Post Academic

Information Hoarding Is As Bad As Stuff Hoarding

Dean Dad over at Inside Higher Ed offered up a provocative title: “Making Yourself Dispensable.” At first, I thought it would be a guide on what not to do to get tenure. Instead, he offered a compelling argument against keeping information to yourself in order to boost your security in the workplace:

“I’ve seen administrators try to make themselves indispensable by hoarding information or by constructing elaborate networks of side deals in which they fancy themselves key nodes. It never ends well.”

When it comes to your publications, it’s one thing to take center stage and carve your own niche, but Dean Dad is right about the day-to-day workings of a department or any other workplace. Acting like a cast member of Survivor will only get you voted off the island.

Hoaders, Academic Edition: Evernote, How I Love Thee

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on April 10, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionArnold has been talking about digital clutter, and I am going to make a shameless product plug. I don’t work for Evernote, but they have helped me tame both digital and paper clutter.

This program allows you to enter notes either through your desktop, through a Web interface, or through your phone, and it syncs the content from all sources. You can submit different types of content, including text, photos, and even voice messages recorded on an iPhone. My favorite part is the Web clipper, which allows you to select text on a Web page and send it straight to your Evernote account.

Evernote also lets you add multiple tags to your notes, which makes it easier to find content. You could type up notes from all those copies of Quicksand (hi, Arnold!), put them into different Evernote files, and then tag them “Quicksand.”

The best part of Evernote, bar none, is the ability to sync notes from anywhere. If you have an idea, and you aren’t around a computer, speak it into your phone or type it out, and then it can re-sync with your Evernote account later.

Now I feel like a person in a Ronco ad, but here it comes … but wait, there’s more! Evernote is free. You have to pay based on storage, so if you store a considerable amount of files, you might need to plunk down a little per month. That said, I use it all the time, and I still haven’t paid, although I imagine it is only a matter of time. I’d still set aside a little in my budget for it.

There, end of product endorsement. But, if you are a grad student or an academic swamped by digital files, Evernote is one of the best ways to sort out the mess.

Image of post-it notes by EraserGirl, public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

Hoarders, Academic Edition–Part 3: Digital Clutter

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on April 9, 2010
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You’d think that entering the digital age would help me keep things tidy, but you’d be wrong.  First, the piles of paper, as I mentioned last time, aren’t completely gone, even if the stacks are getting smaller little-by-little over time.  Second, I’ve just become a digital hoarder and my problem is probably worse in virtual reality than it is in the real world.

Here’s what’s happening to the steadily dwindling gigabytes of memory on my computer:

1. More and more computer files: It seems that the word processor was invented for the academic who thinks almost any thought might be a diamond in the rough, because it helps you remember things and develop ideas you might have otherwise forgotten about.  But it doesn’t help you if you create so many drafts that you forget which file was a brainstorming session and which was a more polished draft, or which version is the more recent one and which is the default to go back to if your writing is going nowhere.  Plus, I know that it’s probably not a great idea to give all these minutely different drafts almost the same file names, but calling them different things also confuses me.

What makes all the clutter worse is that I not only keep it on my computer after I finish a project, but it’s likely that I’ve transferred old, outdated files from one computer to the next.  Best/worst case in point: I still have random drafts of sections of chapters from my long-completed dissertation floating around on my current laptop, even though I actually finished the thing two computers ago!  Even as a I prepare to go post-academic, I still have some crazy thought in the back of my mind that I just might revise the 400-page beast into a book and that I just might need those half-baked ideas that didn’t make the cut into the actual dissertation.  Of course, even if I did happen to ever work on the diss manuscript again, it’s unlikely I’d ever look at those old drafts again and I wouldn’t even know where to start if I did!

More and more digital clutter below the fold…


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.

Hoarders, Academic Edition: The Quicksand Conundrum

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on April 8, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionArnold is drowning in Quicksand, but not the kind of Quicksand you think. He owns way too many copies of Nella Larsen’s book, many of them with notes inside. Most academics are in this situation as they accumulate new editions of the books that are the cornerstones of their work.

One of the reasons Arnold lists for keeping so many editions is the following: “One day, I might need to look at the marginal notes or underlinings, in order for me to reconstruct the (very facile and naive) argument that I came up with at the time.”

The best way to tackle this problem is to compile all the notes into a single edition. To save time re-writing the notes in the margins of a clean copy, download the notes program Evernote, which allows you to use tags and search through notes.

Then re-evaluate those notes. If the arguments were indeed “facile and naïve,” dump ‘em, and type out the notes that have more scholarly value. Record the book and date of the edition, and put the page number where you left the note, along with the quotation you were responding to. This exercise will prove useful as you gather the notes and reflect on how you used the books. Either that, or you’ll wonder what drugs you were taking when you were reading the books in the first place.

Don’t have time to collate your notes? Then just toss the book in the trash or give it away because Powell’s won’t take a marked-up copy, and if you don’t have time to go through the notes now, you won’t have time later.

In the end, you should end up with two books at most—the edition that featured your best notes and a clean edition so you don’t lose your mind the next time you read the book.

Quicksand warning sign at Little Paxton Pits near St Neots, Cambridgeshire, England. Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 24 September 2005. Posted on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Hoarders, Academic Edition–Part 2: Paper Everywhere!

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on April 7, 2010
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We’re continuing to pick through our grad school hoarding today by sorting through all the paper that’s left behind from too many years of schooling, dissertation writing, and teaching.  Here’s a sampling of the stacks of paper and file boxes scattered all over my office and the garage:


1. Student papers: For some reason, pretty much none of my students ask for their final exams and papers back after the end of the term.  As a result, I have ended up storing many quarters of student work at home, since I have no office as a lecturer and there’s usually a period of time that papers must be kept.  Of course, it’s easy to forget just when the statute of limitations runs out, although, logically speaking, no student who doesn’t care enough about her/his work to pick it up in the first place will demand it to dispute a grade, right?  After teaching hundreds of students, I think there has only been one case where I had to go back to my records, and that was my decision to go after a student who I discovered after the quarter that s/he had plagiarized another student.

Bonus hoarding happens when I have to decide whether to keep the nice folders and odd bits of office supplies that the more conscientious students turn in their papers with.  I don’t think I’ve ever re-used student stationery, but, then again, it seems like such a waste just to throw it away.

More clutter below the jump…


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.

Hoarders, Academic Edition: Lessons From Tim Gunn. Yes, That Tim Gunn.

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on April 6, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionLeaving grad school or looking for a fresh start? Trying to suppress those hoarding instincts so vividly described by Arnold? You’ll feel even more liberated if you can figure out what is most important to you and get rid of the extra books that have been crowding you out of house and home.

A few tips from fashion mentor Tim Gunn can help with your spring cleaning. Gunn hosted a show called “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style,” in which he helped women clean out their closets and choose what items to keep, toss, or donate. The same rules can apply if you are having trouble parting with a few books.

Keep: This is the fun part. Set aside plenty of time to go through your books, and choose the books that either mean a lot to you or the books that you think you’ll need for later. Let your sentimental flag fly.

Toss: Most of your books probably ended up in the “Keep” pile, didn’t they? Now it’s time to stop being sentimental. Try to part ways with half the books you initially want to keep. Hang on to first editions, autographed copies, “milestone” books, or books you know you will read later. (This is different from books you think you will read later.) Spending a lot of money on a book is not a good reason to keep it if you’re not going to use it, even if it is a Routledge book with a foxy cover.

Donate or Sell:
If you’re the donating type, your local library may want your books for a book sale. You could also announce a book yard sale on your friendly department listserv. But, if you want to make some bread off this endeavor, go no further than The Powell’s Web site features an interface that lets you input a book’s ISBN number. Once you input the number or a set of numbers, Powell’s will tell you a) if they want your book or not or b) how much they are willing to pay for your book if they want it. You print out a mailing label, they pay for shipping, and the money goes into your PayPal account. The process at Powell’s is much, much easier than what you will find at eBay and Amazon Marketplace. No excuses!

Even if you don’t plan on leaving grad school or academia, sorting through your books on a yearly basis can keep you organized, and being organized is always a time-saver.

Listen to Tim Gunn! Photo by Jennifer Boyer posted under a Creative Commons license, from Wikimedia Commons.

Hoarders, Academic Edition–Part 1: The Books

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on April 6, 2010
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I was watching “Hoarding: Buried Alive” the other night (Why?  Don’t ask.) and, probably like most viewers, I started to feel smugly superior about having my sh*t together, at least when it comes taking care of the stuff I own.  That is, until I remembered what a mess my home office is, packed to the gills with various stacks of papers (some of which are years old), unalphabetized CDs, uncategorized books, not to mention a crazy amount of cat supplies.  And that’s not to mention all the stuff that has been transferred to the family garage, which includes a lot more books, even more files, and random knick-knacks that I’ve probably packed up with me from college to now.

The thing is, being an academic can turn you into an amateur hoarder before you know it, since you assume everything you have will become useful at some time and in the right situation–neither of which ever comes.  What makes it worse is that you’re also likely to be itinerant as an academic, which means you end up packing a bunch of useless stuff rather than just getting rid of things.

We’ll be covering some of the detritus that academics accrue over the years, which piles up a lot quicker and in greater volume than you would believe.  We’ll also talk about ways of how to de-clutter your hoard, although I’m not sure I’m one to talk!

We’ll start with books, after the jump…