A Little Light Reading

Most academics like to read. Most English professors (or those who want to be) enjoy reading and writing about reading and reading about reading and reading about writing… Sometimes the merry-go-round goes round so much you want to puke.

Here is a suggestion for academics that provides a strategy for getting hold of a subject and one which has blessed my life (though it may not be visible in my publications) as you can see on TCE by following old sets of threads.

The post:

Mangojuice, you mentioned that you were going to do some reading over the summer.  Here’s a suggestion (it was one of the most helpful assignments I got early in grad school):

Choose a minor work that you know reasonably well, and read everything published on it in the last 25-50 years (keeping the amount manageable is why you choose a minor work). 

As you read, take note of the following:

What are the major issues that have been addressed in the scholarship?  
What are the major differences in interpretation represented in the scholarship?
What are the major differences in theoretical approach represented?  
What are the trends in interpretation/theoretical approach over the time period you’re reading?
Given what’s gone before, what seem to be the most knotty unsolved issues and the best questions for future research?

In doing this, you’re not looking for specific evidence to support an argument you already have in mind, but getting an overview of the scholarly conversation on the work and seeing where you might usefully enter that conversation.

Also, notice the range in quality of published work.  Which scholars do you admire most, and what qualities does that research and writing have?  How far from producing that kind of work are you right now?

I learned a tremendous amount from this exercise.  It was both humbling (because of the articles I would have given a limb to have written) and encouraging (even early in grad school, I could have written some of the stuff I read).  I ended up both knowing that I could certainly publish someday and knowing I had a long way to go to be able to publish the kind of work I wanted to publish.

caesura. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2454.” 22 April 2011, chronicle.com,www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2445.html.

Job Search #s

from a post in the CHE (which is not that unusual, but has clearly kept careful track):

I started applying to jobs while finishing up my MFA in studio art 6 years ago.  Since then I participated in the yearly ritual of applying to every job advertised, spending too much time waiting, refreshing my email too often, loosing sleep, not finishing projects due to stress, moving to a new location every year, and reading the Chronicle forums.  Six years ago I did not have a clue and I am not an expert now, but I have finally landed a TT job and I thought I would share the data about my search for all the new job seekers out there.  Every year around this time the rejection letters would start to come in if they were sent at all.  I would look around and try to cobble together an adjunct gig, fellowship, residency, and / or manual labor jobs to stay afloat.  

The forums were indispensable to my gaining an understanding of the academic world and how to conduct a job hunt.  

To all the forum contributors – Thank You.

Here is my story by the numbers.

2005-06  (Still finishing up degree)
15 Applications
0 Interviews
0 Offers

21 Applications
1 Phone Interview
0 Campus Interviews
0 Offers

21 Applications
3 Phone Interviews
0 Campus Interviews
0 Offers

29 Applications
2 Phone Interviews
4 Conference Interviews
2 Campus Invites
0 Offers

18 Applications
3 Phone Interviews
1 Conference Interview
0 Campus Interviews
1 Visiting Position Offer

25 Applications
1 Phone Interview
6 Conference Interviews
3 Campus Interviews
2 TT Offers

2011… 129 Applications later and I am finally off the market.  Here’s to hoping I stay that way.

finallyoffthemarket. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2439.” chronicle.com, 10 April 2011, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2430.html.

Conference Tip for Newbies

from the CHE:

mdwlark: We had a thread a while ago about what we wish we had known when we were new graduates.  I wish I had known what a small world my academic discipline is, that even a vague negative impression or slight misunderstanding could have longstanding repercussions.  I finally went to our really big national convention a few years ago, and discovered everyone who is well published knows everyone else who publishes in our field–throughout the United States.  By first names.  I also failed to take advantage of the wonderful networking opportunities from some heavy weights who reached out to me at the convention.  Dumb dumb dumb.

infopri: Yup, the same is true of my field.  Not only does everyone know everyone else (again, first-name basis), but they often collaborate on various research projects, even when they are separated geographically by hundreds or even thousands of miles.  Even as a first-year doctoral student, I was meeting all the Big Names in our field (that is, the ones who weren’t at my school) at the conferences, and through various research projects, I was also meeting some of the Big Name policy makers down in Washington, DC.  Talk about networking opportunities!  But it also means that no student/candidate/faculty member stays anonymous very long.

“Re: Posting Hall of Fame–2432.” chronicle.com,6 April 2011, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2430.html.

Publishing Advice

I remember (and have recently re-read) the post where I wrote that I knew I needed to get published and that I should be writing and that I had no idea how to do those things. Trial and error teaches a lot–at least to some people.

Recently I explained that “life long learner” means I have to keep re-learning the same things in different ways. 🙂

That said, there was a good post on the CHE about what publishing means for a lot of places. Even though I am not in one of those places and do not want to be, I know that I am behind in publishing and presenting. Certainly if you use the metrics of the post I am behind (as in, I never got there).

While it does not apply to me per se, there are many nuggets of wisdom hidden in the carefully sifted advice. (Now I am thinking of chocolate chips and brownies for some reason.) Without further ado, advice from the brilliant at the CHE:

You have a special challenge in that you need to keep up a publication record as if you were at an R1 while coping with a heavy teaching load.  The model I was taught to aim for was 2-2-4: two articles and two smaller pieces every year, and a book every four years.  Now, I actually think most people fall short of that.  But if you want to move, you’d want to aim for an equivalent of that, in the most streamlined and efficient way.  The first advice I’d give is to drop the second “2” — the smaller pieces (generally book reviews, can also be encyclopedia entries or whatnot).  Those are a luxury.  The articles and books are the most important.  So here are the rules as I see them:

1. Piggyback your current research on your last research.  Use the same kind of materials, but viewed from a different angle or expanded.  You can see the prolific scholars doing this already.  For instance, the first book will be about Lincoln’s White House staff, using the appropriate archives.  The second book will be about women in Lincoln’s White House, using the same archives.  The third book will be about Lincoln’s ideas of hierarchy, using the same archives. In every case, pick only an idea that’s interesting to you, but pick strategically.  Also pick something in which you don’t have to embark on a whole new set of secondary reading.

2. Don’t put every single thing you learn and think on the subject in the book.  Save self-contained nuggets of findings for separate articles.  For my last book, I finished the book and then wrote a spin-off article in three days. I had all the quotations right in front of me and knew the material so thoroughly that it just flew onto the page. If you can get four or five extra articles out of your book, that would be excellent.  Don’t feel the need to jam it all in; use this to plant articles in good journals.

3. Make every piece of writing earn its keep.  Don’t publish in edited collections; they count for less on the CV. Submit every article to a top-tier journal and work your way down the food chain. Position your book for the top presses.  Don’t make my mistake and give your book to lower-tier presses just because they ask for it and you think, “Phew! Someone will publish this!”  Try all the top-tier presses first.

4. Find the CVs of the top people in your field and keep tabs on them. Keep track of how you measure up. 

5. Minimize the busywork your job asks for as much as possible.  Where possible, give assignments that are swift to grade; streamline teaching prep; keep extensive records so you don’t have to redesign your classes every year. 
Then try to get in 90 minutes of academic writing every workday; 45 minutes should be your minimum.  Don’t save it all up for a long weekend stint, which may or may not be possible when the time comes.  The research shows that the most prolific people write for shorter periods and often.

6. Take Sundays off; ideally Saturdays too.  Do not stay up working till midnight.  Burning yourself out won’t get the job done and also makes the job not worth doing.  Your goal is to work smart, not exhaustively.

Best of luck!

hegemony. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2409.” chronicle.com,9 March 2011, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2400.html.

Why the CHE?

I realized I have been quoting the CHE a lot and you may be wondering if it is because I have nothing to say. No, it isn’t that. It is that I really enjoy reading the fora–much like other people binge watch television series–and I tend to binge read. When I get off, I stay off for a long time. But if I have time and my brain is still working, I like to see what other people in similar situations have to say about things that I also care about.

Here is the reason the fora exist:

The CHE Fora provide academics at all ranks, in all types of institutions, as well as undergraduate and graduate students, civilians, occasional trolls and frequent spammers, with the opportunity to pontificate, commiserate, alienate, inform, deform, transform, mock, rock, and sock their way through the hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semesterly, and annual struggles, triumphs, breakdowns, collapses, small victories, frustrations, exasperations, and lucubrations of academic life.

aandsdean. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame: Reply 2376.” chronicle.com, 4 February 2011, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2370.html.

As we are academics and enjoy the “dollar words” as my father referred to long words with Greek and Latin words, I thought that would appeal. There are also sections for those whose predilections run towards Old English, which tend to be the “quarter words,” with the “mock, rock, and sock” section.

Tell me why…

When I was a girl, my mother would sing a song that started with those words. “Tell me why the stars do shine. Tell me why the ivy twines. Tell me why the ocean’s blue–and I will tell you just why I love you.”

Nothing except the first three words are relevant to this post.

Our students do not understand why they need our classes. They don’t know why we are assigning particular things. Two years ago (or so) I attended a colleague’s class and he started every class by explaining how this assignment fit the learning goals of the course. I didn’t ask him how he introduced the whole course, but I have tried (with more or less success) to explain to students why we are doing x and how x fits into the picture of xXXx that the course is designed for. Sometimes there are goofy rules and sometimes there are good reasons. I confess that I explain them both.

Here is a CHE post on the idea that we need to explain to our students why we do things.

I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a minute (although I agree with a lot of what OAP said).  So, because they want a vending-machine education we should give them one?  My son doesn’t like/want to clean his room but that doesn’t mean that I allow him to not clean it.  Students (in general) have never like to learn without some kind of external or internal motivation.  It hurts their brains too much and it takes time away from things that they’d rather be doing.  As much as I loved college as an undergrad, if given a choice between taking and passing Intro. to Chem. or sitting in my room reading something that I chose/wanted to read, I would have opted for the latter (and still would). 

I think that the answer is not so much giving them what they want but teaching them why what they want is less than what they deserve or what they should truly want or what will help them to become better people (or whatever motivation works).  We in academia assume that others see the academy through the same lens that we do and understand it in the same way that we do.  But they don’t.  They don’t understand the values  that we hold dear.  Perhaps instead of dismissing these students as hopeless and/or helpless, we should try to show them what’s so great about it and how it can add value to their lives as well.  When one of my students gave a persuasive speech on why colleges should do away with electives and the liberal studies core curriculum, instead of exploding in anger or shaking my head in silent disbelief and disgust, I tried to explain to them and the rest of the class the reasoning behind the system and the values that it adds to their education.    I make an effort to teach my freshman comp. students not only what we do but why we do it.  They seem to appreciate it.

changinggears. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2374.” chronicle.com, 29 January 2011, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2370.html

You Need CC Experience

I have a brilliant student, very young (20), and fixing to graduate who, despite the explanations and remonstrations of her major professors, wants to go on to get her master’s and PhD. She knows the numbers are against her, especially as she is interested in literature, but she wants to pursue the education. I am sure she will do well at the education portion.

I was reading over something and found a link to the item below and thought she should know it. So I copied it. Then I thought maybe someone else would need it too. Here it is:

8 years of adjuncting at CCs and one year in a ft position:

Previous CC experience
CCs have a huge load of students. Often these students are the ones who don’t have the skills to go to college. They need basic remediation for math and English. CCs are open-admit, so if you got a HS diploma from somewhere, then you can attend. Very few four-year schools are like that (though University of Houston Downtown is). The reason CCs want you to have CC experience is because most graduate students teach to their own, often R-1, population. If you don’t have CC experience, you don’t have the correct mindset.

I tell people when I talk about my inner-city school that my students come in with an eighth-grade education. It is hard for them to read newspaper articles. Imagine going from R-1 to that in one semester.

No specializations
There are no specializations at CCs. They don’t hire enough ft faculty for that. Plus, you will usually find that you and someone else in your department both want to teach all the X courses, because there are only two a year.

Example out of English: Out of 16 ft faculty at my present school, only one has a rhet/comp background. Every one of the ft teachers has to teach composition. All the other 15 are lit people. We only teach 30 lit sections a semester. CCs typically (around here anyway) have 5/5 loads. So there are only 2 lit sections per person. My CC works hard to share the courses; unfortunately sometimes that works out to the bad. We have a theater owner/director who is also a ft faculty here. He agreed two years ago to let someone else teach the drama course and he hasn’t gotten it back. 

The largest set of classes in English and math are the remedial courses. We have developmental courses for people who don’t know that a sentence should start with a capital letter and end with a period. Most math teachers teach at least two of the remedial courses a semester. And they teach college algebra most often. 

My last CC shared out the course load so that the four math sequences went to one teacher every two years. So ProfA would teach college algebra, trig, pre-cal, and calculus. Then in fall of the next year, ProfB would begin that sequence. Bad for students if you got a teacher you didn’t mesh with. You’d have to wait a year to get someone else.

Hiring process
Most CCs do not advertise for positions until the spring. I’ve seen ending dates for applications as early as March and as late as August, for an August start date. The job I have now did not advertise till late June and did first on-campus interviews on July 12. Final interviews were July 22. They called ten days later with an offer and work started August 15.

In a good location, CCs can get hundreds of applications. The job I did not get last year told me there were 250+ applicants.

If you don’t have any CC experience, you won’t usually make the cut.

When there are 250+ applications, what makes your app stand out? The same thing as at any place: conferences and publications. The publications don’t have to be top flight, but you do have to have some.

For the phone interview CCs call 20 or so people. 

First interviews are 8-10, though I have heard of as many as 14.

Final interviews are for 3. Who makes the decision on the final one varies. At one CC it was the search committee, as long as the higher-ups did not disagree. At my CC it’s the deans, as long as the president is okay with it.

compdoc. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2343.” chronicle.com, 23 December 2010, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2340.html.

What to do with January?

January, in college life, is two to three weeks of no school. Community College Dean asks on his blog if there is a way to redeem January, for students who have barely passed and barely failed.

A student who limped across the finish line in, say, basic algebra may harbor a lingering doubt about being fully prepared for intermediate or college algebra. (Names change, but you get the idea.) For the student who escaped the Fall with a low passing grade and some lingering doubts, I’m wondering if a January catchup/review session might help them stay on track in the Spring. (Alternately, for the student who failed but came close in the Fall, I could envision an intensive review leading to a second shot at a final exam in January. The benefit would be that the student wouldn’t lose an entire semester by retaking the course in the Spring.) It’s a variation on the “summer bridge” idea, but somewhat looser. Rather than a graded course — which requires a certain number of hours, a set of assignments, and all the usual trappings — a noncredit review could be adjusted to meet demonstrated student need. If you only need, say, eight hours of review to get up to speed, good for you.

I think he might be on to something.

Email Etiquette: Results

I teach email etiquette to all my first-year students. I also teach it to my upper division students, just in case they didn’t get it when they were the young ‘uns. Many, I would guess even most students, take the ideas to heart and use them when they create emails they intend to send to profs. If they did not, the strange and extreme lack-of-email-etiquette pieces we receive would not be afforded so much attention.

Since there are some students who cannot imagine anyone doing such a thing as forgetting to use the email etiquette–and both the ones least and most likely to are those who would fit this category–I like to collect these little nuggets as real-life examples.

from the CHE forums:

“Entire e-mail (no greeting, no signature):

I having trouble remebering what the assignment was for 2mor so please get back at me with sum details.

Clearly someone skipped the e-mail etiquette portion of the syllabus.”

dr_know. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2371.” chronicle.com, 26 January 2011, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2370.html. Accessed 31 December 2018.

Why, yes, I did know I am probably spending too much time on the fora… But they are so enlightening!

Research Paper: History

Yes, I know this is TeachingCollegeEnglish, not history. However, having been a double major undergrad (at least according to myself and the number of hours I took in both fields), history resonates with me. Also, I have students writing research papers. Some of them are on history. But really, lots of this can apply to anyone’s research project.

This was on the Chronicle of Higher Ed forums, in the HOF (Hall of Fame) section, written by marlborough back in 2011. Please go to the CHE for other fascinating statements and professors talking about professer-ing.

Quote here:

GI do this with pretty big 300 and 400 level history classes.  I posted this on another thread, but here it is again.  The bonus is that the steps are more or less plagiarist and ghost-proof.  This is for History, but other fields may be able to adapt:

Primary Source Eval:
his form will not work perfectly for every source, so please follow to the best of your ability and improvise any replacement questions appropriate to your source.

1. Title and author of your source
2. When was this written, and subsequently, when was it published. If this is memoir published substantially AFTER the events described, how does the time gap affect the material (i.e. is this someone who is now an adult describing the actions of a child, this person’s politics changed, etc.)
3. Capsule biography of the author of your source–why is this person an appropriate or important source of information, what are his/her biases through religion, politics, class, gender, etc.
4. What are the limitations of this source–was this person absent at important events, or have a restricted view of them for some reason? Does this source have a bias that makes it problematic, and if so, what is it?
5. What does this source do well? What people, events and themes does it give useful information about?
6. Make a wish list of complementary primary sources you wish existed to fill out the blind spots or limitations of your primary source. They don’t have to really exist, just guess at what would give you a really complete picture of the scene you’ve touched on with this one source.
7. List at least ten solid historical questions for which this source would be good research material. These are likely theses for your research paper, so think carefully about this. List your questions and mark at least a couple of them which you feel are most promising as paper directions.
*Because this is a short paper, look for things that are narrowly defined–for example, instead of asking “what was life like for soldiers in the WWI trenches?” ask “what effect did letters from home have on WWI soldiers” or “how did WWI soldiers experience a poison gas attack?” 

Research Proposal:
1. Which of your research questions have you chosen?
2. Why? What is interesting about this to you? What other skills/interests/background do you bring to this question?
3. What are your own immediate feelings about this question? What do you think the answer will be? What are your personal biases about this?
4. What other PRIMARY sources will you use to investigate this? List them in as much detail as possible if they exist, and also list “wish list” items that we will search for a little harder–sometimes they do exist.
5. What SECONDARY sources will you be consulting to round out your understanding of the context of the question and your source? List a preliminary pool of books, journal articles and other materials. Unless the websites you find are professionally handled collections of primary materials or secondary sources of REAL merit, don’t even bother, and don’t tick me off by including them with actual sources. 

1. Have a really good, focused thesis question appropriate to a 10 page paper (chosen from your best research questions).

2. Assemble a big pile of sources likely to have some bearing on your question. Look everywhere you can, including JSTOR, worldcat.org, Google Books, the MnPals system in the library catalog search, the bibliographies of the primary and secondary sources you already have, etc.  Use the key words you brainstormed.

3. Go through each of these with your _thesis question in mind_. Write it on your arm, if necessary.  Each time you find something, stick a post-it note next to the information and move on. Pretty soon, you’ll have a stack of books and articles marked up with post-its.

4. Set aside several hours. Using Word, go to the pull-down menu Tools and click on “envelopes and labels.” Click on “options” and select Business Card, then click “New Document.” You will see a Word page that has been divided into business card sized sections. If you are old-school, you can do this on index cards, but this is easier to do, you can proofread it and save it forever.  You will also be printing ME out a copy, or copying index cards.  Your choice.

5. Start with the book on the top of the pile. Make a bibliography card by typing in the full and complete citation of the work into the first square on your page.

6. Then, for each post-it in the book, make a square, starting with a short citation (author, title if more than one work by author in your stack, and page number). If you cannot quote or summarize the post-it marked information in the space of a business card, you don’t understand it. Try again.

7. Once you have gone through your whole stack of sources, save your pages of squares and give back all of your sources to the library. Seriously, send them away. Avoid fines. Clean out your backpack. If you’ve done your notes correctly, you don’t need them any more. Print out your pages of squares and (carefully using a paper cutter) divide them into little separate squares.

8. Deal out of the stack all of the bibliography cards, putting them in alphabetical order for easy use later. Paper clip them and set them aside.

9. Take a while and sort what you have on the squares into different ways of answering the question. When you have a strong answer, try to phrase that answer in the form of a declarative sentence.  Presto!  You have a THESIS.  See what you realistically have to work with and what arrangement of arguments works effectively for what you have to SUPPORT that thesis. If you are lacking an important element, go get a source to deal with that, post-it note it and make some more cards. If one stack gets big, divide it into more workable piles that make logical sense. Eventually, you should have about a stack of 1-2 squares for every paragraph in your paper. If it becomes obvious you’ll need some connecting paragraphs that come entirely from you, use a blank square and write up what needs to go in that connector.

10. Paperclip paragraphs together and then stack these in the order you want to use them in the paper. This is a nice time to make an outline so you can see the whole paper in skeleton form (AND turn in a required outline).

11. Sit down and write the paper. Just have the stack of squares next to you at the computer and go through them in order. When you quote something or reach the end of a paragraph, put in the citation, handily located at the top of the card (for your first citation, when you need full information, just pull out the bibliography card and put a little check mark on it that means you’ve done first full citation in the paper). When you’re done, get the bibliography cards and do the Works Cited, which is easy to arrange in alphabetical order, carefully discarding the cards for any unused works.

12. Go back and carefully proof-read your paper, careful to look for your/you’re and they’re/there/their mistakes, use of less than full names for people you’ve first mentioned in the paper, misspellings and other careless stuff likely to annoy me. Quote ends.


Marlborough. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2353.” Chronicle.com, 4 January 2011, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2340.html. Accessed 29 December 2018.