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The painful process of writing academic book chapters/articles November 22, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, food for thought, writing.
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I love writing (as you can tell from my more than 1,260 blog posts so far) but sometimes, it is just hard to get started on the subject matter at hand. I remember that, when I presented a talk in 2001 in Berlin (Germany), I started writing the paper at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, using my then Compaq laptop (my brother and I bought matching laptops at the time, before they were acquired by HP).

It took me the whole afternoon, evening and I seem to recall that I was up until about 3 or 4 am that night. My brother had gone away for the weekend (at the time, we were living together) and I had the whole evening/weekend to focus on the paper. I got it done at around 11am on the Sunday. That conference paper became the cornerstone of much of my research agenda to this day.

Many people seem quite impressed that I can write as much on my blog as I do. To tell you the honest truth, I write on my blog as I think. That is, if you read any of my entries, you might as well be sitting right beside me listening to my unstopping chattering. I set that as the goal of my blog: it should read in the same way as my normal conversation.

Sometimes I crank anywhere between 1 and 6 posts in a day and writing all that content doesn’t really take me much effort in terms of how long it takes me to write or even research and do the links for a post. This is not because blogging is oh-so-easy, but because I am so familiar with my own writing and the general links I use as sources, etc. that my writing now flows with ease.

The only problem tonight is that the writing isn’t flowing as much, so what I decided to do was to create the EndNote style (I use EndNote for academic reference management) for this specific book chapter. I also created the general heading structure and laid out the overall argument I am giving in the chapter. Finally, I pulled text that I had already written in other academic papers, making sure that I noted that it wasn’t all original text. Then I added a substantial amount of original thoughts. Now all I have to do (which I plan to do all Saturday) is to print it out, edit the language so that it’s not a direct cut-and-paste, insert enough original content as to make the argument flow, and then send it for proofreading/editing with some of my colleagues.

This last bit is a piece of advice I am happy to pass along. Despite the fact that I am an academic (or I guess, precisely for that reason), I *always* make a point of asking for advice and input on anything academic I write. ALWAYS. And my journal article/book chapter acceptance rates are really good. I think that this comes as a result not only from writing good research, but also being humble enough to ask for advice from your peers. That’s the only way you can get better. So I always ask my friends to edit my stuff, even if they are not academics, because they are always able to provide a fresh perspective.

Musings from Raul’s very tired mind at 3:30am after having cranked out a really good first draft of an original contribution (book chapter).

Conference panel accepted! October 20, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, random thoughts.
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Ok, so I know that I’ve complained about academia left, right and center to anybody who will lend me his or her ears. I know that I am an academic. I am guilty as charged of being disappointed in the realpolitik of academia. But the truth is, I am always happy when I do some good academic work. It’s part of me, it’s what I’ve been trained to do for many years. And whether I like it or not, it’s what has put food on my table for a large portion of my career (I started doing research as a project assistant even before I finished my undergraduate).

So I got the news that the panel I organized for a conference in 2009 has been accepted. This particular conference aggregates everybody who studies Latin America in the world. As a result, it is a pretty damn big congress. But the great news is, because I’ve kept my academic connections and I haven’t burned any bridges with anyone in this field of research, I can do a lot of networking and maybe job interviews for academic positions on site!

I had written a post about how good I felt this beginning of the week and I scheduled it to publish tomorrow, so it may actually sound slightly counter-intuitive when you read my blog from top to bottom, but the main point is – I’ve got a 100% success rate with the organizers of this conference. Every year I’ve organized a panel, it’s been accepted.

We now resume our regular programming …

Studying the behavior of social networks and scholarship October 19, 2008

Posted by Raul in personal life, random thoughts.
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Last week when I met with Robert Ballantyne, I told him that in a way, I had begun to get involved in social media to understand the creation of online social networks. Several people have mentioned that I’m a good networker and that I’m good at bringing people together. Heck, I’ve even introduced bloggers to each other who (in theory) *should* know each other in real life!

I was telling Robert that, in the process of understanding these new public spaces (the Internet) I had actually fallen prey to the phenomenon I was interested in studying. That is, instead of being an analyst of bloggers, blogs and Web 2.0/social media folks, I became one with them.

The fact is, I don’t have any interest in studying these networks in a formal way. Of course, I am puzzled by the online behavior of people. I always will be, but I don’t want to spend time attached to this research topic. There are better people out there (danah boyd, Michael Geist and Fred Stutzman and even friends of mine study this stuff – Karen Quinn Fung, Kate Milberry).

If I had it my way and somebody paid me (and someone else put me up to speed on the literature) I would probably go to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. But truth be told, (a) I don’t have the time to get up to speed on the literature, (b) I would probably prefer to be invited to the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies – At Harvard too, and (c) even more related to my field, the Center for International Development or the Belfer Center for International Affairs, also at Harvard University.

Just dreaming out loud, that’s all… 🙂

I *am* an academic October 1, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, personal life, random thoughts.
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Photo credit: Roland on Flickr.

I had a lovely day today (well, yesterday since it’s Wednesday by now) where I finished editing two journal articles (one approved for publication with minor revisions and one for peer-review), doing a peer-review of a journal article (which I rejected as the article was horrendous) and managed to do a couple other errands and have a lovely meeting with Robert Ballantyne.

During our meeting (where I gained a lot of insights), he emphasized one thing. He said “well, you ARE an academic“. And it’s true. I’ve been trained as an academic. I look at things, phenomena, stuff through research-trained eyes. My heart jumps when I publish another journal article, when I share my research in conferences and present papers, when my students graduate, when I write letters of reference for them for graduate school, etc. And I absolutely love, love, love teaching.

I live, breathe and eat research and teaching. Well, I have. The past few months, I have sort-of-abandoned the research field. Well, maybe abandoning is not the right verb. I still do research and I still have presented at conferences (like this summer) but I’m not as active as I used to be and I haven’t been able to keep up with the literature on some of the areas where I’ve done research.

By the time September came, I already had lined up 3 or 4 conferences for the following year, and I already knew my travel calendar for the fall. This time, I think I’m only doing 2 conferences in total in 2008. That’s really, really very few conferences and talks for my standards (although I seem to recall that I may have not presented anything around 2002).

However, the past few weeks (particularly since I’ve been back in Vancouver) I’ve started to come to terms with the fact that maybe I’ll have to keep blogging and social media as a side, instead of fully incorporating it into my portfolio. I need to get back to my research portfolio and find ways to expand my output in such a way that I can apply my recently acquired social media skills to my academic pursuits.

Today, as I was talking with Robert (and later in the evening with my brother A, who is a tenure-track professor right now) and in previous weeks with my good friends HZ and Beth Snow, I *do* love academia. It’s the family business (Mom, 2 of my brothers, myself).

Now this doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop blogging or that I’ll shift much the focus of my blog. I may blog more infrequently but not stop fully. I may incorporate more of my research into my blog writing. This is just a quick reflection on what I think will be the future for me.

Back in academia for a bit August 27, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, personal life.
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I’m attending (and presenting) at a conference that is being organized by a good friend of mine. All the big gurus in Mexico on the topic are here, and it’s very nice to put a face to the name of the journal article’s author. My presentation went really well and I’ve had a fun time. Mom came along as she is a scholar as well and she wanted to see what was going on (even if it’s not her topic)

However, and I’m pretty sure anyone who knows me well, I get tired really easily when I’m overwhelmed with people. This conference is huge and LOTS of people are coming to say hi and talking to me. When this happens, I shut down and need some space and ME time. I’m excited but also exhausted.

This afternoon, I came back home late to check my email, Twitter and my blog comments and noticed that a lot had been going on. I haven’t had a chance to even look at many of those twets and/or comments. I’m exhausted.

But I’m glad to be again immersed in a field and a world where I feel very successful and on top of things. Whereas I’m always learning something new and still feel not-geeky-enough when it comes to social media, PR and the tech world, I’m a natural-born academic and this world I know very well and I swim with the sharks without any hitch.

However, I hope this is NEVER interpreted as though I don’t enjoy the social media world. I really do! But I don’t feel as “authoritative” when I give an opinion or talk about a topic. I was thinking about topics for BarCamp, and felt a bit helpless because, even though I’ve been asked to collaborate in one particular panel, I feel that I don’t have enough to contribute to a BarCamp just yet.

I’m not self-hosted, I’m not a WordPress pro, thus I feel as though I’m not ready to share anything at BarCamp on my own. That’s quite alright though, I’m more than happy to join collective efforts and presentations, but still, it’s kind of nice to be at this conference because I feel again as though I’m knowledgeable and my opinion has some weight.

What is left unsaid often hurts July 14, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, blogosphere, food for thought, friends, personal life, random thoughts.
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While my blog is pretty personal, I rarely post about things that really eat me up. Primarily, because I think that those are very intimate details of my life that I don’t really feel like I should reveal. However, these past few months, I’ve had a nagging feeling that there was something I hadn’t discussed that kept bugging me, and I just spoke about it in the past couple of weeks.

I talked about this with Tanya as I was walking her back to her place. While reminiscing, I can clearly remember that I had already had some hints of having something bottled inside when my friend LCB and I had brunch at Sunshine Diner and we touched upon the subject. Then I mused about it with Rebecca. I even mentioned something about it with my friend CC who is doing her PhD there now. At some point, I had discussed this in detail with my PhD advisor. And this past Sunday, I discussed it with my good friend JT. Since the list of people with whom I’ve started to share how I have been feeling is growing so I figured this was the right time to put it out on the blogosphere, in an effort perhaps, to let go.

What did I leave unsaid, you ask? Well, for background purposes, the program where I did my PhD is very interdisciplinary and intermingled. Therefore, there’s LOTS of people doing a heck of a lot of different stuff, and it has historically had problems with issues of cliques and cohesiveness. I volunteered for my program, A LOT. I organized workshops, events, seminars. I offered my analytical skills and critical advice to my peers in an entirely self-less manner. I read theses, papers, drafts, critiqued them (constructively all the time) and engaged in scholarship.

However, I think it’s fair to admit that I was disappointed with (some of) my peers, and with their engagement with me (as a person and as a scholar). A number of them, I do consider good and close friends. But in general, I have been keeping bottled inside a feeling that I never got back from my scholarly community what I gave. It’s not that I was (explicitly) expecting something in return. But I do feel somewhat neglected. This may sound entirely self-absorbed and selfish, but I think that, if you are in a community (whichever community, be it scholars, bloggers, etc.), you can (somewhat) expect something in return. In my case, what went around (care and interest in everyone’s well-being) did not come around.

The blogging community has been IMMENSELY more welcoming to me than my graduate program. I have received LOTS and LOTS of help, advice, I’ve been embraced and nurtured by a community of people with whom I’ve become friends, and that’s something I am very happy and grateful for. I already had a great circle of off-campus friends, whom I adore, and who devote their time and friendship to me (in considering off-campus friends, I would include some of the friends I made throughout my graduate program and faculty at the university, simply because we are now closer friends and not only peers)

Instead of dwelling on the pain that my peers’ behavior inflicted on me, I prefer now to move forward and look at the broad array of possibilities that are in front of me. Grad school is now a chapter of my life that, in my mind, I have closed, and I am happy to move on. I just thought I had to say this, publicly, openly, and honestly.

Reputation, academia and blogging July 8, 2008

Posted by Raul in blogosphere, personal life, random thoughts.
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Recently, I’ve been having discussions on the topic of reputation with friends of mine both who blog or who have online presences (the social media folks, developers, even non tech people who just enjoy blogging). Moreover, recent conversations with my friends who have offline lives (and don’t have blogs/or work in tech) have led me to re-think my approach to blogging. I write the things I do, the restaurants I go to, the events I attend, I sometimes write about environmental issues, sometimes about public policy issues, and other times, simply about… not much, really. Just questions I have in my mind, sometimes geeky questions indeed.

I have been recently told about the positive reputation that my blog has been building (thanks for the positive feedback, by the way – I am glad that whomever reads my blog find it appealing), and I’m grateful for that. I like having people recognize that I have worked very hard to bring my blog to where it is and bring my tech expertise up (a goal I have not achieved all on my own, but with the help of many good friends – you know who you are, since we’ve talked about this at length).

But there is a part of me that sometimes thinks I should write more enviro-focused stuff, because that’s the industry within which I would like to be immersed. I am part of the Vancouver environmental community as I do have connections with environmental non-government organizations, consulting firms, some of my friends work for the BC and Canadian governments, etc.

However, I am also part of the social media/tech community, whether I admit it or not. I’ve been immersing so much in the technical and social aspects of Web 2.0 that it will be hard to extricate myself (and even then, I don’t WANT to extricate myself – I’ve met too many wonderful people to say now “oh sorry you’re not an enviro-geek, we can’t be friends anymore” – they never said “hey you’re not a social media/tech geek, so get out of our hair”, right?).

Nevertheless, I think I will need to go back to writing more environmental focus, more posts where my actual knowledge of the subject matter is perceived, and thus build a different sort of reputation. However, I am somewhat afraid that, by virtue of doing that, it would somehow preclude me from learning more about stuff that I find exciting, and also, would basically throw away everything I have achieved so far in social media.

*sigh* And then there’s the personal side of my blog. I wonder if that would affect any potential employers. Because, let’s face it, it probably would sound a bit self-absorbed to tell employers (potential) “hey i have a blog, and it’s basically my random thoughts“. Moreover, since I am planning to work in academia (if I can get a job as a professor, otherwise I’m happy to go to consulting), there’s also the conflict – “do I let my students read my personal blog?” (some of my former students actually do, and they have told me that they love it because it gives them a refreshing perspective on their professor).

So the thing is – I kind of want my cake and eat it. I want the professional (environmental expert, academic) reputation AND I want the social media (which can also be a career in-and-of-itself) reputation too. I want people to know that the Raul they read here is the Raul they’ve become friends with or the Raul who has given dozens of academic talks and published tonnes of academic papers. That, as Boris Mann put it very elegantly, I am the whole package. This blog, in many ways is the full me. And I want it to reflect also my academic side and my enviro-geek side.

There are several angles to examine this issue through. One is – what exactly does Raul want to do (since I didn’t undertake a PhD just to throw it away – I kind of want to use my training!). That’s a discussion for later. But one thing is for sure – if given the chance, I’d become an instructor/professor at a local university. No doubt.

The next issue that would need to be examined is – How would being an academic/professor/instructor affect my blogging? Good question. Haven’t thought about the answer yet. But some people over at the Chronicle of Higher Education have. And I have local friends who are academics and who have thought about the implications of their blogging for their academic careers.

I guess it comes down to yet again, a future that (while it looks promising) may be a challenge. But I have faith in my broad skills and portfolio. I think I can do a lot with what I have done. The mere blogging and learning more about social media will help me with enhancing my tools to disseminate the scholarly knowledge I develop. Of course, there’s the other side – if I go to consulting, I think I can apply my social media skills into developing new business and attracting new contracts given that I now have some sort of idea of how to put myself out there (the whole SEO, Google Page Rankand Technorati talks have crystalized, haven’t they! :))

My scholarship is fairly decently recognized, I think. I have lots of research colleagues around the globe that I am sure enjoy the kind of research I do, and have some degree of faith in my ability to complete research projects and publish the results. However, I am also aware of the limited possibilities for academic jobs within the Metro Vancouver area (I would move to Victoria, but it would be SO hard… my life here is so good, and I’m 100% in love with my life as is here!).

At any rate, I recognize that this is quite a personal reflection, but also one that I don’t think I mind sharing with the blogosphere. Of course, feedback, comments and other reflections are most welcome.

Funding shortages, university presidents resigning, what else is coming? June 10, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, food for thought.
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For those of us wanting to remain in academia in Canada, these are REALLY BAD NEWS. Apparently (or so says The Vancouver Sun), the president of University of Northern British Columbia has resigned. The press release cites numerous reasons, but the Vancouver Sun argues that it was because of funding shortages.

With the recent flood of BC colleges becoming universities, I was VERY excited because I figured that these news would mean, potentially more jobs for tenure-track faculty. I was WRONG! What other bad news are awaiting us academic folks in the next few months?

Hat tips to Dr. Beth Snow for tipping me to this story via Twitter.

Academia can be dangerous for your health :) June 3, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, random thoughts.
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I just read Dr. Beth Snow’s most recent blog post where she was indicating that she had been working on a grant for way too long (I won’t spoil the fun, go and read it and then come back). I have had similar things happen to me at some point, but Beth’s does take the cake. I do know that I spoil people’s breakfast by responding to my friends’ comments with an academic overtone.

Neighbour – “You cough once a minute while you type on your desk.”
Raul – “No, I don’t”.
Neighbour – “Yes, you do”.
Raul – “Do you have any empirical evidence to that?”
Neighbour – *Shows page with scribbled notes*
Raul – “Hmmm… that’s not a large enough N to warrant statistical reliability”
Neighbour – “….”

I know, I’m a dork. An academic dork, at that. And a geek-in-training too 🙂