The Productivity Systems that Keep Me on Track

Over the last seven years of my life (aka The PhD Years), I don’t think I developed any long-lasting systems of productivity. I tried a lot of things, but nothing ever stuck for long.

Now that I’m a professor, I feel like systems are the only way I get anything done these days. They’re also how I make sure that most things don’t slip through the cracks.

In this week’s post, I summarize some of the most useful systems I’ve developed over the first semester of my first year on the tenure track. Although I use them in my life as a professor, many can also be useful for students and other academics.

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The Truth About Grad School Funding

Reflecting on my experience with funding in grad school, I wondered: what does “fully funded” grad program really mean?

Now that I’m on the other side of it, I think that the “fully funded” PhD programs that my professors told me to apply to are really a myth. No grad program will support you financially 100% of the time. It’s more like somewhere between 70-80%.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to figure out how to make up for the remainder. This could involve anything from applying for fellowships to getting a part-time job.

There are so many moving parts when it comes to funding in grad school. In this week’s post, I’m reflecting on my own experience with funding as a grad student. I’m also sharing some things to consider so that your own experiences are as painless as possible.

Legs crossed on the ground with a clear Starbucks cup in front of them
Contemplating my life choices on a visit to UCLA ca. 2016
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Google Calendar vs Notion: Which is Better for your Workflow?

It’s no secret that Notion has become a popular digital tool over the past few years – a quick search for it on Youtube yields thousands of videos. Most of them praise the app and offer detailed tutorials and aesthetic templates.

But is it better than Google Calendar? Would you use it? Should you?

In this post, we’ll compare Google Calendar and Notion. We’ll go over the strengths and weaknesses of each, so that you can make the best choice for you. After that, you’ll (hopefully) have a better handle on all the things going on in your (personal and professional) life.

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Get Rid of Writer’s Block Once and For All

The worst advice I’ve ever been given to beat writer’s block can be summed up in two words: just start. Let me tell you why that advice sucks.

First, there is nothing more terrifying than a blinking cursor on a blank page combined with high expectations.

Do you have a million ideas and no idea which one to choose?

Do you have a quickly approaching deadline?

Are you a perfectionist?

Whatever form your high expectations take, being told to just start is a recipe for disaster. Staring at a blank page is the surest way for me to do just about anything else instead.

Writer's block affects all of us

Second, when someone tells you to just start, they rarely if ever tell you where to start. Put another way, they never tell you what to start with. It’s like giving you a box of furniture parts and some tools, but no instruction manual.

There are two ways to approach this situation.

You might abandon the task entirely, which is entirely fair. They put you in an impossible situation!

Alternatively, you might break down and choose a place to start that looks straightforward enough. But it would be a lot easier if you had a piece of paper that enumerated each of the steps for you.

For most of us, the stakes are too high to go with the first option, so we figure out where to start eventually.

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Abstract Writing (Hidden Curriculum #7)

For those of you who are new here, the hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them. This month I’m talking about how to write an abstract.

One thing that I actually was taught to do that would benefit me academically is writing abstracts. Moreover, I was taught, as part of a graduate seminar on Ancient Medicine in Winter 2018, how to write an abstract before writing the paper.

Up until that point, I had only ever been confident in my ability to write abstracts based on papers I’d already written, and I’m sure most people can relate. Submitting an abstract based on a paper you haven’t written yet is scary

On the one hand, this nebulous idea that’s floating around in your head has to be coherent enough to be accepted. 

On the other hand, if it does get accepted, you’ve actually got to do the work, write the paper, and present it. Woof.

As it turns out, that lesson was extremely useful as I did go on to submit the abstract to CAMWS in 2019 and it was accepted. In the end, however, I decided to withdraw from the conference when the pandemic hit and everything went online.

Since then, I have become more and more comfortable with writing abstracts based on ideas rather than full-blown research papers and happen to be in the midst of writing one now. So, I thought it would be a good time to share what I’ve learned from the process as part of the hidden curriculum series. 

Writing an abstract doesn't have to be scary
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BIPOC Features: Ashley Lance

One of the things that I wanted to do with Notes From the Apotheke was to amplify the voices and contributions of BIPOC scholars in ancient studies, at all levels and from all backgrounds. BIPOC in the field are invited to reflect on what brought them to studying the ancient world, as well as offer their opinions on the future of the discipline and share any work they are especially proud of or excited about.

Check out this month’s feature, written by Ashley Lance, to learn more about Ashley’s experiences with talking about identity and racial categories, how her identity relates to her work, and her thoughts on the future of Classics. Check out previous posts in the series here.

Ashley Lance
Photo included with permission of author
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5 Things I Wish I’d Known My First Time Teaching

If there’s anything you know about me, it’s that I’m always thinking about teaching. It’s a wonder that this entire blog isn’t dedicated to the subject. 

But since it’s August (!) and a new school year is suddenly right around the corner (!!) I figured now was the perfect time to share some thoughts about teaching.

My first time teaching was in Fall 2017

Over the last year there have been tons of resources created and shared relating to pedagogy, including this recent workshop organized by the Women’s Classical Caucus. Many of these aimed to remedy the fact that pedagogical training is severely lacking in Classics, and provide support to instructors at all levels and stages in their teaching careers.

What all of these workshops and resources have taught me, at least, is just how much I was missing when I first started teaching. Here are just a few things I wish I’d known way back then.

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Toxic Productivity in Academia and How to Overcome It

Expecting ourselves and others to continue working as normal – and sometimes even harder than normal – is not only unrealistic, it’s unsustainable. It’s downright cruel. It’s the definition of toxic productivity.

Who is the work you’re doing for? 

Is the work you’re doing (or that you’re asking others to do) really so important that it’s worth sacrificing your mental health and overall wellbeing? (Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka would say no, it isn’t.)

Simone Biles at the Tokyo Olympics
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Professional Development: Where to Start and Where to Look (Hidden Curriculum #5)

For those of you who are new here, the hidden curriculum includes a set of things we’re expected to know how to do, from attending a conference for the first time to applying for funding to going on the job market, without actually being taught them. This month I’m talking professional development and why it’s so important, especially for grad students.

The classroom at the BSA where I took my ceramic petrology class

Professional development and academics have always been at odds. 

Either you write your thesis or you take workshops and courses that make you a better job candidate. 

Either you spend your summer working on a field project or you participate in an internship that gives you first-hand experience in the field you want to work in. 

But you can never do both. Or so it seems.

The truth is that you can and should be able to do both. But there are structural constraints which make it difficult.

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6 Things That I’m Not Wasting My Energy On In 2021

If there’s anything 2020 taught me, it’s that you can’t take anything for granted, especially your health, time, or energy. While the pandemic made us more connected than ever, it caused many of us to spread ourselves too thin. Although the pandemic is ongoing, a new year still brings the potential for change. One of my new year’s resolutions is to practice more self care. 

It's important to prioritize self care and protect your energy when you can

One way of doing this is by distancing myself from things that don’t serve me. Here are just a few things I’m not wasting my energy on in 2021.

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