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Showing posts from 2012

What it's like to be a grant reviewer (and how to make your reviewer's life better)

As you develop your next grant, I'd like to ask you one thing: have you really considered what it's like to be your grant reviewer?

Most grant writers don't give that nearly enough thought. They write as if they're submitting their proposal to some big, anonymous "machine" at the other end that simply sorts, collates, and ranks proposals.  But it is not a machine. There are real humans involved, and what you say, how you say it, and how you present yourself have a lot to do with how you make those humans feel.

How you make your readers feel has a lot to do with whether they're going to support your grant or not.

Yeah, I know, we academics aren't supposed to talk about feelings. That sounds woo-woo and touchy-feely.  It's not proper.

That is why most writers overlook this most basic of human phenomena, which drives nearly all of our day-to-day decisions… decisions that include whether to support your grant … or not! Yes, feelings….

Let's talk abo…

Academia's Best Kept Secret: How to Make Use of Your University's Writing Center

During the process of working on your thesis or dissertation, you may find yourself considering the possibility of hiring an outside editor or at least finding another pair of eyes to read your dissertation work.  Even if you have the best of relationships with your dissertation or thesis committee, it's sometimes helpful to have an outsider's point of view, and particularly someone who can take the time to work with you more closely and give you more feedback than an adviser may be able to.  In the coming days, I'll be talking about the pros and cons of hiring outside help, along with some tips for choosing the right editor, but before you look for one, you might want to consider a resource many students overlook--the University writing center.  

While generally thought of as resources for undergraduates, many writing centers also offer to read small, discrete portions of graduate papers and dissertations.  While the focus will be on a learning/tutoring relationship rather…

Enter the Conversation: Find Your Voice in the Scholarly Literature

Enter the Conversation: Find Your Voice in the Scholarly Literature

Does the literature review section of your project intimidate you?

Is it hard to figure out what to include and why? 

Are you unclear about what your readers need to see?

You can get beyond your hesitation to write the review of literature by imagining yourself in an ordinary conversation.

Entering a Conversation

How do you enter a conversation?
When you are new to a group of people, does it take a long time to find your voice?When some of them are better known than you are, do your words get stuck in your mouth? When you are interested in the conversation and have something to contribute, is it hard to figure out how to start? Do you sometimes feel you blurt out a thought? I bet your apprehensions about writing your review of the literature are similar! So use the same strategies! In ordinary conversation, how do you speak up?

Conversation Strategies

Here are some strategies you probably use as you make your way in…

What on Earth Are Poms???

What on Earth Are Poms???

“Do you pom?” “How long?” “How many?” “Alone or together?” “Where?”

Do you hear other academic writers asking questions like this?

Do they confuse you entirely? You are not alone!

Why do we in Academic Ladder like Poms?

Academic writers all over the world are adopting The Pomodoro Technique® and you hear about it in our Academic Writing Clubs and outside them. Our Academic Ladder Newsletter featured them in September 13, 2006 article: Academic Writing: Use a Timer to Make Yourself Write and the Pomodoro Technique® web page also includes a book to download for free.

You know we love timers in Academic Ladder! We know, from hundreds of academic writers and from the research, that writing in brief, regular sessions generally results in writing more, with less stress.

We also know that those sessions are more reliably successful when they have both a minimum time and a maximum time. Minimum time we understand. We can tolerate even painful writing for…

Stock Your Cupboards: Guides to teaching effectively and efficiently

As an academic writer, you are teaching and learning all the time. You learn from other scholars in your research; you teach your strategies for effective writing in the Writing Club or other context.

Teaching an academic course is probably also part of your life. It may be far in the future, or a current source of anxiety.  Novice or master, it is time to stock your cupboards! Get some fresh new things, review your staples, and check out some cookbooks and tools!

As we have said before, effective teaching is usually more efficient teaching.
(  That leaves more time and focus available for the main work in Academic Ladder: productive academic writing.

Last month’s newsletter, Clean Your Tools,
( was a review of useful books on academic writing. Now we present a guide to resources about college teaching.

Tools: an unexpected use for an old tool
You may not anticipate our first tool, though…

Clean Your Tools! A Review of Guidebooks for Academic Writing

Are you intimidated by the review of the literature section of your project? Is it hard to figure out what to include and why?  You can get around that if you imagine yourself in an ordinary conversation.

Entering a Conversation
How do you enter a conversation? When you are new to a group of people, does it take a long time to find your voice? When some of the people are more well-known than you are, do your words get stuck in your mouth? When you are interested in the conversation and have something to contribute, is it hard to figure out how to start? Do you sometimes feel you blurt out a thought?

I bet your apprehensions about writing your review of the literature are similar! So use the same strategies! In ordinary conversation, how do you speak up?

Conversation Strategies
Here are some strategies you probably use as you make your way in a conversation:
Listen quietly awhile to the tone of the conversation and then say something:  “This dog park controversy you are tal…

To Do, Not To Do, To Ignore--What's On Your Ignore List This Week?

If you're like me and many of my writing club participants, you have a weekly or monthly goal setting ritual.  Usually this involves sitting down on a Sunday evening or Monday morning and setting goals for the upcoming week.  For me, I consider my schedule as well as all of the long term projects I'm working on and when I can do what.  Usually I end up with several different to-do lists, or in David Allen terms, lists of next actions.  I also end up with a plan for the week that involves assigning tasks to various blocks of time, whether it's a meeting with a freelance client or preparing for a class that I'm teaching, or writing for my book or blog posts.  What I don't usually do, though, is make a list of what I won't be doing, a concept I'd never really thought about until one of my clients pointed me to Peter Bregman's article in the Harvard Business Review.

Somewhat similar to the unschedule idea we've talked about previously on this blog, Breg…

How to Make Peace With Your Internal Editor (And Whether or Not You Should)

At Academic Ladder, we emphasize the importance of identifying negative self-talk when it arises during a writing session and silencing overly critical inner voices.  We talk about replacing the negative self-statements with positive ones, and re-framing what our internal editors are saying.  This is especially important to do when writing a first draft, or when freewriting, because stopping every few words to edit is neither efficient nor effective.
But what if it's hard to speak back to those negative voices because deep down in your gut you really believe they're right?  What if there's some truth to what your inner critic is saying?  This is a hard one, because sometimes it's difficult to separate the negativity and criticism that comes from fear or pain from the more protective voices of caution.  There are times when it may be necessary to listen to those cautionary voices rather than shut them out entirely.

For instance, when I sat down to write this blog post,…

3 Secrets to Doing Well this Summer, Even if You’re an Academic

Untitled DocumentAh, Summer! At last, many of us academics have the promise of unstructured time……… and the peril of unmet goals.

Yes, we were often the children who loved school. After all, we kept on going for years! Yet we treasured summer vacation for its slower pace, tempting activities, exciting adventures, idle laziness.
Summer in an academic life holds such promise! Many of us have put off all of our writing goals until this magic season. We anticipate: Fewer external commitments! The chance to structure the days as you wish!Extended time in library or lab! You can finally get that project fully under way!Opportunities for projects!Time with friends and family! Vacation! Travel to family or exotic locales! But summer brings perils as well. Summer break for an academic writer is not the same today as those glorious memories of childhood summer vacations.

The promise of limitless time to accomplish our greatest dreams often is not fulfilled.

What happens? And what can you do …

Summertime, and the Living is Easy--Or Not

So it's finally summer.  You've turned in your grades, you've finished TAing that horrible class that took all of your time, and your department is winding down its endless meetings.  Now you can get down to your own writing, right?  You can finally work on your own work that you've been putting off because you had to get those papers graded and go over all those tests.  Well, yes and no.  If you've been teaching this academic year and have minimal teaching and administrative responsibilities this summer, then yes, you will have a great deal more time.  But what you probably won't have is a lot more energy.  In fact, you'll probably be a bit burned out, or experiencing some version of Academic Exhaustion syndrome.  In that case, seriously consider taking some sort of break to mark the end of the term.  Go away for a long weekend, or even (gasp!) a week, and use that time to regroup and recharge so that you can come back refreshed and ready to work.

Then, wh…

Stop What You're Doing and Breathe

It may seem counterintuitive to take time out to relax or meditate at this point in the academic year, but it's during these chaotic times when we most need to schedule in time for a break, even if it's just for a few minutes.  If the weather is nice where you are, try getting outside and taking a walk, or even just standing outside and breathing deeply for five minutes.  You can also sit in a rocking chair and rock, lie down on your back on the floor, or simply sit at your desk and close your eyes and count slowly from one to five.

For a little aided meditation, there are several web environments dedicated to providing relaxing sounds and images.  You may want to try, which simply lets you into a quiet scene and stay there.  If you press start, there will be a slow voice giving you directions, but you don't have to press start. You can just sit and breathe and watch the scene.  You can also click on "no guidance," which will turn on quiet …

Academia and Achievements: Why is it So Hard for Us to Give Ourselves Rewards?

A few days ago, Academic Ladder coach Susanne Morgan wrote an excellent article about the need for writers to create habits, and in particular, to follow a system in which we first give ourselves cues to write, secondly write, and finally, after we've finished our writing session, we give ourselves rewards.  This is a great way to build a consistent writing habit, and rewards, both internal and external, are a big part of Academic Ladder's philosophy.  But if rewards are so important, then why are we so reluctant to give them to ourselves?  Many of the writing participants I work with have admitted to struggling with this concept, and  I often struggle with it too.

For many of us, it comes down to the culture of academia and the value that the academy places on product versus process.  Most of us have spent a long time in a culture where the amount of work we do is never valued or acknowledged; what matters is the end result.  Our dissertation chairs don't really care how …

Task Mapping and Time Management for Academics

Last week we talked about goal setting and defining tasks. Since this is a challenging topic for most of us, I thought I'd break it down a little more. The idea of task mapping comes from business, but we can apply it directly to our academic writing tasks. The general idea is that you select a very defined segment of time and then think about what task or micro-task you can do within it.

The beauty of this approach is that by focusing in on one tiny task per half an hour or 45 minute session, you minimize the anxiety surrounding the enormity of the task at large. Chances are that you decided to do academic work because your mind likes to solve problems. Put that strength to work by giving it lots of little, defined, workable problems, rather than a nebulous general to do list.
For instance, instead of 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. “Work on chapter 3” or even “Work on chapter 3, section x”, try really mapping out your time:
2:00 – 2:45: Draft two paragraphs on the effectiveness of small tu…

How to Define and Schedule Academic Tasks

On Monday, I talked about the weight of unfinished tasks, and how important it is to set daily, achievable goals, but many of us have trouble with that. Particularly if we are in the social sciences or humanities, we tend to have difficulty breaking down our larger projects into smaller, discrete tasks. We also tend to underestimate vastly the length of time it takes to do a particular task.

So how do we get realistic? How do we set those smaller, more achievable goals? 

The best way is to be as specific as possible with what you want to accomplish during a given session. For instance, at the broadest level, a task might be "work on paper" or "work on dissertation," but generally, that won't work too well. If we say "tomorrow I'm going to do something. Anything," it might work, but we'll have a much better chance of actually accomplishing the goal if we say something like "From 8:30 - 9:00 a.m., I will expand the introductory paragraph of c…

Mental Clutter and the Academic Life: The Weight of Unfinished Tasks

Have you ever said any of the following? "I can't forget about that revise and resubmit. Oh, and there's also that book review." "I really need to work on my thesis." "After I grade papers and prep for class, then I can relax and work on my dissertation." "Things are just too chaotic this term to get significant work done. I can wait until the summer." As academics, to some extent, there will always be long term projects that will be hanging over our heads. So how do we make peace with this knowledge, particularly at this point in the academic year? How do we make peace with the idea that there may not be time to get everything we need to done?

First, the most important thing we can do is to be realistic in what we can achieve. It may be that it's just not possible to write that book review and revise that article, or submit that entire dissertation chapter during the final part of the term. We may have to make difficult…