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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Camping Interlude

Somehow the stars and planets aligned this week and b and I had 48 hours where no one required our presence.  And so we went camping.

Of course we took Pupzilla.

There was much needed rest and relaxation around a campfire.

And the occasional light refreshment.

There was also reading by b and grading by me.

Pupzilla spent most of her time sleeping in the tent.

She did go on a nice long walk with me on Saturday.

The fall colors in SouthLite are nowhere near as intense as UpNorth but they are pretty nonetheless.

I think the blue skies make up for it.

Regardless of where you live, it is always pleasant to walk through the leaves.

Of course, no camping trip is complete without b's scrumptious dinners.  This time he made ribs in the dutch oven.

Monday, October 25, 2010


This year I am our department's Doctoral Program Coordinator.  Our program is still "young" and there are a lot of areas for improvement and development.  Initially we had a policy not to accept part-time students.  This made sense for a number of reasons: all of our core courses (and we have many) are taught during the day; full-time students get assistantships, which usually helps them get involved in faculty research; there is more to a doctoral program than coursework and it is hard to get the rest of "it" when you are part-time; and, perhaps the most important point, we don't have a lot of people teaching at the doctoral level and it can be difficult to ensure part-timers have access to all core courses in a timely fashion.

However our policy soon back-fired.  Several of our "full-timers" went "part-time" shortly after joining the program.  I, for one, didn't think it is ethical to allow some people to become part-time while denying others acceptance because they require part-time attendance.  I was one of the proponents of changing our policy a few years back.  I am still a staunch believer in accepting part-time students but now it is my job to figure out how to make it work.

My main reason for backing part-time students is because I was one throughout my graduate career.  Due to financial and family responsibilities, I went to school part-time and worked full-time since my second semester of college.  It took me 6 years to get my undergraduate degree, 6 years to get my masters' degree and 8 years to get my doctorate.  I took a year and a half off in the middle to have Angel.  So from start-to-finish it took me 21.5 years to complete my higher education.  It was a long hard haul but I think I was a better student then and am a better academic now because of it.

Other than dealing with the amount of work, I had no problem combining full-time employment and part-time academics at the undergraduate or masters' levels.  However once I started applying to doctoral programs, I found I was in quite a different ballgame.  There was no such thing as online education back then and I was not in a position to relocate.  None of the nearby doctoral programs in my field would accept part-time students.  Keep in mind that (a) I lived in a very large city (some would say the largest in the country) with a lot of institutions of higher education and (b) I was already working in my field and publishing extensively.  After my first outright rejection, I learned to check-off the full-time study box and then I waited to see what would happen.

My acceptance to my doctoral program came with an offer of an assistantship with my advisor. The salary was less than a quarter of what I was making and did not come with a tuition waiver.  I politely declined the assistantship and broached the subject of keeping my current job while attending classes.  Luckily, my advisor quickly realized it would be foolish for me to give up a position that provided excellent research opportunities as well as a livable salary and she spent the next few years covering for me with the rest of the faculty.  It was also incredibly lucky that my boss was 100% supportive of my education and allowed me to take classes in the middle of the day. So it was hard, but with the help of two very supportive mentors I managed to graduate without ever being "outed" as a part-timer.

Now it is also true that I missed out on many graduate school experiences because I was not physically present in the department.  The rest of my cohort was always around.  The truth was, I was never really part of my cohort.  I was the only one working full-time outside of the university and I was the only one who had a child.  Shortly after joining the program, I created an opportunity for my boss and advisor to collaborate on a grant that we all co-wrote.  This grant, once funded, gave me legitimate means to combine my job and my schooling (and eventually became my dissertation) but also set me apart from the rest of my cohort.

I felt then, as I feel now, that denying access to part-timers is doing a disservice to the field.  I believe the 'full-time only' policy reduces a program's ability to bring in a diverse student body.  I think this is true for diversity of racial/ethnic background, of age, of class, and of life experience.  In my current field (which is not the field in which I was trained) we talk a lot about creating a diverse workforce; about social justice; and about access and equity.  I believe creating a program that not only accepts part-time students but makes it possible for part-time students to excel is a critical part of walking the walk.

However, now that I am Doctoral Program Coordinator, I am finding that the second half of that promise--making it possible for part-time students to excel--is a very tricky enterprise.  There are major scheduling issues that sometimes cannot be resolved with the faculty we have at hand. Often problems need to be solved on a case-by-case basis.  This creates more work for everyone and may make the part-time student seem like they are difficult or always in need of accommodations.  In reality it is the program that is not set-up to serve the part-time students that have been admitted. There may also be the perception that these students are not doing what they should be doing. Part-time students don't follow the same path as other students and this can give faculty an impression that they are either not progressing as well as other students; are not as dedicated as other students; or just don't have what it takes.  Some faculty members may not realize or remember that a particular student is part-time and hold unrealistic expectations of that student.

Today I met with a young woman who is planning on applying to our program.  She would need to attend part-time because she cannot afford to quit her job and has a husband and young child, for whom she is responsible.  Getting her doctorate is her dream and she realizes if she doesn't do it soon she may never get the chance.  I don't know if our program is the best fit for her but it is probably her only viable option right now.  It took about nine emails to schedule this one meeting and at one point she mentioned she might have to bring her child.  I get this.  I lived this.  I want to help her and, if her application is worthy, would be willing to admit her to our program.  However I also want to build a program where she, and others like her, can truly excel.  I'm not entirely sure how to do that right now.  We do have current students (and one graduate) who have children. Most are part-time and most have a lot of support at home. For all of them, it is a long hard haul.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

RBOC: The End Is In Sight? Edition

  • My To Do Lists are so out of control I've now started an entirely separate list called To Review.
  • I have what feels like an impossible amount of items to review, edit, and/or grade within the next three weeks.  This is particularly bad since no matter how many years I've been doing this, it still always takes me longer to review/edit/grade something than I think it will. 
  • This weekend I had to take a little time off for BB&B.  Pumpkin came up last night and stayed over for the event.  There was also some necessary house-cleaning that had to happen.  And of course there was the event itself.
  • The weather was beautiful so we had it outside.  Six of our ten members were there along with plenty of wine. 
  • My oven is busted so I could not bake anything but one member brought Chocolate-Chip Pumpkin Muffins. I also cheated and bought a few things from a local bakery.  I must admit I indulged a little more than my new healthy lifestyle allows.
  • Amongst all this plenty, we had a lively discussion about cannibalism.  We also talked a little history, spirit, romance, and motherhood.  All can be found in our book choice.
  • For the first time we ended without a definite date or book for our next meeting.  I think everyone is feeling the pressure and we will likely not meet again until the semester is done.
  • Although it is still over 6 weeks away, I'm just beginning to believe that this semester may actually end one day.
  • The grant I've been working on for over a year finally got out the door and was received at NIH.  Perhaps having that off my shoulders has changed my perspective a bit. 
  • In other news, I received a small internal grant that will help me start a research agenda around my doula work with teen moms.
  • A doctoral student and I are also close to sending our first manuscript out on a small project I started two years ago with a group of highly invested and interested students.  It has actually grown into a decent size study with some interesting findings. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Dark Side of Living Healthy

  • In order to fit our hour at the gym every morning, b and I don't have time to either ride or walk to work any more.
  • We are eating (and buying) less at the supermarket and not eating out as much yet we still spend just as much money because healthy food is expensive.
  • I take a 10 minute shower at the gym everyday which has translated into me not having time to shave my legs.
  • A different muscle hurts almost everyday.
  • Cooking and shopping and prepping take a lot more time than eating out.
  • Although we don't have a TV at home, I am surrounded by TVs at the gym.  I am now inundated with network news and feeling despondent over the state of the world. 

And yet, it is all worth it. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dogs On The Beach

I come from a long line of beach-lovers.  Genetically we're not well-made for the sun but that doesn't stop our love of the shore.  Often you will find us on the beach in the off-season.  There is something about the solitude and the vastness of the ocean that works magic on my soul.

My pug-loving sister, my grandmother, and her constant companion Fifi, many years ago

I love the companionship of dogs on the beach.  I love long walks; to walk on the beach; to walk with dogs; and particularly to walk with a dog along the shore.

Some dogs love the water (Pupzilla not-so-much) but even when they don't, I've never met a dog that didn't enjoy being at the beach.

We were lucky to find a nice hotel, right on the beach, that allowed dogs.  There were plenty of rules but we were happy to follow them.  Pupzilla got a balcony and she and I watched all the dog activity from afar.

Pupzilla doesn't play nicely with other dogs so we need to be extra careful when we are around canine friends.  I was happy to see so many people obeying the leash law the first few days but once the beach got deserted, most people felt the rule no longer applied.  This curtailed our activities a bit.  

There were also some "big dogs" on the beach.  I love horses.  I've never been an accomplished rider (although always wanted to be) but I thrill at the sight of a horse.

Four big dogs on the beach

Our own Pupzilla enjoying the beach

Thursday, October 14, 2010

On Being A Committee Member

I am on way too many committees this year.  While my service committee membership has increased substantially with the award of tenure, that's not what's dragging me down. Unfortunately the real problem is all my own doing: doctoral and masters' thesis committees.

At the beginning of the year I thought I was on 10.  This seemed like a lot to me and when I mentioned the number I was met with looks of shocked disbelief, pity, and humor by my colleagues.  Turns out I'm really on 12: I miscounted by one and then discovered one I had forgotten.  The one I forgot is for a student in another department.  I agreed to be on the committee my first year at SouthLite.  The student was ready for the proposal defense and was in a bind.  She had to scramble to reconfigure a committee due to a number of situations outside of her control.

She defended and barely passed.  Her topic is interesting but her proposal had several gaps. I gave feedback on revisions and then never heard from her again.  I honestly thought she had dropped from the program.  Fast forward 4 years to this past weekend when I received an email while I was on vacation requesting availability for the final defense in 2 1/2 weeks.  I've yet to see a finished product but have been promised it 2 weeks-to-the-day before the defense.

Two weeks is, in my opinion, a bare minimum for sending around a proposal or finished dissertation, especially one I haven't looked at in 4 years. Today I got a request from another student for a proposal defense date two weeks from today.  Again I have not seen a draft and it looks like the earliest I could expect one would be the end of business tomorrow.  I find this unacceptable.  I think I would have allowed it previously but in the next two weeks I need to: route my grant, review a manuscript, review two sets of internal grants, and participate in a doctoral defense in addition to my normal teaching and administrative duties.  My days are so chock full of meetings I literally have no time to review anything in between them.

Of the 12 committees that I am on, I am the outsider member for 7.  This, I now realize, is insanity.  I mistakenly thought the outside member would have less work, or at least no more work, than any other member, excepting the chair.  In most cases this has not been the case. Worse yet, for the committees within my department, I am chair on 4 out of the 5.

I find being the outside member particularly difficult.  It takes me several hours to really review a proposal or finished product and give good feedback.  Often I end up questioning the methodology, not because it is outside of my field but because it is incorrect.  I am never too sure if the advisor/chair left the student to his/her own devices without proper guidance or if the advisor/chair thinks the methodology is appropriate.  My university is one that is "growing its research abilities and infrastructure" and, to be blunt, some of the departments are weaker than others.  In my own department I (a) am more confident of our methodological abilities and (b) know what to expect from my colleagues in terms of how they do or don't mentor their students.  As the outside committee member I am uncomfortable being the person that needs to hold the student to a higher standard of rigor, but have ended up there several times already.

I know one of the reasons I am asked to be on committees is because I take the job seriously. Students know if they give me something to read I will give them thoughtful and detailed written feedback.  I'm not saying my colleagues don't take their roles seriously.  I think it is more likely they aren't very good at giving feedback and/or when pressed for time they read drafts quickly. I've been singularly unimpressed with some of the questions that are asked during comprehensive exams and defenses.  I am not mean and I don't ask trick questions but I am thorough and I press students to think through issues.  Most of the time it is appreciated and I enjoy doing it but it takes a lot of time to prepare for an oral examination or a defense.  I don't think students have a clue just how much time and effort it takes and if I had only one student a semester I wouldn't think about it either.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

At The Beach: A Photo Essay

A very busy weekend.

A foot fetish (for Drax)

Some scary stores

Pupzilla on the beach.

Beautiful sunrises

Lovely sunsets.

Flora and fauna

The long road home.