The Disciplined Pursuit of Less: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Lately, I’ve had many conversations with people around campus about how overworked and overwhelmed everyone is right now. Perhaps is it simply that point of the semester. However, I suspect that something more is going on related to the demands that we all have for our time and energy. I recently read a fantastic book related to the pressures on us that has me rethinking my own priorities and goals. Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less challenges our paradigms and encourages a reassessment of what we work on each day. Like many people, I try to be as efficient as possible to squeeze more out of the time I have to get work done. McKeown argues for doing less but better. As he writes, “Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making executive of those things almost effortless.”

The picture above from his book blew me away. It was like I was looking in a mirror.

Hey UNC Banner-Chasers and Accreditation-Revokers, Sit Down and Shut Up

I fully intended for my post last week to be my only one on the UNC academic scandal.  However, the reactions by the sports media and some within higher education force me to address the issue once again.  The national sports media rushed to call on the university and the NCAA to rip down the championship banners in the Dean Dome.  Pat Forde’s article called on the university to bring down the banners while the Wainstein Report was still warm from the copier.  The calls to punish UNC didn’t stay in the sports section.  Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the well-known trade publication, Macalester College President Brian Rosenberg argued for revoking the university’s accreditation.  For Rosenberg, forget the death penalty for athletics.  Let’s kill the entire university.

Photo credit: Jonathan Stewart

To the Banner-Chasers and the Accreditation-Revokers, I have a plea from all of us who are concerned about the academic fraud:  “Sit down and shut up!”

UNC Scandal was an Academic and Governance Failing

As a proud graduate of the University of North Carolina, I have watched the unfolding “paper class” scandal with a mixture of dismay, anger, and frustration. As a fan, I have watched the scandal frustrated with the media coverage and the oft-acknowledged failings of the NCAA enforcement process. In this way, I suspect I’m no different than many alumni. However, I am a little different in many alums in that I’m a scholar of higher education. Specifically, I study organizational and policy issues of colleges and universities. For this reason, as a researcher, I’ve felt that I have a special obligation when commenting on this scandal. Even with the prior investigations, it never seemed we had the full story and I didn’t want to comment on incomplete facts. With the release of the Wainstein investigation, I finally feel comfortable in the facts of what occurred to comment.

Photo credit: Flickr _zhang

Time for All Colleges to Offer Benefits to Same-Sex Spouses

It is football season so it isn’t surprising for the University of Notre Dame to make headlines.  Yet, the news this time doesn’t come from the gridiron.  The university made headlines for extending benefits to same-sex spouses of employees.  When the most famous religious institution in the country offers same-sex spousal benefits, it is time to take notice.  The tide on same-sex marriage has changed faster than nearly any social debate I can recall.  Moreover, it is time for all colleges to offer benefits to same-sex spouses.

Photo credit: Flickr J R

Create a Great Conference Presentation

Few things are more painful in academic life than sitting through a bad research conference presentation. Typically, you are in a fun place with the opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues that you haven’t seen in several months. Yet, you find yourself in a windowless section of a hotel ballroom listening to a stupefyingly boring presentation. It isn’t hard to present your work in a clear and engaging way. As we enter conference season, I want to provide a few quick tips to create a great research conference presentation.

Photo credit: Flickr Cheryl Colan

There is obviously a great deal of variation in how different disciplines present research at academic conferences. Since my field is education, these tips will be most relevant to others in education as well as probably most social scientists. If you’re in another discipline, my hope is you can take the concepts here and adapt to your specific disciplinary norms.

When preparing your presentation, you want to avoid two things. Having too many slides and too much text on any single slide can ruin your presentation. Focusing on your key points will help you convey your research and keep your audience engaged.

When presenting empirical research, you can use a simple formula to share your work.

1. Introduction (or Context) 1 slide
2. Literature Review and Framework 1 slide
3. Research Questions 1 slide
4. Methodology 1 slide
5. Findings 4-5 slides
6. Implications 1-2 slides

At the most, you shouldn’t have more than one slide per minute you have available to present. Yes, I know many presenters have far more slides than this. But when was the last time you saw a good presentation that stayed within the time limits? The status quo isn’t your friend in this area.

You should also spend the bulk of your presentation time on your findings and implications. Many presenters, especially graduate students, feel the need to spend much of their precious presentation time on reviewing the relevant literature.

Although you want to demonstrate the relevance of your work to others in the field, your audience will be most interested in the findings and implications of your current study. As a result, you should spent approximately 2/3 of your presentation time on these areas.

Another fatal mistake that presenters make is putting too many findings on one slide. This is particularly true for statistical studies that put large tables on a slide that the audience has no hope of reading.

Instead of having to apologize for the font size of your table, fix it before your talk. There are plenty of options to highlight the important points or even pass out copies of your table. It doesn’t help anyone to put a table on the screen that is unreadable.

The same is true for qualitative researchers that put full paragraphs on a slide. If I have to spend 2 minutes reading the slide, I’m not listening to what you’re saying. All you need to provide are short excerpts or key phrases to give the audience a sense of your results.

Academic conferences can be invigorating opportunities to learn about the cutting edge work occurring in your field. Before your next presentation, give your findings the best platform possible. Follow a few of these tips to create a great research conference presentation.