All the professors and grad student teachers I work with are complaining about grading right now.
For a break, why not read this compilation by Oxford University of the Top 10 Irritating Phrases.
Note that some of the comments are as much fun as the article.
"Three of the jobs I already applied for disappeared last week.
Two of the jobs I was about to mail applications to went poof today.
[Insert something witty here.]
[Try to think of something witty. We'll wait.]
[Surely there's something more to this than rank despair.]
[Can't anyone save us?]"
Wow. Scary. As if it isn't already hard enough to get a tenure-track job....
None of the people I coach who are on the academic job market this year have reported that positions have disappeared. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they won't have Scott's experience. Perhaps he's seeing even more jobs dry up because he's in California.
However, the dissertation advisor of one of my coaching clients told her that "no one would be hiring for at least a couple of years" and that she should focus on turning her dissertation into a book so she'd be marketable when jobs reappeared. I thought this was good advice, if terribly depressing.
In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman describes a brief, daily exercise that decreases depression and increases measures of well-being. Each evening, simply write down five things you feel grateful for and why.
A helpul habit to get into during the holiday season.
“Don’t think and then write it down. Think on paper.”
Get things down on paper first. Then rearrange, adjust, and tweak.
Right now, I have three clients in the humanities who keep getting stuck on the outlines of their dissertations. As they plan the sequence of their arguments, they get stuck because every theory and every argument can be connected in a multitude of ways.
There is no perfect order, I tell them. In life, things are not linear and don’t follow a single sequence. Complex ideas are truly connected in a multitude of logical ways.
Write first, I suggest. Work with the outline you’ve got and, as you’re writing, if you find that things come up in a different way, then take that path. Don’t worry about whether it is the “right” path, or even the “best” path. Get it down on paper. Then assess.
You can go back and evaluate the order of your narrative at a later phase. You can get feedback from other people – especially your advisor – about choosing a sensible line of reasoning.
Trust your unconscious more: When you allow yourself to slip into the flow of steady writing, you may be surprised at the fluidity of the logic that emerges as the words tumble out.
Thinking on paper is just as important for people in the sciences.
In most cases, the order that scientific data should be presented is fairly clear; but scientists can still gain important benefits by writing before they have finished data collection.
I’ve convinced one of my clients to begin writing his results section even though he still needs to conduct a few more experiments.
As he has begun to put together his tables, and writing up his results, he has discovered gaps in his argument that need to be filled. There are a few logical holes that suggest additional experiments and appropriate controls. As he writes, my client is locating areas where he can strengthen the power of his propositions.
Of course he can’t write about experiments that haven’t yet been conducted. Therefore, when he can’t add any more prose to his results section until he conducts a certain experiment, he keeps his paper moving forward by writing the methods section, the literature review, and pieces of his discussion. Daily writing is possible while he’s still in the process of data collection.
The scholarship of social scientists falls in between that of those in the humanities and the sciences.
Their research tends to alternate between clear linear progression and areas that could be connected in many, equally valid directions. Either way, social scientist can think on paper.
Writing as you go, watching your ideas and findings take shape on paper, is a useful approach in any field.
It is my experience that all scholars should attempt to write on a consistent basis, from the inception of a project and during data collection process, rather than at the conclusion of their research process. Unfortunately, this skill is not taught.
In fact, high school students and undergraduates are routinely expected to collect and read material and write their papers as the final step. This habit usually persists, unexamined.
It may not feel natural at first to write as you go. But it is a technique that can be learned. And I promise that if you think on paper, on a consistent basis, your scholarship will improve and your productivity will soar.
Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done.
- Andy Rooney
A final motivator devoted to email management:
1) Have a “two minute rule”.
In the book “Getting Things Done,” time management expert David Allen recommends keeping your inbox empty in order to keep your mind clear. He suggests answering email messages immediately if they will take less than two minutes to compose. For responses that will take longer than two minutes, Allen suggests creating an “Action Folder” and addressing those communications at a planned time.
2) There will be exceptions to the “two minute rule.”
I generally recommend that professors NOT respond to student emails as soon as the messages arrive, even if it will take less than two minutes to respond, because it leads undergraduates to expect immediate feedback. If you routinely reply to student queries within minutes, later in the semester, when you don’t answer the 11pm cry for help the night before the exam, your students will become disgruntled at your “lack of responsiveness.” Don’t train them to expect service 24/7.
3) Create clear, firm email boundaries for students at the beginning of each semester.
Set up a schedule, similar to office hours, for answering student emails. At the beginning of the semester, preferably both verbally and in your syllabus, inform students that you receive so many email requests that it typically takes you a day or two to respond. Then try to stick with a set schedule for responding to student emails. Set up a folder in your browser and only reply to requests at set times that you have scheduled in your day planner. This will allow you to be responsive to students but to avoid being at their beck and call. Having a student email schedule will also put a halt to the irritating experience of having desperate students email you at 11pm the night before a test is planned or a paper due. If you have announced and enforced a set schedule, students will no longer assume that you will reply to all last minute, electronic questions or pleas.
4) Create a separate email accounts for non-essential email.
Some of us just can’t resist reading our e-newsletters, list-serves or favorite blog updates once we open our email. Reading through the daily New York Times headlines, and reading the etymology of the daily word sent by dictionary.com used to be my autopilot practice when I opened my inbox each morning. Now I have my newsletters sent to my gmail account and I plan a time each day for catching up on news. Having a account for non-essentials can lessen distracting temptations.
5) Use folders to organize your email and have regular housecleaning sessions.
If you need to save messages, David Allen recommends setting up a file system for different categories of email. In all of your email programs, create folders for correspondence just as you do for printed material. Empty your inbox on a regular basis – but don’t use peak energy times for this activity. A weekly cleanup session should be sufficient, especially if you have been regularly attending to your “Action File.”
6) Finally, before you send or respond to an email, remember to ask yourself the following question: WHAT IS THE BEST MEDIUM FOR THIS COMMUNICATION?
This is the most important guideline for email management, and is also the easiest to forget, ignore or avoid. All too often, we engage in a conversation via email that would be better conducted in-person or by telephone.
Complex messages take longer to write than to say. Sensitive messages can be easily misunderstood on the computer screen and need the nuances of vocal tones, and perhaps facial expression and body language, to be toned down or sharpened up.
When a message will take longer than two minutes to compose, or when you are feeling a strong emotion about a given communication, always ask yourself whether it would be more effective to pick up the phone or walk down the hall. People could avoid many misunderstandings if they were more careful about when they chose to use email.