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“State-Sponsored Activism: Bureaucrats and Social Movements in Brazil” – Jessica Rich – my reading notes

Rich State Sponsored Activism - Bureaucrats and Social Movements in Democratic BrazilDr. Jessica A. J. Rich is an incredible researcher, scholar, and writer. Her book, “State-Sponsored Activism: Bureaucrats and Social Movements in Brazil” is a textbook model for how to write a book in so many ways. I also study social movements in Latin America, so it was important for me to read her book and catch up with the most recent and cutting edge scholarship.

Furthermore, as someone who teaches both research design, research methods and academic writing, I wanted to read it to help my students learn how to write better, particularly those who have decided to write a book-manuscript-style doctoral dissertation. I can certify that her book’s introductory chapter is pure gold.

You can read the entire book yourselves, as it is a real delight, and extremely insightful. Most importantly, for those of us teaching Research Design, “State-Sponsored Activism” offers a great model that you can show your doctoral students for how to construct their PhD dissertation’s argument and structure.

Two core questions animate Dr. Rich’s book: “how does civil society develop the capacity to organize and advocate for collective political goals? And what explains the endurance of civic activism once the initial success of setting policy has passed?” (p. 4, Rich 2022)

Rich’s book argument can be summarized as follows: “Brazil AIDS movement was able to endure and even expand over time because the movement was cultivated by national government bureaucrats who depended on activists to help them pursue their policy goals” (p. 4). This finding resonates with results from my own research.

In my work I found that SEMARNAT officials actively aided and supported RETC activists as they wanted to harmonize environmental policy instrument design for PRTRs across all of North America, even though the Mexican was targeted for policy change (Pacheco-Vega 2005). Insights I gained from this research tracks with what Rich finds in her own work. Bureaucrats can, and often will, use their relationships with civil society organizations to advance their own policy goals, through them. In a way, they operate in a similar way to what I call a second-order pressure transmission mechanism (Pacheco-Vega 2015).

Table of Contents State-Sponsored ActivismThough I loved the entire book, two sections in the introductory chapter really stood out for me: Alternative Explanations (where Dr. Rich clearly lays out different potential AEs to her research questions) and the Contributions section (expanded in Chapter 8).

When I teach Research Design, I actively emphasize to my students the importance of making their research contributions VERY CLEAR. Rich makes her contributions stand out by contrasting her findings with traditional theories of civil society. This theory-empirics link is KEY.

Overall, a fantastic book that I enjoyed and plan to assign in my Research Design class and thesis completion workshop.

10/10 recommended reading.

PS – I’ve used one of Jessica A.J. Rich’s published journal articles to showcase reading strategies on my blog too.

Posted in academia, reading notes, research, research design, social movements.

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Reading Like a Writer – Francine Prose – my reading notes

Francine Prose's Reading Like a WriterI brought Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer with me on a research trip to London in the fall of 2022 for 2 reasons: 1) I thought the plane I was taking would not have power plugs in each seat so I believed I wouldn’t be able to work, and 2) I wanted to read it while on The Tube while roaming London.

What Prose asks of her readers (also, would-be-writers) is that we pay attention to EACH WORD.

This statement, I know, is going to stir a debate in the scholarly realm, for multiple reasons. I advocate for having multiple reading strategies: skimming, close reading, etc. A couple of tweets by scholars I know and respect (and love) have gone viral on whether we should read each word or skim all the time.

Well, I very strongly believe that there is a place for each strategy: meso-level reading, super quick skim, in-depth.

What Francine Prose asks of us is to consider that, for all the value that skimming has, learning how to write WILL demand of the would-be-writer to READ EACH AND EVERY WORD from the stuff they read. She does NOT devalue skimming (nor do I, see my post)

I will very openly say here that while I learned to speed-read when I was in grade school, and I can read quite fast, I actually took the time to Read Every Single Word of Francine Prose’s “Reading Like A Writer” because she proposes that we do so, in order to learn how to write.

It took me about 1 hour and 25 minutes-ish to get from Terminal 3 at Heathrow to where I am staying, at Queen Mary University of London. I decided to ONLY take the Underground, and to NOT check my iPhone and solely read Prose’s book. I made it through page 67, reading EACH WORD.

I also took abundant notes (remember I now carry a small notebook everywhere I go? I learned my lesson the hard way).

Prose goes out of her way to show us two remarkable things:

1) How to sign-post properly, and

2) How to read authors to distill their insights to help us.

Part of what has made me successful as a writer has been that I always do what Prose suggests we ought to do: read authors whose writing I love and try and draw insights from the way in which they line words up, construct sentences, and build paragraphs and cohesive narratives.

I went through Prose’s book looking exactly for the markers of a good sentence, a well-crafted paragraph, how she put words together. Her sign-posting is unreal. Each paragraph she writes is self-contained and gives you an important insight on how to write. 1 IDEA PER PARAGRAPH.

I read Prose the way she suggest we ought to read other writers: looking for what I could draw from her writing to inform mine. Other authors who write books on writing often give you their pearls of wisdom, what THEY believe is THE RIGHT WAY.

Not Prose. She shows you multiple scenarios, possibilities, ways of knowing and understanding writers’ craft. While Prose DOES distills her own wisdom into gems, she does so in a conversational style that makes you feel like you’re sitting besides her while she teaches you the craft of Reading and of Writing.

Bottom line: 10/10, I will keep this book in my “To Continually Check Out” shelf.

Posted in academia, writing.

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Using the Pacheco-Vega workflows and frameworks to write and/or revise a scholarly book

I’ve taught a few workshops this year on academic writing and there’s always at least one attendee who has already completed their PhD and is looking for strategies to craft their book. Sometimes they’re looking to convert the PhD dissertation into a book, or write a new one. I promised those attendees I would write a thread & blog post on how you can use the same strategies I have developed to support graduate students to help you craft your book.

Here are a few ways in which you can use my Overview Devices, frameworks and workflows to write a book manuscript or to revise your dissertation with a view towards publishing it as a book.


Let me get something out of the way: I wrote a book-style dissertation from which I published one piece and which I am revising for publication as a book with a couple of additional chapters derived from recent fieldwork, archival work and interview materials. I have published books. I also supervise article-based PhD theses, and book-manuscript-style dissertations. I am familiar with the process and the processes that people follow to produce both.

With that clarification out of the way, here are a few strategies you can use to craft your new book or revise your dissertation into a book:

1. If it’s a new book or a book on a topic that you are new to, you may want to use my strategy to delve into an entirely new topic.

2. If you’ve surveyed the literature and have a good grasp of the empirical strategy you plan to use, you could then use my Expansive Framework to map the structure and outline the contents of your book.

3. Once you have a solid map of what your book is going to look like, you may want to use my three Overview Devices to help you draft the book proposal.

a) The Dissertation Two Pager (DTP) can summarize the book in a handy two pager.

b) The Dissertation Analytical Table (DAT) can help you structure the book chapters’ content and structure. You can increase the number of rows from 3 to the total number of chapters you plan to include in your book.

3. You can also use my methods to craft and map the Red Thread (the Throughline, the argument) of your entire book.

d) To map the Red Thread, I suggest that you use my third Overview Device, the Global Dissertation Narrative (GDN) method. Bonus: the DTP and the GDN will help you form the basis for your book proposal.


2 additional resources you may want to use to help you convert the dissertation into a book (or develop a new one):

From Dissertation to Book by William M. Germano.

– The Book Proposal Book by Laura Portwood-Stacer

The techniques I listed in this thread work in tandem with these two books, which are excellent.

As a side note: let’s say that (like me) you’ve let your PhD dissertation rest and are now updating it to publish it as a book. This means you need to get caught up on the latest scholarship. To do this, I’ve developed two spreadsheet-based techniques to review the literature.

The difference between a CSED and an ADM lies in that the ADM is for a quick skim of a large number of abstracts whereas the CSED holds the entirety of the literature reviewed. In a sense, one could do an ADM first and then select articles to read more in depth and dump them into a CSED.


Now, let’s say that you’ve submitted your book manuscript to the publisher, it’s been peer-reviewed and you need to craft revisions to each book chapter. My Drafts Review Matrix (DRM) can help you plan how you’ll tackle those revisions.

To organize your time and create a timeline for when you need to get each chapter revised, you may want to apply backcasting techniques, coupled with a trusty Gantt Chart.

Obviously, in the case of a book manuscript, you need to backcast the entire book AND each chapter. Here is my process for backcasting an entire project.

TL;DR: you can, in fact, use the strategies I’ve developed to support graduate and undergraduate students to help you revise your dissertation into a book and/or write a new book.

I hope this blog post is useful to all of you book writers/revisers out there.

Posted in academia, writing.

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On framing, the value of narrative and storytelling in scholarly research, and the importance of asking the “what is this a story of” question

Much of what I do here on my blog, when I teach courses and workshops on academic research and writing, and with my own students and thesis writers is help them frame their research, “sell their ideas”, and create a narrative that showcases their innovative approach to their research.

Last year, in October I visited the University of Bath to present a paper in progress on global water summits. After my talk, I had a chance to go for a walk around Bath with my dear friends Yixian Sun, Michael J. Bloomfield, and Alex De Coss Corzo. Alex and I were walking down the hill right in front of the Sham Castle when I clearly remember him helping me reframe my recently presented paper by asking the simple question “what is this a story of?” Alex’s query literally made me stop in my tracks and think how powerful this simple yet profound interrogation was. What story can my research tell? What am I trying to communicate to the audience? Which insights am I finding that make my research worth listening to and reading?

Thus I wanted to write a Twitter thread (to then make it into this blog pos) on framing, the value of narrative and storytelling in scholarly research, and the importance of asking the “what is this a story of” question that Anselm Strauss always asked from his students.

The “what is this a story of” question helps us more accurately frame our research.

Central Panel of the Storytelling Panel

Photo credit: Nancy White on Flickr, CC A-ND.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we teach research design, and research methods and methodology, particularly because I find that when everything is said and done in our research project, we may find ourselves scratching our heads and thinking “ok, I did this, what now?”

Making sense of a large project is always incredibly hard. I have experienced this with my three theses (undergraduate, Masters and PhD), and with several projects I’ve undertaken, as well as with two books I am trying desperately to finish this year.

“What is this a story of?”

Let me give you a few examples from a few fantastic books I have read.

In their 2020 book “Votes, Drugs and Violence: The Political Logic of Criminal Wars in Mexico”, Guillermo Trejo and Sandra Ley deploy a mixed methods approach to tell a story of why violence rose through organized drug trafficking organizations during the process of democratization in Mexico. The story that Trejo and Ley tell is that electoral politics has emerged as a major driver of criminal violence. Their work extends other theoretical and empirical work, and tells a different story to what we are told. Telling a story that extends other works IS a contribution.

Another example, from Eduardo Moncada’s 2021 “Resisting Extortion: Victims, Criminals, and States in Latin America”. In his book, Moncada offers an analytical account of how different groups resist extortion through acts of everyday resistance, rather than engaging in direct violence, what he calls “the coproduction of order”. The story that Moncada offers (backed up by extensive fieldwork and data analysis, like the Trejo and Ley book) is one where his work offers a counter-intuitive example of resistance, and explains how and why these strategies emerge. It’s a story of non-violent survival.

Both books tell stories about criminal violence, backed by rigorous analyses and in-depth field research. These stories offer answers to questions that puzzle us.

Storytelling is important when we write a research paper, when we write a book or a dissertation or a thesis: “what is the story we are trying to tell” and “what is this a story of”, are the two questions Strauss would ask.

I liked this paper by Clarke and Star on Strauss and his approach to mentoring students. Knowing the story we are trying to tell is why I always ask my students and my thesis advisees: “what is this a story of? what does your work tell me that I would not have figured out by myself?”

In my view, research is about telling a story. With data, with theory, but it’s a story in the end.

We reveal things.

We explain concepts.

We make the complex legible.

Storytelling is an underrated skill in academic writing and scholarly research and I do hope that these reflections can be helpful to others trying to frame and make sense of their research.

Posted in academia, research, research methods, writing.

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The Abstract Decomposition Matrix Technique to find a gap in the literature

I have been thinking about how I can help my students with their theses, particularly because our programs are rather compressed and they need to get a lot done in a very short period of time. I’ve been working on developing a strategy to discern “the gap in the literature” that I plan to test with Masters and undergraduate students. Possibly also with PhD students.

I have developed several strategies to teach how to craft a good research question, how to find the gap in the literature. But when I had a meeting with Masters students recently and I taught them how to use some of my methods, they seem a little bit confused as to how to choose what exactly they should study.

Let me begin by saying what I told them at the beginning:


I understand that doing literature reviews is challenging (I have an entire section in my blog with multiple strategies to tackle the process of reviewing the literature). But if we are in the world of academia to contribute to our fields, we really need to read A LOT, because otherwise we may end up claiming that we have done something new that has already been published elsewhere (or in another language).

Literature review

But I always try to help them by asking them to focus their search and their research on 4 elements:

We conduct a review of the literature in order to develop one or more of these elements:

1) what has been done before, what has been studied and how it has been analyzed,
2) the foundations upon which our own work can be developed further,
3) any spaces where we can embed our own contributions, and/or
4) a map of themes showing connections between different topics, ideas, concepts, authors, etc.

When I teach strategies to systematize the literature, I usually tell them to use my Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED, or Excel Dump in short).

As they read each article/chapter/book chapter/book, they drop their notes into their Excel Dump.

Excel dump LaVanchy et al

An Excel Dump row describing an article on Nicaragua’s water governance.

But when my students asked me “how do I ensure that I am tackling a DIFFERENT research question to the one others have worked on?” I had to pause. This is a valid question, and I thought about how they could do this in an easy, and visually appealing way.

So this is what I did: I developed an Abstract Decomposition Matrix.

Both Dr. Jessica Calarco and I use a very similar method to craft abstracts (using 5 elements, or asking 5 different questions). So I used one of her own articles and decomposed her abstract with an Excel template I developed.

5 questions abstract decomposed

Even if I haven’t yet fully read the literature, or don’t work in the field (I don’t, I study entirely different things to Dr. Calarco), I can start imagining extensions of her work, different methods, other case studies/countries/populations/types of schools.


Now, does this abstract decomposing strategy work in other fields? I applied the strategy to this paper. While I had to “fill out” some of the details of the 5 elements framework, it does give me clarity on potential avenues for further work.

5 questions abstract decomposed 2

I did this for a third paper, and the strategy seems to hold relatively well.

5 questions abstract decomposed 3

Thus, what I am planning to do with my students is to ask them to survey the literature and decompose abstracts of articles they read so they can see what’s been done. Once their Abstract Decomposition Matrix is complete, they can see where they can focus their work.

Reading highlighted papers

This exercise does NOT substitute my Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED), but I believe it complements it. You can do an Abstract Decomposition Matrix exercise with, say, 10-15 articles, and from there, you can triage and decide which ones you will read in more detail. Although I have NOT yet tested this strategy with my students. I plan to do so this summer and fall, and will report back. I am confident it will be helpful.

Before anybody asks: yes, in this particular 5 elements abstract decomposition strategy I use the authors’ exact words. My Excel Dump technique asks of the reader to use their own words in the notes. What I noticed as I was filling out one of the ADM templates is that sometimes you will need to use your own words to fill in the gaps. I think this is good.

In the meantime if you are teaching how to review the literature for your students, this is how I conducted one in an entirely new-to-me method (hospital ethnography). These two posts (from reading a lot to writing paragraphs of your literature review and mapping a new field of research) may also be helpful, particularly if you’re delving into entirely new fields/areas/methods.

Posted in academia, research, writing.

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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.