May 18, 2013

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!

May 17, 2013

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 it tomorrow.

Tips for a Panic-less Summer

Here are a few actions you can take to create more productivity and less panic:
  1. Face the calendar.  Yes, it can be scary to do this, but it pays off to sit down as soon as you recover from this semester, and plan your writing for the summer.  Get out a calendar and enter any planned breaks, conferences, or vacations, so that you can get a sense of how many weeks you really have to work.  Plan prep time for teaching and note any administrative work or meetings.  Don’t be that person who is desperately creating their syllabi the day before they’re due.
  2. Prioritize.  Write down your goals for each of your individual writing and research projects.  Then look at them and decide what is most important to finish this summer.  Of your projects, which ones do you absolutely have to do before the beginning of the fall term?  Which one can wait until later?  Which one could you decide not to do?
  3.  Realize that if you write first thing each day, you can enjoy the rest of your summer day, feeling satisfied and guilt free.  The Academic Ladder method is to write a reasonable amount each day.  If you write early and then do any research later, it’s a relaxed schedule that doesn’t leave you procrastinating - with a sense of dread for the rest of the day.
  4. Be realistic about what you can accomplish. I know this advice may seem obvious, but we all need reminders.  It’s exhilarating to set an ambitious goal, but it will cause you disappointment later if you don’t meet it.  It actually works better to promise yourself that you’ll do less, and surprise yourself if you do more. To avoid overestimating what you can do, list your goals and then break those goals into steps.  You can create larger milestones, then list smaller and smaller actions that you can take.  Take into account your general writing speed if you can.  Of course, it’s only an estimate at the beginning, and there are many twists in the road.  But you can re-evaluate every week and change your plans as you go.
  5. Do take time off.  If possible, take a week off near the beginning and then again near the end of the summer.  Having the time and space to clear your head after a grueling semester is important, as is rewarding yourself before the fall term begins. Or take a vacation any time you can!  Between vacations make sure that you are intentional in creating daily space for quiet and silence, fun, and relaxation.
  6. Keep in mind that the beginning of the academic year doesn't have to mean the end of your regular writing.  For those academics who write regularly throughout the year, there's less of a demarcation between the academic year and the summer. People who follow the Academic Ladder method are usually able to take afternoons, weekends, and holidays off without guilt, because they know they’ve been working according to plan. The summer gives additional time for writing projects, and also time for fun, friends, and family. Keeping a light-hearted, yet realistic perspective will help you avoid midsummer or end-of-summer panic and enjoy fruitful writing.
 We’d love to hear your comments – let us know how you get ready for summer.  Or maybe you have a story about your summer panics?

May 15, 2013

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 shaping, the blotch became a sphere, the sphere became the center of a ring, and soon we were all standing over her, watching a blotchy, purple Saturn whirl into the center of the child's painting.

"Now you try," Nat said, and dumped a blob of red paint on another piece of paper.  She picked up a clean brush and handed it to the boy.  "See what you can make out of it."

If you're sitting there right now in front of a messy glop of words, you may feel a lot like that boy did.  But remember, that big blotch isn't your final version.  You have errors?  Sure.  We all do.  So let's make them birds, let's make them planets, let's make them whatever we can.

3-second Writing Advice From Anne Lamott