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!


  1. How do you manage so many projects at once? I have a hard time with this and I'm just writing my dissertation. Last semester, I was trying to write 2 chapters at once and I didn't feel I was very productive. Do you always have one project as your primary project and another one as your side project? Do you work on multiple projects in a day. Focus on each project for one week, and then tackle another? I love your blog. Your posts always get me motivated!

    1. The next post deals with this: