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Embracing the Cult of Done

3 Feb

The Cult of Done Manifesto: I have this hanging above my desk now.I have a new motto for my tenure track journey:


Just get it freakin’ DONE.

I’m just at a point in my academic career where I feel a strong sense of urgency. I completed my dissertation 3+ years ago. I spent 2 years in a visiting position, and I’ve been in my current tenure track job 1.5 years– long enough to learn the ropes and feel settled. Long enough to have a system for prepping and teaching, and long enough to have some committee commitments that (shouldn’t) take too much of my time.

So I could keep working through (hitting my head against) details like perfectionism, when to write, where to write, feeling confident enough to write, what counts as finished, etc. etc. OR I could just write. For the sake of getting the crap in progress finished already. I don’t know what clicked for me in the past month, but I’m at the point of just wanting to get stuff done.

“Whatever you mean to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” — Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

Here’s the thing: I love my job. I feel incredibly fortunate to not just have landed a tenure track job in the market, but to have wound up at a public institution where my commitment to social justice is needed and welcomed. I feel supported. I have room to develop my own research plans and to grow as a teacher and scholar.

This is all fantastic (I truly feel like I landed my dream job) BUT my career is also my own. Yes, there are things I want to do at this university in terms of teaching and service, and it excites me to get to work toward these plans. But, my own career as a scholar has to stand on it’s own. I have my own plans for what I want to spend my career researching and learning. Acting on those plans is not just key for getting tenure, but makes me happy and makes me feel whole as a scholar.

One wonderful part of finally having a tenure track job is having to plan future research projects. For example, we have to apply for teaching release time a year ahead of when we’ll get it. When I sat down to work on my research proposal (admittedly at the last minute), I was still thinking very much like a graduate student. What would my dissertation committee advise me to do? What did little graduate student me, way back then, think might be the next direction for my research after the dissertation? I forced myself to write something up. It was just eh.

Then I realized that I didn’t really want to do that! Not only that– I actually didn’t HAVE TO do it! No one was holding me to any research plans I might have written about in job applications! My dissertation committee (a brilliant bunch whose advice I value tremendously) wasn’t evaluating me any more! My colleagues and dean would be happy with whatever research I was productively doing. In fact, I could do any research I wanted! I have a PhD! I’m the one in the driver’s seat!

So, I scrapped what I wrote and cranked out a proposal for the research project I want to do next. And I was excited about my research and scholarship for the first time in a long time. That’s motivating for me. And it’s propelled me into this semester with a new sense of purpose.

Now going forward with new research means finishing up publishing the old project. So, thus the Cult of Done.

It doesn’t matter when or where I write. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect. It only matters that I sit down and do it a little bit every day, and that I get it done.

“The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done!”


Happy 2014: Woman Working Edition

31 Dec

It’s hard to believe 2013 is nearly over. It’s been a busy year and it’s gone by incredibly fast. For once I didn’t make any major moves and didn’t start a new job. Instead this was my first full year spent settling into my tenure track job. I have some more detailed posts planned about my academic goals and scheduling/juggling techniques, but for now I’ll just take a bit of stock of the last year, and where I’d like to go in 2014.

2013 in Review:

  • After the dust settled from my first semester at my new school, I realized how much I really, truly love my job. I love the school where I work. I love my colleagues. I love that I have the room and support to take charge of my research and decide what I want to do next. Something like only 13% of people like going to work— I’m among those lucky 13%. I get to teach what I want and research what I want. What more could I ask for?
  • I’ve become much more comfortable in the classroom. I’m better with the students who try to pull one over on me– I have a better radar for them. And I am better at recognizing the students who are truly working hard and encouraging their growth. I remember that first class I taught by myself at the school where I had my VAP (I didn’t come out of grad school with much teaching experience) and I can’t believe how fresh-faced and visibly nervous I must have been! How far I’ve come since then!
  • I’m honing in more and more on my own teaching style. I do more assignments and activities that empower students to learn on their own. I do less lecturing. I’m honest in the classroom about what they need to learn, and why, and what standpoint I come from. I listen to my students more and try to incorporate what they know into the classroom. After spending some time getting to know my students (first generation, poor, mostly non-white students), I know that they know a heck of a lot more in a practical sense about what I’m teaching (racism, inequality, poverty) and I work to draw out that knowledge. I’m a work in progress, but I feel that I am making some headway.
  • I’ve become more liberal, more progressive, more radical (if that was even possible), and more passionate about addressing injustice. As a result, I’ve become less tolerant of beliefs that people hold out of ignorance that actually cause harm to others. Someone wants to vote conservative? Sure, go for it, but I won’t respect the fact that they’re voting for candidates who support policies that perpetuate inequality and  that literally cost people their lives. Yes, I am still committed to a dialogue and believe that people can change, but I’m no longer tolerating crap like “love the sinner, hate the sin” or “people should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

cc8c9b8952a333a65c6b062fdc19f8e72014 Goals:

  • Since I love my work so much, this coming year I want to focus on accomplishing even more. I want to throw myself into my career. How much of a luxury is that? I’ll go into more specifics in other posts, but I want to start working on a book, and launch an exciting new research project. In short, I want to focus on doing what I need to do for tenure, AND what I want to do as a scholar. I want to work towards what I want my career to look like.
  • To do this, I want to put new habits in place to better help me reach my goals. No more triaging during the semester– constantly running behind and trying to figure out which ignored emails and tasks need to be addressed during whatever short amount of time I have on hand.
  • I want to assign fewer written assignments, make them more focused on specific learning goals, and due much earlier in the semester. I want to spend less time grading, especially at the end of the semester, and make the grading I do worth more in terms of improving students’ work.
  • Continue my goal of “less is more” in the classroom. I want to make sure I assign only what is important to read, and avoid information overload in class. Specific, learning-focused tasks, communicated well with students, go a longer way for learning than assigning tons of reading and cramming a lot into a class.
  • Read more fiction. I don’t think I’ve regular read fiction since grad school and this makes me sad. My brain misses it. I have stacks of books to read next to my bed, but I fall asleep as soon as I get into it at night. I need to make fiction reading a priority.

I am Patti Adler

16 Dec

This past week, a tenured professor at University of Colorado-Boulder, Patti Adler, was forced into early retirement after complaints about a teaching technique she has used for some 20 years in her popular Sociology of Deviance class. When the initial student newspaper article came out with few details, I was hoping that the story was blown way out of proportion, or maybe even a terrible misunderstanding. But, a student group on Facebook, a petition, and now a more detailed article and interview with Patti Adler, makes it sound like this is actually happened. So, based on what we know right now, a tenured professor was actually forced into retirement for a creative, engaging classroom activity.

428f7d29ebd2a6a209c14a180b53d14fFor some reason this really hits me in the gut. I was even up during the night with Adler’s classroom activity gnawing at me. Her activity illustrated the different levels of status among people in a stigmatized group (prostitutes). I’ve had some interesting conversations online with others about this. Some feel strongly that her activity on prostitution further stigmatizes an already stigmatized group. Some believe that there are two issues– (1) the classroom activity on prostitution (2) how the university handled the complaints over this activity– and that we need to have a feminist conversation about both. I do agree we should have ongoing pedagogical conversations about privilege and marginalization in the classroom. As a white middle class woman, I am always thinking about how I teach material in a way that is real and engaging, and also respects students’ experiences, privileges, and disprivileges. I’m not perfect at this. I’m still a work in progress.

The truth is that Adler’s prostitution activity sounds like something I’d come up with to engage my students. I could see myself thinking of it in the shower (where I get all my good ideas) and running with it in the classroom. I am always thinking of ways to help students exercise their sociological imaginations– getting them to step into the shoes of others and to see from different standpoints. So when is it ok to ask students (in her case, TAs, but students are just as  vulnerable to professor-student power relationships) to take on marginalized positions in order to teach them to expand their perspectives? These kinds of activities are so central to my teaching, and they’re the ones that students respond the best to and learn the most from.

I am Patti Adler.*

Here’s why:

  • I’ve had my students role play families in different marginalized positions, with different economic and institutional resources, and think through how they would navigate personal disasters like unemployment, illness etc.
  • My students have role played high school kids (actually drawing on Patti’s work on peer pressure) acting out ingroup and outgroup dynamics in the most illustrative ways they can think of together. In this activity I’ve had students decided to call another student a “wetback,” another a “slut,” or another student “white trash.”
  • My students have had to craft social movement framing and tactical strategies, assigning them a “side” they may not agree with on issues like: Marriage equality, access to abortion, affirmative action, immigration (undocumented immigration), feminism etc.
  • My students have conducted multi-class period studies of the language and images used by “pro-life” activists and pro-choice activists. Often these are disturbing and offensive.
  • I’ve had my students make campaign slogans and posters drawing on the collective identity of motherhood against the war on terrorism, and in support of the war on terrorism.
  • My students bring to class examples of songs that describe living in poor urban neighborhoods. We watch the (quite racey and filled with terrible language) videos together and they analyze what words like “the ghetto” mean from various perspectives.
  • My students have discussed institutional control of bodies by debating the issue of airlines charging more for passengers who weigh more.
  • I break my students up into groups of “proletariats” and “capitalists” to form strategies about how to either improve their position or maintain their position.
  • I’ve shown current rap and hip hop videos in class (again, suggested by students as I have no idea what’s popular) to facilitate discussion of how women are depicted as sexualized objects in pop culture. Some of these make even me uncomfortable!
  • I use countless clips of The Daily Show– filled with stereotypes, humor, and a strong dose of liberal propaganda.
  • I constantly use South Park– a show that makes no qualms about offending everyone– to talk about various social issues. My students have collectively laughed over the one Black kid named “Token.” They’ve laughed at, and deconstructed, Cartman’s stereotypes of Kenny’s poverty.
  • Speaking of Cartman, I regularly show my students the episode where he starts a social movement against Gingers and have them analyze Cartman as an enigmatic movement leader.
  • Heck, my students have even role played the Sandinista government, figuring out a media plan using the powerful identity of the spartan mother to sell the draft to weary Nicaraguans.

I am Patti Adler. I am a teacher who constantly tries to think of innovative ways to engage my students. There is no way I could teach without having students role play various disprivileged identities. I use these activities in the context of lessons that are focused on social justice, and include discussions of privilege and marginalization. I hope they make the connections I want them to make– the connections our classroom discussions hopefully lead them to make. But there is always the possibility someone will be offended. Someone could be offended by something any single day in any one of my classes. I mean, how many times have I lectured white guys about structural racism (although of course I’m able to do this from the privileged position of a white woman– which I address in class)? My goal is not to avoid potentially offending issues, but to engage them head on, and have the class figure out how we can understand them as sociologists. If my students are uncomfortable then I’m doing something right. That’s how I teach, and that’s why an attack on Patti Adler is an attack on me.

* Actually, I’m much more vulnerable as Patti Adler. I’m an Assistant Professor, and not even remotely as well published or as well known as she is.

2 Weeks In: Reviewing & Adjusting My Schedule

20 Sep

We’re now 2 full weeks into the semester, so it seems like a good time to sit down and take stock of where I’m at with following the schedule I outlined a few weeks back.

What’s worked:

  • Having a schedule. Seriously, just mapping out when I’m going to do what (not just appointments and classes) has helped me feel so much more organized and productive. I hung it up in my office and it keeps me more focused during the week.
  • Coming into school an extra day: My new schedule includes coming into school a 4th day (we’re really only required to be on campus 3 days a week). Not only do I have to come in sometimes anyway for meetings, but thinking of Thursday as a full day of work helps keep me productive. If I stayed home, I might be somewhat productive, but I’d be distracted by stuff I needed to do at home.
  • Scheduled writing time: This has been eaten into the last couple weeks (see why below), but knowing that I have set times where I have to write really helps.
  • Scheduled research/reading time: Knowing that I have Fridays to catch up on some errands, and also focus on reading and research has also been great. I plan to do specific tasks those days, and then don’t feel badly about not doing them other days.

What hasn’t worked: 

  • Events: The beginning of the school year always means extra meetings and events (Meet the New Provost! All College Meeting! etc.). These cut into my writing and prep time during the first two weeks. Hopefully there won’t be many of those coming up.
  • Committee Meetings: Yeah, I knew I’d be on committees this year (we’re only exempt from service our first year), but jeez, I wholly underestimated the amount of work involved. I shouldn’t have– I’ve done administrative work before, but I guess I blocked it out. Not only do I have committee meetings, there is work that goes along with those committees (especially since I’m the chair of one). And because I’m still new, there is time spent finding out from other people what I should being doing as chair on said committees, and learning how everything works. In short: I need to schedule in 2 hours a week for committee work and other admin-related paperwork.
  • Club Advisement: As the Soc Club Advisor, I actually have to go to their weekly meetings! So, I’ll add that to the schedule.
  • Running: I’m happy that despite a head cold, and the spell of 90 degree weather, I’ve gotten out for 3 really good runs over this 2 week period. But, the Monday/Wednesday/Friday running schedule isn’t going to work. Mondays is fine. I teach two classes and generally have enough energy when I get home for a run. Wednesdays is impossible. I teach late on Tuesday night, and then teach early Wednesday morning. That’s not an ideal schedule for me anyway because (a) teaching is exhausting, and (b) I’m just not a morning person, but it is what it is. So I’m tired enough to only relax Wednesday night. Running will have to be moved to Thursday. And then another run Saturday, which works out just fine. Regular running = a happy Jan in the Pan!

So, here’s a new schedule for the rest of the semester (Department meetings and Curriculum Committee meetings aren’t actually weekly, thank the goddess, but they’re on here as a good example of interrupted time). All in all, I like the idea of planning things out. I used to be resistant to how rigid this seems, but I think I see now that this is necessary in order to get done all the many different things I have to get done every day. No more multitasking (which we know is a myth, anyway), instead I’m trying to work on one task at a time, in it’s allotted time slot.


How to Find the Perfect Academic Job (not just any TT job will do)

20 Aug

jobmarket_catAt the Annual Meetings last week, I found myself in an unexpected position. Graduate students going on the job market, wanted to meet with me to ask me for job market advice! Me? Advice? [looks around to see if someone older and wiser is standing nearby- nope] Crazy! It’s a new Assistant Professor role I didn’t anticipate (we only have applied graduate students in our department). Then I realized that the job market was such a long ordeal for me, that I am more than happy to give advice that makes it even remotely easier for someone else.

So for what it’s worth, here’s what I found myself telling people last week:

[Caveat: This post assumes that you are not in the position for an R1 job. If you are, more power to you, but the vast majority of us do not end up at an R1, and shockingly, many of us don’t want to end up at an R1. I was in a graduate program that only prepared me for an R1, unfortunately, and does a real disservice to many of it’s graduate students as a result. Thank goodness my advisor believed that a person could be happy at any sort of job that was a good fit for them.]

  • There IS a job out there somewhere for you. This might seem ridiculously idealistic, but I truly believe it to be the case. Very early on in graduate school one of my “academic sisters” (another advisee of my advisor) told me this, and described how it only took one TT interview for her to find what turned out to be the perfect job. It was job at a school and in a state she had never thought of and never would have imagined loving so much. She’s still there, with tenure. Her job market experience is atypical, especially today, when it takes people 3-4 moves and temporary positions to find the perfect TT fit. But, I think the advice still holds– there IS a job out there somewhere for YOU. But you might have to face head-on some myths, see past some bad advice, and apply to places your graduate program might not specifically prepare you for. In short, it has to fit you. It’s your job. No one else’s. Let me explain:
    • This perfect job might be at a place you’ve never even heard of. There are thousands of schools out there. Yes, there are well known R1s and liberal arts schools, but there are also hundreds of small liberal arts schools, small public universities, state schools, regional schools etc. And the people who work there are happy and and have fulfilling careers! So when you apply, keep an open mind, and apply widely. You never know what’s out there. I had not only never heard of my school before, I had to look it up again online when I got the interview request because I didn’t even remember applying for it.
    • Everyone’s perfect job looks different. Like I said, at my graduate school we were made to believe a job at an R1 was the only goal worth having. This is absolutely not the case. I have a  friend who, after much struggle against this expectation, got a job at a community college where she only teaches. She loves it. She realized she didn’t much like the writing and publishing side of academia. And you know what? That’s ok! That’s more than ok, actually, it’s great! Who wants to spend their life doing something they hate? Community colleges can be great places to work. Your perfect job might include more service, less research, and more teaching. Or, it might be equal parts all three. There are expectations (academia is full of hierarchies) that some schools that are more prestigious  are therefore are more desirable places to work than other schools. Again, not the case. I’ll repeat that there are lots of unknown and little known schools out there where people build happy careers.
  • Don’t make uninformed judgments about teaching loads listed in job ads. I remember applying for jobs and seeing 3/3 and 4/4 teaching loads and making lots of assumptions about what mattered at that school (i.e. not research). I applied for 3/3s but not 4/4s. Combine this with the fact I went to an R1 that not only gave me little teaching experience, but didn’t prepare me for a teaching/research job, and I really didn’t know what I was doing. It turns out that the teaching load doesn’t tell you everything. Here’s why:
    • Some schools might list that they’re 4/4 (like mine) but actually have an ongoing practice where faculty engaged in active research only teach 3/3. No one at my school actually teaches 4/4. And some schools automatically give course releases for the first couple years but don’t list that in their job ad.
    • Class size also makes a huge difference. For example, my last semester at the small liberal arts school where I had my VAP, I had 85 students in 2 classes. In one class had 50 students, the other 35. Those were the class caps– 50 for the Intro class, and 35 for topical courses (and we won’t even go into the fact kids were paying $62 grand a year for that). My current state school has a scary sounding 3/3 load (after the research release). But, I’ve only ever had 55 students in those 3 classes. Core courses are limited to 20 students (I have 2 sections of those). And topical courses, while they have a size limit of 35, generally have less than 20 students in them. And small classes make me happy.
    • Course repeats make things so much easier. My 3/3 load includes two sections of one course, so it feels more like a 2/2. Yes, it means double the students and grading, and double time spent in the classroom. But, mentally, it’s easier to teach 2 sections of the same course. It feels like less of a daily prep to just repeat what you did before.
  • Tailor your letter and application as much as you can for the school. I know everyone knows this, but I think it really bears repeating. All those unique schools out there want to know why you’ll be a good fit. They want to know that you bothered to read their website, to learn about their program, their research circles, their core curriculum, their school’s relationship with the community etc. They want someone to be there and contribute to those things, so say so in your letter. Be as specific as possible.
  • If you’ve been in a visiting or contingent position, ensure sure your letter and materials make the transition from graduate student to scholar. I didn’t realize that using the same materials I did as an ABD graduate student while I was a VAP would hurt me on the job market until I took a “Critique Me” workshop at a conference. A bunch of wonderful profs I had never met, from a variety of schools, ripped my materials apart and helped me make sure that I sounded like an established scholar, and not a student. I believe this made a big difference in landing a tenure track job.
  • can you tell this is from pinterest?

    can you tell this is from pinterest?

    Be yourself. If you want to land a job that’s the perfect fit for you, be comfortable being yourself on the job market. Make sure your application materials reflect you, and not what you think you should sound like, or what you think they want you to be like. When you go on the interview, be yourself. Be a professional version of yourself (yes, wear the suit, introduce yourself, smile, ask people about their work etc.), but be yourself. Relax a bit, laugh, be kind to everyone, and talk about your research/teaching/service with enthusiasm. That’s the best way to find a place that’s a good fit. The goal is for them to see you– who you really are– as someone who cares about their job and as someone they want to work with every day. Read all the interview advice you want, prepare your questions, job talk, teaching demo etc. but just take a deep breath and relax into it.

Surviving Academic Conferences without Crying

30 Jul

I had a sudden panic this morning. The BIG conference in our discipline is just a week and a half away! That means I need to not only prepare, but must get myself geared up for the physical and mental exertion that are academic conferences.

thisconferencesucksMy very first academic conference was right after my first year in graduate school. I decided to be uber-professional and take my advisor’s advice about networking very seriously. I also wanted to push myself past my boundaries. Not only was I so new to academia when I started graduate school that I didn’t know what a peer-reviewed journal was, I considered myself someone relatively uncomfortable at meeting new people and making small talk. Not to mention, I felt pretty unsure of myself talking about anything related to my discipline (don’t even get me started about how scared I was to speak in graduate seminars). But, I had to do these things to “network” successfully, right? So just do it was my motto.

Thus, as a very fresh, starry-eyed graduate student, I forced myself to the major professional conference in the summer after my first. And I’ll admit that I was beyond miserable at that first conference. I only knew a few people in my department, and even fewer of the people from my school in attendance. I roomed with older grad students who I barely knew, and were too far out of my own area of interest to introduce me around. Out of the 5,000+ people there, I felt like I knew no one. I wandered around alone for days without any familiar contact. It was pretty terrifying. I’m surprised I ever stayed in academia after that.

But since then I’ve been to dozens of conferences. And with some reservations, I actually look forward to them. Conferences are stressful, but all in all, they serve as a reminder of the excitement and love I have for my discipline. They’re a chance to see a lot of the wonderful friends I’ve made over the years at conference. And now that I’m out of grad school, they’re a chance to see my grad school friends.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about attending conferences without losing my mind.

  • Think small. If you’re at a *huge* conference, try to attend a smaller conference happening at the same time, or connect with a sub-section of the larger organization. A lot of smaller organizations run their meetings concurrently, either in the same hotel or in the same area. They might have their own receptions, workshops, and hospitality suites. It’s a lot easier to get to know a smaller group of people. And if they’re people who are either similar to you, or who study the same thing you do, it will feel much homier.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Most importantly, wear shoes you’ve worn before. The first national conference I went to when I was on the job market, I broke in a new pair of Danskos. I thought Danskos didn’t need breaking in, and this was NOT the case. Oh, the blisters!!
  • Pack a conference survival bag. Include band-aids (see above), granola bars/snacks, advil/tylenol, candy etc. Heck, maybe even bring a good book with you if you think you’ll be sitting around with nothing to do (as I did at my first conference).
  • Don’t be afraid to meet new people. If you’re a student, and you see another student-type sitting by themselves, sit next to them and start to talk. You have one thing in common– the conference. You’ll be surprised who you’ll meet that way. Don’t be afraid of meeting scholars whose work you know, either. If you’re feeling shy, ask a professor or mutual friend to introduce you.
  • Don’t be upset if people you know ignore you. People are crazy-busy at conferences. And academics, as much as I love ’em, can be slightly socially inept sometimes (ha ha ha). So if one of your professors or a further-along graduate student you know blows past you without acknowledging your attempt at a “hello,” don’t take it personally. It’s not you. They’re trying to juggle presentations, meetings, workshops and all sorts of other stuff on bad hotel coffee. Unless they’re really just rude (which I guess might be the case in some situations), just assume they’re busy and try to grab them again when they look less busy.
  • Take advantage of hospitality suites, media centers, wifi spaces etc. to hang out and work during the conference. These are great places to catch your breath and meet new people. And they often have free coffee and snacks.
  • Be really selective about the sessions you attend. I spent a few years of meetings going to sessions because they sounded interesting. I ended up bored to tears most of the time. Honestly, unless your discipline is different, a lot of presenters don’t prepare and do nothing to try to make their talk interesting. To avoid getting stuck in a snooze-fest I do a couple different things:
    • I search the program ahead of time for names of people whose work I know. I make it a point to not only go to their sessions, but to introduce myself afterward if my work is somehow related to theirs. I’ve never met someone this way who didn’t appreciate hearing that a graduate student found their work useful.
    • If I do try a panel that sounds interesting, but I don’t know the presenters, I sit in the back so I can duck out, if I need to. I only duck out between papers, though, not during someone’s presentation.
  • If you’re having a really busy conference (you’re on the job market, or just have too much on your plate): Write out your own detailed schedule ahead of time of where you have to be and when. Printing this out will be much easier than trying to make one on the fly at the conference.
  • If you’re presenting, think about your presentation like teaching. I’ve seen some truly terrible presentations. There is already lots of advice out there on this, and there are some disciplinary differences (I guess in History they read their papers– I can’t imagine the snooze fest that is). I would stress these:
    • In my social science discipline, do not read your paper. Please.
    • Do use visual, selective, and appropriate Powerpoint. Pictures! Graphics! Short videos! Stand out!
    • If you use powerpoint, bring it on a flash drive, email it to yourself, and try it out ahead of time to make sure there are not technical issues.
    • Do not cram 8 million words on your slides. Do not use small fonts. The same goes with tables.
    • Do not spend more than a few slides or 3-4 minutes (in a 15 minute presentation) getting to your data and findings!
    • No surprise endings. Walk your audience through your argument, but tell them where they’re heading up front.
  • Do some  serious “networking!” My partner, who is well-versed in conferences from 10+ years of my attending, calls “networking” the most important part of conferences. Networking was what my advisor was talking about. Yes, it happens at sessions, in the halls, and at receptions. But you know where it really happens? Over drinks. In bars, out, late after the conference ends. “Networking” = drinking. Have a drink.  Bond with people. Make friends.
    • Warning: Don’t get drunk. This isn’t a night at your apartment playing Apples to Apples with your best friends. And when you’re drinking, don’t bitch about anyone. Everyone in academia knows everyone. Seriously. And you never know who is at the next table. Don’t bitch about someone using their name, and don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in a mixed-department function anyway. Just be smart about it.
  • Do something local. After going to great new cities where I never left the hotel, I try to always do one thing that’s local. It’s a shame not to try a local restaurant, explore an interesting neighborhood or go to a museum. Duck out of the conference for an afternoon to do this, if you have to. Or, if I have time, I’ll stay an extra day and sometimes even rent a car to explore the area with friends. As a result, I’ve been to plantations, museums, swamps, canyons, ghost towns, markets, and landmarks I might have never gone to otherwise. It’s definitely worth it!

Moving Advice for Wayward Academics

23 Jun

34756452I realized today that I have a bunch of awesome friends making big moves this summer. Not just big moves, but big moves to coveted Tenure Track jobs! Yay! And I realized in the course of offering lots of moving advice on Facebook, that I have quite a bit of experience under my belt moving-wise. In the past 3 years, we’ve made 2 pretty big, life-changing moves for jobs. The first was to a VAP position across the country, the summer after I defended my PhD. I defended earlier in the summer, but made some massive edits that summer in the midst of packing and moving. Then, last summer I made another sizable, although not quite as far move, for the job I have now. Does this make me an expert? Nope. But I have some good tips to pass along. Some of these are good for any move, some of these are good for academics more specifically.

1. Start a couple months before you move going through stuff and weeding out. Go through junk drawers and closets, books and clothes. Sell what you think is valuable enough on Craigslist (but follow these safety tips). We sold some collector-specific stuff, extra dvd player, unworn running shoes (i.e. speciality items) and got good money that way. Yardsales are a lot of work for just a little bit of money, but we were able to do it with our entire apartment complex, so it wasn’t a waste of time. We donated everything that didn’t sell immediately. Money we made from selling stuff went into an envelope as “moving funds.”

2. Carefully weed out academic books and articles/notes/paperwork. Academic books for a one-time project can be sold on Amazon (if you have time), to grad students studying for exams, or just given away (most departments have a “free book” spot). Do you need all those physical journals? My guess is that you don’t. Add those to the free table, or give them to a library.

Papers and articles are another issue. I had an entire 4-drawer filing cabinet brimming with journal articles, class notes, teaching materials etc. The first time I moved, I got rid of about half of it. After this last move, I got rid of the cabinet itself. Part of this is my goal of becoming paperless. You can’t search paper with the click of a mouse, but you can search electronic files. Here’s how I did it:

  • I only saved journal articles that were critical to my research or important to me, and had important notes on them. Everything else you need you can find online as you need it.
  • I made a binder of notes from graduate classes and prelims, and kept only what would be useful and what would fit in that binder. I could scan that now into Evernote and those notes would be more useful, actually.
  • I got rid of almost all the drafts of everything I had worked on. Why save those? I have them electronically, and since I got into the habit of adding my advisor’s notes directly into a Word document, I don’t need those anymore, either.
  • I also got rid of student papers, assignments, duplicate class activities etc. Any class worksheet or activity that I didn’t have electronically, I scanned with my iPhone and filed it as a pdf.
  • Now I have files in my work office for articles I teach with regularly, assignments etc. But I also try to keep those down to a minimum. Paper is my enemy!

3. Find out if your new job will let you ship your books to your new office. I didn’t get any moving money this past move (state job), but the dean did offer to pay to ship my books. I didn’t take them up on the offer because I thought the whole process of shipping would be a pain. But you know what’s more of a pain? Moving 30+ boxes of books on and off a truck, and then into and out of your car to your new office. I’m not getting any younger and I should have had UPS doing that heavy lifting.

4. If you’re still prepping for Fall courses (I imagine you are– who is all prepped months before they start a new job?) or working on an article deadline (I’ll talk about how little work you’ll get done over the summer in a minute), you’ll need to keep some books with you and accessible. Sort those out and put them in their own box, clearly labelled “books for summer.” Then you can find them when you need them. Actually, keep out the things you’ll need for the move and a week or two after:

  • A suitcase for each person in your family with clothes and toiletries for a couple weeks.
  • A bag or box with moving supplies (tape, tape cutters, rope, measuring tape, nails, hammer etc.)
  • A box of pet stuff (blankets, beds, food, treats, toys, food dishes etc.)
  • A box of immediately-needed kitchen stuff (coffee pot, pans, plates, mugs, utensils).
  • A box of cleaning stuff. Not every apartment will be super clean when you move in (or you won’t trust that it’s actually clean…) so we kept all of this easily accessible too.

5. Google Drive is your friend. I had a spreadsheet for finding an apartment, a spreadsheet budgeting for a summer without pay (another thing to plan for!) and new expenses in a new place, and a Master Moving List document with an ongoing checklist of stuff to do.

6. Apartment hunting sucks. Of course it depends on where you’re moving too, how much of a budget you have per month, what your pet situation is, whether or not you have kids etc. My partner and I moved to a rental market fueled by nearby NYC, and we moved with multiple cats. Think honestly about what you want and what you absolutely don’t want. Be firm on these, because when you start looking and feel desperate, you might sway and feel like you have to take that crappy garden apartment with the dumpster outside your bedroom window.

  • If you’re moving to a major metropolitan area, find a realtor to help guide you through the market. And not just any realtor– get a recommendation! Ask your new colleagues, listservs, Facebook friends, for anyone in realty who can steer you in a good direction. There are realtors that will screw you.
  • Don’t trust Craigslist– especially if you’re moving to a major metropolitan area. You can tell pretty quickly what’s a scam on there ($900 for 2 bedrooms when everything else is $1500?), but some of them are pretty deceptive.
  • Make a renter’s resume. This is super-geeky, but especially if you have pets, you need to do it. Include info about your job. You’ve got a PhD! You’re going to be a professor (or a visiting professor… or whatever)! Don’t hide it! Flaunt it! Landlords want someone who isn’t going to screw them over, so take advantage of the nerdy reputation of our profession! Include info about your pets, your vet, your previous rental experiences. Include your hobbies and how you spend your free time. We also created a second version with specific info on it for apartments we were applying for seriously. This had our updated credit scores, and income information (and a contact for your dean so they can verify your employment).
  • Include a letter of recommendation from former landlords with your application. Most people don’t call references (shocking, I know) so put that really good reference about you being the tenants with cats right in front of their face!
  • Don’t rent anything you haven’t seen. Seriously. It took us 4 trips to find a rental. Pictures lie. Places that look fantastic in photos, look horrible in person, and vice versa. Check out the area (Google Maps street view is great for this), and your commute to work (Google Maps during rush hour will give you traffic times)!

7. If you get moving money (instead of submitting moving receipts for reimbursement), keep in mind taxes will come out of it (ouch). If you don’t get moving money, or don’t get enough, then try to keep moving costs down by cutting back on what you’re moving and comparing different rates. Ryder was cheaper for our move across the country, but UHaul was somehow a better deal for our move a few states away. Can you drive the truck yourself (or can your partner/Dad/friend)? Can you load up the truck and have them drive it (ala UPack)? Check Craigslist in your area for free (or cheap) boxes and moving supplies as lots of people who just moved will want to get rid of those. Or go for liquor boxes as they are sturdy and aren’t too big. And heck, if you get lots of moving money from your new job, pay for someone to do the whole thing for you–loading and transport! If I *ever* move again, that’s going to be the only way I go!

8. Keep all moving receipts. My partner had a big envelope she kept with her (along with all our financial stuff in a bag– because she’s good that way) and put every single receipt into it. Did you buy sandwiches for the people who help you load? Keep the receipt. New trashcans and mops for your new place? Keep the receipt. Last minute Home Depot boxes and packing tape? Keep the receipt. Donations? Keep the receipt… get the idea? Moves for a job are tax deductible, and if you pay for the move yourself, you can wind up getting some serious change back from the government!

9. The summer you’re moving, you’re not going to get any work done. At all. Really. Especially if you’re moving pets, kids, a whole household, across the country. It ain’t going to happen. I let a book review slide for a couple months because of the move (and the journal editors worked with me). You’re not going to have time to think about your research. You won’t be able to expend one ounce of energy thinking up new research ideas, or new theoretical approaches. You’re going to fall asleep if you try reading new lit in your field. You’re going to barely get your books selected for your Fall classes (only after the bookstore pressures you), and you’re not going to finish that syllabi until you get settled in and mostly unpacked. Unless you’re Wonder Woman, this is the reality. No one is Wonder Woman. Not even me, with a beer in my hand!

10. Actually you can plan on not getting much of your own work done for your entire first semester. Don’t do what I did and beat yourself up about it. Set your sights on minimal deadlines– conference abstracts, short funding proposals, reading some new lit. Make an outline/list of stuff to do on an article. Think about your research, work on something related to it a few minutes every day, if you can, but don’t expect to get lots done. You’ll be adjusting to a new town, a new house, a new grocery store, new colleagues, a new school, new office, new library system, new grade reporting system, new courses, new students… and the list goes on. You’re going to be mentally exhausted during this adjustment, and that’s ok. I remember reading once that among the most stressful events of life are deaths, major accidents, major illnesses, and moves. Seriously. Take time to get to know the people and places around you, but don’t beat yourself up about not getting much research or writing done.

11. Finally, get unpacked as soon as possible. Spend a week getting unpacked, one room at a time. Stay up late and get rid of those boxes one at a time. Hang stuff up and make it look like home. There’s nothing worse than an unpacked apartment. When classes start, you’ll appreciate coming home to a home.

Those are my tips for getting through a move as an academic. Have any others?

An Academic Foster Child: Life as a Visiting Assistant Professor

18 Mar

3debe0880801c8b6746f251554a2d651Like many recent PhDs, the process of getting a tenure track job was not what I thought it would be. While working my way through grad school, I watched newly minted PhDs ahead of me move from grad school into their “forever” jobs. Naturally, I assumed that if I played my cards right (network, publish etc.), I’d follow the same track. But I happened to finish up the year after the economy tanked– just in time for budgets to be slashed and positions cut. The number of positions plummeted. After two years on the market, applying for dozens of positions, and I ended up in a VAP.

And I’m lucky that it was a great VAP. I had healthcare, a travel budget, and I wasn’t paid slave adjunct wages. My colleagues were nice and my teaching load was reasonable (2/2). It was the ideal place to spend a couple years learning how to teach, learning that I loved teaching (I didn’t do much teaching in grad school), and getting acclimated to post-PhD. But I also hated the professional limbo of VAP-hood. I had to keep applying for jobs, finally revamping my application materials to reflect someone no longer a student. And I hated having that “visiting” label tagged onto my email signature and business cards.

I received lots of advice about being a VAP from mentors near and far. They told me to keep working for my next job, not to spend time serving a college that hasn’t made a commitment to me.  Not to settle into the area too much (hard to do when it happens to be your home state). That I should always keep one foot out the door, using whatever resources are available there for my career. But, then others would tell me that if I wanted a shot at a TT job there, I should ingratiate myself with them– attend student and faculty functions, work closely with students, develop the courses they need etc. Don’t be invisible. Make it hard for them to imagine life without you, I was told. But, if you’re the inside candidate for a TT job there, things will be awkward to say the least. They’ll believe in you– that you can be successful, but not there. Someplace else. In face, one piece of advice that really stuck with me, although I tried to pretend it wasn’t always the case, was that:

[VAP] hiring is often decided based on personal relationships, but tenure track hiring almost never is. Tenure track hiring is absolutely cutthroat, and is dominated by an ethos of “desire for the unattainable.” This means that the unknown, who promises seemingly limitless possibility for achievement and contribution, will almost always prevail over the known.


In short, the tenure track search is about making THEM want YOU. If you pander to them, cater to them, overtly appeal to them, and try to play off of pre-existing personal relationships and your ethos of “giving” to the department, you are defining yourself as, fundamentally, NOT TENURE TRACK MATERIAL.

So I was there, but temporarily. I kept one foot out the door– genuinely enjoying my students and teaching, and continuously applying for other jobs. All while I tried to ingratiate myself and be what they needed, just in case that coveted TT line opened up in my area.Because in spite of all the advice I received to the contrary, I planned and plotted to make them want to keep me forever. I liked the area, and didn’t want to go through the hassle of moving again. But all along, I knew that even pandering to their needs might actually work against me. I tried my best to balance on that undefined line in that liminal space of VAP-hood for 2 years.

In reality, I was only an academic foster child. They paid/fed me, sheltered me, and welcomed me into their fold, to a degree. But, I was, by very definition, temporary.

I didn’t see that for what it was until recently, now that I’m settled into my shiny new, completely wonderful “forever” TT job. A job where they wanted me— and would love to have me stay and build my career there permanently. The differences are startling. I have the space, freedom, and encouragement to develop my own teaching, scholarship and service. Having that support and encouragement actually makes me more productive as a writer and researcher. Instead of living year, to year, job app to job app, I can shift my plans to real short term and long-term goals. I’m a nester. I can settle in and organize my time around what I want to write and where I want to go with my research. I can begin to think about developing courses that I want to teach that fulfill area requirements at my school. I can contribute to shaping something larger than myself. It’s fantastic not to be a foster kid any more!

I recently asked my mentor why she thought I needed that VAP for two years. Yes, the VAP shielded me from the bad job market and gave me teaching experience. But what was the larger point of all that living in limbo? She answered: “So that you would appreciate what you have now.”

Current Goal: To Be Deliberate, and Afraid of Nothing.

12 Jan

31243791135917738_KrKqVNZ1Right now I don’t even feel like I know what my research is about. God forbid someone ask me. Well, not really. I mean sure, I do know what my research is about. But sometimes I don’t feel like I have a reign on it– I over think it, or I spend some days away from it trying to get prepped for the semester that begins Monday. Monday? Yikes! Since I’ve worked every single day (other than Christmas and New Year’s) since the break started, I’m not even going to count this as a break.

Anyway, here’s what do I need to do to “take back” my research agenda:

  • Get back to writing every day. The “break”, visits from friends and family (which was so wonderful and needed), prepping for new classes etc. has gotten me out of the habit.
  • Ease into that by finishing up a blog post related to my research.
  • Order some books from the library related to my current research and devour them. There’s nothing like a stack of books and a bunch of notes to get me all excited (yes, I’m a dork) and remind me of why I do what I do.
  • Review my job application material, and finish my retention essay on my research agenda.

I love starting a new semester. Even if I’m not buying new school supplies anymore, there’s so much newness— new students, new classes, fresh starts, new goals. So far my semester goals are:

  1. Finish up my retention package and hand that in next week.
  2. Review new literature and finish a draft of Article #1. I’m trying to fit it into a slightly newish sub-field for me, so I have to figure out what kind of contribution it’s going to make to that sub-field.
  3. Work on Article #2. Decide which journal it is best suited for. Bring in new data that I started analyzing last semester.
  4. Write a short piece for the highly accessible magazine-like journal in my field.
  5. Import my data into Dedoose and learn how to use it. I don’t anticipate much of a learning curve, though. I’m official giving up on NVivo. Good riddance.

And I have a few general teaching goals:

  1. No paper. I’ve set up my courses in Schoology and will stop accepting paper assignments.
  2. Not to let grading get the best of me.
  3. To actually stay a week ahead of my students in terms of readings. Posting discussion questions for each reading will force me to do this.
  4. To give my students (and myself) a daily sense of where we are in the class, what’s next, and how things fit into the larger picture. Last semester I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants (maybe because I was?), and I don’t like that feeling.

All in all, I think those are reasonable goals. My very astute partner just pointed out that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself about the time it takes me to adapt. We’ve done 2 very large moves in 2 years, and I’ve had to adjust to two different jobs, schools, colleagues, students, commutes, grocery stores, etc. And adjusting takes time and energy.

This semester my one goal is that I am going to be deliberate. And afraid of nothing.

Academic Life Summed Up in One Image

7 Dec

27992_10200214960521597_78591186_nAnd this is the life of an academic. Some brilliant person on the internets has summed it up in one nice image.

It’s hilarious because it is so true.

One of the biggest struggles, for me anyway, is to figure out how to balance having a million ongoing tasks, none of which ever seem complete. You finish one pile of grading just before your class hands in another assignment. You finish one draft of an article, get feedback from your writing group, and go back and rip it apart. You clean out your email inbox one day, and then watch another deluge come through the next morning.

Yes, I guess there are accomplishments– points when things are actually done. Finished. Complete. There is some level of completeness when you publish an article. Although you really ought to have another already drafted… so the cycle continues. Maybe it’s when you publish a book? But by the time you see it in print, you’ve got other research going on. It’s a ongoing cycle of grading, writing, research etc.

So we have to make our own completion points, and feel a sense of accomplishment whenever we can. Hey, I taught two clases yesterday and went to two meetings, so when I got home, I celebrated by doing nothing. I’m about to clean out my inbox for the night, and will celebrate my brief moment of “caught-up” by watching a movie.

In short, we have to take “caught up” wherever we can find it.

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