By Dr. Maria T. Gallardo-Williams, Teaching Professor and Director of Organic Chemistry Labs, Department of Chemistry, and SoTL Faculty Fellow, Office of Faculty Development
When I think back to graduate school, and my postdoctoral training I distinctly remember the long days in the lab, the camaraderie, and the constant pressure to write papers. Although my graduate advisor was one of the nicest people I know, he pushed just as hard as he dared to make sure that all of his graduate students constantly had at least one paper in the works. The goal, he used to say, was to “never have an unpublished thought” (1).
I accepted a teaching position at NC State (almost 20 years ago!) and I had to adjust to a new reality, filled with longer teaching hours, constant curriculum development, and the fulfilment of students’ immediate needs. Writing was, for a few years, the last thing on my mind. In retrospect, this was a mistake on my part and it took me a long time to correct it. I would like to share with you some of the things that helped me to establish a regular writing practice, and maybe in the process save you some time so you don’t have to figure it all out all by yourself.
What is a writing practice?
Simply setting aside time that is dedicated to writing without interruptions. Instead of writing informally, or against a fast-approaching deadline, block some time for writing on a regular basis. Find a place where you can write comfortably (some people favor a quiet space in the Libraries, or a coffee shop, others like to stay closer to the office), and get into the habit of writing regularly.
Why should we write?
The importance of writing for professional faculty can’t be emphasized enough. You will need to write reports, teaching philosophies, curricular materials, presentations, and publications. Some of you will want to write book chapters, or even your own books. When it’s time to apply for promotion you will need to write a dossier, and that is a set of documents that will be used to demonstrate your accomplishments. It’s not enough to say “I’ve dedicated myself to teaching (or extension, or research)”, you will be asked to prove that in terms that make sense to your evaluators. It’s important to be generating that proof, in the form of published materials, before the day that you need to put together that dossier. A reflective teaching practice, that shows your involvement in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (2) is an excellent framework for the production of such writing.
When can we write?
Every person is different. A good start could be to attend a Writing Retreat, such as the ones offered by the Office of Faculty Development (now available in Virtual and Asynchronous formats), or the Writing Challenges organized by the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (as a member of the NC State Community, you can take advantage of our Institutional Membership to NCFDD). The resources and accountability provided have helped many of us to complete writing projects. There is a special synergy that comes from sharing a goal with other committed participants. Or maybe you prefer a more solitary environment, in which case blocking the calendar for your most productive time might be the way to go. I like to write on Friday mornings, and do all in power to keep that time available and uninterrupted so I can lock myself in my home office and write.
Some online resources that might be helpful:
- My Ph.D. advisor is Dr. Dean F. Martin, at the University of South Florida. Although he is now Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, he continues to write and to support his students. He’s an inspiration to all of us.
- The Office of Faculty Development offers a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Institute. If you would like more information about it, please let me know.