As you all may know, I am leaping headfirst into The Summer of Progress and Productivity, 2007 edition. I was looking over my summer to-do list and making preliminary plans when an email caught my eye (note to self: you still need to clean out the inbox too). It was an email from a conference I had been to earlier this year, reminding me that the deadline for next year’s conference was fast approaching. This reminded me that I haven’t finalized anything for my other conference, which is soon, and from there I made the brilliant deductive (or is it inductive?) leap that there were other conferences in the world, some of which I really want to go to but haven’t been with-it enough to apply for, and that these deadlines, likewise, are either immanent or immediately past, unless they are long past, at which point it’s pretty much moot.
And combined with these submission deadlines is the problem that I haven’t got new material, having just presented or submitted what I do have. So I need to not only try to publish things but think ahead about a year while writing abstracts and figure out what I will be working on or finished with then so that what I need to write and my conference deadlines actually have something to do with each other. This leads me to only one conclusion:
Seriously, how do you manage long-term academic deadlines? On top of, or perhaps I should say, completely separate and independent of, teaching deadlines, academic calendars and the tenure clock, there are all these conference and publication timelines which seem to require more than just juggling (as if there was any “just” to that ---- I still can’t juggle even with a Juggling for Dummies book). The process of submission, revise-and-resubmit, the slow turning of the millwheels of publication under which all is ground to dust (sorry; I never can resist hyperbole), the strategic thinking three steps ahead of the game to always have something “in the pipeline” for every stage of research and publishing ---- this seems to require a different sort of metaphor.
Except I'm not at all sure whether the position I'm in here is that of the player, or of the ball.
(and I thought cogs had it bad. This is the stuff of nightmares.)
It seems to me, as I attempt this research-writing-conferencing-chapter finishing-job market (again) process, that this all seems similar to firing off some pinballs and watching them ping their way through the system, eventually dropping back to me (with a revise and resubmit, perhaps, a rejection more likely) to be caught and shot back out with a well-timed flip of a paddle before they drop into the Gutter of Oblivion.
But instead of simply pulling the plunger to propel another ball out of the chute, I have to hand-carve a new one first, all the while not taking my eyes off the various strange little objects pinging and ringing up at the top end of the playing field. Oh, and standing up in front of a class, teaching, simultaneously. How the hell am I supposed to do this?
Ok, this is too over-the-top; this metaphor is completely inappropriate. I actually know some people who can publish, and there are books in my library, further proof that this sort of balancing is possible. When I describe it this way it sounds as though no mere human could accomplish this. Maybe it gets easier with practice? Heh, yeah, but they said the same thing with juggling and most of the sports I've tried.
I'm just the opposite of a multi-tasker; I really can do only one thing deeply at once (maybe two if one of those is teaching a class I've done before. I'm pretty good about not letting teaching eat my life like some of my dedicated colleagues who throw their heart and soul into teaching and then get kicked out of the program cause they haven't produced a chapter in 10 years.) But this whole planning out a year so that I'm writing and knowing where to send stuff out (or back out) and lopping off other stuff to send to conferences, well, it just kinda overwhelms me. And, I'm not sure I should say it out loud, but you can see it in my CV if you look carefully; there are "writing" years where I get chapters done, and there are other years where I get "professional" things done. Yeesh. I don't wanna even confront it. Anybody got any good advice?
If you're a grad student or prospective grad student, the only advice I've got is: you need to be able to constantly see and plan grad school in year increments. Further on you seem to have to plan in even larger time frames than that.
(PS please stop by photographer Kevin Tiell's fine page and order some of his gorgeous prints so I don't feel bad about snagging them. I never knew that fan clubs for restoring old pinball tables existed, or that I loved the look of retro tables, before I wrote this post.)