This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar by Ramon Goings, with Antione Tomlin as article co-author.

For doctoral students across the nation who are writing their dissertations, the onset of COVID-19 has drastically changed how they will approach their research projects. In some instances, doctoral students will have to redesign their studies to accommodate remote data collection or potentially scrap their research plans altogether. Moreover, dissertators are balancing the completion of their studies with employment and family obligations. Students are not alone—professors have also been impacted because they have to support their dissertation advisees remotely while juggling the care of dependents, adapting research projects, and preparing for remote and/or social distance in-person teaching. 

Most of the discussion about supporting students with the onset of COVID-19 has tended to focus on undergraduates. Generally speaking, graduate students—and doctoral students at the dissertation phase specifically—have not been given the same attention. Therefore, we want to share some strategies for doctoral students from our vantage point of being a doctoral candidate in the midst of completing a dissertation, and as a faculty member who is currently supporting doctoral students. Below we provide three tips for students on how to navigate the dissertation writing process during the pandemic and also include how faculty can support students in each of these areas.

Be Realistic

It is easy to become so consumed and overwhelmed with finishing your dissertation that you forget to take care of yourself. So, it is important to know and recognize your limits. Life does not stop because you decided to be a doctoral student; it might be even more hectic than ever with increased family, work, and personal obligations. Be mindful of how much you are putting on your plate and deciding to take on. If you can only provide 50% effort to your dissertation because you took on more than you can handle, everything you said yes to suffers. Knowing when to say yes or no becomes more critical during these times. 

How Faculty Can Support:

As a faculty member, I can say from experience that it’s important to take the time to understand that our dissertation advisees have lives outside of the classroom. Take the initiative to understand their circumstances, so you can support them and become a trusted sounding board. This includes advising them on when to accept new responsibilities or defer them to another time. Additionally, we (faculty) can use this information to develop realistic timelines about when various sections of the dissertation can be completed. 

Ask For Help!

As doctoral students, we assume that we are supposed to know everything, and if we do not, we think we are less than we are supposed to be. Both of us understand how feeling like an imposter can be paralyzing to completing the dissertation. It is important to let go of assumptions, perceived expectations, and self-doubt because it gets in the way of moving forward. We are all experiencing the effects of COVID-19, acknowledging that some students may have more or less time depending on obligations outside of school. So, ask for help when you need it. You do not have to know everything, and your faculty and committee are there to help and support you. Do not feel ashamed about needing more guidance or additional motivation to keep pushing along. Use your resources and get it done.

How faculty can support:

Faculty should be proactive and reach out to students to ask how they are doing and if they need help. Even in instances when they say they don’t need any help, it is important for us to continue to check on our students consistently. Also, you should not feel that you need to have all of the answers for your students. It is okay to seek counsel from other colleagues on how to help your students succeed.

Be Open-Minded

This is one piece of advice that we’ve found doctoral students dread hearing. From our experience, open-mindedness can be perceived as having to change everything about a dissertation plan. In reality, these simple but daunting words can work in your favor. Remember doctoral students; your committee is there to support and get you to the finish line! When they strongly encourage suggestions, it is only to help, so we challenge you—be open and consider all suggestions. When you fight the process, you will spend more time finding your way to the finish line. As a current doctoral candidate, I can say that when I made an effort to be open to suggestions, my research was enhanced, and my committee members’ experiences were more pleasurable.

How Faculty Can Support:

While it is our job to push our students to develop a robust and rigorous dissertation, we should do so with care and compassion. Far too often we see professors put their students through what can be described as academic hazing primarily because they are trying to recreate the traumatic doctoral student experience they had. This is unfair to students and a practice we need to change. For instance, we need to ensure that by the time students get to the dissertation proposal defense presentation that we are not asking them to drastically change their dissertation plan. These types of major suggestions should be addressed prior to the defense being approved. Doing so during a defense is a disservice to students and can make the dissertation process feel insurmountable. 

Given the impact of COVID-19 on the foreseeable future, we will need to continue rethinking and reimagining the dissertation process for doctoral students. Our hope is that this piece begins the conversation about how to advise and support doctoral students virtually and ensure support for students who are juggling their dissertations along with other life circumstances.

How are you navigating the dissertation process? Feel free to send me your responses via Twitter so that we can continue this conversation!


Author Biographies

Dr. Ramon B. Goings (@ramongoings) is an assistant professor in the Language, Literacy, and Culture doctoral program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is Founder of the Done Dissertation Coaching Program (www.thedonedissertation.com) which provides individual and group coaching for doctoral students engaged in the dissertation process.

Mr. Antione Tomlin is a doctoral candidate in the Language, Literacy, and Culture program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is an assistant professor of Academic Literacies and English at Anne Arundel Community College.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.


Sign up to receive news about higher education careers, faculty affairs, and research impact tracking!

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with a focus on five insights to consider when selecting a mentor.

As a higher education faculty or staff member, administrator, or other higher education leader, mentorship is critical to our professional development and growth. In conversations with colleagues, we frequently discuss that we are constantly recommended to find mentors, but not given much advice on what to look for in a mentor. Therefore, for this post I provide five insights I’ve learned to help you in selecting a mentor.

Seek a genuine connection that’s trustworthy

When seeking a mentor it is imperative that you find someone who you trust and can build a genuine connection with. While this is not directly related to the technical aspects of mentoring, I find it hard to be supported by someone who you have no connection with and you feel is not trustworthy. 

What does trustworthy look like to me? I am referring to an individual who is always able to keep your best interests at heart and they’re someone who you can confide in without your conversations being discussed with others. From my experience, you can learn about someone and their character through the current individuals they mentor. Are those individuals satisfied with their mentor/mentee relationship? Sometimes asking other mentees will give you insight into someone you are seeking to be mentored by.

They’re willing to listen, along with give advice

Some of the best mentors I’ve had are those who are willing to listen in addition to giving advice. Listening is an important skill when cultivating a mentoring relationship, and you should look for a mentor who seeks to understand your unique situation and then provides advice tailored to your needs. If you find that you are developing a relationship with a mentor who does not listen to you and your experience, seek another mentor. This one-sided relationship may eventually lead to frustration. Plus, who wants a mentor that isn’t interested in supporting their personal career journey or growth?

Seek someone who will commit time to mentor

As professionals, our lives are pulled in a variety of directions and priorities. I think it’s fair to say that there is often a shortage of time, but when seeking a mentor, it is important to find someone who is willing to find and spend the time mentoring you. I have witnessed a number of individuals who want to be mentored by a recognized name in their field and have found—in some cases—that these mentor relationships do not blossom because the mentor does not have enough time to devote to the mentee. Therefore, I would recommend that you find a mentor who commits the time to interact with you to develop a mentorship.

Find a willingness to provide critical feedback

In order to grow professionally, it is important to have mentors who will push you outside your comfort zone. When looking for a mentor, seek someone who is willing to provide critical feedback. My advice here is to also develop a team of mentors who can provide critical feedback on various aspects of your career such as job and funding applications and interview preparation.

Remember, you also bring value to the mentor

Interestingly, we often seek mentors because they bring us value in a variety of ways. However, when seeking out a mentor, I am always looking for someone that I too can provide value and advice to. This is especially important to me—being a genuine mentor takes time and energy—and I always want my mentors to know that I value them. For instance, one of my mentors suggested we work on a special issue of a journal on a particular topic together.  I leveraged our conversation, went and spoke with a journal editor that I had a relationship with from meeting at an academic conference, and turned the idea into a special issue! My mentor and I served as co-editors on this journal issue, and subsequently are planning a co-edited book. Our mentor relationship has brought us both value!

What do you look for in a mentor? Feel free to send me your responses via Twitter so that we can continue this conversation!


Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.


Sign up to receive news about higher education careers, faculty affairs, and research impact tracking!

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with a focus on preparing for life on sabbatical.

In a previous post, I provided three tips for candidates working with search firms. After the release of that post, myself and Interfolio staff received several comments and questions from readers about job-seeking advice and the role search firms can play in securing future employment. Given these questions, I reached out to search firm representatives to understand, from their subject-matter-expert perspective, tips and strategies for candidates. 

I solicited the advice of Dr. Sherry Coleman, Consulting Partner with Storbeck Search and Associates and Ms. Maya Kirkhope, Senior Consultant with Academic Search. To help organize the advice provided from both experts, below I summarize insights from our interviews on how to get on a search firm’s candidate database, prepare and review required applicant documents, and engage in the phone/video interview.

Getting on the search firm’s candidate database

During my conversations with Dr. Coleman and Ms. Kirkhope, both suggested that candidates often get on their radar through: 

  • Their 1:1 conversations with professionals in the field (e.g., other search firms, higher education professions)
  • Their targeted research efforts
  • Through candidates’ own efforts, such as reaching out directly to search firm representatives

Both experts encouraged candidates to reach out to search firms. Dr. Coleman suggested that it is important for candidates to reach out to search firms to: 

“… create a plan of action… and see what’s available, what’s out there, what are search consultants looking for, what are the organizations they represent looking for so that they can better prepare themselves for the search that is of interest to them.”

Ms. Kirkhope shared similar advice to Dr. Coleman and advised candidates to reach out to search consultants because:

“I think the advice and the guidance that we can offer can be incredibly helpful. Sometimes it’s not what you want to hear. Sometimes it’s about the readiness to get onto the market. Sometimes it’s really whether the skill set that we’re looking for for this position is going to be a good match.”

Mrs. Kirkhope explained that it was important as a consultant to help inform candidates if they had the prerequisite experiences—that would make them a viable candidate for a position—before they apply. 

Through our conversations about how to get on the search firm’s radar, I found that it is equally important for candidates to research search firms.These agencies are businesses and they each have their own niche of search they typically engage in. For instance, some firms only conduct searches for senior administrative positions (e.g., President, Provost), where other firms also recruit for endowed professorships. 

Preparation and review of applicant documents

From my experience serving on faculty searches, candidates may lack in presenting carefully crafted written materials. This is often a part in the process that can quickly eliminate a candidate from consideration for positions. During my conversations with the experts, they too expressed the importance of candidates putting together strong materials. Ms. Kirkhope expressed that common mistakes with applicant materials include:

  • The candidate’s CV is too long and is not tailored directly to the position the candidate is applying for. This signals to the committee that you may not understand what the search committee is searching for, specifically to determine if a candidate is a fit for the position.
  • The selection of references are not adequate for the position (e.g., you apply for a leadership role and have no reference that can speak to your formal leadership experience).
  • The cover letter does not address how the candidate’s experience meets the qualifications of the position.

In a follow-up interview, Mrs. Kirkhope suggested that when preparing materials, a candidate could give a summary overview of areas on their CV that were not directly related to the position such as listing a sample of classes taught when applying for an cabinet-level administrator role.

Dr. Coleman also explained that when creating a cover letter, candidates should make sure it is tailored to the job position and institution to which they are applying. She explained, “So you want to make sure your materials reflect your strengths, your experiences, your ability and is it your cover letter may address some of your least experienced areas. You want to make sure that your references complete your story.”

My takeaway on job material preparation? Take the time upfront in crafting your cover letter and selecting your references. Your goal for your written materials is to have the search committee eager to learn more about you and how you are a fit for the position. In many cases, this will lead to a video interview.

Thriving on the video interview

A question many readers from my previous post asked was, “How do I prepare for the video interview?” So, I had an extensive discussion with Dr. Coleman and Ms. Kirkhope about how candidates should prepare for this event. 

Dr. Coleman suggested some very poignant steps candidates can take to succeed during the video interview:

“Well I think some people are not comfortable with sort of video conversations and I would say practice from every aspect. Where you’ll be seated, what’s in the background, how high your laptop computer is so that you present well, are there glares? If you have glasses, is there glare on your glasses? And some of that has to do with positioning. And so you want to practice that ahead on Zoom with a friend or colleague or someone who can give you feedback.”

Dr. Coleman added that search firm consultants could possibly be helpful in giving candidates suggestions for the types of questions they will be asked. She also advised that whenever possible, candidates should reach out to colleagues who hold the position they are applying to in order to understand the types of questions they should be prepared to answer. 

Ms. Kirkhope added to Dr. Coleman’s recommendations on interview preparation by encouraging candidates to make sure they are actually answering the search committee’s questions. 

“A lot of times people think they are answering,” Ms. Kirkhope explained, “but one of the biggest mistakes candidates make is they get very general in their responses. They don’t provide examples, or they talk incessantly and they spend 20 minutes on the first question. When interviewing you typically have 4-5 minutes per question.” 

She further explained that not answering all of the questions impacts candidates at decision time. Search committees may not have candidate responses to key areas that are germane to their position, thus they may be less likely to move forward in the search. 

My takeaways? When thinking about a video or in-person interview, candidates should prepare ahead of time, solicit the feedback of a trusted colleague, and think intentionally about specific examples that allow you to thoroughly answer a question.

What thoughts come to you after reading this post? Are there any lingering questions about working with search firms? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. 

I would like to personally thank Dr. Coleman and Ms. Kirkhope for their time in serving as experts for this piece.

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with tips on how professors can navigate COVID-19 and support their students.

My hope is that this post finds you and your family healthy and well. Like most of you, my life took a drastic turn in the last two weeks with the onset of and response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Through my various conversations with colleagues on Twitter and Facebook, many of us professors are trying to figure out how to balance transitioning our classes online along with the other professorial responsibilities. In addition, we’re navigating how to manage our familial responsibilities. Given this new reality for the foreseeable future, I wanted to provide some ways that I am approaching this transition as faculty.

Check-in and assess students’ access to resources to complete online courses

In response to the need of social distancing to combat COVID-19, a majority of universities have suspended face-to-face classes and have asked faculty to shift their courses online. Unfortunately this response did not account for the realities of college students. For instance, some students experience various external insecurities (e.g., housing, food, etc.) that can hinder their access to the resources (e.g., personal computer, reliable Internet) needed to succeed in an online learning environment. As a result, it is important that as concerned faculty we ask our students some important questions such as:

  • Are you and your family safe?
  • Do you have access to a personal computer at home to complete assignments?
  • Do you have access to reliable Internet?

As we switch our classes online, I believe we must see the humanity in our students and make sure that what we are proposing for our online class is appropriate for the needs of all of our students.

Scale back on course requirements

I know many of us believe our courses are important. As a result, I have seen some dialogue on Twitter that faculty are looking to transition their courses online and keep the rigorous requirements of the original course. If you are thinking about this, I would urge you to consider scaling back on course requirements.

Our students’ lives have drastically changed in the last few weeks. Some students left campus for spring break and have not been allowed to return. And the uncertainty remains, as the situation is ever-evolving. As concerned faculty we have the academic freedom to scale back our course requirements. Given the unique circumstances, scaling back not only helps our students, but helps us as faculty as we too have been tasked with developing an online course with a week or two notice.

Curtail your thoughts about productivity

While this pandemic has changed the modality we use to teach our classes, unfortunately for many on the tenure track specifically, the tenure clock continues to tick. However, given the drastic changes that have occurred not only in our professional lives, but also our personal lives like having school-aged children home during the workday, potentially taking care of relatives, and managing this traumatic experience with COVID-19, we must have an honest conversation about what productivity should look like.

In many conversations on Twitter I have seen academics discussing how they will use this time of limited mobility to complete projects. While admirable, I hope too that we can agree to not put pressure on ourselves to be as productive during this time as we were before our lives changed.

To aid in supporting pre-tenure faculty, some universities have provided one-year tenure track period extensions; however, this is not at all institutions. My urge to university administrators is to provide your tenure track faculty with an automatic tenure track extension and allow faculty to apply for tenure promotion during their normal timeline if they should choose to.

How are you all handling transitioning your classes and balancing your personal and professional lives? What are some other tips during COVID-19 for professors? Do you have materials you can share with colleagues on creating online courses? I would love to hear from you on Twitter. I hope that we can support one another during this unprecedented time. 

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

Recently, Inside Higher Ed and Gallup published their annual survey of chief academic officers, and it contains some revealing findings about how academic leaders are thinking about faculty in 2020.

Based on survey responses from about 600 chief academic officers, representing over 300 public and over 250 private institutions (also 9 for-profit ones), the survey sheds light on many aspects of contemporary college and university life.

They asked CAOs what they thought about student attainment, political pressures, tenure, the economy, sexual misconduct, and even textbook prices. 

Among these results are some various noteworthy indicators about the state of faculty employment in higher education today, which we discuss below:

  1. The first is about academic program data.
  2. The second is about faculty recruitment and hiring. 
  3. The third considers the financial circumstances academic leaders are up against.

1. Chief academic officers are clearly feeling pressure to favor academic fields perceived as leading students to the workforce. At the same time, they are lacking confidence in the current state of data-drivenness on their campuses.

“60 percent [of all CAOs polled],” the study reports, “strongly agree or agree that politicians, presidents and boards are increasingly unsympathetic to liberal arts education. The same percentage of CAOs indicate they feel pressure from their president, board or donors to focus on academic programs that have a clear career orientation” (p. 23).

In fact, the study finds:

“Likely reflecting the trends in student majors, CAOs expect that there will be major allocation of funds to STEM fields and professional or preprofessional programs. More than 6 in 10 believe those fields will get major funding at their college in the next budget year. In contrast, just 31 percent strongly agree or agree that arts and sciences programs will get major allocation of funds in the coming year…” (p. 31-32).

Both these response outcomes and the presence of the question in the study, of course, reflect the long-running conversation in U.S. higher education about the most valuable ways that institutions should go about their mission—and also about how that value should be determined. 

Yet we must note that the same academic leaders hardly voiced great confidence in their institution’s current capacity to use institutional data well. In response to a section asking, “How would you rate the effectiveness of your institution in the following areas?”, when it comes to “Using data to aid and inform campus decision-making,” only 23% of all chief academic officers surveyed (26% of those at public institutions, 18% of those at private) said “Very effective” (p. 12).

By what set of data, then, and through what data gathering channels, should academic leaders today determine which academic disciplines or programs to emphasize?

2. Chief academic officers not only doubt their institutions’ faculty recruitment and retention abilities, but are less confident in this area than they used to be.

On that same question asking chief academic officers to rate their institution’s effectiveness in various areas, the study seems to reveal a growing uncertainty about how to attract and keep the right faculty members. 

When it came to “Recruiting and retaining talented faculty,” only 22% of all chief academic officers responding said “Very effective” (p. 12). The study further puts this data point in context:

“The percentage of provosts who believe their institution is very effective in recruiting and retaining talented faculty… is the lowest measured to date, and nearly half what it was from 2012-2014. The decline has occurred equally among private and public college administrators” (p. 7).

Achieving successful recruitment of talented faculty members—in a way that at once strategically fills an institution’s or department’s needs and ensures an equitable, responsible process—is an elusive quest. 

To us, this revealing insight from the IHE/Gallup study certainly raises the question of the scale of resources and level of centralization that is in effect at the institutions whose academic leaders responded. 

There is good news however, and that’s this: Many thinkers and scholars in higher education have become quite good at it—not to mention the beneficial rise of recruiting and HR professionals on staff. We heard some great sessions on effective academic recruitment in the 2019 Interfolio Summit, and are likely to hear more in the 2020 Interfolio Summit this July.

Editor’s note : If you or others you know in higher education wish that you could make faculty recruitment and hiring more strategic and systematic, perhaps consider pointing them to Interfolio’s step-by-step, research-based Modern Faculty Recruitment Playbook. (Brand new!)

3. Chief academic officers confirm the academic mission is struggling with a climate (and time) of scarcity.

The report reveals several noteworthy aspects of today’s chief academic officers’ perspective on their economic circumstances: 

  • They (still) acutely feel that resources are limited.
  • They don’t think it’s been getting any better recently.
  • Despite their support for tenure, they don’t feel they can reduce reliance on non-tenure track faculty. 

Resources are limited

First, the study makes clear chief academic officers are feeling the limitations on their resources. 

“When it comes to making decisions about creating new academic programs,” says the study, “70 percent of CAOs say that most new funds for academic programs will come from reallocation of existing funds rather than from new revenues.” Chief academic officers at public institutions reported this even this more strongly than their counterparts at private institutions.  

“Additionally,” the report goes on, “the vast majority of provosts, 88 percent, agree that financial concerns are prevalent in their institution’s discussions about launching new academic programs” (p. 47).

It hasn’t been getting better

Furthermore, chief academic officers do not believe the financial situation has been getting better over time, and definitely feel that their institutions are still struggling with the effects of the 2008 recession. 

“More CAOs disagree (43 percent) than agree (37 percent),” says the study, “that their institution’s financial situation has improved in the past year. A majority [50%] continues to disagree that the 2008 economic downturn is effectively over at their institution” (p. 7). On this question, too, the report notes that “public doctoral university provosts are the only subgroup that is more positive than negative about their college’s financial situation over the past year” (p. 46).

They (mostly) can’t reduce non-tenure track reliance

Likely for all these reasons, the chief academic officers who responded said they anticipate increased non-tenure track faculty reliance in the future—despite their affirmation of the value of tenure.

When asked, “In the future, do you anticipate that your institution will become more reliant, less reliant or will it be about as reliant as it is today on nontenure track faculty members for instruction?” (p. 16):

  • Less than 1 in 10 of all chief academic officers polled (9%) said “Less reliant on nontenure track faculty members.”
  • Over a quarter of all chief academic officers polled (28%) said “More reliant on nontenure track faculty members.”
  • When it comes to those at private doctoral/master’s institutions, the portion who gave this response was as high as 40%.

And yet: 

“At a time when 77 percent of CAOs say their institution relies significantly on nontenure track faculty for instruction — an increase of 12 percentage points since 2013 — a new high of 81 percent of academic officers strongly agree or agree that tenure remains important and viable at their institution. Compared with five years ago, both public and private college chief academic officers are more likely to believe that tenure remains viable at their institution.” (p. 15; emphasis added). 

Clearly it is time to figure out how US colleges and universities should be recruiting, understanding, and managing a largely non-tenure track or contingent faculty workforce.

In this demonstrated climate of scarcity, then, there is more reason than ever for chief academic officers at US higher education institutions to find smarter, more sustainable, more systematic ways to support the academy’s overall mission. 

***

Interested in what Interfolio has to do with these issues? Start with our free downloadable white paper on the Faculty Information System. Or just get in touch.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with a focus on improving academic writing.

As a dissertation coach I have been contacted lately by numerous prospective clients with one pressing question:

“How do I improve as an academic writer?”

As a graduate student, I too had this question—I was not initially a strong writer. However, over the years—through my own quest to improve my writing and now supporting students writing their dissertation—I have picked up on some strategies and tips to improve as an academic writer. In no way are my recommendations below the only tips and strategies, but I do think these will give you a place to start. 

Simplistic writing is key

As a novice academic writer, I became mesmerized by the long, complex sentences that I read in various academic journals for class assignments. Initially I believed that to become an academic writer you needed to use complicated jargon and string together long sentences. My thought process was: if it is published, then this must be what I have to do to succeed as an academic writer.

I was completing one of my first written assignments as a graduate student and my professor wrote the following comment on the paper: “The content you are writing about is already complex, there is no need to make your writing complex also.”

Initially I did not understand my professor’s perspective and was somewhat apprehensive to the advice. However, now having an intimate understanding of both the writing and publication process, I have come to one understanding: Simplistic writing is key.

Now when I sit down to write, I look to see how I can make my writing concise and simplistic in its delivery. I believe writing with this point of view has been vastly helpful. It allows me to approach explaining complex concepts with common language that my reader can understand.

For those who are just starting out, my advice here is to use simple, concise sentences to start. You want your reader to understand what you are talking about without being distracted by the prose. As you become more advanced and confident in your writing, you can begin to incorporate some of those complex writing passages that you see published by your favorite authors.

Increase reading inside and outside of your discipline

I know from the title of this piece you were probably expecting my suggestions to be focused specifically on writing. However, I have found that in order to improve your writing, you must become an avid reader. When I tell my clients to read widely they often say something like, “I don’t have time for that if it’s not related to the assignment I need to accomplish.”

Be intentional about carving out time to read literature inside and outside of your discipline. I find that this gives you various examples of how to approach writing. From the variety of examples you read, you can begin to incorporate some of the writing styles from various authors. Additionally, reading outside your discipline provides you opportunities to learn about concepts that you would have not engaged with traditionally, which can lead to you developing new theories and insights for your field. 

Find a writing partner to share drafts and discuss ideas

A key to my improvement as an academic writer was having the ability to work with a writing partner. Dr. Larry Walker, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida, was (and still is) one of my writing partners. We began this process as first year graduate students at Morgan State University and have carried it on throughout our careers. We bounce ideas off of each other and share drafts of work for critique.

In order to improve as an academic writer, it is important for you to cultivate a support structure where you can share drafts and get critiques from trusted writing partners. Having writing partners is important—you hear from various individuals to get diverse perspectives about your work. And, when sharing drafts with trusted colleagues, you can begin to adapt the strengths you see in your partner’s work into your own work. 

What tips and strategies have you found to improve your own academic writing? Please share them with me on Twitter!

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with a focus on preparing for life on sabbatical.

When you become a faculty member, your university will provide you with associated benefits in this role. One of the benefits is the opportunity for you to take sabbaticals (sometimes one semester or one year in length). These sabbaticals relieve you from your teaching and service responsibilities so that you can engage in research activity. At my university, I am fortunate that all tenure-track assistant professors have the opportunity to take pre-tenure research, which functions similarly to a sabbatical. I am returning to teaching this semester from the mentioned pre-tenure research leave, and so I thought it would be beneficial to share insights I have learned from my experience.

Preparation starts well before sabbatical

While university policies vary, there is often an application process involved with applying for a sabbatical. Thus, in most instances, you are preparing for your sabbatical 6-12 months in advance of taking it. With that in mind, it is important to always think ahead strategically while planning for sabbatical.

For example, is your sabbatical contingent upon earning a grant award? If so, you may want to take a calendar and plan out the timeline of when you would receive grant funds and when your sabbatical starts to ensure that you can begin your project on time. In this situation I would also recommend applying for several grants (if applicable) given the competitive nature of this type of funding.

Additionally, if you are conducting a research project involving other organizations, it is important to plan out the project so that you will have received institutional review board (IRB) approval for your project prior to your project and sabbatical start date. This way you can immediately begin your project once your leave begins.

Be flexible with your plans

I suspect that like many of you, I try to prepare for projects I am engaged in. Prior to taking my sabbatical, a colleague said to me:

“I know you have big plans for your leave with your research project, but from my experience, prepare for things to go slower than expected.”

At the time, I doubted this advice—but I must admit they were absolutely correct.

For example, approval from the research site took two months longer than planned for one of the projects I planned to engage in while on leave. As a result, my project timeline was pushed back. I learned from this experience that you should have a plan—with a timeline—that is feasible for the length of your leave. Additionally, you must be willing to be flexible with your plan. In my situation I worked on another writing project while I waited for research site approval.

Take time for yourself

As academics we are evaluated in many ways, one of which is how “productive” we are in terms of research quantity (and quality). Consequently, this push for productivity causes many of us to overwork ourselves. This can be exacerbated for junior faculty who are seeking tenure and promotion.

Therefore, I believe taking time for yourself during a sabbatical is a necessary, but undervalued aspect of the opportunity. Why not take that vacation out of the country that you have wanted to take? The Internet is now available in many places, so you can still stay connected and tackle your writing projects.

My hope for you, post-sabbatical, is that you return to your position not only having completed your project, but also refreshed from the time off.

For the readers who have taken a sabbatical, what did you do during your time? Do you have other suggestions for readers who are seeking to take a sabbatical? Please share them with me on Twitter!

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, on managing requests for letters of recommendation.

Happy end of the semester! While this time should be relaxing, I certainly know from experience how busy this time can be—especially with letters of recommendation coming due for various fellowships, graduate school applications, and faculty/staff/administrator positions. I can certainly imagine that many of you Smart Scholar series readers are getting inundated with requests for letters of recommendation. So, I want to provide two tips that I use that may help lighten your recommendation load.

Start and stay organized

One of the challenges I have faced when handling requests for letters of recommendation is knowing how to start and stay organized. I created a table (see below) with some suggested pieces of information to keep track of as you are writing the recommendation letter. Due date can often be the first item to come to mind, but I believe it is equally important to have information about the actual position or award that you are writing for. This is helpful to ensure you are writing the letter for the right audience.

Develop a recommendation letter template 

As busy higher education professionals, we have many competing tasks. It’s important to have a recommendation letter template that you can start from in order to speed up the writing process. In particular, here are some prompts that I use to guide my letter writing: 

  • Paragraph 1: Provide salutation and connect the recommendee’s work with an aspect of the position/fellowship description.
  • Paragraph 2-4: Explain my relationship to the applicant and go into detail about the impact of the applicant’s work.
  • Paragraph 5: Explain that I am recommending this applicant without reservation, reiterate why the applicant is a fit for the position, and provide contact information.

Additionally, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I often ask anyone who needs a letter from me to create an initial draft that I can then build upon. I also ask them to provide me with any particular accomplishments or comments that should be a part of the letter. Again, having this information helps to speed up my ability to turn around a letter of recommendation.

Do you have other strategies for handling multiple requests for letters of recommendation? Please reach out to me on Twitter to continue the conversation!

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, on preparing for and attending an academic conference.

Lately my social media timeline has been filled with various hashtags indicating colleagues in the field are attending their discipline’s academic conference. While conference season is a great opportunity to connect with friends from around the country who you have not seen in several months (or years), for some more introverted folks—including myself—academic conferences can be quite overwhelming. 

Nevertheless, academic conferences have great potential to provide professional development and networking opportunities. I believe you should have some strategy in mind to make the most of your conference attendance, and to help alleviate that overwhelming feeling. In this post, I provide three strategies on how to make the most of your conference attendance. 

Reach out to folks before the academic conference

Is there a scholar whose work has influenced yours whom you would like to chat with at the conference? If so, I would highly suggest that you reach out to this individual before the conference to inquire about their conference schedule and see if you can set up a 30-minute meeting at the conference. 

I think it is important to set meetings beforehand for two main reasons:

  • Top scholars may have a litany of responsibilities at a conference (presenter, discussant, organization officer, meeting with colleagues) that might leave them with small amounts of time at the conference to meet. Thus, if possible, getting on their schedule beforehand will ensure you have the opportunity to chat with them.
  • Attempting to engage in a conversation after the scholar’s presentation might be difficult, as you may be competing with other attendees who also want to talk with the individual about their presentation.

How do you make the most of your meeting time? I once met with a graduate student who came to our meeting with an agenda of the items she wanted to discuss. I found it very helpful as it guided our conversation and made sure she got the most out of the conversation. While you may not have a formal agenda, make sure you have some ideas about what you want to gain from the conversation so that the time with the scholar is fruitful.

Be strategic about what sessions you attend

Let’s face it: at most conferences, there are too many presentations and not enough time! And it seems the ones I want to attend always occupy the same slot in the schedule. Consequently, over the years I have had to be more strategic about the sessions I attend. Moreover, I have created a team of my colleagues who have similar interests. When presented with conflicting sessions, we each go to a different one, and then we have a conversation later on in the conference (or after) about what was presented in each session. I think this approach is useful for graduate students as you can all discuss with each other what you learned from attending various sessions.

Attend networking events at the academic conference

I am often reminded by my experience in academia that the networking and social events are just as important as the formal conference presentation sessions. At networking events you get to interact with individuals in a more relaxed environment than at a presentation. 

As a graduate student, I published my first peer-review journal article, and at a conference that same year, I attended a social gathering. I was able to meet three of the authors at the gathering whom I cited in my paper (and I did not know them previously!). To this day I still have a relationship with those individuals, but I believe it was fostered as a result of attending the social event.

For many, navigating networking and social events comes easily. However, for my more introverted readers, I truly understand how these events can feel overwhelming. To combat your apprehension, try to build a deeper connection with 3-5 folks rather than having surface level conversation with 20. To make the most of these conversations do more listening and see where there is a connection between you and the other individual. That connection can be related to aspects of your job (e.g., research interests), but that connection can also be forged based on your like for similar past times (e.g., traveling). 

What suggestions do you have on making the most out of conferences? Do you have a conference story to tell? Feel free to tweet me with your insights!

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, on three tips for candidates working with search firms.

As many of you are preparing for the upcoming semester, you (or colleagues you know) may begin to get calls from search firms about their interest in applying for faculty or administrative positions. I’ve had experience with search firms as a candidate and as a member of a search committee, so I want to focus my advice on engaging in search-firm-lead hiring processes. While I do not highlight each step of the process in this post, I share a few insights to consider as you all are on an upward career trajectory and may work with search firms.

Getting on a search firm’s radar

If a search firm is involved in hiring, they handle the initial screening of applicants. I have found that there are two possible routes to get on the shortlist for a potential position:

  1. Apply formally via the application submission portal
  2. Exist on a search firm’s vetted list of potential candidates

The first route is self-explanatory and just requires you to keep abreast of where jobs in your field are posted, as I described in a previous Smart Scholar post. The second route, however, is also important because some positions may not be widely advertised. Having a relationship with a search firm is advantageous to getting on a shortlist for positions.

In my experience, I have found that individuals can get on the radar of a search firm through various ways: 

  • Reach out to a firm via email, provide your resume/CV, and set up a time to talk with a representative from the firm.
  • Talk with your peers! You can be referred to the search firm by either a colleague already on their radar or the university search committee. 

While being referred by someone else presents you as a warm(er) lead, I am not opposed to reaching out to search firms directly and building relationships with their associates. This may not be immediately fruitful, but down the line, opportunities may come to you that would not have previously.

Develop your list of references early

If you are contacted by a search firm and decide to apply for a position, it’s critical to begin lining up your references. This may seem early in the process, but you want to get your list set up because when you are considered a finalist for a position, the search firm—in conjunction with the university search committee—will begin to engage your recommendation list. An important question, therefore, is: who should I list as a reference? 

While the committee itself will give (or likely suggest) this information, I’ve found that it’s good to have the following types of individuals prepared to serve as a reference:

  • A current supervisor
  • A former supervisor
  • A colleague or research collaborator—typically I’ve seen this for faculty or research center positions
  • A direct report— an individual who has reported to you in some capacity—if applicable
Clean up your social media

Now that you have developed a rapport with a search committee and prepared your references, you may well find yourself at the final stage in the hiring process. At this point, it’s likely that the search committee will do a formal background check—along with an informal background check, which includes searching through your social media.

We are in a social media age where sharing much of what happens in our lives is common. It is important, prior to applying for a search, to assess what your social media profiles say about you. My suggestion here would be to:

  • Do a Google search on your name and see what shows up 
  • Then clean up anything that would not represent you in a positive way

Unfortunately, I have heard from colleagues and have experienced as a committee member how a great candidate could lose a potential offer due to what a search firm and committee would deem a “problematic” social media post and/or image. Interpreting social media is subjective and often adversely impacts candidates of color. I believe doing a clean of your social media is beneficial to securing a future position. 

 

Have you had experiences with search firms? Please reach out to me on Twitter to continue the conversation!

 

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.