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16 tips on the process of academic writing and publishing from the #ISA2023 Environmental Studies Section Speed Mentoring Session

I sat on the “Writing and Publishing” table at the Environmental Studies Section Speed Mentoring Roundtable during the 2023 meeting of the International Studies Association (ISA) in Montreal (Canada).

ESS Speed Mentoring

Photo credit:Lily Hsueh.

My co-panelist was my coauthor and dear friend Dr. Kate O’Neill, so we agreed to talk about the process of academic writing and publishing from our perspectives as authors and editors of books, articles, chapters and journals.

Here are a few pieces of advice we both shared that will be useful for all.

1) don’t take desk rejects personally

2) review as you’d like to be reviewed

3) as much as possible, if you get a revise-and-resubmit (R&R), drop everything and work on it and return it to the editors (my full process for working on a Revise-And-Resubmit can be found here).

4) peer reviewed journal articles are still the currency of academia – focus on those (book chapters rock but it will be hard to sell those for tenure)

5) remember to create a pipeline of work — don’t try to publish everything all at once.

6) if you are working on converting your dissertation into a book I very strongly recommend Dr. William M. Germano’s “From Dissertation To Book”.

7) remember that what you publish depends on your needs and evaluation

8) make sure that your work is LEGIBLE to the communities you want to dialogue with: your readership, your PhD committee, your tenure committee, your discipline/field.

9) while a lot of people pay lip service to interdisciplinarity, we often get evaluated on disciplinary terms.

10) when asked to review remember that usually 3 reviewers are needed per each journal article – so you may need to review just as many per paper you have under review.

11) remember that you don’t necessarily need to address every reviewer’s comment – you can pick and choose.

12) don’t take bad reviews personally (I often ask dear friends to summarize feedback for me because it’s painful).

13) read the literature broadly, deeply, ENGAGE with it, don’t just do the token citation. Make sure you engage in citational justice & your citations are diverse.

14) creating a pipeline of work is important during graduate school and afterwards

15) remember that writing (and publishing) is a social activity – find writing buddies, read each other’s drafts, support and encourage each other, provide kind feedback, join writing groups.

16) book time with yourself to write and prioritize it.

My blog has plenty of resources on publishing and writing strategies that may be useful to you all at #ISA2023

Posted in academia.

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Producing journal article manuscripts from a doctoral dissertation

A good friend of mine who recently completed her doctoral dissertation asked me recently in a quick one-on-one consultation how she could go about converting her doctoral dissertation into articles.

I suggested a process that I will share now. Though a number of doctoral candidates are required by their programs to publish articles out of their dissertation or to build it as a series of articles, others ask for more of a book-manuscript-style thesis.

My own doctoral students write their dissertations as a series of three stand-alone-but-interconnected papers that can be converted into journal articles, either during their graduate program, or afterwards. They follow my DAT model to craft their written outputs.

Now, let’s be real: it’s December 4th, we all need a break, and it would be a good idea to use these three journal articles as the backbone to plan a year worth’s of work. Wendy Belcher’s #12WeeksArticle book offers a step-by-step process for writing a paper/revising in 12 weeks. What I suggested was to follow Belcher’s approach (assign 12 weeks to revising or rewriting a paper). Belcher’s #12WeeksArticle book’s 2nd edition focuses on writing a paper from scratch in 12 weeks. The first edition focuses on revising in 12 weeks. You can choose either model.

So that means that if we consider 12 weeks for revising each journal article with a good holiday in December, you can start with the first article by say, January 15th 2023 and use 12 weeks for each (and a week’s rest in between). This means that by the end of October of 2023 you may have submitted 3 papers to be peer reviewed and published as journal articles (including 3 weeks where you take a break). This, to me, seems like a fantastic level of productivity.

Now, let’s be realistic: this is a one year plan for getting three journal articles out. What happened to me a few years back was that I got THREE revise-and-resubmits within the same year, and it was next to impossible to convert them all. So you need to account for this.

Hopefully this process (which I devised in December 2022!) can help some or many of you extract publishable journal articles off your doctoral dissertation.

Posted in academia, research.

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5 habit-forming, practice-developing strategies that you can work with during the upcoming month

I wrote the thread that originated this blog post on October 1st, 2022. I had not been able to blog for many reasons, one of the key ones was that I did not have time to blog.

Most of the time, I plan my entire month by the end of the previous one. I did not have the time (literally!) to do so, therefore had to spend some time doing so when I wrote the thread, at the beginning of October 2022.

Beginnings of months tend to be good times to start new habits. This blog post details a few practices that you might feasibly start within the next month, without pushing yourself too much, perhaps.

Writing at the h

1) Starting (or renewing) your writing practice.

Whenever I teach academic writing, I tell my students that we need to aim for small, reasonable, attainable goals. Write for 15 minutes, write 50 words. Something tangible. This micro-goal-setting method helps me strengthen my own writing practice, or restart it when I’ve been away from my work for too long.

Just get some words down.

2) Starting (or upgrading) your To-Do-List practice.

For me, having a To-Do List is fundamental. But I need said To-Do List to be reasonable. To do that, I break down the work I have to finish in smaller pieces, which I tackle each one separately. Breaking down the work in “work aliquots” allow me to really plan according to my energy, time and health.

3) Upgrading your self-care practice.

As most of you know, I spent three months this summer with COVID, COVID sequelae, and pneumonia. Almost dying really made me rethink my practices. I’ve committed to prioritizing myself above EVERYTHING ELSE. I have upgraded my self-care practice, I hope you can do so, too.

4) Upgrading (or starting!) a reading practice.


We don’t HAVE time to read. We MAKE time to read.

The link above offers 8 strategies that might help you develop your own reading practice (we are all different and teaching loads can be insane).

5) Developing a planning and project management practice that works FOR YOU:

What works for me is to plan my entire year and then do monthly, weekly and even sometimes daily adjustments. I also need redundancies (digital + analog). The link above shows you how I plan across multiple timelines.


I wrote the Twitter thread that originated this blog post in hopes it would help other overwhelmed scholars. Hopefully it will work for you too.

Posted in academia, productivity.

On calendars, synchronization and collaborative work in academia: Aligning Priorities and Availabilities across multiple people

There’s been a lot of discussion on Twitter over the past few days now from academics and tech people about calendars, synchronization and collaborative work, and I really don’t have the time to read them all but I wante to put in my two cents, so here it goes. In a previous life (I started working at a VERY young age and we won’t discuss child labor issues on here), I managed both my parents’ offices (they were lawyers). I wanted to gain administrative and management experience, in case, you know, I needed to find work to feed myself.

What I learned from managing my parents’ offices was that EVERYONE believes their issues are OF THE HIGHEST PRIORITY. So, I had to manage my parents’ schedule (which also had, you know, the personal life component) in a way that they had protected time for doing The Actual Work.

Monthly calendar

Negotiating calendars (specifically, appointments) is about negotiating PRIORITIES and AVAILABILITIES across multiple people. The problem is not whether or not you do “time-blocking” (blocking off time to ensure that you get work done). It’s that priorities shift even within the same day/hour.

Monthly calendar revisionAn example: this week, Mexico City has had several earthquakes. People evacuate, aided by a seismic alarm. During the period within which people evacuate their buildings and have to wait until they see if things are ok, their priority is knowing if their loved ones are safe.

Priorities shift, all the time, and that’s not unique to academia. They shift in our personal lives, etc. This summer I spent THREE MONTHS sick with COVID, COVID sequelae and pneumonia. Was my work or academia itself a priority? NOT AT ALL. My priority was to get healthy again. Yes, I have time blocked for my writing (see photo). And most of the time, I DO use it for research (reading, writing, thinking, reflecting). But sometimes I have to re-prioritize this time because I have more urgent things to finish.

Priorities are not monolithic.

Calendar with written time blocks

What *I* have found most useful whenever I have to negotiate meetings (and this does NOT mean in any way, shape or form that you must follow my strategy) is to socialize what my priorities are.

This quarter, my priorities are:
1) preparing well and teaching my two courses.
2) finishing outstanding writing commitments I have (including the very few peer reviews I accepted)
3) maintain my health

Everything else needs to be negotiated and renegotiated all the time. But I verbalize and share my priorities and my availabilities, ALL THE TIME.

For this to work, everyone needs to socialize their priorities and availabilities. A few friends of mine LOVE meetings in the morning. The morning is my best time for thinking and writing. But I compromise: if there is no other time for a meeting, I’ll move my writing elsewhere. I have several students about to finish their theses and defend them. Their degree completion becomes a higher-rank priority for me, so I make myself available at times that I probably would prefer to be writing, because they NEED to graduate, so again, I compromise. What I find important and useful and productive is that at all points, everyone involved in compromising and readjusting Priorities and Availabilities feels that the process is fair.

If I’m the only one compromising, I feel taken advantage of.

Calendar synchronization is a coordination problem, and this is precisely my area of scholarly specialization (coordination, collaboration and cooperation). What I find useful in achieving optimal results in coordination problems is clear communication and well-established rules.

Bottom line: how you negotiate your calendar is for you to decide, but it’s probably good to remember that Priorities and Availabilities are hard to align, and that if you want to make sure they do, you’ll need clear communication and well-established negotiation rules.

Posted in academia, planning, productivity.

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On writing by hand and always keeping a written record of everything

Transcribing handwritten notes into the Everything Notebook Last week, I attended the 2022 Discards Studies Conference: Exploring Disposal’s Past, Present, and Future in New York City. As a scholar of waste, wastewater and discards, this was a really key conference for me to attend. This was also my first conference after 3 months of COVID, COVID sequelae and pneumonia. Though I am (and at the time, was) feeling incredibly healthy, I did not want to over-stress my body. So, I left my Everything Notebook back home and only took my ultra-light laptop. My laptop has a problem with the battery, so it does not recognise it. This means that it needs to ALWAYS be connected to power. Turns out the room where we were did not have power outlets everywhere. Guess what I was unable to do?


Normally, I would have taken notes by hand in my Everything Notebook (or even pieces of paper from hotel parafernalia). I was staying literally two blocks from a stationery store. I am, like anybody who follows me knows, a stationery storer.

But I decided to do a little experiment: NO NOTES THIS TIME. Just pay attention. I would simply pay attention to the speaker(s) without writing any notes.

I did take numerous photos and live-tweeted bits and pieces that I thought were useful. Those are my written records of what happened in the conference. HOWEVER… my brilliant ideas, those that came through the interactions with speakers, when thinking about my own work and how it related to any particular presenter, THOSE ARE GONE.

I did NOT keep a written record of what I was thinking (I could have done it in the Notes app of my iPhone, but my brain doesn’t work so). I am hoping that the organizers kept the recordings of the live-stream (it was a seamlessly hybrid, COVID-safe event), because that way I am sure I can go back and check what the presenters said.

But that’s twice the investment in time.

Truth be told, I should have brought a pocket-sized notebook. I have plenty of those. I even have a few that are so tiny that they can fit in my shirt’s pockets.

But the experiment of JUST paying attention to the talks without recording my own thoughts or specific great ideas I heard was useful, to an extent. I now understand a bit better those students of mine who don’t take notes in my classes.

But for me, I don’t work that way. I need to keep a handwritten record of what we discussed. That’s just how my brain works and that’s NOT going to change.

Moving forward, I’ll do one of two things:


1) I take my Everything Notebook with me,


2) I take a pocket-sized notebook with me, and then transcribe my notes to my Everything Notebook.

I will always and forever need handwritten notes, it’s very clear to me now.

Posted in academia.

Qualitative Literacy: A Guide to Evaluating Ethnographic and Interview Research (my reading notes)

Qualitative LiteracyI had been waiting to get my hands on this book by Mario Luis Small and
Jessica Calarco for a very long while, as I was on Twitter while Jess was writing it and witnessed the conversations on here about it. I finally received my copy this week, so I decided to write a few reading notes about the book. There are several elements I like about Qualitative Literacy: A Guide to Evaluating Ethnographic and Interview Research and obviously (I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t), a number of quibbles. Overall, I like the book and I appreciate the criteria that Small and Calarco set forth to consider when examining research projects where the data acquisition methods are ethnographic fieldwork and interviews. I particularly liked their honesty in explaining exactly what their book is and isn’t.

Evaluation is complicated because it requires setting specific standards and comparing against those standards and verifying whether the evaluated item complies (or not) with those standards. Evaluating qualitative research is very complicated, for many reasons, as my notes here will show. it is always hard to write about evaluation of qualitative research, precisely because of the complexity of developing and setting those standards and then undertaking the empirical work to evaluate said standards (yes, it feels like evaluation-inception, but so it is!).

What I like most about Small and Calarco’s book is that they don’t actually set standards against which to compare and tick boxes or determine compliance ranges through some sort of Likert scale. Their work develops 5 characteristics of “well-done” qualitative research. I used quotation marks for a very specific reason. Small and Calarco do NOT say that the characteristics they use to evaluate ethnographic and interview research are the only ones. So, they are also NOT implying that there are specific standards for solid research. But they do mply that, on average (and on the whole), most research that we (the community of scholars and practitioners who use and consume QR, collectively) would be able to see as “good” qualitative research, share these characteristics. I commend Small and Calarco for this honesty.

Small and Calarco are also VERY clear that their book is on criteria for users and consumers of qualitative research that they can use to conduct an assessment of TWO qualitative DATA ACQUISITION PROCESSES. Evaluating qualitative analyses, qualitative research designs and a whole other set of elements of QR would take, as they aptly say, a whole lot of additional books.

The way I see Small and Calarco’s “Qualitative Literacy” is very much the way I see Elinor Ostrom’s 8 Principles (which are very widely misunderstood, and I have to frequently clarify their use and meaning): as observed empirical regularities of systems/processes. Small and Calarco say (not an exact quotation, but my interpretation of their book) that “these are the characteristics that various types of ethnographic and interview research projects/processes share. We believe these, on average/on the whole, represent solid examples of well-conducted data acquisition processes”.

Evaluating qualitative research as a whole (from research design to implementation to analysis to write-up) is always complicated, so I really appreciate and value Small and Calarco’s contribution to building this knowledge base for additional, future projects. Overall, I liked Small and Calarco’s “Qualitative Literacy”, as someone who teaches, supervises, conducts and evaluates qualitative research projects.

10/10 recommend.

Posted in academia, qualitative methods, reading notes, research, research methods.

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On the importance of networks in graduate school and beyond (and the challenges of switching disciplines and fields)

NetworksBy all measures, I’m pretty well networked now. I have a globally popular blog and Twitter account (follow me there if you want, @raulpacheco). People from all over the world read my blog, regularly use my resources in their teaching and their own teaching, and I have solid networks across multiple fields and disciplines (political science, human geography, public policy, public administration, qualitative methods, mixed methods).

It wasn’t always like this, and I wanted to write about this, because my current situation (extremely well networked) was far from what I experienced as a graduate student. I woke up this morning (September 4th, 2022) pondering about the role and value of networks in graduate school and post-PhD, and how I did not have “the correct networks” leading to my studying a Masters and a PhD.

I studied chemical engineering as an undergraduate. From that vantage point, I knew more or less where to go if I wanted to do a Masters (Instituto Tecnológico de Celaya, of course) leading to a PhD. The Tec de Celaya’s chemical engineering department is top-notch, and at the time I was finishing my undergraduate, ALL faculty members were Mexicans with foreign PhDs. I had met several of them through events I organized as a student (I brought them to my university to speak), so I knew that if I wanted to do my PhD in process control, I would have to go to University of Wisconsin Madison (where Arturo Jimenez did his PhD).

I switched fields for my Masters (economics of technical change), and for my PhD (human geography and political science). This meant that I had ZERO networks in any of the 3 fields. I joined programmes literally walking in without knowing anyone and very little about the actual disciplines I was about to study. Moving from natural sciences and engineering to economics was a shocker, but entering political science and human geography absolutely shattered my understanding of the world and how I was supposed to study phenomena. They’re different! In chemical engineering I knew what I needed to do to analyze a chemical reaction. I had blueprints, equations to analyze distillation towers, design chemical plants. In political science, human geography and economics, analysis meant something entirely different.

Paper, pen, HP TouchPad, coffee, scone. All important tools of the trade #academia

No networks, no tools either.

So, for my Masters and PhD, not only did I not have the right networks, I didn’t have the right tools either. I entered completely unrelated fields and had to be fully retrained to understand description, analysis and many other concepts in an entirely different way.


So when I see a social scientist (say a political science PhD) who did an undergraduate degree in political science, followed up by a Masters AND a PhD in the same discipline and sometimes even the same field, I immediately think “you moved within the same discipline, the challenges you faced are completely different from those crossing disciplines in such a stark way”.

Certainly, my knowledge of chemical engineering and economics enhances what I study and shapes how I conduct research as a political scientist and human geographer, but I say this now as a tenured, senior professor with a pretty decent publishing career.

As a graduate student, I was TERRIFIED.

So, my experience also colors my approach to mentoring and teaching students, and makes me more inclined to continue writing my blog and sharing resources others may need. Because God knows I sure needed them, didn’t have them during graduate school!

Posted in academia.

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A partial, commented bibliography on focus groups

I have taught qualitative methods and written about them for a very long while, and I frequently feel like there’s a substantive misunderstanding of what a focus group is. It’s not a “collective interview”, nor “a way to save time and money on interview because we have them all in one place”. The focus group explicitly looks at the relationships WITHIN and interactions among the members of the group.

Focus Group

Focus group. Credit: Dave Shea on Flickr. CC BY 2.0

What is a focus group? I really enjoyed how Dr. Jennifer Cyr (Universidad Torcuato Di Tella) describes the portrayal of focus groups in multiple media (television, print materials):

“Focus groups bring individuals together to discuss a set of questions. These conversations typically take place around a table, and they include a moderator who guides and nurtures the discussion.”

Cyr, Jennifer. 2019. Focus Groups for the Social Science Researcher Methods for Social Inquiry. Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, New Delhi, Singapore: Cambridge University Press, p. 1.

Dr. Cyr refers to David L. Morgan’s definition of focus groups as:

“… a research technique that collects data through group interaction on a topic determind by the researcher. This definition has three essential components. First, it clearly states that focus groups are a research method devoted to data collection. Second, it locates the interaction in a group discussion as the source of the data. Third, it acknowledges the researcher’s active role in creating the group discussion for data collection purposes” (Morgan 1996, p. 130)

Morgan, David L. 1996. “Focus Groups.” Annual Review of Sociology 22(August 1996): 129–152.

I have this nagging feeling that the relational nature of a focus group gets lost in how we teach focus as part of a suite of qualitative methods. I may be wrong, but it’s what I perceive from how some scholars report their use of focus groups in research. And from the replies to my Twitter thread, it looks like I am not wrong.

So, what if you DO want to compare how individual interviews would perform against focus groups? Well, my dear friend Dr. Amber Wutich (Arizona State University) and her collaborators have just the perfect paper for you: Wutich, Amber et al. 2010. “Comparing Focus Group and Individual Responses on Sensitive Topics: A Study of Water Decision Makers in a Desert City.” Field Methods 22(1): 88–110.

If you want to delve deeper into focus groups as a qualitative research method you can peruse my partial, commented bibliography on the topic. (Click on the hyperlink to go to the PDF file).

Hope this post and the partial, commented bibliography I compiled help those looking for some guidance on how to design and implement focus groups as a qualitative data gathering technique.

Posted in academia, qualitative methods, research methods.

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The logic of research inquiry and the use of the puzzle approach in research design

I like solving and putting together puzzles.


Photo credit: Olga Berrios on Flickr. Photo license: CC-BY 2.0

I like assembling evidence and theories to think about the problem, which can also be a metaphor for a puzzle (or as my dear friend Amber Wutich said, a jigsaw). I actually don’t like the type of physical puzzles shown in the photo (my brother loves assembling them but I hate not being able to complete the puzzle assembly). BUT I do like thinking about research questions and phenomena that leave me puzzled, baffled, mystified, perplexed, flummoxed.

I know that in social science scholarly circles, some people like the puzzle approach to developing research questions and others don’t particularly appreciate the model. So I asked on Twitter where we were with respect to the puzzle approach. I got several great responses (of which I reproduce a few below).

Dr. Mirya Holman, by the way, is amazing at research design.

As is Dr. Amber Wutich.

Dr. Sheena Chestnut Greitens and I talk about research design all the time.

There are, obviously, very valid critiques and concerns, as Dr. Ernesto Castañeda expresses here.

I use both my Twitter account and my blog as avenues to think out loud and get feedback on ideas I have been marinating. I’ve been thinking a lot about research puzzles, research questions, and research design in social science. This is normal for me, because I teach the foundational courses in our institution’s methodology sequence for the Masters and PhD programmes. I normally teach Research Design, Mixed Methods, Analysis and Interpretation of Qualitative Data, and Research Methods in Social Science. Thus, I am always thinking about better ways to teach how to craft good research questions and how to improve research design. The puzzle approach is popular in several disciplines within the social sciences and I thought I’d think about it more, this time in writing.

There are a lot of approaches to constructing research questions (and entire books focused on that very activity!), but one of the most popular is the development of a “puzzle” (or a “research puzzle”). I’ve been thinking about this particular approach for a very long time.

When you find something puzzling, you think “hmmm… this phenomenon is not operating the way I thought or I hypothesized it would, why would that be the case?” In this case, we’re not talking about puzzles like the ones you assemble, but what you find puzzling (or perplexing).

I’ve read a lot of articles and book chapters on this, and I find multiple definitions and classifications of puzzles (research puzzles, that is) somewhat idiosyncratic. But the mere notion of puzzle IS idiosyncratic: what you find puzzling, I may not find perplexing at all!

Let me give you an example: the scholarly literature on water conflicts indicates that one of the key factors to solving a dispute is to have all stakeholders agree and offer good faith solutions. HOWEVER, this did not hold in a case I studied (the Zapotillo aqueduct and dam). This conflict remained protracted for decades until the current President of Mexico came and unilaterally decided that one of the main stakeholders in the conflict (the state of Guanajuato) would not get water from the El Zapotillo dam and aqueduct.

An external actor TERMINATED he conflict, all of a sudden (not really as there are still some tensions and negotiations, but for practical purposes, that’s the case). So the puzzle here is: why (and how) did the President’s intervention change the dynamics of this water conflict? It really is puzzling!

To some water conflict experts (or specialists in conflict resolution), this external actor intervention intended to terminate a conflict may not feel puzzling at all. That’s why I find the research puzzle approach a bit shaky. The puzzle seems to be the “selling strategy”.

And by “the selling strategy” I mean the approach a scholar takes to convince the reader that the question they are asking merits being investigated, because it makes us scratch our collective heads.
“Look! This question is interesting, it left me puzzled!”

I DO teach my students and my thesis advisees how to construct a research puzzle because I find it a good “selling strategy”. Tell me why I (and the research community) should care about the question you are asking, and justify the investment in the research you will be doing.

I find that the review of the literature is a foundational step to design a good research puzzle and craft a solid research question. Puzzles specify the conditions and parameters under which the phenomenon under study contradicts the reality we are observing.

As I specified in my thread, the puzzle approach (which can be seen as putting together a puzzle or as finding something puzzling, two different but complementary views) helps researchers set a potential direction for the study. That doesn’t mean serendipity doesn’t play a role.

The concept of research puzzles as thinking about something that a researcher find puzzling , strange, unexpected is in complete agreement with your point about luck and the serendipitous nature of research. So I don’t think we disagree (I also like the patchwork quilt metaphor shared by Dr. Louise Seamster)

I think Dr. Seamster summed it up well:

I do hope this blog post is helpful for readers in choosing whether they want to use a puzzle approach, both to teach their students and to use in their own research projects.

Posted in academia, research, research methods.

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4 lessons I learned (the hard way) about health, overwork, and life as an academic

I almost died this summer of 2022. Four times.

This summer, I learned (the hard way) 4 lessons about health, overwork, and life as an academic.

(1) “If you don’t make time for your wellness, you’ll be forced to make time for your sickness” — Joyce Sunada

I was, in fact, forced to take time off because of COVID and its sequelae. This week I sat down with my physician and we did a “post mortem” of my illness. He said: “you have overworked for a very long time. You push your physical limits all the time. You are very energetic, active and passionate about your work, but you keep pushing yourself. Not healthy”.

This was really embarrassing to hear from my treating doctor and a wake up call: I keep advocating for NOT overworking, and yet, in some twisted way, I kept doing it because it didn’t feel (yet) like I was exhausted.

Until it did.

In May, I went to Germany and the US. In normal times, and under normal circumstances, these two trips would have been a piece of cake because I am/was used to travel All The Time. However, this year has been particularly busy with teaching, administrative duties, and course preparation, reading theses, providing feedback. SUPER BUSY.

So (we all know where this is going…) I did not pay attention to my tiredness (in May 2022) because I attributed it to jet lag from going to Germany. But when I went to Washington DC, I was already tired, and kept pushing myself. The last day, two dear friends of mine said: “you look TIRED. You need to take care of yourself. We need you healthy.” (Thanks, Leila and Sameer).

When I returned from Washington DC, my Mom got COVID, so I had to take care of her. She had a very mild case, but I think being stressed about her health was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I then got COVID, and my body was already very weakened from travel, stress and overwork.

We all know how this went. I spent all of June sick (and taking care of a COVID patient and then getting it myself!), July so sick with COVID sequelae that I almost died 3-4 times (depends on how you count), and August in slow-but-steady recovery.

The second lesson is, therefore:

Sunset in Vancouver and North Vancouver

(2) Pay attention to signs of potential burnout.

I had felt burnt out before and could recognise the signs: de-motivated, didn’t want to read academic articles, exhausted with no apparent reason. But again, the travel hid all the signs. I had them all, I just didn’t see them. This is particularly important in academia: we attribute burnout to other factors: “maybe I’m just tired this week”, or “it will get better once I get all these 457 things out of the way and I can clear my deck”. Well, I got news for you: the deck is never cleared.

I’ve written on my blog several times about the importance of not overwork, but for some reason, when it came down to it, I did not recognise the signs that clearly showed anybody except me (because I was too blind to see them) that I was entirely, completely and absolutely burnt out.

(3) Seek support (and this includes emotional support).

In desperation about my lack of health improvement, I tweeted “I’ve lost all interest in academia and all I care about is being healthy again”. I received HUNDREDS of responses sending love and wishes for good health.

The bird app can be hell sometimes, but it is definitely a truth that my Twitter community kept me afloat (my Facebook friends also deserve a very big Thank You because they kept checking in on me, daily). I did not realize I could have so much support from the Twitter hellsite, and it really helped me improve. I received so much emotional support that I began feeling extremely hopeful that I would be, eventuallly, able to recover fully (and I am currently in the process of doing just that).

My physician has prohibited me from returning to my usual hyper-energetic self. He said, deadpan: “I want you to return to normal people’s normal, not YOUR normal — this means dialing it down on the workload and intensity”. As a neoinstitutional theorist, I follow rules to a T. And I have no plans of dying any time soon, so I am paying close attention to my body and how I well am feeling on an hourly, daily and weekly basis. If I need to take a rest, I take it, work life be damned.

But I did not get well UNTIL I went to see a pulmonologist.


So the fourth lesson is:

(4) Be your own advocate for your health.

I went to a general MD, then the otorrhinolaryngologist, and it wasn’t until I went to the pulmonologist that we figured out what was wrong and how to fix it. COVID is an extraordinarily strange illness, and it’s so unpredictable nobody really knows the potential outcomes. I am lucky to be alive. Given that I had an immune system weakened from overwork and exhaustion, it was pure sheer luck that I made it alive and in one piece.

What really brought home the severity of my illness and the importance of taking care of myself was this utterance by my pulmonologist: “you survived this time – you probably won’t get another chance – your body won’t withstand another crisis like this. TAKE CARE!”.


In closing: Academic friends: look at yourselves in my mirror. Take care of yourselves *before* you are forced to take time off to take do exactly that: take care of yourselves.

I HAVE, finally, learned my lesson.

Posted in academia, research.

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