Post Academic

Save Your Sanity by Backing Up Your Computer Files

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionAt work, one of my colleagues suffered a hard drive crash, and it’s going to be a while before she can access her files. In the Hamster World, an IT department can come to your rescue. But what do you do if you’re a grad student or an academic and you don’t have IT guys at your disposal?

It’s time to get in the habit of backing up your files regularly. The process is kind of like flossing. It seems tedious, but it can save you from losing your files, which is almost as horrific as a root canal.

I use Norton 360, which nudges me every so often and tells me that it’s time to back up my computer. Windows also has a Backup and Restore feature.

A backup won’t do much good if you aren’t backing your files up to a CD, DVD, or external hard drive. The external hard drive is your best bet. It might cost a little something, but it has plenty of room. All you need to do is connect the external hard drive to your computer via a USB cable, plug it in, turn it on, and launch the backup program.

If that seems unwieldy, consider saving your files in the cloud. Try opening a free Dropbox account at The Dropbox software creates a folder on your hard drive. By saving a file in that folder, it is automatically saved online, and you can fetch it when you need it. An even simpler alternative is Google Docs, although it has some space constraints and might not be the best fit for a dissertation-sized file.

A glimpse of the horror you will feel after a busted hard drive from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Transfer Your Skills: Kneecapping 101

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on March 22, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension So you wanna make some extra cash by freelancing? Then you need to make sure you get paid. Academics are not known for being aggressive, so you’ll need to know how to handle it if your client isn’t paying your invoice.

Understand the invoice process before you take a job. In many freelance gigs, you’ll submit an invoice, and the client will cut you a check after a certain period of time. To avoid glitches, ask for details on the process. Does the client want you to fill out a specific invoice template? What is the turnaround time for payment? 10 days? 30 days? If that’s too long, you might not want to take the job.

Be polite … at first. If you don’t get a check by the time you and the client set beforehand, call. Keep it short and sweet. “Hi. My check is late. Can you follow up on its status?” Don’t blame them—at least not right away. There may be a legitimate reason why your check hasn’t arrived, such as a paperwork glitch.

Freelance follow-up: Shameless self-promotion

Posted in First Person,Publish and Perish,Transfer Your Skills by Arnold Pan on March 13, 2010
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Since we’re on the freelancing tip already, I figured now would be a good time to follow up on my post last week regarding the process I’ve gone through in (re-)establishing myself as a freelance writer.  I still wouldn’t call it a comeback yet,  but my first review for the great online magazine PopMatters went up a few days ago.  It’s on the band The Bundles, which includes Kimya Dawson, whom you might be familiar with from her contributions to the Juno soundtrack.

The post, though it might seem otherwise, has less to do with patting myself on the back or affirming my tips on how to freelance, and more to do with highlighting the innovative way PopMatters approaches online writing and publishing.  More so than any publication I’ve worked with, PopMatters is very open to incorporating new voices and more voices–though, of course, some experience does help and might be expected–in its mission to provide interesting, relevant, and current criticism on pop culture.  As an indication of this mindset, the submission guidelines and calls-for-papers on special topics are prominently displayed on the site, not buried somewhere in some link you can’t find in the masthead you can’t find.   The way PopMatters operates by providing more and more different kinds of opportunities for its contributors in order to continually circulate fresh content might provide a strong model for thinking about how to revamp academic publishing in the humanities, a topic we’ll be getting back to in the very near future.


More Resources:

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on March 13, 2010
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Arnold offered a hot tip for the job search by mentioning Media Bistro as a good resource. I just applied for a few Media Bistro jobs, and the site also gives you an idea of the major media players in your area.

If you are just starting to shift gears from the academic world to the hamster world, and you want to find out if freelance writing is right for you, also check out, which was founded by Deb Ng.

This site releases a list of freelance jobs each weekday, and they are categorized by the type of job so you can find one that suits your skills, whether it be proofreading or tech writing. Deb & Co. sift through the major job boards to find legit freelance opportunities so you don’t get scammed into writing content for free—which is a major hazard of the freelance profession. She even adds little comments if a post seems too good to be true or if it has a big time commitment.

The jobs can be hit-or-miss depending on the day, but can save you time so you don’t have to surf through dozens of sites trying to find that one perfect gig.

**This post isn’t intended to be an ad, but if we come across a site that will save you time or get you a new job, then we’re plenty happy to spread the word.


Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Arnold Pan on March 12, 2010
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Those of you who are more tech-savvy and web-browsy might be on to this already, but has some really great resources for any one interested in a media-oriented job.  Even if you don’t have much experience in the field, it’s worth a quick browse of the job listings, which can be conveniently be broken down by industry and/or geography, among other filters; registration is required, but all you have to provide is an email account and some basic info.  For anyone trying to figure out what jobs are out there and what your options might look like, it’s a great place to brainstorm.

For more experienced freelancers, there’s also a “Freelance Marketplace” where you can upload your information into a clearinghouse for writers looking for (more) work.  I haven’t tried this function yet, but it seems like a wonderful idea, if not a practical resource.  I’ll follow up on it once I submit a profile.

Media Bistro Job Listings (registration req’d)

How to: Get started freelance writing

You might notice in my “About” bio that I describe myself as a “once and future freelance writer.”  I don’t want to call it a comeback right now, especially since I haven’t had anything published yet and I’m still putting the finishing touches on my first assigned assignment.  It figures that the profession I’m best equipped to cross over to — freelancing and journalism — might be less lucrative and more imperiled than academia (if that’s possible), but I enjoy writing in general and I can do so without so many other responsibilities I had as a scholar/teacher.  And, actually, many, many more people have read my music reviews than anything I wrote as an academic, since I wrote a few hundred pieces even when freelancing as a second job during school.  Pretty much all the places I wrote for went out of business (which, along with my qualifying exams, was the reason I stopped freelancing), but there are still some reviews I wrote floating out there — which you can Google, provided you promise not to look at my Rate My Professors rating from Loyola Marymount that is, for some reason, the top link when you search my name.

Caroline may actually be better qualified to advise here, since she has a lot of experience as a writer and editor on a number of websites.  And I’ll be happy to provide more info on the nuts-and-bolts of freelancing from pitch to story later, whether or not this second act goes anywhere.  But in trying to resuscitate my career as a music writer, I noticed that some of the basic aspects of getting started in freelancing are the same, even as the media for this kind of publishing has switched over from print to electronic.  Things are definitely faster paced, which might mean more opportunities for writers, presuming you’re willing to put up with the following:

1. Put the “free” in “freelancing”: You read Caroline’s previous post about the crappy, low or non-paying first post-academia job, right?   Well, you have to approach freelancing that way, except it’s not crappy if you like writing and that it may never become well-paying.  To get started in freelancing, be ready, willing, and able to work for free, because few people will turn down unpaid labor (though some still will), especially if you are (over)qualified and require little babysitting.  My best freelance jobs — the ones for which I did the most interesting work and which opened up my best opportunities — started out as unpaid.  Once I got my foot in the door, I was able gain the trust of my editors and pick up more responsibility.  And even the gruntwork could be fun, if you’re interested in the field you’re in: As an intern for an alternative weekly during my college summer breaks, for instance, one of my primary tasks was transcribing interviews for the music editor, which turned out to be anything but tedious, since I learned a lot about music, how to interview people, and how to translate what the heck Bjork was saying.

2. Be creative: That internship I was referring to above?  I made that opportunity for myself by blind-mailing the editor, who I have to give credit to for taking me seriously.  I’m not great with taking the initiative, but all it takes is one person to pay attention and give you a chance.  The result was that I became the first music intern for the paper, which started out with a lot of not-so-bad office work and led to a lot of independence.  I also learned a lot about what it takes to be an editor and how newspapers, particularly weeklies, work: think ad revenue, before you think about content.

3. Follow the rules: In my experience, the best way to get noticed is not to stand out by being a low-maintenance, highly productive writer.  That means do things the way your editors want you to do them.  Learn the publication’s style sheet and try to format things correctly right from the start — kinda like Caroline’s advice to “RTFM.”  Write the pieces no one else wants to, even letting your editor pick your first assignments for you, to prove you can get stuff done.  And, most importantly, make your deadlines, which means not trying to do more than you are capable of doing.  The less hassle you are for your editor, the more s/he will be able to rely on you and give you more responsibilities.

4. Take things personally: Like any job, networking is really important.  While you do have to figure out where and how to start, the relationships you make can help you expand your opportunities, even if it can take some time.  All of my better paying jobs came from a few editors that I built great relationships with, who kept trying to give me work as they moved from one position to the next.

5. But don’t take things personally: Rejection — or rather, being ignored — is part of the game, something any post/academic can already relate to.  Almost all of the time, it’s not personal, just either that you’re lost in the paperwork/inbox or, at worst, they’re careless.  And there’s a lot of turnover with editors, so you might go to the end of line with each change, especially if editors already have other freelancers to whom they are loyal.  Be persistent.

6. Try it: Because so few freelancers can do it full-time as a freelancer and because there are so few staff writers, freelancing is very amenable to something you can try with very little investment.  Freelancing is usually a second job, so it’s something you might like to pick up while you’re in grad school or working in another profession.  For me, freelancing helped me earn pretty much all my frivolous spending money during college and grad school, with the added perk of getting promo CDs (sometimes early!) that I would’ve bought anyway.  Just go into freelancing with some perspective and feeling like you have nothing to lose.

Now back to writing that music review…