Dr. Wendy M. Christensen is an Assistant Professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ. Her research focuses on how inequality shapes political participation. In her free time she loves reading feminist theory and mysteries (and feminist mysteries!), running, and drinking beer. You can learn more about Dr. Christensen on her website and by following her on Twitter at @wendyphd.
Below, Dr. Christensen offers advice to ease the process that many academics will be going through this summer: moving. Add your own advice in the comments section!
Moving Advice for Wayward Academics
I realized today that I have a bunch of awesome friends making big moves this summer. Not just big moves, but big moves to coveted Tenure Track jobs! Yay! And I realized in the course of offering lots of moving advice on Facebook, that I have quite a bit of experience under my belt moving-wise. In the past 3 years, we’ve made 2 pretty big, life-changing moves for jobs. The first was to a VAP position across the country, the summer after I defended my PhD. I defended earlier in the summer, but made some massive edits that summer in the midst of packing and moving. Then, last summer I made another sizable, although not quite as far move, for the job I have now. Does this make me an expert? Nope. But I have some good tips to pass along. Some of these are good for any move, some of these are good for academics more specifically.
1. Start a couple months before you move going through stuff and weeding out. Go through junk drawers and closets, books and clothes. Sell what you think is valuable enough on Craigslist (but follow these safety tips). We sold some collector-specific stuff, extra dvd player, unworn running shoes (i.e. speciality items) and got good money that way. Yardsales are a lot of work for just a little bit of money, but we were able to do it with our entire apartment complex, so it wasn’t a waste of time. We donated everything that didn’t sell immediately. Money we made from selling stuff went into an envelope as “moving funds.”
2. Carefully weed out academic books and articles/notes/paperwork. Academic books for a one-time project can be sold on Amazon (if you have time), to grad students studying for exams, or just given away (most departments have a “free book” spot). Do you need all those physical journals? My guess is that you don’t. Add those to the free table, or give them to a library.
Papers and articles are another issue. I had an entire 4-drawer filing cabinet brimming with journal articles, class notes, teaching materials etc. The first time I moved, I got rid of about half of it. After this last move, I got rid of the cabinet itself. Part of this is my goal of becoming paperless. You can’t search paper with the click of a mouse, but you can search electronic files. Here’s how I did it:
- I only saved journal articles that were critical to my research or important to me, and had important notes on them. Everything else you need you can find online as you need it.
- I made a binder of notes from graduate classes and prelims, and kept only what would be useful and what would fit in that binder. I could scan that now into Evernote and those notes would be more useful, actually.
- I got rid of almost all the drafts of everything I had worked on. Why save those? I have them electronically, and since I got into the habit of adding my advisor’s notes directly into a Word document, I don’t need those anymore, either.
- I also got rid of student papers, assignments, duplicate class activities etc. Any class worksheet or activity that I didn’t have electronically, I scanned with my iPhone and filed it as a pdf.
- Now I have files in my work office for articles I teach with regularly, assignments etc. But I also try to keep those down to a minimum. Paper is my enemy!
3. Find out if your new job will let you ship your books to your new office. I didn’t get any moving money this past move (state job), but the dean did offer to pay to ship my books. I didn’t take them up on the offer because I thought the whole process of shipping would be a pain. But you know what’s more of a pain? Moving 30+ boxes of books on and off a truck, and then into and out of your car to your new office. I’m not getting any younger and I should have had UPS doing that heavy lifting.
4. If you’re still prepping for Fall courses (I imagine you are– who is all prepped months before they start a new job?) or working on an article deadline (I’ll talk about how little work you’ll get done over the summer in a minute), you’ll need to keep some books with you and accessible. Sort those out and put them in their own box, clearly labelled “books for summer.” Then you can find them when you need them. Actually, keep out the things you’ll need for the move and a week or two after:
- A suitcase for each person in your family with clothes and toiletries for a couple weeks.
- A bag or box with moving supplies (tape, tape cutters, rope, measuring tape, nails, hammer etc.)
- A box of pet stuff (blankets, beds, food, treats, toys, food dishes etc.)
- A box of immediately-needed kitchen stuff (coffee pot, pans, plates, mugs, utensils).
- A box of cleaning stuff. Not every apartment will be super clean when you move in (or you won’t trust that it’s actually clean…) so we kept all of this easily accessible too.
5. Google Drive is your friend. I had a spreadsheet for finding an apartment, a spreadsheet budgeting for a summer without pay (another thing to plan for!) and new expenses in a new place, and a Master Moving List document with an ongoing checklist of stuff to do.
6. Apartment hunting sucks. Of course it depends on where you’re moving too, how much of a budget you have per month, what your pet situation is, whether or not you have kids etc. My partner and I moved to a rental market fueled by nearby NYC, and we moved with multiple cats. Think honestly about what you want and what you absolutely don’t want. Be firm on these, because when you start looking and feel desperate, you might sway and feel like you have to take that crappy garden apartment with the dumpster outside your bedroom window.
- If you’re moving to a major metropolitan area, find a realtor to help guide you through the market. And not just any realtor– get a recommendation! Ask your new colleagues, listservs, Facebook friends, for anyone in realty who can steer you in a good direction. There are realtors that will screw you.
- Don’t trust Craigslist– especially if you’re moving to a major metropolitan area. You can tell pretty quickly what’s a scam on there ($900 for 2 bedrooms when everything else is $1500?), but some of them are pretty deceptive.
- Make a renter’s resume. This is super-geeky, but especially if you have pets, you need to do it. Include info about your job. You’ve got a PhD! You’re going to be a professor (or a visiting professor… or whatever)! Don’t hide it! Flaunt it! Landlords want someone who isn’t going to screw them over, so take advantage of the nerdy reputation of our profession! Include info about your pets, your vet, your previous rental experiences. Include your hobbies and how you spend your free time. We also created a second version with specific info on it for apartments we were applying for seriously. This had our updated credit scores, and income information (and a contact for your dean so they can verify your employment).
- Include a letter of recommendation from former landlords with your application. Most people don’t call references (shocking, I know) so put that really good reference about you being the tenants with cats right in front of their face!
- Don’t rent anything you haven’t seen. Seriously. It took us 4 trips to find a rental. Pictures lie. Places that look fantastic in photos, look horrible in person, and vice versa. Check out the area (Google Maps street view is great for this), and your commute to work (Google Maps during rush hour will give you traffic times)!
7. If you get moving money (instead of submitting moving receipts for reimbursement), keep in mind taxes will come out of it (ouch). If you don’t get moving money, or don’t get enough, then try to keep moving costs down by cutting back on what you’re moving and comparing different rates. Ryder was cheaper for our move across the country, but UHaul was somehow a better deal for our move a few states away. Can you drive the truck yourself (or can your partner/Dad/friend)? Can you load up the truck and have them drive it (ala UPack)? Check Craigslist in your area for free (or cheap) boxes and moving supplies as lots of people who just moved will want to get rid of those. Or go for liquor boxes as they are sturdy and aren’t too big. And heck, if you get lots of moving money from your new job, pay for someone to do the whole thing for you–loading and transport! If I *ever* move again, that’s going to be the only way I go!
8. Keep all moving receipts. My partner had a big envelope she kept with her (along with all our financial stuff in a bag– because she’s good that way) and put every single receipt into it. Did you buy sandwiches for the people who help you load? Keep the receipt. New trashcans and mops for your new place? Keep the receipt. Last minute Home Depot boxes and packing tape? Keep the receipt. Donations? Keep the receipt… get the idea? Moves for a job are tax deductible, and if you pay for the move yourself, you can wind up getting some serious change back from the government!
9. The summer you’re moving, you’re not going to get any work done. At all. Really. Especially if you’re moving pets, kids, a whole household, across the country. It ain’t going to happen. I let a book review slide for a couple months because of the move (and the journal editors worked with me). You’re not going to have time to think about your research. You won’t be able to expend one ounce of energy thinking up new research ideas, or new theoretical approaches. You’re going to fall asleep if you try reading new lit in your field. You’re going to barely get your books selected for your Fall classes (only after the bookstore pressures you), and you’re not going to finish that syllabi until you get settled in and mostly unpacked. Unless you’re Wonder Woman, this is the reality. No one is Wonder Woman. Not even me, with a beer in my hand!
10. Actually you can plan on not getting much of your own work done for your entire first semester. Don’t do what I did and beat yourself up about it. Set your sights on minimal deadlines– conference abstracts, short funding proposals, reading some new lit. Make an outline/list of stuff to do on an article. Think about your research, work on something related to it a few minutes every day, if you can, but don’t expect to get lots done. You’ll be adjusting to a new town, a new house, a new grocery store, new colleagues, a new school, new office, new library system, new grade reporting system, new courses, new students… and the list goes on. You’re going to be mentally exhausted during this adjustment, and that’s ok. I remember reading once that among the most stressful events of life are deaths, major accidents, major illnesses, and moves. Seriously. Take time to get to know the people and places around you, but don’t beat yourself up about not getting much research or writing done.
11. Finally, get unpacked as soon as possible. Spend a week getting unpacked, one room at a time. Stay up late and get rid of those boxes one at a time. Hang stuff up and make it look like home. There’s nothing worse than an unpacked apartment. When classes start, you’ll appreciate coming home to a home.
Those are my tips for getting through a move as an academic. Have any others?