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: http://www.theopedproject.org. 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?