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Showing posts from 2013

Participating in Academic Writing Month? Six Cool Tools for Planning and Drafting Your Writing

Did you know that November is National Academic Writing Month? Based on the same concept that has led novelists all over the world to write 1667 words a day for the month of November, Academic Writing month focuses on helping writers meet daily word count or time-based goals.

Don't want to write 1000+ words a day? No problem. Academic Writing month allows you to set your own goals. It's a way to be mindful about what you want to accomplish during the month of November--a month when many of us will be happy just to make it to Thanksgiving.

Many of you know that I prefer time goals to word # goals. But we all need to change it up every once in a while, and you need to experiment to find what works for you. So give word # goals a try and see if it helps you!

Are you intrigued by the concept, but not sure where to start? Or do you already have goals for your writing, but you're still facing the terror of the blank page? You might want to check out these free (or nearly…

You, a Creative Writer? 4 Techniques To Help ANY Academic Get Published

Did you know that you were a creative writer?

As an academic, you may be saying, "Nooooooo, I do research!"  And you certainly do.  You research, you write, you revise, and you publish, and all of those things require creativity.

Somehow along the way, we've made a false dichotomy.  We've made a distinction between creative and academic writers that really doesn't serve either. It especially doesn't serve us as academics.

In fact, by applying some of the tried and true techniques of creative writers, we can engage the reader from the opening sentence until the very last page.

If you can engage your reader like this, you are much more likely to GET PUBLISHED.

1) Find Your Research Arc

Screenwriters and novelists know that the easiest way to bore a reader is to take away the narrative drive of the story.  The same is true for your academic book or article.  If there is no clear hypothesis or argument near the beginning, readers will become uncomfortable and distr…

Avoid Beginning of the Semester Panic: Six Scheduling Tips for the Already Overscheduled

For those of you who have just made it through the first, overwhelming week of school, congratulations!  It gets better.  For those who are about to head into a new term, hang in there.  I know this is a busy time for all of us, and it's easy to fall into the trap of giving up our writing completely as we settle into our semester routines.  Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the effects of the whirlwind.  Get your calendars and your timers ready, and think about your goals for the term as you read these tips:

Schedule all appointments directly into your calendar. 


This includes grading, teaching prep, research time and writing.  I know many people who write down their schedules and their to-do list for the week or day and think they've done enough to plan.  While some planning is better than no planning, unless you have a reality check with your calendar, 
you may tend to overbook.  You may want to use an electronic calendar for this, although paper daytimers can work well…

What are you looking forward to this semester?

For many of you, the new academic year is underway or soon to be.  While it is typical to feel a good deal of stress the first few weeks of the term, it's also exciting!  New colleagues, new students, new courses to teach, and in some cases, new universities.

What are you excited about this term?  And what are you planning to do to help manage your workload and your stress?


Don’t Let Flattery Drain Your Battery (3 ways not to let flattery trick you into saying “yes”)

We all know the importance of saying "no."  We've heard it time and time again, from our professors, mentors, and colleagues, and yet many of us still find it hard to do. Why does this happen?  We're smart people, right?  Why is it so hard to put into action what we know will work for us?

In part, it's because the irregularity of our schedules makes it difficult to know how much time we actually have available. But I think there's another reason academics find saying "no" so hard.  We’re programmed to please.  We were the "good kids," most of us, the students at the top of the class.  We were taught that being offered a responsibility was a good thing.   When people ask us to do something, they affirm our sense of self-worth, particularly when they say something like "we thought you'd be good for this."

Be careful when you hear that phrase!  Make sure that you pause and evaluate the request, no matter how thrilling this praise…

Are you in thrall to the "rigid markers of academic success?"

From blogger The Professor Is In (Karen Kelsky):
"Accepting the rule of external validation and the incredibly rigid markers of academic success makes only for chronic anxiety, insecurity, dependency, and depression." (Link from Kerry Ann Rockquemore  via Laura S. Logan)My favorite quote is from one of the commenters, Barton Fink-Nottle, who writes,
"The way to end the cycle of cruelty that mars the profession is for individuals who have a modicum of power in the system to exercise said power humanely. Above all, those of with tenure need to see adjuncts as colleagues in need of solidarity, not underlings, and campaign for them to receive a living wage. Only by working with our adjunct colleagues can we begin to solve the mounting problems afflicting higher education."Amen, Barton, Amen.

Important information for anyone seeking (or considering) a graduate degree in the Humanities

Once again, William Pannapacker has nailed it.  He points to the lack of doctoral job placement data available from most humanities departments, arguing for a "Graduate School Placement Project" that "could bring market forces to bear on programs that are failing their students."  Among Pannapacker's many salient points, I particularly like that he "gets" why so many students want to do a humanities degree:
In many ways, the choice to go to graduate school is not simply an attraction to a field but a drive toward something that almost everyone wants—a feeling of belonging, living up to one's full potential, and not wasting one's life in meaningless drudgery.  This is an important point.  On the one hand, there are many graduate programs who simply fail to tell the truth about job placement and refuse to discuss opportunities beyond the academy.  On the other, there is still a perception that the academy is the only way to live the "life o…

The hidden price of isolation (and 5 ways to avoid paying that price)

If you’re like most people, you will find that lack of connection with other academics combined with the lack of structure in the summer months will actually reduce your writing productivity.  Without the input, accountability, and power of connection with others, it’s too easy to get sidetracked and not to reach your summer writing goals.

Since writing is ultimately the final common path for completing your dissertation or for publishing and getting tenure, it’s catastrophic to your career not to write productively when you have the chance.

In this post, we offer some additional ways to find those connections and how to use them to energize your writing.

1. Join a writing group on campus.  

Many campuses have ongoing groups of professors or graduate students who are looking for new members.  Some groups meet and write alongside each other, while others are more focused on sharing and critiquing the work.  There are groups that emphasize regular writing and writing productivity, and thos…

Is it really "slow" writing?

Over the years, I've noticed academic writers have several common frustrations. By far the most common is their frustration about how slow they write and how everything takes longer than they think it will.  Almost every writer I know is haunted by that niggling feeling that the work could be going faster.  We all complain that we're making "slow progress."  But are we?  One of my friends was reporting earlier that he'd written "only" 2500 words that day--but he still felt that it was a slow day!  That would be a phenomenal day for me. In fact, if I could write even 2000 words every day, I'd be more than happy.  And yet this person wasn't happy, because he still felt like he could be doing more.  Pushing more, moving more.

The reality is that there's always more we can do, and there will most likely always be at least one person who is faster.  But that doesn't invalidate our progress.  If we're in there, writing away most days a week…

Adventures in exercising (while working)

Stephanie's post (below) made me think of the recent research that shows how bad sitting is for our health, even if we do also work out regularly.  Stephanie's comment that exercise, sleep, and healthy eating are not luxuries really struck a chord with me.  And it coincides with what I've been trying to do the last couple of weeks--move while I'm working.

While I'd really love a treadmill desk, I'm not sure where I'd put one, and they're pretty expensive.  So my fabulous husband decided to try out a set of simple elliptical pedals first.  We bought one for less than $100 on amazon.com and so far, it seems to be working well, at least in terms of my writing output and productivity.  I currently have it in front of my kitchen island, and have my laptop on top of my microwave, which allows me to hop on the elliptical and still type on the laptop and read off the screen while I'm moving.  The transition has been surprisingly smooth, once I got used to r…

A new meaning to the term "Brain Drain?"

By Stephanie Goodwin, Ph.D., AWC Writing Coach

Academic life may be sedentary, but new research suggests it is both mentally and physically fatiguing. Macora and colleagues (2013) randomly assigned adults to either watch documentaries or perform demanding mental tests. Ninety minutes later, both the film-watchers and test-takers were asked to hop on an exercise bike and peddle for long as they could. Despite the fact that both film-watching and test-taking were equally sedentary, the test-takers ran out of steam and stopped peddling long before their film-watching peers. Importantly, although test-takers reported feeling more tired, both film-watchers and test-takers chose the same level of resistance on their bikes. In other words, even though the test-takers knew they were feeling drained, they didn’t adjust their expectations to match their energy levels. Instead, they chose to work just as hard as folks who weren’t feeling tired.


So what does this research have to do with writing …

The Lonely Academic

Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it.  It can be lonely being an academic.  Academics spend a lot of time on independent tasks that are done alone, such as researching, writing, editing, and grading.  If you’re not careful, you can spend too much time on your own, and it will curtail your productivity.

This loneliness can intensify in the summer months.  Those quieter months you've been longing for are here -- but you sit in the library or the office and realize that it's almost too quiet.  You may feel like you have no one to bounce ideas off of and that no one cares about your work.

Some of you might be saying, “But I’m surrounded by people!”  Or, “I try to work at home, and my family/friends keep trying to get me to spend time with them.”  Or, “I work at my office but other people keep coming in and interrupting me.”

The fact is, you can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely.  If people don’t understand the struggles of academic writing, or are not intereste…

Thesis Defense (Some Levity for Your Saturday)

Good thing our thesis and dissertation defenses aren't like this, right?  Hope you're having a great Saturday!

MORE PRODUCTIVITY, LESS PANIC - How to Make the Most of Your Summer

“Wait, what?  It’s July 30!  The summer is more than half over!  I didn't write at all in June and hardly anything in July!  Now I have so much work to do - - too much work!  How am I ever going to do it?"

You know that mid-summer panic?

Non-academic friends never understand.  “It’s still summer!  Why are you worrying now?” After all, "You have summers off, right?"  Riiiiiiight.

As you well know, while you may not have the same responsibilities during the summer that you have during the academic year, you still have a lot that you should be doing to keep your career moving forward.

But as much as you crave a more leisurely schedule, it’s actually difficult once you get what you wish for.  Your mind is used to deadlines, and a regimented schedule of classes, administrative work, and meetings.  It’s easy to get into the habit of procrastinating as the long days, weeks, and months stretch out in front of you.

After all, you earned it, right?  You need a rest. You’ll do i…

Make Them Birds

If you're on facebook or twitter, you may have seen the image to the right.  When I first saw it, I thought immediately of an artist friend of mine and her work with elementary school children.  Natalie would spread out large sheets of paper and an array of vibrant paints upon the floor, and the children would gather eagerly to work with them.  While classical music played softly, she and the children would paint--sometimes elephants, zebras, and giraffes, other times houses, balloons, clouds, and sky. Whatever they painted, they threw themselves into it, and I marveled at their energy.
But then one little boy made a mistake.  His nose wrinkled and his lip trembled.  He looked up apologetically.

"I messed up."  He pointed to a blotch of purple paint.  Natalie nodded.

"That's no problem."  Natalie picked up a clean brush. "We just learn to work with our mistakes."  As we watched, she took the brush and flicked it through the paint.  With her shapi…

Times Higher Education Article on Coaching Professors and Grad Students

Matthew Reisz, writing for the Times Higher Education journal in the UK, has written an excellent article on coaching for grad students and professors in higher education.  The best part of the article is that about one third of it is about me!  Well, that's the best part for me.

I like how he introduced the topic:
Corporate coaching has spread rapidly from the US across the world, with the business sector happy to buy in such support for employees they are grooming to be high flyers. The higher education sector, in contrast, would appear to offer a less obviously lucrative, and perhaps more sceptical, market. Yet coaches in the US, and to a lesser extent in the UK, are working with an increasing number of academics, helping them to confront not only the challenges they share with many other professionals (notably the sheer lack of hours in the day) but also the pressures specific to the sector.I have to agree that academics are a skeptical and critical market.  I've noticed th…

Advisor-advisee stress: It goes both ways

It's About Time:  Managing the Dissertation Advisor-Advisee Relationship During The Chaos of the End of the Semester

Grad student:  “I put so much work into this draft!  What does she want from me?”

Advisor:  “How many more times will I have to tell him before he gets it right?”

Grad student and advisor:  “Aaaaack!”

This is a stressful time of year for academics. A friend of mine used to say that we go from "Mad March,” to "Awful April," and then finally to "Mellow May," and “Joyous June.” 

What makes this season so difficult?
Full drafts of theses and dissertations are coming in from this year's graduatesFuture graduates are preparing dissertation and thesis proposals and beginning to start their researchClasses are at their most intense workload for both students and professors. Job talks are ongoing, as are hiring decisionsFor many, it’s nearing the end of two long semesters, so people are even more depleted than they were in December.At times like this,…

"Do You Write Every Day?" Three Famous Playwrights Answer This Question

At Academic Ladder, we emphasize the importance of writing in brief, regular sessions. We encourage our clients to write every day, or at least almost every day, based on Robert Boice's theory that the most prolific writers and researchers are the ones who write the most regularly. But what about other types of writers? Does the same mantra hold? In this video, David Henry Hwang asks the question of his fellow playwrights, Lydia Diamond and Suzan Lori Parks. Hwang asks the question at 19:50, and the discussion lasts until roughly 26:00. If you're short on time, you may want to go right to 19:50 and just start with the question. The answers are interesting and somewhat surprising, but the best part is when Suzan Lori Parks starts discussing (at around 24:30) why we might be more likely to engage in daily writing if we lower our expectations of what daily writing actually means. Great stuff.

At least you're trying.

This makes me happy, so I thought I'd share it with all of you.  Every mile counts, no matter how slowly you think you're going.



Slow Writing, Slow Running: the Benefits of Stepping out of The Fast Lane

For the last two months, I've been a runner.  Well, not really. For the last two months, I've been doing a Couch to 5k program, which means that I'm sometimes running, but more often walking.  In fact, out of the total work out time, I probably run only about a quarter of the time and walk the rest.  And yet, from this near-daily practice, I can feel my legs getting stronger, I can run progressively faster and further distances, and I'm noticing a distinct difference in my body shape and body fat percentage.  I wouldn't say I would be ready to run a marathon any time soon, but that 5k is looking more and more likely, and I'm even starting to consider what it would be like to work up to a 10k afterwards. I've often heard the act of writing a dissertation or any book-length manuscript compared to running a marathon.  "It's a marathon, not a sprint," we writing coaches will say, and there's some truth to that.  Like marathon runners, those w…

The "You Should be Writing" Office

Should you be writing?  Should you??  Apparently, Robyn Miller and Mallory Porch at Auburn University think so, enough that they have covered their office door with printouts of various writing memes. According to their office mate, Blake Binford, the office has come to be known as The "You Should Be Writing" office.  So the next time you get on Facebook or Tumblr and see one of these funny memes, instead of just sharing them, try printing one or two out and putting them somewhere you'll see them.

And then write!


New Twitter Hashtag Tells it All: Overly Honest Methods

If you haven't checked out twitter lately, you might want to.  Tweeters like WorstProfEver and hashtags like #overlyhonestmethods bring together like-minded academics in a way that is sometimes funny and more than often a little confessional.  Either way, it's worth a look.

Remember that Academic Ladder is on twitter as well, so you are welcome to follow us:  https://twitter.com/academicladder.   You can also find some of the funniest "overly honest methods" at the blog Runt of the Web, which has paired the most popular methodology tweets with images.

My favorite?  "PCR reaction repeated for 25 cycles because that's how long it takes to go teach class."