What do you think? I’ve been meaning to revamp this site for awhile now and, well, sometimes you need a little push. Syracuse’s Future Professoriate Program (FPP) requires 2nd year participants to submit a print or digital teaching portfolio in their spring semester, so I spent some of my day converting this site into something more than just a blog. Although I bought jasonluther.net a few years ago and had planned to develop that into a separate professional space, I decided (with the generous help of both mentors and friends), to expand Taxomania! into a more comprehensive CMS. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be beefing up the links in the upper right and trying my damnedest to write a draft of a teaching statement — which isn’t coming easily to me (tips? anyone?). In the meantime, check out these rejected headers.
NFL preseason football is dreadful, regardless of affiliation. Aside for the obvious reasons, it’s a signal that summer’s winding down. And SU has its own preseason to be mindful of in mid August: the Minus One week, the week before classes. But rather than getting tangled in WCOnline schedules, planning consultant meetings, or generally solving logistical admin clusterfucks this year, I was privileged to huddle with the whole CCR contingent for Community Day, contribute to a thoughtful professional development workshop on WRT 307 (our professional writing course), and attend the Writing Program’s annual fall conference (“The Writing Program: A Quarter Century”), which celebrated 25 years of independence. While I have stuff to say about the latter two, I want to comment briefly on Community Day, which this year was subtitled, “Beyond Subsistence.”
The essence of CCR Community Day, which is held the Monday before fall classes every year, was summarized best as a “collective pep talk” by the always witty Becky Howard. Renditions of graduate study circulated as stories of self pity, celebration, admonition and promotion were (re)cycled by veteran students and faculty. But when I look back at my notes for the day, I’m struck by some of pithy snips that have been sticking with me ever since. Here are 10.
- Consider “the necessity of a generous disposition,” by being mindful of what pushes us or bothers us, or by thinking of why we’re reliant on certain theories or histories. (Berry)
- “Don’t think of grad school as just a step” (Berry). Or, “This is real life. Endless deferment is not good” (Schell).
- “STOP reading linearly” (Howard).
- “I have always flourished in collectives … You are intellectually stronger collectively … There are always other people going through similar shit. (Parks).
- “You have to be open to allowing the future to unfold” (Agnew). Or, you are not always the better candidate; sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time (Watson).
- Always be on the prowl for a study party (Watson and Navikas).
- Lean on those who came before you (Ostrander).
- What a difference a year makes (Doughtery).
- Talk through your different ideas (with mentors) to figure out how to make sense of them. Don’t pre-assess endlessly (Caton/Schell).
- Different faculty offer different relationships (Luce).
Chapter 2: The Structure of Your Career: An Ideal Plan
Semenza’s succinct overview of a grad students’ time, taken generally, didn’t challenge many of my prevailing notions of the Plan mostly because CCR kicks so much ass in that department. A few pieces of concrete advice, however, seemed helpful. In terms of time, I should think of my 4 years as such:
- finish coursework in 3 semesters + a summer (I’m already 4 courses deep)
- compile most of my annotated bib during last semester of coursework (Fall 2012)
- pass exams within 6 months of finishing coursework (by end of Spring 2013)
- complete prospectus 3 months after exams (by Fall 2013),
- which would leave almost 2 years to write the dissertation and find a job.
About the dissertation:
- The prospectus should be a hypothesis with works consulted (15-20 pages) that serves 3 purposes: a checklist of bibs, your exigence anchor and your blueprint for writing.
- Fact: 30% of ABDs fail to get their doctorate not because they aren’t capable (they gotten so far already), but because they’ve become cheap, matriculated, resident labor and grad programs don’t know how to handle that.
- Tips on writing the dissertation: write at least one chapter per semester and two in the summer, avoid teaching new courses (no more than 2), and prepare for the market at least one year in advance.
Chapter 3: Organization and Time Management
As with Chapter 2, I’ve already heard much of the advice passed along here or learned from experience. The section on organizing seemed particularly old to me, considering my work (survival?) as a WPA, but it always feels good to have those things reinforced. The dominant argument in the chapter, though, is worth pasting prominently on a tack board, monitor, or desktop: protect your research and writing time.
I’ve seen faculty defend theirs over the years (ever try to schedule a meeting on a Friday?), and now it’ll be up to me to do the same. Because a typical graduate student’s schedule is flexible, it’s important to respect that dynamic and develop routines that foster productive habits. Specifically, Semenza assigns his research and writing time to 2 hours every weekday morning (and about 4 hours on weekend mornings), where he will “refuse to answer the phone, to respond to any knocks on [his] office door, or to schedule actives of any kind” (which I suppose would now include Facebook) (49). His point is not only to dedicate time, but to dedicate time when he is most energetic, alert, and fresh. Other priorities, such as service and teaching, and (to some extent) family, should be put in check. Paper grading should be systemic and efficient — about 15 minutes per paper or 3-4 minutes per page — and office hours should occur on a MWF schedule since most student pack in courses on TTh.
Semenza also goes to great lengths to refute the myth that grad students should expect true “breaks” or summers off. Forget it. Those are prime research and writing times and based on what I’ve seen from the majority of past and present CCR students, I’d say this is true as true can be.
To counterbalance the stress of the 10+ hour workday, Semenza argues for a solid exercise regimen, trying to fit in jogging, yoga, or the like at least a few times per week. I look forward to trying to get that going again, though it’s going to have to be with respect to another dynamic discussed in this chapter: family.
Having a kid throughout the Ph.D. process — a somewhat rare thing based on this chapter — may delay my degree and will definitely make my life more stressful (compared to what, I’d like to know). This will mean, for example, that in order to get the exercise in, I’m going to need something like a jogging stroller and/or bike seat or trailer in the warmer months, and maybe a gym or pool pass in the colder months. First world problems.
As I said, the organizing section of this chapter wasn’t super helpful and Semenza’s print-centered recommendations to use folders, binders and date books is definitely outdated, but it did get me thinking again about digitization and the office space(s) I’ll inhabit in the fall: the windowless basement of HBC (barf), my home office (booya), and the random local coffee joints (buzz). My home office — where I picture myself writing and researching 75% of the time — will require me to clear space on the desktop (almost a quarter of the desk is taken up by an old pie shelf we’ve used for paper), in single-drawer filing cabinet (for CCR files) and on the tack board for notes and on-deck work. Consider those added to the to-do list.
As I mentioned last week, while in Canada I started Gregory Colon Semenza’s 2005 book, Graduate Study for the 21st Century: How to Build an Academic Career in the Humanities. I first heard about it a few years ago from Collin Brooke, and received it as a gift from my sis for my following birthday (2006?). I’ve skimmed pieces from it since, but now I’m hoping to use it to string together some pertinent advice to sustain me over the next few years. Semenza is a lit professor at UConn and penned this book in the years immediately following the completion of his doctorate at Penn State, a fact he makes known in the introduction.
Front matter (acknowledgements, forward by Berube and intro):
- Acknowledges Kathryn Hume’s Surviving Your Academic Job Hunt (will be checking this out in the next 3 years)
- Berube: A professor’s job is a 60-hour week, but “you get to choose which 60” (xv).
- Berube: A good professional means earning people’s trust. Success = having “your colleagues say, ‘good call'” (xv).
- University brands don’t matter as much as they used to. Today, academics who work hard and distinguish themselves (usually via a solid publishing record and good teaching evals) get hired.
- The primary objective of graduate school is “the accumulation of knowledge in an advanced area of study” or “to know something extraordinary or at least something ordinary deeply.The second should be to lean how to discuss that subject clearly and persuasively”(4).
- Burnout is real danger, but at the same time, expect to work 70 hours per week (huh?!)
- Graduate student unionization can and should play a key role in improving the work conditions of both graduate students and faculty.
- 10%: the percentage of universities that are considered research (R1s). Although specialization is important, a broad area of knowledge is a smart approach.
- 9 years: “the average time for completing the Ph.D. … in the humanities” (5)
- 40-50%: the attrition rate for Ph.D. programs in the US in 2004 (according to the Chronicle)
- 9%: the rate at which TT jobs decreased between 1981 and 2005 (partially thanks to graduate student labor).
Chapter 1: The Culture of a Graduate Program
Semenza first outlines the typical organization of a department: administrators, faculty (assistant, associate, professor), staff, contingent faculty, GAs, and admin assistants/secretaries and gets it right. Reading this made me realize how much my WPA training has taught me. I pieced this all together on my own during my first year as WC admin.
On research, teaching, service and tenure:
- Brief discussion on tenure and its importance. Semenza encourages any future scholar to research the history and purpose of tenure, calling it “the primary legal guarantor and protector of academic freedom” (19).
- Most R1s weigh tenure cases as such: 60% research, 30% teaching, and 10% service.
- Expectations at R1s = an article per year and a book every 6 or 7 years; however, guidelines are hardly explicit and the definition of a “regular” publishing record is purposely vague in contracts to reserve the right to deny tenure
- Teaching is important in the humanities because its well-being is weighed by enrollment, not by research grants and the like.
On the politics of the place:
- “You must show respect for the ghosts that linger in your department” (25). That is, pay attention and understand why things are the way they are. Why Prof X won’t work well with Prof Y, why your TA training program is set up a certain way, or why the Department has particular (if not peculiar) policies. The consequences for arguing from ignorance can be big.
- The cast of department characters include: The High Priest(esse)s, Deadwood, The Black Sheep, The Careerists, Service Slaves, The Curmudgeons, The Young Turks, The Talker, Theory Boy (or Girl), Life-Long “Learners,” Everyman/woman (26-28). Hilarious and true.
- “As a graduate student … you will always feel transitional, a hybrid between what you were, and undergrad, and what you hope to be, a professor” (29). Where does that place me? Seems to character 75% of current doc students.
- Graduate students who fail do so because they lack organization and motivation; not because they lack intelligence or creativity. Semenza argues that if profs are working 65 hours per week grad students should work 70.
- “You should become a professor because you are so completely obsessed with your subject and the skills it demands and because you believe it is the single most important thing you can pass on to other people. Nothing else will do” (30).
Part of my doctoral study gear-up means reflecting on previous workflows and anticipating new ones. By workflow, I guess I mean the day-to-day processes involved with accessing, consuming, documenting, archiving, and processing information from all things professional — coursework, exams, and the dissertation, just to name a few. And since I have to return my Macbook to the Writing Program when I resign in August, I’ll soon be picking up a new machine that will need to last four years. And there’s the rub: which machine (or machines)?
Without belaboring this much, I know I’ll need a laptop and it’s going to be a Mac. I’ve considered the iMac and Mini, but they just don’t offer the portability I’m going to need. And part of the reason I’m quitting is to regain some of the agency I’ve missed since sitting at a desk 9-5. A desktop is going to (re)nail me to a chair.
Then there’s the question of reading. Most the texts from my latest graduate course were read from my laptop, which saved me both time and $. And it worked, for the most part. But after a while (say, for example, page 300 of Hawk’s Counter-history) I would either get a headache from squinting at my laptop or a backache from bending over my desk to read my monitor. Frankly, I doubt I’ll ever feel as comfortable reading a screen as I currently feel reading print, but it’s gotten easier over the years and it’s not like information is shrinking. Software (RSS readers, “find” features) are obviously making this more possible.
But how about a tablet? I want one. Badly. But I’m trying to figure out if I need one. Some folks in the program have gotten away with reading on large PC screens, so I’ve considered getting a larger Macbook instead of the standard 13″. I still think a tablet would be easier to read than a 17″ Macbook, plus having two devices means having two places to store stuff (for better and for worse).
But the problem with the tablet, as I see it, will be of balancing reading and writing tasks (and maybe) keeping files current. Would I miss cutting and pasting quotes to Word, for example? Will exporting and organizing readings on multiple devices become a time suck instead of a time saver? I wonder how folks who have tablets have incorporated them into their workflow. Has it been an easy process? What apps or other peripherals make this easier or necessary? I know some have been using wireless keyboards or have downloaded apps that make annotating pdfs a breeze. Anyone?
Got to keep things in perspective as I prepare for a return to graduate school. Only two months away before I’m an “absentminded intellectual.” Thanks to Moonshine for sharing.