aims to build the ACW community by sharing the experiences of academic writers.
The tenure track process is different than the dissertation process because it is completely shrouded in mystery whereas at least for the PhD there are people who have gone before you. Working with an academic coach means having an accountability partner, someone that I could report to every week or every month to talk about what I was working on, how many pages I'd finished, what I'd done, and someone to help me to focus a little more on the future. I think as a junior faculty member you often get bogged down and you're only thinking about the next class. Having an academic coach helps you to think a little bit more about the future and what's coming down the pike rather than just focusing on what you can see in front of you.
I am so glad that I chose to follow a colleague’s advice and participate in the program at Academic Coaching and Writing (ACW). I am currently entering into my fifth year in the academy and my third year as a tenure-line Assistant Professor. In many ways, I have felt as though I have been juggling multiple balls in the air, yet with little idea of how they were connected or what their purposes were. More importantly, I haven’t been sure of my own professional goals and values or how to thrive in the academy. Since working with ACW, I can begin the upcoming academic year not only with a sense of confidence that I really can do this, but also with a variety of strategies to use when I hit internal and external bumps in the road.
Working with my coach Moira has truly been a rewarding experience. I wanted to work with someone who could support me in developing a clear professional vision and strategies for realizing that vision. I also wanted to work with someone who could help me develop a sense of ownership over my own career, the belief in myself that I really can take charge. Little did I know that in addition to putting me on these paths, Moira would push me to deeply reflect on psychological and emotional blocks, identify and let go of my limiting beliefs and habits, and develop strategies for connecting to my inner strength. For instance, I’ve learned to recognize the self-defeating behaviors, such as over preparation, that creep around when I write. I now manage my gremlins voices by journaling, giving them a name, and keeping a list of situations that trigger them. And because I have a better understanding of my psychological and emotional blocks and the irrational fears that produce them, when the semester begins, I will experiment with stopping, reflecting, and making “No” my default response. Moira’s gentle, yet persistent and pushing questions, have reminded me to say “Yes” to my life, to my time, and to my long-term professional goals. Working with Moira, I’ve also learned to reconnect with and trust my inner worthiness, appreciate my sense of playfulness, and value my ability to engage with and respond to my life with compassion and conscious intention.
Working in the ACW Writing Room has helped me develop a daily writing habit and create an accountability structure. I have learned to prioritize my writing—it is the first thing I do each day and everything else gets scheduled around it—and to honor my writing time as sacred. The SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) goals, which I am still learning to compose, have really forced me to think through my writing projects, what needs to be done, and how to strategically break these projects down into smaller, doable parts. I’ve learned that for me, writing requires quite a bit of time and heavy mental lifting. So, mapping out my projects and showing up regularly to write help me embrace the process and avoid “writing hangovers.”
Eight weeks into the ACW Coaching and Writing program, my measurable writing achievements include:
Many, many thanks to everyone at ACW.
For me there are several aspects of the ACW Coaching and Writing Program that have been invaluable:
Learning to be a productive writer requires the development of mental muscles. The muscles don't mature overnight. They strengthen with practice, patience, and perseverance. I didn't want to view writing as a drudgery. I wanted to learn how to view the process as productive and positive, even if the first, second, or third drafts weren't very good at all. And with the help of the ACW Writing Room, staff, and my coach, I have acquired the confidence to do so.
I am so grateful to have found Academic Coaching and Writing and have a chance to reflect on the past year of work with ACW and my coach, Moira. I am currently in my fifth year as an assistant professor. In December of 2012, I felt as though I was on an academic hamster wheel. I was constantly overbusy, yet seemed to have accomplished little that would actually count in a tenure packet. Looking back, it is hard to believe how much has changed since then!
The ACW Writing Room has provided a structure that has given me external accountability while helping me build up my own internal sense of accountability. I have begun weaning myself off of habitually saying “Yes” to others and started learning that I also have to say “Yes” to myself and my own time. This is not a selfish act. Ultimately it makes me a better teacher, scholar and mentor; and one who is much more likely to be able to continue being those things after the tenure process.
In one of our early meetings, my coach was trying to get me to put more time for research into my day. I noted that I had a meeting with a large group that would take substantial time in the afternoon. Moira immediately asked “What would you do if you were not going to that meeting?” I replied that I would be able to do writing. From there she pressed me further, asking “Will going to the meeting help you get tenure?” I said that it would not, to which she replied “Will writing help you get tenure?” and I responded affirmatively. At that point, I began to truly realize how many of the things taking up my days and time were there because I allowed them to be, not necessarily because others had imposed them upon me. I realized that, if I wanted to get tenure, I would have to start honoring my priorities because no one else would be stepping in to protect my time.
While struggling to balance and find time for my writing—as many of you reading this have also likely done—I began reading books about time management and productivity. While the advice was helpful in some regards, one of the most valuable things that I have learned while working with my coach, Moira, is that my own research and writing style is not the same as others. This is why some one-size-fits-all advice was failing me. Moira has helped me identify my own style by sometimes pushing my comfort level and asking me to reflect on what things may be uncomfortable at first simply because they are new, and on what things may just not be the best fit for me. For example, while many people work well and sustain their interest by switching between projects, I really seem to do best by focusing more intently on a single project at a time.
I have certainly had my challenges in the last year, particularly in learning to deal with unforeseen ‘bumps’ in the road. However, since I started my work with Moira and began prioritizing research and writing through my time in the Writing Room, I have achieved great growth internally as well as through external markers. I am still working hard, but rather than feeling that I have nothing to show, I recently made a list and was thrilled to see that I have submitted ten articles since I began working with ACW, three of which have been revised and accepted during that time as well!
Academic Coaching and Writing is an amazing resource. I just completed my first term as an assistant professor. Despite the demands that come with being a new faculty member and living in a new city, my weekly sessions with Dr. Moira have become a welcome point of familiarity and safety. Our sessions are one weekly interaction that I know will be challenging, but ALWAYS helpful and positive. Knowing that I'll have to review my week—my accomplishments and shortcomings—has helped me to stay grounded in my life, to take stock of what happens around me, and to note how and why I react to situations in the way I do. That kind of awareness has proven helpful, not only in my academic life but in my personal life as well. And by the end of our coaching session, I have usually identified unnamed mental gremlins, which means they are no longer waiting in musty corners to highjack my productivity or happiness.
The Writing Room has also been a tremendous help. I have made significant progress on many of my academic goals: I have completed a draft of an article, queried and selected a journal for submission, and started drafting my book proposal and manuscript. In addition to these quantifiable accomplishments, I am equally pleased with my non-measurable achievements. For instance, one of the most important lessons I have learned so far is that writing takes time—lots of it. I have also learned that a regular writing practice is the best protection from burnout and the best way to make academic writing less terrifying and, perhaps, even enjoyable. Finally, I have learned that there is a quiet confidence that comes from showing up in the Writing Room everyday. That is what sustains me.
I started coaching in Fall 2014 with two aims. One was to restart some stalled writing projects, and the second was for longer-term career planning related to leadership and administrative roles.
It had been difficult for me to maintain steady writing progress with the daily pressures of teaching, and I wanted to become more efficient in my writing process. My habit had been to spend a lot of time in prewriting, reviewing existing literature to make sure I had read absolutely everything about my topic. I enjoy this learning part of the writing process, but it was not helping me get papers completed. Moira worked with me to develop small, specific writing goals, and I worked in the Writing Room every day to get the tasks done. It was hard to develop realistic goals and to make tasks specific enough to complete in small blocks of time. I initially felt that having specific goals and schedules would be constraining, but I eventually found that having a structure was useful.
In my coaching calls, Moira and I discussed the projects I was working on and my longer-term leadership and administration goals. One week I was recounting the many tasks I was supposed to complete. Moira asked me when, specifically, I would do a task: “When are you going to schedule this task on your calendar?” “I don’t know,” I replied. “It will just have to get done somehow.” She told me this was “fantasy planning” to hope that tasks would just get magically done somehow. She advised that I would have to actively choose to NOT do some tasks to make time to complete the high-priority goals. Moira also helped me think about alternative ways to complete some of my tasks, such as collaborating, delegating, and hiring student help.
We discussed potential career planning paths and opportunities, and Moira helped me confront various concerns and anxieties that kept coming up for me. We called these “gremlins,” defined as the negative self-talk that sabotages confidence. We reviewed gremlin coping strategies. My gremlins still come around sometimes, but it helps to have a name for them and a process for putting them in proper perspective!
My writing productivity has indeed increased in the last year. I am writing at least five hours a week during the busy semester, and much more in the summer months. I’ve had three papers and a book chapter accepted, and I currently have a paper under review. I’m pleased with my work and very much appreciate the support I’ve received from Moira in the ACW coaching program.
I’ve strengthened my confidence and skills being a writer. My selection of the word “being” is important—I’d stopped engaging in professional writing. It’s been important for me to gain skills using techniques to improve my writing, and to also have the coaching that could address my emotional perceptions of “gremlins.” The skills themselves are fairly simple—use of the timer and a 2-hour daily writing session. Since my first day of writing in the ACW Virtual Writing Room, I’ve woken up excited about writing each morning! I really like the process of getting organized by looking at my accountability chart (at least when I’ve prepared it well), then having the 5-minute exercises with Denise and Nisi (the Writing Room Moderators). The mind-settling or physical exercises all set me up for focused work. I am using these three tools (timer, charting, and relaxation exercises) beyond what I do in the morning writing room sessions.
One of my goals for the 12 weeks was to complete a draft of what I’ve referred to as my “Genre” paper. I regarded that paper as a "getting myself up, dusting off, and getting going again" endeavor. The paper had sat for about 4 years now. I ran into a problem of not being able to open voice files while travelling, so I switched over to focus my writing on research I am launching now. I'm making fairly good progress working on this "Citizen Science Journalism" project.
In short, my measurable achievements from working with Moira, my Coach, and participating in the Virtual Writing Room are:
My not-so-measurable accomplishments from being part of the ACW Program include:
As part of a broader future-career visioning strategy I was working on as a New Year’s resolution, I contacted ACW and was paired with Moira Killoran in 2012. I wanted to work with a deep and innovative thinker who could support me in developing an actionable structure around my future career goals. Right away Moira and I connected. I was so impressed at how “in the present” she was and by her ability to jump in with me right away to start the work I wanted to do.
My initial purpose of working with Moira was to get an objective assessment of my plan for a gradual transition over the next three years from my current longstanding role as a scholar-practitioner into a full-time academic position. After only a couple of sessions, I was able to clear away a lot of my own career-related clutter, and really open up to the possibilities Moira offered me: Why wait three years? Why not transition now? At first this was hard for me to fathom: I was comfortable; I had a plan; I needed more time, structure, etc. But Moira helped me focus my thinking on the possibilities of now: If you have a dream, why wait to live it?
One of the greatest things I enjoyed about working with Moira was the variety of tools and perspectives she brought to our sessions: from deep introspection, and contemplative visioning; to grounded scheduling and practical skills-based exercises. Each session built the momentum I needed to focus on really being present with my career goals, ultimately reigniting a spark that had faded from my life over the years. Regaining this spark has been key in helping me achieve my career transition to a full academic position in less than a year. It has also reminded me about the importance of reaching out to experts like Moira, who can support us in that process of honoring our soul’s purpose and to remind us to never give up that vision, however unattainable it may seem in the moment.
I recently wrote a book on a highly prolific artist. There are numerous anecdotes by contemporary witnesses, who claim to have seen this artist writing in taverns as soon as inspiration seemed to hit him. However, in reading between the lines of these stories, it turns out that he was merely copying out something he’d already written. In fact, accounts by his friends tell a different story: he apparently only wrote for a couple of hours at his desk every morning, and took the rest of the day off. If ever a fact could deflate the image of the romantic artist, it’s the existence of routine. But trust me, it’s the routine that explains why he was so productive! So, while I was working on this book, I developed the same habit. As anyone who has worked in the ACW Writing Room will know, there is little point in waiting for the muse to strike—it’s the routine and regular hours that produce the prose!
I heard about Academic Coaching & Writing through word of mouth and, having recently been awarded tenure, it seemed to be the ideal time to get some independent advice about the next phase of my career. Olympic champions have coaches, companies hire in consultants—it seems academics always try to do everything on their own! Well, my coaching sessions with Moira have been far more illuminating and rewarding than I could ever have imagined. Her own background in academia means that she knows the challenges of being an academic first hand, and I appreciate how easy she made it for our weekly discussions to be open, honest, and forthright. Together, we have covered a lot of ground, and I have learned a valuable set of new tools and techniques for staying energized and focused in all areas of my job: research, teaching, service. When I look back on last semester, I can honestly say that it was the most balanced, energizing, and purposeful one I’ve experienced in a long time. Thank you, Moira! Thank you, ACW team!
Up until this point in my life, I had always gotten a job through someone I knew. Because my grandfather was also an academic land surveyor, I have been active in the community on the local, national and international levels since I was a teenager. A few months ago, as I was coming to the end of my graduate work as a dual PhD and JD, I found myself on the academic job market for the first time. I found that the experience of applying for jobs and interviewing for faculty positions was murky at best, even when I was familiar with the institution.
I have been working as an expert witness and consultant on land surveying issues for many years, so I appreciate that oftentimes someone else knows much more on a subject than I do. I began to wonder, “Are there people out there who can help me figure out how to conduct an academic job search?” I did some Google searching, and that’s how I found ACW. I don’t think people know about academic career coaches. In fact, I didn’t think I needed a career coach until I decided to figure out why my job search was taking so much of my time and energy. I had wrongly assumed that I would find a position based on my merits alone.
When I started working with my coach, Paula Thompson, my primary goal was to get support finding a faculty position at a university that is a good fit for me. “Fit” can be a nebulous concept, so the coaching was really useful in helping me articulate what that “fit” really meant. It became clear that I want an academic appointment at a stable university program where they need traditional land surveying and GIS computer modeling. I love interacting with students and working out in the field as much as I love to be in the classroom, so a substantial amount of teaching was a must have.
Paula also encouraged me to use my network in creative ways. We made a plan for me to touch base with all the people I know at universities throughout the country and let them know I’m on the job market. She pushed me to reconnect with a colleague at an institution where the negotiations dragged on last year, and now I’m back on the short list for this year’s opening.
Another benefit of the academic job coaching has been the (seemingly) simple aspect of staying caught up with all that needs to be done. I am pulled in so many directions—still completing my degrees and also teaching. I need to be reminded of what job search and application tasks need to get done on a week-to-week basis so it doesn’t get lost in the noise of all the requests from faculty and students. Paula did a fantastic job of reminding me of my commitments during a very busy time in my life.
Through the coaching process, we made some real improvements to my job application documents. I now have a reformatted CV, an updated research statement and teaching philosophy, and three different versions of my cover letter that I can mix and match as appropriate to the job opening. In other words, I now have a “complete package” to highlight my unique qualities and skills. I needed someone to walk me through the nuts and bolts of getting together a competitive set of job application materials. That’s one of the things we accomplished during our coaching together, and it’s been a huge help.
Even if I get a job offer this semester, I still have academic coaching needs. In my mind, the coaching relationship that has formed between Paula and me won’t end. As with any job, other challenges will come up after I get the full-time faculty job with a university. The reality of faculty life these days is that you must know how to advocate for yourself—how to be collegial with your fellow faculty members and administrators, but be your own advocate. I can see how I’ll be relying on Paula’s expertise for many more years to come.
This past summer, I was promoted to Director of the Center for American Language & Culture. It wasn’t so much an increase in duties as it was a recognition of an administrative role I had already been filling. This promotion was a critical professional step for me, and one that made the road ahead clearer. It made clear that my institution was committed to me, and I knew that for the next several years, I was prepared to commit right back. At the same time, I realized that I was truly giving up something that grad school had trained me to believe was my future: a traditional faculty career.
As I acknowledged the shift in my career path, I realized that I needed to organize myself and redefine my public image to accommodate not only the changes that were occurring now, but also those that would occur in the future. In other words, I needed to rebrand myself.
As I began working with Paula, her use of the academic branding cycle to frame our work together helped me understand that developing my brand also involved planning and building—or in my case rebuilding. This meant revising my existing website and CV, as well as creating new working documents for a variety of tasks. With Paula’s help, I worked through the branding cycle to develop a plan and define the steps I needed to take next to prepare myself for the challenges ahead.
When I began this rebranding journey, I knew that I wanted to be happy with the face I showed to the world. Today, I couldn't be happier with what I have accomplished. Coaching has helped me discover that I have something to say to a wide audience in higher education and have the skills and experience to communicate that in a cohesive message. I have created a space for this work on my rebranded website through a blog called Strategic Revision. As I say in my first entry, "I will be blogging about the current and future state of U.S. higher education and trying to think through how we get from where we are to where we should be and need to be. I'm doing this because I believe in the system and its possibilities; I believe that knowing the system helps you master it and change it for the better."
As you might guess, I am no longer looking back over my shoulder and wondering if I am on the right path. For me, academic branding coaching became a kind of “identity therapy” in which I reassembled the pieces of my professional person in a way that makes sense for the professional I am today and the one I will be tomorrow. I am not implying that Paula or any coach functions as a therapist, but the kind of self-reflection I engaged in as part of this process felt a bit like that.
The reality for many busy people—academics included—is that we have to plan the time for things or they slide to the bottom of the list. Because my coach was relying on me every week, I was compelled to put my commitment to myself and the rebuilding of my public persona at the top of my priority list. I also now realize that I have to continue to commit time and energy to the activities and tasks that are important to me and my career.
How can you tell if academic branding coaching is right for you? I would tell someone considering coaching that sometimes you need a new set of eyes examining your professional journey—uncritically and supportively. For me, coaching was a sort of workshop for my public and professional self. I needed that new perspective to help me change. In my experience, too many academics believe we shouldn’t ask for help. We have been overachievers all our lives; we believe we can do it ourselves. The idea of collaborating or putting our fears and doubts on display often makes us uncomfortable. In fact, that’s the exact moment to force yourself to get comfortable with the discomfort—with the rumble of uncertainty in your gut—and ask for help. I did, and thanks to Paula, I have come fully into my current and still evolving professional self.
I chose to create an ePortfolio because I am a filmmaker and visual storyteller, and the classes I teach are all about how to use image, sound, editing, and organization to effectively communicate across platforms. I felt it was critical for me to show potential employers how I do this in my own work and to enable them to screen a variety of materials across platforms to get a strong sense of my experience and approach. For example, my ePortfolio includes selections from my own work (including film clips, audio slideshows, print articles, a scholarly paper, and my course website and course blog), as well as samples of my students’ work, ranging from a hand-drawn illustration to a blog to short video pieces. I also include basic documents like my CV, teaching philosophy, and other documents to present a coherent package that best illustrates my work and what I can offer as an educator. Though it took time, effort, and organization on the front end to gather and format the materials included on the site, once finished, I have found it easier and more efficient to add and change materials. The ePortfolio format allows me to present my on-going body of work as it grows and evolves.
Coming out of a professional industry, I found that working with Caroline at ACW was absolutely critical for me to understand what makes a strong and effective job application package, and to develop how to best communicate and present who I am and what I believe I can offer to a potential employer. Writing pieces like a Creative Statement and Teaching Philosophy was incredibly difficult for me, because as a filmmaker, I am one of those people who just "does" and does not spend a lot of time thinking about how and why I do it. Caroline patiently coached me by asking a series of questions and she walked me through a process that enabled me to articulate not only how I teach but most importantly why I teach. This, in turn, provided me with an even stronger foundation to understand my own practice. Caroline also helped me think about creative ways to flesh out these materials by suggesting best practices and practical tips (like providing specific examples) that may seem obvious, but sometimes get overlooked when working on the "meta" level of the how and why I "do" what I do.
Not only do I believe that the experience of working with Caroline and ACW has made my ePortfolio and job application package much stronger and more successful, but I have felt incredibly supported and inspired along this journey, one that can be fraught with the fear and anxiety of the unknown. Working with Caroline has enabled me to gain a new level of confidence and clarity as a professional and gain a new friend and mentor along the way!
I recently had my first interview of the current academic job search season. When I received the email asking to set up an interview, my initial reaction was definitely mixed. One part of me was thrilled. I had proven to myself that I could get interviews. All my work with my coach, Paula, on my application materials had begun to pay off. Yet another part of me was panicked. My previous experience with interviewing was limited and unsuccessful, and I had not been happy with my performance. I immediately got in touch with Paula to set up an interview prep session.
Before the session, Paula sent me a list of likely questions for this type of interview, which was for a position at a small liberal arts college. I prepared my responses and rehearsed them with Paula during a mock-interview portion of the coaching session. This interview prep was beneficial for me in multiple ways. I am quite an anxious person, and tend to expect a worst-case scenario, so in the session I voiced concerns about other questions I thought I might be asked and felt unprepared for. Fortunately, Paula knows about and understands my anxious tendencies from our earlier work together, so I felt very comfortable expressing my more irrational fears about the interview. Paula reassured me that these questions, given the kind of interview, were highly unlikely, and we discussed how I could respond to similar, more likely questions.
Overall, coaching in advance of the job interview gave me a sense of preparation and confidence that I had not had in my previous experiences. As a result of this purposeful preparation, during the interview itself there were no questions that surprised me, and I came out of the interview happy with how I had performed. I know I would not have felt as prepared or done as well if I had not had Paula as my academic coach working with me throughout this process.
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