Welcoming Remarks From Our New Editor, Dr. Victor Ray

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Dr. Victor Ray is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. His research examines race and gender discrimination in organizations. His commentary has appeared at Newsweek, Boston Review, and Gawker. He is the new editor of Conditionally Accepted. You can follow him on Twitter at @victorerikray.

This essay is my first as the new editor of “Conditionally Accepted,” a career advice column on Inside Higher Ed for marginalized academics. I’ve been a reader and contributor since before “Conditionally Accepted” became a part of Inside Higher Ed in 2016, and I am happy and honored to be taking over editorial duties for “Conditionally Accepted,” a continual source of advice and affirmation.

I’ve supported the vision of Eric Anthony Grollman, the founder and outgoing editor of “Conditionally Accepted,” from the start as a behind-the-scenes confidant, occasional adviser and scholar-activist fellow traveler. In 2016, Eric asked me to become a regular contributor for “Conditionally Accepted,” where I’ve written about the racial landscape of funding in higher education, the inherent whiteness of “mesearch” and attacks on free speech from the right. I’m generally committed to public scholarship, publishing in other outlets like Boston Review and Newsweek.

Eric and the column’s contributors have created a remarkable and rare intellectual space where writers from the margins regularly challenge the status quo in and beyond academe. Eric made their own lane right out of graduate school. They eschewed the safe, docile path that graduate students are taught leads to academic success and eventually tenure. Instead, Eric centered the traumatic experiences that many marginalized scholars face in spaces that were never made for us. Eric created a model — risky though it is — of committed resistance and scholar-activism. By doing that, they opened up a national platform for scholars who remain underrepresented. I’m humbled that Eric trusts me to edit “Conditionally Accepted,” because this space is an important, meaningful outlet for marginalized scholars like myself.

Over the past four years, contributors to “Conditionally Accepted” have regularly subverted comfortable thinking about higher education. The writers frequently featured in this space — people of color, queer and trans folks, and women — face barriers at every stage of their academic careers. At (sometimes considerable) personal risk, the bloggers at “Conditionally Accepted” have laid bare higher education’s inequalities through deeply personal narratives. This format helped make “Conditionally Accepted” a high-profile institutionalized space that remains ahead of the curve in national debates on diversity and racial inclusion, white supremacy in higher education, free speech, and sexual assault, among others.

Reading the column, I often think about a famous quip from W. E. B. Du Bois. According to Taylor Branch, upon becoming the first black person to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University, Du Bois said, “The honor, I assure you, was Harvard’s.” Du Bois deftly inverted the white supremacist narrative of racial belonging that assumed people of color were incapable of intellectual excellence. “Conditionally Accepted” — in this Du Boisian tradition — continually reminds us that despite claims that we are only here because of affirmative action or are “presumed incompetent,” the truth is that the honor is the academy’s. To remain legitimate, the academy needs us more than ever.

So, Eric, thank you for creating this space and entrusting me to continue the work. (Be sure to read Eric’s farewell essay as outgoing editor of “Conditionally Accepted.”)

My Goals As Editor

Because I have so much respect for the space here, I don’t plan on making big changes. I will continue to feature a diverse array of writers and topics. But I do anticipate two slight adjustments.

My first goal is to provide more coverage of current events from committed experts. The political environment in the country at large, and in higher education in particular, has become increasingly hostile to people of color in a number of ways. Republicans are doubtful about the importance of higher education generally. Attacks on the free speech of faculty of color, the promotion of so-called alt-right speakers, cuts to funding, changes in immigration law and assaults on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the rollback of protections for LGBTQ folks, the weakening or eradicating of tenure protections, and the vast and growing precariousness of the labor force are just some of the present threats to higher education. These trends will tend to disproportionately hurt marginalized people; thus, marginalized folks should be at the forefront of the debates about them. I hope to recruit public scholar-experts for commentary when new legislation or case law appears on the educational landscape. At a moment when the very notion of truth is threatened, our scholarly expertise — communicated through clear, accessible writing — is needed more than ever.

Second, I will be looking for writers who use personal narrative to illuminate structural issues in academe. So, for instance, a discussion of personal experiences with microaggressions, which are typically thought of as individual slights, could expand into a description of how organizational forms and institutional histories facilitate or hinder negative racialized and gendered interactions. Too often, the work of marginalized people is seen as overly personal or anecdote. This framing is belied by the huge body of research that shows discrimination and harassment against marginalized folks in the academy (and elsewhere) are not aberrant or surprising. Rather, such hostile treatment is common and mundane — although no less damaging for its mundanity.

I hope to publish work that connects personal experiences to broader disciplinary literatures. For example, Adia Harvey Wingfield’s contribution to our 2017 sexual violence series showed how the gendered nature of universities contributes to the perpetuation of sexual assault on campus, as high-status male professors are often protected at women’s expense. Of course, as this is a career advice column, I will also continue to feature writers who offer valuable advice on how to survive and thrive in academe as an underrepresented scholar.

I’m excited about this and look forward to writers trusting me with their words, just as Eric and Inside Higher Ed have trusted me with this space. “Conditionally Accepted” published some of my earliest public work, helping me to gain the confidence to write for other venues. I hope to provide the same opportunity for other writers. So please send me bold, fearless, truth-telling pitches at conditionally.accepted@insidehighered.com.

Reflections From Our Outgoing Editor, Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Richmond, and a Black queer nonbinary scholar-activist. They are the founder and outgoing editor of Conditionally Accepted. Dr. Victor Ray is our new editor; see his introductory blog post here.

This essay serves as my last as editor of “Conditionally Accepted,” a weekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed for scholars on the margins of academe. I am pleased to announce that my friend, colleague and co-conspirator Victor Ray has officially assumed the position of editor of “Conditionally Accepted” as I step down to focus on other activities. This isn’t goodbye, for I will remain a regular contributor to the column.

At the same time, this change in editorship provides an opportunity to pause and consider how far ConditionallyAccepted.com has come since its inception as a blog in July 2013. It has certainly beaten the odds by not only surviving but also continuing to grow years past the average lifespan of most blogs. In fact, we are fortunate to simply have one editor pass the reins to another. That is an incredible feat that I intend to celebrate. This is the first thing I’ve ever created to actually exist beyond my leadership. I am confident in Victor’s forthcoming tenure as editor — both to keep “my baby” alive and to help it grow in new ways and move in new directions.

Admittedly, I am doing my best to celebrate this milestone in the life of “Conditionally Accepted.” It would be disingenuous to paint an entirely positive picture of this major decision, with no second thoughts or regrets. I feel that some unfinished business still remains. I want to see more essays by Latinx scholars, First Nation scholars, scholars with disabilities, fat scholars, Asian and Asian-American scholars, first-gen and working-class scholars, and intersex scholars. I’ll never feel we did enough to amplify the voices of women of color and queer and trans academics. But at the nudging of my “Conditionally Accepted” team and other friends and colleagues, I’ll make an effort to run a victory lap.

Through “Conditionally Accepted,” I have created a platform to amplify the voices of oppressed scholars like myself, to advocate for justice in academe and to aggravate the academic status quo. I successfully carved out a space on a mainstream, national higher education news site to regularly discuss injustice in the ivory tower. Every Friday morning over the past two years, Inside Higher Ed readers were faced with a tiny black logo featuring the word “Accepted*” that directs them to another weekly dose of calling out academic bullshit (predictably hostile comments be damned).

For me, this milestone is particularly significant because it took guts to create and maintain “Conditionally Accepted,” to publicly do work that is activist in nature. For the very foundation of my graduate training was the deradicalization of grad students; graduate school professors even made explicit their efforts to “beat the activist out” of me as part of the department’s professional socialization. The better part of my time as a tenure-track professor has been consumed with fear that I would be fired or denied tenure over something that I’d written in the column. Though traumatizing, the experiences that I’ve described in my writing did not silence or paralyze me; rather, they fueled my passion for shining a light on the ways in which oppression pervades the ivory tower just as it does beyond it.

I can humbly outline the ways in which “Conditionally Accepted” has been significant for other marginalized scholars, as well. Since 2013, we’ve published nearly 400 essays by roughly 115 different writers. More than 100 writers have shared their critiques, pains and joys, and advice with the world — all through a blog I created fresh out of graduate school. Each piece is read between 1,000 and 8,000 times via our Inside Higher Ed column (with one outlier at 20,000 hits) — not to mention the thousands of readers who read our posts on our home site, ConditionallyAccepted.com.

As a quantitative researcher, I like to see those kinds of numbers. But I am equally floored by the responses I have received — mostly in the form of fan mail — that cannot easily be quantified. I’ve received dozens of emails thanking me for my work on “Conditionally Accepted,” for creating a platform for marginalized scholars, for giving voice to hurts so many of us typically suffer with in silence. My goal of creating a space to air the traumatizing experiences I’ve endured has been realized again and again through my own writing and my invitation to dozens of other marginalized scholars to write, as well.

Introducing The New Editor Of “Conditionally Accepted”

Going forward, I am confident in Victor Ray’s abilities to offer sound critiques of organizations and social systems. Victor is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, a public intellectual and an activist. Over the years, he has written several pieces that astutely outline the ways in which racism pervades the academy. He has also exercised his critical voice, expertise and courage on other platforms like Newsweek, Gawker and Boston Review, sparking the beginnings of a career as a respected public scholar.

Victor offers structural criticism of higher education, and I believe this is the direction in which “Conditionally Accepted” urgently needs to go. He would probably disagree with me on this, but I firmly believe he is far braver and wiser than I am. I feel honored that he has agreed to step up to shepherd “Conditionally Accepted” in the years to come.

Thank you, Victor. And thank you to other regular contributors to “Conditionally Accepted”: Jeana Jorgensen, Jackson Wright Shultz, J. E. Sumerau and Manya Whitaker. Thank you to our former assistant editor, Sonya Satinsky, who helped me to launch “Conditionally Accepted.” Thank you to the many guest writers over the past four years for lending us your voices, your stories and your joys and pains. Thank you to friends and colleagues who supported me on this journey, regularly lifting me up as I felt afraid that this blog would cost me my job. Thank you to Scott Jaschik, Sarah Hardesty Bray and other staff members at Inside Higher Ed for taking a chance on us and this project, for giving us a platform, and for continuing to support us during this transition. And, of course, thank you to our loyal readers, followers and supportive allies.

See y’all soon.

Welcoming The New Editor Of Conditionally Accepted, Victor Ray

We are pleased to announce Dr. Victor Ray as the new editor of ConditionallyAccepted.com and its weekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed.  Our founding editor, Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman, has decided to step down as editor after 4.5 years in the role. Be sure to read Victor’s introductory blog post as the new editor (here) and Eric’s farewell blog post as the outgoing editor (here). We express our deepest thanks to Eric for their leadership, and extend a warm welcome to Victor as he shepherds this continually growing project.

A Better Way To End Sexual Violence On College Campuses

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed. Dr. Irene Shankar is an associate professor of sociology at the Mount Royal University. Her main areas of interest are the sociology of gender, intersectional feminist theories, critical race theory and the sociology of health and illness. Her current research projects concern individualized and gendered constructions of risk and responsibility during the H1N1 Pandemic in Alberta in 2009 and within sexual assault policies and programs on campuses.


Over the years, I have found myself referring students to services and polices for sexual violence that, in the end, are insufficient. Countless news stories echo the difficulty students have had gaining access to adequate services and policies. And perhaps in response to such public attention, public campaigns against campus sexual violence, including the “I believe you” campaign and bystander invention pledges have increased.

But these anti-sexual violence campaigns tend to remain on a rhetorical level. That is, they do not require any systematic action from the university itself as an institution; rather, they too often download the responsibility of addressing sexual violence onto other students. While such campaigns do help to facilitate much needed conversations on sexual violence, what is also needed is the development of critical, responsive and evidence-based sexual assault policies and protocols.

Currently, many universities do the bare minimum in this regard. In many cases, their sexual assault policies are largely constructed in response to state mandates such as Title IX in the United States and the Sexual Violence and Harassment Plan Act in the province of Ontario, Canada. These policies and protocols tend to be created in the interests of the institutions rather than those of the students, faculty members and/or staff.

Moreover, the job of creating policies and protocols tends to be given to administrators hired by the institution to protect its interests, such as the university’s legal team or the human resources department. In other words, those assigned with the job of creating policies on sexual violence are also frequently responsible for protecting the university’s reputation and standing, creating an obvious and disturbing conflict of interest.

As such, it is hardly surprising that the policies and protocols created tend to protect the universities and do little (or may even be actively harmful) for those subjected to sexual violence. For example, according to CBC News, a student at the University of Brandon in Canada, who was recently attempting to access services for sexual violence, was pressured to sign a non-disclosure agreement that prohibited her from talking to anyone outside of the university other than a counselor about her sexual assault.

In light of these dynamics, what can universities do going forward?

First, we must recognize that universities’ interest and students’ interest are not mutually exclusive. We need a fundamental shift in our approach to sexual violence policies and protocols. Essentially, we need to accept that what is best for students is also best for the university. For instance, administrative transparency about incidence statistics, open discussion about the weakness of the policies, and critical analysis of the services that universities currently provide — or lack — can start to identify the ways in which many institutions of higher learning are complicit in sexual violence. These kinds of practices can also start to dismantle the structural barriers that, at times, prevent victims from reporting and getting assistance they need. Without an acknowledgement and a review of the ways in which many of our institutions enable sexual violence, policies and protocols will continue to fail those directly affected by it.

Second, universities need to use the latest academic research about sexual violence. It is particularly disconcerting how many colleges and universities are developing policies and protocols on sexual violence without considering the latest research on the subject. In drafting sexual assault policies, universities tend to refer to (or even blatantly copy) other institutions’ policies. Yet on most campuses, libraries provide access to comprehensive research on sexual violence and faculty members may have research expertise in sexual violence or related areas. And even if faculty members do not have substantive research expertise, academics are experts in identifying and reviewing relevant research. Despite this access to knowledge, however, institutional policies and practices continue to be developed without meaningful attention to and incorporation of the body of research on sexual violence prevention and best practices.

This is particularly salient when it comes to policies and services aimed at the intersections of race, sexual orientation, and gender. For instance, while not always, university policies and services on sexual violence in North America tend to be more responsive to educated middle-class woman who have the social and cultural capital required to navigate the bureaucracy of sexual violence reporting protocols and services. Thus, people without these forms of cultural capital are left vulnerable when failed by the university policies that are inadequate in addressing diverse student bodies. Research shows that racialized, low-income and transgender students are more likely to be subjected to violence. When those who create sexual assault policies remain ignorant of the research that readily exists on intersectionality, it can only be viewed as willful ignorance.

Third, include qualified faculty members, students, administrators and community members to construct, evaluate and revise sexual assault policies and protocols. Universities tend to have faculty members who study sexual violence, and/or the intersections among race, sexual orientation and gender. Yet they often exclude those scholars from policy development, so the consultations tend to be superficial acts designed to add legitimacy after the policies and protocols have been drafted, rather than a process of inviting input and generating critical discussion at the ground level. It is troubling that many universities readily invoke the work of their researchers, teachers, students and staff members to promote themselves while completely discounting that same expertise when it comes to the creation of sexual assault policies and protocols. To this end, I recommend meaningful inclusion and adherence to the advice and suggestions provided by these parties.

Finally, complete annual evaluations of policies and services and publicly disseminate the findings. Policy evaluation and revision need to be done annually, and the results of such annual re-evaluations should be made available to the university and the wider community as a whole. That will allow both people on the campus as well as the public to gauge the effectiveness of the institution’s efforts to address sexual violence. Currently, universities keep much of that information private or invoke a form of plausible deniability by not collecting adequate data because they are worried that public disclosure of sexual violence statistics will sully their reputation and dissuade potential students. But if universities are serious about addressing the silence and stigma around sexual violence, they need to start by being transparent.

Moreover, as institutions committed to producing public knowledge, universities have an obligation to lead the inevitably difficult discussions about sexual violence. Through thoughtful engagements with the issue and clear explanations and analyses of sexual violence on campuses (for example, comparison of on-campus sexual violence rates to general rates or which actions are included or excluded from their statistics), universities can facilitate a cultural shift away from the prevailing silence surrounding sexual violence.

In conclusion, universities need to step up, be proactive, and start taking actions that are positive and meaningful instead of drawing on the protectionist logic and disingenuous rhetoric that currently fuels their sexual assault policies and protocols.

Nondisclosure Agreements Silence Survivors Of Sexual Violence

Note: this blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed career advice column (here). Sheila Liming is an assistant professor of English at the University of North Dakota, where she teaches classes on American literature, theory and media history. Her public writing has appeared in venues like The Atlantic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

The Silencing of Sexual Violence Survivors

Back when I was a freshman in college many years ago, something happened. This something involved someone who was a member of my college’s faculty and me, and it resulted in my filing a complaint relating to allegations of sexual assault. But now, 15 years later, I am compelled to rely on those kinds of ambiguous nouns — something and someone — in lieu of specifics. At the behest of college administrators and representatives, I signed a nondisclosure agreement that prevents me from sharing anything more specific about that something and that someone.

At the time, I understood my silence to be a necessary cost levied in exchange for protection and support. I brought my complaint to a trusted faculty member who, in turn, forwarded it to the appropriate administrator. That administrator then told me that I had two options. I could take my complaint to the police, thereby exposing myself to a public trial, newspaper reporters’ inquiries and the scrutiny of our entire college-town community. Or I could let the college handle the investigation, as long as I was willing to aid that investigation by keeping contractually quiet.

I was 18 years old, living more than 1,000 miles from home. Save for that one trusted faculty member, I had not told anyone about the something, not even my roommate or my parents. So I agreed to a private, internal investigation and signed the nondisclosure agreement — before speaking to a lawyer, before receiving any impartial advice and before having the opportunity to tell my story to anyone who might have been in a position to offer me support.

What Are NDAs?

Nondisclosure agreements — or NDAs — are legal agreements that are employed with the aim of protecting sensitive information. In business, “sensitive information” may amount to trade secrets or specific details about a product. In higher education, colleges and universities have historically turned to NDAs when investigating allegations of sexual violence or misconduct.

NDAs typically mandate that both parties involved in the complaint remain silent so as to avoid impeding a college’s investigation (which sometimes includes the gathering of witness testimony). And in order to further discourage those involved from speaking, NDAs often specify that financial penalties and personal liability are likely to result if either party breaks the agreement. (See, for example, The Washington Post’s coverage of the subject in the context of former presidential candidate Herman Cain.)

But in recent years, critics of the practice have pointed out that such confidentiality agreements stifle student speech and prevent victims — be they the accusers or the accused — from speaking out and sharing their sides of the story. What’s more, as a 2014 Inside Higher Ed article explains, NDAs place comprehensive bans on speech that extend beyond investigative proceedings and remain in effect long after the details of a case have gone public.

That means that victims of sexual violence are unable to shape the narrative that gets told and retold about them — instead, they are held hostage by the whims of gossip and hearsay. This situation has prompted some people to ask whether there might be such a thing as too much confidentiality, since, as one expert explains in the Inside Higher Ed article, “Colleges and universities rarely if ever intervene to correct the public record — even if they were to obtain the consent of both parties.”

Citing those same concerns, in addition to mounting public pressure, some colleges and universities have recently moved to discontinue the practice of requiring NDAs for those people wishing to file complaints of sexual violence or misconduct. American University, for instance, announced last year that it would no longer require students to sign them when filing complaints of misconduct against other students.

But as a more recent series of articles in The Guardian points out, NDAs are particularly common — and thus particularly pernicious — where student complaints against faculty or staff members are concerned. In such cases, NDAs “allow alleged perpetrators to move to other institutions where they could offend again,” thus “masking” the very prevalence of issues of harassment, violence or misconduct — all in the name of confidentiality.

What to Know and What to Do

What all higher education professionals must understand, then, is that such practices governing confidentiality are still very much the norm today. Most institutions still rely on them, which is why it is important that faculty and staff members read and acquaint themselves with institutional policies regarding confidentiality and voluntary disclosure. But, even more important, they need to take an active role in communicating their understandings of those policies to students.

I am not saying that folks in higher education need to memorize their campus’s policies and approach all interactions armed with chapter and verse. Rather, now a faculty member myself, I am arguing in favor of a heightened awareness that may permit university professionals to engage candidly and responsibly with student victims. If a student approaches you with the expectation of confidentiality, you need to inform that person of your ability to listen and, perhaps, act in confidence.

For example, if you hail from one of the many professional disciplines that make you subject to mandatory reporting laws (like law, medicine or social work), or if you serve in the capacity of a campus security authority — which, under Title IX, may also require you to report — you need to be honest in explaining that you may be unable to comply with a student’s wishes regarding confidentiality. A colleague at my institution’s law school recently told me that she was thinking of putting a sign on her door to declare her status as a mandatory reporter so that students would be able to consider their options before approaching her. Similarly, if you know that official student complaints on your campus are likely to be met with secrecy in the form of compulsory nondisclosure agreements, you must be up front and explain as much to a student beforehand.

Here’s why a willingness to be both honest and informed matters: what followed my decision to sign that NDA some 15 years ago were, frankly, the worst four months of my life. I was removed from the course that I was taking with the faculty member in question and instead enrolled in an independent study course, conducted by another faculty adviser who had no experience in the topic and little direct interest in overseeing my studies anyway.

Meanwhile, my absence in the class had not gone unnoticed, and rumors proliferated — rumors that I was contractually bound to accept with good grace since I was not allowed to talk about what had happened. The administrator who had dealt with my case had warned me that my violating the NDA “could compromise the investigation or could violate someone’s privacy and expose me and the college to liability.” Those were not my college administrator’s exact words, but they are the words of confidentiality agreements used by higher education institutions today.

There are alternatives, though. American University, for instance, now favors a confidentiality agreement that includes a First Amendment rights statement. The statement is designed to assure victims that confidentiality is the responsibility of their university but not necessarily required by them.

Preventing sexual violence and misconduct on college campuses requires a sincere commitment to acknowledging that sexual violence and misconduct do indeed happen — that they have been happening for some time now, that they are happening right now. Nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements have historically helped to keep us, as university professionals, from acknowledging that. Yet in order to imagine better, fairer alternatives to NDAs, we must start by facing the facts concerning their ubiquity and prevalence on our own campuses.

Advice For Academics On Using Email More Effectively

Note: this blog was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed. Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza is an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Merced. Her most recent book is Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism. She runs the blog Get a Life, PhD and tweets @tanyaboza.

Three Rules for Email

Tanya Golash-BozaEmail has become a fact of life for academics. We all know that it facilitates communication, yet it can also be a tremendous distraction. As a tenured professor with more than my share of committee work and students, I receive about 100 emails every weekday. Without a system to respond to them, I would quickly fall behind. Instead, I finish out each week with a zero inbox. (See more about that here.)

If you are not ready to take the plunge and get to a zero inbox, you can still minimize the extent to which email controls your day. I offer three rules that will help you manage your email on a daily basis.

Rule #1: Don’t check your email first thing in the morning. I bet you have heard (and ignored) this advice. Many of us roll over in bed each morning, pick up our smartphones and begin scrolling through our email before doing anything else. I will admit it: I do it at times, as well, even though I know I shouldn’t.

But when you check your email first thing in the morning, you are attending to everyone else’s needs before even thinking about what is most important for you to accomplish that day. When you check your email, you are reminded of the paperwork you need to finish for grant applications, the papers you need to grade for classes, the bills you mustn’t forget to pay and the sibling you need to call, among other concerns. Because of the way memory works by association, each email that you open, or even delete, brings a flood of thoughts to your head.

Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up in the morning and see what thoughts come to your head if you don’t check your email first thing? Wouldn’t it be lovely to wake up your kids and have your coffee without thinking about the many mundane and stressful tasks that await you? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit and ponder what you’d like to accomplish in the day before finding out six new things people want you to do? Wouldn’t it be amazing to meditate first thing in the morning?

Usually, when we check our email, we are reminded of all of the tasks we need to accomplish, which can be distracting. Sometimes, however, email can provoke much stronger emotions. On rare occasions, these emails are great news: a book contract, acceptance of an article or an invitation to give a talk with a great honorarium. Other times, we get much less pleasant news via email: a student questioning a grade, a superior asking us to serve on yet another committee or some other request that somehow raises our ire. If you check your email first thing in the morning, you are opening a Pandora’s box and might find a message in there that could completely derail your day.

Wouldn’t you like to start your day focusing on something you see as valuable and important before opening those floodgates?

Instead of opening your email first thing in the morning, set aside a specific time of morning when you will dedicate 30 minutes or an hour to respond to important emails. Then set aside another time in the afternoon when you will take care of the remaining emails. In other words, respond to your emails intentionally instead of each time you get an email notification.

Rule #2: Close your email and all notifications while you are writing. Of course, you need to check email at some point during the day to manage the massive influx. That, however, does not mean that you need to check it all the time. You certainly do not need to check email while you are writing.

To write, you need to focus. To focus, you need to avoid distraction. Imagine yourself fully immersed in thought and composing the perfect sentence when you catch a glimpse of a notification on your computer or hear a little buzz from your phone. Now, instead of focusing on your writing, you are reminded of other tasks that you must complete — emotions that you feel with regard to certain people or worries you have over a pending deadline.

The solution to this is pretty straightforward: turn off those notifications. Both your phone and your computer should have “Do not disturb” settings. On a Mac, you can turn off all notifications under “Settings.” Your phone, your tablet and your PC should have similar options.

If you set aside 30 minutes or an hour each day to write, you can give yourself permission to be unavailable over phone, email or social media during that time. If you teach, I presume you turn off your phone during that time. Do the same when you are writing.

It may seem productive to be multitasking: alternately responding to emails, checking your social media, writing and preparing class all at the same time. However, it is not. It is much more productive to set aside specific times of the day for each task, giving it your undivided attention. (I explain one way to do this here.)

Rule #3: Unplug every night. Decide on a time each evening when you will unplug yourself from the Internet. Just as it is not a good idea for you to be on your screen first thing in the morning, it also is not a good idea for you to be on your screen just before going to bed.

I recommend that about an hour before your bedtime, you put your laptop, tablet and phone away. If possible, keep all those devices out of your bedroom. At the very least, keep them out of arm’s reach when you are in bed.

In order to have a restful night of sleep, you need time away from devices that light up. Scientists have found that these devices send a subtle signal to your brain that it is not yet time to sleep.

These devices also send much less subtle signals. You may be just about to go to bed when you decide to check your email one last time, only to find out that your latest paper has been rejected. Now, instead of peacefully going to sleep, you toss and turn all night worrying about your publication record. Just because we now can get news instantaneously does not mean we should.

In sum, in order for email to have less control over your life, you need to start to take control of it. This article has provided three ideas for how you can establish boundaries. I’d love to hear from you about other ways you’ve found to be helpful in setting them.

Advice For Dept. Chairs: “Beware of the Curse Of Small Things”

PlainspokenNote: the following blog post was originally posted on our Inside Higher Ed column. Professor Plainspoken (a pseudonym) has been a faculty member for more than 20 years. She is committed to helping young professors succeed in academe. Plainspoken belongs to House Tyrell and is looking forward to the defeat of Queen Cersei, the Evil One.

Beware of the Curse Of Small Things

In a previous article, I wrote about the challenges and rewards of chairing an academic department and offered my post-chair analysis of my performance. In this essay, I talk about the skill set needed for drama-free delivery of your curriculum and reasonably happy colleagues.

We all know the saying “the devil is in the details.” It means that sometimes the success or failure of projects, careers, parties or performances hinges on some detail that was either poorly planned or neglected. Once I took an exam to be hired by a large corporation that used bubble sheets. I brought with me, as instructed, two pencils for the task. I carefully selected them, and they were freshly sharpened and gleaming. If only I had thought to check whether they were No. 2 pencils. The proctors for the exam, who were also human resources executives, gave me that tsk-tsk look as they handed me the stubby in-house pencils. Ultimately, the wrong leads dashed my dreams of carrying a platinum card by American Express and cruising in a European luxury automobile.

What a blessing. Instead, I found my way to the professoriate, where I could abandon concerns about the little things. I think, and write, about big things. Little things be damned. I love being a professor. I can read as many books as I can fit into the day. Tender humans come into my life every year, and over the next four years, I watch them try on their adult selves. Then I get to celebrate the unveiling of the first model of the grown-up they will become. As I greet the parents and tell them what I know about their offspring, I am grateful for my small role in the production of said young adult. Grand stuff.

What I do not have to do as a regular faculty member is order office equipment, review budgets, schedule courses, sign student forms or shoulder any of the other duties that make academic life work. The chair and departmental administrators take care of all of that for me. Yay!

But when you become department chair, you have to shoulder those kinds of duties and more. You have to sign numerous documents — graduation audits, major declaration forms, purchase invoices. Working out class schedules is not difficult, but it is tedious. Minutes, hours and days go by as you run as fast as you can on the paperwork treadmill. Make no mistake — taking care of those duties matters.

Here is the fundamental challenge for a department chair: you cannot trust any process to go smoothly for you. Yes, you sent in the course schedule with all of the preferred times for your faculty members. It comes back to you with many errors. You return a corrected schedule, and when it comes back again, you don’t check it because you are confident that everything is golden. After all, you cannot insult the scheduling czar by sending back the same corrections as before.

But as registration begins, your faculty members soon learn that their course schedules are not as ordered. Yikes! Caterwauling ensues. You wonder whether irate colleagues are going to jump you in the parking lot. You stammer through excuses and keep saying, “I’ll fix it,” as your colleagues complain, “Why is scheduling so hard for you?” and “I told you about my weekly Pilates class weeks ago.” Ouch! I suggest that you examine iterations of the teaching schedule carefully. And ask a colleague and the administrative staff to proofread for you. Share the blame!

And now we come to Professor Plainspoken’s second maxim for chairing an academic department: teaching schedules you must handle with extreme care. Check, double-check and triple-check. And always beware. Mistakes in scheduling are Satan’s tools — for ensuring that you always look like a fool.

Also, when managing teaching schedules and room assignments, never trust that a single communiqué will do. Communicate with the registrar’s office verbally after you send each draft of the course plan. Using two forms of communication should help to guarantee that the correct information is received and understood. The curse of small things is that tiny things, when they go wrong, are one big thing. Unfortunately, the big thing then becomes a key indicator of your competence to your department colleagues. It is understandable, since it is usually the small things that make a difference in the way you spend your days. One or two small stumbles are forgotten — more than a few, especially when you are a nontraditional chair (e.g., a woman of color), seems especially egregious. In time, the curse of small things lifts as you determine the most efficient and foolproof way of getting things done.

We may blame the curse for most of our stresses. Someone once said, “The best way to reduce stress is to stop screwing up.” I think I repeated that one to myself every day. Screw-ups are inevitable. The key is finding ways to avoid beating yourself up about them.

Would-be department chairs need what I often lacked in my position as chair: perspective. Did anyone ever end up teaching a horrible schedule because of a mistake I made? No. But they almost endured an awful schedule. The almost was enough for me to keep a running tally on my bureaucratic near misses. I was treating myself like an air-traffic controller. A near miss was cause for concern about my fitness for the job. I wanted to execute every duty with precision and perfection. Ha! My dentist, who would spend hours reshaping a tooth after a filling, told me a patient said to him after being in his chair for hours, “Perfectionism is the enemy of good enough” (his modification of the saying “The perfect is the enemy of the good”).

Perfectionism. It’s the hobgoblin of marginalized people. It is also the result of parents, who — in their effort to inspire you to do your best — dwelled on your mistakes far more than your successes. I am impatient with myself when learning anything new. I want to get it right right now!

When you add to the mix of perfectionism and impatience the competitiveness of academe, it is a nasty brew. Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that being kind and patient with myself was self-indulgent. I am unlearning this now. Should you become chair, you cannot afford not to be kind and patient with yourself.

And now, the last of the maxims for today from Professor Plainspoken: to yourself you must be kind and nurture a healthy state of mind. The curse of small things you can prevent, and your days as chair you will never lament.