Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Writing Accountability Follow Up, and Living the Dream

Follow-up on writing accountability. Last time, I wrote in anticipation of our first faculty writing accountability group meeting at my institution. As we have faculty of all levels and backgrounds participating, this session involved each member introducing him/herself, a research project or program, and goals for participating. I really enjoyed listening to my colleagues explain their interests and what they want help with during the program. (I'm a psychologist, so no surprise that I take pleasure in hearing about others' thought processes.)

Interestingly, I noticed that the facilitators described the accountability process as provoking "guilt and shame," which motivates us via avoidance of negative outcomes/negative reinforcement. The science certainly supports this statement, though there is a flip side. I study social comparison, which is inherent in any social activity; I've learned that some people respond positively to negative social experiences (i.e., those that induce guilt and shame), and others don't. And some people respond positively at certain times and negatively at other times. So in my partner- and group-based research, I encourage a mix of tough love, empathy, and positive reinforcement. (The latter actually works best for increasing the frequency of behavior, but the reward has to come quickly.)

As a clinician, I take the role of a cheerleader - I celebrate your success as often as possible (and encourage you to do the same, within reason). You should want to avoid disappointing me, but only if you're equally disappointed in yourself. If not, you won't keep up the behavior without my response. So I'm taking the same approach to my writing group/partner; I'll adjust if it seems as though my partner responds better to tough love.*

We're partnered up based on similar interests and goals, and we'll meet with our partners each week to check in. My partner is a professor of physical therapy who wants some support through finishing a large-scale and long-term research synthesis; I asked her to keep me on track and focused in the face of many, many active projects. Once per month, we'll meet with the whole group to report on our progress and discuss writing more broadly. If all goes well, there will be a writing retreat in the future. So overall, great start! More to come as we hold each other accountable.

Living the dream. In the last week or so, I had two extremely positive experiences related to my academic career. The first came almost at random. It was 7:30 on Monday morning; I was already on campus (as I am on all teaching days), with three classes, office hours, and grant writing ahead of me. (Not unique in this field, for sure.) I went down the hall to make coffee, and as I returned to my office, I looked at my little corner of campus: the name plate on my door, the bulletin board across from my office that displays my research and related news, my lab down the hall. It occurred to me, for the first time in a while, that I have what I worked so hard to get for many years. 

For the better part of a decade, I've worked 60+ hours per week and not taken real vacations, in pursuit of a secure academic position. I've put off some life goals in order to focus on establishing myself in the new position. There always is more to do and always another hurdle (tenure next). But I stopped to appreciate what I've built, and to be grateful for the ability to do what I love. I made it. Not everyone can say that. It was a spontaneous and wonderful moment, and since then, I've tried to return to that mental space whenever I've found myself in need of a boost.

I also had the chance to share this appreciation with the person most responsible for making it happen (other than me) - my graduate mentor. He was in town for the day to do some consulting work, and we met on my campus to catch up and discuss our ongoing projects. I got to give him a tour, show him my space, and walk him through a typical day. This incredibly successful person with a brilliant mind and a prestigious position gave me a chance to work for him ten years ago, and I got to show him the fruits of his labor. It was nerdy, exciting, and humbling all at the same time. 

This is your life moment of the week: There's always something to complain about. Stay connected to what you've accomplished and where you came from; it can remind you why you work as hard as you do.

*This is whole concept is much more complicated than I indicate here; perhaps fodder for a future post on this site or my research blog (

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