If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Path

My first Scientiae Carnival post:

I've been working full-time and supporting a family since I was 17. It took me 6 years to make it through college and 4 additional years to get my masters' degree. I put a hiatus on graduate school for 3 semesters to have my son but still had to work full-time. I did all of this because I knew I wanted to get my PhD, even though I wasn't 100% sure what type of degree I wanted or what I would do with it once I got it.

I entered my doctoral program when my son started kindergarten and I finished when he was in middle school. It was hard working full time, raising a child and attending a competitive program but I managed it by working for a research institute that was related to my program of study. This helped immensely as I could conduct research, publish and write grants while I was very slowly finishing my coursework. I wrote a grant with my boss and my advisor that became my dissertation. Both of these mentors cut me slack or looked the other way when my work world and my school world collided. But I worked like a dog for many years.

I had two very strong mentors who were superstars in their respective fields. They worked at Ivy League institutions, were incredibly successful at securing NIH funding, published insanely and traveled a lot. They both had kids. They had completely different management and research styles. I tried to figure out which of the two approaches would work for me. I tried for a hybrid.

Five years ago I finally graduated. By this time my CV was already very healthy and I was given a tenure track position working for my boss. I was to continue doing my regular work but to also transition into my own research agenda. There was no teaching as my position was completely covered by NIH grants. I wrote grants for myself and did well. I was on the "right" path but it didn't fit well.

I started teaching as an adjunct at other institutions. This was not really seen as a worthwhile endeavor by the higher-ups, since it took away from research. I really liked it.

I started to question the ultimate impact of the research that I had been involved with for 17 years. It was no longer cutting edge and I started to feel that we were asking the wrong questions and using the wrong methods. At least we weren't asking the questions that were important to me. I started doing pilot work in a new area that was not valued by the other members of my research team. It was time to leave.

Throughout all of this, my husband, my son and I wanted a different lifestyle. I became convinced there was a way to work hard at teaching and research and still have an outside life. I wanted to work hard but I also wanted the chance to enjoy myself when I wasn't working.

So I searched and found my current position. It felt like a good fit. It felt like a place where I could at least attempt to have the lifestyle I wanted and where my new research agenda would be welcomed. It gave me the opportunity to teach what I consider to be a reasonable amount of classes. It's been almost 2 years and it's working for me, big time. I know there are many from my previous life that don't "get" my choice since I'm no longer on the superstar track but I no longer get their choice either.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thursday, April 24, 2008

New Directions

Tonight was the 2nd event hosted by my practicum class. It was a panel discussion with two groups of experts discussing a topic important to the relationship between the two parties. The topic and how it plays out between the two groups is central to my research.

Since there is a power differential between the groups I was concerned the experts representing the subordinate group would be "shut down" in a public venue. So last Saturday I videotaped representatives of the subordinate group (no one that was actually on the panel) and then very quickly edited into an 8 minute videotape. I screened the video at the beginning of the event and then we held the discussion. The dominant group dominated but I believe the voices of the subordinate group were heard by the audience.

The video came out well for a first attempt. I obviously have much to learn but I like the possibilities and would like to incorporate more into my research agenda, especially in terms of dissemination.

I've also been creating poems out of a series of transcripts from this same research project. I started with a narrative analysis and found as I dug deeper and deeper into the participants' words that they worked as poems. I then applied this poem technique to transcripts from both parties and paired them for comparative purposes. The poetry really works well as a analytic technique. They strip the transcripts bare but leave a really clean and stark representation of each participant's main issue. The voice of the participant is strong and their story is revealed. This makes it easier to see both commonalities and differences within and across groups. I'm really digging this.

The class wants to do a reading of the poems and create a podcast that could be used for dissemination as well as in future programs. They have all picked the poems they would like to read.

Both the videotape and the poem analysis are new directions for my research. They are allowing me to understand the topic at a different level and to interact with both participants and audiences (end users of scientific knowledge) in new and interesting ways. I like the idea of making research more accessible and I believe both these techniques can help with that. I also love making research accessible to my students and working with them on ways to incorporate research and practice so they are not residing in different spheres.

I've "grown up" in my field hearing about the need to "bridge the gap between research and practice." Most solutions treat them as separate entities, with researchers needing to learn how to (1) translate findings and (2) listen to the expertise of practitioners, while practitioners are supposed to learn how to (1) understand some of the scientific jargon and (2) appreciate the answers science can provide (or as I like to say--learn to pray at the alter of science).

To me the concepts of research and practice are co-mingled along with issues of advocacy, creativity, and empowerment. I don't buy that they have to be different locations that need bridging.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Is It May Yet?

...cause April is killing me.

My class and I are hosting another community event this week. The students are great and the work is important but really enough already.

Stick a fork in me 'cause I'm done.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Velvet Smooth

Thanks to Master Steven L. Malanoski, I was able to see my sensei in action again. This clip comes from a 70's "chop socky" movie, Velvet Smooth. About a minute into the clip a small-framed man fights a woman with a pool cue. This is Sensei (Master Thomas Agero) way younger than I ever knew him but already a master of weapons. He really did move that quickly but was far more graceful in real life.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Grief

Last night I found out that my Sensei has passed on. He had just turned 70. He suffered a stroke right before I moved down here. The last time I saw him he was in the hospital and I was pretty sure it was our final visit.

He was strong and recovered well for a "regular" man, however I know it took it's toll on his art and his spirit. He was a true karate-ka; he lived for the pursuit of perfection in the martial arts, both as a teacher and as a practitioner. After the stroke he became more isolated, grumpier than ever, and stopped teaching class.

A few months ago he had triple bypass surgery. He hated hospitals. When he started having chest pains this time he refused to go to the doctor. He didn't want to be poked and prodded. He died on Monday.

He could be a stubborn and difficult man but he was also kind, gentle, graceful and a true fountain of knowledge. He shaped me.

He was the closest thing Boy has ever had to a grandfather. I know it is better that he passed than for him to live with his body failing him. I know finishing life in a hospital would have been his worst nightmare but I miss him. And it hurts.

Friday, April 11, 2008

My Favorite Nut

As seen over at Seeking Solace




You Are a Cashew



You are laid back, friendly, and easy going.

Compared to most people, you have a very mild temperament.

You blend in well. You're often the last person to get noticed.

But whenever you're gone, people seem to notice right away!

Other People's Agendas

I like To Do lists. I think it is inherited. I remember my mother making her daily list as I was growing up. The first thing she would put on the list was "Make List." She said this way she could cross it off as soon as she was done.

Someone told me years ago that the secret to time management was to recognize items on your list that are "other people's agendas" and to put them at the bottom of the list. I'm fairly good at doing that. Sometimes "other people's agendas" items pile up and I have no choice but to devote an entire day to clearing them.

April feels like "other people's agendas" month.

Last night I stayed up late just to read a transcript from my beloved research project. I miss her (yes my research projects are all female) like a best friend.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Haiku

As seen at Dr. Curmudgeon's

Haiku2 for dirtandrocks
living in boxes in
a closet finding a book
i needed was not
@
Created by Grahame

On Scholarship: A Rambling and Exploratory Post

I'm teaching a class this semester that has both graduate (master's level) and undergraduate students. It is a small class with an applied theme and group sessions are a mixture of seminar and project meetings. This is the first time I am teaching undergraduate students. Next semester I'll be teaching a larger course with only undergraduate students, although in my department we rarely get undergraduates before their junior year. I tell you all this as background to my thinking lately.

In class yesterday we had a prolonged discussion that covered several sensitive topics (race, gender, poverty, politics). This is not unusual for the class and the conversation went well by my standards. By which I mean everyone was respectful and thoughtful; we probed and pushed ourselves to get deeper into the topic, we tackled underlying assumptions, and we included both personal and professional experiences as evidence. I consider this type of activity engaging in verbal analysis and enjoy it when I can get a group of students to go there together.

After the class, as I walked to my afternoon meeting, I thought about 2 of the students who did not contribute much to the discussion. They are both seniors in their last semester. I could tell they were engaged in the discussion through their nonverbal behaviors. I also knew they had done the reading and had thought about the topic. In fact it is not unusual for them to remain quiet when the discussion gets deep. Nor is it only in this class that I have a few students who hang back once we are engaging in this type of intense discussion.

My first thought was what am I doing wrong? Why can't I engage these students in the discussion? But then I started thinking of the skill involved in engaging in a verbal analysis via a group discussion and I thought back to my own early experiences. I grew up in a literary and intellectual family where dinner conversation often consisted of analyzing a book, an author, sexism, politics, etc. My mother and my three older sisters were often far more skilled than I was at engaging in the discussion. But I learned how to see/hear the arguments and eventually to develop, propose and defend my own arguments. However when I went to college I felt like this skill did not transfer with me. In fact it was not until I was fairly well into my graduate career and had worked in my field (where these types of discussion were common and necessary) that I felt I owned the skill enough to engage in it in the classroom.

I hadn't quite worked through all of these thoughts before arriving at my meeting. It was a working meeting to recreate the course objectives for an undergraduate introductory course in an interdisciplinary program at my university. I do not teach directly in this program but do cross-list my courses there and I'm committed to it's success. I have never taught this particular course; never took a course like it as an undergraduate; and, as I mentioned earlier, have very little experience teaching at the undergraduates level. So I wasn't sure what I could meaningfully contribute to the tasks but I was willing to give it a try.

I'm often frustrated by committee work. Academics aren't trained to be administrators and I tend to think we avoid doing the actual work by talking away the time. I have a significant amount of administrative experience from my previous life and would rather just get to the task at hand. A lot of the excess discussion revolves around complaints, such as life in academia, the university, administration, and/or students. Now I like this group of faculty, so I mean no disrespect by them, but rather that this seems to be the norm for any type of meeting I attend.

So we are sitting around trying to discuss this particular course but are digressing onto what students are capable of, what our expectations are of students, and what can we reasonably expect to cover in any one course (or even in any one program). The word "scholarship" came up and people started talking about having students act like scholars, believe they are scholars, become scholars etc. The word "analysis" also reared it's head and someone asked for a clarification on what we actually mean when we say we expect students to analyze. There was also a discussion on whether analytic assignments could be in written form only or if other forms of analysis, such as verbal analysis, would work (writing assignments are problematic because students don't know how to write. The consensus seems to be that teaching students to write is (a) close to impossible and (b) no one's actual job).

This is where I need to go back again and think of my own road to scholarship--especially in terms of verbal and written analysis--which I believe started way before high school no less college, but didn't really "take" with me until sometime during my 2nd graduate program. I also need to keep in mind that I was someone who wanted to "be" a scholar. I went to college with that as a goal. I do not believe that is true for the majority of the students at my university.

As faculty I think we are frustrated because we are not able to teach the scholarship of our subject areas, which we love, to students because they do not yet have the skills of scholarship and may not want them. Instead they are probably better served by learning some of the skills of scholarship but we need to recognize that obtaining those skills may happen years after they leave us. These skills are taught through the content of our areas. That seems an important distinction from teaching the scholarship of our area. I feel it is unrealistic to expect them to "get how to be a scholar in X" from an intro course so that by the next level up they can engage in the scholarship of X.

But back to my students. Perhaps following a rich and thoughtful verbal analysis without playing an active role is an important step in my students' ability to think critically, both generally and with regard to the topic. Perhaps I worry too much about having everyone at the same level of participation and I just need to chill and accept both the way and the pace of how people learn?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Riding in Cars with Students

Due to the nature of my research, I often have to be in and around the community. Since I run student research teams this means that I spend a fair amount of time traveling around in cars with my students. They usually drive because (a) I mostly walk to work, (b) I'm a much better navigator than I am a driver, and (c) their cars are generally nicer than mine.

Riding in cars with students provides for a different type of interaction and conversation. Most of my team are on a first name basis with me (although for a few it just doesn't feel right and they prefer to use Dr. Brigindo) and are comfortable talking about personal as well as professional issues. But there is something about spending time in a car that brings relationships to a new level. I think that's why I enjoy road trips so much. Parents often report that the best communication with their children happens in cars and I definitely miss the quality car time I had with Boy before he got his drivers' license.

This week three of my students and I had to make several trips to help out my colleague who is in the hospital after a traffic accident. He is a loved professor to my students and we were running errands for him and visiting him in the hospital. The talk in the car was about him and his accident to some extent but we also spent a lot of time talking about their next steps in life. All three of them are graduating in a month and are on the job market. I like to sit back and listen to them talk about what they want to do, their fears of taking the next step, and their concerns with the interview process. They are great at supporting each other and sharing advice.

I have found out that two of my students were "nerdy readers" when they were growing up and I enjoy discussing literature--what we read as adolescents, what we read now--with them. I'm surprised by how much we talk about cars on these trips. That was definitely a favorite topic of Boy but I always attributed that to his being an adolescent male.

It's not really any particular conversation that I like but more the type of conversation. It's easy and fluid and can be about anything.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Random Meme

jc tagged me for this meme.

Here's how you play: Once you've been tagged, write a blog of ten weird, random things, facts or habits about yourself. At the end, tag five more people, listing their names and why you chose them. Don't forget to leave them a comment "tag you're it" and to read your blog. You can't tag the person who tagged you -- so let them know when you've posted your blog so s/he can read your answers.

1. I never graduated from high school. Due to a series of misadventures I ended up leaving HS in the middle of my junior year to attend a local college (that has since become a university) for a special program that combined your senior year of HS with your freshman year of college. This school was very small and attracted a lot of older continuing ed students. We had no requirements and could take classes randomly. Most of my cohort transferred after that first year but I loved it and eventually graduated from there.

2. I've been married twice but have never been proposed to.

3. It seems to take me 17 years to make a transition. I moved out of my mother's house at 17; I left my first husband after 17 years of a relationship; and I was at my last job for 17 years.

4. Except for the occasional orange juice with breakfast I'm not into sweet drinks. In fact my entire repertoire of drinks consists of: water, coffee, Guinness and tequila.

5. I'm a leg woman. I also have a thing for baldness.

6. While I have had several wonderful dogs in my life I have never lived without a cat. Usually I have two.

7. I think I'm missing the gene for jewelery. I haven't worn any for several years, not even a watch. b and I did not do wedding bands. And diamonds? I just don't get the appeal.

8. When I was young I wanted to be Jane Goodall.

9. I was best woman at my sister's wedding. I wore a tux, slicked back my short hair, and gave a killer toast (blew the best man out of the water). [BTW, my sister loved it but half the family was not amused]

10. I have a fondness for white rats and have had several as pets in my life. However I really hate hamsters.


I tag:

Hilaire because I'd love to know more random facts about her.

Psycgirl
because I've only just started reading her blog and want to know more.

phd me because I love everything she writes

Professing Mama because she's home waiting for Chico and could use a diversion.

life-of-a-fool
because she tagged me last.

Photobucket Meme

As seen at Dr. Medusa's, Hilaire's and Profgrrrrl's:

DIRECTIONS:

1. Go to http://www.photobucket.com/
2. Type in your answer to the question in the “search” box.
3. Use only the first page.
4. Insert the picture into your Blog.

1. What is your relationship status?
Photobucket

2. What is your current mood?
horny

3. Who is your Favorite Band/Artist?
Taj Mahal

4. What is your favorite movie?
harvey,six feet tall bunny rabbit

5. What kind of pet do you have?
Pit Bull

6. Where do you live?
Earth

7. Where do you work?
uncg

8. What do you look like?
Warrior woman

9. What do you drive?
Zippy

10. What did you do last night?
Karate

11. What is your favorite TV show?
1

12. Describe yourself:
Smart & Sexy

13. What are you doing today?
shopping

14. What is your name?
Brigid

15. What is your favorite candy?
Dark chocolate.

16. What is your favorite drink?
coffee,coffee

Can Anyone Tell Me...

...why cats have to help you make the bed?