Learn from the experts

Routines

Dr. Todd Campbell

Dr. Campbells’ research focuses on cultivating imaginative and equitable representations of STEM activity. This is accomplished in formal science learning environments through partnering with pre-service and in-service science teachers and leaders to collaboratively focus on supporting student use of modeling as an anchoring epistemic practice to reason about events that happen in the natural world. This work extends into informal learning environments through a focus on iterative design of informal learning spaces and equity focused STEM identity research.

Describe your writing process/routine.

I like to start early writing an intro, even if I recognize that it will likely change extensively as I continue to write other sections. This helps me build a case for the importance of the work for myself and connect the work to other important work I’ve read of done. If I am writing with others, this also sets us up early to negotiate the framing of our work. I usually continue linearly through each section of the paper, so I feel like I really have a strong sense of the literature and theoretical framing I plan to use. I tell myself that I want to get so invested in the paper that there is no turning back!

When did you develop your writing routine?

Over time as I learned more about what works for me as a writer (sometimes painfully through trial and error).

What time of day do you find you write best?

Morning (5-6am – 12pm)

How did you improve your academic writing skills?

Read, review, read, read, and feedback from reviewers. I think the best resources for me is reading, reviewing, and reviewer feedback. I try to commit to reading as much as I can in the journals, I aspire to publish in. I take note of how authors present problems, how they provide things like ‘sign posts’ for readers at the beginning of sections for orientation, how they describe their methods, and especially how they present findings and link their discussion back to other literature. 

I also think reviewing has helped me tremendously too as it makes me think about the structure of authors’ work. If it feels like something is wrong with a paper I am reviewing or there is a problem, I have to figure out what it is and work to make a suggestion for helping them. Often, I find that the advice I give to others is something I remember to attend to in my own writing or some clarity I have come to about writing that I apply later. 

Finally, I am sure I have learned as much from journal reviewers about improving my writing as I did in any formal instruction I even had about research. I am so appreciative of the generous feedback I have received, even when it pushes back on something beautiful, I thought I wrote!

How do you make time for writing with all the other commitments you have?

I block out time in my workday between 8-5. I did not do this early and spent too many evenings up late past midnight working on scholarship. I failed to create boundaries that I now recognize are needed (e.g., avoid weekend work as possible, don’t set my students up to think this is required, and NO meetings on the weekend). I realized that every time I committed to something in the workday that pushed my research out of my schedule, I was doing it at the expense of my life outside of work/academia (i.e., my beautiful wife and family). By blocking out time in my schedule, I realize quickly when I cannot take on another project and am more likely to say ‘no’ when I should. I wish I had been wise enough to do this earlier in my career.

What are your strategies for staying productive and for maintaining momentum with your writing?  (get specific and concrete)

Do what matters and you are interested, care about! When I begin to imbed myself in problems that matter to me and others (e.g., society), the work I am doing is ‘inside my head’ and I am excited to move the work forward. I also appreciate having multiple projects going at the same time as I find that this helps me see the rewards of the work, when I might be at the beginning of another project that I know might take a year or more to see published.

What is the best writing advice you’ve gotten?

Writing is hard but rewarding. I remember Dr. James Van Allen (Amazing University of Iowa Physicist – The Van Allen belts) told students and my mentors at Iowa that he found writing to be an exercise in self torture. I can relate to this on some level but perhaps for me this is what is so rewarding about writing. You get to wrestle with yourself to say what you want to say and refine it until it gets there. So, the advice might be, get something on paper to start the internal wrestling match and know that through the process you’ll refine what you want to say and the ways you want to say it.

What writing tools do you suggest? And this could be apps, notebooks, pens, whatever tools you think are helpful to get someone to start their routine or their research agenda or just start writing?

Not sure how much I have to offer here, other than I do appreciate online asynchronous/concurrent writing with colleagues using Google Docs.

Also, I pay attention to particular writers I have come to admire and read everything they write (to the extent possible). I can’t say I spend a lot of time buying books about writing. I do buy books about new methods I am trying to learn about (e.g., Design-Based Implementation Research). I also learn quite a bit by writing with colleagues. I appreciate seeing how other people go about their work and writing. One example is work I have done with Ian Hardy, an Australian policy researcher. I love his approach to laying out his work as he goes and his writing.

What are some specific rules for writing within your discipline that someone may not be aware of?

No sure here is much here outside of practices and rules that might be interdisciplinary. Perhaps it might be that each discipline does have specific nuances to practice that are picked up through deeply immersing yourself in constant reading. It is apparent sometimes when scholars outside of our field submit materials to the journal I co-edit as it sometimes feels disconnected both in writing style and lack of connection to ideas that have been leveraged by the community to work at knowing together. This is not necessarily in a negative thing as we seek to be more expansive in thinking about research and ways of knowing and being, but it makes it more challenging for authors to have their work recognized and legitimized when/if materials are sent out for review.

Who are some writers you particularly admire, and what about their writing seems most admirable to you?

Mark Windschitl – University of Washington; Eve Manz – Boston University; Heidi Carlone – Vanderbilt University; April Luehmann – University of Rochester; Phil Bell – University of Washington; Bill Penuel – University of Colorado Boulder; Okhee Lee – New York University; Megan Bang – Northwestern University; Daniel Morales-Doyle – University of Illinois Chicago

I find all of these authors writing to be meticulous, clear, and powerful in similar and different ways that challenge my thinking and help me realize that ‘another possible is possible’.

What advice would you give fellow writers?

Read, read, read. Read journals you want to publish in and think about how your work can connect to the work in those publications you are reading. Read books to help ensure you are always educating yourself and even if you aren’t taking notes, you are building ideas that’ll come back to you when needed.

Check Dr. Campbells’s scholarship including Campbell, T., Schwarz, C., & Windschitl, M. (2016, March). What we call misconceptions may be necessary stepping-stones on a path towards making sense of the world. NSTA Journals: The Science Teacher, 83(3), 69-74; Science Scope 39(7), 19-24; Science & Children, 53(7), 28-33. (published concurrently in all three journals [elementary, middle, and high school] as part of NSTA’s NGSS series).

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