Post Academic

Hoarders, Academic Edition: Tackling the Paper Pile

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on April 9, 2010
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PhotobucketPaper has an unusual ability to breed. Paper has no visible sexual capacity, yet it multiplies like a bunch of teenagers at a prom. One day, you set a sheet of paper on your desk, and the next you have a full blown stack, and you no longer have room for your laptop, your coffee cup, or your sanity.

Determine How Long You Actually Need the Material:
You don’t need to hold on to everything forever. As with books, you need to create keep or toss piles. Hang on to material relating to fellowships, financial aid, and recommendations (either for you or the ones you write for students).

Think Vertically: For the paper you need later on, either punch holes in it and place it in a three-ring binder or slip the paper into hanging file folders. You’ll save space, and it is easier to sort through folders when they are upright than when they are flat.

Use Meaningful Labels: Binders and files won’t do you a bit of good if they aren’t labeled efficiently, so you must get in touch with your inner librarian. For example, determine how you think of the classes you teach. Do you tend to think of them by title or by course number? Choose whichever one works for you. Then, subdivide by year to make it easier to find the older files.

Create a “To-File” Box: If you don’t need a sheet of paper in the next day, then it shouldn’t be on your desk. Place the papers in a “To-File” box. Filing items right away can be tiresome, and you won’t always have enough time to do it, but the “To-File” box will help you tidy up your desk.

Set Aside a “To-File” Time: A full “To-File” box is a chaotic “To-File” box. Schedule an hour or two a week, depending on how much paperwork you generate, to put the “To-File” papers in the appropriate binders or hanging folders. Filing papers is about as exciting as a stick in the eye, but the time you put into filing will save you double the amount of time later.

Image of old-school Moscow file cabinet by Leonid Dzhepko, posted on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

A special kind of hoarded book: The (unused) textbook

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on April 6, 2010
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Writing about book hoarding reminded me of this link from the Washington Post‘s newish “College Inc.” blog (it’s RSS’d in the right column) about textbooks.  Here’s the payoff quote from the short piece, about how in/frequently college students use their very expensive textbooks:

…one-third of students reported using their textbook “a lot,” 28 percent “a good amount,” 25 percent “a little” and 14 percent not at all. (A few said the question wasn’t applicable to their course, presumably for lack of a textbook.)

As a college instructor, I’m actually surprised that *only* 14 percent of textbooks are not used at all and 25 percent just a little.  Heck, I’m an academic, and that’s probably in line with how often I cracked open some of my assigned reading.  The last line from the piece sums up nicely what becomes of textbooks as you load ’em up into one moving box after the next, from one move to the next: “But hey: even a shelf full of unread textbooks can impress.”

Indeed, the textbook really is its own category of hoarded book, at once almost completely useless after the class it was assigned for is over, but also completely useful as a “MacGyvered” object.  Happily, textbooks generally have a lot of resale value and it’s not hard to sell them back to the campus bookstore, so they aren’t so easy to hoard.  But those that you can’t sell back or, for whatever reason, end up collecting dust on your shelves don’t have to completely go to waste.   I’ve found that old, beaten-up Latin textbooks from middle school (yes, I have those) or the Riverside Complete Chaucer can come in handy as heavy-duty door stops or as little stepstools or can be used to flatten out rolled up posters and papers.  Maybe they can even come to symbolize a post-academic life, as repurposed objects that have somehow become useful long after their initial reason-for-being had passed them by.