Every Semester Needs a Plan

Example Monthly Plan

Hey Mamis!

I began my journey in academia as a tenure-track faculty member in Fall 2013. Like many faculty of color, I was the first in my family to pursue this role. I was excited to begin my new position, but I  wasn’t entirely sure of how to plan for the upcoming six years. I had my tenure and promotion guidelines and thought I would work really hard to achieve my goals. 

My first semester went by, and with two new class preps, I was proud of submitting one manuscript for review. Six years is a long time, right?

Wrong.

Spoiler alert: Six years goes by very quickly! Time flies even more when you realize manuscripts may take years to move from review to publication. (One of my publications took three years at a top-tier journal!) 

After some great coaching by my mentor, Dr. Maria Martinez-Cosio, and participating in the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity summer faculty bootcamp, my whole approach to writing changed. I learned I needed to have a plan. In fact, every semester needs a plan! As a result, my approach to research and writing changed dramatically. I’m happy to share my writing process with you! (Disclaimer: This was my pre-COVID-19 strategy, but hopefully you will find these steps helpful!)

  1. Print out a monthly calendars for the semester (see above). Yes, this is old fashioned. Yes, it is killing trees by using paper. However, it is easier for me to see the semester by laying out all of the upcoming months.
  2. Find your favorite pencil. Hey, plans change! All of my semester plans are written in pencil, just in case!
  3. Begin to mark your calendar with the first and last day of class, university holidays, conference and grant application deadlines, professional development, and personal/family engagements.
  4. Based on the conference and grant application deadlines, plan backwards. On a separate piece of paper, write down all of the required components for these proposals. Include each of these components in your calendar so you have draft(s) completed before the due date. Please note: Your institution may require additional steps for grants. My grant applications were required to go through a pre-approval process prior to submitting the application. Allow extra time, if needed!
  5. Identify your writing projects and determine the tasks that need to be completed for each. These tasks may range from minor edits on one manuscript to starting from scratch on another manuscript. After you have written each task for your manuscripts, set goals for completing the tasks. Then (you guessed it), plan backwards! I set weekly writing goals and strive to accomplish one or two writing goals per manuscript per week.
  6. Next, open up that planner (again, I’m old school and use a paper one) and include your tasks for each goal in your weekly planner. It works best if you allocate at least 30 minutes of writing time per day. 
  7. Protect that writing time as much as you can! This is your investment in yourself and your future. It’s not time to give up for a meeting or a coffee break. Guard it with your entire being! 
  8. If things go awry (who can plan and write with a sick kiddo??), then take out that favorite pencil and re-strategize. Give yourself some grace! But also, make sure you get back on track as soon as you can.

This is my approach to research and writing, and it has worked well over the years. I encourage you to try it for two weeks! Let us know how it goes. Also, feel free to share your tips and strategies for a productive semester by commenting below!

Wishing you a great fall semester,
#scholarmami

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