I feel like a lot of 2021 was caught up in me being frustrated seeing a lot of my friends in academia struggle due to academia not having real support structures and vaguely handwaving at promising futures that are vanishing, which everyone quietly (or not so quietly) knows.


I don't know what to do about the futures of career paths stuff in general, but I can say something about support structures: most people at the dissertation/thesis stage really need something like a *project manager*.

In theory advisors play that role, but don't have the time.

Relevant to a project proposal I'm writing right now. Very much noted!

@cjd In general those who have succeeded in academia we know are those who ended up getting such a structure. We didn't have one for @mlemweb's PhD, so had to put one together ourselves.

The "Get Organized" episode of @fossandcrafts details some of our approaches: fossandcrafts.org/episodes/24-

However, undersaid in that episode is that the most important structures are making outlines, deadlines, and accountability.

We've played this role for some friends too because their schools didn't.

@cjd @fossandcrafts I recommend finding someone who ISN'T your spouse to play the role for you, it's not great for your relationship to do it, but it's what we had to do because we didn't have anything else, so I often volunteered for that role.

But it's much healthier to find an entity outside your living relationship.

On a side note, we've joked that maybe if you need such a project manager for your PhD, you could hire @mlemweb to do it, but maybe that's not really a joke!

@cwebber @cjd @fossandcrafts

Yeah, I would actually love to make a career out of being something of a 'project manager' for people struggling to complete their graduate work, but who is going to pay for it? Graduate students generally don't have much disposable income and departments (at least within the humanities) have no budget to pay for existing infrastructure let along adding more support

@cwebber Yes! The only way I got through my masters was by assigning a secondary advisor to be my project manager, then doing most of the project management work myself. If I hadn't recognized it as a distinct role, I would have failed.

@cwebber (I literally told her 'I'm going to send you my project plans, and a weekly writing update, until I finish this; we can meet if you like but I just need someone to be sending this to as I go.')

@cwebber yes! my most successful projects in academia were the ones where i either got to be the project manager (and not the "check in for 30 minutes every 2 weeks" type) or got to play a support role on a well-managed project, kinda helping out with technical stuff when the advisor was busy

unfortunately that's not the kind of work academia wants to see from its phd students. glad to be done with it!

@lm @cwebber

I will say, the best support I've seen for this type of stuff in my (admittedly anecdotal) experience is through university writing centers or libraries more broadly (for Digital Humanities projects), but even then you end up with non-specialists in your field and it's not always consistently the same person so the accountability just isn't there.

@lm @cwebber

Ok, after a conversation with @cwebber , the other place I've seen this type of support is from campus offices that provide accommodations for students with disabilities, which can be great. However, when you get to the thesis/dissertation stage, it isn't *just* students with learning disabilities that need support.

@mlemweb @cwebber i see it sometimes in large research labs where someone's cultivated a good culture, with multiple PIs and a lab tech or two. but this seems like a rarity, at least at my university

@cwebber Oooh! You succinctly explained what I did to finish my PhD! **I was my own project manager.** I sent out regular status report emails (accountability). One of my committee said he had a better idea my progress toward graduation than any students in his lab. Annually I would ask my committee for feedback on my evolving plan outline. I made the plan with major steps to completion, and I kept myself on track (despite a full-time job for the last 5 years: slowed me down, did not stop me).

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