Writing Group

As the mother of four (2 sons born in grad school, 2 sons born on the tenure track), people are always asking me “how do you do it?”  [Note, my husband never gets asked this question, which is a whole other blog post on gender attitudes.] My go to answer is always “high quality husband, high quality childcare”.  This is true. But, I have also been interested in productivity for a while. I have read several books on the subject, including books designed for academics like Advice for New Faculty by Robert Boice and How to Write a Lot by Paul Silva, and those designed for a general audience like Leave the Office Earlier by Laura Stack. I also participated in the National Center for Faculty Diversity and Development’s Faculty Success Program with Kerry Ann Roquemore, which I really enjoyed.

Recently a friend posted on Facebook that he and his wife, who are both on the tenure track, were going to need some tips for success with multiple children.  So, my friend Dave’s comment is inspiring my next series of posts.  I am going to post a few tips that I have found have helped me be productive.  Most I have implemented in the past five years or so, and I really think they have helped up my productivity.

The first tip I want to share is on my writing group.  After reading How to Write a Lot, my colleague Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan and I started a writing group with our graduate students. We started out simply; I remember that our first semester one of our tasks was to read How to Write a Lot.  We devised a schedule for the quarter (though Ohio State is now on semesters, so we now devise our schedule by semesters), and each person in the group took a week to share a piece of writing with the group. We usually distribute a draft of a paper, though sometimes it might just be an idea for a paper, or a conference proposal. Sarah and I both take turns in addition to the graduate students. The group helped boost our productivity by creating deadlines for the students, and for us.  For instance, if a student presented a paper at a conference in the fall, we would encourage the student to put the paper on our schedule to read in the spring.  This is very important because publishing is key for both tenure, and what I call the “first tenure track” – grad school.  The job market is so competitive, and to stand out at all, students need to make sure they are submitting their work for publication early and often. We found that writing group was successful and resulted in several submissions.

Next, I read an early version of my friend Nate Lambert’s excellent book Publish and Prosper. Nate is insanely productive – he published 11 papers in both 2013 and 2012 by my count. Nate’s book, and some of its advice, took our writing group to the next level. In the book, Nate discusses his writing group’s tracking system. The group set a goal each semester for how many papers they wanted to submit and kept count of submissions.  We implemented goal-setting with our group in two ways. First, each person outlines their goals for the semester at the beginning of the semester. Second, we create group goals, such as our goal for the number of submissions we want to have by the end of the semester.  We have consistently met our group goals each semester.  Currently, we have 10 graduate students plus Sarah and I, and our submission goal for this semester is 15 papers. We also track grant submissions and conference submissions. Importantly, we also celebrate “good things” and we track good things like when a conference proposal is accepted, or a thesis is defended. We also track how many revise and resubmits and acceptances we receive.  This semester, we have 7 submissions so far, and we have received 5 revise and resubmits.  We are very generous about what counts as a submission. If a paper is rejected, and subsequently resubmitted, we count that as a submission. If a revise and resubmit is resubmitted to the journal, we also count that as a submission.  I think Sarah would agree with me when I say that implementing these goals with our graduate students has taken our productivity up a couple of notches.  We have created a research culture with our graduate students, and it definitely shows. In terms of my graduate students, my one senior graduate student has 8 publications, and my other senior student has three publications, including two first-authored publications that came out this month.  In my department, student first-authored publications have traditionally counted similarly to first-authored publications for tenure, so when my students have been productive, it has helped them and me.

I should mention a few thoughts about interdisciplinary research as it pertains to our writing group. Our writing group includes me, a family demographer and relationship scientist, Sarah, a developmental psychologist, several students in our HDFS program, a graduate student from Sociology, and a graduate student from the Consumer Sciences program. Hence, when we read and discuss each other’s work, we are constantly challenging one another to be more clear, to reduce jargon, and to make arguments that all of us can understand. I believe that having others outside of our disciplines read our work has also helped our publication success because our work is more easily understood and innovative thanks to the feedback from others in the group.

So, that is my first post on “how I do it”. I have definitely had down times over the years, especially early on and the year after each of my sons was born. But, I think that having a writing group can really help productivity. Try it out – and let me know if you think it impacts your productivity in the comments!

One thought on “Writing Group

  1. I read this and I was going to comment immediately, but then I figured I should do the dinner dishes while I let the ideas “incubate.”

    I know of very few people in academia that have experienced the “2^2 body problem”—2 academics and (soon-to-be) two babies— pre-tenure at an R1. So figuring out how to navigate this and be successful is a giant unknown, with an overabundance of naysayers. I’ve been thinking about how I could make the “family” side of the work/family balance equation _less demanding_, but I hadn’t really considered how to make the work side of things _more productive_ (other than to stop saying yes to service). A writing group with faculty and grad students, where there is both accountability and shared success, is brilliant. Yes, you’ll write more and because you are sharing your work what you write will be better. But these are just the manifest functions. There are so many latent functions—socializing grad students (who can then socialize new students), forging collaborative relationships, and the sense that one belongs to a real, physical, meeting-regularly, scholarly community (rather than sitting in your office going “who cares about this wacky idea”)!. I can see how this would create a “creative momentum.” I’m inspired! Thank you, Claire!

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