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  • I just woke up from a nap after having stayed up until 3 AM grading annotated bibliographies.
  • Week seven is hell.
  • I am almost finished taking classes – forever and ever — two more weeks and one of those is the week of Thanksgiving.
  • Apparently some college freshman have never heard of apartheid. I’m adding that to my long list of things students are too young to remember.
  • Also, students only vaguely remember Hurricane Katrina.
  • Lack of sleep makes me want to eat carbs.
  • Grading makes me want a glass of wine.
  • I wrote a draft of my comps questions and sent them to my advisor, but he is sick, so there has been no word.
  • Our comps process takes six weeks. (WTF.)
  • I am so ready to be done with classes and focusing on my research.
  • I don’t have funding for my research, so I need to get moving on the fellowship applications.
  • If all goes well, I will spend April-August “in the field” and be ready to start writing in September.
  • This time next year I could be sending out job applications.
  • I really need to find a post-doc because I doubt I will be “ready” for a TT job by next winter.
  • Some kind of Oprah Christmas present special just came on the TV and the people in the audience are screaming like they won the lottery, which they kinda did. But it is still creepy. Sort of like a revival meeting, only consumerism = god.
  • My Spanish skills are finally returning to their 1992 levels. Between homework and classes I have been spending several hours a day working on this. Too bad that after this quarter is over I have no way to maintain or improve these skills since I need to focus on my comps and dissertation research.
  • I still don’t have down the names of all 66 of my students. How do other people learn their students’ names? (I think it it must be some sort of learning disability on my part.)
  • That is all for now.
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There is a debate going around on the academic blog-o-sphere about faculty salaries and whether or not TT faculty have a right to complain. As far as I can tell it started over at Tenured Radical’s. When folks found out that TR makes over 107K many said she shouldn’t complain or that they themselves don’t feel the need or the right to complain. You can read a few different views: HistoriannDr Crazy, another post by TR, Squadratomagico, and undine.

Here’s the thing folks, from the mouth of someone at the bottom of the academic totem pole…(I make 12-14K depending on whether I get the privilege of teaching over the summer.) If Tenured Radical or other full professors in secure positions are willing to unionize or in any way help organize for better working conditions in academia, I welcome their help. I would be happy to discuss with them what organizing priorities the union should have. Although raises for full faculty wouldn’t be my first priority, I wouldn’t be opposed to organizing for such raises. Certainly we could all agree to organize in opposition to increasing teaching loads and larger and larger class sizes. Unions filled with grad students and adjuncts are weak compared to unions that also have tenured professors as members. There is a campaign happening now at Crunchy U. to unionize the faculty – adjuncts and TT together. It seems that many TT faculty are reticent to join, despite their Marxist leanings.

If you can’t unionize in your state, maybe it is time to start organizing to change that law. There are lots of workers out there who are in worse positions who could use your help. If you can’t unionize legally, maybe it is time to organize. Maybe we should start talking to our students about the conditions we work under. Faculty and students could be allies in organizing for improved education funding.  Civil disobedience could be considered. For that matter, you could do something to help K-12 educators who are struggling under crappy conditions. (Our new roommate is a 1st grade teacher at a low income public school.) Or doing something to help improve the working conditions for preschool teachers. Having well trained (and well paid) preschool teachers would make a huge difference in children’s lives. No one values preschool teachers, yet these are the folks that really need to understand developmental stages and how to provide kids with the foundations to do well in school.

Just don’t expect making change to be easy. I’m just saying.

Tonight I am grumpy for some reason. I think it is because I have spent the last six months teaching and struggling through language classes. I like teaching, really I do, but my department doesn’t assign me to teach within my specialty area. This spring I was assigned to teach a gen ed class that has literally been called “the impossible course” because you are expected to cover the globe in a quarter. I got very little done spring quarter. Then the first four weeks of summer I spent in an intensive grammar course for my foreign language. (Two more third year language classes for me in the fall.) The last three weeks I have been teaching the same technical course as I did last summer. Last summer it took me a ton of time and energy to prep that course. Thankfully, this summer it was basically all ready to go. I’m just not motivated to teach. Research is calling me…only it has been so long that I have lost track of what my dissertation is about and what my next steps should be.

I also have a small research project that is related to the dissertation which I am suppose to be getting done for a regional conference in September…problem…the project proposal is stuck somewhere in the office for the protection of human subjects.

Basically I’m busy beating myself up for not getting enough research done. At the same time I would really like to have a few weeks vacation. Instead, I agreed to write a book chapter that has to be done by the end of the month. Publications are good, so I can’t really be picky, but I now have three different projects to deal with between now and October (when classes start.)

I have also been thinking a lot about my research and trying to imagine what my next research project would be after my dissertation is complete. Now it may seem premature considering that my comps aren’t done and I still need my committee to approve my final dissertation proposal, but I have been doing research related to my dissertation project all along, so I feel like I have already learned some things I like and don’t like about this project. Reading Notorious PhD’s series on the fox and the hedghog in research has gotten me thinking. I’m definitely more of a fox. My research interests are all over the place. But the question that keeps bouncing around inside my head right now is how much I want to subscribe to one particular line of social theory. I know what I like, what research resonates with me, but some days I’m feeling postmodern and other days a bit of traditional western Marxism seems more appropriate. Also, how much can I let current fashions social theory dictate the direction of my research? Hopefully all will become clear through the initiation process that is called comprehensive exams. Duh, duh, duh….Epiphanies will abound.

P.S. I don’t know if I will ever get back in the habit of blogging here on a regular basis.

First,  congrats to my good friend Trillwing! She was offered a TT position, I won’t say more because she should reveal that herself but let’s just say that she is fabulous and deserves the best.

Here the hypothetical situation I would like you all to consider. You have an advisor who is smart and well thought of but inaccessible, just very difficult to keep in contact with. This person on paper is the ideal advisor for you, but in reality is difficult to handle. Do you find another advisor? Do you continue to persist in trying to manage this person despite the warnings of other graduate students and faculty? How long do you attempt to “make it work”? Do you talk to this person directly about the issue?

As I have mentioned, I’m planning to work through my comprehensive exams process during the fall quarter and so need to get my advising and my committee worked out. Unfortunately, the available professors are all real people with their own unique quirks.

This term I am in a seminar with an unusual twist. We are using about half the class time for a sort of writing workshop. Each week we turn in a bit of our term paper and get feedback. I should be very excited about this because I have been in grad school a very long time and have rarely gotten any feedback on my writing. The professor for this seminar is a very well know, senior scholar in our discipline so it’s exciting to get help from him. His logic is that normally we would all write our term papers during the final week or two of the quarter anyway, so we might as well just spend some time each week on our writing and get some actual feedback so that the final paper might be publishable. He also laid out which sections we were to turn in each week: abstract, outline, introduction, literature review, and so on.

This all sounds great so far, except I’m finding in practice it’s not. Here’s the thing, that’s not how I write my term papers. It’s true that I don’t get started on the actual writing of the paper until the end of the quarter, but I spend my spare moments all quarter researching, finding “data”, and reading through articles to build my literature review. By the end of the quarter I usually have a good idea of how my paper will be structured. Sometimes I write it from the beginning straight through, but often I start writing and then discover that the point I’m making needs to be moved later. My original intro is usually crap because I have to write some overly general rubbish in order to get to the heart of my argument. I don’t write a complete outline first, although I do write down some sections headings and points I need to make. So getting feedback on pieces of my paper before I have finished doing the research I need to come to a conclusion and make a solid argument is somewhat pointless. It’s also somewhat embarrassing because  it makes me look like I don’t know how to make an argument.

I’m only writing this now because I don’t know how to proceed with the next section of my paper which I’m suppose to be turning in today. My paper is tangentially related to my dissertation, but is something that I haven’t researched at all before this quarter. This specific topic hasn’t been written about much in the academic literature. Historical information about rural parts of this country is not easily available outside of local historical societies, and the one I need happens to be closed for remodeling until next spring. Arg!

It’s now Week 5. Yay, the quarter is half over. I’m super overloaded taking two seminars and finishing up second year Spanish. When I start to feel depressed and overwhelmed I tell myself this is the last quarter I will have a full load like this. Spring quarter I will be teaching a large entry level class and taking one seminar. (That will most likely be an overwhelming amount of work, but I’m trying to convince myself the opposite.) During the summer I will be taking third year Spanish and then take my qualifying exams next Fall! I keep telling myself that I’m making progress because sometimes it seems my writing and thinking is getting more confused rather than less.

Beorn’s health is improving. The Embrel seems to be having some positive effect on his RA.

In other news a friend visited last weekend. She and I went out Saturday night to a concert/dance with some great live music. Since I hardly ever go out or dress up, I decided to paint my nails.  Unfortunately I forgot the depths of my clumsiness. After getting through one hand, I got distracted and suddenly I had spilled the nail polish all over the table, the floor, and the cat. Poor BOK was very upset. We tried to wash him off, but of course it wouldn’t come off with soap and water. Then I decided that the only thing to do was to shave off the affected hair. Beorn held BOK and I used to clippers on him. He wasn’t happy, but he didn’t try to bite us. When I got down to the skin I discovered that some of the polish had gotten onto his skin. I got worried that he might get sick from licking his skin, but it was Saturday night, so I decided to call the animal hospital to see what the vet would say. I think the vet tech was a bit amused, but she asked the vet for me and then reassured me that the cat would be fine, but might have some skin irritation.

That’s all the excitement I have to report for now.

Staycations seem to have become popular these days, but of course I’m just happy to have any time off, whether or not I get to do anything special. When I was a kid we always went camping or to a camping near the beach. (A friend of the family owned the cabin.) I never thought of those times as vacations exactly. I was a kid. Many kids at my school went to Europe or a tropical island for vacations.

My summer school is finally over. Thank the deities! I passed my Spanish class and now have six weeks or so to get some research done and relax a bit before the fall term starts. Living as we have been for the last year, with Beorn not working, makes taking any time off very challenging. Summers have been the worst for us in the last few years because we haven’t gotten financial aid. This year, even with some summer financial aid and two paychecks for summer teaching, not getting money in August will be challenging.

I enjoy having free time to putter around the house and “get things done.” (Ever seen the TV series Dead Like Me? In one episode a character reveals that she records herself doing stuff around the house and broadcasts it on the web. The show is called “Getting Things Done with Delores Herbig.”) There are a number of things I need to catch up on around here. Here is my list of things to do when you have time off, but no money to speak of.

1. Work on your vegetable garden. This week my mom visited and helped me get caught up on weeding me vegetable garden. I have a yardshare garden of about 600 sq ft that has been terribly neglected. When I got the space it was terribly overrun with bindweed.

Isn’t it cute? Any yet it’s evil. I can’t believe how much bindweed I have pulled this year and it is still winning!

2. Do some “spring” cleaning. I’m also spending time going through all the boxes in our closets. I gathered some old clothes to give to Good Will. Later in the week I will probably spend an afternoon at a few thrift stores looking for some clothing for the fall. My sewing machine and serger also haven’t gotten any use this year. The serger I bought for $5 at a garage sale last fall and I’m eager to try out sewing with it. I have a large tub full of various fabrics so I have lots of free material to experiment with.

3. Cook for the freezer or preserve some summer fruits and vegetables. Most likely, I will do some major cooking for the freezer. Having some already prepared food in the freezer makes it easier to avoid being tempted to buy food out when I’m tired or busy. We have also been freezing fresh fruits. While my mom was here we visited a pick-your-own blueberry farm and brought home several pounds of blueberries. I also froze quite a few strawberries and cherries while they were in season and so cheap.

4. Go to the library. When I was a kid we went to the public library a lot. As a grad student I don’t have much time for leisure reading, but I’m taking advantage now.

5. Play on your computer. Lots of people who are truly poor don’t have computers, which is another reason to go to the library, but I need a computer for work, so that’s a lot of recreation available to me. I can even catch up on my blog reading!

6. Go to a park. My mom and I visited the local arboretum and went for a little hike. Beorn’s mom went fishing at the county park while she was here.

7. Go swimming. Beorn and I have been swimming at the pool here at our complex, but there are lots of public pools and even rivers around here. I prefer to swim in natural water. It’s more interesting and there’s less chlorine. If you live near an ocean, even better. Swimming is the best exercise for people with rheumatoid arthritis because there is no stress on the joints.

8. Go to a museum or a concert. Most university towns have some sort of museums and concert series. As a grad student I get free entry into the museum and can get inexpensive concert tickets. Most museums have a free day at least once a month.

Now all of you academics will probably be wondering why I’m not spending all this time working on my research. But I will be spending a significant amount of time on it and I don’t think it’s healthy to drive yourself work once you have reached a certain point of exhaustion. In order to have good ideas I need time to refresh my brain.

Anyone else have ideas about what to do with “time off” when you don’t have a lot of money?

This summer, for the first time since I started grad school, in fact, for the first time ever, I’m “doing” summer school. This has kept me very busy! My department here at Crunchy U. offers summer classes, so for the first time I got the chance to teach my own class. Unfortunately it was the class from hell. I don’t want to tell the entire story, but there were a bunch of students in the class who weren’t ready for that class and my TA was no help. I think I worked 60-80 hours a week for the 4 weeks. On the up side, colleges and universities everywhere need people to teach this particular class and since it’s technology related, there are a limited number of people willing and able to teach it, so it will be good for my CV.

As soon as that was over, I started a Spanish class. I’m required to have two years of a language for my PhD. Unforunately, it’s been more than 10 years since I took any language classes, so those classes don’t count. Because I have limited time (I’m hoping to graduate before I’m 40) I decided to hop right in to second year Spanish. Since I had been teaching during the first four weeks of the summer, I had to start with the second quarter of second year Spanish. Make sense? Needless to say, there are huge gaps in my memory. My pronunciation is terrible now. I think it’s my age. Also, I can’t spell, even in Spanish! My previous college courses in Spanish were focused on speaking, now I’m expected to write, and I’m discovering a little of what it’s like to be illiterate. I have been making progress over the last three week though. Next week is the end of the class, so I will finally have some time off, and a chance to do a little more of my research.

Last week I took a couple of days off and travelled to my research site to do a couple of interviews. I need to get at least 15 or so interviews done by the end of September when school starts, so that I have some priliminary results to work with over the next year. I feel luck about the topic I’m working on and the location. Friends at Crunchy U. know people in the area, so I have been able to find places to stay and make connections locally.

The point of telling you all about my summer is to say that I’m burnt out! I need at least two weeks of lazing around doing nothing before I will be motivated to do anything again. I know many academics seem to be able to work long hours day after day, without a break, but I have become overly grumpy. Overwork is not good.

Now I’m getting off the computer and going to make some gazpacho and pizza. On Saturdays we have friends over for dinner and games.

Just drinking a glass of red wine and trying to figure out what to do with myself now that my quarter is officially over. I just spent the last five days writing two ten page papers. The good news is my writing is getting faster. The bad news is I’m not sure faster is producing better quality. Both papers focused on themes I’m developing for my dissertation, so it wasn’t like I was creating them from scratch. I had been researching them for weeks. On the other hand, getting the actual writing done was left until the last week. I hate it when I procrastinate. I need to impress my professors with my insightful writing, not turn in stuff with typos or organizational problems.

Also, teaching, what’s up with that? I’m great at helping students with their work. That’s important, I feel good about it. On the other hand I suck at recording grades. I only had 40 or so students this quarter and yet I couldn’t keep track of all their paperwork. It’s true, they turned in a lab every week, so that’s a lot of paper, but still! I can’t believe how many time students have pointed out that I haven’t managed to get their grade into blackboard. One or two mistakes, ok, but this is getting close to double digits!

This brings me to my own academic ambitions. In my heart of hearts I would love to get a job at a SLAC (small liberal arts college) and yet, the idea of a job at a research U. where I would never having to do my own grading again is appealing. I need a research assistant to help me stay organized. In this economy I will be lucky to get any job, but a girl can dream!

Years ago I made a joke to some coworkers that I needed a wife. One of them was not amused by my comment. I was just saying that my husband was crap at keeping the house organized and I’m no good at that type of thing either. I would really value having someone around who could help me stay organized. If only I could afford to pay such a person well!

Related book:

Waring, Marilyn. Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women are Worth. 2nd ed. University of Toronto Press, 1999.

Waring, a MP from New Zealand, outlines how the accounting systems of nations (like GNP) systematically discount the work of women.

Best quote: “when a man marries his housekeeper the GDP goes down.”

Also, as heard on NPR:

Rent-a-Negro

Need to show off your multicultural-ness? This is the website for you! Buy the book today!


Assuming that all students should learn some science, just to become educated citizens, should scientists in training be expected to learn a little social theory?

Should they read a little Foucault? a little Haraway?

Should they learn about the history of their own disciplines? Maybe read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions?

I, like many in academia, have a love-hate relationship with social theory. If I lived in a sane world, I would probably be a marine biologist, that’s what I dreamed about as a child. But as I grew up I realized that science wasn’t enough, that science wasn’t solving the world’s problems in the way the Enlightenment promised.

Now I do my best to read some of those difficult social thinkers and writers, so that I can try to understand some of the crazy things we do to each other and the planet. Reading social theory isn’t fun. It’s work. Some of what I read is just pompous crap, created in order to position the author as cutting edge and get him published, tenured, or promoted. Yet some social theory helps me understand the world and function more effectively in it and because of that I think it is worth the work. I also don’t think scientists should allow themselves to be intimidated by the unfamiliarity of the subject, the name dropping, or the attitude of some social theorists. It pisses me off when people use social theory to dominate and silence others.

So, my friends, what do you think? What social theory (if any) is important for scientists to know? If you were creating a class for new graduate students in a science field that would introduce them to concepts in social theory and make them better scientists, what would you include?