Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Writing an academic book – from start to finish

Next week, I will finally hold in my hands the physical manifestation of years of hard work – a hard copy of my book, Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism. This special occasion is a time of reflection for me and makes me think back to how long it took to write this book, which was a significant departure from my first book – Yo Soy Negro: Blackness in Peru. The short answer: it took seven years from the initial grant proposal to the hard copy.

In August 2008, I began to write a grant proposal to the Fulbright Hays Faculty Research Abroad Award. I submitted that proposal in October 2008, and was notified that I had won the Award in March 2009. I had already planned to do pilot research that summer, and thus was able to begin my research just two months later. I conducted the bulk of the research for this book between May 2009 and August 2010, when my family and I traveled to and lived in four countries so that I could interview deportees. That research trip led to 147 interviews with deportees in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Brazil.

While on our trip, I got the bulk of the interviews transcribed. I also began the process of writing interview summaries for each of the deportees. When I returned to the United States, I continued to work on the interview summaries and began to code the data. I did not finish the interview summaries and coding until January 2012. That part felt like it took forever! However, I had been writing every day on the project while coding and writing summaries and thus had very rough chapter drafts. And, almost immediately after finishing that step of the data analysis, I came up with a framework and an outline of the argument for the book.

I remember that day very clearly. I was walking on the beach in Hawaii by myself after having spent the day writing and had an epiphany: I could organize the book based on a meta-story of deportees’ lives. I could begin with their lives in their home countries, then discuss getting to the United States, and growing up in the United States. Then, I could explain how they got were arrested, detained, and deported. The final chapter would focus on their experiences in their countries of birth. It seems quite simple, but it took me a long time to come up with a narrative arc that makes sense and would allow me to make my argument that global capitalism structures the lives and experiences of deportees.

I spent the year of 2012 revising drafts of each of the chapters. On January 11, 2013, I began to contact editors. In March, the editor at New York University Press agreed to send the first three chapters of the book manuscript out for review. With a favorable response from the reviewers, I continued revising and in March of 2014, I sent the editor a final version. By the end of June 2014, I had a contract in hand and a few revisions to make.

In October 2014, I sent the final revised manuscript to the editor. And, in November 2015, the book will be published! Seven years from idea to final product.

P.S.: If you are in the DC area, I will be presenting my book at KramerBooks at 6:30pm on November 17, and at Politics and Prose at 1pm on November 21! A full list of my speaking engagements is here.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

How much sleep do you need?

Many people are surprised to learn that I almost never use an alarm clock. I don’t use them because I cherish the feeling of being fully awake before I get out of bed. When I wake up and am ready to get out of bed, I can be sure that I have gotten a good night’s sleep and thus am ready to be at my best for the day.

Sleeping fennec fox

I know many academics are not getting enough sleep. I also know many academics believe in research. Thus, I am writing this post to share with you some of the abundant research that I hope will convince you to get the sleep you need. If it’s 10pm and you are tired, it is a much better use of your time to go to sleep than to try and stay up all night in a fruitless attempt to catch up with your tasks. Once you have slept enough, you will be performing at a much higher cognitive level and will be more capable of accomplishing those tasks.

As I was perusing the Internet for research on the effects of sleeping habits, I came across this gem from the American Psychological Association.

“Many people are surprised to learn that researchers have discovered a single treatment that improves memory, increases people's ability to concentrate, strengthens the immune system and decreases people's risk of being killed in accidents. Sound too be good to be true? It gets even better. The treatment is completely free and has no side effects. Finally, most people consider the treatment highly enjoyable. Would you try it?”

The treatment the APA is suggesting is: getting an additional 60 to 90 minutes of sleep. Insofar as many people have a serious sleep debt – meaning they don’t get the requisite hours of sleep – spending additional time in the bed could be highly beneficial. The APA further reports that people who do not get enough sleep experience “pronounced cognitive and physiological deficits, including memory impairments, a reduced ability to make decisions and dramatic lapses in attention.”

Sleep experts generally believe that we need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep to be at our best. This research is particularly important for academics, as our cognitive ability and memory retention are exceedingly important traits for us.

The research also reveals that there is no magic number of hours of sleep. For some people, it might be as low as 6 and a half hours. For others, it may be a bit over 8 hours. I did not come across any studies that showed less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours to be effective. So, how do you tell if you are getting enough sleep?

You can tell you are getting enough sleep when
  • You don’t need an alarm clock to wake up.
  •  You wake up feeling alert.
  •  It is not a struggle to get out of bed in the morning.
  •  You are not feeling the urge to fall asleep in afternoon meetings.
  • You are able to get through the afternoon without caffeinated beverages.
  • You feel refreshed and awake during the day.

People who get enough sleep have been found to have lower mortality rates, and higher cognitive performance. One study with a large sample based on self-reported sleep patterns found that people who slept an average of 7 hours a night had the highest cognitive performance. Another study found that insufficient sleep is associated with higher risk for diabetes, stress, and cancer.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following ways to ensure you get a better night’s sleep:

  • Going to bed around the same time every evening
  •  Practicing a relaxing bedtime ritual such as meditating or stretching.
  • Exercising daily.
  • Avoid caffeine – especially in the latter part of the day.
  • Turn off your electronics well before bedtime.
  • Keep your electronic devices (laptop, ipad, iphone) out of the bedroom.

You will know that you are getting enough sleep when you don’t feel tired or exhausted every day and when it is easy to get out of bed. You also should notice improved cognitive ability and memory retention once you begin to get enough sleep.

Monday, October 12, 2015

How to Develop a Daily Meditation Practice

If you want to become more creative, focused, and productive, meditation can be a great tool. Meditation will help you with focus, which will make you a more efficient writer. It will also help you to quiet your mind, which can help you access your creative potential.

There are many benefits to meditation, and no downsides I can think of, so I highly recommend you try it. This article, for example, tells us that meditation can make you happier, strengthen your brain, improve your focus, relieve stress, and make you more compassionate. And, this website says meditation helps with creativity, focus, and stress-reduction. For this reason, I incorporate meditation into every Creative Connections Retreat.

time to meditate

During the Creative Connections Retreat, we meditate together for ten to fifteen minutes each morning, just before writing. I love doing this, as it sets the intention for the day and allows us to check in with our mental state before we begin our writing.

When I get back home from the retreat, however, I often struggle with maintaining a daily meditation practice. One reason for this is that I am rarely in the house alone, and it is hard to find a good time to meditate when I won’t be interrupted. The main reason, nonetheless, is that I never made meditation a priority and thus never really figured out how to make it happen.

However, for the last two months, I have finally been able to maintain my daily meditation practice.

I think there are three reasons for this:
  1. My daughter expressed interest in meditating and we have been doing it together;
  2. I found an app I really like; and
  3. I started small, with just ten minutes a day.
Meditating alongside my 11-year-old daughter has been fantastic. Just like writing, there is the accountability factor. We agreed to meditate each evening at 8pm, and if I forget, she reminds me, and vice-versa. Also, it is much easier for me to say to everyone else in the household: “We are going to meditate for 10 minutes” than “I am going to meditate alone.” I am sure they would leave me alone anyway, but I feel more comfortable making this request on behalf of both of us. Finally, I meditate not just because it is good for me but because I know it is good for my daughter as well. So, if you have been thinking about meditating but have not yet made it a daily practice, think about getting someone else in your house to do it with you.

The other factor that has made meditating become more of a habit for me is the headspace app. Some people like Zen meditation, which is silent, but I prefer guided meditation, where someone tells you what to do. I have been using headspace, an app that comes in a sequence, and each meditation gets a little harder, a little less guided, and focuses on different aspects of meditation. I like the fact that it seems to progress in a logical fashion. The app also gives you stats, telling you how many days in a row you have meditated, what your average meditation time is, and your total time meditating. I find these numbers motivating. There are many free apps on the Internet, and I encourage you to find one that works for you. There are also YouTube videos and audio recordings that could work for you.

The final factor is starting small. There is a fantastic free online course on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). I have started the course several times but never finished, in part because it requires a significant amount of time. I highly recommend you try this research-based, free course to get started with meditation. However, if you have trouble completing the course, I also recommend you try something a bit less intensive to start with.

I look forward to hearing how and why you incorporate meditation and mindfulness into your life.

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

How to Develop a Daily Writing Habit

You have seen research that confirms that writing every day is the best way to become a productive academic. And, you want to be a productive academic, right? But, are you writing every day? Do you want to learn how to write every day? If so, this post is for you.

The basic trick to writing every day is to develop a writing habit. New habits take a long time to form. However, if you make yourself write every day, eventually it will become a habit. Once writing is a habit, it will become second nature to get up and write every day.

Developing this habit requires writing consistently. How do you do that?

Emma Reh (1896-1982)

During the Creative Connections Writing and Meditation Retreat, everyone writes for two and a half hours each morning together. Although the writing session starts early, everyone participates for several reasons. First of all, we are on a writing retreat, so everyone knows that writing is expected of them. Secondly, we write because everyone else is writing so that creates a bit of peer pressure. Thirdly, we write because we know we will have to share our work during the retreat, thus giving us an important deadline to meet.

You don’t have to be at a retreat, however, to incorporate these strategies into your life. Here are a few suggestions to get you on track to making writing a daily habit.
  • Write at the same time every day. If you have your pick of times, choose the early morning. When you do something at the same time every day, you are more likely to form a habit. If you do it in the morning, you are less likely to let everything else you need to do get in the way.
  • Treat your writing as you would any other appointment. Make an appointment with yourself every day to write. Show up to your appointment with yourself and decline any other invitations to do other things during that time.
  • Incorporate some accountability. This can be to yourself, where you keep track of your writing on a spreadsheet. But, it is better if you are accountable to someone else, as a bit of peer pressure goes a long way.
  • Write towards deadlines. If you don’t have any external deadlines, set deadlines for yourself. Aim to get your article finished by the end of the month. Or, set a deadline for a draft of each book chapter you are writing.
  • Develop an expectation for yourself that you will write every day. If you want to become a writer, if you want to publish, if you want to finish your dissertation, you have to write. So, expect yourself to write.
I hope these strategies help you become a daily writer if you are not already. Let me know of any challenges you face to becoming a daily writer in the comments section. Also, let me know what strategies are working for you.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Seven Strategies That Will Make You More Creative, Focused, and Productive

Would you like to become more creative, more focused, more relaxed, and more productive? Did you know research shows there are specific habits you can develop that will enhance your ability to be all of these things?


There are many myths prevalent in academia that make it difficult for many of us to imagine we can be creative, focused, relaxed, and productive. These myths include: “Some people are geniuses;” “the only way to be successful is to work all the time;” “some people are gifted writers;” “I can only write when I feel inspired;” and “a balanced life is impossible when you are on the tenure track.” These myths are counterproductive and prevent many academics from reaching their full potential.

Instead of believing in these myths, I believe that anyone can become a great writer by practicing their writing; that you can be successful and have a life too; and that there are specific strategies you can learn that will help you tap into your creativity.

Developing new ideas, which is at the core of academia, requires being creative. Your ability to tap into your creative potential is severely limited when you are frazzled, stressed, and overworked. Thus, although it might seem contradictory, being productive requires setting limits on how much you work.

I am sure you can think of a few writers you admire for their craft. I am also sure that those writers did not just wake up one day with the ability to write. Instead, they developed that skill over many years. The good news is that you can do that too. You can develop the ability to write clearly and convincingly, by practicing and honing your writing skills.

There are many strategies you can learn that will help you to become less stressed, more creative, and more productive. Seven of my favorite strategies include:

  • Daily writing
  • Unplugging
  • Spending time in nature
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Connecting to others via conversation about your work

I incorporate all of these strategies into the Creative Connections writing retreat I co-facilitate a couple of times a year. However, anyone can incorporate these strategies into their daily life. Over the next few weeks, I will discuss each of these strategies. I will explain their benefits as well as give you suggestions for how you can incorporate them into your life.

I look forward to sharing with you some of my ideas about how to be more creative, productive, focused, and relaxed.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Ten Ways to Support New Faculty

(Reposted from Vitae.)

As we near summer’s end, many colleges and universities are looking for ways to support new faculty members arriving on campus. Administrators and senior professors often realize that the old system of de facto mentoring — with older faculty casually showing their new colleagues the ropes — has its limitations.

Linus Carl Pauling (1901-1994)

Institutions usually start upgrading their faculty mentoring in two basic ways. First they formally assign a mentor to each new faculty member. Second, they set up a series of workshops on how to be successful on the job.

The system of assigning a mentor to each new hire is an important baseline. However, it has some of the same pitfalls of the de-facto system in that not all senior professors are good mentors, and many times they do not relate well to the challenges faced by new faculty. And it’s unrealistic to expect one faculty member to meet all of the varied needs of a junior colleague. Likewise, workshops on “How to Write Your First Book” or “Getting Your First Grant” can be indispensable, but many new faculty need support beyond a few one-hour, one-shot seminars.

Those two approaches are certainly better than nothing. However, there are many other, more creative ways of mentoring new (and older) faculty. I offer the following list of 10, none of which cost more than a few thousand dollars, and some of which are practically free.

Organize family meet-and-greets in a campus gym.

New faculty with small children often find it difficult to attend an evening event, and are also interested in meeting other professors with kids. Organizing a family-friendly meet-and-greet in a fun place like a gym can be a great solution. Make sure there are organized activities for the kids or even a few giant yoga balls to toss around.

Offer small grants to junior faculty to travel for off-campus mentoring.

In addition to on-campus mentors, newcomers to the profession often need to build their network by finding mentors and advocates outside of their home institutions. Departments can help by setting aside money to help faculty members defray such travel costs.

Give small grants to new faculty to invite senior scholars to campus.

The idea here is to ask visiting scholars to critique the work of new junior faculty. This often takes the form of a “book workshop” where a new faculty member invites three other academics to campus to discuss and critique the junior scholar’s book manuscript. I know faculty members who have done that, and found it a very valuable experience.

Sponsor campus discussions of books on writing and good work habits.

There are tons of amazing productivity books out there that new faculty should read, such as How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. Even better than just reading a book is to get together with colleagues to discuss the book. That not only ensures that the book doesn’t just sit on the shelf; it also gives people the opportunity to share pointers, work through challenges, and hear about other helpful books.

Reward stellar on-campus mentors.

As I mentioned, not all faculty members are capable mentors. By establishing a mentoring award, the university can both honor people who are good at mentoring and establish role models for other faculty who would like to be better mentors.

Create training workshops for faculty mentors.

Many faculty members have no idea how to be effective mentors, but they can learn. In training workshops, award-winning mentors can provide tips on their most effective mentoring practices.

Hold monthly problem-solving lunches.

A free lunch is an inexpensive, easy, and much-appreciated way to get academics together. A monthly lunch for new faculty gives them an opportunity to both make friends and talk through common challenges.

Organize writing feedback groups.

All academics need feedback on their writing. It can be challenging, however, to find people to critique your work. One way around that problem is to organize small writing groups with four members who meet four times during the semester or quarter. At each meeting, one person gets feedback on their work from the rest of the group, so hat by the end of the term each participant has gotten their work critiqued.

Organize writing accountability groups.

Writing feedback groups can be great when we need critiques, but sometimes we just need encouragement and support. Institutions can help faculty members by organizing four-member writing accountability groups that meet once a week for an hour. That helps motivate the group members to keep writing and also gives them a place to talk about productivity challenges and successes.

Provide a faculty-only writing space on campus.

Many academics have trouble writing in their offices because of constant interruptions. One solution is to create a quiet space on campus where faculty members can go to write. If the space has coffee, even better!

At many institutions, a cultural shift in mentoring practices is needed. A place that has long had a de facto or nonexistent mentoring program can be transformed into one where a positive mentoring culture exists. Mentoring programs will not be successful if they are “one size fits all.” However, by offering a variety of options, colleges and universities can support their faculty members and build community while they are at it.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Summer Hours: Enjoy your summer and be productive too!

We all know that it is a myth that tenure-track and tenured faculty do not work at all during the summer. However, it does not have to be a myth that we work less in the summertime.
I know some of my colleagues take pride in bragging about how much they work during the summer – probably to push back against the myth that we don’t work at all. However, I neither brag about overwork nor do I actually work that much during the summer.

Summertime should look like this!
Scaling back on work hours is one of the great privileges of having a tenure-track or tenured position, or even a lecturer position that pays enough during the year to be able to avoid teaching during the summers. Of course, if you are in a position where you have to work as a lifeguard during the summer to make ends meet, this post won’t apply to you. However, there are many faculty members and even graduate students whose summers are taken up by research and writing. If that describes you, then this post will help you to think about how to have a productive summer by working only four hours a day.
My summers always involve a two-week vacation where I do no work at all and recharge my batteries. This year I will do that while camping in the Pacific Northwest. During the rest of the summer, I try my best to stick to summer hours – which, for me, means only working before lunch. I have stuck to that routine most summers for the past decade, and have been quite productive.
The summer begins for me, as it did last year, with a writing and meditation retreat in Yosemite.
Last summer, my husband spent six weeks in Peru, and I stayed in Merced for the first half of the summer with our three kids. During that time, I finished and submitted an article, wrote and submitted a book chapter, submitted a major grant, developed drafts of two articles, and finalized two syllabi for my fall courses. I did all of this working just in the mornings.
I met my goals by sitting down and working on my writing projects every weekday for about two hours. During this time, I turned off email and social media, and told my kids to leave me alone. Since it’s only for two hours, and often before they even wake up, they were happy to oblige. Once I finished with writing, I had to take care of emails and other work-related tasks. Before lunch, I closed my laptop and called it a day.
With this routine, the rest of the day is mine to enjoy and to take care of myself, my family, and my house. I go to the gym most days – a unique summertime luxury. I cook most of my meals at home. I clean the house. I watch television with my kids. I grocery shop and drop the kids off at their various activities. I read novels. I go swimming. I listen to podcasts. Basically, I do whatever I want to do in the afternoons – which I dedicate to rejuvenation and renewal.
If you dedicate your mornings to writing, and resolve not to work after lunch, this allows you to be productive in the morning, and to feel as if you are having a real break each afternoon. Spend your afternoons taking care of yourself and your family – taking your kids to the pool, hanging out with your friends on patios and in backyards, going to the gym, taking long bike rides, reading books, and checking out that yoga class. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where there are summer festivals, take advantage of them.
If your children are too small to leave you alone for two hours in the morning, arrange some activity for them and use that time to write. You can sign them up for camp or drop them off with a nanny. I enjoy having the summers to spend more time with my kids – but that doesn’t mean I need to spend every single minute with them.
In addition to taking your afternoons off, plan to take at least two weeks of full-on vacation. Your mind and body need to recharge. Taking a vacation is the only way to feel as if you have had a break from the normal stresses of life and work. If you can’t make leaving town happen, you can have a staycation by spending your time reading novels, taking long walks, watching your favorite television shows, getting a haircut, or even making those long overdue visits to the doctor and the dentist.
It might sound crazy to you to take it easy during the summer, but the best way to be productive and sane during the year is to use the summer months to rejuvenate. There is a good reason why countries in the European Union all have a minimum of four weeks vacation for workers. Intellectual work is hard and we need to rejuvenate in order to be consistently productive.
If you also are fortunate enough to be free from teaching and administrative responsibilities during the summer months, you can dedicate these months to research and writing; spending time with loved ones; and rejuvenation. Each of these is equally important.
If none of this is possible for you because you are spending the summer teaching or doing paid administrative work, then it may be time to ask yourself if there is any way you can make ends meet next year without relying on the extra summer salary. Of course, this is not possible for many people, but it’s worth thinking about the balance between short-term financial gain and long-term physical, mental, and emotional health.
Summers are one of the best things about being an academic and I hope you find a way to enjoy yours.