Thursday, June 18, 2015

Time Management in Academia, Or, Educated Chaos

Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming back Dr. Scheg to share her views on time management in academia. Dr. Abigail Scheg is an Assistant Professor of English at Elizabeth City State University and an Adjunct Dissertation Chair for Northcentral University. She researches and publishes in the areas of composition, online pedagogy, and popular culture. She loves working with doctoral students and is dedicated to creating and participating in networks for doctoral student support. Follow her on Twitter @ag_scheg

As a doctoral student advisor, my role is not just limited to reviewing dissertations and dissertation-related documents. In addition to the obvious work, students look to me for advice on job hunting, creating a CV, how I feel about tenure track and non-tenure track position, alt-ac positions, and much more. Among the least obvious questions about “academic life” that I get from students is about creating a work schedule, or building their own time frames for projects. I am asked things like: How long should it take me to write a journal article? How long should it take me to turn my dissertation into something else? Am I doing enough? Am I working fast enough on this document/project?

While I am happy to answer these questions for my students, I feel that this is only part of a larger, interesting dialogue regarding self-care, or lack thereof, in academia. Using these questions from my students, I’m able to gauge that workflow and self-scheduling is a unique consideration of academic life that is rarely talked about, or considered.

I can’t give a concrete answer to the question: How long should it take me to write a journal article?

I guess I could say:

Well, some topics are easier than others. Some publications are easier than others. Some journal articles may be representative of years of research or work, so if you consider that, then it may take you years to write a single article. But, others may be short, anecdotal pieces about pedagogy or grad school, and you could whip it out in an afternoon with enough coffee and a motivational soundtrack.

And, it depends on how much of the process you are considering when you talk about the writing process. The actual writing of an article may take you a short period of time, but then you’ll learn that many journals and academic publishers have a slow turnaround time. In these cases your journal article may take a year (or more) to get to publication because of lulls in the peer-review process.

I can see my students’ eyes glazing over. Wait, mine are too.

The subtext of this question is far more interesting to consider, though: “Am I writing this fast enough?” and “Am I working hard enough?” is what they’re really asking. And what’s worse, I don’t have a concrete answer for that one either. Not because of numerous external factors, though, I don’t have an answer because this is personal.

The amount of projects one can pursue at a single time is a personal choice. The perceived “academic quality” of projects is as well. Time frames, personal responsibilities, individual organization style. These are all factors that one must consider when trying to build a schedule, and expectations of their academic production style. That is responsible academic self-care.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m good at this. Anyone who knows me would generally say that I’m overextended. But I do utilize a system of weights and measures and checks and balances to determine the feasibility of a new project, similar to the game Mousetrap. If I give my doctoral students the answer of “Well, that’s completely up to you,” or something along that line, their follow up question is, inevitably, “Well, then, how long does it take you to do X?”

I always answer honestly, but tell my students that their work timeframe is entirely for them to determine. Writing is hard, meetings are hard, teaching is hard, grading is hard, learning is hard. When you pile all of these things on top of one another, the workload can become insurmountable. Everyone negotiates their own workload in their own way. Some people make personal policies: “No school email past 7pm.” Others set aside specific weekends in which to complete all of their side projects. Others power through projects to get them off of their plate as soon as possible. And all of these are “the right way to do it.”

There are ebbs and flows to academic work. Sometimes I’m drowning, and other times I retreat all together and focus on other aspects of my life. My advice then is three-fold:
  1. It may take years to develop your academic stride. And then even when you have it down, something will inevitably trip you up, and cause you to rethink your cadence.
  2. It means nothing to measure your work patterns against someone else’s. Focus on your own balance.
  3. Don’t judge individuals who move at a faster or slower pace than you. We all have good days and bad days, easy projects, and projects that we’re sure will swallow us whole. Look for ways to support colleagues and peers. It may just pay off for you in the end.
As always, #GoScholarGo.

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