On Not Wasting the Summer

I am terrified of wasting the summer. I’m going to try to use this blog to hold me accountable. My main goal for the summer is to finish my book manuscript. A personal goal is to declutter the house. I would consider the summer a waste if I don’t have a draft of a manuscript by its end. I would also like to draft some articles, but the main goal is the book.

I have gone to great lengths to ensure that I do not waste the summer. I have joined an inexpensive bootcamp where we report our progress everyday to a group. I am going to a write on site once a week. Also, I am going to a writing retreat organized by the university at the end of next week. I’m trying to line up writing partners for other days of the week as well. It’s like – why can’t I just sit down and write? Why do I need all this? Really the answer is that I can’t manage the empty time. It’s too much. Sometimes I feel like I get more done during the school year because my time is structured by classes, meetings, etc.

What works best for me is a write on site. I went to one for two hours yesterday and it really was amazing. I opened my computer, turned it on, and just wrote. I didn’t get on Facebook or read blogs or the New York Times. Having other people there working really shames me into working too. I always think – I can’t be on Facebook and waste time with all these serious people here working diligently. I really can’t be that person. So whether impression management moves me or the need to perform diligence – I’ll take it. I got a lot done in only two hours.

Today I made a list of things that need to be fixed in the chapter that I’m working on. Maybe this weekend I’ll fix them. I would like to have two sample chapters done by the end of May (which is two days away). The proposal is drafted and I’m meeting with someone about it next week. This summer social accountability is the name of the game for me!

I’m Back

So I left this blog for a while for reasons unknown to myself. I am happy to report that I now have a tenure track job that I start in the fall. Three years of a postdoc were really getting me down. So I am calling this summer “Writing Summer” because I need to get work done. I am terrified of wasting this summer on nonsense and not getting anything done. So maybe I’ll use this blog for accountability as well.

Dreaming Academically

I had a horrible academic nightmare last night. I dreamed that it was the first day of class and I did not have a syllabus. Basically I frittered the first day away with introductions and an activity and told students I would email the syllabus to them. One of my students announced that, “Oh this is a way for the professor to not be ready on the first day and hide it with other stuff.”

I attended a workshop the other day about preparing presentations. One of the presenters suggested that we “go meta” meaning make explicit that we know this is a job talk or teaching demo and refer to the tactics and strategies we use in research and teaching during the presentation. Maybe I internalized this advice a little too much so that a “meta commentary” also shows up in my dreams. Go meta indeed!

Barely Hanging On…

The semester is off and moving and I’m afraid that it’s running away without me. While I have the pleasant surprise of several jobs to apply for in my areas, that means I have a lot of applications to create and submit. I am teaching one seminar and another smaller course (on which I will write about later). I also mistakenly made the goal of writing my book proposal, which may have to be put aside.

AND I have an article I am determined to submit. I have made the goal (probably mistakenly) of having two articles under review at the same time. My reasoning is this: if I can get two articles under review then the results from the first article may not sting so much because I will know that I still have hope with the second article. So this second article has become my goal and come hell or high water I will submit it! If everything else I have to do doesn’t kill me first.


I have two triumphs – one big and one small.

First, I submitted an article to a journal. This is the third time I’ve had to submit it and I’m hoping the third time’s the charm. Really, I just want a review. I was leaning towards one fancy cultural studies journal, but I talked to three people about it who had experience with that journal and every single one of them told me to steer clear. So I followed advice for once and submitted to another journal. We’ll see what happens.

Second, I submit all my receipts to my department from my summer research in foreign country. That felt wonderful because I’m broke. Now I sit and wait for my reimbursement to appear in my bank account. I am counting down the days.

And so it begins…

I printed out all the jobs postings that fit me and I have put them into a pile from those due earliest to latest. I have made a “Job Search 2013” folder for my desktop. I’ve been on the job market enough that I had to make a master folder to put my “Job Search 2010” and “Job Search 2011” folders into it. It was a nice respite to not go on the market last year. I happily hid with my head in the sand and wrote, went to conferences, and managed to get some work published. I will begin to fashion a cover letter and soon start sending out materials. And so the semester begins…

9 Tips for Dealing With Impostor Syndrome

I have been thinking a lot about impostor syndrome lately. Mainly because I see my fellow postdocs and assistant profs (and let’s be honest some associate profs) suffering from it. One of my last conversations with a fellow postdoc before I left for the summer was about how hir imposter syndrome kept hir from writing and submitting an article for review. I wanted to shake hir, tell hir s/he’s wonderful and smart (since I had read hir work and seen hir present), but some how I didn’t think that would do the trick.

Others have been thinking about impostor syndrome as well, such as Nate Krueter who defines it as, “the lurking, sinking, throbbing feeling that they will soon be exposed for the intellectual and professional frauds that they sometimes suspect themselves of being.” He suggests asking questions when transitioning into a new job and being honest when dealing with grad students as two ways to deal with imposter syndrome. Jacquelyn Gill writes about how mentoring and feminism helped her overcome impostor syndrome. Scientopia has a wonderful Diversity in Science Carnaval on impostor syndrome. Minority scholars or scholars on the margins can be particularly susceptible to impostor syndrome as we receive implicit and explicit cues that we do not belong or are presumed incompetent.

I offer my suggestions in the spirit of these internet posts, books, and articles on the subject of impostor syndrome. These are some observations I’ve made and ways I have dealt with impostor syndrome. Please add others.

1. Understand that all knowledge is contingent and incomplete.

I was talking to someone about my research here in research country and s/he indicated that I simply had to talk to someone they knew, who lived in another city about 6 hours away. “You’re project won’t be complete,” they told me, “if you don’t talk to so and so.” I did not talk to so and so for a variety of reasons. As an empirical field worker, I find that people will send me on wild goose chases to talk to someone they know. I don’t want to go into too much into detail with the research methodology aspect (b/c every discipline and project is different), but I bring up this small conversation to note that, in the past the suggestion of incompletion may have sent me into a flurry of activity and anxiety. Now I realize that all knowledge is incomplete and the BIG PICTURE is not something only I have to provide, but something to which we all contribute.

2. Take critique with a grain of salt.

In acknowledging that no research is complete, some of the critiques one may receive could be that there is a “hole” or a “gap” in your work. Of course we want to be thorough and rigorous (which I think are very subjective words but I digress) but sometimes taking critique with a grain of salt involves acknowledging that the “hole” is not your project. And honestly, you cannot fill every gap. Also, taking critique with a grain of salt involves acknowledging that sometimes the critique is more about the person making it, than about you, and sometimes you can fill the “gap” by citing said critic.

3. Crave critique and engagement, but beware of viscous attacks.

As academics I think we generally know that critique is the way we engage with one another in professional (and other) settings. Once I accepted that and realized that critique was the way of the academic world I submitted to it and even began to desire more. Really I just wanted someone to engage with my writing, but I realized that most of the engagement would only come through critique. If that’s what I can get then I’ll take it. But also know that viscous attacks are not cool and, again, are (generally) less about you than the person attacking. Female Science Professor has a post about dealing with attacks.  

4. Read widely and critically in your field and realize that others may not be doing anything better or worse than you.

When I started to write my dissertation I stopped reading because I was intimidated by the scholarship already published. I thought that nothing I produced could live up to what I had already read. Then I finished my dissertation, gave it to my committee, and found myself with some time on my hands. I began to read again, except this time I read from the vantage point of someone who had produced something larger. This perspective changed the way I read and I began to look at the kinds of rhetorical moves other scholars made, how they marshaled their evidence, and what kinds of claims they made. I also began to see myself as having the possibility to produce work like this as well. I also began to ask prolific people about their writing process and it finally sunk in that most scholars took a long time to produce the final, published piece that arrived at my doorstep in the latest issue of the Journal of Besketweaving. Maybe the right word isn’t to read critically, many academics already do this. Read for process and for tips on how to guide the reader through an argument. Already published work may clue you in to the structure, but it should not be a straightjacket.    

5. Think about academia as a practice and less as a state of being.

It appears to me that some people think of being as academic as an all encompassing identity. I think of academia as a series of practices such as, doing research, writing, reading, reviewing other people’s work, presenting research, submitting articles for review, writing grants, teaching classes, etc. In other words, I break everything down to its constituent parts and I consider each part a skill to be learned through practice. Thus, being an academic is more something that I do, and less something that I am.

6. Early in your career consider everything to be experience.

If you think about academia as a practice, then one of the tasks at hand may be to accumulate experience or knowledge in each part of the practice. Many times I was made to feel like I should just know how to do things in graduate school, with absolutely no training or even brief conversation. For example, I had no idea how to present at a conference or even write an abstract. After an initial fear of presenting at conferences I decided that I would have to get over it and just do it. I HATED conferences at first, but I made myself keep going and presenting and I actually got better. (And now I actually like conferences, but I think that’s more a result of my self disciplining.) Anyway, that’s just one example, but rather than think that I need to know everything, I consider my activities practice. Right now, every time I submit an article for review – that’s practice. Every time I respond to reviewers comments – that’s practice, etc. I do this with the explicit hope that things will get better. And as they say, practice makes perfect.

7. Understand that the system may be set up to make you insecure.

Academia is incredibly hierarchical. To make a contribution to one’s scholarly field, which most academics want to do, we must make an intervention into an already existing field of work. That usually involves critiquing those who came before us in order to make some analytical space for ourselves. However, that means that the newest, least experienced people, must subject the most experienced, most visible people to critique. And sometimes more seasoned scholars do not take well to critique. Even the seemingly innocuous line, xyz subject remains understudied, can be enough to enrage some people. (Footnote: I’m not suggesting that some experienced scholars are too sensitive, or saying that it’s ok to dismiss a scholar who has committed their career to studying xyz. If xyz has been studied, then that work should be cited. Our interventions should be real and meaningful, not dismissive.) My point is, that this system is a minefield of egos, tempers, and power plays that the newbie may have little knowledge of. Advice on how to negotiate this minefield would have to come in another post. My point here is, that sometimes it’s not you, it’s the structure.

8. Read academic self-help.

When I was a grad student, one of my colleagues looked through my bookshelf at my series of my “How to Be an Academic” guides and called them academic self help. At first I didn’t like the term, but for better or worse I have now adopted it. These are basically books filled with tips on how to survive graduate school, get a job, publish an article, etc. They accompany my insistence that academia is a practice. As such, for each practice one can probably find a self help manual. Graduate Study for the Twenty-First Century was one of my favorites in graduate school. For writing, I also found useful How to Write A Lot and Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks

These are just a small handful of the academic self help books that lines my shelves. I also go to seminars at my university and I joined the Institute for Faculty Diversity. In short, in overcoming imposter syndrome one can use all the help they can get.

9. Read academic blogs and novels.

Academic blogs can also offer self help advice, such as Get a Life, Phd or Conditionally Accepted. Other academic blogs and novels offer a running commentary on life as an academic. These offer a more candid view of the day to day life of faculty members and grad students. I think they present professors as everyday people and provide their points of view on various situations that one may not encounter in their day to day life. In my experience, many academics speak very indirectly when talking in person. These blogs and novels present a more direct voice from academics and offer a window into more unguarded opinions. Ferule and Fescue, Reassigned Time, and Academic Jungle are some blogs that I follow. Also, academic novels are famous for depicting the petty squabbles and tense fights that plague many departments. I have found that by depicting academic life, even if in an exaggerated way, academic novels help to illuminate some of the unwritten rules and social norms of university culture that I had not been privy to upon starting graduate school. I have enjoyed novels by David Lodge, On Beauty, The Human Stain, Straight Man, and The Small Room. Also, Ms. Mentor provides a list and some brief reviews of academic novels at the Chronicle.

I wanted to provide 10 tips, but I thought I should get off my soapbox at 9. If anyone has anymore links or tips to add, please do. Cheers to a good semester everyone!


I Love Writing

The truth is that I used to hate writing. I would constantly say that I hated writing. It caused a lot of anxiety for me and the actual act of writing felt painful. And then I realized that I needed to change my relationship to writing if I were to survive at all in this academic game. So I prohibited myself from saying, “I hate writing.” I would tell myself “I love writing.” It sounds crazy, but this actually helped. That, and writing 500 words a day. Once I started getting words on the page I began to enjoy (a little bit) the act of editing, revising, and rewriting. And then I actually liked submitting my “finished” gems to journals. Once I started accumulating “finished” pieces I actually enjoyed writing even more. Don’t even get me started on the joy of receiving an article acceptance or seeing my edited volume chapter in print. After that I am now hooked. And now I can (kind of) honestly say I love writing.

Everyday Life: Research Country Edition

Research country is a Latin American country. I did my laundry today at a laundry mat that advertises itself as “American Style.” However, that’s all the ad says. They don’t actually explain what the American style is. From my observation, American style is when you do the laundry yourself at a laundromat. However, in research country it’s much more common to drop your laundry off, pay by weight, and have the attendant wash and fold your clothes. The next day you pick up your freshly washed and folded clothes. I don’t think many people know what the “American style” is. This was kind of confirmed when I was talking to the attendant and she told me I was the first person ever to come and do my own laundry. It seems to me that if only Americans (as people from the US are called here) know how to use the American style then this laundry place may have some more explaining to do.

Living with Uncertainty

Harvard proffie Radhika Nagpal wrote this popular blog post that made the rounds through all my academic facebook friends. In it she writes, “I have chosen very deliberately to do specific things to preserve my happiness, lots of small practical things that I discovered by trial and error.” The blog post shares 7 things that she did to preserve her happiness.

I am all in favor of being a happy academic. I have observed an overarching tendency in other academics I know to be miserable, stressed, or anxiety ridden. William Pannapacker confirms these observations in his Chronicle article, “It’s Your Duty to Be Miserable.” He writes about his own judgmental and self flagellating tendencies in relationship to other academics. Nagpal’s blog post makes an intervention into this atmosphere and the kinds of practices that Pannapacker writes about, and makes an argument that maybe we should try to find more of a balance in our life and work.

I especially like her first point – that her job at Harvard was a 7 year post doc. If she doesn’t privilege tenure over all things, then she can arrange her life according to other priorities. I imagine that this may help with any self consciousness that can come about from the worry that other faculty are constantly judging you and evaluating you. I don’t even have a job, but I must say that I realized about a year or two ago that maybe tenure, or other’s approval, should not be the goal. At this point in my life I will probably go on the job market one more time. I’ve decided not to worry about getting a job and I’ve decided to enjoy the hell out of my postdoc. To me this means, publish, pursue my research, go to conferences, teach, and live my life. But I’m not going to worry so much about the future, because when I do it makes me crazy.

But the problem with living with the “forever a post doc” mentality is that you remain is a very ambiguous place with a lot of uncertainty. If one doesn’t get tenure then what? If I don’t get a job then what?  Etc. I was talking to a friend who was about to start a two year post doc and the uncertainty made her anxious, not the expectations. It seems to me that Nagpal’s blog post introduces another issue which is dealing with the ambiguity and the instability of being a “postdoc.” I put post doc in quotes because considering a tenure track job a 7 year post doc and being an actual post doc are quite different. However, it seems like they are similar in their intention of impermanence. I seem to have settled into the uncertainty by not thinking about the future and enjoying the present. I’m on another trip in research country. I have found some great data to write about when I return to Post Doc University and there actually appear to be several jobs that fit me in the job listings. Now Nagpal has the certainty and stability of tenure at Harvard. I wonder if her strategies alleviated post tenure let down that many people experience. At any rate, it appears to me that academic life requires embracing ambiguity in more than just scholarly research, but in one’s ways of being.