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Evaluating progress by comparing myself to This Time Last Year’s Version of Me

Within the field of political science, I consider myself a comparativist, more than a specialist in international relations. Most of the work I have done has been within comparative politics and comparative public policy. Therefore, it’s natural that I seek to contrast across cases. The problem is that often times, I compare myself with others, which as many people have said, really does not help with self-esteem and fosters an impostor syndrome. That’s why so many people have said that “comparison is the thief of joy”. Well, not so true for my scholarly research, but it certainly is for my professional life.

Truth be told, I have found that comparing myself to This Time Last Year’s Version of Me is a much more helpful approach.

I see how much I have grown this year and I am amazed and grateful.

So that’s what I would recommend others to do. Don’t compare yourself to others, see how much you’ve grown within a year.

Posted in academia.


Put your oxygen mask on first, and 23 other life lessons I recently learned

I recently wrote a 24-tweet-long thread that summarized some of the life lessons I learned the hard way in the past few months, and thanks to the work of ThreaderApp I am able to summarize them here.

Panoramic view

(1) PUT YOUR OXYGEN MASK FIRST. – I am a naturally generous person, so much so that I often forget to protect myself before helping others. This has worked much to my detriment in academia, as I often say YES to much service that perhaps I should have said no to. This is important.

(2) I OWE NOTHING TO NOBODY.- This lesson was a hard one to learn. In trying to be helpful, I often put too much pressure on myself to do things for my institution, my discipline(s), academia in general. I expend much time, energy, resources (often FINANCIAL one$$$).

(3) MANY PEOPLE ARE SELF-CENTERED AND NOT ALTRUISTIC, IDENTIFY THEM EARLY AND OFTEN.- Another one that you would think I, as a scholar of self-organization and cooperative behaviour, and a student of rational choice, would know, but I have way too much faith in people, still.

(4) LEARN TO ASK FOR HELP,- This one was also hard to learn. I always promise myself “I will not try to save the world today all by myself” and yet, off I often go and try to do this. These past few months, I’ve asked for help, and SURPRISE I have gotten so much! This was amazing.

(5) FIND YOUR CORE PEOPLE, AND LEAN ON THEM.- While you would think I have many thousand friends, anybody who knows me will know I’m actually really selective about who I call a good friend. My core people has sustained me through really dark periods of my life, I’m grateful.

(6) YOU NEED TIME AND SPACE FOR REFLECTION. Being able to really be away from my home institution, in a different country, surrounded by an entirely different environment, language, culture and society, forced me to step away and back from what I always have “on the go”.

(7) LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS. I expected so many things to be different in the past few years, and yet (hey, I’m a neoinstitutional theorist, I look for historical lock-in behavioural patterns), in so many ways society is still the same. Expectations lead to disappointment.

(8) MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF (which relates to 1, PUT YOUR OXYGEN MASK FIRST). The fact that I’m often too generous doesn’t mean that I don’t value myself (I’ve got a pretty healthy self-esteem, TYVM) – it means that the time I have for myself, I often trade off and give to others.

(9) MODEL THE BEHAVIOUR YOU WANT TO SEE. Giving, sharing and collaborating is innate to me, because that’s what I had modeled in my childhood: my grandpa, my auntie, my Mom, were all amazingly generous people, and I obviously behave much like the people who I see as role models.

(10) LISTEN. REALLY LISTEN.- As an ethnographer of marginalized populations, I try to give voice to, & lift those who often don’t have one. But these past few months have taught me to really listen to people. I’ve gotten interviews I never thought I would just by shutting my mouth.

(11) LEARN TO BE FLEXIBLE AND ADAPTIVE.- I used to be the kind of person who would say “it’s my way or the high way” (I’m a Type A, Upholder, Virgo). In the past few months, I’ve learned to relax and adapt. I’ve become what I preach to my students: more of a bamboo than an oak.

(12) LET GO OF THINGS, OF PEOPLE, OF IDEAS, OF ROUTINES.- In the past few months, I’ve listened to my old rule “the sandal I drop, I never ever pick up again” (la chancla que yo tiro, no la vuelvo a recoger). I’ve let go of toxic people, of stuff I’ve accumulated, of ideas/routine.

(13) VALUE WHAT YOU HAVE, NOT WHAT YOU DON’T. Living in Mexico, I was able to access a lot of things that living in France I am not. This frustrated me to no end. I am re-learning a lesson I always give my students and my friends: value what you DO have, not what you’re missing.

(14). TRUST YOURSELF AND WORK TO YOUR ADVANTAGES AND STRENGTHS. I know for a fact I make terrible decisions at night. I’ve forced myself to stop and just wait until next morning when I’m thinking more clearly. I don’t work beyond what my body is physically able of doing.

(15). AS MUCH AS YOU CAN, PREPARE FOR THE UNEXPECTED. I never expected to spend 6 weeks at the beginning of the year sick, with chronic and unbearable pain, and yet having to Do All The Things (I was teaching in the spring). I never expected that I’d develop an allergy here either.

(16). HOLD ON TO YOUR CORE VALUES. In being adaptive, I’ve also learned to compromise, but I’ve also made much clearer my personal values. If something doesn’t jive with the values I hold dear, I simply say “no”.

(17). NOT EVERY FIGHT IS YOURS TO FIGHT.- I often feel like I’m responsible for championing the causes of those at the margins. But not every war is mine to engage. There’s a metric ton of people who are fighting the good fight, and it’s not my responsibility to Fight All Fights.

(18). DO WHAT YOU LOVE, WITH WHAT YOU CAN, WHEREVER YOU ARE. I love what I do, both professionally and personally. I wouldn’t trade my history (with the challenges, successes, losses and defeats I’ve had) for anybody else’s. What I’ve achieved is the result of what I’ve done.

(19). SLEEP. REST. RECOVER. NURTURE YOUR BODY AND YOUR SOUL. I felt so pressured to finish so many scholarly commitments that I sometimes forgot that if I wasn’t healthy, I would not be able to engage mentally with anything. Now, if I need a nap, or days off, I take them.

(20). PREPARE FOR THE WORST, EVEN IF YOU HOPE FOR THE BEST. I am now ready to fight challenges I didn’t feel ready for last month. This is because I know now that my capacity to adapt is much higher than I ever expected. But I’m always on guard, and prepare for what’s coming.

(21). YOU’RE IN THE DRIVING SEAT. I am the best person to make decisions about what’s best for me. I do confer with trusted advisors (and I did so earlier this year when I made two of the toughest decisions of my entire career) but in the end, only I can know what works for me.

(22) WRITE FOR YOURSELF. I’ve learned to be selfish about my research. I work on what I study because *I* believe it is important. So I write to help ME understand the world, and then share that understanding with others. I feel renewed in my approach to writing #AcWri.

(23) KONMARI YOUR LIFE. Get rid of overflowing stuff in your closets, excess emotional baggage, toxic and negative people (energy vampires). Give away well preserved clothes and other stuff to charities and people in need.

(24) COMPARE YOURSELF TO YOUR PAST SELF, NOT OTHERS. I am MUCH stronger now than I was 5 months ago. I know Paris and France and Europe much better, my spoken French has vastly improved, and I’ve been able to conduct interviews in French. I bettered MYSELF, not compared.

Posted in academia.

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Writing in Political Science: A Brief Guide (Short Guides to Writing in the Disciplines) (my reading notes)

I remember I came across this book, “Writing in Political Science: A Brief Guide (Short Guides to Writing in the Disciplines)” by Mika LaVaque-Manty and Danielle LaVaque-Manty (you guessed right, they’re married to each other) while at a conference, but never purchased the book. I finally got a copy last year, and got a chance to read it and I liked it. My Twitter stream summarizes my thoughts on the book.

As I said on Twitter, this would be a good book for a course on writing in political science paired with others.

If you liked this blog post, perhaps you’d want to check my reading notes of other books on various topics, including scholarly writing, or my page on reading notes of books geared towards doctoral candidates undertaking their dissertation research. Disclaimer: I purchase all my books with my own hard earned money, and I receive absolutely no cash from promoting, reading or reviewing these books. My intention is simply to help others in academia, particularly graduate students and scholars at the margins.

Posted in academia, writing.

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The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers (my reading notes)

As a qualitative researcher who mentors students in conducting research using these methods in a primarily quantitative institution, it’s hard to do both mentoring theses and teaching them skills if you don’t teach the methods courses (which I couldn’t do even if I wanted to).

AcWri at the Comfort Inn Santa Fe Bosques

Therefore, with all the pain in my heart I have to send my students to do independent reading on methods if they choose a technique that is qualitative and in which they were not trained (remember I mentor students from other campuses and universities too). Obviously, I share with them my knowledge base for specific readings and books they ought to check out, and I guide them throughout the process.

One of the books I’ve liked the most throughout my career, (and I learned qualitative methods in graduate school!) is Johnny Saldaña’s “The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers“. This book is, in my opinion, canonical for anyone trying to learn how to code written material and undertake qualitative analysis.

Overall, I believe reading Saldaña’s book coupled with the Ryan and Barnard 2000 classic article should be a good introduction to how to undertake coding for qualitative researchers.

If you liked this blog post, perhaps you’d want to check my reading notes of other books on various topics, including scholarly writing, or my page on reading notes of books geared towards doctoral candidates undertaking their dissertation research. Disclaimer: I purchase all my books with my own hard earned money, and I receive absolutely no cash from promoting, reading or reviewing these books. My intention is simply to help others in academia, particularly graduate students and scholars at the margins.

Posted in academia, research, research methods, writing.

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Science Research Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English (my reading notes)

Since I teach in Mexico and mentor doctoral students in Spanish, but the requirements for a global academia are increasingly international, I am always on the lookout for stuff that I think will help my graduate students. I found Hilary Glassman-Deal’s book Science Research Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English during my search, and wanted to check it out.

My full process for writing a paper

I think that overall, this book might help those who are non-native English speakers improve their scientific writing. Though strongly geared towards STEM, I believe it can help those in the humanities and social sciences.

Overall, a nice book that should be useful as well for STEM folks. At some points, I wasn’t completely on board with her methods, but again, I think and read and write in English, so I am not the best at assessing fit for non-native English speakers.

If you liked this blog post, perhaps you’d want to check my reading notes of other books on various topics, including scholarly writing, or my page on reading notes of books geared towards doctoral candidates undertaking their dissertation research. Disclaimer: I purchase all my books with my own hard earned money, and I receive absolutely no cash from promoting, reading or reviewing these books. My intention is simply to help others in academia, particularly graduate students and scholars at the margins.

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Scientific Writing = Thinking in Words (my reading notes)

This is another book that helps those of us who are in STEM fields or publish within the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) areas write more clearly.

Editing a paper

This book by David Lindsay, “Scientific Writing = Thinking in Words” is one of the best I’ve read as far as providing detail-oriented guidelines on how to write well in the STEM disciplines, and its advice applies broadly.

In short, very much worth reading if you’re looking to improve your writing as an academic.

If you liked this blog post, perhaps you’d want to check my reading notes of other books on various topics, including scholarly writing, or my page on reading notes of books geared towards doctoral candidates undertaking their dissertation research. Disclaimer: I purchase all my books with my own hard earned money, and I receive absolutely no cash from promoting, reading or reviewing these books. My intention is simply to help others in academia, particularly graduate students and scholars at the margins.

Posted in academia, writing.

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The Scientist’s Guide to Writing How to Write More Easily and Effectively throughout Your Scientific Career (my reading notes)

I had corresponded with Dr. Stephen B. Heard about his writing book “The Scientist’s Guide to Writing How to Write More Easily and Effectively throughout Your Scientific Career” a few years ago and he was kind enough to email me a PDF copy. I hadn’t made the time to read it until recently when I began compiling reading notes of books on how to do academic writing, and more specifically, what doctoral students can expect during the gruelling process of developing their doctoral dissertation. As a former chemical engineer and leather scientist, Stephen’s book resonated with me, as his book is oriented towards STEM disciplines.

Coloured pens, scribbling highlighting and writing

My Twitter thread on Stephen’s book is self-explanatory and offers a summary of my overall thoughts on the book.

Overall, a great book for STEM folks.

If you liked this blog post, perhaps you’d want to check my reading notes of other books on various topics, including scholarly writing, or my page on reading notes of books geared towards doctoral candidates undertaking their dissertation research. Disclaimer: I purchase all my books with my own hard earned money, and I receive absolutely no cash from promoting, reading or reviewing these books. My intention is simply to help others in academia, particularly graduate students and scholars at the margins.

Posted in academia, writing.

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Preparing a research statement and crafting a research trajectory

People keep asking me how to write a research statement and how they can develop a research trajectory. My own pathway has been quite variegated so I don’t recommend following mine (as I have many interests and have done a lot of things). My advice is particularly targeted to those in disciplines, fields and countries where it’s much more common to have the usual linear trajectory (PhD, publishing sometimes and other times, waiting until the degree, post-doctoral fellowship to get some articles out or work on a book manuscript, publish 5-6 articles and a single-authored monograph, and start work on a second project before coming up for tenure).

Pathway

Photo credit: David Mertl on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed Attribution

Since I didn’t want to provide “advice”, I instead chose to tweet a thread of my own research statement and research trajectory. You can read my Research Interests statement here. As I said in my Twitter thread, research trajectories are highly personal. What will interest me in 5 years? I am not sure. I was always interested in cooperation. I think that I study things I did not see coming in 2011, when I first wrote about my own research trajectory. To be perfectly honest, I never thought I would be studying water conflicts now, or water privatization, even if I had already started doing work on the politics of bottled water in 2009.

A research statement, in my view, should state what you’ve studied, how you’ve studied it, and the outputs you’ve generated, as well as a general overview of where your research is going to take you. The research statement, since it’s a document targeted at academic job search committees, should be concise (1-2 pages) and provide an overview of current projects, completed ones, and in-process or about-to-launch ones.

A research trajectory is, to me, a long-term plan/description of how the work of an academic or a scholar has evolved through time, and where it could possibly go. A research trajectory has temporal and evolutionary dimensions: it’s a narrative of where you were at a certain point in your career as a scholar, and where have you moved or what you’ve accomplished.

Here is my Twitter thread.

Also, below you can find some resources on both research trajectories and research statements.

On research statements: see this guide chock full of good tips, UCSF’s suggestions, and this blog post. I really liked how this postdoctoral fellow wrote her research statement.

And on research trajectories, here, here and here. I loved how this scholar wrote his research trajectory, too. Here is an example of a sample research trajectory that serves as a template for what a clinical scholar should do.

I think the core two pieces of advice on research statements and research trajectories can be found in these two tweets:

Addendum: I used text from my Twitter thread to draft my Research Trajectory.

Posted in academia, research.

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Planning work over the summer (for faculty and undergrad/graduate students)

Two of my quasi-doctoral students (Cesar Alvarez from University of California Los Angeles and Mariana Miguelez from The Ohio State University), have asked me a few times whether I could write a blog post about how to plan a summer. As doctoral students in the United States, their summer is approximately 4 months (from May through August). Fellow faculty members have asked me for the same. When I used to work in Canada, I would have 4 months, but now at CIDE I have only from June through mid-August. These summer months still assume I’m on campus and thus I should be available for meetings, etc. Because of this shortened summer, I rarely plan anything extended beyond knowing when I should take a holiday (which I usually do at the same time as when CIDE closes over the summer for 3 weeks). At any rate, when I need to plan summer activities, I follow the model I present below.

Drafts monthly plans

The process I follow is approximately the following (as drawn from my thread):

These tweets describe my strategy in more detail.

Something asked me how do I deal with STCUS (Shit That Comes Up Somehow) and here is how: I add those tasks that I either had to do without having planned them, or somebody dropped those commitments on my lap (e.g. administrative stuff that needs to be dealt with for my institution). I use a green coloured pen to mark them as “this came up, had to do it”.

For doctoral students (and Masters and undergraduate too), I strongly recommend that they incorporate a review of their progress in their summer planning. Summers are possibly the only periods (unless they have to teach or work if they do not have funding, in order to make ends meet) when a doctoral student could possibly reflect without having additional pressures. This reflection could help them remap their progress.

You could potentially use whatever is left of the month of April to write a first draft of a DTP and update it every month, or update a file with notes about your progress that could then be reworked into a DTP. If you are a faculty member writing a book, perhaps doing a DTP would help as well!

The following few tweets show how I do the monthly and weekly planning, with actual visual examples.

To recap, my suggestion for planning a summer:

1) Set up a goal for the end of the summer (whichever months that would be – for this blog post’s sake consider May 1st the beginning of summer and August 31st the end).
2) Break down each goal/objective/milestone into achievable tasks and milestones to be accomplished each month/week.
3) Backcast those goals from the end of August backwards through to the beginning of May using a Gantt Chart and printed monthly and weekly calendars.
4) Plan your day using #2ThingsADay, Granular Planning and the Rule of Threes or whichever method you prefer, based on weekly goals to achieve.
5) Drop those commitments in either a Google Calendar or an Everything Notebook or whichever method you best prefer.

Obviously this process can be adapted to plan a semester (either Fall or Spring) as well. Hope this blog post helps people out there!

Posted in academia, planning, writing.

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How to write the discussion section of an academic paper

This is one of the most challenging questions people have ever asked me, because after looking through dozens of journal articles in my Mendeley database, I could not find a lot of them who used Discussion sections. I believe this idea of the Discussion component of an academic journal article (or book chapter, in some cases) comes from the IMRAD model of publishing, that is, papers that have at least the following five sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, Analysis and Discussion (hence the acronym).

Personally, I neither like, nor do I often write this type of journal article. Even when I was a chemical engineer, I can’t recall that I read many papers in the IMRAD model, as they all had a variation (merging Discussion with Results, or Results with Conclusion, or Discussion with Conclusion). As I said on Twitter, I read engineering, natural science and social science literatures. Thusly, the Discussion sections that I read vary QUITE A LOT.

HOWEVER

All Discussion sections I’ve read are

  1. analytical, not descriptive,
  2. specific in their interpretation of research results,
  3. robust in their linkage of research findings with theories, other empirical reports and various literatures,
  4. good at explaining how a paper’s results may contradict earlier work, extend it, advance our understanding of X or Y phenomenon and, most definitely:
  5. NOT the conclusion of the paper.

What I think is important to remember when writing the Discussion section of a paper, is to really ANALYZE, not just describe. Link theories, methods, data, other work.

As usual in my blog posts, I here link to a few resources that may be of help (written by other authors).

In my Twitter thread, I suggested ways to discern (and learned from) how authors have written their discussion sections.

There are times when scholars blend Discussion and Conclusions, or Results and Discussions sections. This is not even discipline-dependent, it’s author-dependent.

Another example, now from the criminal justice field.

Hopefully these notes will be helpful to fellow scholars writing these sections!

Posted in academia, writing.

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