Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article by Howard Becker is much more than a guide to writing; it is a guide to becoming a prolific (and thus successful) academic. Whereas many books on writing focus on style and grammar, Becker takes a broader view, covering everything from the writing process (“writing is a form of thinking”) to common pitfalls (the “One Right Way”) to writing’s place in research (think “working draft”). Becker illustrates his ideas with examples from his career as a professor of sociology, and his sociological perspective is refreshing, even liberating. If you’re an academic looking for ways to put off writing that next paper, I highly recommend this book.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is a must-read for anyone charged with communicating ideas or influencing others. Chip Heath, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford, and Dan Heath, co-founder of Thinkwell, distill the secrets of effective communication into six principles: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories. To illustrate their framework, they employ numerous anecdotes and case studies. Well-written and fun to read, it’s no surprise this book is a New York Times bestseller.
Proust was a Neuroscientist explores the sometimes curious relationship between art and science. In each chapter, author Jonah Lehrer reveals how a particular artist—Walt Whitman, George Eliot, Auguste Escoffier, Marcel Proust, Paul Cézanne, Igor Stravinsky, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf—anticipated later discoveries by neuroscientists. Simultaneously, Lehrer considers how the artists themselves were influenced by scientific thinking at the time. Even if science isn’t your cup of tea, Lehrer’s insights into the artists’ goals, thought processes, and influences should prove fascinating.
“Welcome to your first year of teaching.” So begins The Joy of Teaching: A Practical Guide for New College Instructors by Peter Filene. Easy-to-read, concise, and not overly pedantic, The Joy of Teaching is a great introduction to college teaching for first-year teachers. Filene surveys the fundamentals—everything from constructing a syllabus to “teaching and not perishing”—without drowning the reader in details. He also explores topics that have only recently gained prominence in the educational literature, making the book a worthwhile read even for experienced teachers. Finally, endnotes and an annotated bibliography provide direction for additional reading and research.
What They Didn’t Teach You in Graduate School is a practical guide to life as an academic. The authors, Professor Emeritus Paul Gray and Professor David Drew, enumerate the keys to success in a semi-categorized list of memorable (and often humorous) “hints”. Topics include the dissertation, getting hired, conducting research, publishing, and tenure, to name a few. Doctoral students would do well to read this book and refer to it often as they progress through their programs and enter the professoriate.
I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter is a curious book. It’s written in a conversational style, but it is by no means an easy read. The author draws on ideas from mathematics, physics, computer science, and philosophy to explain his thoughts on consciousness. The complexity of the subject matter and the author’s writing style make it difficult going at times, but if you have an open mind, are fascinated by questions of human intelligence, and enjoy an intellectual challenge, I think you’ll find it worth the effort.
Ekman leverages his research on facial expressions to explore human emotion in Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life. At the most basic level, the book serves as a guide to perceiving and understanding emotions in oneself and others. More thought-provoking, though, are Ekman’s insights into emotion as a driver of behavior and his conjectures as to the evolutionary bases for emotion. For the motivated reader, references to academic research are provided.
Based on his research on scholarly writing and his experience counseling authors, Dr. Boice devised a four-stage approach to writing consistently and productively: (1) establish momentum, (2) develop external controls, (3) foster intrinsic motivation, and (4) leverage sociality. In his book, Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing, Boice introduces techniques for mastering each of these stages and offers insightful advice to keep the words flowing. Whether you’re currently experiencing a block or are simply looking for preventive measures, this book is a worthwhile read.