Getting Set Up to Dive into Dissertation Mode: Organizing, Inboxes, and Software

I’m currently spending some time getting myself organized and ‘set up’ to write my dissertation – the process, my time, my stuff, my articles, etc etc etc…

I must confess that I felt guilty about compulsively doing this and little else, until a generally prudent friend assured me that I’m not OCD and that this is an important step in the dissertation process and a valid use of my time.

So I’m giving myself three days to get organized and all set up. What does that involve?

Making decisions about where stuff goes and where stuff happens.

By “stuff” I mean scraps of paper, tasks, project flowcharts, random ideas, daily freewrites, lists of my decisions and finalized plans, etc.
By “where” I mean programs on the computer and physical collection points, which I want to minimize unless it’s useful to have it in physical format.

I’m playing with a lot of collection points right now (a calendar, post-it lists of tasks, my email inbox, my voicemail inbox, my SMS inbox, a voice recorder, a paper notebook, and random odds and ends like mail, physical reminders of tasks such as parking tickets, etc.) but I want to reduce the size of that list, or at least take a mental inventory of it so that I don’t forget to process all of these inboxes.

Software for Capture of Notes

For capture I’m considering Evernote (great for in-context tasks, ubiquitous capture including voicenotes and photos via iphone, but you can’t really export your stuff and you have to pay!), Devonthink (amazing and time-tested, but it misses Evernote’s ubiquitous capture and doesn’t have a task feature that I can see… not sure if it should however), and Scrivener (which is too project-specific to be my inbox), and Circus Ponies Notebook (which I love because of the in-context notes, auto indexing, handwriting recognition, ability to draw with a tablet and pen, ability put notes anywhere next to each other, etc…. but which is not as seamlessly integrated into the rest of my workflow as the others could be – might just be too much software for me).


My goal is to limit the number of contact points. Here’s my planned workflow, after testing each: I think i’ll use evernote as my inbox and capture things on the run, but I will not use it as a storage system. Just like email, whatever goes into the inbox must come out and go to the appropriate place. Devonthink is where I’ll put my text tidbits from writing. Scrivener is where I’ll compile all the good stuff and turn it into a manuscript, and Word is where I’ll do the final draft. I’ll keep my articles in Papers (and maybe also in Devonthink?) and export the bibliographic info from Papers to Word to do the bibliography.

I still need a long-term project planning process (though I’m reading The Clockwork Muse which may help), nor do I have a good tickler system (a simple email sent to myself in the future would probably be best). Any ideas on that would be great!

Organizing your academic job market search

As many of you know, I’ve been on the academic job market this Fall, so far with success (multiple offers in hand at the moment, and more interviews on the agenda). Thought I’d share a process that worked well for me.

The academic job market is challenging in many ways, but I didn’t expect it to be such an organizational challenge. There is a lot of time sensitive information you will need quick and easy access to. Here’s how I organized my job search (I’m in Organizational Behavior at a business school but the general structure should be useful to most fields):

To start in May:

Make a master spreadsheet
I pulled down a few b-school ranking lists (FT, WSJ, BusinessWeek, USNews) and put them all in a spreadsheet, eliminated dupes, and included columns for info that was important to me (public/private, city, state, country, presence of a design school, rank for last three years, doctoral program, undergrad program). (I included other data that was already in the ranking tables I downloaded but ended up hiding most of it – when it comes down it you only need that much info if you get a job talk.) Scan the list – if there are ones you were considering but are not listed / ranked, add them now.

Next I prioritized the list where 2 (top choice!!), 1 (could be good), 0 (eh), -1 (no way in hell). Two schools even got -2’s, for personal reasons. Prioritization was very important in determining where to apply first, and which schools to spend more time on (e.g., ask advisors for connections, call peers there, customize cover letters, etc.). Even though most submission is by email it still takes a long time and the early bird gets the worm.

To start in JUNE (some app’s are actually due in July!), and continue into OCT / NOV

Once I had my list, I sorted by priority and began to search for postings.

Where to look for postings:

First scour the Academy of Management job board for their postings (paid service). There are SOO many postings there, it’s by far the most complete resource. Also, sign up for AoM job alert emails so you can find out about new listings and enter them into your spreadsheet as they arrive.

Next best thing was to search the school’s webpage but the location of the open position postings was so inconsistent that this was a big time suck.

I also looked at the Chronicle of Higher Ed but as every class before me has also concluded, it was basically pointless.

There are also some regional boards (NY, NorCal, SoCal) that I checked when I was dumbfounded for schools I really liked (e.g., Why doesn’t LMU – a small Jesuit school in L.A. – even have an HR page on their website?), but you don’t have to do this. AoM is the authority.

As you find postings for each school, add this data to columns in your spreadsheet:

1. due date
(if none is listed, mark n/a and assume it’s due in August or early Sept – yes, verrrry early! If all of your materials are not ready yet, send a cover letter and a C.V…. better to submit something than nothing so that they know are interested. My sense is that being from Haas can buy you some time if they know you are interested.)

2. full position name & department (so you can plug it into your cover letter)

3. posting text (seems like a lot but it’s soooo useful later to have it all in one place. plus, many schools take down their AoM posting and you’ll wish you’d saved it later)

4. three columns for place to send it: email, website, and snail mail. If email submission is okay (this is typical) you don’t need the other info. You’ll later send this list to the faculty assistant so s/he can email/upload/snail mail your letters of recommendation to them.

5. finally, create a new column for order in which to send applications, which is based on your personal preference and the deadline.

Now start crackin’ and write up those apps!

In terms of how to do a good application, ask your advisors for copies of their materials and good ones they’ve seen from others. Also, the Chronicle of Higher Ed website was a really valuable resource for me.

Is organizing all of this stuff just a waste of time?

No! The most important thing to remember is that things will begin to move at breakneck speed, so set yourself up to access and collect information quickly and intuitively.

Good luck in your search!