Gina Answers your Questions

in Articles from our Newsletter

I’m turning into the “Dear Abby” of academics. I get notes all the time asking me for help. The following represent letters I’ve received and frequent questions that clients ask me.


Professorial Overwhelm


Dear Gina,

I’m a new assistant professor. Can you give me your best advice as to how to get started on the right foot towards tenure?


Dear Overloaded,

My best advice is to set a schedule that you can follow throughout the years. Have categories that include networking (crucial!), teaching (keep the teaching portfolio up to date), publishing (you might want sub-categories), speaking, mentoring, getting mentored, committee work, and community service. After looking at the requirements for tenure for your institution, you will know what to include on the schedule. Then break it down into yearly, monthly and weekly goals. Usually teaching takes up more time in the first few semesters as you teach new classes, so allow for that.

A schedule like this will make sure that you stay on track and don’t forget to do the little things that are hard to make up for (or document) after five years on the tenure track.


The Never-Ending Dissertation

Dear Gina,

I’m nearing the end of my dissertation, but there’s so much that I feel I have left to say. My advisor says it’s enough. Shouldn’t I try to be more comprehensive? After all, this is a dissertation.

Cut Short

Dear Cut Short,

NO! Do not write more than you need! This is a common problem with ABD’s – they can’t let go of their work. Don’t forget, you’re not saying goodbye to the unwritten or not-included material – you’re just not putting it into the dissertation. One of my brilliant clients had a file that she called ‘For the Book.’ In that file she put all the ideas and writing that she was not able to put into the dissertation, but would go into the book she would one day write.

If your advisor says it’s good enough, and he or she isn’t psychotic and doesn’t have a poor track record with previous students, take your advisor’s advice and hand the darn thing in!


It’s Soooo Much Easier to Read Than Write

Dear Gina,

I’ve spent the last year reading in preparation for writing my literature review. I have files and folders full of notes and more post-it notes in some books than I have pages. Yet I can’t get started writing! What’s wrong with me?


Dear Stuck,

Feeling paralyzed after doing a lot of reading is very common. I suggest that you write as you read. By this I mean, don’t just underline or put stars next to good sentences. Write a little summary of why the article is important, how you see it fitting into your work, what you do or don’t like about it, and other thoughts, no matter how unclear they might be at that point. Health Sciences Literature Review Made Easy has an excellent section on managing the ‘paper trail’ of the literature review – it’s useful for any discipline, not just health sciences, by the way.

At the end of the reading period, take a few minutes to summarize your thoughts for the day and free write about your topic. See my article ‘The Party’s Over…Getting Back to the Dissertation’ for some hints for jumpstarting your writing by using some of the writing you’ve done in this manner. If you’re all done with your reading (are we ever really done?), just start with some free writing. Those who write daily, even for 15 minutes, have the most creative thoughts in a day.


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