Tips from the NCFDD Monday Motivator: July Edition

by Chava Nerenberg, Graduate Programming Assistant
Wednesday, July 01, 2020 3:20 PM


Are you feeling like you just can't get anything done with everything that has been going on recently? Read on for tips from the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD), an independent professional development, training, and mentoring community of over 71,000 graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members​. 

To take advantage of this amazing resource (free for UCSB students!), you must register with your UCSB account (see how to register here). Once you ​register, you are automatically subscribed to the Monday Motivator -- your weekly dose of ​positive energy ​and actionable steps to increase your productivity and motivation. This week's Monday Motivator focuses on cultivating a community for accountability and keeping goals modest.

Last week, one of our colleagues said something that we desperately wish we could unhear:

Fall semester is eight weeks away.


It hurts to type those words. Nothing about this summer has felt like a break. How can we even be thinking about the fall? If you’re like most faculty members we’ve spoken to, the summer has felt just as busy—if not busier—than the academic year. We are still living through a global pandemic that has greatly shifted our orientation toward our jobs and our lives. So many of you have shared how COVID-19 has impacted your research, your writing, your course preparation, your childcare, your family obligations, and your physical and mental health. And amid the national uprisings against police brutality, so many of you have spent the summer organizing, educating, and protesting. Of course, we know many of you who’ve been long committed to anti-racist work—for years and even decades—who are definitely thinking, there’s never been a time when the work hasn’t felt exhausting.

We aren’t going to kid ourselves into thinking that this summer is going to get any easier. There are concrete projects on our plate. There are anxieties we have about the future. We know some of you who are spending summer converting your courses to a virtual format. You may not know whether fall term will be in-person or virtual—being in limbo just adds to the stress. There are many of you whose data collection has been put indefinitely on hold. Our colleagues who are parents still don’t know what fall is going to look like for their children. Colleges and universities have put out statements pledging their commitment to diversity and inclusion, but those of us who’ve been working on—and living—these issues from day one worry still about how optimistic words of institutions will (or will not) come into fruition.

In the past, we’ve observed that when things feel as heavy as they do right now, there is a tendency for faculty to self-isolate and disconnect. They disconnect from their research and writing because part of them is thinking, what’s the point of it all? They disconnect from their colleagues who they feel don’t understand what they’re going through. They disconnect from the activities and people who have brought them joy because they feel that they’re not allowed to feel joy. None of these feelings are invalid. And we acknowledge that academic life is structured in a way where faculty who are Black, POC, women, queer, disabled, or any combination of the above are more likely to feel this way.

The landscape of higher education is difficult to navigate. Perhaps more now than ever before. As much as self-isolating and disconnecting can feel safe in the moment (trust us, we know firsthand), we want to encourage you to cultivate connections—with your fellow faculty, with mentors, and with sponsors (those people who will advocate for you when you’re not in the room). The first step is to indulge in the fact that you are not alone in this. We are all struggling to stay afloat. The more of us that acknowledge this—instead of pretending that things are business as usual—the better off everyone will be.

Cultivate a Community for Accountability

In the times when we have felt most dejected or hopeless about this job, our instinct has been to avoid people at all costs. But if you were to ask us how on earth we were able to climb out of those lows, the answer is always the same: with the help of other people. This week is as good as any to send an email, text, or DM to a friend or colleague to see if they’d want to start an accountability group. The goal of your accountability group can be whatever you want it to be. You can have different accountability groups—one for virtual course prep, another for writing projects, and another for soul-searching (a group of scholar-friends with whom you can have big picture conversations). The collective energy of a group works wonders for building momentum and consistency on all sorts of projects.

Reach Out To Your Mentors

We were heartened to hear that there are institutions allowing their faculty to renegotiate their tenure timeline because of COVID-19. At the same time, it’s important to have conversations with your mentors, as COVID-19 may have prompted you to pivot directions with your research. For international researchers unable to travel abroad, connecting with mentors may lead you to new international data sources that are accessible electronically. For qualitative researchers, connecting with mentors who have conducted data collection through zoom may help you recalibrate your project. For people new to teaching online, connecting with a faculty member who has pedagogical expertise in virtual instruction will mean you won’t have to reinvent the wheel with your own course preps. You might be thinking, Everyone is so busy, no one will have time for me. While that statement isn’t untrue, we promise there are people within your orbit who would be happy to help.

One disclaimer: Make sure you are not overburdening faculty of color or other underrepresented faculty with diversity and inclusion work, especially now.

Keep Your Goals Modest

If you haven’t accomplished as much as you’d like this summer, you may be inclined to double down on your work. We encourage you to do the opposite: keep the goals modest. If your ambitions were to write a journal article in one month, acknowledge that it could take two or three times as long. Giving yourself leeway means you won’t feel bad if your progress moves slower than you planned—at least your progress will steady.

Sometimes the pressure of a writing deadline can paralyze scholars. If this is the case, we want to encourage you to experiment: Try spending thirty minutes each day alternating between different forms of writing: storyboarding, outlining, writing on index cards, talking through your ideas on a voice recorder. Try this for two weeks. We are hopeful that the “raw material” you accumulate during this time will be the ingredients you need to propel your writing forward.

Each of these suggestions is aimed at a single outcome—to help you find your rhythm during one of the most emotionally difficult years we’ve ever experienced. Taking any one of these steps will help you not only get unstuck, but also help you forge connections you need to persevere through the moment we are living in.

Weekly Encouragement

This week, we challenge you to do the following:

  • Write every day for at least 30 minutes.
  • Call one of your friends or colleagues and pitch the idea of an accountability group.
  • Pick one project you have and scaffold the steps to move that project forward.
  • Call one of your mentors for advice on how to navigate a future project.

This summer has been unbelievably tough. We hope that this week's Monday Motivator reminds you that you are not alone.