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Joe Turner’s Q&A with Leo Heller (UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation)

It’s rare to find a science journalist who will be passionate about sanitation, so when I came across Joe Turner and his work covering sanitation and soil science, I was fascinated. We struck a wonderful conversation about whether sanitation is “safe” and whether naming it a human right would ever change things and improve access. From there, Joe mentioned he had done a Question and Answer interview with Leo Heller, the current UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, succeeding Catarina de Albuquerque).

Below the entire text of the Q&A, courtesy of (and authored by) Joe Turner. Thanks for letting me publish it on my blog, Joe! I find Heller’s responses extremely insightful.

Leo Heller Q&A

Question: what does it mean to describe access to safe water and sanitation as a human right?

Heller: The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation establish a legal framework, which clearly defines rights and obligations, in order to promote pro-poor and non-discriminatory provision and to avoid retrogressions in the level of access. They decisively have the potential of contributing to the empowerment of individuals by transforming them from passive recipients to active agents of change.

Question: does this mean that there should be universal access to high quality water-based sanitation everywhere in the world?

Heller: Water and sanitation are integrally related and equally important for a life of health and dignity. Lack of safe sanitation is a major cause of contamination of water sources. Without safe and environmentally adequate sanitation, safe drinking water can be seriously jeopardized. On the other hand, sanitation are not necessarily “water-borne sanitation” especially in rural areas.

Question: Do you see the right to water and the right to sanitation as conflicting things?

Heller: In my opinion, the human right to water and the human right to sanitation could be recognized as two distinct and interlinked human rights, derived from the right to an adequate standard of living. The recognition of the specific right to sanitation would contribute to the perception of the need of specific efforts for its universal access. Moreover, would eliminate the idea of this dimension of the right as the “poor cousin” of the water dimension.

Question: On that point, should there not be a Special Rapporteur for sanitation?

Answer: Improving sanitation may require a different type of interventions with a strong focus on creating or reinforcing demand for sanitation, hygiene education and behaviour change. However, in most urban areas, served by sewerage systems, the provider and the regulator of both the services are usually the same and the tariff structure considers water and sanitation together. Those interlinkages justify having only one Special Rapporteur, avoiding to fragment this traditionally holistic approach.

Question: How will you promote sanitation in your appointment?

Heller: There is now a good momentum to prioritize sanitation in discussions on the post-2015 development agenda because a target on sanitation is one of the most off-track targets under the UN Millennium Development Goals. I will certainly promote access to sanitation on an equal footing with access to water, and accord it more significance in the dialogue with State parties. Adequate solutions for sanitation may vary depending on people’s needs, locations, human and financial resources among other considerations. “Improved sanitation”, as considered in the MDG [Millennium Development Goal] statistics, does not necessarily meet the requirements of the right to sanitation and can increase the gap between Northern and Southern countries regarding the level of access. The right to sanitation entitles everyone, without discrimination, to have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity.

Joe Turner is a science journalist with particular interests in soil science and sanitation. You can read more of his work on his site. You can also follow him on Twitter as @bucksci.

RPV’s commentary – I have to say that I find it interesting that Leo Heller doesn’t seem to think we need a special Rapporteur for the Human Right to Sanitation. Given my years of working in this field and studying the governance of sanitation, I have found myself frustrated with the lack of interest in what happens with water AFTER it has been used. Wastewater is (apparently, to this day) still an after-thought. I am very glad, however, that it seems to be gaining (slowly) more recognition as an important issue.

Posted in academia, sanitation.

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On self-care, balance and overwork in academia

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may know that I ended this 2014 extremely sick. I was under an impossible amount of pressure (finishing two project reports, my Mom was in the hospital undergoing cardiovascular surgery, and I also had a negative reaction to the flu shot). Overall, these conditions combined leading to me being sick for two weeks. As in, my physician told me “you need to rest or you’re going to die”. Those are not the words you want your physician to tell you, at any point in time.

Sunset while on the BC Ferries to Vancouver

I understand why I ended up this broken. We have 3 holiday periods at CIDE: April (3 weeks), July (3 weeks), and December (2 weeks). I didn’t take any holidays last December, nor this April, nor in July. Not even statutory holidays and long weekends. Which means I was on 24/7, 365 days. No human being is capable of sustaining this amount of pressure for an extended period of time.

Sunset in Parksville (The Beach Club Resort, Parksville BC)

Yes, I do schedule self-care every day (I go out with my friends, with my parents, I schedule naps). But even daily self-care isn’t enough in academic life. Because it’s not a job that is 9 am to 5pm, as most jobs would be. In academic life, you are on 24/7. Your brain is always thinking about your research (at least, mine is).

This amount of pressure isn’t something my institution brought on to myself. Much to the contrary, all senior faculty at CIDE insisted “you need to slow down” in late 2013. And to be perfectly honest, I *thought* I had slowed down. I was learning to say “no” to requests, I said NO to many conference calls, and invitations to participate in academic seminars, etc. BUT (and here is the big BUT), all the planning I did ended up being screwed because there were things I didn’t foresee (like my parents’ poor health, which is something you can’t schedule or plan around).

So what am I going to do in 2015, with all this learning I just gained?

1) I’m not going to answer work-related emails on weekends.

2) I’m going to take weekends, statutory holidays and holiday periods. All of them.

3) I’m going to erase any commitment that doesn’t bring me forward in my career. This means book chapters, Spanish language publications and edited volumes.

4) I’m going to make my commitment to my own health and well-being public with my institution (which I have to admit, is incredibly supportive and human), with my colleagues (who are simply amazing and understanding and caring) and with my own students (who are fantastic), and with my international colleagues (who are outstanding scholars who understand the need for self-care).

5) I’m going to go home for the holidays. I miss Vancouver and Canada like crazy and this is the first year since I left Canada I haven’t been back to Vancouver. I did go to Toronto, but I miss my own home and my friends. So next year, a visit to Vancouver WILL be in the cards.

Sunset in English Bay (Vancouver, West End)

I have ZERO fear about how much I need to publish. I have 5 journal articles in press for 2015, 2 English-language, peer-reviewed book chapters, and I’m working on another book and a special issue. That’s more than enough. I am not putting myself through the wringer again. As I said, if I am to be a role model, I want to be the academic who can prove that you can be human AND publish AND mentor great students.

But first, I need to be healthy again. And the only way this is going to happen is if I take holidays seriously, rest and rejuvenate. I encourage my readers to do the same.

No academic accolades are worth your health and your life.

Posted in academia.

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What I learned in 2014: Balancing academic and personal life is hard

Last year, I committed myself to a manifesto: Seeking peace and balance. In 2013, I launched new projects, assembled new datasets, and started teaching new courses. For me, 2014 was supposed to be the year where I would be able to balance my personal life with my professional (academic) life. This was a lofty goal given that I knew that my Fall 2014 teaching load would be relatively heavy compared to what I had before (I taught one new course, Regional Development, and one that I already had taught before, State and Local Government, but I revamped the syllabus completely).

In this post, I’ll summarize the lessons I learned for 2015 that I gained throughout the year. Given that the semester isn’t over, this post is still a bit premature, but I’ll be grading this week and finishing two projects, and I know for a fact that I will be too busy to actually think about what I learned in 2014.

The first thing I learned was that balancing my academic life and my personal life is and will continue to be very hard. Personal lives have an important impact on our academic lives. We aren’t robots who operate in a vacuum. We are humans who conduct research, teach, do fieldwork, mentor students, undertake service. This year, both my parents had episodes where they needed extreme care (three hospitalizations, two in the summer, one in late November). Since the reason why I left Canada was to be closer to my parents if/when they needed me, I figured I was lucky this time. Had I been in Canada at the time my parents needed medical care, I would have felt horrible and been terribly stressed. Still, I had to deal with a lot of stress, medical care, and individual care. Obviously, my own self-care suffered. I am very lucky in that CIDE was (and continues to be) incredibly supportive during these difficult times. Not only CIDE as an institution but also my co-authors, my colleagues, my students, senior faculty, everyone was and has been really helpful and understanding.

The second thing I learned was that it’s a really, really bad idea to do two new undergraduate course preparations in a semester, particularly when these courses are in a different language than the literature you would generally use. I asked to be able to teach again in English, and I was lucky that both my courses were earmarked as capstone and English-only ones. Teaching in English in a Spanish-speaking country has its own specific challenges, but it made me feel comfortable again, since the vast majority of my teaching has been in the English language (I taught most of my life in Canada).

A third lesson I learned is that it’s a really bad idea to try to balance travelling for conferences and workshops in a teaching semester. I piled all my teaching on Mondays and Wednesdays to be able to travel on Thursday and Friday, but then I found out that many conferences started on Monday, or were in Europe and I needed to use the entire week, which made me miss lectures. Thus I had to find a way to reschedule these missed classes which was a logistical nightmare. Luckily I have all my teaching in the fall so all the travelling I’ll be doing in the Spring and Summer 2015 will not affect my teaching.

A fourth lesson I learned was that all this travelling for workshops, fieldwork, talks, seminars and conferences was really being detrimental to my own health, so I started combining things. For example, when I went to Madrid for GIGAPP 2014, I ended up doing fieldwork for my informal waste pickers project. When I was in Paris for meetings at IHEAL-CREDA, I also used the remaining time to conduct interviews and do fieldwork for my remunicipalization of water supply project. I went to Washington DC for a climate evaluation conference, but I used the evenings to meet with other scholars with whom I am collaborating.

I also learned that trying to balance many projects and grants, trying to juggle many tasks will always require discipline and prioritization. I decided from the beginning of the year that I was going to try and do less service (although of course, as an Associate Editor of an international journal, and as a member of executive committees of several learned associations, I do much more service than I would probably do if I were not as involved in international committees) and that I was going to try to say NO much more often.

I also decided that I would no longer do book chapters (except for international, English-language ones, that I could circulate broadly), and that I would no longer publish in Spanish (except for two special issues of journals I’m coordinating, and a single-authored book I have under review). There are one or two book chapters that I committed to doing in Spanish that I can’t say no to (a particular research group on inter-basin water transfers in Latin America), but I decided that I want my scholarship to be internationally recognized, and let’s face it, even if I’m based out of Mexico, I’m required to publish in English. I already have plenty of publications in Spanish, so I don’t feel I need to do much more.

In the end, I am very happy with my productivity in 2014 in the face of the personal challenges I had, and I am sure that what I have accomplished is the result of discipline and daily writing practices, as well as prioritization. I will continue to zealously protect my time, given that I’m still pre-tenure.

Ultimately, I have also experienced setbacks (two particular manuscript rejections towards the end of the 2014 year were extremely painful), but as I have said before, each individual should have his/her own definition of what success in academia looks like. For me, 2014 was extremely successful and I look forward to a fantastic 2015.

My production for 2014:

Peer reviewed journal articles:

Raul Pacheco-Vega (2014) “The impact of Elinor Ostrom’s research on Mexican commons governance: An overview” Policy Matters. Issue 19. CEESP and IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. Pp. 23-34

Raul Pacheco-Vega (2014) “Ostrom y la gobernanza de agua en México” Revista Mexicana de Sociología 76(5):137-166.

Raul Pacheco-Vega (2014). “Conflictos intratables por el agua en México: el caso de la disputa por la presa El Zapotillo entre Guanajuato y Jalisco.” Argumentos. Estudios Críticos de La Sociedad, 74(27), 221–260.

Raul Pacheco-Vega (2014) “Intermunicipalidad como un arreglo institucional emergente: El caso del suministro de agua en la zona metropolitana de Aguascalientes” Revista de Gestión Pública.

Peer-reviewed book chapters

Raul Pacheco-Vega (2014) “Conflictos intratables por el agua en México: Aplicando el recorte analítico de Intratabilidad, Enmarcamiento y Reenmarcamiento” (IER) In: de Alba, Felipe and Amaya, Lourdes (Eds.) “Estado y ciudadanías del agua: Cómo significar las nuevas relaciones.” Ciudad de México, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, pp. 279-317.

Non-peer reviewed book chapters

Raul Pacheco-Vega & Alberto Hernández Alba (2014) “Percepciones divergentes de la escasez de agua en León y Guadalajara: Un análisis del caso de la presa El Zapotillo” In Daniel Tagle (Ed.) La crisis multidimensional del agua en León, Guanajuato. Universidad de Guanajuato. Guanajuato, Gto. Mexico. Pp. 125-138.

Papers presented at conferences

Raul Pacheco-Vega (2014) “Tendencias mundiales en privatización y remunicipalización del servicio público del agua” V Congreso GIGAPP (Grupo de Investigación en Gobierno y Políticas Públicas), Madrid, Spain. September 29th-October 1, 2014.

Raul Pacheco-Vega (2014) “Polycentric water governance in Mexico: Towards a research agenda” Workshop on the Ostrom Workshop (WOW5). Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, June 18-21, 2014.

Raul Pacheco-Vega (2014) “La gestión urbana del agua residual en Aguascalientes: Una mirada neoinstitucionalista a la privatización, el saneamiento y el reúso (2010-2013).” III Congreso de la Red de Investigadores Sociales sobre el Agua (RISSA). Salvatierra, Guanajuato. April 9-11, 2014.

Kate O’Neill & Raul Pacheco-Vega (2014) “Exploring Models of Electronic Wastes Governance in the US and Mexico: Recycling, Risks and Environmental Justice” International Studies Association. Toronto, ON, Canada. March 26-29th, 2014.

Raul Pacheco-Vega (2014) “Gobernanza de aguas transfronterizas en América del Norte: Dimensiones de cooperación y conflicto en Seattle/Vancouver y San Diego/Tijuana”. International Workshop “Cuencas transfronterizas: espacios de expresión de lo politico”. January 15-17, 2014.

Posted in academia.

On the politics of toilet access and the global sanitation crisis #WorldToiletDay

Dual flushing toiletOne of the first things other academics ask me is “why are you interested in toilets?” For the vast majority of people, the biological function of waste excretion is an after thought, an activity that nobody wants to talk about, and often times, the mere thought of talking about shit grosses them out. I am, however, fascinated by the human and political dimensions of human waste, and the challenges that solving the global sanitation crisis presents. More than excrement itself, I’m interested in a holistic view of sanitation (waste disposal, transportation, removal, treatment and reuse). This interest stems primarily from my training as a chemical engineer, my work experience as a sanitation engineer and researcher, and my interest from my doctoral studies in understanding the politics of policy intervention.

Contrary to what one might thing, toilets are political. Owning a toilet will become a necessary prerequisite for politicians to run for office in Gujarat, India. The new Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, has made ending open defecation and increasing access to toilets one of his campaign promises and a crucial component of his political and public policy agenda. Modi’s “toilets first, temples later” has been seen as a strong statement in favor of increasing toilet and latrine access in India.

Open defecation is a widespread activity that isn’t only confined to India, Pakistan, Indonesia or some West African countries like Ghana. It happens in less-privileged sub-national regions of developed and emerging nations too (although data is so sparse that some countries like the US and Canada are mapped as having zero contribution to open defecation, which doesn’t sound like it is actually correct). India is one of the countries where most efforts are being funneled because it tops the list of countries with the highest rate of open defecation at 58% of contribution to the world’s population engaging in this activity. But it’s certainly not the only country where we should be directing our efforts. Sub-national analyses that provide robust assessments of rates of open defecation in developed nations are also sorely lacking.

Hotel Embajador (Montevideo, Uruguay)I’ve previously written about the politics of wastewater governance because I am, after all, a political scientist (and a human geographer) and as I mentioned above, toilets, and access to sanitation all have political dimensions. In my own work I have emphasized that even if we have the technical capabilities to increase access to toilets, latrines and sanitation infrastructure, often times we see lack of progress because institutional, cultural, behavioral and societal barriers have been erected through time. I have shown that the behavioral determinants of sanitation governance are complex and multicausal, and also have multiple effects. Not having a toilet in your own home or easily accessible can lead to violence and physical/sexual assault.

Lack of toilets affects women disproportionately and leaves them vulnerable to physical violence, as it has happened in India. Earlier this year I wrote about the complex linkages between menstrual hygiene management, access to toilets and violence against women. One wouldn’t even think that not having a toilet can be deleterious to your own physical well being beyond enteric diseases, and that it could leave people (particularly women and young girls) in vulnerable positions.

While some scholars have found that in a small region of northern India cultural practices have made citizens uninterested in relieving themselves in a toilet or latrine, despite having access, these findings cannot be generalized globally. We need a multidisciplinary, multicausal, holistic approach to ending open defecation and increasing sanitation access.

For this approach to work, we need a set of policy strategies that aren’t solely focused (individually) on cultural practices, or access to latrines, or poverty alleviation. All these factors must be tackled simultaneously.

World Toilet Day 2014World Toilet Day takes place on November 19th. This year finally the United Nations named World Toilet Day an official UN day, although for all the noise it has been making, we are WAY behind the target for the Millennium Development Goals. If we really want to end open defecation by 2025, as the UN indicates, we are definitely going to need a better approach. In my own research, I have found that institution- and routine-based strategies help increase access to sanitation. I have also argued that access to toilets can be used as a political manipulation strategy. We should be interested in the global politics of sanitation because the crisis is far-reaching and widespread.

On November 19th, I encourage you to reflect on the fact that over 1 billion people defecate in the open because they lack the dignity of a toilet, and that 2.6 billion people don’t have access to improved water and sanitation sources.

Think about it. It IS political. Because we can’t wait to solve the global sanitation crisis.

Posted in academia, sanitation, wastewater.

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Why you should consider doing Academic Writing Month throughout November 2014 #AcWriMo

In a lovely conversation with my niece (who is studying Political Science at a prestigious US university), she said that she admired professors for all the writing and multitasking that we do (teaching, research, service to the university, to their own disciplines, and that she was impressed that I wake up at 4 in the morning to write, every day. I explained to her that I had to become more disciplined because I have so many broad research interests, and activities outside of academia, that I needed to make sure I budgeted time in my schedule for everything I need to do. I’m a pre-tenure professor in a competitive, R1-like university institution, so I *have* to publish and I *have* to write a lot, and write solid pieces. I learned that I needed to protect my writing time.

Black Coffee Gallery (Aguascalientes)

Last year, I didn’t do #AcWriMo, the month-long challenge issued by Dr. Charlotte Frost (from PhD2Published fame) to all academics. Dr. Frost suggested that, following the model of the #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), one could use November to binge-write and achieve completion of a major piece. Personally, I love the idea, but this year I am not planning to do it either. I am going to a conference in early November, I’m finishing an applied research project report and my Mom is getting major surgery, so I’m going to be busy with taking care of her while she is at the hospital. AND I was invited by two prestigious institutions to go present a seminar in November. Plus, I’m teaching two undergraduate courses, and organizing a research workshop around the climate change policy evaluation project I’m leading. So, overall, November is a BAD, BAD month for me to binge-write.


That doesn’t mean YOU, readers of my research blog, shouldn’t be doing #AcWriMo. In fact, I did do #AcWriMo in November of 2012 and learned lots of great lessons, so here’s how I think you could use #AcWriMo to your advantage:

1. Use #AcWriMo to force you to write EVERY DAY.

I read somewhere that discipline creates habits, and that 21 days of repetition of a pattern related to a single habit could also form a new habit. I find that this 21 day idea works in my case, and it usually takes me about 3 weeks to get back into my usual routines when they’re majorly disrupted (for example, when my parents were very ill, it took me a solid 3 weeks to go back to the gym on an every day basis). You could, potentially, use #AcWriMo to get you into the discipline of writing every day, for periods ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours. You don’t have to binge-write for long hours, all you need to do is to build a new routine and create a new habit of writing every day. And maybe that way, you will be able to #GetYourManuscriptOut by the end of November!

Working at my CIDE Region Centro office

2. Use #AcWriMo to help you shape a major piece of work.

Again, using the 21 days’ repetition technique, you could set your goal to be shaping a new major piece of work. By the end of #AcWriMo, you could report the progress you have made on said major piece. One of the great things about #AcWriMo is that it’s a month-long challenge. Four weeks is perfectly enough time to rethink a major piece of work, or to draft a skeleton of a new book, or to think about a large grant proposal. Maybe you can map out a new project. Or design a fieldwork research strategy for when you actually go out on the field. As long as, by the end of November, you have something to show for your efforts, you’ll be golden.

Handwritten notes in academic research

3. Use #AcWriMo to get you out of a rut.

One of the challenges that my students and colleagues have told me they face is anxiety about their writing. They feel it’s not good enough (ah, imposter syndrome, you do work in mysterious ways). They feel that they can’t afford to write (though as I have advocated, even 15 minutes on a daily basis can help). So you could use #AcWriMo to rethink how you approach your writing. If you feel like you need to procrastinate, here are my 7 ways in which you can make your procrastination more productive for your academic work. If you feel that your writing is stuck, here are my 5 ways in which you can get your academic writing unstuck. You feel like you have no way to start writing? Here are some ideas to kickstart your academic prose. The idea here is… DON’T STOP. Just keep going. You can move forward at whatever pace you set forth for yourself (because not everyone works at fast speeds), but you are always moving forward. That’s the idea… use #AcWriMo to change the course of your academic writing.

I do look forward to hearing from my readers on how #AcWriMo goes for them. In the mean time… back to writing for me!

Posted in academia, research, writing.

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Barry Bozeman (Arizona State University) on Integrative Publicness #CIDE40

My instution (CIDE, Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas) is celebrating its 40th anniversary of being founded, and as a result, we have been organizing a series of events around this theme. Last week, we had Dr. Barry Bozeman (one of the foremost founders of the public administration research field, and a very widely cited scholar) speak at CIDE on “Integrative Publicness”. I livetweeted his talk, for the most part, but there were obviously a few parts that I missed.

Bozeman spoke about a broad spectrum of publicness (as opposed to the traditional private/public divide we often focus on when studying organizations). While widely known as an organization theorist, Bozeman actually has a background in psychology and was one of the first scholars who wrote about (and used) experimental approaches in public administration scholarship. A recent co-authored article of his (Walker et al, 2013) uses an experimental research design to analyze public ownership and performance (An Experimental Assessment of Public Ownership and Performance: Comparing perceptions in East Asia and the United States)

It was very neat to have Barry Bozeman at CIDE and have discussions like the one we had on experiments.

As someone who uses experiments in his research, I can understand where Bozeman’s statement comes from. I think some scholars tend to see public administration as fluffier than political science, for example. I don’t agree with that view. To be quite honest, I think political science has become a bit obsessed with experiments, and I wouldn’t be surprised if public administration also does this. But development economics, political psychology and political science, in general, have made strides that are worth discussing and examining in more detail. But I do believe public administration scholars are moving forward in a number of areas, organization science being one of the most relevant ones.

Barry Bozeman gave a really nice lecture on how to study organizations, and he is a role model in how we can present an intellectual trajectory. I look forward to reading more of his work (even though I’ve already read a lot of it during my formative years).

Posted in academia.

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Seven ways to procrastinate productively as an academic

As I’ve noted elsewhere on my blog, I am very much far from perfect. Despite my ability to speed-read, touch-type about 100 wpm and have quasi-eidetic memory, I can (and often do) procrastinate. Having a very rigorous routine (as established on my weekly schedule) reduces distractions quite a lot. But when I do get distracted, and particularly during working hours (which in my case start at 4:00am to write for 2 hours every day) I try to waste time in a way that is beneficial to my academic writing and research. Here are seven ways in which I procrastinate in the most productive way I can.

1) Organizing my journal article/book/book chapter databases (and personal libraries):
Because I’m old fashioned, I organize the printed versions of all journal articles and book chapters/conference papers I read in magazine holders. Each journal article has a plastic, adhesive Post-It plastic tab where I write the author(s) last name and the year. This allows me to find a specific article very easily (as the real life doesn’t have search capabilities as Mendeley does!). I also label each magazine holder with the details of the paper I’m writing or the general topic.

Working and filing journal articles

2) Reading and highlighting a journal article or a book chapter:
Despite my love for technology, I’m still an old-fashioned scholar and I print out journal articles and book manuscripts (right after I’ve downloaded them into my Dropbox and uploaded them on to my Mendeley database/reference manager). I also prefer to read books in print rather than online. So when I feel like I’m bored out of my mind and my mind wanders and I want to procrastinate, I grab a journal article or book chapter and I start reading and highlighting with shiny colored pens. I do this particularly because from the highlighting I can then type or write by hand my own notes about the journal article.

My #AcWri #GetYourManuscriptOut process

3) Typing or writing my notes by hand.
When I find that I’m bored and want to procrastinate, I find a specific journal article or book chapter I want to summarize and I take notes from the highlighted portions. I also type directly into a Word document but have found that writing by hand really enables me to clarify my own thinking. Usually after a few of these, I can then use the notes for my own writing.

Analyzing data by hand

4) Clean up reference manager entries.
Because I like to have my libraries accessible anywhere with an internet connection (and offline), I use Mendeley and Dropbox to store journal articles, books and book chapters, as well as my own writings and datasets. I upload all my readings in PDF format to Mendeley (I’ll have to discuss the whole Zotero vs Mendeley vs EndNote thing in another post), so when I am bored, I often clean up my Mendeley database (there’s always a PDF whose metadata Mendeley is unable to grab properly) to ensure that all entries have proper bibliographic data.

My #AcWri #GetYourManuscriptOut process

5) Doing Google Scholar citation searches on a topic I’m interested in.
When I feel like I’m stuck, I often simply do a Google Scholar for a different topic to the one I’m writing and begin downloading recent articles. Often this leads to free-form handwriting, and I frequently use those notes to build a new paper or to polish a manuscript. Of course, after downloading, I still need to print it out, read it, highlight it and upload it on to my Mendeley database and clean the reference with all the proper bibliographic metadata. Which is in and of itself, a whole other level of procrastination.

6) Spend a brief amount of time on Academic Twitter (or other social media, like Facebook or blogs).
This is my favorite mode of procrastination. Because I get so much value from Academic Twitter (as noted in my post on the five ways in which Twitter can help you in an academic context), I feel that even my procrastination there (usually conversational although I engage in a fair amount of retweeting) is productive.

7) Going for a walk, talking to a colleague or exercising at the gym
When everything else fails, I usually go for a walk. The best procrastinating method I’ve found has been walking while listening to classical music. Often times I find myself re-energized and inspired to come back again and prepare lecture slides, write or read more.

CIDE Region Centro (as the sun goes down)

Posted in academia, research, writing.

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When does it make sense to write a book chapter instead of a journal article?

I never claim to have done the right thing in academia because I think what I share on my blog and my Twitter account is what I have done wrong so that nobody else repeats my mistakes. One of the mistakes I think I’ve actually committed has been to publish so much in Spanish (both journal articles and book chapters), and to publish lots of English-language chapters, and few English-language journal articles. I did a PhD in a Canadian university, and despite the fact that I have worked in Canada and in Mexico as a professor, I know that I should have a mostly-English-language CV, and I know I don’t. I have a mixture of publications in both languages, but my strategies have yielded fewer citations than I would like to have.

Working and filing journal articles

Since I moved to Mexico from Canada, I have been working really hard to turn the tide. I have submitted primarily manuscripts for journal articles (although I admit I submitted five manuscripts in Spanish, and two in English). The conferences I’ve done (and conference papers I’ve written) have been primarily in English (two conference papers in Spanish were for international conferences anyways), and I’m working hard to convert those to journal articles. And my efforts have yielded results. I have two journal articles (in Spanish) coming out in the next two weeks, four journal articles in Spanish and one in English, in one of the top journals in public policy, in press for 2015. And I have two book chapters in English in press for 2015. I also have one book chapter in press for this fall (in Spanish) and one for 2015 (in Spanish as well).

Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega's office at CIDE Region CentroThere’s plenty of evidence on why we shouldn’t be publishing book chapters and we should focus on journal articles, including the fact that many, many collections are derailed. There’s also the issue that edited volumes take way longer than a journal issue to publish (even though journals are getting to the ridiculous point where it takes 3 years from submission to publication). Accessibility is also reduced because book chapters end up usually in collections that aren’t published online.

Springer has recently been changing their policies and providing access to specific chapters. UBC Press also has done something similar. So, it is likely that a book chapter may end up being accessible online. Repositories and changes in wording of contracts with publishers are also changing the online accessibility dynamics.

Still, I find myself frustrated with knowing that I published way too many book chapters and that I probably should have focused more on journal articles. I know, “water under the bridge”. But my strategy right now is precisely the reverse: I’m only doing book chapters in English (to increase worldwide readability). If they’re in Spanish, I do them because they’re for really good friends of mine and I have faith in the book as a finished product. And from September 2014 onward, I am NOT writing in Spanish until at least the summer of 2015. No conference papers in Spanish, no journal article manuscripts in Spanish. It’ll all be in English.

I still have a question for those who have written about how it is a better idea to publish journal articles instead of book chapters (Tom Pepinsky, Pat Thomson, Steve Saideman, Inger Weiburn, Nadine Muller, Brent Sasley, Chris Blattman, Karen Kelsky) – when is it a good idea to publish a book chapter in an edited collection? Not that I’m planning to do one any time soon :-) but still!

Comments, as always, welcome.

Posted in academia, writing.

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Teaching in English in a Spanish speaking country

Even though I’m just starting my third year at CIDE, I have been pushing for teaching courses in the English language basically ever since I arrived here from Canada. I admit it, it’s WAY easier for me to teach in English than it is to teach in Spanish. Remember, the vast majority of my university and post-graduate level teaching experience (2006-2012) was in English. It is, despite what some of my colleagues and students may think, my first language. I don’t even think in Spanish anymore.

This term I am teaching both of my undergraduate courses in English (Regional Development is a fourth year course, and State and Local Government is a third year course). I’ve noticed that my students are much more receptive to the material than I expected. It’s a huge challenge to find bibliography (in particular journal articles) about Mexican state- and local-level politics that fits what I want to teach. I face the same type of challenge with Regional Development.

Teaching in English at CIDE Region Centro

I’ve also noticed differences in learning styles. My third-year students write notes by hand, whereas my fourth year students tend to type in their laptops or iPads. But for me, it’s a HUGE relief to be able to teach again in English. Preparing slides for a class in Spanish requires me to have a laptop with Spanish keyboard (which I don’t have) or work on them at my CIDE office (which has a desktop with Spanish-language keyboard).

Preparing lectures

In the end, I think it’s a great idea for a Spanish-speaking institution to offer courses in English. All German, Dutch and French universities I know that have massive international students’ populations do. But even if it’s only Spanish-speaking students, reading in English and absorbing lecture material in English enables them for when they go on exchange to non-Spanish-speaking countries (all undergraduate students at CIDE are expected to go on international exchanges around their 6th semester).

Also, given the massive influx of foreign hires we just had at the Region Centro campus, this task (teaching in English) should be way easier (we recently hired a British professor, two Americans, one Indian, one French, one Portuguese and we already had a Brazilian). Over

Posted in academia, teaching.

The politics of intervention choice: HIV, enteric diseases and Ebola

This piece is, unfortunately, a bit late to the game because my WordPress blogging platform didn’t want to allow me to access my Dashboard (my site was under a spam attack, and thus I couldn’t access it). So, apologies to everyone for whom the debates have moved forward. Anyhow…

A few days ago, I tweeted about the fact that having your own biases or research interests shouldn’t prevent you from advocating for intervention in policy issues that are important. I understand very well the constraints goverments of the world face when choosing policy intervention targets. I’m a public policy specialist, I was trained to realize that policy choices are undertaken under conditions of scarce resources. Obviously, we should aim at executing policy interventions via robust resource allocation through some system of policy prioritization. Coincidentally, policy prioritization is something I’ve been working on for the past few years, and specifically this year, in the area of Mexican climate politics.

If I (or more specifically, if my preferred field of research – the global governance of sanitation -) ruled the world, I probably would have funneled a lot of money towards eliminating open defecation behavior, increasing toilet use, building new toilets in marginalized regions, and preventing enteric diseases’ transmission through proper sanitation and hygienic practices. It’s obvious (given what I study) that this is a type of policy intervention I’m interested in. We fight the spread of enteric diseases (transmitted via fecal-oral routes) through increased access to proper sanitation and hygiene practices. The global burden of disease for diseases related to lack of proper access to water and sanitation is calculated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as about 10%. According to their 2008 data, “water, sanitation and hygiene has the potential to prevent at least 9.1% of the global disease burden and 6.3% of all deaths“.

It would seem obvious that, given this burden of disease, we should funnel lots of financial resources and human capital towards solving the global sanitation crisis. Few things would make me happier. HOWEVER… we can’t just redirect money towards those policy interventions with the highest burden of disease, just like that. Two cases came to mind when thinking about this: Human Immunodefficiency Virus (HIV) and Ebola.

HIV is a disease that has (historically) disproportionately affected men who have sex with men (MSM), many of whom identify as gay or bisexual. In Canada and the United States, high incidence and rising rates of HIV transmission continue to worry epidemiologists. The issue doesn’t only affect gay men in developed countries. HIV transmission rates in African countries worry researchers from all over the world and merit intervention. Of course I would like to channel a lot of money and resources towards reducing HIV transmission, in Africa, in North America and worldwide.

And then we have the case of Ebola, which has taken a toll in the public health systems of several African countries, including Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone. The current outbreak has many global health scholars worried. I believe their concern is genuine. Kim Yi Dionne and Stephane Helleringer make solid points on why we need to worry about funneling more resources towards Ebola spread containment, patient treatment and contact tracing. Chris Blattman makes solid points on the “what next” (e.g. the aftermath of what Liberia is experiencing)

The problem is that our current understanding of Ebola and the potential for an exponential increase in transmission rates, is still developing, particularly because current surveillance systems in affected countries may be underestimating current death rates. Tackling the current Ebola outbreak, unlike many other public health concerns, is challenging because the science, the epidemiology, the social determinants, all are complex in and of themselves. Just imagine how difficult the issue becomes when you combine each individual layer of complexity. We know a lot more about HIV transmission and about enteric diseases’ prevention thanks to historical investments we have made on understanding these public health issues. We can’t stop focusing on Ebola because it’s not the biggest global burden of disease, or even one of the most important in terms of actual deaths, but because our understanding is still yet to develop, and because to design a policy intervention that works, we need to understand the social determinants, epidemiology and scientific understanding. We also want to help alleviate the current challenges facing the African countries dealing with the Ebola outbreak. And of course, we need to take into account that all of these factors intertwined affect the politics of intervention choice.

Posted in academia.

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