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Showing posts from March, 2009

10 Steps for Growing a Backbone

This is the continuation of my March 18 newsletter. If you're not a subscriber, sign up now! (Go here to see the first part of this article.)
Here are suggestions culled from How to Grow a Backbone by Susan Marshall, along with examples that I’ve inserted to help you relate it to the academic environment.
Observe and assess your environment. Know the lay of the land.
If you’re a graduate student, take an active role in finding out what it takes to get your degree. Talk to more experienced students and to all the professors that have time for you, in order to develop a cognitive map. What is the power structure in your department? Who will be most supportive of you? What professor has a reputation as a good advisor? Don’t wait for others to share this kind of information with you, and don’t assume you know it all. Wendy Carter’s Ta-Da software (see right hand column) is excellent for giving new students a mental map of the dissertation process.
Professors: find out exactly wha…

How many of you can relate to this dissertation writer?

Every once in a while I come across someone who describes the agony of dissertation writing so well, that I ask for permission to use their words. I know that when other academic writers read what others are going through, it helps them feel that they are not alone, and makes it a little easier for them to tackle their writing.

I received an email today with just such a well-written description of the dissertation-writing struggle. In this case, the writer is also the mother of a young child. Here are her words, with permission.

But really I'm not sure HOW to make my argument make sense and I have TOO MANY tacks to take in making my argument. I know no one has written what I plan to write in just the way I'm thinking about it--so there I feel okay. I think what holds me back really is the fear of the enormity of the thing. Each time I have written a paper in the past it has taken such incredible spiritual, emotional, psychological, mental/intellectual, and physical energy out …

Interview with a productive professor

This interview with a well-respected, productive professor of information and process management illustrates that the principles of writing and research that we suggest at Academic Ladder apply to academics at all levels. To top it all off, Professor M. Lynne Markus seems like a nice person. I like how she forgives herself for the days that she's not as productive as she'd like to be, and the flexibility with which she adapts to changing circumstances.

A sample (fun?) writing microschedule

You might like to experiment with how to schedule your writing sessions within each day (that's why I called it a "microschedule"). I always recommend relatively shorter sessions, alternating with breaks if you want to write more. Of course, you will need to read and research also at some point. For many, it works to research later in the day, since this more passive activity is easier for most than is writing. But reading sessions could also be scheduled alternately with writing sessions.

A current client was trying to figure this out, plus struggling with anxiety and resulting writer's block. We had her free writing where she wrote about her fears and confusion about the work, then we had her moving into very short "focused writing" sessions. Here is how she scheduled her sessions recently:

1. 8-min block freewriting
2. 18-min focused writing
3. 15-min background research
4. 18-min focused writing
5. 15-min background research
7. 8-min freewriting/re…