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, October 31, 2011

Conferencing in Capitol City

I am at the super-huge annual conference for my field. It is being held in our nation's capital this year. I drove up with one of my favorite students and I'm rooming with my bestie colleague. Last night an enormous group went out for real Chinese food and then a smaller pack had drinks to celebrate my roomie's birthday.

I have two presentations. The first was today and was a big success. I presented a paper where I used my poem analysis method. I had many questions on how I do it and what can be done with it. I think I need to write that methods paper.

The weather has been beautiful and I've been taking lots of photos that I'll be sharing in future posts. Now I am off to dinner with the gang. Tomorrow I get to see my friends from UpNorth.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Last Minute Crowd

Anastasia has an interesting post up that describes her frustration with colleagues that procrastinate on tasks that directly affect her job. I can sympathize. We probably all can as there is always someone who has a task that is high priority for you but low priority for them.  However Anastasia is talking about a real clash in work personalities and she finds herself in the minority.  While I don't think I can match her organizational abilities, I've lived my life getting tasks done ahead of time and have found the rest of the world doesn't.

Many people can get some work done on time.  It is interesting that for some it is the high priority tasks and for others it is the low priority tasks, but either way they aren't late with every deliverable. And I will admit that there are times when I procrastinate.  For example, there are times when I could get grading done in one week but choose to take two weeks.  I also tend to complete my reviews for journals the day they are due when I've had them for several weeks.  Sure I could have done them early but they are rather low priority for me.  I am rarely late with a deadline.  Instead I tend to feel that being on time is being late.  

I was the type of kid that did her homework at lunch or on the bus/train going home from school.  I was surrounded by people who did their homework on the bus/train going to school.  These are the "last minute crowders" [LMCrs].  They are everywhere and they drive us crazy.

I worked for one for many years.  He wrote a lot of grants.  Grants have very hard deadlines.  Those of us who worked under him used to beg and plead for him to at least start the process a month before they were due.  Often he would have me develop a budget for something he hadn't even conceived of yet.  It was busy work.  If we were lucky he would start a week before the due date.  I pulled a lot of all-nighters in the job.  This was back before there were electronic submissions and we would need to hire special (very expensive) couriers to make sure the multiple copies arrived in time because we had missed FedEx's last pick-up.

I gave birth to a LMCr.  Angel and I rarely fought when he was growing up but when we did it was almost always around getting his homework done.  It is very hard for me to understand why someone would wait on a task, particularly a task they don't want to do, instead of getting it done right away. I don't like the feeling of having a task hanging over my head but Angel seemed far more comfortable with this feeling.  He was often able to forget about the task completely or at least until the night before it was due.  And maybe that is where the difference lies. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hot Topics

Today we discussed abortion in my undergraduate class.  I've taught this subject at both the undergraduate and graduate levels for the past 5 years.  In previous years I've always managed to avoid the pro-choice/pro-life debate.

I don't find it a useful debate for the country and I certainly don't find it a useful debate for the classroom.

This year I showed a movie (I Had An Abortion) on Tuesday.  Whenever I show a movie in class I have the students hand in three questions or topics that they want to discuss in class from the movie.  I group the questions/topics into themes and then we discuss them as a group.

While I do have control over which topics/themes I choose, it was much harder to get away from pro-choice/pro-life this time.  It is the only framework people are really given on abortion in this country.  So we addressed it to an extent but worked on finding other frameworks or issues around the topic.

What concerns me is not my students' personal stance on abortion but their general lack of knowledge on the topic, especially on legal and policy issues.  A few were not aware (until the movie) that abortion had ever been illegal.  There is a general perception that abortion is uniformly available and easy to get.  We talked a bit about issues of access, particularly around insurance and healthcare reform, and about the personhood amendment and what is happening in Mississippi.  For almost all of them this was brand new knowledge.

How can we move forward if no one is even aware of the issues?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

That Time In The Semester*

It is that time in the semester.  The time that, at the beginning of the semester, I claimed would not come this time.  It is the time when no matter how hard I try, I can't catch up.  It is the time I start eating poorly and skipping workouts (sometimes just to get a little more sleep in the morning and other times to prep a class).

I was convinced that "that time" would only last 2 weeks this semester and be done by the end of fall break.  Unfortunately I somehow forgot that I was giving two presentations at a conference next week.  The presentations are based on papers already (or mostly) written but they still require preparing.  I will be at the conference from Sunday to Wednesday and will not be doing any of my regular work while I'm there.  This means that most of my work needs to be done before I go.

It will be a long weekend.

Today I organized a practice session for the doctoral students who will be presenting at the conference.  It went exceptionally well but ate up 3 hours.  It was great to see how far many of our students have come.  They have interesting research topics, well designed studies, and know how to tell a good story.  I was particularly happy that our newest cohort showed up to provide support and feedback and to see what their "older" peers can do.

**34 w's were used in this post. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Theory Project

I have been exploring a theory from a different discipline than mine for a paper that I am writing.  I am going to submit this paper to a journal that is in this other discipline and it will not be received well unless I ground the paper in a theory that is relevant to the field.  I was not sure this would be possible when I first started searching for a suitable theory.

But the theory that I found fits very well and is helping me think about both my paper and my analysis in very different ways.  Luckily the founder of the theory has not only written extensively on the theory but writes in a very accessible and pragmatic manner.  For someone outside of the discipline, this is incredibly useful.

There is another theory that I'm exploring for the paper.  This is a theory I was very familiar with many years ago, when I was studying in a third field.  I have not kept up with the theory but my prior understanding of it is instrumental to how I am interpreting the data.  I dug into the literature to find something more recent than my ancient notes and was surprised to find the theory had morphed considerably since I last explored it.  In fact it has even changed names twice.  The current version of the theory is actually a much better fit for this particular paper and for my work in general.

I've been reading about these two theories simultaneously and I'm interested in how they speak to each other across fields; where they converge and where they depart.  There is a third theory in yet another field that I've been applying to my work for the past couple of years.  It would be very interesting to see what all of these theories have to say to one another and then to incorporate that dialogue into my field.

Each theory, in its own way, relates to relationships within families.  This is a large part of my current work and my discipline does not do a good job of addressing families (theoretically or practically). So I'm thinking of a paper project where I analyze these theories in conjunction to each other and to my field and see what I come up with.  It is an intriguing thought and, if nothing else, would be useful to shaping the direction of my work.  But in thinking about it I realize it is a type of paper I have not really seen in any of the fields where I work and read.  Why don't we cross-analyze theories?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Adult Learners

This semester I am teaching both undergraduates and doctoral students.  After teaching for over 5 years in both programs I am finally beginning to understand the difference between the two types of students.

Of course there are the obvious differences.  A lot of faculty focus on the difference in motivation: graduate students (especially doctoral students) want to be in school and have a vested interest in the field while many undergraduates feel college is mandatory and do not have a fondness for academics generally or the field specifically.  I suppose this changes by institution, field and program but the majority of our undergraduates are just doing time.

But the difference I've really narrowed in on lately is the ability to be vulnerable.  Undergraduates (at least traditionally-aged undergraduates--undergraduates are a pretty diverse group these days and I know I am over-simplifying here) are used to not knowing material.  They have been effectively trained throughout their K-12 education that they don't know much and the teacher knows everything. This is unfortunate as many of us know a lot less than we think and some of us would welcome being challenged on what we do know.  An effective undergraduate teacher needs to provide them with opportunities to challenge not only what they know but what others (particularly those in authority) know and then be able to evaluate the difference.  They need to own their knowledge enough to be vulnerable when it is challenged.  There is less vulnerability because they have less to lose.  They need to learn how to push their knowledge and to push back when others, such as their teachers, make knowledge claims.  I haven't mastered this yet by any means but I am recognizing that this is what my students need.

Doctoral students are in a very different position.  Most of them are coming back to school and are accomplished adults.  To get into a doctoral program is not easy and ours requires you already have a masters' degree.  This means we are teaching individuals who have a level of expertise in our (or a related) field and most have been working professionals for some time.  They are talented, intelligent, motivated and used to excelling in their area.  In their very first semester of the doctoral program this confidence is being shaken.  They are recognizing all that they do not know; all that they have to learn; and are beginning to question if they really are all that they thought they were. Many have a very difficult time being vulnerable in the classroom or in their assignments.

Vulnerability is incredibly important for learning.  You can only learn if you are open and being open makes you vulnerable.  Most (young) undergraduates are used to being open and don't feel defensive about acquiring new knowledge (that is not to say they can't be resistant; there are many ways that people resist learning).  Being vulnerable is a risky business and adults who have gained a sense of competence and confidence are reluctant to put themselves in that position again.  I am learning how to recognize this reluctance and to help students work through it.  For many it is helpful to acknowledge their expertise and to allow them to be comfortable with the discomfit of being a novice again.

I gave feedback on papers to both my undergraduate and my doctoral students last week.  Most of it was negative.  The undergraduates were concerned with their grades.  If the grade was even marginally good they didn't feel the need to see the feedback.  If the grade was bad, their only concern was the ramifications for their final grade.  The doctoral students reacted very differently.  I had two in my office today to discuss their papers.  The underlying concern was that this meant they might not be who they thought they were.  I could see the dreaded imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head.  With each of them I discussed writing as an continuous learning process and I acknowledge what they could do.  I let my students know that I expect them to struggle and that I deliberately give them difficult assignments so that they will be forced to do so. I expect them to learn from their assignments and they do.

I feel confident in my ability to make the classroom safe spaces for my doctoral students; a space to admit what they don't know; to stretch themselves and, occasionally, to fall down.  Sometimes it takes private conversations like the ones I had today to help establish that trust. I feel less confident in my ability to push my undergraduates.  I don't really buy that they don't care.  I'm sure there are a few who truly don't; a few who don't know why they are in college in the first place; but I am convinced that no one wants to do poorly and that most people want to push their understanding of a topic as long as you can hook them on the topic in the first place.  Now I need to find that hook.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Maternal Desire

blue milk has re-posted one of her many fascinating posts.  In this one she discusses maternal desire and claims that it may be as hard to describe maternal desire to someone who hasn't experienced it as it is to describe sexual desire to someone with no libido. This statement brought me back to my very early twenties.

I remember being hit with the physical sensation of maternal desire at 22 or 23.  It was amazingly strong and oftentimes overwhelming.  At the time I likened it to both sexual desire and hunger pains only it was embodied in a different organ.  I felt desire in my uterus.  If you've never felt this than there is no explaining it but once it is there it is difficult to ignore.

I knew I would be a mother for as long as I can remember.  This was a fact I carried around with me the same way I embodied my gender.  I didn't play with dolls when I was young (although I had a large collection of stuffed animals) and I never was (and to this day am still not) much of a baby person.  I don't think all babies are cute or all children are precious.  I wasn't particularly interested in babysitting (except to raise some cash).  I never imagined my wedding or thought much about a husband.  But I knew I would be a mother someday in the future.

In my early twenties I was firmly established in a relationship and had just finished college.  The desire started slowly when I first became an aunt.  It was the first time I had a claim to a child.  I remember being fascinated by my niece (to be honest I remain fascinated by her today, she is extraordinary) in a way I had never been fascinated by a baby before.  In a year or two, the desire started to take hold and I noticed a physical sensation that could not be satisfied in any other way.

This desire propelled me to turn my established relationship into a marriage and, less than a year later, start an aggressive campaign to get pregnant (as is my way I couldn't just start trying, I had to make it a project).  Two months later I had achieved my goal.  Given the physicality of my desire, I assumed I would enjoy pregnancy.  I figured it would be similar to enjoying a good meal after you've fasted.  If I had thought that through I would have realized the error of my ways.  You barely notice food after a sustained hunger and you usually end up eating too much and feeling bloated and uncomfortable afterwards.  That was pretty much my experience with getting and being pregnant.

In an exceptionally blessed and privileged life, being Angel's mother has been the highlight.  Once he was born, I never felt that desire again.  I felt something vaguely similar when he left for college. Luckily I was able to recognize it for what it was: a physical desire to have HIM again, not any random baby.

These days I notice the urge for a grandchild is growing but those feelings are embodied in my arms.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Golden Hour Fail

SouthLite has a lot of lakes.  It also has a lot of trails and many of them are by the lakes.  b and I have been running on one of these lake trails in the mornings.  Whenever when we run I think about how I'd like to shoot the lake in the "golden hour" (or magic hour, whichever you prefer).

As wonderful as the golden hour is, I find it hard to get away from whatever it is I'm doing when it arrives.  Today I was determined to make it happen.  Since I was working at home and it was a beautiful day, it seemed like the odds were in my favor. I finished working early, cleaned the kitchen and prepped dinner, and then grabbed my camera and jumped into the car.

The lake is about 10 minutes away from my house but the road that leads to it is a busy one and the golden hour is right around rush hour these days. So after a bit of traffic I made it to the marina. The lake was quiet and beautiful.  I was very excited. I took out my camera and started shooting.

Alas, before I could even get into my groove, the camera died. It seems I made the classic mistake of not checking my equipment and the battery needed recharging. So I got back into the car, drove back through the same traffic, and tried to save the few shots I got with Photoshop.

Tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Giving Feedback

I've been thinking about how we learn to give feedback.   Giving feedback is a critical skill in academia. We don't usually call it feedback, instead we conduct peer reviews and we grade papers. But how are we actually taught to do these things?  I remember being given opportunities to review papers as a doctoral student but no one really showed me how it was done.  As for  grading, I was taught how to develop rubrics but there was no instruction on how to provide feedback for a poorly written assignment.  I was very lucky to have mentors and editors who provided extensive and painful reviews of my work.  This not only taught me to be a better writer but I believe it taught me how to provide constructive criticism to others.

I have taught peer reviews in both my undergraduate and graduate classes.  Depending on how much time I have to devote to the topic, my instruction ranges from just providing a framework to showing effective reviews and discussing the review process.  As much as I can, I assign writing in drafts to allow for feedback before the final product is turned in.  Often I can arrange it so that each student gets feedback from me as well as from a peer.  Sometimes the peer feedback is helpful but there are many times when it is not.

Regardless of how I instruct students to do peer reviews, good reviews seem to come from good writers.  If you have spent time working on your own writing it is easier to see what is not working in someone else's writing.  If you are clueless in your own writing, it is pretty difficult to provide a meaningful critique of someone else's work.  Or perhaps it is associated with the ability to read critically.  Good writers are usually good readers and learning to read as a writer is one of the best ways to improve your own writing.

Most of my students appreciate my feedback.  They don't enjoy it in the moment but it helps them get to the next step for that particular paper and for their writing overall.  On doctoral committees I am often the one providing the most indepth feedback.  I provide feedback on both issues of design and issues of writing.  Sometimes this means I end up reading more drafts than other committee members, even when I am the outside member.  I don't like the additional workload but I'd rather help out early than have to critique a poorly written dissertation right before a defense.

Some advisors provide very little feedback.  My gut reaction is that this is not a sign of laziness or disinterest in a student.  It does take a lot of time to provide useful feedback but I find most of my colleagues are willing to invest that time in their students, especially their doctoral students.  Instead I think it comes from discomfort with the process.  This is probably a combination of not liking to tear apart someone's work (although many people are comfortable doing this in a blind review) and not knowing how to give helpful feedback.  Like students, many academics struggle with their own writing.  Technically they may have stronger writing skills than their students (although as a group academics are not known for writing well) but they struggle to put words on paper on a consistent schedule.

It is interesting to me that we spend years receiving specialized training in our field but so very little attention is paid to developing skills for the tasks we need to do on a daily basis: teach, write, review.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

RBOC: Can't Manage A Coherent Post Edition

  • Day O"Advising is done and I couldn't be happier.  It went fine.  There were problems. Maybe they'll be fixed next time or maybe it can't be fixed.  I don't really care.  I'm just glad I don't have to advise anyone tomorrow.
  • I seem to know a lot of people who are breaking up or have broken-up recently.  They are all women.  Most of them are doing/have done the breaking up.  In talking with them it brings back memories of leaving my ex.  The stories are all so similar.
  • Angel is thinking about applying to this school. It looks very cool and very expensive. While the job placement rate is extremely high, it is not a degree-granting institution. That makes me nervous.
  • Pumpkin is applying for a new job.  She has a job and feels guilty applying for another one.  The new job would be a better match for her interests but over the long run won't pay as well.  I think she is perfect for the new job but she just found out that a friend, who already has two graduate degrees and has worked for the organization previously, is also applying.  She is worried.  She sent her application in yesterday and today they scheduled an interview.  I am not so worried.
  • The President visited SouthLite recently and worked out at my gym.  He was there early in the morning but b and I slept in that day.  Of course.
  • Yesterday I finished grading all the papers in my possession.  Tomorrow I get a new set.
  • The w and q on my keyboard have stopped working.  I will have to send my laptop away for 5 days to get it fixed. You don't realize how often you use the w until you can't do it any longer.  
  • b wanted me to type "doubleu" and "cue" instead.  It would look something like this:  The doubleu and cue on my keyboard have stopped doubleuorking.  I doubluill have to send my laptop adoubleuay for 5 days to get it fixed.  You don't realize hodoubleu often you use the doubleu until you can't do it any longer.  I opted to attach an external keyboard instead.  You're welcome.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Mid-Semester Blues

My students were driving me a little crazy today.  To clarify, I mean my undergraduate students.  My doctoral student writing group met today and much progress has been made.  The undergrads were a very different story.

The story may need a little context.  We are now just halfway through the semester.  We've just come back from fall break.  They have gotten 65% of their grade for the semester.  Several failed the mid-term and only a handful did well on the paper.  I'm not happy and they're not happy (well most of them are not happy and 4 of them dropped the class).

The class was much smaller today.  In addition to the 4 drops, 8 were absent and 4 came in late. One of the people who came in late also left very early.  Several others seemed to have urgent bathroom needs.  Did I mention I was not happy?

I'll admit, today's topic is not one of my favorites and the format was almost completely lecture.  I prefer discussion but there was very little of that happening today.  I realized later when I recorded the attendance that at least half of those absent were my best students (and the ones I can count on for an interesting discussion).  To be fair, I generally find my interest in teaching any class decreases considerably at the halfway mark. I think if my semester was 8 weeks long, I'd get bored at week 4.  

We have some serious issues going on in our undergraduate program.  We are working on correcting them but I'm afraid it will take a few years.  In the meantime it is brutal getting through these classes.  Our enrollment has grown so much in the last few years that we can no longer use our regular advising system.  Tomorrow we are trying out a new system where we will be advising in groups for about 6 hours straight.  Somehow I don't think my mood will improve.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fields of Inquiry

I've been thinking a bit about fields lately.  Not the kind found at the end of a path in the woods (although I really like that kind), not the kind where you conduct naturalistic research, and certainly not the kind with four bases.  I've been thinking about research fields; scholarly disciplines; fields of inquiry.

I gave my doctoral students an assignment that involved them reading an essay on the philosophy of science and mixed methods.  To make his argument the author positioned paradigms as shared belief within a field of inquiry or a community of researchers.  While I buy parts of his argument, that doesn't work for me as a working definition of scientific paradigms.  However I realize I am probably influenced by my lack of serious grounding in any one field.  I have a very hard time identifying my community of researchers.

The discipline in which I received my training is different from the discipline in which I have conducted research for over twenty years.  I tend to identify with the field in which I work and not the field in which I was trained.  But with no true credentials in this field, I am often considered a bit of an outsider. It is a very interdisciplinary field so it hasn't been a large problem in terms of getting positions or funding but there are subtle exclusions.  I've felt them the most in my current position when it comes to discussions of curriculum and teaching opportunities.

Since my adopted field is interdisciplinary, we tend to publish in other people's fields.  We play in a lot of people's sandboxes, especially when it comes to publications.  At least I thought we all did. Now I'm realizing that even in an interdisciplinary field, most researchers tend to find a focused set of outlets (in terms of journals and conferences) and set up shop.  I haven't done this.  My CV is rather all over the place.  I believe this is contributing to my long list of rejections lately.  I'm treading into areas where I am an outsider.

I've also been thinking about fields of inquiry because I'm reading a fair amount of theory in other fields.  I like theory.  I like reading about it.  I like thinking about it.  I like finding ways to apply new theories to my work.  I even have a fledgling theory that I'm trying to develop.  However theories overlap across fields (they also diverge in interesting ways but there is a lot of overlap) and it should not be so difficult to accept a theory from another field.  Yet sometimes it is.

So I've found a theory that I really like that is in a field I know pretty much nothing about.  I've been reading a lot about this theory, mostly articles and books written by the theory's founder.  In doing so I've been really struck by the benefit of immersing oneself so firmly in one field (and this case one theory).  It is not that she hasn't learned from other disciplines, she certainly has, but her focus for developing the theory, evaluating the theory, and writing about the theory is all soundly in her field.

It would be nice to be so firmly positioned but I realize this never would or could be me.  I enjoy hopping around to much to ever stay in one field.  I like making analogies and connections across disciplines.  I feel I learn much more this way.  In fact lately I have plans to position my work in three additional fields (or subfields).  I don't know where this all will lead me but I imagine it is going to take me longer to get there.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Angel's Fall Break

It is almost 9pm on Sunday night and Angel just left.  It has been a very very different fall break than the one I had planned.  I planned a replay of last year's fall break: me, b and Pupzilla spending a week on the beach.  I imagined it sunny but not too warm.  I imagined b cooking delicious dinners while I did a little grading.  I imagined yoga in my room, long walks (maybe a few runs) on the beach and an occasional swim.

What I got was a deluge of rain here in SouthLite, no beach, and over four days of nonstop grading. By the time grading and my official fall break was over, Angel's was just beginning.  As I mentioned recently, Angel has a very different relationship with my home this semester.  It is actually the relationship I thought he would have three years ago when he first went to college.  He not only decided to spend his entire fall break at our house but he had to bring one of his best friends (and roommate).

The friend is a great guy.  At 6'5", he is a taller version of Angel.  He is sensitive, sweet and sarcastic.  He is incredibly polite and appreciative.  He and Angel spent the entire break sitting with me at my kitchen table doing homework and talking.  They are very funny together.  Their work is constantly interrupted by media: sharing youtube and hulu videos, repeating favorite lines from favorite comedians,  naming the melody and composer of movie soundtracks, and watching videogame tournaments.  I'm not sure how they actually get any work done.

I sat with them doing my own work and answering questions about graduate school applications, research methodology, and paper writing.  They showed me all of their favorite Portlandia episodes (if you haven't seen them, they are quite funny).  When I wasn't sitting I was up cooking, baking or cleaning up.  They eat a lot those two young men.

We had a great time with them.  b had some quality time swapping comedic routines and media references with them and actually did the bulk of the cooking and baking.  They were supposed to leave early (or their version of early) this morning and I had planned a recovery day for myself.  Now it is 9 o'clock and my week starts tomorrow.  Angel's parting words included "I'll be back in two weeks."  I think I may need to rest up.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sex, Roses, Babies and Book Club

My book club met today.  
As usual there was booze and baked goods.  

I've also been buying roses for the house and found these lovely yellow tea roses yesterday.
One of the book club members brought an honorary member.  I was there when this little cutie drew his first breath.  He was adorable then and just keeps getting cuter with time.

We read A Little Sugar In My Bowl: Real Women Talk About Real Sex.  We are all real women.  We talked about sex in the essays and sex in our lives.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

On Rejections

Just the other night I had finished up a post and was closing my laptop to get ready for bed when I checked my email one last time.  It was right before midnight and one lone email popped up.  It was a decision email from an editor rejecting my paper.  Who sends out rejection emails at midnight?

I have certainly received rejections throughout my career but lately they have been coming fast and furious.  I have not had an acceptance in a long time.  Actually I should say I have not had an acceptance where I was the first author in a long time.  My students and colleagues that write with me have faired much better than me as of late.  It has been over a year since I've even received a revise and resubmit on a first authored publication.

At first I thought it was because I was not spending enough time and careful attention on my own work. I still believe this was true but not for the last few manuscripts.  I may be picking the wrong journals but this last paper has been rejected by two journals in the past 4 months and both of them were very carefully selected.

So I need to ask myself, what exactly is going on?  Unfortunately there are a lot of variables so it is difficult to pinpoint the problem.  I could chalk it all up to a bad streak.  However the one consistent thing that that has changed is the my perception of my writing and research topics.  When I had less difficulty getting published I thought most of my work was rather boring and not all that unique.  Sure there was something in each manuscript that hadn't been asked before, but that something felt rather minor.  Lately my work has felt a bit more cutting-edge.  I'm trying to merge fields; I'm using riskier (at least for my field) methodology; I'm asking unique questions.  

I am also operating on a smaller scale.  In my last position I had the luxury of large grants (which generated large datasets) and a famous PI.  Our methodology, though conservative, was sound. Currently most of my work is put together on a shoestring.  I make it happen by my efforts, a student research team and (if I'm lucky) a few extra dollars thrown to me from my university.  

I think it is possible to be successful in academia asking unique questions with risky methodology but you probably need the resources and the backing that I had before.  I also think it is possible to be successful doing smaller scale work, but you may have to be more conservative.  Or perhaps it is something completely different.  Perhaps I have just not found my voice in this new area yet. Science is incredibly conservative and new ideas need to be introduced carefully.  I know this from my training.  The problem is I don't know if I have the patience.

My ideas are well received in conferences and presentations.  People seem excited about what I am doing when I talk to them about it.  Normally I would say that they are just being kind but my previous experience tells me that academics enjoy telling you what is wrong with your thinking or methodology, even to your face.  

I don't need a lot of new publications.  I have published a lot for someone at my level.  Also I have the luxury of tenure and I continue to publish (although not as first author as of late).  One of the problems with the rejections is that I need to keep working on the same manuscripts.  I want to get them out because I am wedded to them.  They not only represent a significant amount of my time, effort, and thought but they also represent the voices of my participants and I feel they deserve a chance to be heard.  At the same time I have at least a dozen (actually it is getting close to 14) new papers that are somewhere in the analysis/writing stage.  More importantly, I have a desire for bigger projects.  I have several book-length projects in mind but I don't feel I can start them until I've cleared away most of these papers.

My manuscripts are beginning to feel like children who refuse to leave the nest. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Touch Typing

I was thinking about the post I wrote last month where I listed the five most important decisions of my adult life. While these are certainly the monumental decisions, it feels like there have been dozens of small ones and each of those have ended up making a large impact in my life.  One such decision was to learn how to "touch type."

I had the opportunity to learn when I was in middle school.  It was one of the electives we were offered. I remember at the time thinking there was no way I'd want to type.  It was so secretarial. Instead I took sewing.  I'm not sure how that was any better but I ended up making a toy daschund, which I gave to my sister.

Fast forward a few years and I landed my first job.  It was in retail and I was a cashier.  I was only on a register for a few months when they promoted me to the "back office."  Most of my responsibilities revolved around counting money, making change and answering the phone.  Still it was fun.  I liked my colleagues, was usually pretty busy, and felt important.  There were some internal politics and I ended up getting highly offended.  I quit in a fit of righteous indignation.  The next day I realized I didn't have a job or the money to pay the bills.

So I found another job.  It was also in retail and I was again in the back office.  This time I wasn't counting money but doing even more meaningless tasks.  The owners were horribly racist and I was miserable.  I decided I needed a real job, which to me meant an office job out of retail.  However all of those jobs required I pass a typing test first.

This was still in the days before personal computers so typing as something you did on a typewriter. I had an old manual one I used to henpeck out my papers for college but that wasn't going to cut it. So I enrolled in a class at the local YMCA.  I remember sitting in a dingy room with banks of big clunky electric typewriters.  The instructor would have us type some inane sentence (the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog) and you would hear everybody's keys clacking away.  I tried hard to get a rhythm for it in the 4 weeks of the class.

By the time it was over I wasn't fast or particularly proficient but I did have the keyboard memorized.  I applied for many jobs, went on several interviews, and did really poorly on all the typing tests.  I finally did well enough to land a job in a manufacturing department of a publishing firm. Ironically, that job eventually opened the door for two of my sisters to get positions and each of them met their husbands in the company.

My boss was incredibly patient with me.  I typed all of 40 words a minute and most of the words contained an error.  The bulk of my job was to type up orders, which came in sevenplicate.  This meant that when I made a mistake I had to white out all seven copies.  My boss would look at my mangled orders, sigh and sign them. I was supposed to practice my typing during my down time and I usually did.  We had a lot of down time and I made friends with the woman across from me.  She was a writer and we would each type out long letters to one another (or she would type stories and I would type letters) since we were supposed to look busy and not talk too much.

Eventually I improved but by the time I did was promoted to a position that didn't require much typing. I kept it up anyway. When I finally left that job, my speed and proficiency at typing tests landed me several other administrative jobs.  In most of them my typing tasks were minimal but my accounting skills were well utilized.  I was now counting money on spreadsheets.  It is interesting that I never had to take a math test.  My bookkeeping skills were always assumed.

Of course now it is completely different.  Everyone has computers and everyone types.  All the typing I do know is straight from my head to my fingers (a far more efficient system to be sure).  But it was that silly typing class and overcoming the obstacle of the typing test that set me on my way.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

b's Adventure

Regular readers will remember our cross-continent trip this past summer.  I posted about it here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Prior to (and reason for) our trip, b and a friend had their own adventure, paddling The Inside Passage.  This is a trip that b has spent over 10 years planning.  He's written about the trip and the planning process on his blog, Paddling Otaku.

While on the trip, he shot a lot of video.  Since coming home he's been busy editing the video into three short films.  Each episode can be found on his blog but I thought I'd post the Paddle North Trilogy here, for your viewing pleasure.

Here is my multi-talented husband having his version of fun.

Teaser Trailer

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Monday, October 10, 2011

Angel's Senior Year

It is hard to believe but Angel is a senior in college and will be graduating next May.  When he was a senior in high school I was prepared for a change in his behavior and in our relationship.  From what I had heard, senior year was when he would begin to pull away and there would be some negative behavior/interactions around that process.  It didn't happen.  It didn't happen during the gap year that followed either.

What did happen (for those of you who didn't live through it with me) was he pretty much disappeared the day he went to college.  We barely heard from him (when we did it was because he needed help) and he rarely came home.  In fact he didn't even make it home for Christmas (or the entire winter break) his first year.  He did come home that first summer but it wasn't a happy time for any of us.

At the end of his sophomore year he moved out of the dorms and into his own place.  This was a great move and for the past year and a half we have had a nice but not terribly close relationship. We occasionally visit him and he comes here on holidays.  We communicate by phone, email, and text. Three quarters of the time we hear from him because he needs help (mostly money) but there are some conversations that are purely for enjoyment.  I can't say I love it but I'm used to it.  I miss him but I'm used to missing him.

This year is a little different.  He is coming up to see us for fall break.  He was up a few weeks ago and tried to come up last week.  He and I have had a couple of multiple-hour phone calls and I hear from him several times a week.  He has also been calling and relying on his father more than ever before. Most of this renewed attention is because he needs help accomplishing some big tasks this year.  He has a research project for his capstone course and he's been picking my brain on methodology.  He is also looking into graduate school and preparing for a cross-country bike ride that includes fund-raising for a worthy cause.

He told me he likes to come here for the weekend because it is quiet, he gets a lot of work done, he saves money and he has a good time.  The last part surprised me a bit.

He is anxious.  Finishing college is a big step (and particularly scary in the current economic condition).  I think part of him is ready to be done and the other part thinks he's not ready for the world.  He really wants to be ready.  He's making a big push to get himself there this year.  What is interesting is that in pushing forward he has begun to reach back.

I expected the adolescent years to be the push/pull of dependence and independence but it seems there is a fair amount of it happening in the young adult years.  I remember being on my own at his age.  My family was not in a position to provide a safety net in case I couldn't make it or a safe haven for when I was feeling anxious and overwhelmed.  I'm happy to be able to do that for him and I'm enjoying his company while I have it. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Our Girl

Mostly she sleeps; on the couch, on her bed and, in the afternoon, on the sunny spot of the living room floor.  Some mornings we need to coax her just to get her to go outside.  She has many bumps and moles.  Her snout is almost completely white; she has arthritis in her left knee; and she no longer sees very well in the dark.  She is still quick to remind us that it is dinnertime and waits patiently for scraps while we cook.  Sometimes she forgets to leave the room when we're eating but eventually she goes, with a sigh.  She digs holes in her bed trying to get it just right.  Tonight we found her crawled inside one large hole with her face peering out of another--like a child snuggled up in a sleeping bag.  But throughout it all she's our girl and we love her.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Red Red Roses

Moses supposes his toeses are roses
But Moses supposes erroneously
For nobody's toeses are posies of roses
As Moses supposes his toeses to be

Click here for the original

In Which We Don't Go To The Beach

This morning we pulled the plug on the beach vacation.  We had been iffy on the financial prudence of the trip from the beginning and there was more than a little threat of rain for the entire time we would be there (of course now the forecast is changing).  I am fine with the decision and am hoping we can make it happen for spring break.  b, I think, is sadder.

So there is still tons of grading in front of me but also a full week of not having a reason to go into the office. We will make plans as the days go by.  Angel and a friend may come up at the end of the week for their fall break.

I spent several hours grading the first set of undergraduate papers today.  It was painful.  I know grading is always abhorrent and our students have serious writing deficits but this was particularly painful.  I tried a new assignment and it was really bad.  I think it could eventually be a good (and important) assignment but this version is quite bad.  So I am stuck figuring out grades that are fair for their lack of ability and effort but also fair for the poor quality of the assignment.

One of the (several) reasons why the assignment was bad is that it depended on peer reviews.  I believe (strongly) in draft writing for my students.  If I don't force them to write in drafts they will hand in what they wrote the night before.  With almost 50 students I can't provide feedback and grade drafts.  In fact just grading the final product is going to take upwards of three days (again, partly my own fault because of the suckitude of the assignment).  Most (if not all) of my colleagues do not give written assignments for classes of 50 and above.  So I thought I'd compromise and give one small assignment in two drafts with peer reviewers providing feedback between the drafts.  The problem with the plan is that the students don't know how to write and therefore most don't provide adequate feedback.  In fact some give quite wrong feedback.

Students, in general, don't understand the meaning of revision.  In most cases I'm finding very little difference between draft one and draft two and some very complimentary peer reviews (they have to hand the whole packet in: original, peer review and final).  So as I am reading the final products I am realizing I needed to provide several lessons: (1) on the original assignment idea (which focused on reading in my discipline); (2) on writing; (3) on giving a peer review; and (4) on revising.  None of this, of course, is possible in the time I have to teach the course content.

As found in many other universities, we have a policy for integrating writing across the curriculum. This means teaching writing isn't supposed to only happen in students' general education requirements, such as English, but instead should happen in their major as well.  The current policy has every major offering a course that focuses on writing and that course is supposed to be capped at a certain size (certainly not 50).  My course is not the course.  My course isn't even a required course in the major.  But I believe in writing so there is a lot of writing in my course but this is the only assignment that provides feedback on writing.

The problem is enrollment has increased dramatically and it is difficult for some departments (including mine) to cover these writing courses for all their majors.  The university is trying to come up with a new system but the current suggestion, in my opinion, doesn't solve the problem.  However it will probably hide it.

I believe students should graduate college knowing how to write clearly; how to organize and present their thoughts in a written format.  I know they won't learn that (a) in one or two courses only and (b) without getting feedback between drafts.  I also believe their reading comprehension and critical thinking skills should increase from their college experience.  I believe writing helps there too. This assignment has done none of the above.

I am amazed when I read Angel's drafts, not because they are perfect but because I know where his writing was in high school.  I also see the connection between his ability to think and analyze text and his increasing ability to write.  I want the same for my students.  Unfortunately in the current climate it makes more sense for me to drop the assignment completely than to make it a useful one.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall Break Eve

Fall Break officially begins on Saturday, as we have Monday and Tuesday off.  However I have no classes and no meetings tomorrow, which makes tonight Fall Break Eve for me.  There are some beach plans in our future but there is also a whole lot of grading in mine.  I have 50 undergraduate papers, 50 undergraduate mid-term exams, 7 doctoral papers, and 1 dissertation paper to grade. Some of it will be done on the car ride to the beach.

In addition to grading, I have some paper writing and data analysis that absolutely has to get done next week.  There's also a conference at the end of the month where I am committed to giving two presentations and they aren't going to prepare themselves.  Hard to imagine there will be room for fun but I plan on quite a lot.  There will definitely be some photography, long walks on the beach, yoga in the hotel room, snuggles with b and Pupzilla, and the next book club book.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

High Culture

I've been enjoying the cultural life here in SouthLite.   We have a great little theatre and b and I try to go once a season.  Last week we went to see their rendition of Dial M For Murder.  It was quite fun. We also have a historic film theatre that now shows classics as well as live performances.  It was the place where I discovered Ruthie Foster.  More recently we stopped in for a showing of Singing in the Rain.

Tonight I went with a colleague to the theatre at my university.  I had never been before.  I had heard that our theatre and music departments were excellent so I as looking forward to the evening.  They did a steam punk-inspired version of ThreePenny Opera. I had never seen the show before.  I was impressed with both the show and the performances.  Who knew that was where Mack the Knife came from?

This weekend Angel is coming up for a visit.  We're hoping to take him to a two man play in the local cabaret.  One of the two men is a friend of ours and I've been told he does half the play in drag.  Next month Angel is coming up to see Lewis Black with us and then we have a staged version of A Christmas Carol to look forward to in December.

Ironically I see more theatre and live music here than I ever did in The City of Pizza and Bagels.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Writing Group

Last year I started a writing group with my doctoral students.  It is primarily a support/accountability group.  We meet every two weeks for coffee and to update each other on where we are with a current project or product.  Attendance was spotty the first year but by the end we had a small core group that volunteered to keep the group going during the summer.

We had a meeting today and many of my regulars from last year had to miss it.  However we have had an influx of new members this year, including 4 first year students who showed up for the first time today.  The first years were very excited to be invited to the group and some of them took notes.

Standard advice is that these types of groups should not combine faculty and students.  I believe the thinking is that (a) faculty can be intimidating (making students less likely to be open and honest and making it harder for students to get the support that they need) and (b) it can become an instructional group, with students looking to faculty members for instructions on writing.  I don't feel that this is happening with my group but my original intention was to get it started and then back out.
Today we had a discussion about the composition of the group: whether more faculty should be invited or whether it should be faculty-free.  The group was quite clear that they didn't want it changed from its present configuration.  We share problems that arise in the process of writing and I do give more "tips" than any other member.  I find myself fluctuating between mentor and group member and I haven't been completely comfortable with it.  Today I was told that the mentor role is critical for them and they don't want to lose it.  

Last year progress on completing writing products were slow for many group members. I felt like the accountability part of the group was not working.  Today however I was pleasantly surprised with the progress that people have been making (myself included).  It finally feels like it is coming together.                                                               

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sad and Sweet

Schmutzie invited us to share a post about tasty, sad sweet endings.  I don't know that tasty fits the bill here but I have a strange love of cemeteries.  I love the quiet and peace and the finality of it all.  Here are a few cemetery shots I've been meaning to share.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

RBOC: Favorite Hobbies Edition

  • Just came back from Sunday morning yoga class.  I'll spend the afternoon working and then head out for Sunday evening yoga class.  I'm averaging 5-6 classes a week and 1-2 at home practices.
  • This morning's class was focused on the back and Warrior 3.  Warrior 3 feels especially challenging to me.  At the end of class I asked the instructor if we could do more Warrior 3 in tomorrow morning's class.  Yes I am that kind of masochist when it comes to yoga.
  • I think about yoga a lot.  Sometimes it pops into my head before I go to sleep; sometimes when I first wake up.  I read about it when I can and I even watched Enlighten Up (which wasn't very good) just because it was about yoga.  This obsession reminds me of how I first felt about martial arts when I started that at 16.  Somehow that's comforting.
  • My obsession is becoming known among my doctoral students.  I managed to turn 1 of them onto it and she's brought another into the pack.  A third student hasn't done it in years but just sent us all a calendar for her favorite ex-teacher.  It looks like we're going to have a little yoga field trip.
  • I haven't been baking very much.  I haven't been that interested in doing it (the hot summer may have had something to do with that) and I'm trying to eat healthier.  But last night I baked one of my new favorites: cinnamon chocolate chip sour cream coffee cake.  The recipe is from my favorite blog for baking.
  • The coffee cake was amazing.  I ate two small pieces and gave two large pieces to b (I'm bad that way).  The recipe makes a lot so I had him bring most of it into work today.
  • He just texted me that half of it is already gone and he's been there less than 15 minutes.
  • Last night was also pizza night.  The crust was perfect this time.  I now only make pizza in cast iron skillets.
  • I haven't been doing much photography lately either.  Work definitely gets in the way of my hobbies.
  • Last night I took some shots of the pizza and coffee cake.  I didn't think about the shots, I just wanted something for that other social media I sometimes update.  However when I pulled them onto my computer I found shots of dying yellow roses that I had forgotten.
  • Every once in a while I like to play with textures.  I belong to Kim Klassen's Texture-Lovin' Group and get weekly freebies.  So last night I played with the yellow rose shots and some textures.  The result was a blog post.
  • Blogging is one of my favorite hobbies.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Yellow Rose of Texture

Kim Klassen's If Only

Kim Klassen's Silence

Kim Klassen's Thursday

Kim Klassen's Stamped Softly