The Writing is Never Done

A Lull in Writing? {New Faculty}


I’ve had a lull in manuscripts lately. There’s a few reasons for that. Some are out to co-authors to write/edit/revise. I’m waiting for grad students to light fires under their keyboards and I’m also in the middle of reporting season for a few projects.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s writing happening  every day, but it’s not necessarily the manuscript type. Reporting on grants annually is equally important, getting my undergraduate researchers headed in the “right” direction has been important, but I noticed I went almost two weeks without a manuscript sitting in my files or inbox needing work. Two came in last week and I’ve already put a dent back in one, but the luxury of time gave me the opportunity to do other things:

  • catch up on grading
  • contribute to a new NSF proposal
  • read new articles and new books I’d purchased this fall that had been sitting in my pile
  • time to reflect on work, the direction I wanted to head
  • pick up new grant work

The time is not time wasted. Even though I wasn’t actively banging on the keyboard every day, it was nice to reflect, it was nice to read chunks of a book uninterrupted, and it was nice to have a smidge of time to contribute to new work that I want to do, but had not had time to previously look at.

The writing has trickled back in and will trickle back out. I’m mindful of several things:

  • writing for publication is important but so is writing for reporting in order to keep grants and/or get more.
  • writing for a grant proposal is very academic in nature, but the nice part about the collaborative nature of my last proposal was that I wasn’t tasked with all 15 pages, but about 5-7 per say.
  • not banging on a manuscript helped refresh my brain. When I picked one back up that had come back in, I was much more efficient and got through it. The  writing was distant enough where it was a little “foreign” in a sense, I had forgot about it some.

As we race toward the bottom of the semester and a break is near, it’s important for me to set myself up well for that break. I will take some time off from work in general but I want to be set up to return to work and get my boots back on the ground starting with day one. A conference proposal is due right away and I will make an effort to start that before I leave for the holiday.

Planing ahead, using a writing calendar, and making sure I’ve got the pre-work done will be key to hit the ground running post-holiday. The writing will never be done, but it’s nice to try and keep up with it.

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An Email-less Weekend

An Email-less Weekend {New Faculty}


Something weird happened. Weird is a relative term, so let me rephrase. Something weird for me happened.

I didn’t receive a single student email this weekend.

Strange for me. Very strange….and then I remembered it was Halloween and that students had many other things to do besides email me. And I was very, very happy.

I was away on family vacation last week as well. Disney World and Universal Studio was AMAZING and a ton of fun, but it also didn’t leave much time for work, much less email. I knew I was going for months so I could set myself up well. I did read email during the waiting for rides and in lines, but really, there was very little work that took place. It was a cognitive break that was a nice change of pace and appreciated. I returned to work with lots of mental energy and graded 60 mid-terms to get the day started right. (Ok, I also finished the day grading too meaning I graded all day and my brain was in great shape, only my feet had averaged about 7-8 miles a day walking).

Email has turned us into these monsters that we cannot escape from. My love/hate relationship with email continues, along with my calendar, my writing habits, and my intake of carbs. I had not realized how UN-common weekend email was until I realized I had received ZERO from students this weekend. Murphy’s law states that as soon as I hit “publish” on this post, 12 will come in back-to-back, but it’s a good reminder that I don’t have to read them or respond to them immediately either.

As October is now a fleeting memory and the rush of the latter third of the semester falls with the rest of the leaves, it’s nice to remind myself that technology is great, but I need to engage less to get more done.

I wish you an email-less weekend too!

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Reminder: Work Smarter, Not Harder

Work Smarter, Not Harder: A Reminder {New Faculty}


There once was a manuscript I hated.

It made me feel bad and jaded.

So I hired an editor to fix it.

And submitted it before I quit it.

Cool poem huh? ;)

I kept forgetting to write a post about this, due to my loathing, hatred, and general vitriol to this manuscript that’s been the bane of my existence for far longer than I’m willing to admit in general. I had started this manuscript, almost finished it, dropped it like it was hot, and then failed to return to it.

Until this summer.

I said to myself, “self, you can finish this and send it out, so just do it.”

So I did.

And then it came back-APA.

So I fixed it.

And sent it again.

And then it came back to me AGAIN for APA.

(Unlike the poem about “if you set something free and it comes back blah, blah, blah,” this mostly kept annoying me).

So, I’d looked at this thing for months, come to almost no more conclusions on it and did the only sensible thing left that I had in my arsenal.

I hired an editor to fix it.

I wasn’t seeing my mistakes. I wasn’t seeing the good or the bad. I was only seeing a bunch of words on the paper. So instead of making myself miserable again, I made the rationale decision to spend a little money on it and get someone else to look at it.

How do you put a price on scholarship?

I think this piece is worthy of publication. I sent a note to a person who I know, trust, and work with and offered a nominal price per page. He said “yes” and I sent the file back. Knowing I was low balling him, I didn’t give a firm deadline but I knew my 20 page document was a walk in the park for APA formatting. He had it back to me in two days. I had it sent out two more days after that and it hasn’t bounced back again.

So, was it worth the money? YES! I had to remind myself that hiring an editor to put it to bed wasn’t lazy or me not being a “good enough” scholar, it was being smart. I was clearly not seeing my errors anymore so it was more of a sound business decision to outsource the last bit. I probably won’t do this for every manuscript and generally don’t, but on this one, I was stuck.

As fall fades away, along with the semester, I encourage you to think about where you can work smarter, not harder. I tell this to my students and one of them actually recalled my bit of advice last week. If I’m doling out advice, I have to be willing to take my own advice and this was a great time to take it.


**the manuscript was eventually rejected but this does not change my opinion**

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Third Time Isn’t Always a Charm

The Third Time Wasn't the Charm {New Faculty}


The third time did not yield anything but a rejection. I have had no success with a manuscript and finally said “enough” this week, throwing in the proverbial towel on it. The journal I sent it to was still not happy with the format and syntax on it, so I paid an editor to work on it. It got sent back again and you know what?

I’m over it.

Completely over it.

It was not an article I wanted to produce but was asked to and then told that they project had “changed direction” several times over. I’m taking this one as a ‘sign from above’ that I just need to drop it and walk away. I’m not making excuses, I could NOT FIND THE ERRORS. I hired an editor. They fixed everything they could find and it simply wasn’t up to par. I’m over it. *Let’s out a sigh of relief* I sent a note to the other authors on it, saying that it had been pushed back again and I would not pursue it again.

I share this not to not take blame or to just “let it go” but because as a young scholar, sometimes we need to be reminded that not every manuscript will be publishing gold. People don’t talk about their rejection rate, they only discuss their CV lines. I’m here to tell you: rejection is more popular than acceptance.

I was having coffee with one of my mentors and we were lamenting about publications and her response was given amidst laughter, “oh dear, if I put the rejects against the acceptances, I’ll never be at .500.” Ain’t that the truth?

This manuscript will remain in the folder in my dropbox account. Maybe I’ll use it one day for parts, like an old car, but for now, it will rest there. The money I spent getting it edited was not wasted, I don’t consider it a loss, but I do consider it closed as a viable publication for that journal. I’d love to shop it to another journal, but at this point in the semester, I don’t have the time to do that and my undergraduate researchers are all very green and this would take more teaching time than it would be worth. I’ll tackle that task on another day.

I’m not giving up or giving in. I’m accepting it for what it was. An exercise in writing, the opportunity to be a better writer, and learn that not every manuscript is a winner. Until next time…

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Exercising the Grey Matter: Spanish Class

Learning A New Language {New Faculty}


I challenged myself this fall to do something new. I enrolled in Spanish class. My university is gracious enough to offer free language courses to faculty one day per week in a variety of languages: Spanish, French, Chinese, German, etc… over lunch time. I wanted to beef up last year but missed the deadline so I was determined to make it work this year. I was lucky to enroll quickly, buy the book, and earn a spot.

These classes are surprisingly popular and filled very quickly. I have colleagues who were too late and will hopefully get in next year.

Why take a class when a schedule is already full? The grey matter between my ears matters! There are endless days of writing, grading, course prep, and service. But, there’s no time for “fun” stuff. My brain really hurts after 50 minutes of a foreign language and I love it. It’s pushing me to think differently, force my brain to process new verbs, words, and sentence structures. It turned itself into a headache after week one, but after week two I felt more confident, and week three was even better. I want to practice, I find myself opening up the book in between classes, and completing the assignments the instructor requests.

Learning a new language evens the playing field. The course has tenured faculty, administrators, and new faculty just like me who are all stumbling to learn. Admittedly, I know quite a few Spanish language phrases from my days working on the large dairy farms, but none of them are at all useful if I were to travel. I also took four years of French years ago and the two languages are similar. Since the nature of my work continues to globalize, I wanted to view this as a professional development opportunity and as one to keep myself fresh.

If you can and you have the time, space, and permission, I encourage you to seek whatever you can fit in. Free talks on campus, a pottery class at the local shop, good books that aren’t work related, or a splurge on that activity that you know you’ll love, find the way to fit it in. Diversifying my personal arsenal has kept me happy from the inside out. Living and working on a college campus affords us with a lot of great opportunities that are often to the public and free of charge. If you’re reading this and you don’t work for a university, get plugged in and on some email lists. You may find yourself questioning what you know and wanting to know more. I have been lucky to attend seminars on a variety of topics, free concerts and other arts related events, and a host of other free or affordable events.

They keep me thinking, they keep me on my toes, and they keep the “grey matter” growing (or staying grey at least). While we’re halfway through a semester and all feeling fatigued, why not take an hour and do something you want to do that interests your brain?

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An Hour a Day or Bust: Writing

Changing the Writing Game {New Faculty}


The semester is in full swing. I’m trapped. Mostly by grading, but I’ve become paralyzed by something else this fall: writing. My paralysis has been manageable thus far until I looked at my writing goals and realized: I’m three weeks behind. I know how this happened and I know how to fix it.

The semester has got me like **whoa** in a big way. Classes, students, new research projects, and new responsibilities have got me all over the place. In between packing in meetings, class time, prep time for class, and research, I have failed in a big way at WRITING. I have an R&R that needs to get RRRRrddd (revised) and another manuscript that’s been crying for some attention too. In my faculty life before, I could set aside large chunks of time to work on writing, but this semester has me rethinking my current strategy. Even if I have a block of time on my calendar, I can’t devote it to writing. There’s too many other things to do. Don’t get me in the busy contest, I know we’re all busy, but legit tasks to complete.

So, I started something new last week: 1 hour a day devoted to writing. Lo and behold: it worked! I could carve out 50-60 min. each day for some writing. I could allot that amount of time and it felt like it had a start and a finish. I beefed up the lit review on the R&R that has been sitting since August and then moved onto the feedback in the methods section.

I can do one hour a day.

Like exercise, cooking food at home, or any kind of practice, learning how to be a good and prolific writer is going to take some time. I had a lot of luxurious time over the summer but it quickly evaporated once August 24th hit. Since then, I’ve not gained anymore hours in the day either. I allowed myself proper time to wallow, panic, and then to figure out what my next move was.

I share this with you not to gloat, but to say: life is change. 

It can be changing up your writing strategy, switching up your schedule, or trying something new. Whatever it is, if you’re not changing, you’re standing still If I’ve learned nothing in this game it’s that you have to continually adapt. Call it problem solving theory (KAI anyone?), call it a simple life lesson but if you’re not changing, you’re not adapting, and you’re not moving forward. While I think “innovation” is an overused word, changing up my writing habit wasn’t innovative, I’m simply figuring out how to make this work for me. I may get to break and have to change it up again but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

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Letting Go of Perfection: Hitting Submit

Hitting Submit {New Faculty}


It’s taken me years now to start to erode away at the perfectionist, imposter, omigod feelings I have about hitting that “submit” button. Almost crippling to a point at some times in my short career.

Submitting a manuscript, a draft, or a conference proposal can be a fear filled, anxiety laden activity, but for some reason, I’ve let it go (cue FROZEN song).

I still read and edit carefully, I write like a good scholar should, but somewhere during my summer trips and my summer writing goals, the fear began to dissipate. I don’t know where it went. Maybe it’s confidence, maybe it’s in the form of “i don’t give a f*^&^” grumpy cat style meme, but somewhere my fear and trepidation began to be replaced by the attitude that I can’t get accepted, I can’t get feedback, and I can’t get published unless I begin by hitting submit. I think it also has to do with the fact that if I’m not pushing things in, I’m not gaining on my CV, my scholarship, or my life in general. Life isn’t measured by pubs, but it does matter in this game.

When I was in grad school, my stats study group and I would meet each week to complete our problem sets. Our university had a saying for football games that was, “push it in, push it in, push it in,” and while probably quite crass, I still say that phrase to myself when I get stuck.

Whatever the underlying reason, I have learned to let go of some of the fear this summer. Whether out of sheer desperation, necessity, or lack of sleep, documents have gone into the queue with less hesitation and less anxiety in general lately. I will say that the conference submission that was due last week also got written the day it was due, so I think it also has to do with the fact that I’m just swamped right now. No time to overthink, only time to work, swim, and sleep.


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Creating Teachable Moments

Teachable Moments {New Faculty}


Much like a lunar eclipse, teachable moments can feel like you’re searching for the needle in that haystack of undergrads. I have the pleasure of reporting on a teachable moment. Why take the time to say “woo-hoo!!!?” Because we need them to keep going. Article acceptances are great, grants are vital, but it truly does boil down to how we interact with our students sometimes. It’s not an every day occurrence for any of us who are scanning the classroom to see if anybody is truly “there” with us.

I have the good fortune of teaching a seminar course about my favorite thing: undergraduate research. So many of our students don’t understand how much research affects them and their every day lives. From the food choices they make, to the smart phones they snapchat on, research is driving their lives. They don’t know what it’s like to not sit in a car seat when they were young. And all of our lives are because of research.

I’m not blowing this out of proportion and the first few weeks of my research class, I encourage students to think about everything they do, the ways they function, and tie it back to research. There’s no better lesson for me than to have students try to come up with things that haven’t been touched by research.

We then move into misconceptions about research, which is where things get real for many of them.

As class was wrapping up, a student was packing their bag and said, “I was watching the news & bc of your class, I can’t watch it the same way anymore.” She picked up what I was putting down and applied it to her real, present life.


While some of you may go “ho-hum, whatever crazy lady,” it was a true win for me. I’m a reflective thinker so it did take me two full days to actually process that nugget and smile to myself (and share on FB), but I couldn’t help myself. I was so excited. My goal for this course is NOT to change their belief system, it’s to make them question it for themselves. It’s tough.

While discussing misconceptions we’ve unpacked the notion that “we aren’t here to change anyone’s mind, we’re here to first find out why they think the way they do.” From big topics like GMO’s and vaccines, to more individualized topics like morality, research has informed us for a long time. Teaching them to conduct ethical, moral, and transparent research is my game.

I may not create another impactful and reflective teachable moment for weeks. I hope I do, but I thought I’d take this Friday to celebrate a personal teaching win.

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Grad School is Your JOB

Grad School is Your Job {New Faculty}


New grad students were treated to a rare sighting last week: the real me. I tend to be work new faculty at work, but last week…oh last week got me good.

We had a half day orientation for our new students and I gave a talk about all of the amazing technology resources this gigantic university has for students. In the midst of my “brain dump,” I said the following:

“grad school isn’t just school. grad school is your job. it will lead you to your next job. if you treat grad school like a job instead of like a frat party or school, you will be more successful.”

Way to ease them in….nothing like a little velvet hammer to rain down on them at 9 .m.

Why did I take out the tough love card? I’ve seen it done both ways now. I’ve seen students who treat grad school like the job before their next job and you know what?

They finish on time.
They’re more focused.
They spend less time wasting time.
They keep their eyes on the prize.
They don’t get mired in everyone else’s bull%*^!!.
They leave their peers in the dust cognitively.

It sounds cruel and believe me, I don’t mean to be cruel (like being mean to a kitten kind of cruel), but I do believe in being honest. We have a few stragglers in our department right now and we had at least one attrition out for a job offer. They all had their reasons but the NUMBER ONE REASON they didn’t persist: they didn’t treat it like a job. They waffled, they lagged, THEY PRODUCED NOTHING for themselves or the department in terms of scholarship. They forgot that grad school was their JOB, not their giant social pool or dating pool.

We guarantee our students three years of funding for phd’s and we have one who lived out their three years, was not done, and was forced to find their own funding elsewhere for their fourth (and hopefully final) year. Instead of being an adult, (cough, cough, this person is in their mid-30’s), they have done nothing but continue to whittle that chip on their shoulder, attend department functions, and COMPLAIN non-stop. It was so bad at the welcome back cookout/picnic, that new grad students said to me, “this student complained about how awful the department was for 20 minutes, do they know how bad that makes them look?”

No. No they don’t. I’d encourage that student to brush their shoulder off to remove the chip, but I don’t think it will work. In their self-righteous arrogance, they forgot why they were here: to get their next job. I watched them get mired in drama, openly admit they’d done nothing on their dissertation, but then put their hand out expecting to be given cart blanche permission to take another year of funding away from a student who was working on the same timeline but on time.

As your new academic year begins and you’re on one side of the desk of the other, please remind your students that grad school is a marathon, that it’s the long race to their next job. If you’re the student know that we’re rooting for you, we want you to succeed. Leave the drama and hit the books. And when things don’t go your way, don’t complain (at least not in front of the people who will dictate your future), call your mom, call your dad, call your granny, call your friends, but stop complaining about us in front of us. There’s a reason you didn’t finish on time and the reason will look back at you in a mirror. (not always but a lot)

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Professional Development: It Works!

Professional Development: It Works! {New Faculty}


As I begin this post, I’m taking a break from a three day long professional development bootcamp that’s offered by my employer. It’s called “Course Design Institute” and is three solid days of nothing but working on your classes.

I’m big on three things:

  • time
  • space
  • permission

Why? This workshop gives me all of those things AND snacks! Professional development doesn’t have to be expensive or hard. Many young faculty think they don’t have time or it won’t be productive but take it from me: setting aside three days to work on my classes is a rare gift that I wouldn’t carve out for myself. I like being able to come to a location, listen to the facilitator, and then have blocks of time to do nothing but work. No one coming by my office. No interruptions of any kind, in fact, almost no one knows where I am. It’s such a great set up that coffee and snacks are provided and so is lunch each day if I want it. It has removed all distractions and given me every creature comfort I could possibly want so I can concentrate on my sole mission: SYLLABI

I planned ahead and even signed up for a Spanish course this fall. It’s once per week, over lunch, and is not going to be a time suck. My university and very generous employer offer this to the faculty on a first-come-first-serve basis and I was super excited to get into the class. It’s an hour I can spare. I’m investing in myself, it’s adding to my CV and it will be a beneficial skill to have.

As you begin a new academic year, take a few minutes and invest in yourself. Professionally speaking, some extra development can be useful to build your skill set, meet new colleagues, and doesn’t have to be expensive or painful.

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