Philip Guo (Phil Guo, Philip J. Guo, Philip Jia Guo, pgbovine)

Professoring Logistics: Mundane but useful ways to organize faculty work life

Summary
Here are a bunch of mundane but useful ways that I've organized my work life over the past three years as a professor. Maybe these ideas can be helpful for other new professors!

I've already written a bunch of articles about various facets of assistant professor life, but so far they've all focused on higher-level strategic themes such as time management, student recruiting, research advising, paper and grant writing, etc.

I'm taking the opposite approach here: going way down into the weeds to list a bunch of mundane but useful ways I've managed to stay organized over the past three years as an assistant professor. Get ready for some extreme banality. Here we go!

Calendaring

  • Use an electronic calendar. I use Google Calendar, which I can easily access on both my computer and phone.
  • Put all recurring events on your calendar, such as teaching times, lab meeting times, faculty meeting times, seminar talk times, etc. Don't worry about it looking too cluttered; it's safer to have it look overbooked so that you don't accidentally commit to an event that you can't attend.
  • Put major paper and grant submission deadlines – as well as deadlines for paper/grant reviews, recommendation letters, and other duties – on your calendar. This will help you not overcommit or overbook.
    • Recommendation letter due dates are especially important to put on your calendar since a student will likely be applying to many schools/jobs, each with its own deadlines and esoteric email instructions for submitting. Keep those organized or else they will get lost in your inbox.
  • Block off time slots on your calendar for reading and writing, and make them specific; don't just say “oh I should do some reading or writing now”, but rather a slot should say something like “writing recommendation letter for Alice” or ”reading and giving feedback on Bob's paper draft.”
  • Put travel days on your calendar as soon as you commit to something, since it will also help you plan what other responsibilities to accept near those times.
  • Put a public calendar for your office hours on your website and link to it from course webpages, etc., so that students can know when you're in town and available for office hours.
  • If your students or collaborators are out of town or on vacation, put that on your calendar so you can remember not to bug them at those times.

Emailing

  • Develop an email handling and responding strategy that works for you, or else email will eat you alive.
  • Boomerang for Gmail (or another tool that lets you schedule emails to return to your inbox at a later date) can be useful.
  • In general I avoid complex email management workflows; having the proper mindset is more important. You need to figure out what's most healthy for you.

Visitoring

  • You'll be hosting a lot of visitors over the years for all sorts of events (e.g., invited talks, job interviews), and it's notoriously hard to navigate around university campuses. Thus, create a custom Google Map to send to visitors containing landmarks for on-campus locations such as visitor parking lots, drop-off points for taxis, and important building locations such as your department and lab's buildings. For extra fun, also put some cool local tourist spots on your map as well so that your visitors can know where to have fun in their spare time.
  • Pick out some cool coffee shops or breakfast spots near campus to take your visitors to when you pick them up in the morning. An inspiring morning spot is a high-energy way to start off the day and makes for a great first impression. Eating stale hotel lobby bagels isn't that motivating.
  • Figure out the visitor parking situation on weekdays. It's super-annoying for someone to drive to campus only to not be able to find parking. If parking is infeasible, then recommend them to take a taxi.
  • Be aware of mobility constraints for your visitors. You'll probably be eager to show them around your campus, but be aware that some people may not have the energy or mobility to walk super-long distances (especially up hills both ways barefoot in the snow) ... especially when they're probably tired from traveling and talking to people all day.
  • Use a shared Google Spreadsheet (with “anyone with the link can edit” permissions so that you don't have to deal with annoying permissions issues) to arrange for your visitor's meeting schedule with everyone. Put your phone number on the spreadsheet so that people can contact you in case they can't find you.

Portfolioing

  • Put all of your externally-facing accomplishments on your CV. It's fine if it gets a bit long ... that's the point. Your CV is supposed to be an append-only log of all of your work accomplishments over the years. Having your CV freshly-updated is important for grant-writing and internal promotion reviews, since you'll often need to pull information from your CV into various pieces of administrative paperwork.
    • For bonus points, format the wording and order of entries in your public CV in a similar way as the internal university-specific CV that you'll need to fill out when applying for promotions; that way, you can copy-paste more easily.
    • For example, label the publications in your public CV with the same sections and numbers (e.g., C.1, C.2, C.3, etc. for conference papers) as you do in your internal university CV.
  • However, not all of your work activities will be externally-facing, so it's also important to keep a private “shadow CV” of stuff that you've done but don't necessarily need to put on your CV. For example, lists of internal guest lectures you've given, department and university service commitments, rejected grant proposal submissions, non-research students that you supervised or mentored outside of class, awards that your students have won, etc. Again, this will be useful for internal promotion reviews.
    • Record acceptance rates of conferences/journals/etc. that you've published in, since promotion committees may want to see those too.
  • Keep your professional website updated with your latest papers (with freely-accessible PDFs if possible), CV, and a succinct summary of your research.
  • Put a copy-pasteable blurb of your academic biography on your home page (written in third-person, not first-person!) so that people who invite you to talks or other events can directly copy and paste it into their documents.
  • Put a link to a large high-resolution head shot on your home page so that people can easily grab it for talk announcements, press releases, etc.

Filing

  • Keep all of your files synced and backed up with a service like Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive (you may have a large amount of free storage allocated to you via your university account). Most of your professoring files are going to be MS Word docs, plain text files, LaTeX, PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, and other document formats that don't take up too much space. So don't risk losing them!!! Save everything!
  • In each directory I usually keep a notes.txt or README.txt file where I dump informal notes that are most relevant to the project housed in that directory; this way, my notes are “closer” to what they refer to, rather than living in a separate document or notetaking app that feels “far away from” the project.
  • It's OK to keep multiple old versions of files around in backup directories. Again, your documents aren't going to be huge, so it's fine to stash away multiple old copies in case you need to refer to them later. Hard disk space is cheap; your time isn't!
  • Keep a stash of PDFs of possibly-related papers for research projects and grants you're currently working on. Make it a habit to update that stash whenever you encounter a new paper that might be relevant (even if it doesn't directly look relevant at the moment). Just throw everything in your stash. Don't worry about organizing too much here.
  • Use Google Docs to create text documents and spreadsheets to share with colleagues to manage research, teaching, admin, logistics, etc. Set the permissions to “anyone with the link can edit” to make it easy for anyone to access by sending them the link. Otherwise you'll have to worry about which exact email address to add for permissions, people will want to log in with different email addresses and face permissions problems, etc. Just have it be globally-writable (but not listed publicly) to eliminate permissions problems. (Obviously don't put super-confidential info in there, though!)
  • Have an efficient way to electronically sign PDFs, spreadsheet forms (yep! forms embedded within complex Excel spreadsheets), or other document formats since you'll need to sign a lot of paperwork on the job. Admins will be sending you forms to sign in all sorts of unusual formats, like PDFs that can be opened only in certain proprietary apps!
  • Create a blank Word document using your official university letterhead with your electronic signature and job title on it. Make a copy whenever you need to write recommendation letters and other sorts of blurbs for colleagues.

Moneying

  • Pay for software and I.T. services when it will save you time instead of using only the free versions. You can often use your startup package and other less-restrictive funding streams (e.g., corporate gifts) to do so. Your time – and your students' time – is way more valuable, so it's worth spending a bit of money on digital infrastructure. If you really can't pay for it out of grants, I'd consider paying out of pocket. Your time is valuable! (Also, your university might already have campus-wide licenses for a lot of useful software, so you may be able to get lots of good stuff for free. Check with your I.T. staff.)
  • Keep your own private notes about how much money you've spent on each grant and your startup package, what you spent it on, when you got reimbursed, etc. Your department's admins should keep track of this stuff, but it's always good for you to have a personal copy of those records as well. They're often busy handling many requests from different faculty, and things may sometimes slip through the cracks.
  • Make each set of reimbursements super-super-easy for your admins to process by writing a cover page summarizing the relevant expenses, total spending amount, which grant you want it reimbursed out of, and attach all receipts in electronic (e.g., PDF) format. Not only does this make their job easier, but it also serves as a duplicate record for yourself. When each request gets reimbursed, update its cover page with the reimbursement date.
  • Digitize your receipts as much as possible. Take photos of your paper receipts with your phone as a backup.
  • Once a year (or more if you want), go over your financial records and double-check your account balances with your admin, just to make sure there are no surprises. University reimbursements go through a complex multi-layered bureaucracy, so sometimes things slip through the cracks at various levels. In the end, it's your responsibility to make sure your funding records are accurate, even if you have good admin help.
  • Have one credit card you dedicate to work-related expenses. This can either be one of your personal credit cards or a purchase card issued by your university. This makes printing out statements, invoices, and receipts much simpler for reimbursements.
  • Often your funding will come with certain constraints. To make the most efficient use of your money, ask your admins or senior colleagues about how hard or soft those constraints are, and adapt accordingly.

Teachering

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Created: 2017-08-29
Last modified: 2019-08-08
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