Tag Archives: writing

A new chapter

Tired, nervous, excited, and hungry… I’m sitting in the Toronto airport about to return home to Vancouver after a whirlwind 24 hour stopover! I have spent the full day today meeting with the developing and sponsoring editors of my textbook. That’s right! I’m adapting a textbook! Specifically, I’m adapting Cozby’s Methods in Behavioural Research (currently in its 10th edition) for the first Canadian edition of this text. This is what we use for our Psyc 217 Research Methods courses at UBC.

Wow! I never thought I’d be writing a textbook… at least not so early in my career. But the opportunity presented itself, and I’m never one to pass on a chance to challenge myself and grow my skill set. Recently I have been feeling pretty nervous about the whole thing, including a touch regretful at the thought of the time committment that’s going to be involved. But after today’s meetings, during which we went through each chapter’s key needed revisions, the whole thing is feeling much more do-able. Still a lot of work, but manageable. Kim & Jen (the editors mentioned above) did a great job assuring me I needn’t change everything this round. The most important tasks are updating examples (featuring Canadian research where it makes sense to do so),  and clarifying the writing. And it all relates back to my Research Methods course… so time spent on this book is time spent developing my thinking and knowledge base for that course.

Students: are you interested? I’ll be developing this text over the next year and a half, and I would *love* to have student input on how I can make this text better for the next generations of Psyc 217 students! If you’re interested in contributing your ideas and feedback about this text – particularly if you’ve already taken the course with me – please get in touch with me!

“summer” happenings

What does an instructor do when there is no one around to instruct? What does a garden do when there is no sun?

I’m learning the answers to both of those questions. The latter question is visually apparent to me right now: It does not grow many flowers, but it does grow lots of foliage. Lots and lots of foliage. I have dill that’s two feet tall! Leaves of all the flowering plants are overlapping. But few flowers.

The former question is also becoming quite apparent. I’m building. Developing. Planning. Reading. Meeting. (So many meetings!) Thinking. Writing. I’m starting to become concerned with all I’m doing! Some examples, if you’re interested: I’m planning TA and TF Development programming for the fall/winter. I met with public affairs to discuss a potential media piece on learning strategies, based off my 208 course. I’m writing a review of a textbook in preparation for an upcoming Canadian edition (more on that later!) — it’s the one I use for 217, and there’s a possibility I might be involved in the “Canadianizing” of it. I’m helping Sunaina to plan for our Psychology Tri-Mentoring program. I’m working with colleagues to start a casual network of instructors within the Faculty of Arts. I’m attending an orientation to become a peer reviewer of teaching (so exciting!). Oh, and I’m planning syllabi and assignments and lesson ideas and gathering new content for my courses! Wow. Write it all out like this is a little overwhelming. But that’s one of the things I really like about my job. I get to challenge myself to do more, think more, and be more. It can be an addiction though, and I need to watch out I don’t plan too much for the fall!

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.

On Writing

Themes and motifs are important to me. They tend to give me a sense of wholeness and direction. I have long had a motif of courage. This word has become part of my identity; in undergrad I tattooed it on my back (in Chinese characters of course, which were trendy at the time). I am someone who often takes the tough path and has faith that I will get through it. In down times this word helps me remember to keep looking ahead.

I am developing a theme in my career: to teach. For me, that word sums up a broader set of concepts & actions involving creating conditions in which people might learn (a phrase adapted by Jim Sibley from Einstein, who purportedly said “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”). My challenge is to link that theme of teaching to academic writing. Daryl Bem wrote “good writing is good teaching.” I don’t feel that connection when I write. I envision a disinterested audience who’s trying to get in and get out, but isn’t really interested in the ideas — or might be, and gets frustrated by repetition and bad writing (like I do when reading). I’m coming to realize that as a student I’ve been taught to write in order to demonstrate that I can think. The audience in mind is not a helpful one, but a judgmental one. It’s more about me than the ideas, and more about me than the audience.

What if I borrow from an idea in Heath & Heath’s “Made to Stick“? They talked about businesses that have an intricate vision of a single customer in mind, who made up their target market. Who’s my target market? For the chapter I’m (avoiding) writing, I immediately envision a critical scientist who’s disagreeing with every word. Wow. While this might be true, that’s not exactly a motivating image. What if I instead envision someone who motivates me to do my best: a bright student, who’s trying to understand what’s so important and interesting about self-control. Let’s call him or her PR. She’s busy, and doesn’t have time to read a ton. But he’s curious, and will respond intellectually to good writing. Writing that grips her. Writing that’s simple. It’s not about me, it’s about him and the ideas. Because they’re decent ideas. Maybe not earth-shattering, but they have their important implications. That’s it. I’ll write for PR.