Browsing the archives for the Academic Life tag

Weekly Wisdom: Brought to you by the Letter C
Posted by Linda Levitt

BoxesCraft and care. It’s sometimes difficult to find the best word to describe what we do when we’re engaged in academic endeavors. Terms like “craft” seem to fall into the domain of creative work, with responsible ownership by the poets and novelists of the world. “Writing” and “research” lack the aspects of craft, care, and concern that academic authors bring to what they create. It’s more than “work” too: that word evokes a kind of drudgery that falls short of embracing the deep immersion, the discovery, and the pleasures that academic craft can bring about. Would it be revolutionary to think of ourselves as academic craftspeople? A different term might bring a different perspective–not only for others, but also for ourselves.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #64 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Create an emergency. Noting the similarity between “emerge” and “emergency” inspires some word play that leads to creative thinking about deadlines. Many writers will agree that deadlines can be a strong motivator: when you finally reach the point where you absolutely must get your writing done, there is little choice but to put everything else aside and focus on meeting that deadline. Now imagine creating a microdeadline that is an emergency: I absolutely must finish this paragraph/abstract/outline/chapter before I do anything else. On deadline, we’ll excuse ourselves from obligations to family and friends, let the call go to voice mail and let email go answered. What might emerge if you create a small space of no contact with an urgent deadline for yourself?

 

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AcWriMo in the Alps: Early Reflections by Matt Lawson
Posted by Linda Levitt
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Matt Lawson is a final year funded PhD candidate in film musicology. His thesis is entitled ‘Scoring the Holocaust: a comparative, theoretical analysis of the function of film music in German Holocaust cinema’. You can find out more about Matt at his website: www.themusicologist.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @MattLawsonPhD.

It’s getting to that time of the PhD. I’ve completed 26 months of a 36 month GTA studentship, and September 2015 is looming as ‘the month the money runs out’.

I’m fairly happy with my progress so far. I’ve ticked lots of boxes on my CV. International conferences presented at, a couple of articles about to be published, a book chapter on the way, ample teaching experience (and a PGCTHE underway) and organisation of a conference at my host institution. However, this aside, the thesis remains the most important aspect of the whole experience. Without the PhD at the end of it, all of the other stuff will seem a little futile.

So — with 57,000 words on the board (out of an expected 60-80,000 at my university) — I gratefully received a scholarship to spend a month in Germany, accessing archives, libraries and any other institutions of interest. My key aim for this month is to get as much writing done as possible, and it coincides rather nicely with #AcWriMo!

There are several questions I asked myself before arriving here. Will the change of scenery be good for productivity? I am, after all, basing myself in the Bavarian Alps for some of the stay. Will the lack of teaching ‘distractions’ help? Will being out of my own country and away from peer support be a good thing, or hinder me?

There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to get stuck in at the deep end. Within 24 hours of arriving, I had opened my laptop and was sat staring at the monster: also known as ‘thesis’. An hour later, I was half way up a mountain with my walking boots on. OK — so maybe not the best start, but I should allow myself a bit of enjoyment, surely? After all, with temperatures of 17C, it was a very late Indian summer in southern Germany. Might as well make the most of it before the snow arrives in a few weeks.

There are two areas I have struggled with throughout the PhD. Loneliness and isolation. Those two things may seem highly linked, but they are separate problems. Loneliness comes with not feeling as though there is anyone to speak to about my research, with a PhD being such a personal and individual piece of research. Isolation came with all of the trips abroad for conferences. While these were excellent for the CV, there were negative sides to jetsetting across the world with only my thesis and presentation for company. Because of this demons I’ve battled with over the past year or so, this month will be a challenge not only academically but psychologically.

So how are things so far in Germany? Well, as I write this, it’s day three and all is well. The sun is shining, and I’ve already managed to add an admittedly pitiful 600 words or so to my thesis, despite taking a hike in the mountains for much of the second day. My targets for AcWriMo are roughly 1,000 words a day, five days a week. This means that by the time I get back to England, I will be comfortably at the upper end of my word count allowance, and working well towards the target of handing in a first draft of my thesis by Christmas.

The archival and library work I will undertake will be vital for tying up loose ends, and I will be commencing this shortly, but it is the writing which must be the priority for this month’s visit. I suppose it’s just a case of sitting down and doing it.

After three days, I feel good, and the month ahead is almost like a clean slate given the hectic 12 months that I have just had. Writing has never seemed more appealing. It’s one thing wanting to write, and another actually doing it though. Wish me luck!

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #54 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)tl;dr. You may be familiar with this acronym, which is an abbreviation for “too long; didn’t read.” We’ve been critiqued for being a short attention-span culture, scrolling down the page of an online article and unwilling to commit to a lengthy piece of writing. Consider going for the long read, because most academics are committed to the long write, right? Not only is there much to be gained from deep reading, but you can also see ways to sustain (or lose) your readers’ interest based on your own willingness to keep reading.

 

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #50 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Read before you write, part II. It can be helpful to revisit your notes from previous reading before you sit down to start writing, especially if you are working on a literature review or applying theory in a particular context. At times, re-reading the same chapter from a beloved theorist doesn’t provide an adequate starting point or inspiration. Struggling to get started? Take ten minutes and read something dramatically different from what you’re writing. A romance novel, some poetry, a graphic novel…all use different kinds of language to different ends, and may open a new path for you to consider.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #49 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Read before you write, Part I. One of my mentors once told his students to read the scholars whose work we most like, and read as much of their work as possible. Read widely and deeply. Read for both theory and style. Determine if your favorite scholars are those whose writing you would want to emulate. If so, figure out why. What are those authors doing well in their writing that draws you to it and draws you back again? At the same time that you are learning what you want to emulate in those writers, you’ll learn their foibles and not let them trip you up in the same way. Next week: a different spin on reading before you write.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #48 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Manage your information diet. We’ve often talked about the great benefits of maintaining ties through social media and staying involved in the discussions on Twitter and blogs. But when does good connection turn into difficult overwhelm? Everyone has their own personal limits, but we may not be aware of them until we exceed them. If you are spending too much time looking for something interesting or relevant to you on social media, a more focused search might be useful. It’s also helpful to remember that you simply cannot read or look at everything on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or in your RSS feed. Whether you mindfully consider how to manage your information diet or try a “digital fast,” you may find some space opens for you.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #45 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Find friends from other disciplines. Switching from one discipline to another or doing interdisciplinary research can be a challenge, especially as methods change from one discipline to another.  Yet working with a colleague or friends from another discipline can bring a fresh perspective to your research. Some patience may be required to find a common lexicon, but it is likely that there is more common ground that we might expect from one discipline to another. Should a project idea develop that you can work on together, each of you can be first author for the work in your own discipline. More collaboration, less competition.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #44 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Take stock of what works. Much of the conversation about academic writing and publishing focuses on how to improve processes and be more productive. Many scholars are in the midst of transitioning back from summer break, and the demands on your time will change as the daily routine changes. Consider the good writing and research habits you developed over the summer. Are there routines or habits that you can carry forward into the fall? What can you modify to maintain some semblance of writing in your everyday practices?

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #43 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Walk with a light step. Maybe you’ve had a particularly vexing time with revisions. Or a computer error that resulted in a corrupted file. Or you just haven’t been able to meet those perhaps overly ambitious summer writing goals. You don’t need to make excuses for goals that are only in your head. If you’re accountable to a writing group or partner, chances are there won’t be any serious punitive measures. So don’t be unkind to yourself. If you’re gearing up for the Fall semester, think about how you’ll answer the inevitable question: How was your summer? Prepare an answer that demonstrates your satisfaction with something you did accomplish. A former boss used to describe demanding tasks as “good hard work.” What good hard work did you muddle through? And can you walk away from it with a lighter step?

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #42 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Think of yourself as an entrepreneur. In many ways, a successful academic career bears some similarities to owning your own business. While there are some disadvantages, focus instead of the benefits to your time as a writer and researcher. You can often select your own projects, set your own hours, create your agenda, and organize your plans. If you think of yourself as an entrepreneur, what might you do differently? Would you write out short term and long term “corporate” goals? Would you look at the trends in your field to see what new research is being published? Would you develop the equivalent of an advertising plan to make sure your “business” is getting the recognition it deserves? What incentives might you use to inspire and motivate your best employee…yourself?

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #40 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)For the next several posts, Weekly Wisdom will be looking at the physiological state of the writer—both literally and metaphorically. The contradictions are deliberate: some days you need to stay hungry, and other days you need to be well fed.

Get good rest. Discussions about the importance of being well rested are abundant. An adequate amount of sleep means you can think more clearly, process and retain information more effectively, lower your stress level, and, some say, even lose weight. Being well rested here refers not only to having enough sleep but to having your mind at rest. Whether you are anxious about the quality of your work (plagued by perfectionism), or distracted by what is going on around you or going in your head, most of us have had the experience of having our attention and energy drained by the inability to put our minds at peace and concentrate on writing and research. Spend some time observing yourself at work and see what changes you can make in order to establish a well-rested mind.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #39 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)For the next several posts, Weekly Wisdom will be looking at the physiological state of the writer—both literally and metaphorically. The contradictions are deliberate: some days you need to stay hungry, and other days you need to be well fed.

Stay hungry. In his Stanford commencement speech in 2005, Steve Jobs told a story about Stewart Brand and The Whole Earth Catalog. When the final edition of the catalog was published, the back cover featured a photograph of an open country road with the words “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” These were Jobs’ parting words to the students as well. There is much to be said about the value of staying hungry and staying ambitious, and aspiring to always accomplish more. But the first question: For what do you hunger? You may have a list of tasks to accomplish, like a university’s requirements for earning tenure or promotion. But how well do those tasks sync with your own aspirations? Figuring out how to make them match can be a step toward a more fulfilling professional life.

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #36 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)For the next several posts, Weeklly Wisdom will be looking at the physiological state of the writer—both literally and metaphorically. The contradictions are deliberate: some days you need to stay hungry, and other days you need to be well fed.

Stay hydrated. During the summer months, there are often reminders in public discourse about making sure you drink enough water throughout the day. But the dangers of dehydration aren’t only for athletes and people involved in physical labor. Dehydration affects your mental labor too.

Neuroscientist Joshua Gowin, writing for Psychology Today, notes that we simply need to stay hydrated to stay at our mental best. If you’re dehydrated, you’ll have trouble staying focused. Your short-term memory function and long-term recall can both be affected negatively. You might even struggle with simple math, let along complex calculations.

So keep a glass or bottle of water or your favorite beverage close by. If your favorite beverage is a cup of coffee or tea, no worries:  Sarah Klein at the Huffington Post reports that “while caffeine is dehydrating, the water in coffee (and tea, for that matter) more than makes up for the effects, ultimately leaving you more hydrated than you were, pre-java. Consuming 500 or more milligrams of caffeine a day — anywhere from around three to five cups of coffee — could put you at risk for dehydration.”

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/27/dehydration-myths_n_3498380.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/you-illuminated/201010/why-your-brain-needs-water

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Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #35 by Linda Levitt
Posted by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Express your gratitude. A recent blog post suggested not waiting until you write up the acknowledgements page of your thesis or dissertation to thank the people who have mentored and supported you and been allies during your academic process. Acknowledgements should not end with the publication of an essay or book either. So much of the service that academics do goes without appreciation. Take a moment to say thank you: if you submit an abstract and it’s rejected, you can still appreciate the editor’s and reviewer’s time. If you present at a conference, thank your panel chair. Thank your respondent. Thank the other panelists. Do so with sincerity, and your gratitude can go a long way to creating a lasting connection.

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