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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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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.

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 ┬áit 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!

Last week I applied for my very first external fellowship. I know, I should have been applying for them from the start, but damn, that was a lot of work. I don’t know how people do it. They could have asked for a C.V. but instead I had to put everything in one field at a time. It was exhausting and took up a bunch of time I could have used for something else, but I’m proud that I got it done. I don’t think I’ll get this one, but it’s good practice. It made me write something up.

After that I spent most of the weekend grading papers and worrying about Grandma. For whatever reason her dementia or depression seems to have gotten worse. She wanted to stay in bed all weekend and have me bring her food in bed. Sounds fun, but not when you are 80+. Getting up and walking around is key at that point.

Paper grading was frustrating because the prof I’m working with decided that we should grade the papers, then give them back to the students for revisions, then only record their final grade. Guess what happened. Lots of people turned in papers that read like they had been completed in 1-2 hours the night before. Yuck.

I didn’t realize how long it had been since my last post here until I logged in again today. Beorn and I have been in internet purgatory and so doing anything online has been interminably slow. (For a full explaination check out Beorn’s Den.) Since our internet was essentially dead, I spent my winter break applying to PhD programs and playing Civ 4. I really wish I had never installed RescueTime, because now I have a pretty good idea about how much time I waste on the computer each week.

The good news is my grad school applications are mostly done. We got an extra futon mattress to layer with our crappy Ikea mattress so now Beorn doesn’t walk so funny all the time. This morning we bought Beorn a new bike (on the credit card) which will be worth the expense if he gets some exercise. We bought a cheap used computer for my mom whose old IMac was giving out on her.

The bad news is fellowship applications are due in a week and I have a lot of work to do if I’m going to turn something in. I don’t want to wait another year to look for funding, but I don’t really have the time to spend on it right now since the university approved my application to work two 50% time jobs this quarter. That’s right, I’m insane.

Tonight I started doing internet research related to my dissertation topic and found out some really interesting stuff through newspaper articles and online newsletters. Isn’t in great when a topic is all fresh and new to you?

So I encouraged Beorn to go back to school, more for the moral boost I knew it would give him than for any financial reasons. When I finally got up the courage to apply to grad school I realized I could make as much working 20 hrs a week than I had been making full time at my non-profit job. The university also gives us better health insurance (and some minimal dental) whereas Beorn had been completely uninsured while I was working full time.

Unfortunately the department I work for doesn’t seem to value it’s grad students at all. My adviser, the department head, and the MFO don’t seem to care that I haven’t been paid. They regularly wait until the first week of the quarter to hire their TAs. Much of my mental energy goes to how to find enough work for the next quarter.

Currently I’m working 3o hrs a week at two different jobs because I know that one job will be running out of funding after this quarter. I have no promise that the other job will employ me over the summer although the staff seems to be working under that impression. My jobs pay the rent and utilities, Beorn’s 1o-15 hrs a week as an undergrad tech support monkey pays for our groceries. All our other expenses are covered by student loans. I know we shouldn’t be taking out loans for grad school, but it’s preferable to the credit card debit we would be running up if we weren’t in school.

The problem is that it’s difficult for me to get any of my own research done while working 30 hrs a week and wondering how I will pay my rent in a couple of months. This really hit home for me last month when I went to that big conference. My poverty in comparison to most of the people there really hit me. While many attendees were enjoying their stay at the Hilton and touring one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I was commuting to my mom’s studio apartment.

Although I have been in grad school for three years now, this is the first year I have attended any conferences and that is just because they happen to be coming to nearby cities. I don’t have money for hotels, airfare, but even without those things I spent several hundred on gas, train tickets, and food out.

At the end of this month I’m supposed to be giving my first presentation. This week I expressed my nervousness to my adviser as my presentation is the first one of a panel on the first day of the conference, so their might be big names there. She informs me that everyone dresses up the first day. Great, so now I have to figure out how to get money for a fancy outfit and a haircut.

Scraping up money for books and conferences wouldn’t bother me much, it seems to be a normal part of grad school. I’m pretty used to being poor; we have been struggling for several years. What bothers me is that no one in my department cares whether I get paid for the work I do. So that’s why I’m looking at programs elsewhere, because I can’t see writing a dissertation while searching for a new job every three months, especially since I can’t seem to get anyone in my department to actually read any of my writing.

Saturday I attended a dissertation writing workshop and I thought it was pretty helpful. That might be because I haven’t started writing my dissertation, but whatever, I’ll share anyway. In general the woman leading the workshop was very encouraging. She mentioned impostor syndrome, pointed out that people who get to the dissertation stage have had a whole series of successes, and so should avoid negative beliefs about themselves. Basically, don’t attribute problems to anything about your own value as a person or an academic.

Time Management
1. Time management strategies usually focus on getting organized enough to do everything you want to do. This doesn’t work because there just isn’t enough time to do everything you would like to do. Accept this and prioritize.

2. Academics have too many interests. This is good because all those interests grow into new projects, new teaching techniques, new grants, but it makes it easy for academics to get distracted. People outside of academia don’t have many interests. (This part I disagree with, but I can see how statistically this could be true.)

3. Manage your guilt: Often we can’t sit down to complete one project because it generates guilt about other projects/tasks that you should be working on. This is often framed as commitment or assertiveness issues. But it’s normal to have trouble when you are deciding between two things you might actually want to do. This is not a reason to doubt your commitment or ability to choose.

4. Remember the 80/20 rule. Focus your efforts on small amounts of time, but use those times to work effectively.

Planning
1. Plan separately, plan briefly, and plan for starting (don’t try to plan comprehensively because your work won’t go exactly as you plan anyway.)

2. Plan for 45 minute units-she had a long explanation for this. Basically even though it may feel like you are just getting into a groove after 45 minutes, your productivity will actually be going down. Apparently your focus and attention can still be increasing but your actual cognitive abilities are slowing down at that point. This led her to all sorts of interesting observations about how her writing clients get into trouble when they have too much time available. She said she never worries about clients who claim they are busy, have kid, or other obligations.

3. Plan for the number of hours per week you will work(more hours isn’t better, prioritize your tasks.)

4. Plan for your dissertation work week. When will the week start? When will your day off be? How much time will you work each day?

5. Plan for time off, preferably a whole day off. Do something restorative. The number one restorative thing you can do is spend time in nature. Other options include exercise, art, or reading for pleasure. If you can’t take a whole day off, do something extravagant.

6. Plan a cutoff time for your dissertation work each day. This makes sure you don’t lose touch with reality. It confronts the feeling that you are always working and at the same time never getting anything done. It will gradually move you towards starting earlier because you will know that there is a real stop time and so be more likely to get started in a timely fashion.