Saturday, July 14, 2007

"In the Pipeline"

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.)


Flavia said...

It does get easier. I remember being totally baffled as to how anyone could already be thinking about a second book, or unrelated articles or conference papers, when the diss was such an all-consuming and unfinished monster (even if done as a diss, it's not done as a book!), and I'm kind of not sure how it is that I now have an edition and an idea for a second monograph and two or three totally new conference presentations/possible articles percolating.

But actually, I do know, and this might be useful to you: first, none of them is totally unrelated to my diss. Some are on the same authors, but different works. Some are on material that I might or might not add to the MS eventually.

I think that you just decide you want/need to go to X conference, and then set aside the time to research/write up an abstract. If it's accepted. . . well, then you have to write something! And once you've written 8-10 pages, why not an article? It's all about forcing deadlines upon yourself. Independent motivation? Not so much.

heu mihi said...

I don't have any advice, being a little too new to and too overwhelmed by the very pinballing you describe (great metaphor, by the way!). What I'm hoping will work for me, though, is the forced-deadline thing that Flavia mentioned. It's worked with conference papers in the past, so even though I know that this year is going to be All About Teaching, I do have to write a paper for a conference in November. And, because I have to write it (even though it's on a mostly-new-to-me topic!), I know that I *will* write it, for better or worse. But beyond that? I have no idea.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Does this mean that it helps to be deaf, dumb, and blind?

Sisyphus said...

Flavia: when you say you have an edition, does that mean you're editing and doing the notes stuff for a fancy and old text? Cool. I don't know how well the deadline thing will work for me, as I sometimes freeze under deadlines, and I hate traveling, so not being done when getting on that plane can be _extremely_ anxiety producing.

JB: really, I could try the whole create-a-deadline thing for myself if I didn't keep looking up conferences and going, "whoops, missed that submission date by a month too!" Ah well.

Porpentine (I still love that word): I'm told that ignorance _is_ bliss. However, there's always the cold-water shock of knowledge washing over you as you realize what you have forgotten.

Flavia said...

Re: edition: yep. That was the transcription project I was doing in the U.K. It's a little back-burner-y right now, but at least it's far enough along that I feel okay about having it on the CV and claiming to be working on it!

Re: deadlines: sometimes they don't have to be hard-and-fast deadlines, as with a conference, although even there you can give yourself non-binding deadlines.

For example, tell your advisor or other authority-ish figure about a new project you're interested in, and that you'd love for him/her to take a look at it when you have a draft--and that you expect to get one done by, say, early September. Your advisor probably couldn't give a shit if you do it or not or by when, but if you're like me you'll start to feel a nagging sense of obligation and will get it done by early October just so you don't feel like a total loser.

Sometimes just telling people about a new idea (based on an abstract, say) is a way of making it feel real and at least interesting. Ditto for starting the research on a new project, however idly--photocopy a bunch of new articles/book chapters, assemble some notes and a working bibliography, and put it all in a labled file folder that your eye will be caught by occasionally. Or write a pre-emptive abstract.

And finally, once you've done some of those things, remember this lesson that I learned last summer: sometimes ANY project looks more appealing than the one you're currently "supposed" to be working on!