17 January 2016 by Lisa Meloncon

In the Army, you run a lot. Or at least I did. And to the Army’s credit, they start you running early in basic training. It was the Saturday of our first full week, and we’d been slowing increasing the distance we ran to prepare us for the final physical-training exercise that would help determine if we’d graduate from basic training. Once we’d formed at 5:00 am, one of our drill sergeants told us we would run eight miles that day.

We started off by winding our way through the wooded areas close the base; then we headed back toward the barracks. One drill sergeant—in perfect cadence to chants—announced that we still had two miles to go. After the first couple of loops, the entire company began to slow as if we were running through mud, and heads craned for the barracks as we passed it. The drill sergeants would, of course, admonish us for our pace and tell us to keep our eyes forward. And so it went: slowing when we glimpsed the barracks, admonishment to pick it up, back on pace, and then it would all repeat. It took ten laps to finish the run. Even for this runner, that was one of the hardest two miles of my life. Why?, you ask. Because being tired and ready for the run to be over all the while seeing the finish line without being able to stop was torturous. And, of course, it was planned that way.

focusWhen we assembled for our classroom session later that morning, the instructor explained the psychology of our morning run and what it meant to our careers as soldiers. You have to attend to the task at hand, said the instructor. So instead of slowing and longing to be inside the barracks, we needed to remain focused on the run. You may have guessed by now how this basic-training anecdote ties into our academic lives. It’s hard to stay focused sometimes.

I think of that run from so many years ago quite often. Because it’s a physical and material and embodied reminder of trying to focus and stay focused on the things that matter, whatever those things are that matter to you.

Many of us are winding down our first week of teaching and getting back into a semester’s groove while others of us are trying to stay focused on specific tasks and objectives, but all of us I would imagine are trying to simply focus.

Focus can be the center of attention of activity or it can be to pay attention to. I’ve always found that the multiple and competing demands of this job make it easy to lose focus. It’s easy to know what to focus on when there’s a deadline or someone right in front of you, but we have to have focus when we’re not faced with these pressures.

Admittedly, lately, this is one of my biggest problems, and it stems from a combination of personal and professional factors. So for me, I’m working hard on focus and reminding myself of that run so long ago. I am trying

  • limit my distractions
  • force myself to start with the hardest (ickiest) task first
  • make reasonable to-do lists so as to not feel overwhelmed and to feel and be successful in a day
  • incorporate more fun things
  • work on being more selective to those things I agree to

In each of these, I hope my focus will return or at the very least, I have more focused days than not. These are all small things, but sometimes they can make the most difference.

And if all else fails, maybe I’ll take up running again!

End of year Re-focus and Resolutions

posted on 31 December 2015 by Lisa Meloncon

As we’re winding down a year, it’s of course time to think through our plans and resolutions for the coming year. I’ve always thought of the winter break as my “do over” time because not only does it bring with it the new year, it also brings it with the chance to just re-focus and re-prioritize what I need and want to do. If done correctly, the spring plans can launch you successfully into a summer where projects move forward instead of languishing.

So here’s some of the things I do during the “break” to set myself up for successful spring term and yes, even a successful summer.

Make to-do lists

For me that means making 5 different lists.

  • Teaching
  • Service local (all the committees I sit on that are active and will be meeting)
  • Service national
  • Research commitments (these are the things with due dates, submitted, or committed collaborations)
  • Research (these are my own self styled projects with no firm, as of yet, deadlines)

In the spirit of getting things done philosophy, I write down every task associated with each thing on the different lists. Once I have everything written down, I start to figure out what can actually be accomplished and what can’t so I can start to make peace with that AND to let others know.

Log everything into a planner or schedule or electronic something or other than you will use (the last part is key)

Some of you have heard my sob story of when I tried to join the 21st century and go electronic, which turned into the most unproductive time of my life. So in the middle of the year, I finally went back to the old fashioned, book like planner, and my life has just now started to gain more stability and focus. I use the Passion Planner and I like it a lot cause of the way you can log lists and reflect on the past month. Just as important, I can still use my sticky notes (which I sort of have a problem with #postitnoteposse FTW)

I log into my planner all the confirmed meetings from teaching to service so I can start to see my spring schedule unfold. I plug in conferences and then immediately back date to put in time where I will work on the conference presentations and papers. Then I log in teaching times, office hours, and course prep times.

I then prioritize the research projects (starting with those with deadlines) and lay out days to work on specific tasks that I have identified. I’m doing several projects that involve interviews and observations so I know when some of those things are scheduled so I add those.

I, also, mark out time to exercise just as if it were a meeting. I’m doing that right now! I’ve also marked down a weekly get together with some friends that we’re all trying to commit to.

Then I put in the priority service items that have set meeting times, and I also know that I need to block out some time to do work associated with some of those commitments. For example, Mondays are basically set aside for service. I do nothing other have meetings or do actual tasks associated with different service commitments.

Being Realistic

Now that I have many things logged in, I can start to eliminate things that I know I will have no chance of getting accomplished during the term or even in the summer.

So how do I know this?

Well, partly out of experience, and partly out of a growing understanding of the true amount of time things take. I have four conferences and a couple of invited talks. There’s no way in hell anything extra is happening so nothing on the Research list that isn’t committed is going to get done. I also know that I can’t say yes to any new service commitments until I get rid of one. That’s my deal with myself.

Much of my research now is pretty labor intensive since I’m in the collecting data phase (on certain projects) and analyzing and writing it up (on others). Both sides are hard and messy and time consuming. Throw in dealing with people (research subjects, collaborators, other stakeholders), and it takes more time. I’m not complaining because that’s just how research goes. You just have to account for these things. A good rule of thumb is to add 1/3 to every task. So if you think it will take a 3 days, add a day, and that’s a conservative estimate. We tend to always underestimate the time it takes for all sorts of reasons. Experience helps you begin to get better at these things, but no amount of experience can offset those days where you truly can’t say no to things and you have to set aside your time to take care of other things.

I also know looking at the big picture that I need to have a conversations with a series of people (my Dean, whom I work for in a partial administrative role, my Head, some collaborators)  because there’s no way some things are going to get done if I’m going to get other things done. So I’ve already sent messages requesting those meetings. The point is in laying it all out and then being painfully realistic about it I know that I have to make some changes and make some decisions for the spring and summer.


And finally, at this time of the year, I do write down some resolutions. I put them on an index card and I include three personal and three professional things that I want to accomplish. Often times, at least one of these things, is something that no one else knows about; it’s like a secret resolution to help encourage me or challenge me or comfort me. These resolutions I put in a sealed envelope and I open on the following New Year’s Eve. I’ll be opening the ones I wrote last year later today.

So in 2016, here are some of my resolutions:

  • take care of myself
    There’s nothing specific about exercise or eating or anything. Just the overall need to remember and to remind that we all need to focus on self-care.
  • focus on the things I can control
    It’s hard to re-wire ourselves not to worry (if you’re the worrying kind) so it may be easier to try and focus on those things that you can control. You cannot control reviewers, but you can control what you send them. You cannot control the toxic colleague, but you can find ways to limit your interaction with them so that their toxicity doesn’t wear off so much.
  • be thankful
    my passion planner has a spot on each weekly spread to write down “good things that happened.” In a job in which we have to deal with so much rejection, it’s good to have this reminder that lots of good things happen too. Writing down the things we’re thankful for and being certain we thank those people who have been kind and generous to us really goes a long way to better mental health and happiness.
  • be mindful
    A dear and wise friend of mine told me once that she every morning she asks herself, “what can I do to make myself happy today?” This sort of mindfulness can be useful to help us focus on what we need and want to do.
  • pay it forward
    there is much to be said for finding a way to give back. Be it in a professional capacity or for a personal cause. Making time to pay it forward does bring with it so many rewards.
  • be kind
    Kindness costs nothing and goes a long way to building goodwill and building good relationships. (Or to follow the old rule our parents told us: if you can’t say something nice….)

I am especially thankful for this community (and those others that I belong to, looking at you #medrhet) and all those members that have inspired and encouraged and supported me and each other throughout this year. It is humbling and amazing to see the support networks.

With that, here’s a virtual toast to each and every one of you:

To endings and beginnings, and may 2016 bring you all that you can imagine and just a little bit more!


Tis the season…..of rejection

November 19. 2015 by Lisa Meloncon

Well, every season is the season of rejection in higher education, but it always seems particularly acute at this time of the year. Maybe it’s the stress of the semester or the stress of impending holiday season, but this time of year seems to amplify the specter that academics live under: the ongoing cycle of rejection.

It’s no secret that I’m a tough love kind of person. I tend to deliver hard truths as kindly and gently as I can because I firmly believe we have to be honest with grad students, new faculty, and well, just every damn body.

And the truth of the matter is that one of the reasons this job is so hard is that much of it is about dealing with consistent and ongoing rejection. Here’s a list of some.

  • No, you can’t teach at the time you’d like.
  • No, you cannot teach the class that is in your specialty because we need this required course covered.
  • No, we do not money to fully cover your conference-funding request. (We can give you $250.00.)
  • No, we do not have money for your request for [fill in the blank here].
  • No, you cannot say no to this committee because someone has to sit on it and there is no one else.
  • No, we do not have resources to help you with [fill in the blank here].
  • No, your abstract was not accepted for [fill in the blank for whatever here]
  • No, your grant was not funded.
  • No, your proposal was not accepted for [fill in the blank for whatever here]
  • No, we will not publish your article.
  • No, we will not publish your article but if you do these two thousand things we might (also known as a revise and resubmit)

You get the idea (because this list could go on for days!).

So in the spirit of the season, I’d like to share some thoughts on how to deal with all the rejection and find ways to turn them around into more positive experiences.

For example, I do get that not everyone is born with a thick skin and it’s hard—really hard—to separate and think of the rejection and no’s as something separate from you as a person. But the key to success and happiness is developing something of a thick skin and understanding that all the rejections are not about you the person (or sometimes even your ideas), but more about other things that you have little control over.

You cannot control budgets or funding so when you’re told no about those things that truly has nothing at all to do with you or your ideas. At that point you then have to make hard decisions about what is important to you and hwo much you are willing and able to pay out of pocket to participate in those events and more importantly, how much that actually may matter to your development as a scholar.

Another example, most grants—both internal and external—have funding rates in the single digits. Let me say that again: SINGLE DIGITS. Those are extraordinary odds. Thus, it more common to be not get funded so it may be helpful to approach those as pre-writing experiences for other projects (i.e., drafts of other manuscripts, drafts of future grants, opportunities to fine-tune your objectives and aims for different grant opportunities). Shifting your own mindset is a useful strategy for preparing for eventual outcomes.

Abstracts and proposals for conferences or special issues or edited collections are something of crap shoot. So many factors are at play when you submit those, and I would encourage you to think through why you’re submitting and what you’re submitting from the outset that way you’re minimizing any sort of rejection backlash.

One does not have to attend every conference. There is an expectation that you participate in the national conferences in the field, but senior faculty are also aware of the oddities of reviews. (But in technical and professional communication we have enough conferences that there is no way you can’t consistently participate in at least one of them. So you need to pick one or two and start to call it your own and become active. More on that in another post!)

As far as the impulse to submit to every call for a special issue or edited collection, there are many—and split opinions—on this. I fall into the camp that you should only submit a proposal if it’s an area that you’re already working in and that you have a background in. This way you have something more substantial to draw on and you increase your chances of acceptance because you can write a stronger proposal.

Finally, as far as articles (and books), the publishing process is difficult and not for the faint of heart. There’s no way around that. Does it need to be improved? Hell yes. But until the time comes that the field can address some of those more systemic and structural problems, I can only tell you that when you get reviews read them and then let them sit. They need to sit for as long as it takes for you to be able to come back to them with a disconnected eye, that is, the time when it’s not so personal. When you come back to them, try to separate out any tone and then re-write what you think is valuable that you can try and incorporate into the revision. (Keep a separate list of what you’re not going to change.) All criticisms make a manuscript better because they force you to see your work in different ways. The key is finding the space to see the work differently. And therein lies the rub. Asking others to help read and interpret comments is also useful, particularly when you’re being asked to read long lists of new material.

As someone who has been fortunate and honored to be asked to review quite a bit, I can assure you that when I write a review, I’m not writing my review to you. I’m trying real hard to engage with the ideas so that my comments can improve those. I get that it’s a fine line between the ideas and the person, but it is a whole lot easier to deal with the season of rejection if you come with strategies for separating the two.

Let me just close by paying it forward with some sage advice I was once given. (Thank you and much love to Paul Heilker!) He told me and I have repeated this many times:

Believe in yourself and believe in your work.

When you can do these two things, dealing with criticism and no’s and rejection becomes much easier. How you ask? Because when you believe in yourself you know that you have the ability to do good work and to be a good colleague and to be a good teacher. The rest just follows.