Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Key to Publishing Journal Articles – Submit, submit, submit

One of my wise mentors once told me that one of the best attributes a new academic can have is a thick skin. The reason is that rejection is a major part of the academic experience and if you let rejections get under your skin, you will have trouble moving forward. When you get a rejection from a journal, the best thing to do is to accept that rejections are normal, use the comments to revise the article, and send it out again.

Rejections are Part of Life as an Academic

I have received at least a dozen rejection letters from academic journals, and even more from fellowship opportunities. Rejection letters are unpleasant to receive. Who likes getting told their work is not up to par. However, they are part of life, and the best attitude is to think of rejections as just another step on the way to getting published.


How to Deal with Rejection: Send out as many articles as possible

One way I have found to deal with rejection is always to have a manuscript under review. That way, when I receive a rejection, at least I know that I have another chance for success out there. Of course, the more manuscripts you send out, the more rejections you will get. However, it is also true that if you don’t send anything out, you will never get anything accepted. My strategy has been to submit, submit, and submit.

Submit, submit, and submit some more

I began my position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas in 2005. Just before starting at Kansas, I sent a paper out for review. For the next five years, I always had at least one paper under review. This means that I have never received a rejection letter without another possibility for acceptance out there.

I began my tenure-track position with an article from my dissertation under review by spending the summer before I started my position preparing an article for submission. At the time, I didn’t have the benefit of Wendy Belcher’s book – How To Write a Journal Article in Twelve Weeks – but, that would have been the perfect time to use it. I worked over the summer revising my dissertation, and, just before moving to Kansas, I submitted an article based on my dissertation.

Once I arrived in Kansas, I found a whole new world of responsibilities I had not had before – faculty meetings, committee meetings, students, and formal and informal gatherings with colleagues.

I knew that, to achieve tenure I would not only have to meet my daily responsibilities – attend meetings and teach my classes – but I also would need to publish articles. I also expected my article that was under review to be rejected. To prepare for that inevitable rejection letter, I began to work on another article to submit. I also had articles circulating from my time in graduate school, and got to work on those.

Always have at least one article under review

By the time the rejection letter came in December, I had a different article accepted, and another chapter of the dissertation under review. And, so I continued, always making sure to have at least one article under review.

You might wonder what happened to that article I sent off in August 2005. Well, it was just recently published – in February 2010. Yes, it took nearly five years. In fact, it took the longest, as all of the other papers I have submitted over the years have been accepted, usually after two or three rejections.

As I write this, at the end of my sixth year on the tenure track, every single paper that I have sent out is either in print, in press, or still under review. Had I given up at the first rejection, sure, I would have fewer rejections. But, more importantly, I would have fewer acceptances.

Want to get published? Then, you have to submit, submit, and submit again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to Manage Multiple Projects: Two Strategies that Work

Academic writers often have more than one writing project to attend to. If you are writing a book, that book has several chapters, and people rarely write a book from beginning to end without looking back. If you primarily write articles, you are likely to be working on a new submission when an offer to revise and resubmit comes across your desk. If you co-author articles with other academics, then the chances you are working on several pieces increase.

A Gallery at Work

Because juggling multiple projects is so common, I frequently get requests for how to manage multiple projects. Here are two strategies I have used.

Strategy #1: Work on projects in specific blocks of time each day

This strategy involves working on several projects in a day, one at a time. Schedule time slots during the day for each separate project. The advantage to this strategy is that you can prioritize one project while still making progress on others.

Here is an example of how it works. Last June, I had three things on my plate: 1) the page proofs for my book; 2) a new article on Jamaican deportees and 3) data analysis for my interviews. I wanted to move all three of these projects forward. Thus, I decided that each morning, I would spend the first hour of my writing time looking at my page proofs. From about 8am to 9am each morning, I read over the page proofs for my book, usually getting through a chapter during that time. Once I was done with that, I would leave my office and have breakfast. After breakfast, I would spend another 60 to 90 minutes working on my article on Jamaican deportees. Then, I’d take a break to respond to emails and do some chores. Then, I would have lunch. After lunch, I’d take myself to a seaside cafĂ© and spend another 60 minutes analyzing the data for my interviews. As it was the summertime, after that, I’d take the rest of the day off to relax.

There are three things that make this strategy effective.

  1. You should schedule the time slots according to your energy level. I am most alert and least likely to get bored first thing in the morning, before breakfast. Thus, it made sense to schedule my page proofs first, as those can be a bit tedious. I am least productive after lunch, thus I scheduled my data analysis after lunch, as this requires less focus and attention than the other two tasks.
  2. You should schedule between 60 and 90 minutes for each task. Most people cannot concentrate for much longer than that at one time.
  3. You should schedule breaks between each task. The longer and less like writing the breaks are, the better. Note: Checking email is not a very good break, while a walk around the block and a lunch away from your desk are good kinds of breaks.

Strategy #2: Work on one project at a time for a fixed number of days

Depending on your personality, the sort of projects you have going on, and the amount of time you can allocate to research and writing it might not make much sense for you to focus on several projects in one day. A perfectly good alternate strategy is to work on one project for a fixed number of days and then to change projects. Here is how that works.

Pick your most pressing project to work on and dedicate a fixed number of days to work on it. I often find that two weeks is the maximum amount of time I can concentrate on any particular writing project. Thus, I usually try to schedule no more than two weeks during which I will work on a project before setting it aside.

This summer, for example, I spent the last two weeks of May working on a chapter on racism in the criminal justice system. Then, I spent the first two weeks of June working on a piece on the lack of due process in the immigration court system. Now, I am spending the second two weeks of June working on a revise and resubmit for the journal Global Networks.

When I focus on one project at a time, I try and work on the project in blocks of time as well. For example, most days I write for an hour before breakfast (but after coffee!), and then get in another 60 to 90 minutes after breakfast.

Putting a two-week time limit on a particular project also works well because it allows you to really get into a project, yet also make sure you stop and attend to other projects that require attention.

Of course, nothing in life is really black and white, and I often combine these two methods. Right now, for example, I am taking a bit of afternoon writing time in addition to my morning sessions when I focused on my revise and resubmit to write and post this blog entry.

How do you manage multiple projects? I welcome your comments in the space allocated below.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Too many balls in the air? Juggling multiple projects as an academic writer

One of the biggest differences between being a graduate student and being on the tenure track is that, as a graduate student, you have that one, big project that is at the forefront of your mind: the dissertation. Since I completed my dissertation, I have never really felt that way again about a project. Instead, I feel as if I am constantly juggling multiple projects. Turning the dissertation into a book was a herculean effort, but, still it became one of many projects.

W.A.A.C. cooks in France watching a British soldier doing a juggling turn with plates

It is funny, then, that now, six years after finishing the dissertation, I crave having just that one project to work on. I want my work to consume my thoughts. I want to be immersed in one big question, one big project.

The big project that is calling me now is my project on deportees. Last year, I conducted 156 interviews with deportees in Jamaica, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala. I have not made as much progress as I would have liked in terms of analyzing the interviews and writing up the project. One of the main reasons is that I have too many other things going on. I now can see that I need to get these other things out of the way so that I can move on to my deportee project and make sure that it moves forward.

Other Balls in the Air

Another book. I am completely finished with what was my biggest project this past academic year my book: Immigration Nation. I spent the bulk of the Fall semester responding to the editorial suggestions for revision, and a few weeks in the Spring semester responding to copy-edits and then reviewing page proofs. The good news is that project is done, and the book will be out in August.

A textbook. Another fairly big project for this past academic year has been a textbook I am working on. Yes, a textbook. I am writing a critical textbook for Oxford University Press designed for undergraduate courses on race and racism. I have long been frustrated by the state of race texts, and was offered the opportunity to do something about it. I accepted, and things are going well so far. I have written three chapters since I agreed to do this book a year ago. I still have 12 chapters to go, but decided to put this project aside for a while since I sent the third chapter out for review last week.

A short book. I also am writing a very short book for Routledge. This book, which will be no more than 25,000 words, focuses on the lack of due process in immigration proceedings. It has taken me years to get my head around the fact that non-citizens do not have the same Constitutional protections that U.S. citizens do. My goal in this very short book is to explain in clear language exactly how and why people facing detention and deportation do not have the right to due process protections such as access to counsel, full judicial review, or a bond hearing. I just sent the first draft of this book to my editor, and it will be going out for review soon! Of course, eventually, there will be revisions, but I can put the manuscript aside at least for the rest of the summer.

An article. In addition, I am working on an article on the right to mobility, with two coauthors. Fortunately, that is nearly finished, and my coauthors are working on the article at the moment. I will have to return to that this summer. But, I shouldn’t have to dedicate too much more time to it before we submit it in July, as it is nearly finished.

Clearing the Plate

Now that I have gotten the due process manuscript off, I can return to the deportee project. The first thing on the menu for the deportee project is a Revise and Resubmit I got from a journal for my first full-length peer-reviewed article from this project. This piece, which focuses on Jamaican deportees, should help me re-acclimate myself with the project. Once I get that revised journal article back to the journal, I can dig my teeth into the data once again.

Looking ahead to The Big Project

I have completed the initial analyses for about 90 of the interviews, meaning I have about 65 interviews left to listen to, analyze and write up. My plan was to get back into these interviews as soon as the summer began. But, I have not done that. Instead, I have focused on finishing up other writing projects: the textbook chapter, the right to mobility article, and the due process manuscript. But, now that those are nearly finished, it will soon be time to focus on the interviews.

When that time comes, which I reckon will be the first week of July, I will switch gears and move into data analysis and write up. If this is all I focus on, I should be able to do two interviews a day, and finish with the analysis and write up by mid-August! Once I have the interviews written up and analyzed, I can finish the two remaining data chapters in September and October. Then, it will be time to step back from the project and figure out what I really want to say.

It feels good to have an end in sight. At the same time, it is a bit overwhelming to think that I will have to come up with a good line of argument that can carry through all of these data. 156 interviews in 4 countries. That’s a lot of stories and there is a lot going on there.

Good arguments come with time, with thinking and processing. So, once I get back into the data I can begin to try out arguments and stories and see which ones work and which ones don’t.

Juggling multiple projects is essential for moving forward as a productive scholar. However, from time to time, it is necessary to clear the plate and focus (almost) exclusively on one thing. I am looking forward to that time!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

How to have a productive summer by working four hours a day

It’s summertime and the living is pretty…. Or, at least it should be!

How can you have a remarkably productive summer and return to the school year feeling refreshed and like you had a break? To do this, you need to plan to be productive and to plan to leave time to enjoy life. The thing is, if you plan to work all the time, you are likely to feel guilty every moment you aren’t working. And, who wants to feel guilty all of the time?

Plan to be productive

To plan to be productive, first you have to decide what you will accomplish over the summer. Make a list of all of the things you would like to do this summer. Include everything – from revising book chapters to analyzing data to submitting articles to finalizing your syllabi.

Once you have your list, decide when you are going to complete these things. Start with the most important items first. How long do you think it will take you to turn that dissertation chapter into an article? How long will it take for you to come up with a draft for your next book project or grant proposal? Now, map those tasks onto your summer weeks. What will you do between May 15 and May 31? Between June 1 and June 15?

Prioritize your Tasks

Once you map your tasks onto your calendar, you likely will realize that you have more tasks than time. But, believe me, it is better to realize this now than at the end of the summer. At this point, you still have time to prioritize. What is most important? What items have deadlines? What can wait until the Fall or until next summer? What can’t wait? What can you drop or delegate?

Make a Schedule – and stick to it

The next step is to come up with a work schedule. When will you work and when will you play? Many people work best in the mornings; others are best late at night. How many hours will you work each day? How much time will you spend writing each day? When and where will you do your writing?

If you wish to return to the semester relaxed and refreshed, I recommend trying to work every day for just four hours. That’s right – just four hours! You see, academic work is trying and if you try to work all day, every day, you most likely will get burned out. Instead, if you try to work for just four hours every day, you will have the rest of the day to re-energize and are less likely to burn out.

Limit your working hours

Believe me - you can have a very productive summer if you work for four focused hours each morning. The thing is – you do have to focus during that time. And, it works best if your time really is limited. Last summer, for example, I worked while my children were in summer camp. This meant that I had from 8am to noon each day to work. My husband and I have agreed that, during that time, I will be allowed to concentrate and focus on my work. I will not clean, cook, do laundry, watch television, or surf the Internet during that time. I have all the rest of the day to complete household tasks and to relax.

Make time for yourself each day

As academics, we all need time to process our ideas, thoughts, plans, emotions, and experiences. It is crucial that you carve at least an hour out of each day for yourself when you can process all of your thoughts. This time allows you to make plans, to come up to solutions to theoretical puzzles, and to relax your mind.

If you have children, finding alone time can be tricky. But, there usually is a way. When my children were small, I took them to the gym each day – where they had a daycare where I could leave the children while I exercised. Now that they are older, I take them to the park where I can walk around the track while they play. Other ideas would be to put a DVD on for the children while you meditate or run on your treadmill. In my mind, me-time each day involves exercise, but others may prefer to garden, sew, crochet, knit, paint, or work on model airplanes. So long as it is an activity that allows you to think and reflect, it should work.

If you doubt my suggestion that you can be productive working just four hours a day, I encourage you to try it and see what happens. And, let me know how it goes….