Skills in academia

Some references and thoughts on topics I have given workshops on: procrastination, the impostor syndrome, the growth mindset, abstract writing, and presenting. As a bonus, you can find my list of essential fieldwork packing.

How to (not) Procrastinate

More people than you think display procrastination behaviour, i.e. putting off a task that we know needs to be done, even if delaying it will likely make it worse. If this is bothering you, there is a wealth of blogs to be found on the subject, but you could also have a look at one of the following books – I especially recommend Tim Pychyl’s little guide:

  • Burka, J.B., Yuen, L.M. 1983. Procrastination: why you do it and what to do about it now. Perseus Books, Reading, Massachusetts. → second edition 2008!
  • Ferrari, J. R. 2010. Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
  • Pychyl, T. A. 2013. Solving the procrastination puzzle. Tarcher.
  • Sapadin, L. with J. Maguire. It’s about time. 1996. The six styles of procrastination and how to overcome them. Penguin Books. → new 2020 edition for college students!

Tim Pychyl’s procrastination lab also produces podcasts on this topic, which explain the science behind procrastination. Another insightful overview is on the website Solving procrastination. There is also this funny and insightful explanation, and just for fun, this field guide to types of procrastinators.

The opposite, precrastination, can also hinder you. It is “the tendency to tackle subgoals at the earliest opportunity — even at the expense of extra effort”. This NYT article on ‘the early bird‘ explains how.

The impostor phenomenon

If you’re feeling like a fraud, find that you don’t belong in the academic world, or think you’re not good enough and going to be found out, you might identify with what is described as the ‘impostor phenomenon’. Academics struggle with this more often than the average population, because most of the time, our task is to look at what we do not know yet! It’s equally common for men and women in academia. There are tons of information and help to be found about this on the internet, but my best advice would be: read the book ‘The secret thoughts of successful women’ by Valerie Young. Just buy it and read it.

Otherwise, these were the posts I found clearest and most helpful:
Geek Feminism
How graduate students can fight the impostor syndrome (Inside Higher Ed)
Unmasking the impostor (

Further reflection, and how women of colour might experience the inverse can be found in this insightful article in the New Yorker: Why everyone feels like they’re faking it.

And some fun charts, just to laugh about your own thoughts!

Growth mindset

Dr. Carol Dweck described a difference between a mindset in which intelligence or personality is something that can grow, as opposed to believing there is a fixed set of talents or traits. The growth mindset is generally more helpful, especially in the challenging and creative environment of academia. Here is a little video explaining the mindsets. HoneyKICK Growth Mindset Poster - 12 x 16 Educational Poster  for Classroom Decoration, Bulletin Boards - Inspire & Motivate Young  Students: Home & Kitchen
HoneyKICK poster, via

Abstract writing

It is important to get your thoughts on paper in a clear, convincing and concise way, in order to interest readers and get accepted into conferences. Here are some top tips for how to do it:
Johan Rooryck & Vincent van Heuven’s tips for abstract writing
LSA model abstracts
Maggie Tallerman’s advice


The first step of giving an excellent presentation is asking yourself why you give that presentation. What is your goal? Do you want to get feedback on your ideas? Then give a ‘questions’ talk and invite the audience to help. Do you want to persuade people? Then give an ‘answers’ talk and potentially trigger the audience to challenge you. Or perhaps you want to mainly present yourself, for example in a job talk.

A second step asks the question ‘to beam or not to beam?’ – what visual aid best supports your story? A handout? Slides? (Or perhaps nothing at all? I’ve seen Paul Newman tell a crystal clear and fascinating research story with just him standing there!).

And for all the rest, you can find top tips here.


I’ve put together a list of stuff I bring on fieldwork, ranging from ‘official stuff’ to ‘resilience stuff’ to ‘handy stuff’. Here it is.