Professional Development Column

A Guide to an Effective Start of the Academic Year

Editor: Alan Meca, Ph.D. (Old Dominion University)
Contributors: Elizabeth Morgan, Ph.D. (Springfield College) & Martina Benvenuti, Ph.D. (Italian National Research Council)

The start of a new academic year is often associated with challenges and opportunities. On one hand, there is the chaos that the start of a new semester brings, on the other hand, there is the new life that and beginning of a new cycle of productivity. As an Assistant Professor though, I have struggled with identifying best techniques for settling into the new academic year.

For this reason, I reached out to Drs. Elizabeth Morgan and Martina Benvenuti to provide their feedback on the best strategies for settling into the new academic year. Whereas Dr. Morgan provide helpful advice for early scholars and faculty, Dr. Benvenuti speaks to effective tips for graduate students seeking to transition effectively to the start of the new academic year.

Interview 1 - Elizabeth Morgan, Ph.D.
President-Elect, Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood
Associate Professor of Psychology
Director of Undergraduate Psychology Program
Chair of Department Of Psychology
Springfield College

1. What are some of the biggest challenges you face when starting the new academic year and how have prepare to face them?

The overall pacing of the academic calendar provides a unique work environment that creates challenges and opportunities. In terms of challenges, after two months of a generally quiet office and campus environment, I feel the need to mentally prepare for the onslaught that is about to happen. As someone who relishes the quiet of the summer months to work on research and generally just exist at a slower pace, Fall signifies a time where I yet again look at my “to do” list and realize that I might have gotten about 1/3 done of what I’d hoped. Over the years, I have learned to calibrate a bit better and not set such lofty goals, but invariably I fall short of where I’d hoped I’d end up. So, I have consistently found that mentally preparing for the start of the semester includes purposefully letting go my overly ambitious hopes for summer productivity.

2. What are some of the opportunities associated with the start of the new academic year and how have you made the best of them?

There are definitely positive aspects of the excitement: seeing colleagues again who have disappeared for the past three months, watching the students excitedly return to campus, and seeing facilities finally fix that broken door before parents come to drop off their kids. As a result, the other side of preparing for the semester to start is to remind myself that teaching and interacting with the broader campus community are significant reasons that I entered into this profession, and that despite requiring a lot of time and energy, the work associated with these activities is quite rewarding and the pace at which it happens can be rejuvenating.

I am also very happy to not have a monotonous job environment where the same kinds of activities happen every day, week, month, and year. The variation that comes with teaching new classes and students each semester, popping on and off tasks forces and other service endeavors as needed, and starting and ending research projects, are all challenging parts of the job, but I very much welcome those over the alternative. Tapping into the opportunities that each new year or semester provides is another way to make the most of this potentially daunting time of year.

3. What are some tips you would highly recommend all doctoral students utilize as they begin to plan to return from the “Summer Break”?

There is repetition and you can learn to expect the ebb and flow of work as you move throughout the year, and consequently prepare for it by creating realistic goals that fit with each of these variations, clearing your schedule for certain time periods (such as student advising), and generally taking advantage of the slower pace of the summer to rejuvenate. Revving up for Fall semester is the necessary complement to the summer slowdown, just as the madness of finals is the necessary finale for a semester of procrastination from students who seek to improve their grade in the final hours (or faculty who inadvertently assigned four major end-of-semester projects to be all due in the same week).

Even though I do hold a fulltime work schedule over the summer, September still comes as a rude awakening. Prepping myself to handle the disappointment of lack of progress on projects I anticipated finishing and reminding myself to relish the variability of the academic schedule are two ways that I approach this time of year to make it more palatable.

Interview 2 - Martina Benvenuti, Ph.D
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Istituto Italiano Per le Tecnlogie Didattiche (ITD)
Italian National Research Council (CNR)

1. What are some of the biggest challenges you face when starting the new academic year and how have prepare to face them?
the challenges that must be faced at the beginning of the new academic year are numerous. Usually, my challenges concern: the planning of the year's research, the planning of national and / or international projects and finally the programming of publications. My advice is always to take 4/5 days after returning from vacation, when you are still relaxed and not tired, to plan everything before classes and academic commitments begin. I also recommend keeping dates as "plan B", in case something unexpected happens. The greatest advice is always to organize in advance your commitments to avoid having to face problems quickly and with little attention.

2. What are some of the opportunities associated with the start of the new academic year and how have you made the best of them?
It is important to keep in mind that each academic year is always different. Usually, the biggest opportunities are to be able to plan the activities related to your PhD project and to start new collaborations with the colleagues you may have met during the summer conferences. New collaborations are always excellent opportunities to expand your research network. Without a network of people working together, it becomes more difficult to invent / make new projects and disseminate research results.

3. What are some tips you would highly recommend all doctoral students utilize as they begin to plan to return from the “Summer Break”?
My advice is always to organize the commitments in advance in order to be able to deal with any unexpected event. In particular:
- make a personal (electronic / paper) agenda,
- if emails have been accumulated during the summer period, take 2/3 days to answer everyone before the academic year begins,
- try not to get too anxious, because otherwise you can't work,
- if you are planning projects with international colleagues during the year, write to them immediately when you return from the holidays so you can better organize your work.

Looking Ahead to the 2017 SSEA Conference: An Interview with Joseph Schwab

Interviewer: Emerging Scholar Representative Monique Landberg. Monique’s dissertation research focused on disadvantaged young adults in vocational training, applying qualitative and quantitative methods. She now does trainings and workshops with apprentices on topics such as goal setting. She continues doing research on non-traditional students.

Interviewee: Joseph Schwab. Dr. Schwab is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Bridgewater State University. His research focuses on the narrative construction of identity in emerging adulthood, aiming to better understand how emerging adults create meaning and purpose in their lives through the stories they tell.

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Monique: Hi Joe, I know it is not your first SSEA Conference. How many have you attended?

Joe: The upcoming conference in DC will be my fourth. The 2011 conference in Providence, RI was my first and I’ve been coming back ever since!

Monique: What was the most inspiring talk you experienced at the CEA so far?

Joe: Moin Syed gave a great TED-style talk at the conference in Chicago about researching the integration of identity domains using an Eriksonian approach to identity development in emerging adulthood. It was insightful, engaging, and motivating––it inspired me to work harder at taking a culturally-oriented and person-centered approach to my own research on identity development.

Monique: What helped you most when attending SSEA Conferences?

Joe: Meeting people and talking to them––I love getting different perspectives on the various kinds of research being done. I also find it very helpful to get feedback on research projects that I am currently pursuing or thinking about pursuing. Conferences can be an invigorating space to talk to other scholars in the field and encourage each other in making our research more rigorous, insightful, and imaginative. The SSEA Conference specifically has always been encouraging of new and emerging scholars, which has resulted in a very supportive atmosphere to get this kind of feedback and advice.

Monique: What would you recommend to researchers attending the SSEA Conference for the first time?

Joe: Talk to people––even if you feel nervous. I have found that even the biggest names in the field love to talk about research and ideas, no matter who you are. The goal should not be to get your name out there or become known, but rather to exchange ideas and think more deeply about your work.

Monique: This year, you and Johanna Carlsson are organizing the pre-conference workshop on Intersectionality of Identity Domains & Content. How come?

Joe: We recently created a listserv for members of the Identity Topic Network and elicited ideas for pre-conference themes from the group. Nearly everyone who responded expressed interest in focusing on a particular domain of identity, and we thought it might be interesting to bring all of those domains together and discuss how they intersect. There is a lot of discussion in academia and the popular press about the idea of intersectionality, so it seemed fitting to get social scientists together to talk about it and discuss how we can implement this idea in our work.

Monique: Can you explain a bit about the theme of the workshop?

Joe: The theme is Intersectionality of Identity Domains & Content and it will be a full-day workshop on issues of identity content and the intersections of different identity domains within research on emerging adulthood. Confirmed speakers include scholars who are currently conducting research on the intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, social class, immigration status, and education. It will be a hands-on workshop, including active group discussions and activities to get all participants involved in applying concepts of intersectionality to their own research, teaching, and/or clinical work. We hope to encourage an engaging and dialogical atmosphere at the workshop.

Monique: Who should attend the workshop? Can researchers new to the topic attend this workshop?

Joe: Yes! We have designed the workshop specifically for people new to intersectionality. We will first introduce the concept, then focus on ways to apply this concept to our own work.

Monique: Thanks so much for your time and your insights. Would you like to add anything?

Joe: Thanks for the opportunity! I hope we all enjoy our time at the conference, learn something new, and return to our respective jobs and communities rejuvenated with ideas for how to make our world a better place.

Monique: Thanks, and have a great pre-conference workshop and conference!

Professional Development: Tips for Careers in Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Research

Interdisciplinarity and collaboration are mantras for change in the 21st century, driven by the complexity of problems that require the expertise of more than one discipline and increasingly involve teams. However, individuals are often unsure about whether their interdisciplinary and collaborative work will be rewarded.

There are no magic bullets. However, two authoritative reports give you a strong foundation of definitions and best practices you can use to inform students, faculty, and administrators. Even if they offer verbal support, in many cases they have not read pertinent literature. Anchoring your work in knowledge of the literature will give you a leg up in discussions, publications, presentations, and grant applications.

• National Research Council. (2004). Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. Downloadable free at

• Cooke, N. and Hilton, M. (2015). Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. Downloadable free at

Two additional tips will also help you take control of the way your work is perceived and evaluated.

First, Think Strategically About Navigating Your Career Life Cycle

Mentors are valuable resources throughout graduate study, transition to a new job, and pre-tenure and tenure review. However, they are not always available and, even if they are, aware of pertinent literature. Fortunately, Graybill and Shandas have written an excellent set of guidelines for navigating the life cycle of an interdisciplinary career that is also relevant for collaborative research.

Stage 1: Initiation includes questions for graduate students aimed at situating your scholarship, establishing a personal identity in disciplinary departments, and positioning projects for maximum benefit, and rigor and acceptability in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary contexts.

Stage 2: Familiarization includes questions for graduate students aimed at maintaining rigor and depth in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, timely completion of your Ph.D., deciding where to publish, and describing the benefits and value of interdisciplinary training to scholars in disciplinary units.

Stage 3: Adaptation includes questions for early career hires aimed at introducing and promoting a personal vision for interdisciplinarity, navigating risks for tenure and promotion, introducing new pedagogical techniques, identifying shared commitments and interests, and managing time commitments.

Stage 4: Protected Enthusiasm includes questions for early career academics aimed at representing identity as a disciplinarian and an interdisciplinarian, building new bridges or maintaining existing ones with external collaborators, challenging or changing views and practices, weighing risks pre-tenure, and handling internal and external tenure review.

Reference: Graybill, J. and. Shandas, V. (2010). “Doctoral Student and Early Career Academic Perspectives.” In R. Frodeman and C. Mitcham (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 404-418. Note: keep an eye out for an updated revision of this chapter in the second edition in 2016.

Second, Stay on Top of New Resources and Developments

The proliferation of publications on interdisciplinary research and team science has made it impossible to keep up with every new resource and development. However, a couple of strategies will help you stay on top of them, once again giving you a leg up when articulating the nature and importance of your work.

Set up a Google Alert
Google Alert is a free service that allows you to get email notifications on a particular topic. You can customize alerts by when and how often they arrive as well as the sources.

Search Aggregated Repositories
The [US] National Cancer Institute’s Team Science Tool Kit contains over 2,000 publications, applications, models, methods, and other materials for design, implementation, and evaluation. You can browse tools, measures, or bibliography and search by specific goals. The SciTS ListServ on Mendeley is another forum for exchange of information and resources on topics related to team science.

Join a Pertinent Interest Group
A number of organizations serve interdisciplinary and collaborative interests. In addition, the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Network for Transdisciplinary Research (td-net) provide updates on new developments as well as bibliography:

See Also
Klein, J. T. (2012). “Monitoring the Interdisciplinary Career.” In Creating Interdisciplinary Campus Cultures. San Francisco: Jossey Bass and AACU. 127-151. An overview of hiring, tenure and promotion, and faculty development. Be sure to update using the Team Science Toolkit since related publications are forthcoming.

Lyall, C., Bruce, A., Tait, J., and Meagher, L. (2011). “Charting a Course for an Interdisciplinary Career.” Interdisciplinary Research Journeys: Practical Strategies for Capturing Creativity. London, Bloomsbury Academic. 103-26. Individual chapters viewable free here.

Julie Thompson Klein is Professor of Humanities Emerita in the English Department and Faculty Fellow for Interdisciplinary Development at Wayne State University

 The Fine Art of Authentic Self Promotion
By Kendall Soucie
July 2015

Academic self-promotion, for better or for worse, has become an integral part of building a successful academic career. The expansive growth of the use of citation indices being used by hiring committees, tenure and promotion committees, and in merit reviews has changed the old academic adage of "publish or perish" to "publish AND make a splash or perish". Getting your work cited means that your work is recognized, and that invariably leads to the need to market yourself. Sometimes it feels like 20% your time is spent doing your research, and the other 80% is spent explaining to the rest of the academic world why your research is valuable, innovative, groundbreaking, and (most importantly) should be funded!

Does self-promotion mean that you have to be “that person”; you know, the one who causes a Pavlovian eye-rolling response at the mention of his or her name? That person who seems to spend most of everyday “bragplaining” on every social media outlet available that they "can’t believe they just got another grant, which they don’t have time for, because they already have 6 grants". Or, that person who equates social interaction to a perseverant recitation of their C.V. While nobody wants to be that person, self-promotion is a double-edged sword. The academic wallflower, waiting for someone to notice their work, is headed down a path of academic spinsterhood. No one will ask you to dance, so you have to polish those dancing shoes, and bust a move. So, the million dollar (or at least please give me tenure) question is... how do you avoid academic spinsterhood without turning into “that person”?

Here are a few quick and easy guidelines:
1) Market It!: despite the utopian ideals of pure intellectual pursuits of seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge, Universities have become a marketplace and academic “deliverables” are the currency. Here is a corporate analogy. If a company makes the most amazing product ever known to humankind, but fails to market it effectively, that company will go out of business, and the world will not benefit from its product, no matter how great it was. If you are passionate about your work, and you believe that your research has value, then you need to market it and sell it or you might end up doing your valuable work in your parents' basement! Harsh, I know, but this can be the reality. Many of us, especially women, have been socialized to downplay their successes. Women are afraid to come across to the academic community as a narcissistic primadonna. But, remember, this is about your research, and not about you as a person. Just like any business transaction, whether negotiating a salary, asking for research support, or space, going up for tenure or promotions, you are making a sales pitch! If this institution invests in you, then it will get a substantial return on that investment. Highlighting your skills and accomplishments shows why that institution should invest in you. Don’t be shy or feel bad about it. What would you think if someone tried to sell you a car and their sales pitch was “well, it is ok as far as cars go, but it isn’t really special, and I am sorry to trouble you by asking you to consider it”?

2) Make it about the work: Yes, you need to market your research, but think about your marking strategy as a public service announcement rather than a "Harry's discount dollar days" when you are strategizing about how to best promote your work. When someone says "tell me about your work", refrain from giving a laundry list of the grants and publications that you have under review. Talk about and explain what you are actually studying. Paint a picture of why you are so passionate about it. There is a huge difference between being excited and explaining your research to a colleague and reciting a citation index.

3) Remember it is not a zero sum game: Celebrate the accomplishments of your colleagues. The more recognition and funding your field gets, the more recognition and funding there is to support your work. Science is a community effort and recognizing the contributions of your colleagues builds collaborative relationships, supportive friendships, inspiring partnerships and sparks creativity and innovation.

4) Finding the digital needle in an information hay stack: One of the biggest reasons for the need to promote and market your research is that we all live in a world completely inundated with information. Just for fun type your area of research in Google and see how many tens of thousands of links come up. The modern library is not housed inside of brick and mortar; it floats in a digital cloud, and your contribution is a tiny speck of that massive ethersphere. Make it a priority to learn to effectively use social media and devote at least a couple of hours a week managing your “social media presence”. There are a lot of fantastic resources available for managing social media and making sure your work is available for others to access easily. Remember, every major company has an entire division devoted to social media management, and has developed tools and strategies to make managing social media and brand awareness efficient and effective.

Here are some useful links to resources and perspectives on the art of self-promotion:

Kendall Soucie is Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor, ON