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  • Julie T. Kinn 9:55 am on August 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , mediocrity, , relaxation   

    Dealing with the Project you Hate Part II: Tools to Achieve Mediocrity 

    Last week’s post focused on recognizing and understanding the dynamic between you and work you have come to hate. Today’s post is all about specific strategies and tools for getting work done when your heart isn’t in it. In particular I’m thinking about dissertations, theses, and papers handed down to you by supervisors. But all the advice below can apply to any avoided/undesirable activity: cleaning the fridge, exercising, getting that weird mole checked, etc.

    • Cs Get Degrees. If you have finished a higher degree, then you are probably not by nature one to do things half-arsed. This strategy is generally a good one, except when it paralyzes you. At times I’ve seen brilliant and productive writers stymied by their fear of producing sub-par work. A key lesson in cognitive therapy is that If you can’t change the situation, change the way you think about the situation. Thus the title of this week’s post… if you are wrapped up in creating something groundbreaking, perhaps you should first shoot for mediocre. Sometimes it’s okay to just put crapola on paper. Give yourself the freedom to just get started without needing to make it amazing. I’m not suggesting that we dilute the academic literature with watered-down research. Instead, make the first draft just good enough.
    • Setting the Stage. In Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles we spend quite a bit of time on preparing yourself physically and emotionally to write, including making sure you have an environment conducive to success. Putting yourself in the right mindset is especially important when you are already engaging in negative self-talk about the project. Olympic athletes know the importance of sports psychology… if you say to yourself, “I’m going to screw this up” right before an event, the outlook is pooparriffic. When I was working on my dissertation I had a ridiculous way of motivating myself to work that I can’t believe I’m about to share with the world. I used to dress in what my husband called my “Hot Grad Student” gear, go to a cafe or bar, and sit with my laptop screen facing others so that I would be embarrassed to open Facebook or watch cute cat videos on YouTube (not that I ever do that).
    • There’s an App for That. Another good way to prep for work on hated projects is through relaxation. This may seem counter-intuitive, especially for those of us who like to mainline jolts of caffeine. However, given that often the hate for unfinished projects is really covering up anxiety, deliberately inducing relaxation makes sense. Anxiety increases the fight-or-flight response, and that comes with difficulty sitting still, increased heart rate, and a generally lousy writing experience. A fantastic (and free) breathing/relaxation app is Breathe2Relax. In the interest of full disclosure, my team made it, but it does seriously kick butt. And did I mention it’s free?
    • The Buddy System. I like to work next to other people. When I’m in a room by myself, I suddenly find myself eating chocolate and researching my favorite movies on IMDb. I’ve had two buddies who have spurred on my productivity in unique ways. I’m thinking in particular of my personal writing and publishing hero, Rich Furman, who has the best attitude of anyone I’ve ever known (incidentally, he also has an excellent blog all about writing). Just proximity to Rich is inspiring. On the other hand, I would probably still be working on my dissertation if it hadn’t been for my grad school buddy Leslie who would literally yell and curse at me in the middle of Starbucks if she saw me checking my email when I was supposed to be working. It takes a good friend to embarrass me into graduating.

    Next time I’ll be bringing out the big guns in the final chapter of this three part series. Tune in for Dealing with the Project you Hate Part III: Bribery and Punishment.

    Now, seriously, please make an appointment for that mole. You’ll feel better and so will I.

  • Julie T. Kinn 9:05 am on July 31, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: automatic thoughts, , , , Star Wars, unicorns   

    Dealing with the Project You Hate Part I: Understanding Avoidance 

    When I was suffering through my dissertation, I went through a series of delusions about other potential careers. These included high school teacher, personal chef, rapper, and stand-up comic. In retrospect, practicing my rhymes was just a glorified way to annoy loved ones and to avoid the project I had come to hate.

    Many of us have one – a project that starts near the top of the priority list each Monday and magically slithers to the bottom by the end of the week. It gets derailed by hot tasks, urgent errands, favors for friends, and cleaning the bathroom. This is the project that seems to physically propel you out of your seat each time you sit down to work on it (e.g., “Shoot – I just remembered I need to clip my toenails. I’ll just do that real quick, Google myself, make a snack, and then get down to business.”).

    Sure, sure, some of you are delightfully motivated go-getters with no proclivity toward procrastination. How lovely to be you. For the rest of us, here are a few tips I have learned to help understand and address avoidance:

    1. Acknowledge the Problem and its Source. Develop a bit of insight into why the project is taking so long to address. What is the real issue? Perhaps it’s boring, or maybe it’s something more – feeling out of depth? Worried that you don’t know how to proceed? Afraid of letting someone down? A good way to figure out your emotional roadblocks is to write down the automatic thoughts associated with the project. What are the first thoughts that pop into your mind when you think of this project? Now consider what these thoughts tell you about your motivation.
    2. Visualize the Finish Line. Let’s travel to fantasy land for a moment… The trees are made of candy, unicorns are pooping rainbows, and your project is done. Ahhhhh. Isn’t that nice? This is how you could feel all the time if you just got this paper out the door. The key here is finding internal motivation instead of just external (more on this later this month).
    3. Find your Inner Sith Lord. So you hate the project. That’s okay. We’re grown-ups; we don’t always get to work on just the fun stuff. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, imagine Emperor Palpatine standing over your shoulder saying, “The hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it. Give in to your anger.”

    Now tear that dissertation/manuscript/grant proposal a new one!

    Tune in next week for Dealing with the Project you Hate Part II: Tools to Achieve Mediocrity

    • Kindra 9:42 am on July 31, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      This is me to a T. Thanks for the hard look at reality. I can’t wait for Part II.

  • Julie T. Kinn 4:44 pm on July 6, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , doo doo, time management, writing   

    Sharing the Love: When to Hand Off a Manuscript to Another Researcher 

    I had a bittersweet experience: after finishing up a study, I handed off the writing to another psychologist. This was a cute little survey study with a convenience sample – nothing fancy, just good ‘ole fashioned social science. I still remember the day my study was conceived. My supervisor said something like, “Hey Julie. You’re not doing anything important, right?”

    Well, my little sweetie grew up as they tend to do. Went off to IRB. Came back several times for revisions. I even collected and coded most of the data myself for old times sake (and because I was understaffed). I finished up most of the analyses and was pleased with the results. Then I had to face a sad truth: I just don’t have the time to write the manuscript right now.Figure 1: Level of Doo Doo

    There are a few papers I have dreaded writing. This was not one of them. The study was clean and simple, with clear results that don’t require much squinting. Just a chart with standard error bars. It’s not that I needed to be first author… it’s more that I was excited to see it to conclusion. And, yeah, I wanted to be first author. A few key points helped ease the transition of my study to a new researcher:

    1. My colleagues have the time and ability to do an excellent job with this.
    2. Waiting to write the paper delays the dissemination of the knowledge to the larger scientific community.
    3. If I sat on this study any longer, I would be in deep doo doo (See Figure 1).

    Now my challenge will be supporting the effort without micromanaging and nagging. “You’re going with *that* measure of effect size?!”

  • Julie T. Kinn 1:49 pm on January 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: names, promotion, search engine optimization, search terms, sexy, titles   

    Sex it up: Alluring titles and other readership boosters 

    We have a leader board in my office to show our “expert blog” hits on Since I’m the newest member of the team my ranking is sadly at the bottom. I decided to stir things up this month by writing Sex After Deployment: Tips for heating things up (please forgive the capitalized preposition). In my defense, sexual dysfunction is a serious problem for returning combat veterans. But, yeah, I mostly wanted the hits.

    So, how important are playful/sexy/witty titles? Of course there’s not one standard rule-of-thumb. It all depends on the type of media. Consider both the home of the work and the ways users find it.

    Alluring and sexy graphic

    1) Journal articles.

    Peer-reviewed journal articles don’t need splashy titles. Few readers surf through the Journal of Infectious Diseases and Immunity just looking for a snappy read. Most likely readers find these works through academic search engines like EBSCO Host. As such, the focus should be on writing the clearest title possible, including the most likely search terms. I recommend using a subtitle if it helps you fit in additional search terms. For example, this title includes both “measure” and “scale development.”

    “A new measure of [insert paradigm]: scale development of the [insert scale name].”

    2) Conference presentations.

    Go ahead and sex it up, as long as the title clearly explains the topic. During the opening plenary session, conference attendees will pick through the itinerary looking for topics that will either serve their work or maintain their interest.

    3) Poster presentations.

    Eh. No one cares. Do whatever you want.

    4) Informal writing (blog posts and other writing for the Internet).

    Well, as I write this, my sexy blog post on has had 223 views (helping me maintain my low status). Writing for the Internet relies heavily on both social marketing (i.e., Facebook likes) and search engine optimization (SEO). The title of your piece is critical. Utilize effective search terms and try to tease the reader. However, accompanying graphics are likely more significant for boosts on Facebook (see Figure 1).

    What tips can you share? Did you only click on this to see more stick-figure-pornography?

  • Julie T. Kinn 5:30 pm on January 5, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , edit, ego, , , , track changes   

    Constructive Criticism Part II: Taking It 

    Last week I blogged about ways to provide feedback. This week is all about receiving feedback from others.

    If you are currently a graduate student or a recent Ph.D., then you likely have a low enough ego to easily accept constructive criticism (please refer to Figure 1). However, it can still be difficult to wade through pages of red ink, tracked changes and blinded reviewer feedback.

    Criticism can hurt. We work hard on our writing, and sometimes a paper represents the culmination of years of work. As we point out in Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles, you are much more than just your writing. It’s crucial to understand that other academics aren’t trying to put you down by offering you feedback. This is just part of the process of improving our work and developing our skill sets.

    In graduate school I used to fantasize that my dissertation chair would return a pristine draft of my proposal with only the comment, “Spectacular!” Instead, I always received pages full of comments, questions, and nearly indecipherable scribbles. It took me a couple revision cycles to realize what an incredible gift those edits were.

    When you receive edits from a talented writer, don’t just make the changes: Think about the changes. Well-thought out revisions are like a lesson in improving your writing skills using your own product as a case-in-point.

    Those undergrads will learn soon enough.

    Figure 1. The distribution of writing ego across career path.

  • Julie T. Kinn 10:48 am on December 31, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: american journal of public health, , paper focus, peer, red pen, , smiley faces, tracking changes   

    Constructive Criticism Part I: Giving It 

    I often recommend that writers seek peer feedback. Having a few trusted folks to help edit and give other kinds of guidance is priceless. Also, editing peer work helps you sharpen your own writing skills and allows you to learn about research before the rest of us peons.

    So your friend/colleague/peer, Dr. Smartypants, has emailed you a draft. What next? Before you start tracking changes, follow this essential rule of providing constructive criticism: Ask what kind of feedback Smartypants wants. Don’t waste your time on editing granular word-choice issues it this is a first draft. It’s also extremely annoying to get comments like “incomplete without a section on mid-century slug-removal applications” on a final draft that’s almost out the door.

    Types of feedback:

    1) The 30,000-foot-view.

    If Smartypants has a first draft of a new paper, focus on the general direction of the paper. Think like an editor with limited space in upcoming journal issues. Will this paper contribute to the literature? If not, what can Smartypants add? Suggest additional sources to check out. 

    Also, give consideration to journal choice. As we point out in Practical Tips, picking a journal should be a first step, not last. If Smartypants hasn’t considered this yet, make suggestions. Writing for American Journal of Public Health requires a completely different 30,000-foot-view than does Military Medicine.

    2) Mid-draft revision.

    Smartypants has a draft that is pretty well fleshed out. Your job is to consider the general flow of the outline. Does this paper make a convincing argument or is there a different way to look at the issues? Is there an important section that it missing or perhaps superfluous literature review? This is a good time to suggest major edits regarding direction and content.

    3) Final revisions.

    Smartypants is almost ready to ship the paper to the editor. Now is your chance to grab the red pen and go to town. That’s right… work out all your aggression on poorly-worded syntax. Rip that passive voice a new one! Oh it feels so good to be so nerdy.

    4) Smiley faces.

    Always add a bit of positive feedback, even if the paper is a steaming pile (“nice choice of font!”). Sometimes folks don’t actually want constructive criticism. We all know a couple people like this. [Except me. I know no one like this. All my coworkers are amazing and without fault.] If one of these special academics has asked you for feedback, use gentle and hedging language. I suggest something like:

    “Wow! What a great start. Already seems strong, but perhaps you could add more literature from the last twenty years? Also, in my experience, editors like when authors use spell check prior to submitting. I can’t wait to see a later draft!”

    Helpful hint. If the paper is outside of your discipline or area of expertise, it is not your place to judge how interesting it is. Just assume that the topic is highly relevant and important. This may shock you, but all your friends and colleagues think your area of interest is a stupid waste of grant funding without a real-world application. There, there. Your next symposium at the regional association meeting will show them!

    Tune in next week for Constructive Criticism Part II: Receiving it.

  • Julie T. Kinn 5:00 pm on October 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , communication, , late, ping, supervisee, supervisor   

    Keep those Slackers on Track 

    Group work is just fine when everyone contributes fully. Today’s post is about how to knock heads when your co-workers are acting more like cow-orkers.

    Collaborations break down when participants aren’t invested to the same degree. Your beloved project about slug habitats may be at the bottom of your co-author’s priority list (shocking, I know). Here’s a few tips to get you started on the right track:

    1. Discuss authorship roles and responsibilities at the beginning of the project. Be clear about expectations, and be willing to revisit the authorship order as needed.
    2. Discuss priorities and potential roadblocks. For example, I have an annual report I produce each year from April to June. Not only does it suck up my time, but it becomes my highest priority.  I know this will likely get in the way of collaborations and I can warn my co-authors.
    3. Discuss the time frame and be flexible. Maybe you would like everyone to turn in a first draft of their sections within two weeks, but insisting on a short time frame may prohibit others from joining your paper.

    After the work has begun, be willing to give reminders and help problem solve. Of course, your tact will vary depending on the co-authors.

    Working with Peers: Start with clear deadlines, but make sure that everyone agrees on them. If your peer co-author is late, it’s okay to send a quick email asking for an update, but best to speak in person. Do not post your frustration on Facebook.

    Working with your Supervisor (or others higher on the food chain): If he or she is late with work, provide an option for other ways to contribute. E.g., “It sounds like this may not be the best time for you to contribute to this paper. Another option is for you to come in at a later date and provide feedback on the semi-final product. Please let me know what you prefer. If you want an authorship role, could you finish your section by the end of the week?” Definitely do not post your frustration on Facebook.

    Working with your Supervisees (or others lower on the food chain): This is a special case. Supervisees may be late with work out of writing anxiety. Instead of just providing reminders and asking about late work, make time to sit down and problem-solve. You might be able to help break down the assignment into small goals. And, yes, go ahead and post about it on Facebook. A little humiliation never hurt (just jokin’).

    Any horror stories you’d like to share?

  • Julie T. Kinn 5:00 pm on October 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: bacon, , thesis, trauma   

    Dust Off That Old Paper/thesis/dissertation and Publish it Already 

    I recently blogged about different types of writing groups. Just wanted to share an example of a low-effort motivational group I started.

    Last year, a couple of my coworkers and I were discussing the dissertation experience. After years of hard work, none of us had actually tried to publish the tomes. Generally, folks collect scads of data in a quantitative dissertation in order to publish two or three papers during the first year of an academic position.

    We decided to each take a fresh look at the dissertations and determine whether we could publish parts of them. My coworkers are in the fortunate position of actually having found significant results. My dissertation wasn’t as momentous, but there’s still some good nuggets in there (see my previous post on publishing not-so-hot work).

    For the past year, we have been meeting on the first workday of each month for ten minutes. We have a specific agenda:

    1. Discuss progress on last month’s goals.
    2. Discuss current obstacles.
    3. Set individual goals for next month.

    Ten minutes is not a large time investment. This group provides social support while re-experiencing the trauma of our dissertation processes. Also, even though the original process for writing our dissertations was painful and lengthy, each of us have found the revision process much easier than expected.

    This writing group format allows for different working styles. One coworker I will call Dr. Super-Duper-Motivated. If her monthly goal is revise her introduction, we know she will likely also have restructured the discussion, moved some things around, found new supporting literature, and gestated a human being. The other coworker may read this blog, so I’ll just call him Dr. Really-Magnanimous. He has had a bit of difficulty finding the time to work on his dissertation-based paper, even though he wants to get it off his plate. His goal is often “Work on the paper for one hour.”

    Another feature of this group is that we can brainstorm motivational techniques. Dr. R-M once feared he wouldn’t have time to work on his paper for 30 minutes. I “helped” him by sending an email to his friends stating that if he *did* work for 30 minutes, I would bring in Twister Donuts Bacon Maple Bars for them. If he didn’t complete his goal, there would be no bacon doughnuts, and it would be all his fault.

    Twister Doughnuts Bacon Maple Bar

    Twister Doughnuts Bacon Maple Bar

    Bacon. Doughnuts.

    He completed the goal.

    You’re welcome.

  • Julie T. Kinn 4:49 pm on October 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: blogging,   

    Shameless Promotion of 

    After Deployment

    After Deployment

    Hey folks!

    I’m the “Expert Blogger” this week at Check out my post on taking guilt-free breaks…. Especially those of you with procrastination issues. Yes, I’m talking to you!

    I’ll be back soon with a legit post 🙂


    • Marc 11:08 am on October 12, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      A nice tool I’ve come accross for making myself more productive while working, and less guilty while taking a break is the Pomodoro Technique ( One sets up intervals of work that can’t/shouldn’t be interrupted. Hope it helps.

      • Julie T. Kinn 5:58 am on October 13, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        Hi Marc,

        Thanks for the interesting resource! Looks like it could also help monitor “Time Out” so I don’t accidentally leave the kids in the Skinner Box too long (Just a joke, folks. The Skinner Box is only for occasions with IRB approval).


  • Julie T. Kinn 5:00 pm on September 22, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: feasability study, pilot study,   

    Publishing Crap vs. Flushing it and Moving On 

    “Crap” is not a technical term. Let’s say hypothetically that you have completed a sub-par paper, literature review or study. Given the fast OPTEMPO of academia, we don’t have time to spare on dead-end projects (especially with a new season of Top Chef starting). Often, we feel the push to get started on the next project right away. However, before you decide to flush your paper, consider a few options for publishing it anyway.

    1) Verify that the work actually sucks. No offense, but we academic-types tend to be extremely critical of ourselves and our work. It’s possible that your paper isn’t quite as bad as you think it is. If you are absolutely unable to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes, go to a trusted peer and ask him or her to tell you the truth.

    2) Write a process paper. Let others learn from your experience. Do a quick lit review for “lessons learned,” and you’ll find many valuable articles. If your work can tell a story to help others and advance the literature, then it’s important enough to publish.

    3) Reframe your work as a feasibility study or pilot. Clearly acknowledge the limitations, but emphasize the wins (however small they may be). Did you discover a good way to measure your outcome variable? Did you determine a better strategy for analysis? Write about those lessons and call out for someone to replicate bigger and better (and then do it yourself and cite your pilot in the lit review).

    4) Use the work in a different context. Consider alternative audiences and media. Perhaps you could cut it down to a short piece for your trade publication. Your professional organization likely has several non-refereed publications with short turn-around time. Although not equivalent to peer-reviewed journals, they often have high readership (and you can still list them on your CV).

    There are a couple conditions in which, yes, you should go ahead and shelve that pile of doo-doo.

    1) Your work is misleading or wrong. Perhaps you had a dreaded Type I error . Maybe you discovered a mistake in the data (did you remember to reverse-code those negatively valenced items?).

    2) Your work is outdated. Some disciplines are fast-moving, and you need to keep your finger on the pulse of the literature. If you tested the efficacy of a drug that is no longer used, your study is probably not going to be published.

    There, there… don’t fret! Think of all the valuable lessons you’ve learned from this beautiful growing experience! Now get back out there and come up with another topic.

    • Edward J. 9:23 pm on September 22, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      But, what if the paper (my dissertation) is over four years old? Is that too outdated?

      • Julie T. Kinn 9:35 am on September 24, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        Hey there, Edward!

        It depends on your topic. If your dissertation compared AZT to Treatment as Usual for HIV infection, then you are probably too late to do much with it. However, most disciplines don’t move too fast. Tell us a bit more about your work… maybe the readers want to chime in. I bet there’s some chunks in there you could repurpose.


    • Anonymous 9:16 pm on September 23, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Amen, sister!!!

      • Julie T. Kinn 9:35 am on September 24, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks, Anom!


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