifying information.

About ten years ago I helped form an organization for students with disabilities at an IvyLeagueUniversity. At our first meeting with graduate students, we went around and talked about our experiences and needs from the organization. There were students in professional programs and students in academic, arts and sciences programs.

The students in arts and sciences, of whom I was one, uniformly told of harassment and abuse, loading on extra work, being stifled especially in bringing up ADA-related requests for accomodation.
In contrast, students in professional programs told of faculty who were solicitous and kind, who sought to adapt the program to fit the student's abilities.

I had experienced hazing in the first year particularly; since my f…

Mean and Nasty Academics: Bullying, Hazing, and Mobbing

“Tenure is supposed to protect scholars from outside control, but it does a lousy job of protecting them from one another.”
-- Kenneth Westhues, quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education


I don't usually post my newsletters here, but I think this is a subject that needs to get more airing. So here is the text of my latest newsletter, called "Mean and Nasty Academics." (If you'd like to sign up for my bi-weekly (sometimes less frequent) newsletter, go to this page, which also lists the bonuses you will receive.)

Another reason I'm posting this newsletter issue is that I have received some interesting replies from my newsletter readers that will help those of you struggling with these issues. I will put these replies up in later posts.

Mean and Nasty Academics

"I was surprised to experience hazing as a graduate student, not once, but continually and by multiple professors… I wat…