Post Academic

Now There’s No Excuse for Not Making Checklists

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on September 24, 2010
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If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m obsessed with checklists, and a good job-application checklist might help save your sanity as you go on the academic job hunt. So I went on a hunt for a checklist-generating program. So I typed “checklist generator” into Google, and voila! There was

If you want a paper checklist, look no further than, created by Adam Pash at Lifehacker. It’s faster to print it out than to hand-write the checklist, and a sign-in isn’t required.

Sure, creating a checklist and drawing little boxes on a piece of paper or buying a checkbox notepad is easy. But the easier it is to make a checklist, the more likely it is that you’ll get in the habit of making them.

A little fun fact–I ran a search for “checklist” and “academia,” along with “checklist” and “professor,” wondering how academics handled checklists. Here are two that might help a few of you, even though school has already started:

Your 10-Point Checklist Before Sending Off That Manuscript (by a biology prof, but there’s no reason you can’t modify it for a humanities publication) I’m a fan of “Replace long words with short words.”
Creating a Checklist for the Semester (from ProfHacker) This one reminds you to get your office snacks now because you’ll be sad if you don’t.

… and for aspiring Post Academics, I have a special one on career changing:

Checklist for Career Change This article is a little old, but it does help you get in the mental and physical shape needed to make a move.

Alas, I didn’t see as many checklists as I hoped. Have any of you used checklists to prepare for your job applications?

Breaking Down Big Tasks Into Small Chunks

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on July 21, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionStress and freak-outs are par for the course in academia. You have one goal, especially in the humanities–getting a tenure-track job. All or nothing. That’s why individual grades mean so little. The whole situation seems like pass-fail, with an inclination toward fail.

To avoid failing, you have to trick yourself by breaking up this monster task into small tasks. Otherwise, you’re going to feel overwhelmed.

In the Hamster World, someone usually gets paid to break down large tasks for you. These people are team managers or producers, and good ones figure out who does what and when it should get done. Sometimes, it feels like they’re telling you what to do, but it’s also their job to take a lot of the worrying off your shoulders so you can focus on the task at hand. Here’s how:

Start a daily checklist. I’ve evangelized checklists before, probably to the point where regular readers roll their eyes, but I mention them because they work. Building a checklist is a critical psychological exercise. Instead of thinking “I HAVE TO FINISH MY DISSERTATION OR I WON’T GET A JOB AND I’LL BE A FAILURE … WHERE’S A PAPER BAG FOR ME TO BREATHE IN???” sit down and make a list of what books you have to read, who you need to talk to and what chapters you need to write. Throw in what you need to do to submit the dissertation officially. It might not look so bad.

Image of Legos from Wikimedia Commons under public domain.

Making Checklists Sexy

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on June 7, 2010
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Okay, checklists are not sexy. But they sure are back in style thanks to Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto, which offers evidence that even the smartest people in the world forget stuff and could use a checklist to remind them.

Grad School Drama is also riding the checklist train and offers advice on how to manage a checklist:

Task Lists! Make a list. Prioritize the tasks based on importance and time constraints. Revisit the list several times during the day. And CHECK OFF THE TASKS as you go (that’s a note to self). Seriously, making the list is not enough. Let it guide your efforts. If you have a 40+ page chapter, consider writing only 3-5 pages in a single day. Consider reading only one or two articles.

See, it’s one thing to make a checklist, but that’s no better than making a New Year’s Resolution to lose 10 pounds, quit smoking and stop dropping F-Bombs. If your goals are too grandiose, you will not achieve them, and you’ll feel like a failure. It seems like common sense, but breaking up large tasks into small chunks and actually checking them off as you go can have a surprising psychological impact.

Academics in particular really need a checklist because they don’t have editors or producers calling them every few hours asking about your progress. (Yes, those phone calls from editors and producers can feel naggy sometimes, but they’re the reason people in the Hamster World make deadlines, so I’m grateful.) A checklist can fill in whenever your advisor is checked out.