Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Time for Pause and Celebration: 2012 in Review

At the end of each annual year, I like to step back and take stock of what I have accomplished during the year. This permits me to acknowledge all I am doing, to take pride in what I have accomplished, and to relieve some of the anxiety of the never-ending pressure to do more. When I review all I have accomplished it becomes apparent that I do not need to work any faster or harder, as I have accomplished so much during the year. It also becomes clear that my end of the year break is well-deserved.


This past year has been very fast-paced. I gave fourteen public lectures or presentations at universities around the country. I spent two months of the summer traveling and researching in Peru. I moved to a new university and a new town. And, I took over as chair of the Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities of the American Sociological Association.

I was usually able to maintain my pace of writing for two hours a day when I was not on the road, and about 30 minutes a day when I was. Let’s look at what I was able to accomplish over the past year.

Rewards in academia are rare, and are often long in the making. I will begin with the most tangible outcomes, even though these are largely the product of previous years’ work.


I have two new books in print, and my first book was released in paperback. This, of course, is the result of effort in prior years, but it is important to take note of the final products.

2012. Due Process Denied: Detentions and Deportations in United States. Routledge: New York.

2012. Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions and Deportations in Post-911 America. Paradigm Publishers: Boulder, CO.

My book that originally appeared in 2011 – Yo Soy Negro: Blackness in Peru – came out in paperback and received positive reviews in two major journals.

Articles, Book Chapters and Shorter Pieces

I also had an article, a book chapter and two short pieces appear in print this year. I wrote the book chapter over a year ago. I started the article in 2011, but had to revise it for resubmission this year. Finally, I have two short pieces that I wrote and submitted this year, and that also came out this year. Here is what I have in print in 2012:

2012. “Causes and Consequences of International Migration: Sociological Evidence for the Right to Mobility” (Cecilia Menjívar, second author) International Journal of Human Rights.

2012. “International Migration” Handbook of Sociology and Human Rights, edited by David L. Brunsma, Keri E. Iyall Smith, and Brian K. Gran. Paradigm Publishers.

2012. “Ethnopoetics: A Jamaican Deportee Tells His Story” Societies without Borders 7:3.

2012. “What does a Sociology without Borders Look Like?” Societies without Borders 7:4.


I also have six pieces that are forthcoming in 2013: two articles, two book chapters, and two short essays. I began writing all of them in 2011. I did some work on them in 2012, and received confirmation that they would be forthcoming this year.

Forthcoming. “Forced Transnationalism: Transnational Coping Strategies and Gendered Stigma among Jamaican Deportees” Global Networks.

Forthcoming. “‘It Was Only a Joke’: How Racial Humor Fuels Race-blind Ideologies in Mexico and Peru” Sue, Christina and Tanya Golash-Boza. Ethnic and Racial Studies.

Forthcoming. “Fourteen Months, Four Countries, and Three Kids: Tales from the Field” In: Artificial Divide: Family and Work in Everyday Ethnography. Editors: Tamara Mose Brown and Joanna Dreby. Temple University Press.

Forthcoming. “From Legal to “Illegal”: The Deportation of Legal Permanent Residents from the United States” In Immigrant Illegality: Constructions, Critiques, and Resistance. Edited by: Cecilia Menjívar and Daniel Kanstroom. Cambridge University Press.

Forthcoming. “More Than ‘A Hidden Race’: The Complexities of Blackness in Mexico and Peru” Review Essay of Black in Latin America Film by Henry Louis Gates. (Christina A. Sue, first author). Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies.

Forthcoming. “Does Racial Formation Theory Lack the Conceptual Tools to Understand Racism?” Ethnic and Racial Studies.

Under Review

I have one article that I submitted in 2012 that is still under review. This is an article that my co-author and I were able to write, submit, and resubmit all in this calendar year.

Under Review. “Latino Immigrant Men and the Deportation Crisis: A Gendered Racial Removal Program?” Golash-Boza, Tanya and Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo. Revise and Resubmit from Latino Studies.


Finally, I have two books that I continue to work on. These are a bit hard to quantify as I seem to always be writing, revising, cutting, and sending things to my editors. However, I suppose I can say that I wrote five chapters of the race book this year and have moved four chapters of the deportee book into final version.

2014. Race and Racisms: A Critical Approach Oxford University Press: New York. (Under contract – 9 of 15 chapters completed).

In progress: Deported: Controlling Global Flows of Labor and Capital (Introduction plus 3 of 7 chapters completed).

Wow. That’s a lot. I wonder if I can quantify what I have done this year. I think there are two main categories of writing – drafting and revising.

I drafted 41,000 new words.
- 4 chapters of Race: 4*8000 = 32000 words.
- 3 short pieces = 5000 words
- ½ of a co-authored article: 4000 words

I revised substantially 40,000 words.
- 4 chapters of the Deported book = 32000 words
- ½ of a co-authored article = 4000 words
- ½ of another co-authored article = 4000 words

I also wrote about 30 blog entries for an additional 24,000 words. Whew. That’s a lot of words. As always, however, I almost never write for more than two hours a day. And, I took several writing-free breaks while traveling.

If I can write 40,000 words in a year and revise another 40,000 that means it would probably take me about 2 and a half years to write a book that is 100,000 words if that were the only writing project I focused on. Or, I could write and revise four articles or book chapters a year. The catch is, of course, that these things also come back for revision again and again. So, I might write and submit an article in three months. But, it will come back and I will have to spend another 2-4 weeks revising it for resubmission.

At any rate, I continue to be impressed with all one can do by writing two hours a day!

What about you? Have you taken stock of your accomplishments for 2012? Why or why not?

Either way, I wish you a great rest of 2012 and a happy holiday season.

As for me, I am winding things down and in terms of work and gearing up for my two-week vacation from work! I hope to return rested, renewed, and ready for 2013.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Give yourself a break - a real one!

How do you plan to spend the upcoming holidays?

No matter how busy your Fall semester was nor how busy your Spring semester will be, one of the most important things you can do during this winter break is to take a real break.

It’s the end of the year. Heck, it may well be the end of the world after December 21, 2012. So, take a break.

If you haven’t taken a break in a while, and have forgotten how to do so, don’t worry: I can explain to you how to do it.

Taking a break - in four simple steps.

Step 1: Choose a date to start your break.

When will you begin your break? This Friday? December 24? Before then? Or, perhaps you’ve already started? Whenever it is, choose a date and plan to stop working on that date. At a very minimum, you should plan to take 4 days off. I hope you will at least take off the week between December 25 and January 2. If you are taking off more days, please let me know in the comments section, as I am always pleased to hear about people taking long vacations.

Step 2: Figure out what will and will not get done in the remainder of this semester (Use the 4 D's)

What tasks will and will not get done this semester? Which tasks will never get done? Which ones can be deferred or delegated? Anyone who has read David Allen's Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity will know that there are four options for any task: do, defer, delete, or delegate.

To be able to take a break over the winter holiday, you will have to look at your remaining tasks and decide if you will do them this Fall, defer them to a later date, decide they are not important and delete them, or delegate them. These decisions can be hard, but it is ideal to decide now what will and will not get done to avoid feeling guilty later.

All of your pending tasks for the remainder of 2012 should fall into these four categories:
  1. DO:  Prioritize all of the tasks and projects you actually can and will do before you take a break.
  2. DEFER: If the project is something you really would like to do, but can wait until the Spring, defer it.
  3. DELETE: If you take a good look at your to-do list, I am sure you can find at least one task - perhaps more - that you can delete. (If you are deleting more than two, let me know in the comments section!)
  4. DELEGATE: Delegation is often particularly hard for academics, but there are things that can be delegated, such as organizing your office, transcribing your interviews, cleaning your data, and formatting your endnotes.

Go easy on yourself and only choose “do” for those items that must be done by you and must be done by the end of the year. Those items might include: grading, ordering books for next semester, finishing an overdue review or paper. Everything that is non-essential can either be deleted or at least deferred to next year.

Step 3: Finish what’s left on your list by your chosen end date.

Once you have a manageable lists of tasks on your plate, it will be easier to focus on those and get those done. Once you finish them, you will be ready for your guilt-free break.

Step 4: Take a real break

A real break means no work. It means taking care of yourself, relaxing, and allowing yourself luxuries that you don't normally take. A real break feels good and is good for your health.

During your break, I encourage you to:

  • Avoid email: Email will just remind you of work, which is not the point of taking a break.
  • Exercise daily: You don't have to run six miles a day. You can walk around the block, go ice skating, or take a bike ride. Exercise makes you feel good and is good for you. Win-win!
  • Read a novel.
  • Watch a film or television show you enjoy.
  • Cook healthy meals for yourself.
  • Eat lots of fruits and veggies.
  • Talk to your friends and family – in person and over the phone.
  • Dance, sing, play the guitar, write poetry: get in touch with your creative side.

Once you’ve finished your break, you will be rejuvenated and ready to start work again. Make sure you take enough time off to be refreshed when you return.

And, make sure that when you take a break, you really take a break. Doing so can actually do wonders for your productivity and creativity. Scientists have found that four days in nature enhances creativity. Spending time in nature, completely unplugged can enhance your emotional and physical health. Try it!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How Can an Academic Publish an Op/Ed?

Do you want to publish an Op/Ed? I do! I have a deep yearning to open up the New York Times and find my name next to a provocative headline in the Op/Ed section of their paper. In fact, it is my goal to have one published by the time I am 40. That gives me about thirteen months to achieve this goal.

The New York Times.

I want to publish an Op/Ed because I am aware of lots of things that never make it into the mainstream media. I have an analysis and a viewpoint that I almost never see in mainstream media. As an academic, I want a role in the public discourse. I want people to at least contemplate my point of view and the facts and analysis that I can offer.

Publishing an Op/Ed in the New York Times is a lofty goal – if you think rejection rates are high for journals, consider that the New York Times gets hundreds of Op/Ed submissions daily and can only publish a handful. The acceptance rates are well below 1 percent.

So, how am I going to work towards this goal of publishing an Op/Ed?

Let’s start with what I have already done. I haven’t just sat around and wished for this to happen. I have been working on it.

I submitted my first Op/Ed to the New York Times on March 23, 2009. I have submitted three more to the New York Times since, each of which was rejected. Simply submitting Op/Eds to the New York Times was not paying off. So, I decided to get some help.

I did some online research. I found this amazing website: The Op/Ed Project is dedicated to getting more voices into mainstream media and has lots of information about how to write Op/Eds and where to submit them.

They have a formula on their website for how to write an Op/Ed. Of course everything has a formula, so no surprise Op/Eds do as well. I followed their instructions on how to write an Op/Ed, quoted below:

Lede (Around a news hook) 
Thesis (Statement of argument – either explicit or implied) 
Argument: Based on evidence (such as stats, news, reports from credible organizations, expert quotes, scholarship, history, first-hand experience)

• 1st Point:
◦ evidence
◦ evidence
◦ conclusion

• 2nd Point
◦ evidence
◦ evidence
◦ conclusion 
• 3rd Point
◦ evidence
◦ evidence
◦ conclusion

To Be Sure” paragraph (in which you pre-empt your potential critics by acknowledging any flaws in your argument, and address any obvious counter-arguments.)

Conclusion (often circling back to your lede)
Once I wrote my Op/Ed according to their formula (more or less), I submitted it to the New York Times. No luck.

I decided to get some training. I participated in a teleworkshop put on by the Council on Contemporary Families. After the workshop, the workshop leader, Stephanie Coontz – who has published many pieces in the New York Times – was kind enough to help edit the piece for me. I took my edited piece and submitted it to the New York Times again. No luck.

I decided to try and submit to other places. The Op/Ed Project has a list of places to submit Op/Eds. I used their list of places to submit and slowly made my way down this list: I tried the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, and the Washington Post. Then, I tried the Kansas City Star – my local paper. With no luck in the mainstream outlets, I sent the piece to Counterpunch and they published it!

I am very proud to be a contributor to Counterpunch, but I still would like to have a larger audience. So, I signed up for an Op/Ed core seminar.

In the intensive all-day workshop, I learned that I am an expert on criminal deportations to Jamaica, what makes a convincing argument, the importance of ledes, how to marshal convincing evidence, and many other things. I left the workshop confident that I have many, many Op/Eds that I could write. The trick would be to decide which one I would start with, and how I could write one that is timely and relevant.

I am currently drafting an Op/Ed. Once I am finished, I will send it to a Mentor/Editor, courtesy of the Op/Ed Project. Then, I will send it to the New York Times. If they don’t want to publish it, I will send it to other mainstream outlets. If they don’t want it, I will just keep going down my list until I find a place willing to publish it. Then, I will start again, with a new Op/Ed.

What about you? Do you want to get your voice into the mainstream media? Have you been successful? How?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

You Got Tenure …. Now What? Five Strategies to Keep Moving Forward

After spending years – sometimes nearly a decade – in the quest for tenure, it can be hard to figure out what to do once you receive that golden letter ensuring you lifetime employment.

O caborteiro

I officially received tenure in the spring of 2012. When I received the tenure letter, I was in the middle of a busy semester, so I briefly celebrated and then kept on doing what I needed to do to keep everything afloat. I had a research trip to Peru planned over the summer, so I went to Peru and worked on that project. Then, the fall semester started, and I got back into my teaching and research routines. In sum, after getting tenure, life seemed to go on as usual.

However, now that I have had a few months to reflect, I can share some post-tenure strategies that I have found useful thus far. I provide these strategies with the caveat that these strategies have worked for me because of the path I have chosen. As Kerry Ann Rockquemore points out in this column there are multiple paths you can choose once you achieve tenure.

Here are the post-tenure strategies that I have found useful.

Strategy One: Keep on writing

It is crucial to work to maintain a daily writing practice so that you don’t lose the great habits you cultivated while on the tenure track. Now that you have tenure, you have more flexibility in terms of the kind of writing you do. The important thing is that you continue to cultivate your writing skills and habits.

Over the summer, I wanted to take somewhat of a break from writing, so I maintained my daily writing practice by posting on my family travel blog. Once the semester began again, it was fairly seamless to transition back into daily writing for research.

Strategy Two: Keep on reading

I know I always advise people to write daily, but I have recently learned that many people, in the quest for tenure, find less and less time to read. Now that you have tenure, you have the luxury to also set aside time for reading in and around your field.

This semester, I have been reading a new book about every two weeks. It feels great to read the books I have been meaning to read, and to keep up with the field. I usually try and incorporate something I learn from the books into my writing, but sometimes it can be useful just to absorb the information.

Strategy Three: Experiment with teaching

Now that you have tenure, you can worry less about student evaluations. There is some debate about how useful student evaluations are for assessing your teaching, so, for now, you can worry less about them and focus on trying strategies that you think will work.

I don’t mean that you should totally revamp your classes, but try something new. This semester, I decided to introduce blogging into my classes. I could have done that while on the tenure track, but it was easier to do it once I had tenure and did not have to worry as much about my evaluations taking a dive.

Strategy Four: Be proactive with service

While on the tenure track, you should have been protected from service and hopefully chose the service opportunities that took the least time. Now that you have tenure, it is time for you to take a good look at your service profile and think about what opportunities you would like to pursue. What kind of service are you good at? What kind of service do you enjoy? It is important to keep doing service so that you can feel part of the campus community. So, why not seek out the opportunities that allow you to use your skills and feel valuable?

Since arriving at the University of California, Merced this semester, colleagues have asked me to participate in a wide variety of service activities. I have made a couple of commitments, but mostly have asked for time to consider my options. Looking at my skill set and my passions, it is clear to me that there are some service areas where I would excel – and others that I would find draining. I decided that I would like to do something on campus related to faculty development and retention. Thus, I asked around and found the people who are in charge of that and let them know of my interests.

Strategy Five: Take care of yourself!

Now that you have lifetime employment security, you need to make sure you live a long, healthy life and enjoy it! I am sure you are aware that high stress, lack of physical activity, and an unhealthy diet are linked to health problems and a shortened life expectancy. Thus, if you haven’t been taking care of yourself thus far, now is the time to make your health your number one priority. Find the time to exercise by putting it into your schedule, use meditation or yoga to reduce stress, figure out ways to eat healthier, and find time to spend with people you enjoy.

Here in Merced, I am fortunate to live in a warm, dry climate. Thus, I have been able to ride my bike to my office – which is five miles from my home. I don’t have to go to campus every day, and thus am able to eat at home most days. That makes it easier to eat healthy meals. I have not been making time to meditate or do yoga, but may incorporate that into my life.

In sum, having tenure gives you a renewed freedom to make decisions about how you want to spend your time. Of course, there are consequences to any decision you make. However, you also have the flexibility to decide where you want to focus your energies, and I encourage you to do that.

What post-tenure strategies have worked for you?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Take Control of Your Email in a Few Simple Steps

Do you spend too much time on email? Are you looking for a system that academics can use to manage email? In this blog post, I describe a system that will allow you to take control of your email.

After Checking a email inbox i had with my old ISP its all spam WTF!

Email is an amazing way to communicate with people around the world. But, it also can be a time-sink. Academics usually have to spend a lot of time on email. This amount of time tends to increase over the course of your career as you accumulate more students, colleagues, publications, and service.

A couple of years ago, I searched around for a system that would allow me to manage my email more effectively. I had thousands of emails in my inbox, and felt that my email was getting out of control. I found this post by Leo Babauta immensely helpful. The steps I describe below are based on this approach, but tailored for academics.

First, I describe what you can do right now to relieve an overflowing inbox. Then, I explain how to develop a system that keeps your inbox under control.

If your email inbox is overflowing, here are three steps you can take to gain control of it.

Three Steps to an Empty Inbox

  1. Create three folders: 1) Temporary; 2) Archive; and 3) Action.
  2. Take all of the emails that are more than 30 days old and place them in the “Temporary” folder. You will deal with these later, at your leisure.
  3. Start at the top of your inbox and make a decision about each email in your inbox. If you need to do something in response to the email, place it in the “Action” folder. If not, it goes into “Archive.”

If you ever find yourself with spare time, you can return to the “Temporary” folder and attend to any important emails in there. However, if a month has already passed, you probably do not need to respond to them. And, if you do need to respond, you likely will get a reminder about whatever it is you need to do.

If you are using your university’s email system and are running out of space, one idea is to create a gmail account and have a copy of every email sent to you sent to your gmail account. That way, you have a record of every email you receive in an easily-searchable database. If you do this, you can delete emails from your university account instead of archiving them, as they can be automatically archived at your gmail address.

Only place items in your “Action” folder that actually require you to do something. Let’s say you receive an email reminding you about an event. If that event is not yet on your calendar, you can put it in “Action” until it’s on your calendar. Once you have it on your calendar, it is no longer an “Action” item. Now, it is on your calendar – which is a much better reminder system than your “Action” folder.

Once you have a nice, clean, empty, zen inbox, it’s time for you to implement a system to deal with email on a daily basis.

How to Manage Your Email on a Daily Basis

  1. Don’t check email first thing in the morning. One of the best ways to avoid email turning into a time sink is to do other important things first.
  2. When you first check email for the day, process each item in your inbox. Emails should fall into one of these categories:
    1. Respond immediately: Emails that require a quick response “Yes, I can review that article.” Or “No, I can’t make that committee meeting.” If it takes less than a minute to respond, answer the email. Then, archive the email.
    2. Action items: These are items that require a bit more effort. Perhaps you have to check your schedule to see when you can deliver a talk next semester. That might take a bit of planning and though. Place these emails into your action folder.
    3. Archive: These are emails with information that may or may not be important. If it’s interesting or relevant, read the email. If not, archive it.
    4. Other folders: Ideally, I would have just those three categories. However, I also have two other folders that are more or less useful. I am the chair of a major committee, and find it easier to place all emails related to that committee into one folder named “Committee.” I also frequently receive news articles and updates related to immigration that I want to read. I place these in a folder called “To read.” I have yet to actually read any of them, but it makes me feel better to have that folder.
  3. Quit your email. Once you have processed all the emails that came in over the night, and responded to the most pressing ones, quit your email program and focus on something else you need to do, like prep class or write that grant proposal. It is not a good idea to have your email on all the time as it is distracting.
  4. Check your email periodically during the day (fewer times is better). Set aside at least one of those times as the time you attend to your Action items. You see, the action folder will work a lot better if you know for sure that you are going to do your action items at some point during the day.
  5. At the end of the week, make sure that your inbox and action box are empty. Your inbox definitely should be empty. Ideally, your action box will be empty too. However, I often let emails sit in their for a while because I am making a decision about something or have yet to write that letter of recommendation.
I recognize this system is not perfect, but it is better than no system! What about you? How do you organize your email?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How a professional editor can help your writing

When I was in graduate school, I met with one of my mentors – a new Assistant Professor – and asked her if she planned to submit an article based on a recent talk she had given. She told me that the paper was too long and she was considering hiring a professional editor to get it from 10,000 to 8,000 words. I was astonished.

I had no idea that academics used professional editors, and something about it did not seem right. The idea that an intellectual would pay someone to do their intellectual labor did not sit well with me.

It was not until many years later after I finished graduate school and had a job of my own, that I came to see the benefits of using a professional editor. I realized that editors do not do intellectual labor for you. Instead, they polish your prose and allow your intellectual contributions to become clearer. Moreover, I began to use an editor myself. I realized that, whereas I may have great (even publishable) ideas, I had not learned how to present them in the best possible form, and a professional editor could help me with that.

In this post, I will discuss three of the benefits to using a professional editor. 1) Many academics do not have the skills to edit their own work. Using a professional editor is one way to teach you those skills. 2) Professional editors are just that, professionals. This means that they can edit your work quickly and professionally and save you time. 3) Using a professional editor can help you get more work under review, and, ultimately, published.

Edit Ruthlessly

Using a professional editor will improve your writing.

Most graduate programs do not include any writing training. As a consequence, many academics are not very good writers. We split verbs, dangle modifiers, use too many adjectives, use long and convoluted sentences, misuse words, and misplace punctuation marks. Using a professional editor will help you to see which errors you most frequently commit, and to correct them. The first time I used an editor, I learned grammar and style rules I never had known before and realized that I repeated the same errors over and over again. The best way to find out which errors you commit most frequently is to have a professional edit your text and tell you.

Using a professional editor will save you time

For those of you on the tenure clock, time is of the essence. The less time you spend poring over every detail of your article, the quicker you can get it under review and accepted. Paying a professional editor  to turn your almost-finished article into a well-polished piece of work can be a fantastic investment. It is no secret that many academics are perfectionists. Paying someone to do the final editing can take off some of that pressure to be perfect and save you a lot of time.

Using a professional editor will help you get more articles accepted

A well-written paper gives you an edge in the peer review process. When reviewers receive papers that have grammatical errors, it turns them off. Many think that your grammatical carelessness could be indicative of carelessness in other areas. If you write “loose” instead of “lose,” or if you code a variable incorrectly or did not transcribe your interview quotes or archival documents with precision, reviewers may look down on this. On the other hand, having an article free of grammatical and stylistic errors allows reviewers to focus exclusively on the quality of your work, and not on your minor errors. Even if your article is not accepted, the feedback you receive will be more useful as the reviewers’ critiques will not be influenced by their negative opinions of your writing.

Have a nearly finished article on your desk that you are nervous about sending out? Consider sending it to a professional editor to help you get to that last hurdle of finishing and submitting it.

How to find a professional editor

I often receive emails requesting recommendations for professional editors. There are five editors that I can recommend, and I have listed their information below.

There are at least three levels of editing: (1) developmental editing; (2) editing for style and content; and (3) proofreading. Developmental editing is the most time-consuming and costly and requires the highest level of expertise. Proofreading involves fixing errors and editing is somewhere int he middle.

Like writers, editors have different styles, and it can be hard to find one whose style matches your own.

Each of these professional editors are people that scholars have recommended to me. Here's a brief description of their services, as well as their contact information:


Kate Epstein has helped many writers bring their books into the world. She'll point out the weaknesses in your arguments, show you how to use structure to make your writing easier to read, and all the while cheerlead for your work. Assistant Professor of Sociology Joan Maya Mazelis at Rutgers University wrote, "Whether early or late in your writing process, whether you need help hashing out ideas and figuring out what you want to say or you need line-by-line editing services to make your arguments clearer and stronger, Kate is an excellent developmental editor!" You can find her at or email her at

I've really enjoyed working with Kristy Johnson: she's fast, knows her stuff, has an eagle eye, and brings what I have found to be very useful insights to my writing (in other words, she's not afraid to tell me when I make no sense). So the next time you find yourself in the final stages of writing a manuscript you've read one too many times, let Kristy give it a fresh look, clean up your mess, and get you one step closer to publication! I no longer send out an article without passing it by Kristy first, and my nerves are the better for it. You can email her at

Kristy S. Johnson –MFA in creative writing, Freelance Editor for 12 years.
Focuses: Dissertations/Thesis, Academic Articles/Book Chapters, Book Proposals, Job Applications, CVs/Resumes, Fiction and Non-Fiction Books, etc. Field focuses: Humanities, Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology and other Social Sciences, Linguistics, and Education. Services & Fees (non-book length): Proofreading/Copy Editing, $4/page, Content Editing, $5/page, Content/Copy Editing, $7/p; Book length quotes negotiable. Dissertation Flat Rate (150-250 pages): $800, 1st pass only, 2nd pass review $100 chapter.


SCRIBBR is a proofreading service designed for theses and dissertations that can also be used for articles. SCRIBBR is a great service especially if you are on a tight timeline, as they work with a pool of editors and can turn your work around very quickly. The service is high quality and very professional. 

I sent SCRIBBR a 6,000-word article I have been working on for some time.  The editor, Elaine, found many errors that I had overlooked and suggested several places where I should insert citations. I am much more confident about sending the piece out for review. The proofreading price was also very reasonable at 114 euros for a 72-hour turnaround.

Morelia is an English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English translator who specializes in producing thorough, high-quality media and academic translations. She also offers editing and proofreading services and takes great care to provide quality work for your media and academic needs.

Contact info:

--------------------------------- If a professional editor is not within your budget, I can recommend Grammarly - a Chrome extension and tool that automatically checks your grammar. You can get either the free or premium version. Grammarly finds most typographical and even stylistic mistakes. I have been using the premium version as a Chrome extension and it has found mistakes in my blog posts, email, and social media posts. It is kind of like the Word grammar checker, but a much better version of that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How Ending your Work Day Right Can Boost Your Productivity: Take Stock and Stop Working

I have been known to go on and on about starting my day right – with two hours of writing. And, I still believe that two hours of daily writing is one of the “open secrets” to my success.

It is also important for productivity to end your day in the right way, and to be sure that you do end your work day.

The first step is to decide when to stop your day

We are not machines, and we cannot work 24 hours a day. At some point, we have to end our days. It is much less exhausting to consciously end your day and decide ahead of time to stop working than to try to keep working, but find your mind, eyes, and fingers diverting you to other tasks.

Personally, I end my day in steps. I stop writing before lunch. I stop answering work emails and doing administrative tasks after 6pm. I stop all Internet activity at 8pm. And, I stop reading when I get sleepy.

It might sound counterintuitive, but deciding when to stop working (and to actually stop working) can make you more productive.

Stop working so you can be more productive?

Yes! I stop writing before lunch because my ability to write clearly and quickly after lunch is extremely reduced. If I try and write after lunch, I am only half (or perhaps even less) productive than I am in the morning. Since I have lots of other tasks I need to attend to, it is much more productive for me to do those tasks and get back to my writing the next morning.

I stop answering work emails and doing administrative work after 6pm for two reasons. The first reason is that, by that time, I am tired. This means I am prone to making mistakes. Making a mistake over email usually means I have to either rewrite the email later or, even worse, spend two or three times the amount of time cleaning up the mess I made. So, it is not productive for me to respond to work-related emails in the evening. The second reason is that I need to consciously end my day so that I can take stock of what’s done and what is not done so that I can plan and prepare for the next day.

Each day, at (or around) 6pm, I look over my to-do list for the day. I cross off what I have done. Then, I make a new list for the next day that includes the items from my weekly plan for the following day as well as anything that either didn’t get completed that day or that came up during the day. That way, even if I didn’t complete all I intended to complete in a day, I don’t have to let my unfinished tasks take up mental space. Instead, my tasks are written down on a piece of paper and I know I will attend to them the next day.

David Allen writes about the importance of getting things out of your head and onto paper to clear up mental space, and I find this to be true. Once I write down what I need to do the next day, I don’t need to worry about forgetting to do it or making a plan for when I will do it. I know I will attend to the task the following day. And, if not, it will just get bumped to the next day. And, so, life goes on.

I also try to enforce an “all screens off” policy in my house at 8pm. Since I start writing early in the morning, most days, I am on the computer nearly all day, and I need plenty of time to recuperate. Thus, even though I might think I find it entertaining to read the news or the blogosphere, shop on Amazon, or mess around on Facebook or Twitter, the truth is that these activities are not actually relaxing. Instead, turning off all of the screens is beneficial both for me and for my kids.

After the screens are off, my kids and I can talk, finish up homework, make art, or read. The only work I will do in the evenings is reading – there is always more to be read. I try to treat myself to a novel when I can, but academic work is so much better at putting me to sleep!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A step-by-step guide to being an organized person in academia

How can you be an academic with an organized life? How can time management be applied to academics? I have been practicing time management for about five years, and can share with you what works for me.

This post summarizes how I keep myself organized during the semester. I have learned a variety of organizational tools from participating in Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s workshops, reading David Allen and Julie Morgenstern’s books, and following blogs such as the Professor Is In, Gina Hiatt, and Meggin McIntosh. In sum, there is a lot of information out there about time management, but I thought I’d summarize what I find works for me.

Hipster PDA

Annual Goals

Each January, I take stock of what I have done the previous year, and make a list of what I would like to accomplish in the coming year. Then, I separate that list out into months.

In January 2012, I wrote out a list that began like this:

2012 Goals
- Finish Deported book
    o DRAFT: INTRO Ch 1. Ch 2. Ch 3. Ch 4. Ch 5. Ch 6. Ch 7. Ch 8.
    o Citizenship notes
    o Incorporate discussion of TRAC data
    o Revise chapters

Then, I broke that (longer) list down into months:

January Goals
- OUP Chapter 3
- Guate interviews
- Guate draft
- Submit Human Rights piece to Sociology
- Submit jokes article to ERS
- Summit speech
- Publish op-ed
- Finalize SOC 780 syllabus
- Finalize SOC 332 syllabus
- AJS review
- Paper to ASA

I took all of my 2012 goals and mapped them onto the 12 months in the year 2012. I printed out my 2012 goals and posted them on the wall in my office. I also saved the file in my Dropbox folder that I call “PLANS” so that I could access it from anywhere. Then, I took a little break, and made up my semester plan.

Semester Plan

My semester plan is a bit more detailed than my Annual Plan, as it breaks down each month into weeks. Here is the first week of January:
January Week 1 (January 2-6)
- Human Rights piece to Sociology: Read through. Send to CM.
- 6 Guate interviews
- Talk for UH
- Summit Speech
- Outline/Plan OUP Chapter 3
- Set up mentoring for SREM

Weekly Plan

Each week, at the beginning of the week, I take my weekly plan and break it down even farther – into days.

Monday: 1 Guate interview. Read through HR.
Tuesday: 1 Guate interview. Finalize HR – send to CM. Summit speech.
Wednesday: 2 Guate interviews. Summit speech. UH Talk.
Thursday: 1 Guate interview. UH Talk. SREM Mentoring.
Friday: 1 Guate interview. UH Talk. Outline/Plan OUP Ch 3

I then map each of those tasks onto my calendar, like this:
Monday: 9am-11am: revise HR. 11am-1pm: Guate interview, etc.

At the end of the week, I do a weekly review, where I cross off my list those tasks I completed, and move to the next week those tasks I did not complete. The tasks I didn’t complete get moved to the following week. I always keep my semester plan and my weekly plan in my Dropbox folder so that I can access them from anywhere to make sure I am working on the right project.

Daily Execution

Each morning, I get up and look at my weekly plan so that I know exactly where to start. I try really hard to not check email, Facebook, or Twitter before writing. Then, I try to stick to my schedule and get what I need to get done. Things never go exactly according to schedule, but it seems things go better when I plan.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Scholar’s Dilemma: Is there a tradeoff between productivity and the measured cultivation of ideas?

Every so often, I read an online article about writing and academia that resonates with me. This article by Imani Perry struck a chord with me. She writes:

I really enjoy writing. … However, I also am aware that the pressure of writing “early and often” has led me, at certain points, to take an instrumentalist approach to projects. At times I have given up the kind of measured cultivation of ideas I highly value, in exchange for the designation “productive.” I know I am not alone in this, and even now, with tenure, I still carry a nervous buzz about “getting things out.

There are two I like about this statement.

First of all, it is remarkably rare to hear anyone say “I enjoy writing.” It is great for me to hear that, as it is a reminder that it is okay to like writing. I have the impression that most academics hate writing. This makes it difficult to have an open discussion about seeking out the joy in writing. I wouldn’t say I love writing all the time, but there certainly are times when I find it to be pleasurable, invigorating, inspiring…. I love this reminder to seek out more of those times.

Secondly, I have to admit to “guilty as charged” when it comes to exchanging productivity for the cultivation of ideas. I have published a lot over the past few years, and there can be a trade-off between productivity and letting ideas simmer.

Cowboy Pondering

Before I type any more, I want to point out that there is also a balance between cultivating ideas and avoiding procrastination. For me, letting ideas simmer longer would mean continuing to revise drafts, getting feedback from more people, and reading more broadly in the field. It does not mean avoiding writing or delaying sending off drafts and polished pieces.

I am currently struggling with this dilemma as I work on what will be my fifth book. Several people have told me to take my time with it. I have three years before I would even qualify for promotion to Full Professor – thus I do not have any institutional pressure to finish the book immediately. The ideas I am working on in the book are big and complex, so I have a lot of thinking and grappling to do. The conceptual field – neoliberalism – is large and fairly new to me, so I have a lot of reading to do.

The pressure I feel to get the book out soon mostly comes from myself. The topic - mass deportation - is important to me; it is in the news all of the time; and, I want to contribute to the national debate.

On the other hand, I have already written two books that cover many of the policy issues. My third book “Due Process Denied” is an expose of the injustices incurred by US immigration policies, and my second book - Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions, and Deportations in Post-9/11 America - has “deportation” in the title. So, in some ways, I have already met the goal of getting my voice into the debate. But, I have so much more to say!

I currently am working, slowly, on my book on deportees. I have been toying with the idea of getting a developmental editor to work with me to ensure it moves forward more quickly. I also need to form a new writing group in my new town so I can have conversations with local academics about the book.

In sum, as I work on my next book, I will continue to use the strategies that have worked for me in the past – daily writing, soliciting feedback, finding support, and enjoying the process. As a new thing, I will cherish more deeply the slow-moving nature of the process and work to ensure that my ideas are fully-cooked and cultivated before appearing in print.

Monday, August 13, 2012

How to Create a Power Point Presentation from a Finished Paper

Academic presentations are often based on research in progress or unfinished work. However, sometimes we may find ourselves creating presentations based on full drafts of papers.

What happens when you have completed your 8 or 10,000 word article and now you have to create a 15-minute presentation on the basis of your paper? Luckily, there is a fairly straightforward system you can use to create a presentation from a full paper.

presentation skills

I once heard someone say that a presentation should be viewed as an advertisement for a paper, rather than an attempt to present all of the information in the paper. Keeping this in mind will help you to focus on what’s important and avoid the temptation to attempt to convey all of the rich information in your paper in a brief presentation. Unfortunately, trying to cover too much often means you fail to highlight what’s important.

In my field – Sociology – there is a straightforward formula for giving presentations. I am sure that there is one in your field as well, and it may be very similar to the formula in Sociology. In Sociology, presenters often use Power Point, and presentations often look like this:

  • Introduction (1 slide)
  • Research Questions/Hypotheses (1 slide)
  • Literature Review/Theory (1 slide)
  • Methods & Data Collection (1 slide)
  • Data Presentation/Findings (3-5 slides)
  • Conclusion (1 slide)

Admittedly, many people use many more slides than this, but I advocate for sticking to the rule of no more than one slide per minute. I also think it is important to focus most of your attention on your findings, and as little as possible on other people’s theories and findings. And, you will bore people tremendously if you spend too much time on your methods and data collection. There are many exceptions of course – if your paper is all theory or primarily methodological, then it will look quite different.

To create a presentation from a full-length paper or article, you can pull out the most important parts of the article, based on the above list – or based on the subheadings in your own article.

For the introduction, you can use the same compelling introduction you use in your paper. If you are using Power Point, try and find a provocative image that conveys the point of your paper.

Your next slide should contain your research questions – which your introduction should point to.

Then, spend no more than a minute contextualizing your research questions and project within the literature. Don’t make the mistake of spending too much time reviewing what others have written about your topic. Spend just enough time on the existing literature to make it clear that your work contributes to existing research in the field. People don’t come to conferences to hear literature reviews – they come to hear about new research like yours. The purpose of the literature review is to establish the importance of your work, not to show you have read every relevant article.

Once you have established the importance of your project, explain just enough of your methods and data collection to establish your ability to speak on the topic. Think about the questions people might have – what data set did you use? How many interviews did you carry out? How many months of participant observation did you complete? How many newspaper articles did you code? What is the timeframe for the data? Give just enough information to validate your findings.

Try to get through all of the above in the first five minutes so that you can spend as much of your time as possible sharing the rich detail of your own data and analyses. If you have ethnographic data, you can tell one story from the field for each point you want to make. For statistical data, you can present a table with findings for each finding you wish to highlight. For interview data, you can use one interview quote for each theme you plan to highlight.

Once you have chosen the parts of your findings you wish to highlight, you can leave a minute or two for your conclusion.

As you make each slide, remember to put as few words as possible on each slide, and place an image on each slide to convey your points visually.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Get Your Goals and Projects out of Your Head and onto Paper

Like many academics, I often have several ongoing projects and it can be overwhelming to figure out when I will have the time to make progress on each of my projects, tasks, and goals.

Sometimes, just thinking about all I have to do is overwhelming, and it seems I may never finish my books and articles. I find writing everything I have to do down onto paper to be very helpful when I begin to feel overwhelmed.

At important milestones during the year – the beginning or end of the summer, fall, spring, or annual year – I like to sit down and map out where I am on all of my projects and when I expect to finish them. This is a great exercise to complete because it is a reminder that each of my projects is, in fact, terminable.

Today is August 5, which means that the beginning of the Fall semester looms ahead. For me, it is helpful to separate out what must be done before the semester begins and which projects can wait until I am back from my extended research trip in Peru. Unlike when I was doing my dissertation research, I now have to keep up with my other ongoing research projects and professional responsibilities even when I am collecting new data in remote locations.

Just thinking about all I have to do can be overwhelming. That’s why putting my goals and projects down on paper can be comforting. Even though it can also be scary to see all that I have to do, writing the tasks, goals, and projects down is the first step towards making a workable plan to complete them.

So, what do I actually need to do before the semester starts?

My discipline is Sociology. We sociologists have our annual meeting each year just before the beginning of the semester. This means that each year, in addition to planning classes and meeting other deadlines, I have to prepare for the annual meeting. This year, I have agreed to present three papers and serve as a discussant on one panel. Here are my four meeting-related tasks that must be completed before I leave Peru on August 15:

  • Prepare race and humor presentation
  • Prepare due process denied presentation
  • Prepare human rights and international migration presentation
  • Read and prepare comments on four paper for my role as discussant

Like most other academics on a semester system, I also have to prepare for my classes, which begin on August 24. This Fall, I am teaching just one class, and it is a class I have taught before. However, I have changed the syllabus considerably, and am teaching at a new university. I need to finalize the syllabus before the semester begins. Thus, we can add to the list:

  • Finalize syllabus for race class

As the semester starts fairly late in August, and I am dedicated to writing every day, in addition to these responsibilities, I also hope to finish up two other writing projects in August. These two projects are:

  • Complete tasks for R&R for LS project.
  • Complete Chapter 5 of DEP book.

Now, I have a complete list of what I will focus on until August 31. There are quite a few things on this list, but having this list permits me to stay focused, and ensures I will not work on any other projects during the month of August.

I do have several other things that I could work on, but I have moved all of these other projects off of my current priority list and onto my “Fall Semester Goals” list.

My Fall Semester Goals include:

  • OUP Chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15
  • DEP Chapters Intro, 1, 2, 3, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, Conclusion
  • ERS R&R
  • Intro to SI for ERS
  • Papers with YI and SD
  • SWB Paper

Now that I have a list of all of the projects I hope to complete during the Fall Semester, I can work on a semester plan. It is clear that when I do that, I will again have to prioritize and decide what can actually be completed in the Fall and what will have to be moved to the Spring. But, having everything I have to do in front of me permits me to make a realistic assessment of what can and cannot get done. Thus, when my editor emails me to ask when I will be finished with Chapter Six or my co-author wants to know if I can finish the R&R by October 15, I can give them a reasonably accurate answer.

What about you? What do you need to finish today? this week? this month? this semester? this year? Does writing it all down help you?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How to Thrive in the Academy … With or without saving the world first

This blog is about thriving, not just surviving in academia. There is an inherent contradiction to that, though. I believe that it is important to be happy, yet I am also well aware that the world (including the academy) is unjust. How can one be happy amidst widespread injustice?


As you may or may not have been able to tell from my posts, I am deeply committed to social justice. I think that the world needs fundamental changes and favor such things as open borders, universal health care, the elimination of private property, and other drastic measures that I am unlikely to see happen in my lifetime. Although I know the world needs to be changed, I still try to be happy in the world I live in. The reason: my being sad and depressed will not do a single thing to change the things I believe should be changed.

Being mad (as opposed to sad) can sometimes lead to change, but that happens only when there are specific actions anger can inspire you to take, and when change is possible. For example, I just got a call from my husband letting me know he got a speeding ticket. I am doing my best not to be angry because being mad about the ticket is not going to change anything. We already will have to pay the fine. Why also waste precious emotional energy on things I can’t change? You see, I just need to let it go. (This isn't always easy, but it's better than being mad all day!)

I don’t like feeling sad or mad, especially when those feelings are associated with a sense of helplessness. I can’t change the fact that my husband got a ticket. I can’t make universal healthcare happen right now. What, then, can I do? What is within my control? Being happy, it turns out, is usually within reach. And, I like being happy.

I separate out my day-to-day happiness from my long-term vision for how the world should be. Kerry Ann Rockquemore, for example, once told me that one criticism she gets from her book “How to Win Tenure without Losing Your Soul” is that the book doesn’t advocate for structural changes in the academy, or even for fighting racism and sexism in the academy. Well, that is not what the book is about. It is about how to do well in the academy, despite racism and sexism. We have to survive the academy in order to change it.

Similarly, this blog is about how to be happy on a daily basis, despite all of the structural problems with the academy and widespread injustice in the world. It also seems to me that, once we have our own lives together, we can do a better job of saving the world.

No matter what situation you find yourself in, you deserve to be as happy as you can be. This is another reason I have this blog – academics often seem to think that suffering and being insanely busy are job requirements. I am here to say that, from my perspective, this is not true. I am here to provide a model for academics who want to have a life, who want to be happy, and who don’t want to feel guilty for that.

Instead, we should own our happiness. In a recent blog conversation with Jonathan and Thomas, I came to the conclusion that happy academics are actually better writers. We need time to think, to muse, to ponder, and to spend with our creative spirit to do the best we can.

So, next time you heart leads you to spend the afternoon at the Art Museum, or to go for a long run in the park, or to laugh with your kids, or go to the opera – do it! We all deserve to be happy and to live life to its fullest. Although these actions won’t fix human suffering, they may do a bit to alleviate it – one person at a time.

Monday, June 25, 2012

How to choose a dissertation topic

Note: This week, I am sharing with you a great post by Vilna Bashi Treitlerwhich has been posted over at the SREM Mentoring blog.

Are you struggling with choosing a dissertation topic?

Choosing a topic can be one of the most important choices you will make in your professional career because it determines the first major piece of research for which you’ll be known, provides a focus for the group of professors you wish to solicit for your dissertation committee, and it is the first thing (along with the text of your letters of recommendation) that future colleagues will scrutinize when considering you for a job in their department.

The bad news is that all this can make choosing a dissertation topic pretty overwhelming. The good news is that I try to make the process somewhat easier by explaining to you how you might get started and avoid certain pitfalls. I have four pieces of advice to offer that I hope you follow, plus a tidbit that is not mandatory.


First, “push the envelope.”

You’ve probably heard a gazillion times that new research should “push the envelope,” but I’d bet that the likelihood that you had a clear explanation of what that means has not been given to you. Well, I’m going to explain it, right here, right now.

It is a phrase with a mathematical reference. An envelope is a term for the curve that encloses all other curves in a family of curves. When the term was used in aeronautics, it referred to the outer curve describing the limit of an aircraft’s performance. Test pilots were encouraged to push the envelope in order to test the aircraft, and the phrase made it to the common lexicon in Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book about test pilots, The Right Stuff. (Thanks, for the info, Michael Quinion, at!)

Envision the whole of sociological knowledge as contained in one big dataset, complete with keywords and subject headings. Surely, you would contribute something to the dataset that would ostensibly fit under a subject heading, and possibly a set of existing keywords, but to push the envelope your topic should meet meet three criteria.
  • It doesn’t repeat something that’s already in that dataset.
  • It is something that sociologists interested in the topic will want to read when searching on information on the topic. That is, your research is not just different from the other work on the issue, but also has an interesting take.
  • It is research that actually teaches researchers in your area of interest new information and will be useful to them when they are framing their own research projects. That is, not only is your research interesting, it shouldn’t be ignored if other sociologists want to do research in the same areas.
Honestly, you need only come up with a question that, when answered, would shed new light on what others have done before – but the idea is for that new light to truly have us look at things in a whole new way.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Can you buy a house in a 3-day house-hunting trip?

In August, I will be moving to a new academic position – I will be an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Merced. This news is very exciting. It also means I have to move myself and my family from Lawrence, KS to Merced, CA.

Our home in Lawrence, KS - now for sale or rent.
We own a home in Lawrence, and would like to own one in Merced. Thus, UC Merced offered to pay for me to make a trip to Merced to look for houses. They specified that they would pay for two or three nights in Merced – which they presumed would be enough time to find a place to live. I was not sure if I agreed, but figured I would give it a shot.

I did know two things: 1) Life would be much easier if I did in fact find a house; and 2) Finding a house would require some research beforehand.

Before my house-hunting trip, I talked with several colleagues about desirable neighborhoods and schools. I mostly consulted with one colleague who has done research on schools in Merced and who has two young children. I decided to trust her judgment and look in the neighborhoods she suggested.

Another colleague recommended a real estate agent. I contacted him, told him I was planning a house-hunting visit. He asked me to let him know the parameters of my search and I told him my preferences in terms of

  • School district
  • Number of bedrooms
  • Price range

I also told him that I preferred a house that had hardwood floors, a pool, a big yard, and in a neighborhood with large trees.

The real estate agent sent me an online list of about 80 houses that met those specifications. I looked at the list and selected those that I wanted to see. It was a bit daunting, as there were so many houses, and they ranged in value from $115,000 to $300,000. As I was looking at the houses, it became clear that there were a couple of neighborhoods where I probably did not want to live – as the houses were all brand new and cookie cutter and there were no large trees. Still, it was hard to know without seeing the houses and neighborhoods.

I arrived in Merced on Sunday evening, and had dinner with fantastic new colleagues. I should note that I was already exhausted after attending a four-day conference in San Francisco. So, I tried to get back to the hotel early and sleep.

The real estate agent met me at 9am and we began to view houses. I had chosen 26, and he brought printouts with color photos and we set out to look at each of them. The first house on his list was one that I thought I was going to love. It was one of the more expensive ones, and I really liked it from the pictures. However, when we got there, I realized that the layout was not actually ideal, and that maybe it wasn’t the perfect house.

As I saw more and more houses, it became clearer to me what I liked and what I did not like.

I do not like:

  • Wallpaper
  • Linoleum
  • Houses that are too wide open – meaning there is no quiet space.
  • Houses that are too closed – where you can’t see everyone else
  • Small yards
  • Neighborhoods with no trees – too much sun!
  • Houses with little or no natural light.

I do like:

  • Houses with a pool.
  • Hardwood floors – except in Merced there really weren’t any houses with real hardwood floors.
  • Houses that have a study – or a separate family room.
  • Houses with open kitchens.
  • Large yards.
  • Large windows.
  • Big bathtubs.
  • A house where you don’t have to get in a car each time you leave the house.
  • Fireplaces.

Towards the end of the day, we went to a house that had a separate family room, an open kitchen that looked out onto a large family room with a fireplace, four bedrooms, a pool, and a hot tub. It was not as nice as some of the other houses we had seen, but the issues it had were not that difficult to fix – the kitchen floor has linoleum and the front entrance has a fairly unattractive tile. My husband knows how to fix both of those issues. I decided that I probably liked that house.

Later that afternoon, my wonderful new colleagues invited me over for a cook-out. I took the piece of paper with the house description on it and asked for their feedback. They all agreed that it was in a great location. I found out that the house is next door to a great elementary school where my younger daughter could go, and just one mile from the middle school where my twin daughters could go. It is also just a few blocks from a great park and an awesome bike path. You also could walk to a coffee shop and a grocery store from the house.

The house in Merced, California!

I called up my real estate agent and told him I wanted to see the house one more time. He picked me up and we went back over there. I looked it over, took some pictures to show my husband, called my husband, and we decided to put an offer on the house.

I met with a lender, and got pre-approved for a loan. I also reviewed some options with her and decided on a low-interest 15-year loan. I couldn’t believe how low the rate was – 2.75 percent! The UC system also offers loans for faculty, but it appears those are variable interest rates, so I went with this loan – an FHA loan. By putting down 10 percent, the mortgage insurance is fairly low - $40 a month, and it seemed like a great deal.

I left town the next day and heard from the real estate agent that the sellers had a counter offer. I reviewed it and it was reasonable, so I accepted it. The next step was to order the inspection and appraisal. I did that. The house passed inspection with relatively few issues and the house appraised just above the asking price. Things were looking good.

Now, we are in the final stages, and it looks quite likely that this will go through. At this point, we are just waiting for the sellers to agree to make some repairs and for the loan to finalized. If this actually works, we will be very happy to be the proud owners of a new home in Merced, California!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Feeling Overwhelmed? Take a break!

Are you feeling overwhelmed this summer with deadlines looming, your email inbox bursting, and obligations piling up? If so, I suggest you take a counterintuitive action: take a break!

You need to pull yourself out of a cycle of overwork and regain a sense of control over your life and work. The best way to do this is to take a break.

My three month Vacation

It is simply not true that you have to work all day, every day to be a successful academic at a research intensive university. In fact, trying to work beyond your personal limits, not taking days off, and not getting enough sleep are counterproductive. You cannot do excellent research when you are sleep-deprived, cranky and overworked.

Unfortunately, this is a cycle many academics fall into. They get behind, struggle to catch up, and fall deeper and deeper into a hole of exhaustion. This strategy does not work. If you are over-extended, drowning in deadlines and haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks, my first suggestion to you is to stop working. Take the weekend off. Do something entirely unrelated to work on Saturday. On Sunday, relax, have breakfast with friends or family. Take a long walk. Go to the museum. Revitalize your creative connections. On Sunday afternoon, sit down and make a plan for the rest of the week.

Make a reasonable plan, one that has you going to sleep at 11pm and waking up at 7am. A plan that leaves time for meals, for exercise, for friends, for family. A plan that leaves time for life.

Trying to work all day, every day will not work. Not sleeping enough so that you can grade more papers, finish that book chapter, or file one more receipt is counter-productive. Instead, get a good night’s rest, and approach the tasks with new vigor in the morning.

Coming to terms with one’s own limitations can be hard. But, it can also be enlightening and liberating. Once you realize that you really cannot work all day, every day, there will be no more guilt about not doing so. If you know that opening up that laptop at 11pm does not mean that you will sneak in one more task, but instead will lead to a bad night’s sleep and a harried tomorrow, it makes much more sense to turn the laptop off, turn on some soothing music and go to sleep. Tomorrow morning, you will finish in five minutes that task that would have taken your exhausted mind 30 minutes to complete at the end of a long day.

If taking a break sounds like the most counterintuitive thing possible, that is probably all the more reason you should take one.

Friday, May 25, 2012

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 the remaining summer weeks. What will you do between May 29 and June 2? Between June 5 and June 9?

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 delete, defer, 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 mentally exhausting 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 early in the mornings before the kids got too restless. This meant that I had from 7am to 11am 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, and that the kids could not bother me. I had all the rest of the day to complete household tasks, surf the Internet, hang out with the kids, got to the beach, 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….

Monday, May 21, 2012

Is Having a Stay-at-Home Spouse the Secret to Academic Success?

Have you ever heard that quote: “Behind every successful man, there stands a woman”? I have often thought about that quote in relation to my senior male academic colleagues. However, today, I want to talk about how it relates to me. How does having a supportive, stay-at-home husband provide me with privileges in academia?

The reason I ask this question is that there is an assumption that this is an undeniable privilege. Consider this comment on FSP’s blog: “I think people with a stay at home spouse should have an asterisk next to their name on their CVs and tenure documents, like baseball players who've taken steroids.”

First of all, there is no doubt that having a supportive husband has been integral to my success. I entered graduate school in 1999. My husband and I married in 2001, and had twin daughters soon afterwards. My husband is an artist and a musician, and he simply was not going to be able to earn enough in his chosen profession to pay for day care for our daughters. He did work while I was on leave from graduate school. But, when I went back to school, he stopped working. He has rarely had a full-time job since.

It did not make economic sense for my husband to work full time when we had twin infants, and less so when our third daughter was born. Putting all three children in day care would have cost between $2500 and $3000 a month and the jobs for which he qualified would have netted him about $1000 a month. As a graduate student, I was barely netting $1000 myself.

It was not until 2008 that we had all three children in free public school. At that point, my husband could have gotten full-time work. However, he did not for three main reasons: 1) In Lawrence, Kansas where we live, entry-level jobs pay very little; 2) Music and art are his passion, not working for the man; and 3) We love to travel and any job he would get would not permit us to take 4-week vacations in December and three-month vacations in May. Thus, my husband has become mostly a stay-at-home dad, although he occasionally sells jewelry, plays music, takes odd jobs, or works on our house.

In case you are wondering, we have been able to take vacations even though we have just one salary because we live fairly frugally in a low-cost area of the country. We have made vacations a priority over durable consumer goods and expensive nights out at home.

For us, his staying at home has mostly been a lifestyle decision. I have a flexible job as an academic and he has even more flexibility as a self-employed artist. I have thought a lot about the privileges it brings me (as a woman and mother) to have a husband who works as much or as little as he likes. Here are some of the things my husband does on a regular basis:
  1. Grocery shopping
  2. Picking up the kids from school and transporting them to activities
  3. Taking the kids to doctor and dentist appointments
  4. Staying home with the kids when they are ill
  5. Cleaning and cooking
  6. Yard work
Things I do on a regular basis include:
  1. Laundry
  2. Helping kids with homework
  3. Getting kids dressed and groomed in the morning
  4. Reading to kids at night
  5. Paying bills and keeping track of finances
  6. Vacation planning
Looking at these lists, it is clear that my life is easier than a single parent who earns the same salary as I do. A single parent would have to do all of those things (and more) or pay someone to do them. On my salary, it would be a stretch to pay people to do all of these things for us. Thus, I can only imagine that being a single parent in academia can be very challenging, especially if the other parent is out of the picture emotionally and financially.

But, what about an academic who is married to a well-paid professional or even a decently-paid academic?

I do think that if my husband were able to earn a decent salary doing what he loves, he would do it. But, we simply have not been able to figure out how he could do that. And, if he were able to make a decent salary doing what he loves, then I think that we would simply pay people to help us out with the things he normally does around the house. Right?

For grocery shopping, there are grocery services. We could pay someone to transport the children to their after school activities, to clean the house, and to do the yard work. The greatest difficulty would be when one of the children falls ill. For that, one of us would have to stay home. However, the other things it seems that we could pay someone to do.

So, how much privilege is there in having a stay-at-home spouse versus a spouse with a well-paying job? Am I missing something in the equation here? Do I have privileges that a two-income household does not have?

As I mentioned above, it is clear that an academic with a stay-at-home spouse (or a working partner) has advantages over a single parent. It also is evident that there are privileges associated with having a well-paid partner as opposed to a low-wage partner. In that case, I am very lucky that my partner is happy working from home, not making very much money with his jewelry and music, and dedicating most of his time to our home and children. If he didn’t find that fulfilling and instead preferred to work for $9 an hour as an intern somewhere, then things would be more complicated. Or, if we lived somewhere where we couldn’t get by on my salary alone, life would be more difficult.

What do you think? Can parents outsource household tasks or are there real limits to that? Do academics with stay-at-home spouses have advantages over two-income couples?