Craig Rood: To those planning for the tenure-track: Develop an effective writing process while you are still in graduate school

I’m Craig Rood, an Assistant Professor of Rhetorical Studies at Iowa State. Fall 2016 marks the start of my second year here. The goal of this blog, as I understand it, is to provide insight about some of the available career options for graduates of Iowa State’s PhD program in Rhetoric and Professional Communication. Bremen asked me to describe my transition from graduate school (I finished at Penn State in 2015) to a tenure-track faculty position at a research-intensive school. Academic jobs vary, of course, and people’s experiences in the exact same job at the same school vary. So seek out many perspectives. Here’s my take.

Similar to the transition from coursework to working on the dissertation, moving from graduate school to a faculty position provides greater autonomy. The benefit is that you get to pick what and when you read, research, and write. But that is also the potential challenge. And the stakes feel higher.

To ease the transition, here’s my one piece of advice: begin developing an effective research/writing process while you are still in graduate school. Depending on how far along you are in the program, this could be easy or difficult. For many in coursework, the rhythms of a semester encourage waiting until the last few weeks of the semester to sit down and write. I’m guilty of this, and I have several poorly written seminar papers to prove it.

It wasn’t until I finished coursework that my writing habits changed (the passive voice is deliberate here; I can’t say whether I was most responsible or whether the circumstances were). I wrote my dissertation by working on it for two hours a day/five days a week. Writing became less scary (“less” is key); it was simply a job. I put in the hours and was at peace with gradual progress. That is still how I work. I like two hours because it is not too big of a time commitment but it is big enough that I can make steady progress on projects. This also leaves me time to read and fulfill my teaching and service responsibilities. I also don’t have to spend all of my weekends or breaks catching up on writing.

Don’t get me wrong. The point is not “two hours.” The point is instead to figure out what allows you to produce your best work while living a good, balanced life. This might mean setting a routine by writing for 30 minutes three times a week, or writing for three hours every Saturday. Or it might mean setting big deadlines (e.g., a draft of this essay ready to share with a colleague by Dec. 1) and then chipping away at the project when you have time. It might mean joining a writing group or pairing up with someone to talk about your research. It might mean something else entirely.

There is no one way for everyone. But if you can figure out your writing process now, then you won’t have to figure it out when the tenure clock starts ticking.

That’s all very general advice. If you want to talk specifics, feel free to email me (Rood@iastate.edu) or stop by during my office hours (453 Ross Hall).

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