Writing Time (Summer Writing Group, Week 14)

In the comments about preparing for fall, many of you wrote of setting aside time to write, and the ways that those times can get interrupted or pushed aside. Here are a few examples:

Elizabeth Anne Mitchell:

The main struggle will be to block out what time I can for writing. My administrative duties will explode in the fall. In order to combat the loss of time, I have set up meetings with myself that are inviolate. . . . The next thing I need to do is find a place to hide.


I might be able to reserve an hour mid-day on Mondays, and I might be able to reserve an hour one morning a week. But I know what will happen, those mornings will come along, and I’ll be behind with grading and prep work, and I’ll have to get that stuff done.

Dame Eleanor Hull:

I have been thinking about Z’s remarks on preserving the scholar-self, and also about Virginia Valian’s comment about it being irresponsible not to do research (that is, one is responsible to one’s work, not just to other people such as students and administrators). I think more than specific planning about time and place, I need to preserve that sense of writing/research as something that is important and cannot be pushed aside to do this or that for someone else.

So how can we preserve the importance of writing and research? How do you assign them their proper value? What does this mean for how you handle other work or life pressures?

For me, these questions boil down to identity (see Dame Eleanor’s like above). I still struggle to see myself as a writer, even though academic writing is what I’ve been doing for the better part of my adult life. My “scholar-self” often gets overthrown by my mother-self or my pleasure-reader-self or my web-surfing-self. In my case, my scholar-self is not so much attacked from outside, as it is subverted from within. How do you preserve your identity as a scholar?

Check in: This week, the usual. Next week, we’ll do a final check in complete with an assessment of your summer progress. I expect to have more solid information on the fall group by next week. UPDATE: Dame Eleanor will be hosting a Sept-Dec 2012 group, starting Aug 31. Sign up HERE.

The penultimate goals list:

Amstr [complete dissertation draft]: Work on Ch. 1 (research, reading, writing, formatting): M 4 hours, T 6 hours, W 4 hours, Th 6 hours, F 4 hours.
Contingent Cassandra
[full draft of J article by 8/24; make progress on P projects; continue freelance work]: Finish J article conclusion; finish teaching statement and other portfolio materials; finish up a few long-neglected P project to-dos; finish course materials for one course and make a good start on materials for the second. Also take a break and keep exercising. [next check-in: 8/24]
[finish thesis]: get set up and working by the Monday after next to be ready for the fall term. [next check-in: 8/24]
[finish and submit MMP and article]: 2 hours of research a day, just like I want to do when classes start. Translation? MMP? Both? I want visible progress next week.
Elizabeth Anne Mitchell
[book chapter proposal; writing 4 days/week]:  Two hours a day polishing. I need it all in somewhat presentable shape for the meeting with the mentor.
[ EOCP full draft sent to collaborator, MC paper results section done, MUL data collected, MC5 fully prepped]: Spend 75% of Thurs and Fri (let’s say, total of 5 hours each day) working on a grant proposal and working on MC results and MC5 preparation.
[short draft of new chapter (10 pages)]: Figure out a work plan for fall and decide whether or not I’m going to make some e-mail rules for myself. Also, read one chapter and write 500 words
[complete book MS]: continue daily work on the August project and teaching prep, 30 minutes each.
[chip away at writing backlog]: tackle that R&R (I’d like to draft the new version this week) and draft a job application letter
[good draft of main project; figures + results of side project]:  20 min thinking about/working on one of the papers
[rough draft of journal article]: more progress on weeks 3 and 4, work two weekdays
[finish and submit journal article; submit 2nd ms to new journal]: 1/2 hour TWF
[2 of 4: paper, 3 presentations]: preparation for my two presentation: short one and long one.
[revise 2 papers for publication]: 1). finish syllabus for intro class; 2). work out revision schedule; 3). work at least one hour per day (M-F) on manuscript; 4). set up meetings with my thesis students.
rented life
[2 solid book chapters]: Finish book I started, order book I’ve been meaning to order for weeks for research purposes, Write 3 times for however long feels comfortable.
[complete diss; plan for one project for fall]: ? simply surviving
[draft of TS and analysis for BE]: Start incorporating my TS report notes into the draft paper; finish reading for LM paper.


49 thoughts on “Writing Time (Summer Writing Group, Week 14)

  1. I keep thinking I should be in an online writing group but then don’t do it, ostensibly because there are so many websites at work we have to log into, clock time on, and so on that I do not need another.

    Much more interesting and to the point, for me, would not be an online writing group, but an online not getting undermined group of some sort. A group about preserving dignity.

      • Maybe I will actually start said group. There are all these obstacles at work and they are demoralizing, *cannot* be internalized but it is difficult because there’s always a new hit from another direction, I keep finding out I have left some flank open and it is really … boring.

        Internalized expectations for me aren’t problem #1, it is having been in jobs where, if you didn’t do the right girl role, serve others first, and so on, you really were toast. We just fired one more person for these kinds of reasons and this is how one knows it is not just paranoia on my part. Problem #2 is all the authorities who give advice based on how they imagine things are, or think things should be, and what they think you should want.

  2. Goals for the week: 1). finish syllabus for intro class; 2). work out revision schedule; 3). work at least one hour per day (M-F) on manuscript; 4). set up meetings with my thesis students.

    Accomplished: Finished the syllabus. Have set up meetings with all but one of my thesis students. I have a rough schedule for book manuscript revisions. I did not write every day this week, however.

    I need to work on the preserving the scholar-self. One way that I can do that is to say “no.” I practiced that earlier this week when someone asked to set up a recurring meeting on a day that I had set aside as a writing and research day. I read Z’s post, linked on Dame Eleanor’s comment. I was reminded of Boice’s admonition to follow a schedule of “brief, daily sessions.” Doing so, Boice argues, leads to greater productivity and happiness. But Z’s blog post I think is suggesting both the challenge of maintaining a schedule of regular sessions and the absolute necessity of maintaining that schedule. Maintaining a schedule of regular writing and research sessions recognizes the importance of research and writing and makes the transition back to scholar-self. I was struck by Z’s comment that the reason we think we need large blocks of time to write isn’t an issue of inefficiency. Rather, it’s necessary to “thinking oneself back into the identity of the person that does that work.”

    I’m not sure if any of that made sense. I’m still trying to sort this out in my head. For me, what resonated was the idea that it’s not just about establishing boundaries in my schedule — that there’s an identity here, too, that must be protected.

    • Yes, I mean exactly that: the challenge is real and it is also absolutely necessary, for reasons of self protection.

      But I like to think in terms of self expansion rather than self protection. breathing the calm atmosphere of confidence not just into my table space but throughout the whole room.

  3. I see now: where I need a support group/accounting group isn’t for writing itself, it is for not being demoralized by how they treat us at work, maintaining dignity and self respect at all times. As long as that happens, everything else follows (or perhaps, *then* a writing group … but I see it all clearly, a self respect group comes first.

    • For me it’s not just work, though that is an issue (especially my last job), but also people around me–family, friends, etc. It’s too easy to internalize that voice, especially since I’m newer to writing and I’m not doing academic writing. “Why are you writing? It’s so impractical. That’ll never get anywhere. Your ideas aren’t interesting.”

      • I wouldn’t characterize my particular teaching situation as demoralizing. But I do feel the need to solve the dept.’s problems even when that’s not the expectation of my chair. We have a small department. Courses are offered on a regular schedule though most of the classes are offered only once an academic year or even once every three or four semesters (esp. at the undergraduate level). So at least once or twice an academic year we have a student who did not pick up the required course when it was offered. Or we have students who want to do something creative in the form of an independent study or directed readings. In the past I’ve been receptive to those sorts of appeals, but to the detriment of my research and writing time.

        A negative response to those sorts of appeals needs to be about more than planning my time. If I am responsible to my scholar-self, then I’ll be less inclined to set aside my writing time for someone else.

        Z and Dame Eleanor, thanks for bringing this up and for providing the link to Z’s blog.

      • I’d join that group, too, and as with Rented Life, it’s not so much work as internalized expectations. As amstr said, the problem is self-subversion. It feels ridiculous, at my age and at my stage of career, to need a consciousness-raising group, but that may be what is necessary. (Sometimes Sir John IS my consciousness-raising group: I want to be clear that the problem comes from my upbringing, not from my husband. Yes, I was raised to marry, but no, my husband does not expect me to look after him, and I would not have married him if he did.) But it’s really strange to identify as a feminist, marred to a feminist man, and still be struggling with this feeling that I and my research interests don’t matter as much as my students’ needs, the department’s needs, or even just the requests of other people.

        So many theologies/philosophies seem to stress the idea(l) of service that I feel I get that from all sides as well, even as an atheist. As a medievalist, I am constantly exposed to medieval Catholicism with all its misogynist views; as a somewhat slipshod Stoic, I find it easy to focus on the parts about service to the community; as an even more slipshod Buddhist, again I hear the parts about giving yourself over to the task in hand and treating others as I would wish to be treated, without thinking about bigger-picture elements unless I force myself to do so (for instance, if the task at hand is teaching, the better lesson might be balance rather than self-sacrifice!).

        I also feel I am much too old to go on blaming my upbringing for anything at all.

        So: self-respect and self-awareness, these are the things I want to focus on this fall. The self that sets boundaries is the self that works, perhaps. The self that allows boundaries to be eroded is the self that thrashes.

        At any rate, one of the reasons Valian’s article resonated with me is that notion of responsibility to the work. I think I’m better at saying “no” than a lot of women are, but I still feel guilty when I say it, and the guilt gets in the way of getting on happily with work. So to oppose another form of responsibility is very helpful, even though in another way it feels like a cop-out, and makes me feel I should practice IRresponsibility more (or at least practice doing harmless, pleasant things just because I want to and for no other reason).

      • DEH–YES exactly. Husband has been my consciousness-raising group at times too, especially now that we are communicating better and he is really aware of my goals. But I’ll never forget that moment when I told him the things I know I really want and the things I’m thinking I *might* want (if I could ever make peace with that vs. my upbringing), and him saying “well if I had known this sooner I could have helped you.” My response? I just didn’t think that I could even do those things, that they didn’t matter as much as supporting everyone else. No confidence.

        It’s something that I carry everywhere–I let an older colleague be abusive to me at my last job (verbally and in front of others) until March when I finally called her on it. The job before that I waited years before I said no to my boss because I was stretched too thin for too long and I felt so awful afterward. Certain she hated me. (She doesn’t, I just had dinner at her place a couple weeks ago.) I worry about letting everyone down all the time, without really living for myself–these other people’s needs/wants are somehow more important than my own.

        And now, I’m embarking on such a completely different adventure with my life. While it feels right, true to me, what I’ve wanted…I still can’t figure out how to tell family/friends without feeling like I’m not doing the right thing, not meeting their needs, not making enough people happy. It’s absurd, I totally get that as I type it. Yet it’s my truth–I’ve spent my entire adult life so far living for others and saying my goals/wants/etc aren’t are important, I’m not as talented, so on. I think self-respect and self-awareness is a good thing to be focusing on this fall.

      • DEH, I had not thought about the Buddhist idea of selflessness as something that can strip away those threads of self-identity. It throws a twisted wrench into things, but one that I might eventually find as a useful tool.

  4. Regular check-in, after the essay above:
    Last goal: 2 hours of research a day, just like I want to do when classes start. Translation? MMP? Both? I want visible progress next week.

    Achieved: Two days of that, maybe? Two and a half, if I’m generous about Monday, when I was on campus and printed out a lot of stuff to work on later. No translation work yet. I did spend some time on the MMP, and hand-wrote two pages that I haven’t yet typed up.

    Analysis: Definitely OBE this week. I finally took my laptop in for repairs, and when it crapped out again the next day, took advantage of its newness to exchange it for a new machine. If I have trouble with this one as well I will get a different model. At any rate, I find the whole process of setting up a new computer terribly stressful and bad for work, though of course it is a necessary condition for getting anything done. I plan to do some work over the weekend, so I may check in again on Sunday or Monday if I get some more done.

    Next goal: 2 hours a day; visible progress on both the MMP and on the translation work.

    • I also really like the Valian piece. Responsibility of work, I would never have doubted it until chairs/deans started telling me research wasn’t my real job. But more profoundly, my father, a professor, taught me long before college that the point was not to have a project in which you were interested but to write acceptable texts. Having an interest in something or something original to say did not even seem to enter into the equation. I did not realize this but the idea that I could have work that I would think of as “my work”… not just “a good piece I am writing for X purpose” … only came to me recently.

  5. Hello, all,

    Goal: preparationg for two presentations.

    Accomplished: one short presentation done, preparation for a longer one is not.

    Analysis: I had planned to prepare for two presentations at the same time, but I found it would take longer than expected to prepare only for a short presentation, and longer one had been put aside because of this. I do need to do it now.
    I went on a two-day trip to attend a research meeting, where I did my short presentation. I met people I know well but not have chance to see often. This means that it was not only a research trip but also a fun.

    Next goal: preparation for a longer presentation, 15-minute writing a day (my writing habit has been collasping recently)

  6. Pingback: In which I join a group. | Mictlantecuhtli

  7. @DEH, above, it is upbringing, though, and I think recognizing brings clarity. The reason I serve others first is that the idea was, I would have my own work to amuse myself but it would never support me, so the MAIN job thing I could do was serve the person really supporting me (i.e. the family I would have). Then I had a couple of jobs in which this turned out to be frighteningly true — women really WERE supposed to take this very feminine role. So, paradoxically, putting my own work first feels scary, feels like professional suicide, although one of course knows the opposite is true. What I am trying to do is untie the knot of that reaction. Thence, CR, it seems.

  8. I’m still mulling over the questions of identity that came up here. Mostly, scholar-self is relatively easy to maintain, although she does get silenced by other selves. I try to think of the teaching/research/service imperative (I’m on the tenure track) as a Celtic triad, intertwined, active, and striving for balance. Come the beginning of Fall classes, I may not be able to assert this with any degree of confidence. Nonetheless, I decided to pursue a doctorate because I wanted to write for myself, not for others (I worked as a public information officer), and this somehow enables me to give credence to scholar-self-as-writer. Giving her a voice is another question.

    goal: continue daily work on the August project and teaching prep, 30 minutes each.
    accomplished: not nearly as much as I hoped.
    analysis: I ended up having outpatient surgery this week and it took me a few days to get myself back in order. I have allowed myself endless distractions, but as the saying goes, nothing inspires like deadlines.
    next goal: finish syllabi and proposal for certificate program, have handbook read for orientation, solid first draft of August project.

  9. 1. Figure out a work plan for fall and decide whether or not I’m going to make some e-mail rules for myself. Also, read one chapter and write 500 words

    2. As for the work plan, see below. And I didn’t read one chapter. I read TWO! And I wrote more than 500 words. I wrote them as note, but still I wrote them.

    3. The week was very busy with meetings and workshops and presentations that I had to do at work, so I did my reading and writing today (just finished).

    4. Next goal: Use existing notes to draft a coherent and cohesive first 5-7 pages of chapter.

    Last spring, I set aside two hours at work (twice a week) to use for my reading and writing, and I did, in fact, preserve this time for the first few weeks (I had to do it on campus because I was there pretty much all day every day). This fall, I’m coming up hard and fast on several accreditation deadlines, and I may have to accept the fact that writing and researching will take a backseat. But I’m not ready to accept defeat yet.

    In general, this is an ongoing issue. It’s not so much that I’m not valuing the writing and the research, but I’m trying to justify meeting my own needs (family, health, completing the dissertation) with those of the college. I have committed myself to a central role in the college’s adminstrative work (in addition to my teaching), and I can’t reneg on that commitent. I must fulfill it. But I don’t think I should have to sacrifice all of myself to that role, despite the fact that such sacrifice seems to be valued and even expected (if not REspected) in the workplace.

    But I’ve realized that one really never knows when work crises will end. One thinks next week (or next month or next semester or next year) will be better, but they all seem always already excessively busy. As a result, I have told myself that I will not sacrifice a month/semester/year of health in order to help my college because that month/semester/year invariably turns into another. Similarly, I will not neglect a year of my children’s lives even in order to ensure that my college does not lose its accreditation.

    In contrast, I have, however, decided to extend my dissertation work by one year (committing to another three years rather than two). I would rather finish sooner than later, but the extension is not a sacrifice in the same way that loss of health and family are. Even with the extension, I am not “taking a break” from the work at all. I’m merely recognizing that I can not do as much as I’d like as quickly as I’d like to do it. So this fall, I will have to respect the short bursts, the 20 minutes here and there approach. These writing groups really help me do that because I’m able to focus on discrete tasks.

    I think that maybe I have gotten off track here, but writing “out loud” on this subject has really helped me to think clearly about my priorities and my commitments. Thank you, Amstr and fellow group members!

    • Putting those words down gave you a post of solid, strong declarations about what you want and how you will manage it. I admire that!

    • Congrats on EXCEEDING! you goals! Yay!

      I’ve been thinking a lot about the never-ending sacrifices for X goal (that seems to just go on forever). I finally realized, recently, that we’ve held off on some family goals and discussions until my dissertation is done, but it just doesn’t ever seem to be done, even though I’m making consistent progress. I’m closer than ever to finishing now, but I’ll still have a full fall of it, and even then, I’m not guaranteed to finish on time. It’s hard to know how much more to delay. I’m looking forward to vacation to have time to think about it more. And I appreciate seeing you think through some of the same issues–neglecting health and family and personal goals for an indeterminate amount of time seems like a really bad idea, when you put it that way.

  10. I appreciate all of your honesty here. Many of the issues raised (self-confidence, self-awareness, choices based on others’ expectations, etc) are things that I struggle with as well, and it’s nice to hear I’m not alone. It’s hard to answer how I preserve my identity as a scholar b/c I don’t enjoy my (current) work as a scholar, making it easier to neglect in favor of other interests and demands. I think the difficulty comes in making the decisions about what work as a scholar will look like once I finish the degree or if I should jump fields entirely (which of course does not meet advisers’/parents’/etc expectations…sigh). (but first, I must finish the degree.)

    Goal: 20 min thinking about/working on one of the papers

    Accomplished: Spent a lot more than that thinking about and restructuring the paper. One of our collaborators needs the paper out pronto and the other collaborator is lagging behind, so we’re reshuffling how we’re telling the story to get more of it out sooner.

    Analysis: Balancing collaborators is tricky, but I’m glad someone is wanting the paper out quickly b/c I want to finish quickly!

    Goal for next week: Discuss new paper outlines with advisers and collaborators. Start making/collecting figures.

  11. Goal: Finish book I started, order book I’ve been meaning to order for weeks for research purposes, Write 3 times for however long feels comfortable.
    Accomplished: Finished book, wrote 3 times, 40-60 min each time. Didn’t order book.
    Analysis–Write 3 times for however long worked for me. Didn’t order book because it looks like we’ll be planning a road trip to our favorite used book store, so I want to see if I can get it there cheaper.
    New goal: Write 3 times. Finish syllabus and course schedule. Figure out a Fall schedule for myself.

    I’m not a researcher and I no longer consider myself an academic, the title just doesn’t fit, but I am a writer. However I haven’t figured out that whole balance thing–as evidenced by my previous comments.

    • Congrats on meeting your goals! (and finding a great reason to delay buying the book. I have a list of favorite used bookstores that I want to get back to some day, but some are across the country.)

      The balance thing is so difficult–and finding an identity as a writer. I’m encouraged by your process of figuring out how to work on writing in the midst of other voices attempting to change the value of writing for you.

      • Thanks! Yes, our favorite book store is just over 3 hours away, so we usually wait til we have a box of books we can sell to them before making a trip.
        Hopefully I’ll sort our myself as a writer, once I figure out how to get used to the idea of me as a writer to begin with! ha.

  12. I’m late to the meeting – my internet went out for most of the weekend, which was a PAIN, and I wasn’t feeling too well (excess of mosquito bites and hot, humid weather coupled with the let-down from a stressful week at work (which I actually managed to ACT quite calm in, but the acting itself is tiring… sigh…)) so used that as an excuse to evade various things.

    Anyway, about making time/identity stuff: yes, I really related to much of what has been said. I like humming42’s description of the teaching/research/admin-service dynamic as a celtic knot, that’s a lovely way to articulate it (and maybe an excuse to make myself a craft piece for the office, as a reminder). One thing that makes it very hard for me is that my department is in a ‘middling’ university with aspirations: we are all under great pressure to get grants and write exciting papers, but most of our income comes from taught-course students and the main threat to the department/university/our jobs is failing to recruit and retain those students, or not getting top satisfaction ratings from them.

    However, my career goal is to be solidly competent, even outstanding (althought that feels like a really arrogant thing to say), across all three functions, and I genuinely want to serve my field and my students (note I DON’T say my department or university here!). It is so, so easy to get satisfaction from picking up the pieces, from being the reliable ‘go-to’ person, from helping and supporting – because these things are innately emotionally satisfying to me, because I love the feeling of being competent and necessary (yes, maybe a litte too much), because ‘service’ in the sense of facilitating student intellectual growth is a key driver in my choice of this career. I like to ‘teach’ and I feel called to ‘teaching’. However, I am also a competent researcher, and if that side gets neglected I can start to feel martyred; I have less to give out if I am drained of energy and enthusiasm, both of which can be found in the solitary contemplation, idea wrangling and learning of research. A lot of what I teach can be framed as ‘teaching students how to learn through researching’ whether that’s getting the first years to read a single paper or pushing master’s students to find and articulate the philosophical underpinnings of the sub-field they’ve chosen for their research projects, so doing research is part of the continual reflection and renewal that makes teaching so interesting (hopefully to the students as well as to me).

    So I am not just battling the usual set of imposter syndrome, ingrained cultural pressures and ideas of what is a good woman and a good colleague, and the demands of external others, but also my own inclinations and (especially on days when research seems hard and I want some easy wins) my own laziness. So easy to disguise laziness or avoidance as busyness in this job! Good thing I still have a few weeks to go before the new semester starts in which to work out what I’m going to do about it.

    goal:tackle that R&R (I’d like to draft the new version this week) and draft a job application letter
    achieved:R&R completed and sent out to co-authors. Also edited a draft of another co-authored paper (but then the cloud ate it). Read all the details of the first job that’s come up, and began to plan the sections of the letter…
    analysis: I was out of the office for two days for personal stuff (involving long drives) and for half a day of fieldwork (and really shouldn’t have bothered coming back into the office, my head wasn’t in the right space and I just ended up getting drawn into gossip and catastrophising), so I will accept this as reasonable progress. I could really use a few days off, but I have to be in every day to supervise my summer students (sigh), and I have a social commitment this coming long weekend which will be good but not restful or recharging. It’ll do I guess is my assessment!
    goal for next week:well, we have a post-doc visiting to try and make progress with a joint paper (which is hard work, I much prefer working jointly-but-at-a-distance but she talked me into all three or four of us sitting in a room doing the analysis ‘together’. Sigh), so that counts as sort of research, right? I also have a resit exam to proctor, another half day in the field and to leave early on Friday for the social thingies. So – progress on the BittyPaper, and commenting on two papers where I’m a subsidiary co-author – the one the Cloud ate and a second one. That sounds like a manageable goal…

    • I like the connections you make between research and teaching. I’ve been researching/writing without teaching for a lot of years now, and I do miss the interplay of teaching and writing. The classroom gave me a place to articulate some ideas I was working on, and since I was teaching writing, I was constantly giving myself lessons on how to write well, which made it easier to write.

      Sounds like you have a busy week ahead! I hope you find some moments of rest in the midst of the full schedule.

    • Congrats on getting the R&R out! The middling university with aspirations is, indeed, a tricky work environment. My institution fits the description, but my job is another piece of the puzzle: the non-tenure-track but full-time teaching-intensive job that exists because we have a substantial undergraduate teaching mission, but don’t have a large enough grad school to have much of the teaching of intro courses done by grad students (or TT faculty in large lecture classes with grad TAs). I, too, basically teach students to research and write (90% of my teaching is in one or another version of a junior-level writing-in-the-disciplines course), and I enjoy it, but I find it very frustrating not to do service (I know, I know, but in practice that means not having an effective voice in curricular decisions that weigh heavily on me), and it’s tantalizing to be close to people with time for research and writing (well, when they’re not being overwhelmed by the heavy service load that falls on them), but to have little time for it oneself. My present theory is that my institution might be better off without the aspirations, at least in my field, or at least with a higher standard teaching load (with some of the contingent positions converted to TT with service at that load), and perhaps a competitive process for time off teaching for research. I’m a strong believer that active research does feed teaching, but I’m not sure that the rate of production/publication is as important as the “active” part. Besides, as far as I can tell, some very competent but also conscientious TT scholar/writers in my department (mostly, yes, female, and mostly currently associate professors) are getting crushed under a service load that has become proportionately heavier with the increase in contingent faculty (full and part-time) who need to be hired, evaluated, etc., etc., but don’t do service them/ourselves (much as some of us would like to — having your teaching evaluated by someone with half your teaching load, and, sometimes, half your experience as well, can be frustrating), and the continued presence of aspiring stars (mostly male) who somehow manage to shirk such labor (or to do it so badly that someone else is left with a huge mess to untangle after a year or three). That labor needs to be spread more widely, and I strongly suspect the best candidates for sharing the load, both in terms of experience and in terms of temperament, are in the adjunct/contingent pool (because it takes either ruthlessness or luck, or perhaps both, to get a TT job these days, and the lucky but not/less ruthless are overwhelmed).

      • I have a lot of sympathy with that. In my department, there are a range of service jobs, some with more power and status (e.g. curriculum design, service on university committees) than others (disabilities officer, student progress, quality…). Needless to say when the (mostly male) favoured ones do service it’s the visible/power or status granting kind, and for a disproportionate amount of time it’s female colleagues doing the lower-status (and often more time-consuming and emotionally demanding) work. As a not very nurturing person who actually LIKES administration, I really want to do an admin job which is about issues not people-support – something linked to curriculum design would be my ideal, or the programme for new academic staff, or something like that. But being female really acts against me in that I’m seen as a natural for student support roles… sigh

  13. Really interesting discussion this week. I don’t share some of the concerns over identity. I’ve identified as a scholar/researcher for my entire adult life. The identity changed significantly after I got my doctorate and started doing my own research. Prior to that I did research more as a day job and could leave it when I went home at night (for the most part). Once it was my own, it became a part of me the way being a mother is a part of me.

    I don’t feel all that guilty saying no either. I spent the first half of my life accommodating others and working on their agendas. This half is for me. I do feel it is important to do my job and my job includes service tasks I don’t particularly like as well as an overall concern about how my department is run. I enjoy teaching, but not all parts of it, and that is a significant part of my job as well. So I do my job and I try to meet people halfway but I’ve learned not to enable others to shirk their job. Another realization that was useful to me is that there are no real emergencies in academia. Nobody is going to die because a service task didn’t get completed or a student wasn’t accommodated. Also most academic “emergencies” occur because someone didn’t do their job when they were supposed to. I try to meet these situations halfway but I don’t give up my agenda for someone else’s.

    When I say this half is mine it is because I’m in a certain position now that I wasn’t before and I fully recognize that this is not true for everyone. I’ve raised my son and I have tenure. My family demands are far fewer than they were for most of my life and tenure gives me the ability to say no without too much grief. Lately I find myself battling between my love of my work (doing the research/scholarship/writing) and my love of other past-times (spending time with my grown son, photography, yoga, etc). In the past my writing was what I did in my down time and now I’m trying to create more boundaries for myself so I can both enjoy other things and grow in other areas.

    In practical terms, I try to work from home two days a week and pile my meetings with students and colleagues, service tasks, and classes into the other three days. I try (and generally succeed) to do a little something towards a research/writing task on those days but it is not the primary goal. The days I’m working at home give me time to delve deeper into my scholarship. I also work on my scholarship on the weekends (although I’m trying to minimize the time to a few hours a day).

    Goals: Start incorporating my TS report notes into the draft paper; finish reading for LM paper

    Accomplished: I managed to get all of the TS report notes into the draft paper and sent it out to a co-author. No reading happened for the LM paper.

    Analysis: This was a particularly bad week as I had 2 days of a faculty retreat eating up my time as well as finishing the prep for my online course (classes start today for us). I was going to balance the rest of my time between my two goals but the writing of the draft was really working so I went with that.

    Next Week’s Goal: Write a process memo for the BE analysis; Review the BE packets; and finish reading for LM paper.

    • Your post gives me some needed perspective– in some ways the balancing act, especially between family and work, just needs a few years to grow, hm? I need to remember that my itsy-bitsy children need much more time of me now than they will as teenagers, but that I still need to keep up the research output so that I do eventually get to enjoy the “tenured with adult children, still loving work” phase that you are so lucky to be inhabiting right now! Something to look forward to!

      • I’m glad my comment helped. It definitely gets better when they get older but you also miss the days when they were young. I suppose it is all perspective.

        It was very cool today to have my son ask me what I was reading and then get into a deep conversation with him about my work, what it means to me, and the choices I’ve made in my career to be able to do the type of research I like to do.

      • I got to have a not-so-deep, but significant moment with my 7 yr old son about my work. I had left a copy of The Faerie Queene, Books 3 and 4, on the kitchen table, and he asked what it was about. I pointed him to the children’s book of Saint George and the Dragon, and now he thinks my work is pretty cool.

  14. Last goals: Spend 75% of Thurs and Fri (let’s say, total of 5 hours each day) working on a grant proposal and working on MC results and MC5 preparation.

    Accomplished: Yes, I think so. Thursday was spent on prepping MC5 and sending relevant emails to ask for scales. Friday and Saturday were spent analyzing MC4 (and thankfully not by sacrificing time with my son).

    Analysis: According to RescueTime, on Saturday, of 8 hours spent on my computer, 6 were using “very productive” applications– fantastic, especially since I felt like I had good family time that day as well, and was even off the computer at 11pm! SO it is possible!! I’m not entirely satisfied with the PROGRESS made– nothing FINISHED yet, though mostly due to needing to wait on others– but I did get heavily intellectually involved, learn new things and spend appropriate amounts of time on my projects. In the last three days of the week, at least…

    Next goals: MC1 analyzed; MC4 analysis decisions finalized; MC5 decisions finalized and scales sent for translation. Also some major committee work.

    I’m pretty disturbed (in an appropriate way) by the above discussion on “helping” and its connection to non-feminism. I was raised in a family where my mother made what she felt were necessary sacrifices to raise my siblings and myself, but was angered at how others took her sacrifices for granted, and went back to school and career ASAP. I’m now in a new department that needs development, and have been happily taking on committee work that is personally important to me– though I get course reductions in return. But partially as a result of that committee work, and partially because of starting a new family, I have not been making as much progress on the research / writing front as I really must be. I’ve not at all been viewing my “helpfulness” as fulfilling a female role– of the people who are proactively contributing to the department, there’s a good mixture of males and females, and I’ve felt like I’m being groomed for leadership and given “breaks” in return for my service– but I am now seriously concerned that the “joy of helping” (and the pain of not helping) is in fact something that males (or, just “some people”) are more likely to ignore and therefore get ahead in research. Because my research is falling behind others’, I’ve also felt that “not helping” would indeed be career suicide. Putting a feminist interpretation on this is frightening and even if it doesn’t totally apply to the gender roles in my department (as I’ve said, the non-helping “role models” are both male and female, as are the helpers), I think it’s quite likely that I’m making more sacrifices than I should be, and endangering my intellectual identity, job, and even department by doing so.

    Nose to the grindstone…!!!

    • The gender question is an interesting one. I was speaking with an acquaintance this weekend who had been trying to work on a dissertation while a stay-at-home dad to a 5 month old. He finally gave up because he couldn’t get his mind engaged in the research in the short spurts of time he had during naptimes and in the evenings. I appreciate Z’s original post, but I think we can also say that sometimes it’s hard to work in short sessions because we’re doing hard work that takes concentration. Getting in the mindset to do work sometimes just takes time for everyone. (And since my writing partner happens to be male, I’ve seen in action the same kinds of issues we’ve been discussing.) There are certainly institutional and cultural differences in the academic world for women and men (and non-academic, for that matter). But I wonder how much we’re all in the same boat. (I say this from a place that feels far away from academica, and I have little interaction with my department at the moment, and I’m not currently teaching.)

      • The boat depends a great deal on one’s institution and one’s own life and influences. Z and I are both older than some of you, which makes a difference, and I am a youngest child (by a significant amount), which means that my parents and their attitudes belonged to an even earlier era than you might think. I would not say that feminism is over or that there hasn’t been a backlash, but things really have changed in my lifetime—as demonstrated by the SAHD trying to write his dissertation. Some institutions are more egalitarian than others. I’d say mine is one. Nonetheless, I still have the internalized notions of nurturing and self-sacrifice to fight against, even though I have fought against them all my life. Just recognizing them and naming them is helpful. I have said “no” yesterday and again today to a committee I’m being pushed to; today I made a suggestion about other ways this position could be filled; but as Tracy said, it’s not really an emergency. Whatever happens on this particular committee, I doubt my day-to-day life will be hugely affected. And if it is, there will be work-arounds.

      • There are some hilarious, but also very discouraging, 19th-century sketches written by women about the difficulty of trying to write while being constantly interrupted by children, husband, tradespeople, and other household “helpers,” all of whom are theoretically sympathetic to the enterprise, but in practice unable to leave the author alone for even an hour. And of course infants can be as demanding as all of the above. In a way, I find it cheering that a father is experiencing exactly the same problems that women have for ages (and that at least some men have insisted they could solve, if they were only “systematic” and disciplined about it). Still, I hope he finds a solution, finishes a dissertation, and gets a job. If nothing else, he’ll be an understanding colleague.

      • Re: time, it’s a mix for me. Sometimes I do really well with those short spurts. I always carry something to write on because inspiration or insight can hit at any time. Other times I feel like I just can’t get going unless I have enough time to ease into it. My husband doesn’t do well with short spurts at all, he needs chunks of time.

    • It’s tricky. I’ve certainly experienced, more in my personal than in my professional life, being the female who spent a significant proportion of her time and — more important, I think — brain space in caregiving activities that were later seen by male family members as “just helping out a bit,” but which ate into the time and energy available for my career activities (mostly grad school, at the time), and freed up time and energy for theirs (or at least averted disasters that they wouldn’t even have seen coming, because they weren’t paying attention, but would have had to deal with eventually). So I’m keenly aware of the dangers (and managed to become so even without having children — which is probably one reason I don’t have children: too much early experience of how much caregiving really is valued, or not).

      On the other hand, especially in *functional* families, and departments, there can be not only value but also power in service. All the old jokes about the amount of power mom wields at home have some truth to them (and of course that power, too, can be gained, and wielded, in both functional and dysfunctional ways). As I mentioned in JaneB’s post above, as someone who doesn’t have service included in her job, I’m keenly aware that that eliminates an opportunity to make my voice heard on departmental and curricular issues that affect me very directly, and about which, after more than a decade in my present job, I have some ideas and opinions. Service jobs shape department and university curricula, procedures, etc., and that’s important, and in many ways powerful, work (and it’s work, and power which, as the proportion of contingent faculty grows, is increasingly being taken on/usurped by administrators).

      I don’t know what the answer is. I do think the advice that I’ve heard to limit service to the minimum necessary for tenure until after you have tenure is probably wise in most cases (the exception would probably be a job where tenure was dependent entirely, or almost entirely, on teaching and service, and you had clear evidence, in the form of recently-tenured colleagues who had substantial pre-tenure service commitments but little published research, that this policy was indeed honored in practice). I also think that, in making sure that the service commitments are somewhat balanced by course reductions, you’re doing something right. At least that’s evidence that your department recognizes that your service is real work, not just a bit of “helping out.” Of course, that may also mean that they’re not going to weigh service against research/writing, but instead see that tradeoff as already having been accomplished with rebalancing of service and teaching. The other phenomenon I think I’ve witnessed in my department, but which may be fading, is that sometimes taking on temporary upper-level service/administrative jobs (e.g. department chair) can result in permanent salary gains equal or almost equal to those produced by an intensive publishing program. That’s another concrete sign of institutional respect for such work (though not as portable as a substantial publications list).

      So perhaps that’s one feminist answer: campaign to have service work recognized as important, in the concrete terms that the academy (and those outside the academy) recognizes: course reductions, higher pay, credit toward tenure. But it still might be safer to publish before tenure, and campaign afterward.

    • I do think the institution you are at plays a role. I’ve never been at one that gives course reduction for service but Private College did recognize my service work in a positive light–and I *really* enjoyed it! My boss was very supportive of me and that helped immensely too. The last CC I was at was a different story–being female, acting female was openly shunned by my program (my department houses multiple programs, a poor set up really). In fact the program supervisor was female but rejected everything feminine (except perhaps her emotional temper tantrums), in fact she openly said she enjoyed being in the boys club and didn’t want any feminine students (she wasn’t found of women or gays) and that the courses I taught were far too female oriented. (Ironic, as journalism has long been a male dominated field.) I hated working there and not having any support for anything, just because of my gender and because I enjoyed being/dressing like a woman (program chair did NOT like that either. Really, I get that it’s her that is the insecure one, but still. Stressful.)

      Personally, I was raised in a household where having emotions was a bad thing. You had to be strong and tough. I also watched my mom do everything for everyone at her job and not stand up for herself and how miserable that’s made her. I keep telling my husband I don’t feel like I have a role model for being a woman, at least not the woman I want to be…now before someone tells me to be my own role model, realize, I get it. But paving my own way gets tiresome at times, especially when it feels like a mix of an internal and external battle..it’d be nice to have someone else to talk with about it.

  15. This is brief, since I’m posting at the last minute.

    Goal: 1/2 hour TWF
    Accomplished: 1/2 hour on Tuesday and Friday.

    I’m still struggling.

    Next Goal:
    1/2 hour Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

    • Well, someone struggling their way up Everest is still climbing Everest. Forward motion is good (and forward motion on writing projects is presumably not as perilous as forward motion up Everest).

  16. Thanks for a great discussion. I’m finding out how much I define myself as a scholar (or at least a student) as I think ahead to what will happen to my identity after I finish my dissertation. I’ll be in a sense losing a part of my identity. In practice, I end up talking to my kids a lot about what I do–mostly to explain why I have to work and they have to go to camp or be with a babysitter–but it’s helped me to define my work in terms they can understand. They know their friends’ moms go to work, so my studying and writing has become “work” to me for the past few years. That doesn’t always make it easier to get started in the mornings, but it does give me a sense of set-aside time that is semi-inviolable.

    Goals: Work on Ch. 1 (research, reading, writing, formatting): M 4 hours, T 6 hours, W 4 hours, Th 6 hours, F 4 hours.

    Accomplished: some.

    Analysis: Perhaps it was just OBE–I was so sick on Monday, that I couldn’t get out of bed. After watching movies and napping all day, I realized I haven’t had a real day off in a long time! Tuesday was a recovery day, and then I got in the groove for the end of the week. Freeing myself up from specific tasks did turn out to be a good thing. I got through a number of helpful articles, and I’m starting this week feeling much more prepared to revise Ch. 1 AND a whole lot more hopeful about finish the dissertation.

    Goals for next week: 1) finish annotations and notes on articles, 2) read some more, 3) work on Ch. 1 revision (finish?), 4) work out fall plan for tackling Ch. 2 and prepping to write Ch. 4 (which still needs a LOT of research)

    • Sometimes our bodies do tell us when it’s time to stop (the goal, I suppose, is to get in enough rest on a regular basis that that doesn’t happen, but I’m not very good at that, either, and it’s especially hard during the last stages of diss-writing). In any case, it sounds like some stepping back, reading, and letting things brew a while has served you well.

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