Making Hard Decisions

originally posted 16 July 2015 by Lisa Meloncon

#WomeninTC will proudly be accepting the Diana award from SIGDOC tomorrow and giving a keynote in the morning. If you’re there, be certain to attend and if you’re not, be on the lookout for the proceedings paper.

But, that’s not really why I’m writing today. I’m writing to talk about making hard decisions. Did I plan on being with my friends, colleagues, and fellow members of the steering committee tomorrow? Yes. But, I’m writing this from home in Northern Kentucky USA after making the hard decision that it wasn’t in my best interest at this moment in time to make the trip. Why was it a hard decision? Because not only was I supposed to part of the presentation tomorrow morning, I am also President of CPTSC  and I missed helped facilitating the round table we hosted between SIGDOC and ProComm (the annual conference for IEEE PCS).

So I had responsibilities. But, I just couldn’t do it. Everyone will face this decision at some point in their career, most likely more than one point in their career. It’s life and life changes, and as you know, conferences are planned months and years in advance. (Organizers understand this. So be professional and courteous when you back out. A long detailed rationale as to why is not necessary.)

But, right at this minute, reading tweets from the conference, I feel a little but like a failure for shirking those responsibilities. Well, that’s what the irrational part of my brain is saying. The other part of my brain has to acknowledge that—for all sorts of reasons—there was just no way this conference trip could happen. Thus, a decision had to be made. It was hard. I will continue to have doubts about it. I will likely try to find ways to “make up” for missing it in other ways. All of these things are human nature. It was, however, the right decision for me.

In making hard decisions, we acknowledge that there is a hierarchy in our life and in that hierarchy, you simply can’t do everything and be everywhere—even if you had committed to going. That hierarchy I would argue means putting you first. The “you” I refer to here is the material, embodied person with feelings and frailties and other aspects to your life.

I know that graduate students and young faculty members (and heck, even some of us oldsters, too! ) you feel that you have to go to everything. I am here to say that you don’t. You can be selective and strategic about choosing the conferences or workshops or symposia that you attend. Those decisions should be made based on who you feel your community is (who does your research speak to) and what type of conferences, etc., are recognized and valued by your institution (for tenure, promotion, and merit decisions) and those two factors need to be balanced against what else is going on in your life at the moment and your own mental and physical health.

We don’t talk enough about taking care of ourselves and finding the seemingly elusive work/life balance. That’s one of the things that #womeninTC is all about: Talking out loud about how to do our jobs, enjoy those jobs, and still have and enjoy a life outside of jobs; Talking out loud about our mental, emotional, and physical health and how our jobs affect/effect those things; talking about the struggles and successes and the hard decisions that often have to be made.

Know that when the moment comes to make the hard decision, you’re certainly not the first and you’re definitely not alone.

So for those of you in Ireland, be certain to have a pint for me!






Teaching and all the Feels

originally posted (well sometime in June 2015) by Lisa Meloncon

So I was lucky enough to meet Aimée Morrison a couple of years ago at Carolyn Miller’s Emerging Genre conference . I “knew” her from Twitter and the hookandeye collaborative , but getting to talk with her in person was a great experience. She has this passion and energy and knowledge that is impressive and inspiring.

Recently, Aimée wrote a blog post, ‘Teaching and all the feels,” that I sent out with our #womeninTC hashtag because the issues that Aimée brings up, we’ve talked around on twitter, at our organized events, and in one-on-one conversations. She asked me what I thought, and I realized I had quite a few thoughts about it.

What struck my about it was three things.

First, these sorts of feelings aren’t valued so we don’t talk about them. Which is not good. I realize that often teaching labor is feminized and as such, helps to perpetuate the myth that teaching isn’t as valuable as research (and at some institutions, not as valuable as service). So that means talking about our feelings helps to further gender and theoretically, marginalize teaching. While many of us would call bullsh*t on that stance, it’s a fact—truly a fact—that cannot be denied (go ahead, do a simple google scholar search and see for yourself!). But what’s important here for our work is the acknowledgement that this is something we need to prepared to deal with institutionally and professionally, while we still look toward being the best teachers that we can be. Sounds a little pie in the sky? Well, maybe, but the bottom line is that Aimée’s experiences are similar to many of us, and the sad fact is that we aren’t encouraged to talk about it, and we need to be talking about the embodied and emotional experiences that teaching can be.

Second, we need to acknowledge the labor that is involved with teaching, and the many facets of that labor, including the emotional aspects at that labor. Teaching is more than the time in the classroom, and it involves emotional labor that needs to be acknowledged more directly so that we can attend to how that labor effects/affects us. Courses with difficult subject matter can drain the emotional and mental life out of you every week. Block courses taught once a week can drain the mental and physical life out of you every week. Talking with students and attending to their lives as it relates to their education can drain you mentally, emotionally, physically. (I was never prepared or trained for the moment a young man came out to me and asked my help in writing a “rhetorically sound” letter to his parents.)

Third, I so appreciated the honesty in the reflection of her teaching evolution. It’s no secret that we need to work on better preparing and then offering ongoing training to grad students and early career faculty on teaching and how to do it better. Some of us are natural presenters so teaching is a little easier. For many of us, though, teaching is hard work just to do work of teaching, not to mention the preparation of it. It’s essential to reflect and find your groove and to know that it may be necessary to move OUTSIDE of your comfort zone to find the place where you feel you can teach so that it enables students to learn.

The bravest thing I ever did in the classroom as a teacher was to just let everything go. I gave up control and requirements and even grading (in the traditional sense). But I’m definitely to a place where I feel I can manage what Aimee calls the “sheer importance of the work” as it relates to the “all the feels.” I know I’m lucky though. I’ve just now figured out how to articulate it, which is important considering the many times and ways we are asked to describe (and defend) what we do. The articulation part is just as important as the doing part because it helps our own stance, but it also helps in advancing the overall idea of the important of teaching.

I always have to smile when I hear the arguments about why aren’t all students just taking online courses (or why the MOOC didn’t change the world the way some thought). For me, the biggest reason why we still have students in our classes, and probably always will, is that students crave personal attention. Students want to be in a class with an engaged and dedicated teacher who is experiencing “all the feels.” And sometimes that experience can only be truly had in a face-to-face classroom. (Please don’t start bashing me about the fact you can build a community online. I get that, but even online advocates—and really I am one—will acknowledge the difference in community in a face-to-face class.)

Cause here’s the thing: without that feeling, without engaging in the work of engaging with our students, you’re not teaching. You’re simply a conduit for a information delivery, and education is a whole lot more than that.

So as you’re working on planning your courses for the fall or thinking through pedagogy and teaching statements, it’s ok to feel a lot of stuff when you’re teaching and planning. And it’s ok if you want to talk about it. Just reach out and let’s experience all the feels together.


original posted on 4-21-2015 by Lisa Meloncon

For our first Mentor Monday conversation, we discussed issues of collaboration. I was inspired to write this post because collaboration is tricky—even for those of us who have done it a long time. I always tell students the story of the first time I had to work on a collaborative project as a consultant, and it was an unmitigated disaster. That experience has made me a huge advocate of discussing the goals and processes of collaboration up front before any project begins.

So let me take a step back and actually define what I mean by collaboration. A collaborative project is one where you and at least one other person are working toward a common, shared goal. In our field (technical and professional communication), most collaborations are equitable with all people collaborating equally. (This shifts if you collaborate with people from other disciplines, primarily in the sciences and health and medical fields, but that is a post for another day!)

As you are working together toward a common shared goal, it’s important that you discuss, up front what that goal is and have a rough outline on how you’re getting there. In general there are two types of collaboration, co-authoring and co-editing. Let’s deal with the co-authoring part first.


Things to consider

  • do you have the same goals for the piece, i.e., does it mean the same to all parties involved (this has lots to do with where you may be in your career)
  • do all parties involved understand what collaboration may or may not mean at their institutions in terms of reappointment, promotion, tenure, or merit decisions?
  • do you have common or complementary strengths and weaknesses? i.e., are you both detail people or is one a detail person while the other is a big picture person; does one have a research strength while the other have an editing strength? Finding out what strengths and weaknesses each of you have as well as ho
  • do you have the same orientation to work or work habits?
  • What are your stances on deadlines?
  • Working styles (some same people can work together some different people can work together and sometimes not)
  • Do you personalities complement one another? Personalities just because you like them as a friend or have admire their work does not mean you can collaborate.
  • How will you handle additional demands on your time from other projects should those other projects or obligations interfere?
  • How should work be divided or distributed? It’s important to have a general conversation about you may see this playing out and then you can determine what specific way of collaboration may work for you.
  • How flexible are you at changing approaches? Should someone need time off for whatever reason how will you deal with that.
  • Have you discussed what other obligations, projects, and deadlines you both have and how those may integrate or interfere?

These are just some of the big questions you may want to consider when approaching a collaborative project.

Collaboration styles

Baton passing—after discussing common goals and main idea one person takes a turn and then passes it for the other to fill in the gaps extend things

Assigned tasks—you are assigned specific parts to complete and then you come together and merge them into a common voice

Primary writer—sometimes due to schedules or subject matter one person writes more of the big picture and the other comes in and fleshes things out, smooths out language adds transitions, etc.

Same time—truly writing at the same time working through thoughts and ideas together (this can be time consuming, but rewarding, and it’s likely the initial phases of the project are done this way)

These are the most common that I have been associated with, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other types and kinds. The key is that you need to talk about them and actively communicate throughout the proess.

Collaborative Editing Projects

Editing projects need to have a more in depth discussion about the shared vision and goal because in this case you not only have to agree for yourselves, you have to agree and convince other people of that vision. This means that you and your collaborator(s) should discuss what common terms mean and how you want to define them, research orientations (methodologies and methods), and overall style and level of the volume. Drafting the CFP or the invitation letter/email should help you work through some of the bigger issues around vision and scope. However, depending on the type of proposals received, you may need to evaluate or shift what you want the volume to do.

Once you have a framework or vision established, you need to discuss how you’re going to coordinate the work of commenting on manuscripts of individual authors. Editing projects take on a different sort of approach since in this you’re critiquing other’s work under a shared vision. So for example

  • Will you each comment, discuss any differences or variations, and then provide one set of comments to the authors
  • Will you split the chapters of pieces so that you are each commenting on the same number?
  • Will you have a lead editor who does much of the heavy lifting and the other person comes in and adds only additional comments?

In addition, you have to make sure you agree on the shared vision of the project, that is, what is it that you want the volume to do so that all the comments in the individual essays are directed toward that common vision.

Some publishers will require that the essays speak to each or are tied together in some way. In this case, editors can choose to direct authors in the ways that they see the essays tying together or you can take more editorial control and actually tie the essays together yourself. Both ways are equally effectively, but they both take strong communication between the editors AND strong communication to the authors.

In addition, you have to take time to discuss how to write the introduction (and in some cases the afterword), which then puts you into the writing process with the same questions as described above.

Editing projects are time consuming, and without clear communication up front on how you want to handle certain things during the process, you’ll end up being more stressed than necessary.

Final thoughts

Collaborative writing and editing projects an be extremely rewarding, but collaboration doesn’t necessarily reduce the amount of work, it just shifts the type of work that is involved. A key to remember is that just because you may be friends with someone and like them (personally and their work) that doesn’t mean that you can and will collaborate smoothly or effectively. I know people who will never work with certain people again simply because they have such different working styles and work approaches. It’s true that sometimes you don’t really know until you’ve tried working together. In that case, I suggest working together on some low stakes collaborative writing or editing project or working together on a joint service project (maybe some discrete project for a national organization). Stepping into the collaborative waters slowly and with a project with lower stakes can reduce the stress and potentially save friendships.

In short, collaboration can be wonderful or it can be hell. You have to communicate and be honest throughout the process.

Good luck.