All three students had their dissertation proposal meetings during a 3-day period in November. That October was… intense. There were many nights where I didn’t get to the dissertation drafts until about midnight, and I often stayed up until 2:00 or 3:00 AM editing, sometimes from a standing position so that I didn’t fall asleep. I occasionally took breaks to do down dog, again, so I didn’t fall asleep.
[I believe it’s important to interject at this point that I adore all three of these students; they all DID finish by Summer 2017, so 4 years for PhD or 5 years for combined masters/PhD; and they all now have awesome positions as assistant professor or post doc ]
Part of the issue was a problem of perspective. I have a general rule that students can expect a one-week turnaround. To each student, they were sending me drafts at a reasonable rate for my response. But, that rate ignored the two other doctoral students; former students sending me co-authored manuscripts; manuscripts to review for journals; my own writing; and of course, every other aspect of my job, and my life.
I know I’m not unique in this situation. Part of being faculty is always having to balance one’s own writing, teaching, and service, with editing students’ and collaborators’ work and reviewing grants and manuscripts for external sources.
After we got through the defenses, I decided there had to be a better way. So, my students and I came up with a system to get through Spring semester and their dissertations. And the system worked so well, that I have continued the system and use it for the large category of research that I mentally refer to as “other people’s work” even though, of course, I’m often a co-author. I really think it has revolutionized my ability to get other’ people’s work back to them in a timely manner (I’m human though; I definitely slip up.).
What did we do? We created a google spreadsheet to account for my time. Here’s a screenshot that I took this past November, a few months after everyone had graduated:
We created the spreadsheet based on my expectations of how much other people’s work I could handle in a given week. I decided that in any given week I could handle 2 manuscript-length editing projects, and 2 smaller editing projects. Recognizing sometimes I needed to do more, I added the “#3 if desperate” column. And, during that dissertation writing semester, we had to add the “super desperation” column, though fortunately we don’t use it much. I also look a few months ahead and black out cells – Thanksgiving week I cut back on the number of things I would edit by blacking out some cells. Spring break I did the same. I blacked out the whole week of our family August vacation.
I also defined for students what category they should use:
- Manuscript: manuscript (co-author or review for journal); chapter of a dissertation or dissertation proposal (if sending multiple chapters, counts as multiple manuscripts); masters or honors thesis; external tenure review letter; dissertation if I’m not the chair
- Lower-level editing task: conference abstracts; conference poster or talk drafts; job talk slides; job talk materials; up to 10 reference letters to write for set of similar jobs (if applying to 2 different types, e.g., faculty & post docs, count as 2 separate ones); looking at/going over analyses before writing up
Students all have access to the editing calendar for months ahead, so they can get on my calendar. This system was extremely helpful during the crazy-dissertation writing semester, when everyone had similar deadlines, and we had to figure out a way to make it all fit, so that I wasn’t reading everything in the same week. It also helped students stick to their deadlines, because they knew if they didn’t get something to me as planned, it might be four weeks later when they could get back on my calendar. I think it also provides students with insight as to what it’s like to be a professor, because they get a better sense of the big picture of what my time use is in terms of other people’s work. In addition to students being able to add their own work into the calendar, I will add things myself, such as manuscript reviews for journals, co-authored papers not by students, and external tenure reviews.
I also have other expectations/assumptions, such as:
- Assume I am likely to edit any proposal, thesis, dissertation, or manuscript a minimum of 3 times, often more
- Only use “if desperate” column if truly desperate (e.g., external deadline). Otherwise, use a subsequent week
- I prefer not to read the same thing 2 weeks in a row, so with multiple rounds of edits on same document, make sure there’s a week off between when I receive them.
I know this system is unlikely to work for everyone. It doesn’t always work for me. Sometimes, unexpected things come up and I get a couple of weeks behind (a couple of times I’ve cried uncle and moved everything forward a couple of weeks). Other times I am just really tired and get behind because, for instance, everyone in my life is sick and I want to get enough sleep to try to have a halfway decent immune system. Sometimes, a student misses a deadline and she has to get someone else to swap with her. All that said, in my various administrative roles, I’ve talked to students about mentors who take many weeks and even sometimes months to provide feedback on writing, often slowing down students’ progress through the program or marketability for jobs. This system helps me to stay relatively on track with editing other people’s work, but also, not to let it take over my life. I like that when I get asked to review a manuscript I can look at the spreadsheet and see if I have a slot open in the next 4 weeks; if not, I turn it down. I like that on Sunday night I can look at my week ahead and know what my other people’s work tasks are. It works well enough for me that I wanted to share it with you. If you have a system that works well for you, please feel free to share it in the comments.
“The post How I gained control of my editing tasks first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on May 25, 2018.”