IRB’s, paper-writing, and looking for funding

Sometimes, I forget I’m teaching two classes. Seriously. Some days, I get so swept up by my other work that it becomes more real than the 150 students that are currently taking my class (don’t worry! they very quickly remind me of their existence!). I think it’s because at my R1 institution, teaching is only a fraction (I want to say a third? it could be less) of what I’m hired to do. Today is one of those days when my other responsibilities take over my day and I momentarily forget about the 150 kids who are looking to me for their grade. I started writing up my IRB proposal, which feels like an enormous hassle (mostly because it is!). This year, my project won’t get away from “exempt” status, so I am anticipating a slow turnaround and some painful(ly tedious) revisions. It’s a project I’m excited about, though my main collaborator has me a little nervous –one of the vicissitudes of working in other countries is dealing with their own institutional cultures, and a recent election means considerably political upheaval and administrative changes at my field site. It’s a bit nerve-wracking but I’m learning to roll with the punches, otherwise I will drive myself nuts. The nice thing about startup is that if I wind up getting to my field city and doing a whole new project because my current field site becomes unavailable, it’s no biggie. It will suck for the two grants I am about to turn in, but I’m not expecting to get either one so again, no biggie.

Ah, the grant-writing process. Before, when I thought I was going to submit one of those huge grants to NIH or NSF, I was considerably more stressed out. Now that I’ve set my sights on a couple of foundations, I feel a little less overwhelmed. It just feels like if I can get some preliminary results published and give myself a little more time to develop my project, I will be in better shape to apply in the future. It would be nice to get a little bit of extra money, or money to fund my research for the next couple of years, but right now I just want to get some data I can publish. So, one grant application is done and awaiting a letter of support, and I started working on the second one today. Hopefully, I can get both out before they are due.

And then of course there is my conference paper, which I am supposed to submit to the discussants tomorrow. I don’t know if I mentioned this, but the two discussants on my panel are women whose work I deeply admire and whose research is very close to my own. I am thrilled that they are reading my work, and I really, really, want to get as much as I can out of this experience. The manuscript stands at about 18 pages now, but it will need quite a bit of theoretical re-working before I am ready to submit it for publication. Right now, it needs a better articulated discussion, and I need to conclude it somehow. In the next hour and a half. Huh. Guess I’d better get to it, then. For what it’s worth, I’ve decided to write it as an article first, and get it submitted. I can re-write it for the book later. Any thoughts on how book chapters in monographs look different than peer-reviewed articles? I feel like the main difference is structural, because the book chapter is part of a greater whole, but I’d love to hear some thoughts if anyone out there has some.

Oh, yeah! And then there’s my students, dying to find out how they did on their last assignment.

Thank God for TA’s.

springbreak

Scheduling vs. Reality

This week has been moderately successful. I can honestly say that I achieved the following:

 

Manuscript

Article

  • I chose a chapter to work on.
  • I started drafting the chapter.
  • I coded.
 

  • I wrote a statement of argument
  • I coded
  • I reverse outlined the chapter that is forming the basis of the article.
  • I wrote a new outline for the article.

 

I did not achieve the following:

 

Manuscript

Article

  • Write a chapter outline.
  •  Complete the new analytical framework.

 

I also did not stick with my schedule as well as I would have liked. My first challenge was simply getting started as early as I wanted to: It was hard for me to get myself and my child ready and out the door as early as I would have liked, which meant that my day started later than I wanted it to. Days where I intended to code I found myself drafting, hours where I had scheduled myself to draft got swallowed up by my online class. As I prepare my schedule for next week, I definitely need to schedule more time for my online teaching responsibilities.

 

I would like to make use of a cool resource as well. Phinished.org is an online forum for people who are struggling to finish their dissertations or other writing projects. Among their many offerings, they have chat rooms where people can meet and check in with each other every specified period of time. So when I log into the “50” group, we check in with each other on the :50, chat for ten minutes about what we’ve accomplished, and then get back to work. I only used the tool one day this week, but when I did I found it to be tremendously useful. I am going to make it a goal to use the tool more next week.

 

I also am trying to figure out a way to finish the article I’m working on without sacrificing valuable time that I should be devoting to the manuscript. I have an annual evaluation coming up, and listing the article as “submitted” would be a positive mark on my CV, so I am especially incentivized to work on it right now. Perhaps in next week’s schedule, I will give myself more time to devote to the article.

Next week, my goals will be:

 

Manuscript

Article

  • Write a chapter outline.
  • Continue drafting chapter.
  • Code
  • Research
 

  • Begin writing analytical framework.
  • Continue drafting.
  • First completion deadline:1/18 (submit preliminary draft to colleague for review).

 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Weekly Schedule

It seems that a good way for me to use this blog to organize and track my writing progress is to post once at the beginning of the week, outlining my goals, and once at the end, reflecting on the progress. Last week, despite its brevity, was fairly productive. Classes start this coming week, which means that things are going to get busy and my responsibilities will become more diverse in terms of teaching, advising, and administrative work. Last week, I used Phinished.org to write in 50-minute increments, with some success (more on this in my Friday post). This makes me think that careful scheduling will be key to a productive week. My biggest fear is not being able to stick to it (hence why I talked about flexibility and kept things very unstructured last week). Now, though, I’m thinking that if I don’t make an effort to schedule the hours of my day, one activity will flow into another and I will wind up falling behind and feeling overwhelmed. So, this week, my schedule looks like this:

1/7-1/11

Day 8:30-10 10-11 11-12 12-1 1-2 2-3 3-4 4-5
Mon
  • Drop off child
  • Faculty Meeting
Transcribe and/or code Transcribe and/or code
  • Log into online class
  • Email
  • Facebook
Manuscript Manuscript Class prep Class prepPick up child
Tues
  • Drop off child
  • Swim
  • Email
Article Article Log into online classMeet w/ TA OH OH Teach TeachPick up child
Weds
  • Drop off child
  • Swim
  • Email
Manuscript Manuscript Log into online class Online class work (or manuscript) Transcribe/code Transcribe/code Pick up child
Thrs
  • Drop off child
  • Email
Grant-writing Grant-writing Lunch w/ colleagues Article OH Manuscript Pick up child
Fri
  • Drop off child
  • Swim
  • Email
Writing group Writing group Log into online class Transcribe/code Transcribe/code Exec. Committee meeting Pick up child

Looking at this, I realize that I don’t have as much time as I thought. I think I will try to time myself while I work and work ten-minute breaks into my routine. This week, I can’t swim on Monday because of a faculty meeting. I’ve tentatively scheduled it for Tuesday, though I recognize even now that committing to physical activity is harder than committing to write for me. This schedule does a nice job of breaking things down, though, and will hopefully help me maintain productivity in the coming week. At the end of the week, I’ll have a better sense of whether this is realistic or sustainable, and decide whether I will continue to schedule myself in this way.

Writing

Happy writing!!!

Goals for the Week of 1/7-1/11

Book Manuscript Article
  • Choose a chapter to start working on.
  • Develop a chapter outline.
  • Begin drafting chapter.
  • Transcribe & Code
  • Continue working on analytical framework.
  • Write Statement of Argument.
  • Finalize coding and run analysis.
  • Create a reverse outline.

January 1st: Goals and Tasks

Happy New Year!

This is it, the official beginning of my book-writing endeavor. Today is my last day of Winter Break –my young son’s preschool opens tomorrow, which means I can get back to the office for an admittedly short workweek.

I am the kind of person that needs plans –usally a plan A, B, and C. Things often don’t go according to plan, and I like to think I’m flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances, but having a plan of action in place –a set of immediate tasks that eventually takes me to my goal– worked when I was writing my dissertation, and has continued to work as I have written and submitted articles. A caveat, of course, is that now I have many more things on my plate than I did back when I was writing my dissertation –teaching, advising, grant-writing, and other professional responsibilities take time. One thing I have to reconcile myself with is that I need to start my day earlier and end it later. I’m trying to be realistic, and simply add one hour to my day at the beginning, and a half hour to the day at the end (so that I leave work at 5:15 rather than 4:45). It will take some adjustment in terms of home life, especially cooking for my family, which I do, but I need to take advantage of all the time I have to work if I am going to succeed.

The first chapter in Belcher’s book deals precisely with creating a plan of action for writing. Designing a writing schedule is central to this plan, and so I am attempting to balance the relatively unpredictability of my schedule with a regular routine I can stick to. Belcher has these awesome worksheets you can download to help you do this, but (for now), I need more flexibility. Maybe, once the semester starts and I get a better sense of my time, I will actually go all out and schedule every hour of my day. For now, this is what I have:

Daily Tasks

Monday

8:00-9:00 am SwimWriteCode/transcribeLast-minute course preps
Tuesday WriteOH 1-3Class 3-4:50
Wednesday 8:00-9:00 am SwimWrite (grant-writing & PD)At least 15 minutes on the book.Log in to online class
Thursday WriteOH 2-3Log in to online classAdvising activity
Friday 8:00-9:00 am SwimWriteLog in to online class

As you can see, the only thing I have scheduled is my morning swim, my regularly scheduled office hours, and my class times. The rest are tasks I want to complete during a given day. Reserving one day for grant-writing worked last semester and helped me get a draft going, so I’m going to keep that custom and devote one day grant-writing and similar activities, while making a commitment to spend at least 15 minutes on the book in order to keep it “fresh.” Next week, when classes start and I actually have to work on each of these tasks in a given day, I will have a better idea of how much time to allot to each task.

Aside from these daily tasks, I have also come up with a list of weekly tasks to complete in order to reach my monthly goals.

By the end January,

  • I would like to have a clear vision of the book, its argument, style, and length (still working on figuring out the other 11 monthly goals).
  • I would like to have a chapter well on its way to completion.
  • I also need to submit another article for publication by the end of the month, using discourse analysis to examine police reports of suicides in a town in Yucatan, contrasted to observations made during a “ride along” I participated in of a suicide crime scene investigation.

In order to reach these goals, I need to complete the following tasks this week:

Week of 1/2-1/4

Book Manuscript Other Writing Project (discourse analysis article)
  • Decide prospective length and number of chapters for the manuscript.
  • Write a book abstract (to better elucidate the argument that brings the book together).
  • Review dissertation and determine if any of it can be used in the book.
  • Review old field notes, determine if any additional transcribing or re-coding needs to be done.
  • Review most recent data and come up with a plan of action regarding coding and transcribing.

 

  • Set deadline for submission.
  • Finish re-coding
  • Develop new analytical framework (discourse analysis).
  • Write argument, re-write existing text.
  • Make a list of prospective journals for submission.

 

I’m not sure how frequently I’m going to be posting, though I am planning on blogging regularly. I don’t want writing the blog to supersede writing the actual book, so somewhere in this list of tasks, I’m going to have to schedule time to blog and stick to it (maybe once or twice a week?). I’m also starting my reduced facebook time tomorrow. I’m curious to see what it will do for my productivity.

Here is to a happy and productive New Year!

Making Time for Writing (and research, and teaching, and service, and…)

Relevant Belcher chapter: Week 1: Designing your Plan for Writing

Belcher’s book is full of practical advice on getting writing ready for publication. The simplest and most important is the one I find the most difficult to do: write daily. Last semester, I taught two days a week, and on those two days, it seemed that my entire day was consumed with teaching-related activities. I had grant-writing and committee work to do. I also made the mistake of agreeing to write an encyclopedia entry (won’t do it again ‘till after tenure!!!!), which turned out to be much, much more time consuming than I ever imagined. I had to find a way to balance out all of these responsibilities with a schedule I could stick to.

At the end of the day, the schedule that finally helped me continue to make progress on my own writing looked something like this:

Monday Teaching and teaching-related responsibilities

15 minutes of writing (using a timer)

Tuesday: Grant-writing, encyclopedia-writing, and committee-related work

15 minutes of writing (using a timer)

Wednesday Teaching and teaching related responsibilities

15 minutes of writing (using a timer)

Thursday: Writing
Friday Writing (including attending a writing group on campus with other faculty)

At the end of the semester, I had a finished draft of an article ready for submission, a draft of an introduction to a special issue I am co-editing, and a conference paper; I also made major revisions to another article, which was accepted, and minor revisions to another, which is now out. I also wrote and submitted that accursed encyclopedia entry, submitted an internal grant proposal, and wrote a preliminary draft of an external grant proposal. However, I arrived at this schedule following a series of fits and starts. Before I begin creating a schedule for next year that will allow me to write this book and balance my other responsibilities, I want to consider what worked, and what I could improve.

So what worked?

The first thing that made a noticeable impact on my Thursday and Friday productivity were those 15 minutes writing sessions I forced myself to do from M-W. I wish I had discovered them in September, because the difference, even in the first week, was dramatic. Writing for 15 minutes a day on days that I did not devote to writing kept the writing “fresh” (using Belcher’s terminology). Because the exercise was “low-stakes” I didn’t feel pressured or disappointed if I didn’t make significant progress on my writing –as long as I wrote for 15 minutes, my goal was met, and it didn’t really matter if what I wrote was any good or not, so long as I kept writing (and, by the way, some of my best ideas came out of those 15 minute sessions!). All I did was stop at some point in my day, set a 15 minute alarm on my iPad, open up my current writing project, enter “focus view” in Word (AMAZING!), mute my computer, and write on whatever came to mind. When the timer went off, I stopped (usually), un-muted my computer, exited focus view, and went back to whatever task I was working on. Easy and incredibly helpful when Thursday and Friday rolled around.

The second thing that worked well for me was making Tuesday my “giving back to Caesar” day. This meant that I maintained firm boundaries between my “other” work stuff, things like committee work and grant-writing, and my “real” work, my own personal writing. Because I knew that I only had one day a week to devote to this stuff, this made Tuesdays very productive. Because the grant I’ve been working on is being written with a collaborator, I would check in with him via email and continue about my day. I spent significant amounts of time trying to find an appropriate grant to submit to. Some things about grants (like research questions and methodology) are the same no matter where we submit, so those things I was able to work on. I also spent quite a bit of time contacting program directors and pitching the grant, a useful exercise that will hopefully keep me from wasting my time submitting grants I have zero chances of winning. I also worked from home on Tuesdays, and for some reason found that working on Caesar stuff just flowed better there (I always have one day a week I work from home, this semester it happened to be Tuesdays).

The faculty writing club, which meets for two hours every Friday, has been great for my productivity. It changes things up, getting me out of my office and sitting around a table with other faculty who are also working on writing projects of their own. We chat about what we’re working on and then spend the rest of the time writing next to each other. Weird, I know, but effective for me. The people in my group come from several different fields and schools –one is a chemist, another a sociologist, another works in the school of public health and public policy, yet another is a colleague in my department writing on biological anthropology. We don’t read each other’s stuff, and our research interests are dramatically different from one another, but we share a similar journey and similar struggles in the pressure to publish or perish, in teaching, in fulfilling our academic and professional responsibilities. It always helps to know the road we walk is not nearly as lonely as it first appears to be.

The final thing you might notice about my writing schedule is that Saturdays and Sundays aren’t listed. That’s right. I don’t work on weekends. It might sound insane, but here’s why: I have a young child at home (3), and a spouse whose company I enjoy. If I let work take over my weekend, I lose valuable time with them. So, I made the decision early on to keep work at work: I belong to my university from Monday to Friday, but to my family (and myself!) on Saturday and Sunday. I usually try to resist even checking email, though I do occasionally check in.

What could be improved?

First, I wish I had had this schedule from the get-go. I spent a lot of time doing things that weren’t working: I didn’t do any personal writing on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, which made it difficult to get going Thursdays and Fridays, and I struggled for a good number of months before I figured it out.

Second, I still had some trouble with adequately scheduling my time on Thursdays and Fridays. Belcher rightly mentions that rates of return go down after spending more than 4 or 5 hours writing, and definitely found that the more time I spent “writing” the less productive I seemed. In my next schedule, I want to better schedule my time so that I can get the most “bang” for my “buck.” Moreover, I will have to schedule time for transcribing and coding, which is mindless, time-consuming work.

Finally, keeping my weekends is important to me, but I am concerned that writing a book is not the same as writing an article, and that my current pace might keep me from writing as many chapters as I should to complete the manuscript. I need to figure out what is realistic, and how to set my pace.