Tag Archives: to-do list

Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo)

I just found out about Academic Writing Month via this link posted on Twitter by CTLT.  It’s a cousin to National Novel Writing Month (#NaNoWriMo), during which people commit to completing a 50000 word draft of a novel. For #AcWriMo, the scope is broader: anyone engaged in academic writing can commit to a giant goal and go for it! What struck me most when reading about it was the acknowledgement that December is supposed to be a time of celebration, and yet it ends up being packed with work put off while classes are in session. Since May I’ve been trying to prioritize my mental and physical well-being, and #AcWriMo actually fits with that spirit. I happened to tweet I was interested, and the organizers (@PhD2Published) were so encouraging I decided to dive in and set some goals! Because we all know there’s good research evidence on the power of publicly declaring your goals, I offer them here. It may not meet a 50000 word mark, but these are the projects I aim to complete by November 30:

  • History of Psychology paper comparing my life journey in psychology to a famous psychologist. I’m choosing Mary Calkins, our first female APA President. (12 Pages) Finished November 6. 4494 words.
  • Teaching of Psychology grad seminar course syllabus in preparation for next term (~8 pages, draft already complete) Progress November 13.
  • Ethics application to study the learning outcomes of the Teaching of Psychology course (~5 pages) Progress November 15.
  • Finish grant application for Peer Review software/services Review (with collaborators) (~5 pages, draft already complete). Finished November 14.
  • Complete draft of Team Testing manuscript (with N. Mirriahi from Arts ISIT) (~30 pages; currently have draft of 5 pages) Progress November 19. 
  • Magna proposal for e-seminar on Active Learning in Large Classes (~3 pages)
  • Active Learning manuscript for publication (~20-30 pages; already 2 pages of notes collected)

Wow, that list includes everything I had planned to complete by the end of December. Some are already in progress but just need that extra push. #AcWriMo just may do the trick! Wouldn’t it be fabulous to have them done before December (at least in draft form)? So there they are, my goals for November. I’ll update as I go… now… time to begin!

What do profs do all day?

Wow, I’ve been writing a lot lately… just not here! Check out my latest article for the Ubyssey (UBC’s student-run newspaper). And in case you don’t feel like clicking the link, here’s a copy…


Most people probably think they could tell you what a university professor or instructor does. There’s probably little bit of reading, some research and some teaching. But how much do people actually know about how professors spend their days?

I’m a tenure-track faculty member here at UBC in the teaching stream. This means that next year, after four years of full-time teaching, my performance will be evaluated by colleagues, and if I am deemed “excellent” enough, I will be hired permanently by UBC. My title will change to senior instructor, but (I think!) that’s the only major change.

Indeed, the more common tenure-track stream for faculty involves being evaluated primarily on research. That means teaching vies for attention with research, the activity that ultimately determines whether a faculty member advances. I enjoyed doing research, but it was immediately clear to me that I love teaching students. I am passionate about the creative and deeply human process of helping someone think differently, so this teaching track is a perfect fit for me. That’s a glimpse into the big-picture career level of professorship. What does the daily life of a prof actually involve?

I teach about 500 students across three courses this term. That means I am physically in the classroom for nine hours each week. And I’m in the teaching stream: I teach double the amount of time as my closest research colleagues.

It’s easy to assume we do very little throughout a typical day, or that we just wait around for students to email us. When I was in undergrad, I used to think that was true. As it turns out, I work for about 60 hours each week (and some years that number has been as high as 75 or 80). Most of my time is spent preparing lessons, although the percentage of time I spend on course preparation has decreased over the past couple of years.

The first time I teach a course, I spend about 20 to 30 hours a week on that course alone. This preparation includes choosing and reading the textbook, deciding what concepts are most important or challenging or interesting, designing lessons that help students learn those concepts, and designing learning assessments like exams and assignments. All of this preparation requires an understanding of the discipline and how people learn, both of which inform my choices while creating learning experiences and assessments for my students. Each time I revisit a course, I strive to improve my expertise in how to teach it effectively. Sometimes this means overhauling entire lessons or assignments, but much of the time this means deepening my knowledge by reading journal articles and making more subtle changes to lessons based on last year’s notes and new developments in the field. After about four or five rounds of a course, I’m down to spending about eight hours a week on it, outside of class.

I also coordinate learning events, like speaker series. I sit on a number of committees to help make the university function well. And I also write. Writing is a major part of most academic posts. Last year I co-wrote a textbook on Research Methods. More recently, I have been writing an application to the federal agency that funds humanities research (called the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) to convince them to fund my upcoming conference on training graduate students to teach.

After that is a new syllabus for next term, and a research article for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. One of the challenges involved in academic work is constantly switching from major broad projects to day-to-day details of teaching courses. But it’s a fun challenge, and one that the general public needs to understand.

Ah the summer to-do list…

This morning I opted out of my to-do list to decorate my office! I went back through all my photos from the past year (an a few from earlier) and created a collage to hang on my office wall. So many memories surfaced as I perused files from TA Development Day 2009 and 2010, our Psyc 217 poster session and in-class demos, Psyc 208 team-based learning and final projects, Psyc 100 field trip to Science World and last day festivities. What a great year! I selected a few photos to represent each of these activities and I’m having it printed out as a giant poster to stick on my wall, that I can add to as years pass. Yay! It makes me smile 🙂

As for my to-do list… well, I have managed to check off 7 chapters of the research methods textbook I’m adapting. That’s half the book! Before I get to the other half (which I need to finish by the end of July), I need to spend some time on a few other projects. Let me share with you some of the other projects, besides the textbook, I’ll be working on these coming days…

UPDATE June 10: I have crossed out what I’ve accomplished in the past week. Not quite everything, but pretty close. Paperwork is complete for the poster session venue. Gotta pause the report for now while I get another couple of chapters under my belt!

  • Analyze data and write up the Program Evaluation Report for 2010/2011 TA Development activities. Such a report is a condition of funding from the Provost’s office, and it’s been really helpful to make informed changes to the program based on participants’ feedback over the years.
  • Do some early prep for the 2011 TA Development Day, including set the date, book the venue, set the broad agenda, send a “save-the-date” email to incoming grad students, and submit the ethics application for next year’s program evaluation.
  • Book the venue for the Psyc 217 poster session upcoming in November 2011.
  • Contact applicants for next year’s Psyc 100 Peer Tutors (I was *so* excited reading applications yesterday!! This is going to be a phenomenal team!)
  • Help with the website and first meeting of the UBC Instructor Network, which will be a way for teaching-stream faculty to connect with each other. Previously we’ve been sprinkled around campus unaware of each other.
  • Deal with the email backlog. Always the email backlog!
  • Read a couple of chapters in the stats book I’m using for Psyc 218 in January.

Now that I’ve scared myself by listing all that, I better get to it! Well, after I make a cup of coffee…

Knowledge is Power?

As the end of Olympic/Spring Break draws near, I’m staring down at my “break to-do list” is realizing there isn’t as much crossed off as I hoped there would be by this time. I do have some key tasks crossed off, but I doubt I am alone in this feeling that I could have accomplished more b now. Last week I took a few days off and it felt so good to relax that I don’t regret that decision. But pulling myself back into work mode has proved challenging. Part of the problem, I think, is distraction. The Olympics are on! In my city, no less! I have surprised myself with how much I have enjoyed tracking how our national athletes are performing — and identifying examples of psychological phenomena (e.g., hindsight bias, social comparison). Another part of the problem is that I have, yet again, fallen prey to the Planning Fallacy: the tendency for people to underestimate the amount of time tasks will take to complete. I have known about the planning fallacy for years, yet I still manage to think I can read and take notes on a chapter, for example, in a couple of hours. That I can sit down and write a 2-3 page lit review in a day or two. Knowledge of biases, it seems, may not always provide the power to combat them.

A quick glance at the literature on the planning fallacy reminds me of the nuances of accurate planning that I forgot to employ when building my to-do list. From their original article on the topic, Buehler, Griffin, and Ross (1994) identified that when estimating completion times people tend to focus on the future, rather than their past experiences with similar activities. More recent work has identified two strategies to employ while planning to combat this fallacy. First, try “unpacking” the activity — breaking it down into component parts (something past experience can help with), and using those components to guage the time it will take to complete it (Kruger & Evans, 2004). Then, form implementation intentions (e.g., “From 8-10am I will conduct a literature search and build an outline for the paper.”) to help with following through and minimizing distractions along the way (Koole & Spijker, 2000). To make the most of my remaining Olympic break moments, I will use these strategies to whittle my to-do list down to a more realistic size and keep me focused as I accomplish those tasks.


Ahh! How is it the end of July already?! It feels like this summer has been completely packed full of things to do — and not relaxing things, either! Yet my to-do list seems just as long as it was a month ago! I’m feeling a bit disoriented as I transition to our new neighborhood at home and my new position as faculty at work. It kinda feels like my whole life right now is a meaning maintenance prime. Everything is the same but everything is different, and those differences are often subtle. The heat isn’t helping either.

When I feel this way I know that I need to spend some time goal setting and prioritizing. When I have a concrete plan of what needs to get done, and what order I’ll do it in, I feel much better about the whole situation. So that’s what I’ll do right now. Even as I write that I know I should be writing that chapter. But I find it difficult to work on something specific when I don’t feel ok about the whole. So goal setting it is.