Category Archives: academic tips

Remaining Inspired & Becoming an Inspiration

I wrote an earlier post on “how you might come back thinking ‘that was a great conference’“.  The conference was more or less a specialty conference, which means everyone there studies a very specific topic. This also means it is easier to connect to the ‘bigwigs’ in the field. I was aware that I’d be citing a large portion of the scholars in the room while and I remember being the most nervous I had ever been to give a presentation. The night before a fellow grad student and I were up late in the lobby practicing our presentations when a scholar whom I respect tremendously stopped by to check on us (awesome, right?). She told us that it is perfectly fine to be nervous for a presentation, in fact, she went on, it is best to remain nervous throughout your career because it means your work is important to you.

Will they like my work? Will I say something that can offend someone? Am I pronouncing someone’s name right? Did I really double-check all my stats? Do I have a stain on my shirt? Do they think I am smart enough? To be honest, I really do not want to remain nervous when present my work, or when I introduce myself to new faculty, or when I walk in to teach a class. I could seriously do without the shaky legs, swarm of butterflies in my stomach, and laundry list of questions that make me doubt every aspect of my professional self. But what I decided, however, is that I always wanted to remain inspired.

As I reflect back, I was nervous to present my work in that room because I was so inspired by those filling the room. Much of their work laid the groundwork for my own. And being in front of them would mean I had the opportunity to *ahem* inspire them. When I peeled back the layers of nerves I realize it comes down to one primary thing: I want to succeed in my role and give back as much as I receive.

As academics we use “informed” to describe the borrowing and building off of others’ work. Your methods can be informed, your theory can be informed, even your book title can be informed….but I think “inspired” might better explain what is really going on. I get inspired reading a journal article, whether it be for the groundbreaking theory or because the abstract is clearly written. I get inspired when a faculty member encourages me. I get inspired when I see a second draft of a term paper. And if its not obvious, I get really inspired at conferences.  But, the thing is, if we are open to it inspiration can come at any point and from any source.

So the advice that I give you (and myself) is to walk into that conference (or a job talk, new class, oral examination) and channel the inspiration into what you are doing. I’m speaking somewhat figuratively, but also literately – use the inspiration you received and put it into your presentation, that is, think of the person whose presentations you most admire and try to replicate it!

This advice is coming straight from Dr.  John Glavin, a professor of English who also moonlights as a speech coach.  Glavin told our seminar class a story in which he was working with a politician who was flat out strugglin’ in his speeches. Glavin felt as though they were at a dead end until he suggested the politician mimic his favorite speaker. A few days later the politician delivered his best speech to date. Who did he mimic? Martin Luther King Jr.

So okay, we won’t all be mini MLKjrs but what I am suggesting is to find your inspiration and use it to become an inspiration. Ebrace the nerves by remembering why they are there. Allow them to be a reminder of your passion and use them as self-encouragement for the task at hand- if you are one fire, someone is sure to finds a bit of inspiration in you.

(too cheerleader-ish? sorry, i’ll try more broodiness next time)

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From Planning to Prioritizing – 2014

It’s a new year, and with that often comes new resolutions. I’m quite the list maker, so jotting down goals/resolutions/things-to-do is basically a habit. This year, however, I am taking it a step further. I am committing to transition from a planner to a prioritizer.

The idea comes from Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This book has been around forever—okay, maybe only forever in my world since it came out a few years after I was born—but anyway, I found a CD series of the book at Goodwill and decided it was finally time to read it. It is jammed back with helpful habits and tidbits and a great read for anyone. It was Habit No. 3: Putting First Things First that really struck a chord with me.

Despite my planners and to-do-lists, I often find myself rushing to get things done at the last minute. Although there are plenty of things that can contribute to my procrastination, Covey’s message made me realize how planning becomes completely inefficient if you have no order to the plans. Yes, I might even attach due dates to my list, but the lists still tend to be too disparate from the big picture. I need to prioritize to be effective.

Indeed, prioritization is just a manner of deciding what is most important. However, given the in-your-face, immediate gratification world we now live in, it is easy to confuse important with urgent. I’m sure this scenario might resonate with a few of you: you’re typing away at your desk and then an email pops up. You see the tag line, it’s from your adviser/boss/partner and you think “I gotta get back to them.” So then you divert your attention to whatever is the topic of the email is. For me, I might get an email asking what dinner would be. I now feel like I should scour the internet for recipes… or better yet, Pinterest… or maybe Instagram? And before I know it, time escaped me. Covey jokes about how bad our attention is when he describes another well-known scenario: you have a person sitting in your office but your phone rings, we tend to answer the phone and make the person sitting in front of us wait.

If we allow unimportant tasks that we deem to be urgent derail us from more important issues, we will wait to the last minute to get the important things done. This is why prioritization matters. We need not only to schedule and plan our time, but that should go hand-in-hand with prioritizing our plans. So, rather than making a list, Covey suggests a 4×4 table. (Oh hey fellow statisticians, you know you love tables too).  I will show how he describes it and then show how I adapted it for my work schedule.**

Habit 3

Here is my example:


 How to:

Important” should be on the Y-axis (vertical) and “Urgent” should be on the X-axis (horizontal). Therefore you will have 4 quadrants: (1) Important and Urgent; (2) Important and Non-Urgent; (3) Unimportant and Urgent; and (4) Unimportant and Non-Urgent.

Quadrant (1) Important and Urgent should include the tasks that need to be addressed right away. For instance, I have a deadline on a dissertation chapter. For me, the dissertation is very important and I have set deadlines with my advisor that I need to stick to.

Quadrant (2) Important and Non-Urgent should include tasks that are important, but that you are planning ahead for so you have ample time to complete them. As you see, some chapters of my dissertation are in this quadrant as well. I know they are important, so I will keep them in mind as I work towards completion but they don’t have an immediate deadline. When you get really good, Quadrant 2 will have the majority of the tasks. That is because you will slowly begin to eliminate unimportant tasks, and with planning, you will not leave important tasks to the last minute.

Quadrant (3) Unimportant and Urgent is where a lot of people get caught up. Emails are often not that important but feel very urgent. If we schedule a set time to read and respond to emails (e.g., for 30 mins every day at 11am and 4pm) we won’t get distracted by these tasks.

Quadrant (4) Unimportant and Non-Urgent is really a time trap. Social media is something I am working on (I tried to rationalize this, saying that social email is important to me 😉 but then I thought about the big picture).

I hope that this table will push me to be an efficient and productive prioritizor. Heck, I’ve already submitted my article to the American Sociological Association and completed a blog post.  Another great complimentary strategy is to put tasks into each hour block of the day. Head over to Get a Life PhD for an example. I am about to update my own schedule for this semester now (and might blog about it in the future). I’d love to hear other tips on planning and prioritizing!

** The example photo I included just has my work related tasks, but a full table might also include anything that takes your time such as paying bills, scheduling doctors’ appointments.

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Mixtape of Great Advice For Attending Academic Conferences (For Scholars On The Margins)

Advice For Attending Academic Conferences (For Scholars On The Margins).

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How you might come back thinking “that was a great conference”

I was recently told “no conferences are fun”. While the nerves, awkward intros, and early mornings might not be fun, I have found a few ways to come back from a conference and think “that was great!” Ok, so maybe fun wasn’t the right word but -at this point in my career- I don’t dread conferences, I enjoy them!

I wrote the following post after returning from a conference in Ireland the summer of 2012, check out what I had to say:

I complain a lot about graduate school but a tour guide in Ireland reminded my how blessed and privileged I really am. He asked why we (a friend and colleague of mine) were traveling to Ireland and when we told him that we were there for a conference on social stress he said “oh, so you are traveling to present research on the ways stress impacts health because you really don’t have any stress”. While I disagree with his observation because I have dealt with a lot of stress in my time, I think his bigger point was clear: we, as graduate students and future faculty members, are a relatively privileged bunch. Unlike those of the population that are hit hardest and the longest with stress and strain, we have opportunities such as advanced degrees, great social networks, financial incentives, that can help decrease the amount of stress we are exposed to and provide us with resources to help cope with the stresses we do encounter.

Indeed, I spent most of last week in the beautiful country of Ireland, and while I was there for business I had the opportunity to tour and relax. Here is how it all happened:
An esteemed faculty member in my department was asked to give the keynote address at a conference that he has been a long time member and supporter. He suggested that I come up with something to present, and with the help of another mentor, I was able to. Since I was presenting research on the faculty’s behalf, they found some funds to assist in the costs. I also asked my graduate school for a travel award (they grant $500/year for US travel and $1000/two years for international travel). So, in the end, I was able travel to Ireland without breaking my bank.

While the week before I left and the first few days after I arrived were spent in a frenzy trying to finalize the presentation, reflecting back on the trip I would say it was fun and refreshing. I have gone to a few conferences now and finally feel like I might have a few tips to share:

First, and importantly, make sure your research is sound and your presentation is interesting. Practice your presentation in front of your webcam, your family, your pet, or some peers. Practice won’t make for a perfect presentation but it will decrease the chances you fail. 

  • Stay within the time limit. No one likes the person who talks for 15 minutes about the theory then is either cut off before the findings or takes up everyone else’s time.
  • Premising presentations with the phrase “this is in the beginning stage” opens the door for audience members (and especially occasional haters) to give you “advice” on every part of the research they don’t like or think could be improved on.
  • Also be sure not to bore the audience. They don’t need to know every single author who has studied your topic or why you chose one measure over the other. They want to know what question you are asking, what you expect to find, what you did find, and why you think you found what you found.
  • Be clear, be concise, and be yourself! If they want more than that they can catch you during Q&A or in a break.

Second, network! Networking is key. If you think you might not be the best at walking up to someone and introducing yourself there are a few tricks to help. 

  • Scan the program before you leave and email anyone that you know will be at the conference and you want to me. You can schedule a coffee or lunch date that will minimize the awkwardness and feeling of “stalker-ness”.
  • Find a person you know and have good rapport with (faculty member or other seasoned person – but not another graduate student) and become their temporary shadow. They will run into old friends and automatically introduce you or you can be more blunt and ask them to introduce you to persons you have in mind.
  • Always remember that they are just people. Even if they wrote an article cited by 3000 people, when they ask the hotel staff which way to the restroom they are no different than you or me. Strike up a conversation about research, sports, weather, you name it– people, especially academics, like to talk!

 Finally, partake in all of the “scheduled fun”. Yes I know, “scheduled fun” is kind of like an oxymoron but it is an important part of conferences. One annual conference I attend schedules an annual “house party” (that sometimes is in the conference room)  and the conference I went to in Ireland schedules “karaoke nights”. Getting down on the dance floor and ruining ballads at the mike are some of my favorite things to do but I never thought I would enjoy doing it with my mentors or scholars who I admire or scholars who are twice, maybe three times my age. However, seeing that person who laid the framework for your dissertation make a complete fool of themselves has the power to break down all walls and open a space to really connect like old friends.

I think these three tips go hand-in-hand. Even if you can give Whitney Houston a run for her money on karaoke, if you deliver a less than par presentation the faculty still might not want you as a colleague. However, if your presentation is impressive, you talk about research over lunch, and can still have fun over drinks… you are in for the win! Now I can’t really assure that you will find a job if you do these things, but I can assure you that you will come home feeling like you learned a lot, meet great people, and had a blast 🙂

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