practical phd

a transparent source for all things PhD

I frequently find myself recommending the National Center for Faculty Diversity Development (NCFDD) in reference to their advice on how to say no.  If you haven’t seen it, they have a helpful list of steps for what do when you get a request for your time and energy to make sure you’re not overwhelmed with the kind of service that doesn’t “count” for tenure.  After a few years of reading this advice from NCFDD, I have a few things to add to this conversation. First, while saying no can be hard, figuring out what to say no to is just as difficult. Second, in addition to saying no, some of us (I’m speaking to myself here) need to learn to shut up and not volunteer for things.  Both of these are particularly challenging for those of us who are underrepresented in the academy and, thus, more likely to get requests for work that is not deemed important in the tenure and promotion process, but who also might want to do some of this work.  

For me, the biggest challenge to saying no is requests from students.  My commitment to providing transparency and support in all things PhD means requests that come from graduate students in particular whether that is a request to be on a comprehensive exam committee or sit on a panel about work-life-balance during graduate school are very hard to decline.  To avoid being overwhelmed, I consider how much is on my plate and see if the exam or event works with my schedule. But if it does, I’m inclined to say yes.  

My other personal tendency that I have had to suppress is volunteering both in my department and outside.  I’m organized and process oriented, so I often see different ways to do things. Furthermore, I have opinions about things like professionalization, graduate training and mentorship, and diversity and inclusion, which makes it hard to bite my tongue in certain conversations.  Outside my department, I have also been known to offer my knowledge of non-academic research to folks and support folks on the academic job market. Given my experience watching a good friend frequently say “how can I help?,” I have a hunch that many of you are offering up your time, energy, and resources when you should be biting your tongues and being stingy.  As a first year Assistant Professor, I try my best to keep my mouth shut, but there are certainly instances when I volunteer ideas and offer to do things because the opportunity is important to me.  

While I haven’t yet implemented this, the best advice I’ve seen on this is to limit the total number of these requests you take on or volunteer for.  If you want to provide support for professionalization of graduate students in your department, great! Do it! But set a cap on the number of events you can take on and stick with it.  The other thing I would add to this is ask for what you need to do the work. It’s okay to say “I’m interested, but would need administrative support for setting the date and booking a room” so that you can do something you care about without taking on all of the labor to make sure it happens.

Part of implementing this kind of quota system is identifying what’s important to you.  Is it student professionalization? Community engagement? Supporting student groups? What kind of work matters to you?  Whatever that is, document the work you do and include it in your records for tenure and promotion even if your institution doesn’t currently reward those activities.  I suggest this because institutions and departments change what they are looking for sometimes, which could mean that this work “matters” more than it would have previously.  But, even if this doesn’t happen, you can make a case in your statements for how this work (1) promotes the university, department, or your work and (2) supports your research, teaching, and/or mentoring.

So what’s important to you?  What do you want to prioritize in your professional work beyond the demands of the job?  

After I became a parent, I started realizing that a lot of advice about graduate school and the research process are geared towards academics who are single and have no children.  If you have children and if you are the primary caregiver for your children, you face a different set of constraints, challenges, and responsibilities than your single colleagues with no children.  To what extent those constraints, challenges, and responsibilities are different depends in part on how much support you have in the specific form of child care, since getting work done as a parent kids often requires not being with your kids.  Here are a few pieces of advice that just didn’t work for me post-partum.  

1. Write During Your Optimal Work Time

Ideally, you would write at your prime work time.  So whether your prime work time is 6am or 3pm or 12am, you would prioritize writing during that time to use your optimal work time for this important aspect of our work.  However, it’s not always possible to do that when you’re a parent. In fact, you sometimes can’t work during your prime work time at all when you have kids. For me, this has meant that I work when I have the time and ability to go to the office.  Sometimes this means I’m at home doing things with my family during times when it would be optimal for me to be writing. While this isn’t ideal, it’s how things have worked out, so I make the best of my work time when I have it.  

2. Work 50-70 Hours a Week

When I started on my tenure-track job, a very well meaning and helpful faculty member told me to figure out what I needed to do to achieve tenure (e.g., how many articles) and then determine how many hours a week I needed to work to achieve that whether that was 50, 60, or 70.  This is extremely practical and useful advice, but my immediate response was that I can not work more than 40 hours a week. In retrospect, I can see that he and I were in very different positions during our early tenure-track years. My schedule requires that I’m home by a certain time to be with my kid.  I’m also not the parent who pulls out my laptop when my kid goes to bed, mainly because by that time of the day I am tired! So when my night owl kiddo crashes at 10pm, so do I. Finding time to work at home is a lot easier for parents whose children go to bed at 7 though, so squeezing in a couple of hours of work before going to bed is possible.  For me, I work the hours that I’m in the office because that’s what fits in our schedule, but every family’s situation is different, so do what works for you and your family’s schedule!

3. Protect your Writing Time

Advice around setting a daily writing practice often includes to schedule writing time as an appointment on your calendar and never schedule something that conflicts with it.  It is an appointment and commitment to yourself. While this is certainly ideal, it isn’t always possible as a parent. That doctor’s appointment you had to schedule months in advance may only be possible during your writing time.  The Halloween parade that you were really excited to attend might be a conflict. Your writing time might even be interrupted with a call to pick up a sick kid. It can be hard to protect your writing time because of these priorities.

4. Unplug During Writing Time

Another common piece of advice about writing is to unplug from distractions like your phone, email, and social media.  Turn your phone to do not disturb mode. Don’t open your email. And do not go on Twitter or Instagram. While it’s easy to stay off of email or social media platforms, being a parent means being on call 24-7, so turning off my phone is not an option.  During my writing time, I’m still aware of my phone and checking to make sure that a text or phone call coming in isn’t about my kid and something I need to respond to. Luckily, it’s not often an interruption, but the advice to unplug to write is just not one I can implement.

5. Make Time to Exercise 

Exercising can be an important way to manage stress, so folks often recommend making time to exercise and prioritizing your exercise schedule over any other conflicts.  This advice assumes you have time and energy to exercise. Frankly since becoming a parent, I find myself frequently choosing sleep over exercise, which I think is a logical decision.  I function better as a parent and an academic when I’m rested. When it does not mean sacrificing sleep, I am glad to exercise, but most days in most weeks, this is not an option for me.

There are surely many more pieces of advice that don’t fit for parents.  What are some that you’ve heard?

I work in a department (and a university for that matter) that highly encourages collaborative research between graduate students and faculty.  We have a system in place that allows this to happen regularly, so I have been thinking a lot about how I want to engage in research with students.  While there seemed like only one model of doing this to me as a graduate student, I’ve come to realize that there is a spectrum that involves different types of work for the faculty member and the student.  Depending on the needs, interests, skills, and other demands of those involved, each faculty-student collaboration can look different.  

Model 1: The Research Assistant 

This approach is most frequently used when a faculty member needs help pushing forward a specific component of research work.  Most often this is help with collecting data, transcribing, cleaning data, reformatting or organizing data, coding, or collecting readings for a literature review.  Most RA work is limited to that specific task and does not result in co-authorship because the RA has not contributed to analysis or writing. Instead, the RA gets a resume line, a reference (if you agree to it), and experience on the inside of the research process.  For exposure to the research process, I orient my RAs to the broader project as part of training so that they understand where the very detailed task that they are completing fits into the broader research project.

Model 2: Student Support on Faculty’s Research 

This model overlaps with the RA model above with one key exception.  The student is doing similar tasks as an RA on a project designed by the faculty member, but the student is also a co-author on the project because they have either been involved in the life cycle of the project and made significant contributions to the process, OR they were involved in the analysis and writing.  The faculty member is usually still first author in these cases, but the RA gets co-authorship.  

Model 3: The Collaborative Project 

Unlike the prior two models, this approach involves the faculty member and students developing a project together.  In this case, the idea could have come from either the student or the faculty member, and they decide to collaborate on design and implementation.  Co-authorship in this case would need to be negotiated before the project turns to the writing stages since there may be no clear first author depending on how work was divided for the other aspects of the project.  Defining authorship order at that point can also determine who does more work on the written product.  

Model 4: Faculty Support on Student’s Research 

Finally, faculty may be involved in a student-led research project by giving advice, providing mentorship, and doing writing and editing to the final manuscript.  This model goes beyond the involvement a faculty member would have on a student’s thesis or dissertation committee. The faculty member is highly involved with the decisions around data collection and analysis, but the student has primary responsibility for implementation.  The writing portion of the project may have a more equal division of labor, but could involve the faculty member writing smaller parts of the manuscript as well. In this model, the student is usually first author due to the sheer volume of work they did to implement the project.

What Model Should You Use?

As a faculty member, there are a couple of things to consider when choosing which model to use for your research projects.  First, do you need to work with someone at all to finish the project? For instance, if you have a close to finished project that would take a long time to orient someone to complete, you might choose to handle the remaining task yourself.  However, if doing it yourself would mean having to wait 3 months to get to it, you might consider using an RA to get assistance to wrap up the loose ends.  

Second, where is the particular project in the process?  In general, projects that are not as far along will be easier to incorporate others into through any of these models, but particularly for the models involving collaboration and co-authorship.

Third, what else is on your plate?  This is particularly important to consider when taking on new projects.  For instance, a graduate student comes to your office with an exciting idea and asks if you want to work with them on it, but you’ve got a backlog of your own work.  You could say no, or you could propose to work together as a student-led project with your involvement as providing regular and prescriptive advice and guidance.  

Students also have room to initiate one of these models as well.  This might be because the student is limiting their involvement by, for example, choosing to do specific RA tasks and not sustain engagement longer-term for a publication.  Alternatively, a student could approach a faculty member with a good idea that leads to a faculty support on student’s research model or a collaborative research model project.  

However you choose to approach the process, working with students contributes to their training and CVs.  It also contributes to faculty’s research productivity and mentoring in the department. Regardless of which model you choose, it can and should be mutually beneficial.

These days, graduate students learn early that to get and keep an academic job they need to publish, publish, publish.  In fact, many programs have turned requirements like a Master’s thesis into a paper so that students have something early on to place before they hit the job market.  What’s not as often communicated is what to expect in terms of timeline. No one can tell you exactly when you need to submit a paper to a peer review journal in order to have an acceptance in hand to be on the market by fall of 2024 as the process is incredibly variable.  That said, there are a number of known factors that contribute to how long it could take and some common advice on what to consider.  

How Many Submissions Might it Take

I did a poll on Twitter asking folks across the academic world the highest number of submissions they had ever had before placing a manuscript.  116 people responded in the 24 hours the poll was up, so this provides a decent starting point to understand how long publishing could take. 

For over one-third (37%), the most submissions they had ever done to place a manuscript was 3-4.   A lucky 27% said 1-2 submissions, but an almost equal percent (26%) said 5-6 submissions. Finally, 10% said 7 or more submissions.  

First thing you should take from these numbers is that it is common for it to take a few submissions before your work sticks.  You should not feel bad if you’ve gotten a few rejections for a paper because most of us have been there: 73% had 3 or more submissions.  In fact, you should feel accomplished that you’re putting yourself out there, use the opportunity to strengthen your paper, and, for those of you with less publishing experience, learn more about how to write for your discipline from the feedback you’ve received.  In fact, I’ve found that besides a few grumpy reviewers, the feedback I’ve gotten along the way has been gold.  

Why Does it Take so Many Submissions?

How many submissions it takes to get published is affected by a number of different factors that I want to acknowledge to explain the results above.  First, some papers are harder to place than others due to limited venues, sample size constraints, or controversial topics. For instance, I have a paper based on interviews with about 35 respondents.  It’s a respectable number of interviewees, but some editors and some reviewers don’t like that I’m looking at subgroups within the 35 for my analysis because that splits them into smaller groups.  

Second, where you aim to place will influence how many submissions it takes.  A common publishing strategy is to aim higher than you’re willing to have your work land, which means starting with journals that often have more submissions and higher rejection rates.  I personally use and encourage others to use this approach because you’re likely to get feedback from other experts before your paper ends up at the venue you’d be really happy getting a publication with, but wouldn’t know where to send it to next if it got rejected.  Now this isn’t always possible as some topics have a limited number of appropriate venues, but I implement it whenever I can.  

The other way to go about choosing a venue is to target the “perfect fit” journal on your first submission.  For this approach, your work needs to be a good fit for what the journal does (or for a specific special issue) and have solid methods and analysis.  My suspicion is that some of the folks who answered 1-2 submissions in the poll have taken this approach. I’ve done this for at least one manuscript, which I submitted to a special issue in a subfield journal.  The article fit the theme really well and while the reviewers and editors asked for pretty major revisions to the framing, they didn’t have major concerns about my data source or analytical approach, so the paper was accepted.  The downside to the perfect fit approach is that you could get rejected from the perfect venue for the paper. So if you’re going this route, I would recommend getting the paper as polished as possible before submitting. Workshop the heck out of it and get feedback from anyone and everyone who will read it to make sure it’s as tight as possible.  Maybe even pay someone to copy edit before you send it in.  

Finally, the last factor I want to mention is arguably the biggest factor, which is how much you know about writing a good journal article.  Obviously your first academic paper might take longer to get right, which could go two ways. Either it means you spend a lot of time with the paper and revise draft after draft after draft, or it means that your submit it early and often and get a lot of rejections trying to get it right.  There’s no right or wrong approach here because both take time.  

So the moral of this story is you could get lucky and place the first or second place you send your manuscript, but expecting 3-4 submissions is a more reasonable estimate.  

How Does that Translate to Time?

This is the part that is a little tricky.  Some journals have a fast turnaround with desk rejections within 1-2 weeks and reviews back within 3 months.  But others take a longer time due to a large number of submissions, challenges recruiting reviewers, reviewers taking longer to submit their reports, and editors having other demands on their time.  Realistically, you could not hear for a year if your manuscript gets sent out to reviewers. (Side note: If it’s taking a long time based on any information about timeline provided on the journal’s website and information you’ve heard from advisors and colleagues, it’s okay to contact the editor to ask for an update.)  

Given that you will likely need 3-4 submissions to place and that it could take up to a year to hear back from each of those, your worst case scenario is that it takes 3-4 years to place a manuscript.  Obviously not every submission is going to take a year, so, in reality, this might be closer to 2-3 years. The point is you probably won’t be able to lock in a publication over the summer before you go on the job market (or in the two months before you submit your tenure file for that matter), so starting early is to your advantage.

Rack up Those Rejections

This is why writers of all genres promote accumulating rejections.  You’re not going to get a publication if you’re not submitting your work to journals.  Furthermore, your manuscripts are likely to get better with more and more feedback on specific papers.  While it’s never easy to get that email with that sentence starting with “Unfortunately…,” it also gets a little easier to stomach the more you get.  Courage (read with French accent) to all of you in putting your manuscript babies out there!

I’ve officially survived my first semester as an Assistant Professor!  Coming into the job was entering a black box. I had balanced research and teaching before, but only with one course.  I had also done service, but as a graduate student when I had control over what I did and how much. So navigating research, teaching, and service in a new institution and with a new workload, while adjusting to living in a new place, was an unknown.  Thankfully some of my prior experiences prepared me for the job and for managing my expectations when life inevitably happened.  

What Prepared Me

The first and most important experience I had before my tenure track job was experience teaching.  I had previously developed and taught two courses so I have no new course preps in my first year. I highly recommend that graduate students do more than TA if possible.  Teaching someone else’s curriculum is very different than developing and teaching your own. Yes, you develop pedagogical skills while TAing, but you don’t have to think about your pedagogical goals (beyond reinforcing the professor’s teachings) and how to implement them through readings, lectures, activities, and assignments in the same way as when you teach your own course.  

Coming into this year with two tested syllabi has also been a major time saver.  Curriculum development is an intensive process. Not only do you have to decide on learning objectives, sections, readings, and assignments, but you also have to prepare each and every course meeting from scratch.  Even with changes I made to my syllabus, I only had 3 learning units that required more intensive preparations this semester. I spent an hour max each week on lecture and activity prep for all other sections, which freed up my time for grading and course administration.  It also meant I had much more time to do research than I would have with a new course prep.  

The second experience I had before this year that helped me navigate my new job was having a baby as a graduate student.  Now, I’m not saying all graduate students should have a baby! This is obviously not something that all of you will want to do or be able to do, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a life interruption that provides similar lessons.  Babies are unpredictable. You think you’ve got a routine down and two weeks later everything changes. I had to learn to be less of a planning freak and adjust my goals and expectations for work based on what was possible to accomplish in the time I had to work.  I learned to forgive myself, reward myself for what I accomplished, and be okay with not every day and every week being equally productive. Having a major health problem or being involved with carework for a sick family member or friend would lead to similar experiences.  

This semester the experience helped me through a move, an abrupt change in child care, an illness, and some other interruptions that affected my work schedule, my concentration, and my energy.  When things got rough, I prioritized work with deadlines, which were mainly my teaching responsibilities, a couple of grant applications, and a revise and resubmit deadline, and forgave myself for falling behind on other things.  Life happens! You can’t be 100 percent with your work all of the time.  

What I Learned

While I was prepared for part of what my first semester entailed, there was a fair amount that was new.  I was teaching two courses for the first time, teaching large courses (110 students in each section), and doing faculty service work for the first time.  The biggest lessons I learned were on the teaching front as my service responsibilities were much lighter than I expected.  

First I should point out that I ended up teaching 220 students my first semester because of an attempt to reduce my teaching load in the first semester.  As background, the year I was hired there was a policy change in when hires could use course releases. Instead of being able to use them to ease into the full teaching load, new hires couldn’t use their course releases until their third year when they would have feedback on their progress from a review at the end of the second year and be able to use release time to “right their course” towards tenure.  To offset going straight into a 2-2 load, I negotiated my teaching for the first year, which led to me teaching two sections of the same course in the fall and a grad course and senior seminar on the same content in the spring. What I didn’t realize is the size of the classes I was to teach in the fall, which meant having 220 students across both sections. Having two sections of the same course reduced prep for class, but increased course administration and grading substantially, which was a lot even with two wonderful Graduate Assistants helping me.  In contrast, my spring semester is likely to be 30 undergrads and maybe 10 grad students. What I learned: For the future, I plan to balance a large lecture course with a smaller course even though that will mean prepping for two different courses. To achieve this, I’ve begun a plan for new course development over the next 5 years so that I have adequate smaller and larger courses to alternate and not get bored.  

I’ve also been using my first semester experience to reflect on how to roll out new courses.  Inevitably, the first time I teach a course I have too much reading and sometimes too many assignments.  So I’m going to try to teach new courses first as graduate seminars. This will allow me to review the readings in closer detail to decide what is appropriate for an undergraduate course without having to do that before teaching the class.  (I do a lot of work on reading selection and course design before teaching, but do not prepare readings and lecture until I need to since I honestly won’t remember them.) Using this approach will also give me time to figure out how to best organize the course to integrate my core goals for undergraduate teaching: to help students understand (1) their own experiences and (2) the world around them.  

Finally, teaching a course that large inevitably meant teaching a lot of non-Sociology majors and a lot of first and second year students, in contrast to my prior experience of teaching junior and senior Sociology majors.  While I always teach my courses assuming no prior knowledge, the mix of majors AND years meant that students had more of a range of levels of comfort with the type of reading they were assigned and the writing assignments that I use instead of multiple choice exams.  I’m still wrapping my head around how to address this without reverting to in class exams and multiple choice, but the issue is flagged for the next time I teach the course.

All in all, the first semester has been productive and challenging.  I’ve learned a lot, particularly about the kind of instructor I want to be, while pushing forward my research agenda thanks to the experiences that prepared me for this moment.  Since my service load was light, I expect to face new challenges in the semesters to come as I’m called on more to serve the department and the university.  

Yesterday I took a walk with my son in the snow.  It was the Sunday of the Thanksgiving long weekend.  The day when my work to do list started tapping me on the shoulder to remind me how little time is left in the semester.  There are reading responses to grade and work to do on an article before reflection papers and final exams from 220 students start rolling in.  But it started snowing, something my little guy has had no experience with and something I strongly associate with my childhood as an east coaster.  So we bundled up, left my work to do list on its own, and went for a walk.  

Whether you’re in graduate school or in your career beyond, surviving is all about healthy habits.  There is no way to sustain being a brilliant student, researcher, mentor, and/or teacher without being a complete and balanced person.  That means maintaining your mental and physical health, building and maintaining relationships and community, and using other parts of your brain.  It is what we often refer to as work-life balance.

For me, that means not working when I get home or on weekends.  It means going to the doctor to follow up on the ailments of getting older.  It means making an effort to move regularly even if I can’t get to the gym as often as I’d like (or at all).  It means knitting, cooking, and watching Netflix to decompress. It means getting a full 8 hours of sleep. It means catching up with my besties via text, email, or phone whether that’s weekly or a random “thinking of you” message.  It also means paying attention to how I’m doing, noting when I’m feeling overwhelmed and anxious, and knowing when I need to change my routine to add more self care like stopping work to take a walk and breathe, or get some chocolate.  

Not only do we need this regular (e.g., daily or weekly) maintenance, it helps to take longer breaks to step away from work and get some real rest and relaxation (the other R&R).  That’s why employees are given a certain number of vacation days in their benefits packages: because we’re supposed to take breaks.  Unfortunately, for graduate students and academics, there are no vacation days to signal this.  In fact, our “breaks” are really just breaks from teaching and service, which many use to focus on their research.  

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t work during these breaks.  But I am saying it’s not healthy to work every day of every break.  I don’t even think you should work every day of the week. It doesn’t matter when you take your breaks.  Choose a schedule that works for you, your lifestyle, and your schedule, but take them. That might look like working on the Monday off of a long weekend, but taking time off during a longer break like winter break.  Even if the break you take is during time you are visiting family for the holidays or over the summer, it counts. 

Take the time to step away from your computer and your books.  The work will still be there when you get back. Give your body and mind a break from all the hard work they’ve been doing.  

Feedback is a central part of the work of someone with a PhD.  Colleagues and friends ask for feedback on papers. Conference organizers ask us to give feedback on presentations as discussants.  Journal editors ask for our feedback on manuscripts submitted for publication. Regardless of whether you’re a professor, a research professional, or a graduate student, there are ample opportunities to practice and cultivate a style of feedback that is supportive and encouraging, while being critical and direct across these forums of feedback.

Be Clear About What You Like

After reading or receiving verbal feedback, it should be just as clear what you like about someone’s paper or research project as what you think they need to work on.  You should lead any written or verbal feedback with what you like before getting into what could be improved. Hearing about your “impressive data collection” or the “exciting contribution the paper will make” makes it a heck of a lot easier to hear about the “fundamental flaw” in your argument.  In fact, many folks recommend that more critical feedback should be sandwiched with supportive and encouraging comments, so as to both start and end with the positive.  

Whether you choose to lead with the positive or sandwich the critical with it, it should be clear to the author what you liked about their work.  Not doing that focuses all the attention on what isn’t working, which can lead the author to think their work is not worth pursuing. I once sat through 45 minutes of critical feedback on what was wrong with my paper before someone said “I think this is a really interesting paper.”  By that point in the conversation, I felt like the paper was unsalvageable based on the issues they had identified. Had the conversation began with “I think this paper is really interesting,” I wouldn’t have felt like I needed to ditch the paper at all during the conversation.

Be Direct and Specific

The absolute worst feedback to receive is vague and unclear critique.  Oftentimes these are comments like “needs more polish,” “hard to follow,” and “could use expansion” without any additional direction.  Adding an example or specificity about what you mean will help the author fix the problem with their manuscript because they will know exactly what you’re critiquing.  Point out a specific paragraph that was “rough” and suggest a rephrasing. Repeat the author’s argument back to them in your own words and identify where it was confusing or made a leap that went too far.  Mention a specific literature or articles that would help them expand. After all the work you’ve put into reviewing, the author should know exactly what they need to do to improve their paper.

If you’re giving feedback to graduate students, remember that they may not yet know what elements they need for a good journal article or how to execute them.  Including general advice like “the literature review should be an argument about the prior literature and how your manuscript contributes” can be incredibly helpful no matter what their stage in graduate school.  Learning to write a strong journal article benefits from feedback on a specific paper, in addition to general advice about writing journal articles that can be translated to the next paper.  

Be Encouraging and Supportive 

People often assume that being direct is the opposite of being encouraging, but it doesn’t have to be.  For example, take the “hard to follow” argument above. You could tell the author “your argument was convoluted and hard to follow” or you could tell the author “your main argument could be a strong contribution to our understanding of X, but it was hard to follow as written” (and then provide more specifics).  While much of the encouragement and support will be in your summary of what you liked about the work, part of it will also be in the phrasing of your more critical points. Telling someone “the findings section was boring” or “what was the point of section 4?” is going to be a lot less encouraging than “your argument disappeared in the findings section because you were trying to present too much data” or “section 4 isn’t clearly linked to the rest of the paper.”  Furthermore, the less encouraging feedback is also often indirect and unclear.  

Give Both Written and Verbal Feedback

Whenever possible, it’s helpful to give the author both written and verbal feedback.  Obviously this is not possible when you review an article, but it is possible to provide both in most other settings.  This allows space for a discussion about the feedback you’re providing, but also gives them a record of what you suggested in addition to their notes on the feedback.  

In fact, when I’m giving someone feedback for the first time, I like to provide feedback verbally before sharing written feedback so that they can hear my tone when discussing what I like about their paper and what needs improvement.  I use track changes comments throughout the manuscript to provide my blow-by-blow response, but also include a page where I summarize my main feedback, which allows me to tie together the specific comments into broader critiques.  

Vary Feedback by Paper Progress

Not all papers you review need the same level of feedback.  Tailor your feedback to the stage the paper is in the pipeline to be most useful to the author and allocate your efforts appropriately.  You might suggest line edits for a paper that is near ready for submission to a peer review journal, but that detailed feedback isn’t necessary for an early draft that will undergo significant revisions in future drafts.  With this approach, you would provide broad feedback on organization and argumentation to any manuscript, but detailed feedback about language and phrasing only for closer to finished drafts.  

I apply this rule to everything I review, including when I do peer review.  Once it becomes clear to me the paper is not close enough for me to recommend a revise and resubmit, I focus on the broader problems of the manuscript.  However, for papers that I will recommend for a revise and resubmit, I keep track of very specific feedback including sentences or paragraphs that were hard to follow, terminology that needed definition, etc.  

Address the Author’s Concerns

With the exception of a blind peer review, the author often has specific concerns about the paper they’ve shared for feedback.  “Is this the right literature to engage with?” “Does the argument at the front end match the findings?” “How can I strengthen the discussion section?”  Make sure you address the author’s questions and concerns in your feedback in addition to any other feedback you have. If the author hasn’t asked about anything specific, ask them if there’s anything they would like you to pay particular attention to or any concerns they have about the manuscript.  

The most helpful feedback is always the feedback which helps me get through a problem I’m stuck in.  Two weeks ago, I was spinning my wheels on the framing in an introduction section that my writing group helped me solve last week.  Telling them that I was stuck on the introduction gave them a reason to pay closer attention to that part of the paper and think through what was working and what wasn’t.  

While some of the tips I suggest above might sound time consuming, remember that the more you do them, the more they will be second nature.  It’s an investment, but one that is worth making to provide better feedback to others AND role model what feedback should look like.  

As I worked on my Master’s paper during my second year of graduate school, I felt increasingly isolated.  Sitting in my office in front of my laptop got the data cleaning, analysis, and writing done, but wasn’t a completely satisfactory experience.  From my work in evaluation research prior to graduate school, I knew research didn’t have to be a solo endeavor and in fact is often not that, so I sought out ways to make the dissertation a collaborative experience.  Due to the nature of my research and the presence of the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program, I was able to employ a team of Research Assistants to help me with data collection and coding.  Not only did it help move my dissertation forward, it let me give a group of undergraduates a look into the less visible side of graduate school and faculty work, provide them with mentorship, and be a role model to a group of predominately women and people of color.  We often think of working as a Research Assistant as an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to be exposed to the research process, get new skills in data collection and analysis, and expand their resume/cv. But it is also an opportunity for faculty to push forward their research with more hands and minds on deck.  Working with Research Assistants helped me finish data collection and gave me others to talk to about my research who had direct experience with the data. These interactions led to early changes in the data collection protocol and coding scheme, which informed the larger direction of the project. The key to making it a beneficial endeavor for everyone involved comes from choosing good matches and providing training, structure, and feedback.

Choosing your RAs

When I first started looking for RAs as a graduate student, I was advised to look for students with high GPAs as a sign of their ability to perform.  I was surprised to hear that advice given my own experience hiring, supervising, and training recent graduates in evaluation research. GPA is a measure of a student’s ability to study, memorize, regurgitate, apply concepts, evaluate examples, and write.  The only part of this that is relevant for most RA positions is the ability to follow and master a set of instructions. Frankly, GPA is a pretty poor measure on which to gauge someone’s ability to do that given the number of irrelevant aspects of their academic performance that it measures.  

I have found that the best RAs were the ones that were (a) deeply interested in and often personally connected to the topic and (b) had strong skills in organization, time management, and attention to detail.  During interviews I asked applicants why they were interested in the project, whether they would describe themselves as a more detail oriented or a big picture thinker, for an example of their organizational skills, what other activities they were involved in outside of classes, and how they were managing their school, work, and student activities.  This got me a group of RAs who cared about my research topic, could juggle their assignments with their other responsibilities, kept good track of their work, and took the time to implement their task according to their training and instructions.  

Training RAs

After selection, I always lead with training to prepare my RAs as a group for their work.  Now this is something I’m sure everyone working with others on their research does in both formal and informal ways.  Here’s what I’ve found to work best.  

First, I start with a broader orientation to the research project so that RAs can see where their specific research tasks fit into the broader scope of the project.  I share the inspiration for the project, the question(s) I’m answering, and a broad review of the research design. Second, I provide a task specific training on their day-to-day responsibilities.  That includes a review of a living document that serves as a repository for all instructions detailing their responsibilities that they can refer back to at any time. If possible, we visit the site of their work, which could be a physical location like the library or a virtual location like a shared cloud folder.  Finally, we walk through an example of what they will do together, so they see an example of the task carried out with verbal annotations about why I am making the decisions I’m making along the way.  

Structuring their Work

The written instructions detailing the steps in their tasks is core to the structure I provide for their work, but I’ve also found that RAs need systems, processes, and regular check-in meetings to help structure their work and provide deadlines.  Thus, I provided my RAs who were doing coding work with a document outlining instructions for coding, a codebook, a shared folder with their assigned articles, and a spreadsheet to enter their coding and questions all in one location. At weekly meetings, we would review any questions they had from the prior week, as well as discussing changes to the protocol and broad feedback that applied to all team members.  These weekly check-ins also provided indirect tracking of their progress on assignments and informal deadlines for moving their work forward. As they became more comfortable with the protocol and had fewer questions, we reduced meetings to biweekly or monthly to give them more time to work on their assignments, but continued exchanging questions and updates via email.  

The structure you provide your RAs will vary depending on the kind of work they do.  For example, if an RA was doing a literature review for me, I would provide a list of information I want them to compile and questions that I want them to answer about each article they review.  I would format this list of information and questions into either a spreadsheet or a survey instrument like Google Forms to compile the relevant information into an easily accessible format for me to use later.  

Other faculty and graduate students I’ve spoken with also ask for weekly reports of time spent on the project and amount of work completed.  This gives both the supervisor and the RAs data on how long a task is taking and how long it will take to be completed. If you do choose this approach, give your RAs space to document other demands that interrupted their work time such as midterms or final exams, holidays, and illness.  

Giving them Feedback

Finally, all of us do our best work when we have some sort of feedback loop to assess and evaluate our work and give us some advice on how to improve it.  Using quality checks where you or an experienced RA thoroughly reviews a subset of the work done and provide feedback to the RA ensures that your RAs are getting just that.  I like to give my RAs about a month to get familiar with the protocol and process before doing any quality checks. This is usually enough time that they’ve done more than start their assignment, but are also at a point where they have some questions about whether what they’re doing is what I’m looking for.  

At that time, I randomly pick a few of their completed assignments to check, complete the research task myself, and compare my results with what they have.  I give them individual feedback and ask them to revise all of their completed assignments as needed, but also provide the group with information about common errors from the quality checks.  This is work that I often did with a more experienced RA to spread out the work and also give a subset of strong RAs a chance to get some supervisory experience on the project.  

The opportunity to work on a research project is an opportunity that can help an undergraduate student decide what kind of graduate program they want to pursue, give them a resume line that demonstrates their attention to detail and organizational skills, and give them a future reference for jobs.  But it is also an important opportunity for the researcher to advance a research project with the help of others. While I was on the job market, most of the work that was done on my dissertation was completed by my RAs due to the other demands on my time. There is also the possibility of finding co-authors and longer-term relationships through the process as promising RAs emerge.  The benefits of working with RAs go in both directions, particularly if the researcher provides the structure and direction to guide RAs through the work.  

The process of completing a PhD can make research seem like an independent endeavor, but while some of your research may be sole-authored, the dissertation is not representative of what research should and can be.  Being a PhD shouldn’t be isolating or lonely. We all need camaraderie, support, feedback, and encouragement along the way. So one of the most important things to do during graduate school is to find your people. Not only will this be beneficial while you’re in graduate school, but it is incredibly valuable beyond as you leave the bubble of your home institution and venture somewhere new.  I’ve found it particularly helpful to establish accountability buddies, writing groups, and collaborators throughout both graduate school and beyond.

Accountability Buddies

As you’re pushing forward with your work, it’s incredibly helpful to talk to others about what’s working and what isn’t.  Discussing problems and bouncing ideas off of others inevitably leads to a solution or maybe several solutions to try in any issue from an unresponsive advisor to a snag in access to data to challenges in balancing research and teaching.  What an accountability buddy system looks like varies, but often involves sharing your goals and checking in on your successes and slowdowns towards achieving them. My longstanding accountability buddy and I talk once a week to check in on what we’re working on and how it’s going.  But other groups exchange written goals and updates instead. During graduate school, your goals might include plans for programmatic requirements such as qualifying exams, in addition to your research. After graduate school, your goals will continue to include research, but also other tasks associated with your job whether that be teaching, service, mentoring, training, or organizing.  

It’s important to pick people for this who you are willing to be vulnerable around and whom you trust, which means it might take a little time to identify these people in your PhD network.  You also want to choose people who are supportive and encouraging. That frenemy from your cohort who is judgmental is probably not the best pick here. When the shit hits the fan and you’re feeling down and disappointed, you should feel comfortable disclosing to your accountability buddies and they should be supportive and encouraging as you deal with that challenge.

Writing Groups

Where accountability groups can be helpful across research, teaching, service, and life, writing groups are specifically for pushing your research forward.  There are two common formats for writing groups. The first is a co-working model, which is about coming together in a physical or virtual space to work. There’s usually a time within each meeting for socializing, but the bulk of the time co-working is spent working, which can give you accountability for focusing on your work and not being distracted by email, Twitter, etc.  The second model is a space to get feedback on your writing in just about any form including your prospectus, fellowship applications, job market materials, and draft articles and chapters. To me, the former is optional and the latter is necessary. Feedback is the way our writing gets stronger whether in summary statements about how our research contributes or in manuscripts documenting our findings.  Having others read your work can help resolve problems you’re struggling through and alert you to problems you didn’t even know you had like using too much jargon.  

Similar to the accountability buddies, you want to include people you trust to share your works-in-progress with including everything from a very rough first draft to a polished almost done manuscript.  You also want people who will give honest, direct, and helpful feedback. This is a space where you might be willing to deal with your judgmental cohortmate who could provide useful feedback and critique (if you can stand their tone).  A good way to suss out a good writing group member is to watch interactions in spaces like courses and conference presentations. You want someone who is kind and helpful, but clear and direct. You could also ask someone to read something you wrote and see what their feedback style is like.  It’s a lot easier to vet someone before you’ve asked them to join a group then to deal with someone who is harsh, passive, or just uninvested in your group.  Finally, it’s helpful to set parameters about what feedback looks like when you’re starting a group to make sure the group is providing supportive, constructive criticism and not shredding members’ work. From my observations, groups that include the latter are not likely to last.

Collaborators

Finally, some of your relationships will evolve into collaborators on research, teaching, service, or mentoring projects.  Despite what your experience might have been (or be) in graduate school, life post-graduate school is full of team work both inside and outside the academy.  You’ll work with others on research projects, co-teaching courses, committees for service, co-leading teams, and co-mentoring students and supervisees.  

These will be people you trust to not take credit for your work and carry their weight on the project.  For research collaborators, they’re also likely to be people who share similar research interests and have complementary methodological skills.  

Where to Find Your Community

There are so few people who (a) pursue PhDs (b) in your discipline and (c) have research and personal interests in common that building this network can sometimes feel hard to do.  It’s challenging, but also necessary.  

Graduate school is the obvious place to start your search for supportive work colleagues, co-authors, and friends.  Remember that while you’re randomly thrown into a cohort, you have access to the graduate students who come before and after you, including alumni.  Go to receptions in the department and for your department at conferences, ask for introductions to the alumni that faculty reference, and email people you’ve heard about to ask to meet.  

Meeting people beyond your program is often incredibly important for creating community, particularly for people who are underrepresented or working in subfields with less community in their departments.  Look for conference activities such as receptions for underrepresented minorities or events sponsored by your subfield interests. You might also find annual or one off events that bring together like minded scholars or scholars from similar backgrounds.  

Wherever you find one of your people, don’t hesitate to tell them “I’d love to stay in touch.”  Nine times out of ten, they’re going to say sure. We’re all searching for community, even those of us who’ve been around a little bit longer.  

Imposter syndrome can manifest as a feeling of panic and fear: “Was it a mistake I got into grad school?”  Or as a sense of doubt: “Do I really belong here?” Or a surge of anxiety: “When will someone figure out I don’t belong here?”  It might surface as you read alone in your office: “Am I smart enough to be doing this?” Or around the seminar table: “They all seem so much smarter than I am…”  Or in a conversation in the hallway: “That person just brushed off my idea…Something must be wrong with it.” It’s something that we all experience as applicants to graduate school, as graduate students, as job market candidates, as postdoctoral fellows, and even as tenure-track professors.  Achieving any level of success, such as getting into graduate school or advancing to candidacy or getting a job, doesn’t eliminate the feelings of inadequacy, fraudulence, uncertainty, and lack of belonging.  Some of this comes with the nature of academia. We’re surrounded every day by incredibly smart people and, as the old saying goes, the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.  So of course you experience doubts about your research, your teaching, and your expertise.  The problem arises when imposter syndrome becomes debilitating.  It can completely halt work on a project, discourage you from reaching out to a potential collaborator or mentor, or lead you to skip a deadline for a fellowship, a special issue of a journal, or a conference.  Gill and I have both been there. She is on the job market, and I just started a tenure-track position. So we’ve combined forces to think through how to counter imposter syndrome and prevent good scholars—grad students, junior colleagues, even senior colleagues—from restricting their opportunities because of the voices in their heads.  

There are of course, some predictable times in which imposter syndrome might creep up in your life—moments when you are entering new phases of your career and moments when you are entering new and unfamiliar spaces, such as giving a talk at a new conference or experimenting with a new literature or methodology.  Gill, for example, recently experienced imposter syndrome when a senior scholar questioned her research question. “Given all of the potential opportunities and research questions you could ask, why would you focus on just race and gender?” While Gill responded in a way that made her proud and represented her work well, she spent the next two weeks with the question rattling around in her head, and she found herself looking at the ground, avoiding eye contact, especially with senior scholars, and over-apologizing and over-thanking senior scholars for simple things, such as forwarding a relevant news article to her or inviting her to a public talk.  Zawadi experienced severe imposter syndrome at the start of graduate school. As a student new to Sociology, she was unclear whether and where she fit in the discipline and felt lost in classes like Classic Theory where the instructor assumed students were already familiar with the readings. She felt inept and behind. 

Imposter syndrome flares up at different times and looks different as we move through our professional lives, but the feeling is similar regardless of when it occurs.  Gill and Zawadi both experienced imposter syndrome throughout the graduate school years and now after, even with the PhD in hand and the title of Dr., both still experience imposter syndrome.  While it may no longer be about citations or knowledge of the literature (although Gill did recently experience a moment of imposter syndrome around her knowledge of a specific literature after a question at a conference), Gill and Zawadi both have moments of feeling like outsiders and questioning their place in the academy as a postdoc and assistant professor.  

So, what can we do about it?  We brainstormed a reflective activity to help ourselves in those moments of feeling like a fraud.  It won’t eradicate imposter syndrome, but it can help reorient our thinking from a negative to a positive perspective.  Here’s the exercise: (1) Make a list of traits that answer the following questions: 

  • What does being a “good” scholar mean to me?  We focus on the ideal self here as the tendency to compare to others can actually trigger imposter syndrome instead of address it.  Had grad student Zawadi focused on how well Gill appeared to understand Durkheim in theory without the context that Gill majored in Sociology and read Durkheim before graduate school, it would have made Zawadi feel worse about her progress and performance.  Instead, focus on what your best you looks like.  
  • In an ideal world, where I am the best version of academic I can be, how would I spend my day? 
  • How do I act in the classroom? 
  • How would I approach my research? 
  • How will I enter a faculty meeting? 
  • What are the characteristics that I want to embody as the best version of the academic I aspire to be? 

Focus here on traits (e.g., read broadly), not specific tasks (e.g., complete qualifying exams).

(2) Then, look back on what you did in month or semester.  Make a complete list of everything we have done related to your research, teaching, and service work, as well as your personal and professional growth in that time period.  We found it helpful to consult our calendars and to do lists so we wouldn’t overlook the little things that are easy to forget. 

(3) Finally, much like a word match from the kids’ menus, compare your list of characteristics of a good scholar to your list of accomplishments.  Match your accomplishments with the trait that they demonstrate. 

The activity provides three opportunities.  First to visualize your belonging in the academic space of your choosing.  By drawing connections between your activities and behaviors you hope to embody, you can see the progress you are making to be that “good”, nay “great” scholar. Second, the activity allows you to identify where your actions don’t match your ideal goals. Unfortunately, these shortcomings are often on the personal side of the equation for many of us.  Think through how you can make space in your daily or weekly lives to actively become the well rounded person you aim to be. Finally, we encourage you to not just do this for your professional and work-related activities because life often interrupts work. Documenting the major move you just completed, the health challenges you just underwent, and other interruptions can also be a kind reminder of the challenges you have faced and that you still accomplished something despite those challenges. Below, we model this with our own lives, baring our vulnerabilities to the internet, hopefully for the common good.

Gill’s Ideal Traits (On my best day as an academic, I…)Gill’s Actual Accomplishments (In the last three months, I…)
Keep to a regular writing scheduleReal talk: I do not write every day.  That being said, I got a lot of writing done:
-Revised and resubmitted an article—accepted!
-Started a new project with a new co-author—three skype meetings, data analysis, theoretical reading
-Wrote a presentation for a conference 
-Wrote application materials for 25 jobs
-Revised and submitted a second article
-Drafted third article
Cultivate a sense of work/life balanceI never feel like I’m doing this part right, but it does seem like I made some time to be a whole person lately:
-Visited my family
-Made a major life decision about a romantic relationship
-Joined a book club and actually read the book for two of the three months
-Saw four movies and one play
-Attended two birthday parties
-Read 5 novels and watched all of Downton Abbey
Maintain a commitment to communityAs a postdoc, I have to make an active effort to stay connected to a broader community:
-Developed mentoring program with provost’s office—had six meetings with relevant campus actors and planned first session
-Attended six talks/workshops on campus and at neighbor schools
-Attended new student cocktail reception
-Attended postdoc orientation
-Attended department and all-school faculty meetings
Keep up with publications in the field; read regularlyI did not do a great job with this one, so this is something I’m going to flag for myself.  However, I’m probably behind on this because of my work keeping up with job applications:
-Theoretical reading for new project with a new co-author
-Attended six talks/workshops on campus and at nearby schools (hey, if you don’t have time to read the book, at least go to the book talk?)
Maintains a network of both trusted friends and new connectionsThis is some of the most important work I do each week, and I rarely recognize it is as work.  It’s important to realize that, just because you’re not in front of a computer, you are still *working.*  Sometimes, work is fun, like when I’m connecting with trusted academic friends, but that doesn’t make it not work!
-Had five meetings with other scholars/search committee chairs at ASA
-Checked in with my accountability partner
-Met with two new colleagues to share and workshop work
-Met with six senior scholars to get feedback on job materials; revised job materials approximately 800 times (just kidding—about 6 drafts)
-Had ten meetings with colleagues/friends on campus since academic year began
Present work regularlyThis goal is often limited by opportunities depending on when I attend conferences and receive invitations to share my work, so my expectations for this goal are low, but I try to find a way to present my work in a public venue–at a conference, at a workshop, in a writing group, or at a colloquium series, at least once per academic term:
-Presented work at ASA
-Met with colleagues three times to move forward on a conference we are planning for the spring
Develop new skillsI did nothing in this area in the last three months unless I count feedback on job materials…maybe I am developing skills around writing about and explaining my research to different audiences?  But I’d like to incorporate some more methodological thinking into my future planning.
Cultivate style–both in terms of       fashion and charismaI really value cultivating a personal sense of style.  I am bored by the greys, beiges, and other neutrals that define professional spaces.  I hate the assumption that because you care about how you look, you aren’t as serious about your work.  When I am dressed and feeling good as hell (thank you, Lizzo!), I do better work because I’m more confident.  But, academics do not make enough money to support my endless hunger for fashion, so I try to be really purposeful about how I spend my style budget.  Don’t ask me how many Sephora points I have, though.
-Got a major haircut
Make time to encourage and support others—peers, students, colleaguesThis can sometimes be the thing that’s easiest to cut because the “returns” are not immediately visible, but I really try to preserve some time for this every week.  I am where I am because folks made time for me, and I want to carry on my mentors’ legacy in my own actions.
-Met with three former students for dinner
-Met with current graduate student
-Met with two new colleagues to share and workshop work
-Attended a friend’s practice job talk; provided feedback

Gill’s Reflections: I spent most of these three months thinking I was “getting nothing done” or “being lazy.”  The list says otherwise. When I listed it out, it was both overwhelming and reassuring. I realized that I had done A LOT, and I was happy with how I spent my time, but I definitely did not embody all of my “ideal traits.”  Reflecting on the list allowed me to acknowledge that I *am* living the life of a scholar–meeting people, writing, engaging with scholarship–and that I still have places to improve. By listing all of this out in this systematic way, I’m now able to set clear goals and intentions for the rest of the semester. 

Zawadi’s Ideal Traits (On my best day as an academic, I…)Zawadi’s Actual Accomplishments (In the last three months, I…)
Spend time with my familyMy husband and I have opposite schedules, so this one is a constant struggle.  
-Was primary child care for LO over the summer
-Took LO to the playground every weekend after day care began 
-Did family outings when all of us were home
-Didn’t work on weekends and evenings to focus on home and family 
Maintain balance between research and teachingI feel good about the schedule I’ve set up and been able to maintain so far.
-Mostly kept teaching, office hours, grading, and lecture preparation to Tuesdays and Thursdays
-Mostly worked on research on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
Keep up with grading and lecture preparation without letting it overwhelm meSo far so good on this one.  However, I expect this to be challenging once it’s midterm time…
-Returned grades on reading responses before the next one was due
-Finished lecture preparation for the week by the Thursday before in most weeks
-Only had to prepare for class once on the weekend so far this semester
Keep up with my research deadlinesI did miss one grant opportunity I wanted to apply for, but that was for a collaboration and we weren’t able to schedule a time to talk until after the deadline.  But other than that, I’ve been keeping up.
-Started and finished data analysis for presentation at conference
-Prepared 2 conference presentations
-Completed a revise and resubmit 
-Completed a draft of a new paper for a conference submission 
-Began revising a data analysis 
Advance research that doesn’t have a deadlineBetween the research deadlines I had over the summer, our move for my job, and some life interruptions (car breaking down, phone breaking, getting a cold and losing my voice), I’ve only been able to start working on research that doesn’t have a deadline in the last month.
-Began reviewing new literature for revising several papers (and a new course syllabus)
-Read and did some preliminary writing for an op-ed/beginning of a research project with a friend/colleague
-Submitted an IRB request and full application to access confidential survey data
-Met biweekly with undergraduate co-authors to advice them on data collection
-Finished edits on two papers and submitted them for review 
-Connected with a new collaborator to discuss how to merge our interests for a new project
Connect with people at my new jobAs a new AP, I need people to know I’m there, but also need to find community to sustain me.
-Had lunch with several faculty members in my department
-Attended all new orientation activities to meet and connect with other new hires 
-Met with several graduate students
-Attended events for faculty of color and women in STEM (and made new friends!)
Connect with people in my new neighborhoodI’m gearing up for what I know will be the longest winter I’ve lived through and know that I won’t be able to just connect with random people on the playground once the snow starts.  So I’m trying to make connections before I feel isolated.
-Exchanged numbers with several parents of kids my LO had a good time with 
-Reached out to friends who have also recently relocated to the area 
Put my health firstSince having my LO, I’ve had little time to exercise and get back in shape, and it’s lead to more ramifications than bigger pants.  It’s time to put my health first! The diet part is going better than the exercise.
-Reduced carbs to one meal a day
-Ate more veggies and fruits 
-Took vitamin C regularly 
-Ran a couple of times (Okay literally twice and then got a cold and took a break to recover)
-Set an appointment with a new doctor to follow up on some minor health issues 
Feel settled and not overwhelmed in my homeDid I mention we just moved…this one is tough!  Between keeping up on the regular cleaning and cat hair removal and the actual unpacking, I’m not fully there yet, but am also trying to unpack in a way that makes it easy for me to maintain order and cleanliness in our home.  We have a storage unit of boxes coming soon so…this will be an issue all over again. Realistically, it might take me a year to really feel I’ve accomplished this trait.
-Fully unpacked LO’s room (the only room that is completely unpacked)
-Made significant progress on unpacking every room in the house, but particularly the bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen
-Got much needed furniture, so it’s starting to look like someone lives here
-Slowly organizing so that everything has a place including getting boxes and bins to keep things that way
-Kept up on weekly cleaning needs
Generally feel calm, rested, and balancedOverall, I would say I accomplished this, but that’s not to say there weren’t days that I felt anxious and overwhelmed.
-Prioritized sleep over work when needed and possible 
-Used planning to reduce anxiety 
-Reminded myself of what’s most important to me (family) when I was feeling overwhelmed
-See also all the items above about trying to create order in the chaos of our move

Zawadi’s Reflections: What stood out to me the most in writing down what I’ve accomplished over the last 3 months is how much I’m actually juggling.  As a mom, a wife, a professor, a researcher, and a person, there are a lot of moving parts, so when one overwhelms my schedule, of course other aspects suffer.  The move overwhelmed my summer and made me feel unaccomplished, but I actually kept up with deadlines for completing data analysis, preparing 2 presentations, and finishing a revise and resubmit, all things that took time and energy and I finished on time.  It meant leaving research that wasn’t on deadlines on the back burner, which made me feel less accomplished, but was necessary due to what was happening in life. Acknowledging this makes me feel less like a fraud and more like I’m doing my best towards my goals in academia and in life.

Now, we’re not saying that we don’t have imposter syndrome after doing this exercise, but it feels good to acknowledge the progress we have made.  We are both doing the things that matter to each of us for being a good scholar and person to some degree. There is certainly room for improvement, but we’re not “doing nothing” as our brains trick us into thinking.  We are putting in the work. And we most certainly BELONG. 

What’s on your traits list?  What other ways do you grapple with imposter syndrome?  We want to know!