The Benefits of Recycling

Today’s post is more about career development than teaching . . .

Academia is a bureaucratic work environment. Information is constantly documented and distributed. Often this happens to the same piece of information multiple times. Consequently I began recycling my writing as much as possible several years ago, in the belief that it is better to make minor changes, or none at all, to writing upon which I have already expended mental energy. An underlying principle here is writing with an ultimate rather than a proximal use in mind. What is the most valuable end to which this writing can be eventually directed? A simple example: the proposal for your conference presentation becomes the abstract for the conference paper, which in turn becomes the abstract for the manuscript submitted to a journal.

A second and, for some, more important example: the stream of email, editorial comments, draft committee proposals, and other written minutiae that one produces — it’s all work. Don’t let it disappear into the ether. Instead, use it for future contract renewal, tenure, or promotion.

I admit that I didn’t fully recognize the potential value of this writing until my wife — also an academic — compiled her application dossier for promotion to full professor. Watching her, I realized that, in the course of my day-to-day business as an associate professor and department chair, I had generated chains of emails and memos that constituted evidence of service and scholarship à la the Boyer model. I saw that this material, if organized coherently, could form much of my own application for promotion, in many cases verbatim.

So I thought about what I had devoted my attention to over the last few years, and decided on categories like student retention, curricular design, assessment, and community partnerships. I created a file folder for each category, and then laboriously identified which of my hundreds of emails and memos were relevant. I then saved the resulting items as pdf documents to the appropriate folders. Including dates in the files names — e.g., 2017.12.4 — put everything for each topic in chronological order. Applying the concept of Keep It Safe and Secure, I stored it all in both my Dropbox and Google Drive accounts. From this point forward, whenever I write on one of these subjects, I’ll create a copy and save it. When it comes time for me to apply for promotion, I can quickly scan the folders’ contents to create a narrative of my achievements. Some of that narrative will have already been written, and I can simply copy and paste.

One thought on “The Benefits of Recycling

  1. Great article!. Thanks for sharing. A colleague gave me similar advice and I am so happy I took their advice to heart. I look at all my written correspondence in a new way – multitask and recycle!

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