Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Prepping For the New Semester as Grad Students

The other day I wrote about what I do to prep for the new semester as a teacher. It occurred to me this morning that it's also important to talk about what I'm doing to prep as a graduate student. 

Although I am officially finished with coursework, and comp in February, I am taking two courses this semester. One is an Old English Seminar, because I'm using Old English as my language requirement and because the topic is Anglo-Saxon Evil which is perfect for the beginning of my dissertation. The other is 17th Century English Literature, because one of my committee members is teaching it and the topic will only help me.
One of the habits I got into at Bread Loaf was to complete all my reading before the class began. As everyone knows, I'm a fan of color coding, a medieval classes are pink, so this class is pink. The first thing I do before I start a book is to crack the spine (which not all books handle well) and Post-It flag the chapters as appropriate. I then use a highlighter and pen (pink in this case, again) to highlight and take notes. Additional (different) Post-It flags go in for sections of the book that would be helpful for my dissertation. I also take general notes (on the legal pad) about possible paper topics. In this case, I plan on using this class to expand the opening of CH 1 and 2 of my dissertation, which starts with Old English narratives of the devil.
I have a single notebook for both classes with color coded paper in it (pink and orange for early modern). The early modern/17th century class doesn't have a lot of reading (so far Jonson which I read for comps, Cavendish, Donne, and Milton) so I'm leaving that reading for after the OE. For this class, I've spoken to the professor about writing my conference proposal for submission for MTSU's Milton Conference in October and then developing that conference paper into CH 3 (or is it 4 now?) which focuses on Milton's use of the folkloric devil in Paradise Lost.
Yesterday @raulpacheco wrote a great post about how to self-care for ourselves as academics. Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega is a great online role model, always sharing his thoughts, and responsible for starting #ScholarSunday (which you should all participate in!) He posted a list of five things that he planned on doing this semester to make sure he was taking better care of himself. I think that now is a great time to reflect on this and set your own rules/guidelines. I think it's easier to stick to things if you decide them before the semester starts and you get buried.
I wrote over break that I was not as happy as I could be with my #DevilDiss progress over break. But I need to cut myself some slack. To that end, I took Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega's list and made my own:
  • No work related emails late evenings or weekends.
  • No committments that don't forward my career (i.e get me to a finished diss).
  • Holidays/weekends are for me and Nehi.
I have a hard time "turning off" at night, or on weekends. That email ping goes off and I feel obligated to read it, then fume about it, then answer it. It got so bad this past semester that I turned off notifications on my phone. I read on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that one professor actually deleted her mail server from her phone over break to avoid the temptation/aggravation. I do not plan on turning those notifications back on, and plan on closing the tab once I leave my home office for the day.

Inspired by the idea of setting boundaries, I wrote my three on a bright orange Post-It, right above my desk, in my eye line as a reminder. I've also updated my #DevilDiss Timeline chart and put that up near my desk so I can use it as a reminder. It charts my current conference commitments and deadlines for chapters to committee members. For me the hardest thing will be to say NO to things the next year. I need to make sure I clear the decks for finishing and revising the dissertation, then prepping job market materials in the fall, so no new commitments. No fall conferences, no chapters in edited collections, nothing.

Right now I have three chapters in edited collections out- one needs revision (which I'll do as soon as I get notes back and finish by the end of January) and two are out to editors and out of my hands. I have two articles out, so nothing to do there. I have two conference papers this semester (both chapters of my dissertation) that I'll send out once I've transitioned from conference paper to article.

Other than that though, it's all dissertation, all the time. Setting this now lets me off the hook for the next year. I don't have to feel guilty about saying no. It lets me focus on the dissertation and getting it done. I feel good about doing this because I've busted my ass the last eighteen months since starting my program. I have one published article, one published co-authored chapter in an edited collection. If the things I have out also get published in the next eighteen months I'll have three chapters and two articles in addition to my two other publications.  I've regularly presented at conferences, usually at 2-3 per year, so I feel good about that. I regularly write book reviews so that section of my CV looks good as well. My service section is light, but I hear that's not unusual for grad students. So I feel okay about turning away this semester from everything not #DevilDiss.
My go to organizational tool is my weekly schedule- it has everything scheduled (even when grocery shopping and laundry gets done). I don't have classes Monday or Friday, so both days are set aside as #DevilDiss writing days. I teach T/TH and have office hours those days, and 17th Century class Tuesday nights, so Tuesday will be busy. Wednesday I just have the Anglo-Saxon seminar at night, so that day can focus on working on teaching/Core Writing Coordinator stuff. Thursdays I'm done once I get home from class and office hours.

I don't mind lesson planning/grading on Sundays because it doesn't take much time, and ensures Monday remains a writing day, and that the rest of my week starts with work finished. I don't mind working per se, I mind the expectation from others that I HAVE to work. If a cool idea for a lesson comes up I want to flesh it out. But can't stand when higher ups or students expect me to be at their beck and call on "off" time. The trap here is to NOT answer work emails on the weekends, not engage, and just work on things for me. And maybe work in some long, fun walks with Nehi.

So that's my prep for the semester as a PhD student. This schedule will probably be rocky in January, and maybe part of February because I'm comping in February so January and February will be consumed by prepping for that and then taking the exams. 
Grad students- how do you prep for the new semester to juggle everything you have to do?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

That's It- Break's Over

When I turn my planner's page tomorrow morning I will be looking at my January month-at-a-glance.
That's just depressing.
It's like time travel.
Without the fun.

I feel both accomplished and behind about break. I had a lot of things to finish over the break, both things that had piled up over summer and the fall semester as well as things to get ahead of for spring semester.
  • Finish book chapter and get to editor.
  • Clean out walk-in closet in office from when I moved here. Eighteen months ago.
  • Install ladder shelves in walk-in closet to order and re-organize comp  and other academic books.
  • Take three tupperware containers of loose photos and organize and send off to ScanMyPhotos.
  • Make review flashcards for comp fields

But there's a lot of stuff still undone:
  • Change Old Norse translation article from MLA to Chicago and submit to Speculum.
  • Finish reading for Old English language seminar this spring.
  • Read Donne and Cavendish for 17th Century course with committee member this spring.
I'm not worried about getting that finished by the time classes start on 12 January. Where I feel like I'm behind is my #DevilDiss schedule. I had December bookmarked to complete Round 3 Add Outside Scholarship- the final round of my work before sending to copy editor in January to send drafts to committee members right after comps in February.

I have not met that. I am about halfway through making notes/corrections on chapters 1 and 2 drafts. Which I needed some time away from the draft in order to do. BUT, here's the #DevilDiss "TO Do" list:
  • Add Christ and Satan translation and analysis and tweak Genesis B bits.
  • Add cohesive introductions and conclusions to chapters 1 and 2.
  • Add outside scholarship/footnotes to chapters 1 and 2.
  • Write chapter 2B ("absence of devil in Shakespeare") conference draft for presentation at ACMRS.
Now, the Christ and Satan and Genesis B bits may work best if I work on them during my Old English Seminar this semester, although I don't know if I want to wait that long as I want to get my drafts to the copy editor by the end of January, fix during February (during comps), and get drafts to committee members in March as soon as possible after my prospectus defense.

The rest, I have five weeks to complete and still be on schedule. This semester I have Monday and Friday set aside as #DevilDiss days. But there's also four days off for MLA.

On the positive side, I have a course release for spring because of my job as Core Writing Coordinator. And my one class is prepped so that's all set.
I had wanted to work on my Revising Milton book project over break, but I'm not really stressed about that as my spring course is that so I have all semester to work on that.

What about you? What got done, or undone over break?
What's your plan for prepping for the new semester and your own goals?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Grad Students and Holidays

Today is Christmas Eve, which means most grad students are home with family and enjoying/suffering through "quality time." Some were too broke to go home- read me :-(  and are sitting 2000 miles away from family and facing the first holiday alone EVER.

GradHacker had some great posts the last couple of weeks about what to get grad students. I have a couple of my own tips. I'm more a fan of getting students/people items that show you KNOW them versus the more impersonal gift of cash.

  • Grad students eat poorly. Most of us can rarely afford to go out to eat or eat anything other than the cheapest shit from the grocery store. Google Map your grad student's neighborhood and identify restaurants in the area and call and see about gift cards you can send your grad student.
  • Again with the food- eating right is hard. So Harry and David gifts of fruit delivery are also a great gift.
  • My aunt and uncle gave me an Amazon gift card (that with spring semester books was gone in the blink of an eye).
  • One of my other uncles asked me what my top books were that I needed. I gave him a list of three that included two #DevilDiss books and one for my Revising Milton book.
  • If your grad student is a PhD student, or otherwise approaching the job market consider pooling resources as a family to get them a gift certificate to someplace where they can get a good suit. Most of us can't afford this on our own, and all of us will need it for interviews.
  • Likewise, a nice looking (read- adult) bag/briefcase. I bought myself one as a reward for getting into my PhD program and it's the difference between student and adult.
  • Sounds silly but office supplies are always helpful. But beware your grad student may be picky about the color/size/brand of their office supplies so unless you know these details a gift card to an office supply store may be a better bet.
  •  Gas cards are also a great gift- they help with commutes and coming home.
  • Grocery store cards are good too.
Other things you can do to help students over the holiday are to not pressure them. Grad school is hard, the job market is worse. Amanda Ann Klein has a great set of posts about what the job market is like. If your grad student is on the market, be kind.

Ask them how they are. Ask them what they're working on. Ask them if they're making friends and have a support system. Show you care. But don't pressure them on publishing, or progress. Trust me- we're getting that from other places and could use a break.

The bottom line is that grad school is lonely. A lot of us have no support system. It's easy to feel as though you're all on your own. Showing you care can mean the world.
So enjoy your holidays, hug your loved ones, and be kind.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tis the Season to...Finish Studying for Comps

Twitter is all awash of people finishing and posting grades (versus last week when it was just filled with sobs echoing out of the grading cave.
Student drama is over, or at least delayed until next semester.
You pack away this semester's notes. Maybe you revise things now while it's fresh in your head, maybe you threw everything in the corner to molder and possibly spontaneously combust.
Given that next week is Christmas many people are tidying up loose ends this week in preparation for travel.
For me, the three weeks we have off is for two things- reviewing for comps the first week in February and finishing solid drafts of CH 1 and 2 of the #DevilDiss to be able to give to committee members.

Comprehensive Exams
I've been told varying things about exams. It's meant to test if I can teach the survey course for that topic. I'll be fine. It's about big ideas and scope, not specifics.
I did all my reading for comps this past summer. One of my committee members has given me sample questions that we've discussed which was very helpful so I feel solid on that except that's also the field that has a nine page reading list so...there's that. My two other committee members have been on committee this year, so at this point (despite one saying otherwise) I don't think I'll hear from them.

Our comps are written. One field per week, three weeks in a row, four hours per field.

So here are my holiday comp review plans:

  • Take my comp binders and make flash cards for works, authors, and ideas to review. Particularly for my early modern list I feel like I need the review for names of characters and names of works.

  • Take comp reading bookshelves and clean out. While I designed my comp lists around my dissertation topic a lot of these works are not directly related to the dissertation. So I'm clearing out so this bookshelf becomes the dissertation writing shelf. I also think the visually clearing out will help my focus.
  • Try coming up with and answering sample comp questions for two fields I didn't receive any sample comp questions for. Anyone want to send me sample medieval and methodology and folklore questions?
I'm not worried about comps as in not hyperventilating and panicking. I think in part because 70+ pages into the dissertation I've been working with a lot of these texts. And for the early modern, I've taught a lot of them. I am a little concerned or nervous about the two fields I haven't really met on. One member orally quizzed me this summer, so I think that I know what will be the scope, but not sure. The other field exam has a radically different format than the other two but that format is also the same as the professor's midterm and final exams for class, which I took last year.

So color coded flashcards created from color coded notes in color coded binders.
What tips do you have for the last month and change before comps?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Please Stop Shaming Your Students

Ever teacher I know tells funny student stories.

When I taught in Brooklyn, it was a release, a form of gallows humor to share with other teachers the frustrations and fears we had for our students. In NC, I noticed that the storytelling was less about this-funny-thing and more along along the lines of this-stupid-person. And every year, at the end of the semester I find that that's my problem.

It's the end of the semester, so there are lots of reflections on students' final papers, final essays, and final performances. Twitter is awash with funny quotes under #grading. These don't identify the student, and usually quote things from not using apostrophes correctly to the difference between were and where. Just as often these posts are about the teacher/instructor/professor more than the student. As teachers, I think these end of semester posts help us not feel so alone. To know that everyone goes through these things. But there is also an invisible line. And when people cross that line the tone changes to something darker. To something that seems to show people who don't like their students very much, or think teaching is beneath them, or who have privilege issues, or socio-economic bias against their students.

And that disturbs me. It disturbs me even more in new teachers because I think it sets a bad precedent about how you view and interact with your students.

I don't think you should hold conversations on social media about failing students.
It's one thing to post something about reading the syllabus. Or a student asking if a 74.5 is passing (when a 75 is a passing grade). Or emailing during finals week asking about extra credit opportunities. These tend to be generic, non-specific, and apply to everyone. And they're funny.
Or to share (verbally, in person) stories about a student- because in a lot of ways anecdotes are how new teachers learn. But sharing shaming stories in a public space has the potential to cross a line. And here's the thing- why do you feel the need to do this? Or rather, ask yourself this, are you sharing a common issue- students giving up at the end of semester, not reading directions, making silly (often funny) mistakes or does the tone of your story or post reveal that you  view your students as somehow beneath you? Less than? Do you tell the story to somehow say how important YOU are?
Because that's a problem.
I don't think you should make fun of students on scholarship.
I understand that at some schools there are scholarships and financial aid situations that teachers may see as problematic. But making fun of student performance because they're on scholarship or receiving financial aid shows your privilege and bias. I was on scholarship. I received financial aid. I am what most people would call low class, poor. And I would have been horrified if a teacher/instructor/professor had  critiqued my performance or me by these criteria. If you're a white teacher, who obviously comes from privilege then you doing this is worse.
I don't think you should make assumptions about students who fail your class, or pass judgement.
Students fail. Students who did great all semester sometimes just give up by the time they reach the final paper. These are sad things, disappointing things. But there are also lots of reasons for these types of endings in a class. Some underclassmen become overwhelmed. Some have family issues. Some just don't get it done. The thing is, most of the time, we don't know why these things happen. And making assumptions or judgments about WHY this happened or worse, WHAT you think it reveals about a student is awful. Our job is never to judge students. Evaluate based on content certainly. Judge them? Never.

 Think about this- what if you were a student and your professor posted something on social media that quoted your work. There's a whole Tumblr dedicated to this:
And some of these are funny, or remind us of things we've read or experienced in our classes. But this is what I want you to think about- what if you were this student. What if you discovered your work was publicly made fun of? How would you feel? How would this impact how you felt as a student? About your education? About teachers?

Some people say that the difference is one of public versus private. Did you post this on Facebook to private friends or in a private group or on Twitter for all the world? And to a certain extent, that is true. But more so it has to do with intent and tone.

Here's an example- as part of my end of semester reflection my students  created memes for the class. They're hysterical, and deal with all the things we as teachers and instructors point out. But it's not me making fun of them, it's them commenting on the class. I can share these, show them to other teachers, share with future classes (which my students know I'll do because I tell them) so they know what to expect from the class. But there's no shaming involved. There's no judgment.

Everyone gets frustrated, and frustration needs to be vented. Getting other people's feedback on how to deal with something is also helpful. But I think there needs to be a little more thought put into things. I've started to write something and then thought about it and deleted it. I think we all need to take a minute more before we post things. Because the simple fact is that social media has ensured that the line between public and private life is disappearing. And our students do follow us. And it is a public space.

And I think there's a very simple guideline to use- if you were a student, and you read that post by one of your professors, what would you think?
In addition, what about these questions?
  • Does what you've written reflect privilege or class bias?
  • Does what you've written have a purpose other than shaming someone?
  • Does what you've written only work to make you look better? 
 I've been chastised for often reverting back to calling students kids, a habit of years of teaching high school. And I never mean it in a condescending way. But at 38, teaching 18 year old freshmen, they do seem like kids. And kids/young adults/college underclassmen are impressionable. And impacted by what you say. And I think it's our responsibility to keep that in mind.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Teacher education

In my position as Core Writing Coordinator for my department I had to submit a proposal for a product or action I wanted to work on. I chose to focus on teacher/TA education, and the idea of institutional memory. I don't know why, but it seems as though education and content areas don't really talk to each other at the university level. Which is a shame. I am deeply invested in training teachers because I think it leads to improving student learning. And I'm a firm believer that the best teachers continually focus on their own professional development.
This semester I have worked on creating a resource manual for TAs and new teachers. I've conducted monthly workshops that focused on different topics, and these have informed my creation of each section of the manual. It's a Google Doc, so it's a live, evolving document.
I've also created a Google Site that focuses more specifically on sharing teaching specific ideas, links, articles, etc.

Right now the plan is to continue to revise and add to both of these next semester, and get specific feedback from TAs on what else they'd like to see, what isn't clear, etc.

Feel free to share and comment! I welcome feedback and comments on both.

Freddy Krueger and Bordwell

It's been a while since I blogged about what I was working on or my process. This semester with finishing coursework, and acting as the Core Writing Coordinator for my department had me busier than usual, and focused on other things.

But this past week was the last week of classes, and because I had surgery the week before Thanksgiving, I had all my final papers finished and turned in early, so the semester seemed to end early for me workwise. Final grades for one class got finished this morning, and I just have the other class' final papers to grade Monday. So except for some meetings this upcoming week, the semester is finished.

Which is nice, because I have a book chapter on the Nightmare on Elm Street series (1-6) due to my editor next weekend.
I'm excited about this project because it's applying some different theory than I normally use, in this case Bordwell, and the application really came together- the argument that early Nightmare films fit the definition of auteur film, but progress on a continuum towards big Hollywood studio productions by the end of the story. Specifically how the form follows function. I examine three key areas, the form of the film, the evolution of the character of Freddy Krueger as a reflection of the form, and the mis en scene of mirrors/doors/windows.
I only own the entire series on VHS, the collector's box set, and it has seemed fitting to watch them in this medium while I wrote about how practicalities affected the aesthetics of the films, particularly the early ones.
Sitting down to rewatch all the films within a relatively short time period has been a lot of fun, and helped me see more clearly some of the differences from one film to the next. It also seemed fitting given that the films themselves only have a year or two between them.
It's funny what you forget and what you remember. For me, the characterization of Freddy Krueger is cemented in #5: Dream Child, but I also remember that characterization as appearing much earlier in the series, and that's not true. I guess I've "read back" the final evolution onto earlier incarnations.
Anyway, I have one more film to sit down and rewatch and take notes on, and then I'll spend next week writing and revising.

I love the medieval and early modern work I do. But I do find that this type of stuff- looking at folklore and popular culture, certainly comes easier to me. The research seems easier, the writing is definitely easier. I think in part this is because of the community I have with other scholars in this field- they're some of the most supportive, kind people I've ever met and worked with. The comments and feedback is always helpful, looking at improving the work, rather than tearing me down. So I guess it's that the entire experience of research, writing, and reception is great. Not that I haven't had good experiences with medieval and early modern scholars. I guess this is just comes more easily for me, and I still have a hard time believing I get to do this and consider it a job!
Anyway, I won't be posting the actual work, as it's a chapter in an edited collection on the Nightmare series, but I will post publication information as I get it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

End of Semester Reflection: Sh*t just got real

In some ways it seems ridiculously early to be talking about the end of the semester. But we're on Thanksgiving Break, next week is the last week of classes, then it's finals week and we're finished. Done. So perhaps not so ridiculous.
This semester was not the great semester I thought it would be ending my coursework. I loved my seminar, but some of the people in it were just mean and nasty to be mean and nasty, so that ruined some of it for me.
The one class I was really counting on to help with my dissertation didn't because we weren't given any clear guidelines, or feedback, or grades for that matter, and we had a couple of BATSHIT crazy people in there (and that's not an exaggeration!). The other class had a lovely professor but was just a ridiculous amount of work for a non-seminar, so...I am happy to have the semester come to an end.

It was a successful semester so far as the dissertation though. My dissertation committee director has looked at a draft of the prospectus and had minor notes. I revised it and sent that back to her, and we're meeting after the new year and I feel good about it. It's a little meta to write the prospectus when I'm 1/3 of the way through the dissertation though. The dissertation is at 71 pages. Chapter one, physical description is almost finished, and chapter two, personality and actions is close behind. I have a solid outline for chapter three, Hell is empty And all the devils are here”: The Absence of Devils in Shakespeare, and a conference proposal for ACMRS in February based on this was just accepted, so that's great. I'm taking a class with my dissertation director next semester and she's agreed to let me write my conference proposal for MTSU's John Milton Conference (which will then become chapter four of my dissertation) for her class, so that's great.

I have information about what the prospectus defense will be (format, what's expected, etc.) and it's tentatively penciled in for third week of March after Spring Break.
Somehow seeing things on the calendar make it all seem real, and very close, despite it being three months in the future.

Spring semester filled up fast. I was so excited about only having two classes- a seminar because I'm using Old English as my language requirement, and the course on 17th century. The schedule looked so empty last week. Bu then there are the office hours, the core writing commitment, and suddenly it's a busy week. But still two solid #DevilDiss days. My plan is to send drafts of chapter to copy editor in January, revise in February during comps, and have chapter drafts to committee members in March (so pretty much right after my prospectus defense). Hopefully I'll have those chapters back by the end of the semester, so I can then revise over the summer. Second drafts of chapters to committee in August/September, revisions by the end of Fall 2015 semester, and then all of a sudden we've blinked and I'll defend my dissertation in January.
It's like time travel. Blink and it's months in the future.
I feel good about where I am with the dissertation. I feel good about where I am with publications. And I feel good about where I am with presenting at focuses conferences.
So what about you guys- how are you feeling about the end of the semester? Where you are with your program?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In which we learn some days are harder than others

There are lots and lots of posts about how lonely and isolating the PhD process can be. I've been on my own for a while, so I guess I didn't pay much attention to all of that. But the last few weeks have hammered it home.

I've been making good progress on my dissertation, and finishing coursework this semester to comp in February, so I've been feeling pretty good.

But yesterday, had one of those days where I was just in a funk. Took an extra long walk with Nehi, and spent some time with the heavyweight bag, so thought I'd defeated the funk. But no. A timely media piece I'd submitted almost a month ago to an online journal got ripped to shreds. So I fixed revision notes. Then I had a situation with a student that made it worse- they were over the absence limit and I'd emailed them to tell them they'd be dropped. They were nasty, and mean, and this was all taking place after 5p (I really have to learn not to answer work emails outside of "office" 9-5 type hours).  It's been almost a month since Dad stopped talking to me, and sister is busy, so I don't have anyone to talk to. And suddenly the fact that I'm entirely on my own seems crushing.
And to make it worse, today was more. Editor of above-mentioned article didn't really want revisions so much as a completely different piece. So for the first time ever I refused to revise a piece. It wasn't in my field, and I really just wrote it because I liked the show, so I won't have any blowback from refusing it. And I can't seem to focus on the work that HAS to get done today because my three classes each require a thirty page article and therefore I HAVE to hit page counts on certain days.

More time with the heavyweight bag and three miles with Nehi and still not feeling better.

And suddenly the one-day funk seems to have started last week when I think I delivered a crap presentation in seminar. And then seemed to stretch earlier- the the beginning of the semester when I'm struggling to race through my PhD program and two our of my three committee members are on sabbatical, and I don't have any guidance and I'm on my own.

And now the funk becomes more.
Maybe my article needed to be completely redone because I'm a shite writer and therefore the fact that I'm attempting to get a PhD in English is ludicrous. 
Maybe I'm dealing stuff on my own because I'm a horrible person.
Maybe I gave a crap presentation because I'm a crap teacher.
And maybe I don't have any senior scholars encouraging me because no answer is the same as a negative one.

I don't actually believe any of these things. I know I work hard. I know that some people more than others benefit from a good editor. I know that my Dad's baggage has nothing to do with me. And that I need to keep reminding myself of that. I'm the only one who thought it was a crap presentation, I need to learn to cut myself some slack. And maybe, just maybe, I don't get a lot of support because I don't ask for it or appear as though I don't need it.

Because here's the thing- I think it's important for PhD students to remind ourselves that there will be hard days, hard weeks, when believing in ourselves is harder than others. Some days we will feel more alone. Sometimes we are going to feel like we're not going to make the finish line.
But that's the point- we ALL feel like this. We're not alone.
So some days you put one foot in front of the other until you don't have to THINK about putting one foot in front of the other.
And that's okay. Because we will get there. Even if we have to focus on silly gifs for a day to get there.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why You Need to Be on Social Media (as an academic)

In the past, I've written about how Twitter, and judicious use of social media has impacted my academic life. There are some new grad students in my program though that now read/follow this blog so I wanted to write a little refresher/update.

If you're a grad student and you don't have a Twitter account, start one.
If you don't have a scholarly blog where you post/share your work, create one.

I'll tell you why, in detail, you should be doing these things below, but let's not bury the lead.
  • I just secured a book chapter this morning because a friend posted on Twitter that someone had dropped out of an anthology and he needed someone to fill it.
  • I was asked this summer to contribute to an edited collection because the editor had read my work on Sequart and had read my blog and was interested both by my writing style and how prolific I was in my writing.
  • I have a chapter in a fairy tale collection currently being shopped, that again, I got because of Twitter.
  • That's in addition to an article I had the opportunity to write because of Twitter, and my first book chapter contribution, which also came from Twitter
For those of you keeping count, as a third semester PhD student I have three publications out, and three in the pipe that should come out the next year. That's six publication credits for a second year PhD student. Given what the job market for the humanities, particularly English, looks like now, most people agree that the single most important way you can distinguish yourself is publications. It's not a magic bullet, things like fit and field certainly count. But if it's you against five hundred others with the same basic qualifications, and if you've proven you can produce consistently you're going to go to the head of the class.

So here's a basic primer for how you can and should use social media to increase your profile and get your name and work out there as well as make valuable networking connections.
  • I regularly post what I'm working on research-wise on Twitter. My dissertation has a hashtag, #DevilDiss. People in related fields comment on it, recommend resources, or just favorite or retweet. This makes connections to people in my field, provides me with sources I may not know about and gets my work forwarded to others.
  • I follow people in my field and interact with them. In a genuine manner. Be a person. While I reserve Twitter for professional interactions, I don't want to be a robot, so my dog Nehi gets her picture put up there sometimes, and other personal details that personalize me without drifting into oversharing. Don't be a suck up- blatant pandering is VERY obvious on Twitter, as is name dropping, but asking genuine questions, or participating in a conversation is different. These connections will lead you to others, and your network will expand.
  • On my scholarly blog, I post all kinds of things- posts about attending recent job seekers workshops, prepping conference presentations, papers, course materials that are relevant to my dissertation. Once I write a post I link to it on Twitter. This not only helps you organize your work, but as a lot of people have written, getting into the habit of regularly writing, writing ALL THE TIME on different topics and for different audiences only improves your academic writing.
These are all simple steps that will not only get your work out there, but will also get you talking to the people in your field/specialty. You can start building today.

But this is not enough. As the saying goes, connections will only get you the chance, it's what you DO with the chance that matters. You need to have a work ethic. A good one. You need to earn a reputation for being someone that can be counted on. Can deliver on deadlines. Deliver good work that requires little editing. This type of reputation will ensure that people think of you when they have an opportunity, will recommend you for other work.
In addition to a good work ethic be sure to be professional and polite. Maybe it sounds simplistic but thank people for the opportunity. Express how excited you are to be able to do this work. These things count too.

Most of my professors aren't on Twitter. They don't know how it functions. In fact, I emailed a congratulations yesterday to a professor whose book just won an award, because I saw it on Twitter. She didn't even know yet.

But Twitter and the connections you make are not going to go away. These are the people that you will see at conferences, will write articles for and with, who will potentially be on your search committees and eventually be your peers. Social media is a great way to get resources, make connections, and show what you have to the world.

So what about you- how has judicious use of social media helped you? Any starting tips or tricks you want to share?

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Lonely Stretch of the PhD

This week the fact that I'm finished with coursework this semester and taking my PhD comprehensive exams in February seems REAL. Maybe it's because we're past the halfway mark. Maybe because we had to send in our Spring courses and teaching preferences. 
This is the face you make when you realize this is your schedule next semester:
Or maybe it's because due to personal stuff (which I usually don't share here) I realized I'd be doing this last leg with absolutely no support system. Just me and Nehi (not that she's not lovely). Suddenly this next year and a half-- of work, defending my prospectus, finishing drafts, revising drafts, and holidays seems like a really long stretch, uphill, knowing it'll just be me and Nehi here in Albuquerque.
So I'm feeling not quite overwhelmed, but perhaps a little out of touch? Floaty? Lonely?

And suddenly my t-shirt design for comps seems really prophetic.

This was also not my week for racking up successes.
  • One person in class told me to shut up about being excited about being done with coursework this semester.
  • I had, stupidly, rushed an article out to a journal this past summer and got rightly rejected. Still always stings though.
  • Also got a conference rejection this week. It was a medieval conference, and it was a medieval journal, so I'm a little panicked. Because this year my focus is medieval (with next year being early modern as I'm marketing myself for both) I'm a little worried that I'm not making the grade with the medieval crowd. In our job seekers workshop this week I was told not to worry about it. But I am.
  • I'm getting snarky comments from some people ahead of me in general for my OCD/color coded timeline of preparedness.
  • Another person interrogated me in the hallway, assuming a blog post I'd written was about them.
  • And I'm hitting my head on some administration stuff.

So it wasn't a great week.
So I'm trying to focus on the positive.
I found a great book to help me work through the psychoanalytic theory of my dissertation. And I'm writing the theory bits to add to my dissertation for my psychoanalytic class this semester.
Other than that, I'm 50+ pages into my dissertation. That's includes a rough introduction, and part of CH 1 and 2. I'm finishing my notes for round two today with those chapters (historicizing the devil references as I take a psychoanalytic approach).  Next Friday I'll type up my historicism notes and outline a chapter insert (2B) as I've realized I need an entire chapter to explain the absence of the devil in Shakespeare. Next semester I'm taking a 17th Century course with one of my committee members, so I'm going to prep a conference presentation to submit to the Milton Conference (and man, am I having a hard time believing that's come around again- how has it been two years already?). I'll then use that to build my CH 3 on Milton and the folkloric Devil.

So I'm pleased with where I am and I'm confident I can stick to my schedule of chapter drafts to committee members in March, notes by May, and spend the summer revising and writing the conclusion (which I feel good about because it gestures to my next book project which I already have planned out).
I even feel pretty good about my CV, and after over a month of the job seekers workshops, solid starts for my other job market materials.
That leaves next fall for going on the job market and next/final (?) draft to committee. Defend in January, have spring to fix any last notes, graduate May 2016.

I know what I'm doing wouldn't work for everyone. And it doesn't have to. It just has to work for me. But I don't understand why people have to be mean because I'm working hard to get this done. I'm not asking them to do it. How does it hurt them?

But what few acquaintances I have are gone next year. So I know it is already set up to be lonely. And people say that  the home stretch of the dissertation is the loneliest. It's one of the reasons why I decided not to apply for a fellowship for next year and instead continue to teach. I think I will need the human interaction. Plus, I'm only eligible to teach advanced literature courses after comps, and would rather have the extra teaching practice.

So I'm putting one foot in front of the other until I don't have to think about putting one foot in front of the other. When you're this busy, it's easy to compartmentalize and shove the personal stuff down. I guess I can't do anything more than I am.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Prepping for the Job Market Part 4- The Teaching Philosophy

I've written a ton of these. And I've answered this question in interviews for teaching jobs. And I'm still never sure of what I'm supposed to be doing. I was not pleased with the draft I submitted for the workshop, but I've never been happy with any teaching philosophy I've ever written.
So that was my first question yesterday during our workshop- what is this document supposed to DO?

I did feel as though I got the most out of this workshop, only because by the end I had a much clearer idea of what the document was supposed to do and how I could accomplish those goals. The other workshops have been helpful, but the notes were minor, and with this workshop I really feel as though I've learned the most.

So, here are the general tips:
  • As with the research statement, have a "look" that binds materials together without being cutesy
  • You will also have to have this document for tenure, so become familiar with form
  • 1-2 pages
  • Stress any assignment that improves student writing, this is a concern regardless of type of job
  • Don't list classes taught, that's for the CV and the letter (one professor suggested thinking of the letter about "them" and the teaching philosophy about "you")
  •  Ideally your philosophy should be an integration of you as scholar and instructor
  • Show awareness of pedagogical buzzwords, but USE them, don't just dump them in. Show through examples that you know what these look like in the classroom
  • Address both literature and writing- this may differ from application to application
  • Not the document to be humble. Won't come off as arrogance, will come off as competence.
  • Convey enthusiasm. If you can get the hiring committee member excited about an assignment/syllabus/etc. that's what you want.
It was this focus on the concrete teaching examples that helped the most, so I've divided those specific tips below:
  • Start with your assignments. Identify assignments you really like, or that are successful
  • Focus on what you do that's innovative
  • Have a clear "through line" 
  • Explain "This assignment does X..."
  • Then use this concrete example to articulate what's important to me as a teacher (engagement, connections, etc.)
  • Connect these examples to audience. We were also told to stress that we're a diverse university with a large hispanic, native, first generation population and this was a bonus. 
  • The concrete examples should exemplify the overarching theory that connects our teaching
The personal notes I received were also very helpful:
  • 1st paragraph: great connection between skills and content, build on this.
  • I have a lot of teaching experience, I need to highlight that more
  • Stress my ENGL 220: Fairy Tales and Folklore course because I chose the topic and designed from scratch
  • Rephrase Pedagogy to Integration or Scaffolding
  • Mention the Twitter/Facebook classwork I do because it will appear "new" to hiring committees and cool
We also address portfolios. Mine is an ongoing project, and is electronic- I link to it on my CV and other places. However, we were told that we needed to have a "hard copy" version to submit. This surprised me, but I was glad to know it. I'm a little unclear about formatting/table of contents, etc. but will build based on what we were told to include. Here's what I have (roughly).
The guidelines we were given for the hard copy portfolio was:
  • 8-10 pages
  • stress strengths
  • a syllabus or two
  • a good assignment
  • class handouts/lecture
  • mid semester evals
We were also told not to share evaluation numbers unless asked. Also, to not send anything not asked for.

Next week we're off because of Fall Break. The week after is a revision day, a chance to look at any documents we've done so far and revised.
The teaching philosophy is certainly the document that I need to revise the most. But I also think it's the one that will prove the most rewarding revision wise. I plan on revising my teaching philosophy on top of the current draft.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

My Judgey Tangent Post About How TAs should dress (to teach and get a job)

I've had three separate conversations the last few weeks, that have all been racing in a circle in my head:
  • one of the grad students said she found this blog, and found it helpful (yeah!)
  • had a conversation about the lack of professional dress of TAs
  • have been attending job seekers workshops
They've circled around and collapsed onto themselves for this-
Now, I'm not a fuddy duddy, but I am 38, and have had a series of "real" jobs that require "real,"  adult clothes. So I know a little about trying to present yourself as a professional. Dressing like an adult. For a job. To be taken seriously by others.

There's a separate argument/post to be made about the nature of slut shaming (or just follow this- don't do it). And this is not that post. What people wear in their free time is completely not my concern. If you think fishnets, and shorts, and platform shoes, or no shirt, torn shorts, and flip flops are a necessary fashion statement, I could care less. And outside of a work environment women should be free to wear whatever they want free from harassment and acts of aggression.
Personally, I wear geek t-shirts and sweatpants and jeans in my free time.
But I don't wear them to work. I don't wear them to teach in. I don't wear them to work functions. Because that's not what grown ups do.

My first year teaching in NYC we were all given the professional dress speech, and a lot rolled their eyes. We had teachers with tattoos, and piercings, so we weren't stuffy by any means. But even we looked down on the guy who wore Hawaiian shirts, jeans, and Birkenstocks to teach every day his first year. One part of the speech I did get was that if you looked particularly young, it was a good idea to make sure you couldn't be mistaken for a student (for a myriad of reasons in a fairly tough Brooklyn high school). For most this was easy- we were all Anglo in a school with three Anglo Polish kids out of 1000+. But I understood the point, which I think goes hand in hand with not trying to be their friends.

Bill Maher has a great little rant about not judging a book by its cover- BUT THAT'S WHAT THE COVER IS FOR.

Now, in my idealistic, raised-by-a-hippie world, people are judged by the content of their character, the strength of their morals, and their kindness towards others. But that is not the world we live in. And this may be why these three encounters stick in my mind, because I keep thinking about the point of all this- which is to be taken seriously enough that someone will offer a job that will end all our troubles (or at least let us eat) and let us discuss literature until the end of our days.

And then I look around me, and wonder how much we're prepared to be accepted in that way.

When I taught in a rural, Southern high school, I had to conform to more traditional  ideas of professional dress for women. I was once told by a senior teacher I wasn't "dressed" appropriately because I didn't wear lipstick.
I hated it. I always felt I was being asked to conform to someone else's standards, I was never comfortable, and knew I was judged by it because I self-confess to having no fashion sense (my idea of shopping is to find something I like the feel of and buy one in three different colors). Once I had tenure I shifted to button down shirts and slacks which was better, and once I became department chair it was suits which was even better.

Now that I am at a university, it's a little different. Mainly because I feel as though as long as I am dressed professionally, I'm not being judged for not necessarily following gender norms.
I dress like this on days I teach:
Do we see the pattern? It's always a button down shirt, with a tie, and jeans or boots, and depending on the weather a vest or sweater. Albuquerque rarely allows for a jacket as well (for like 30 seconds in November) but I wear those when the weather lets me.

For the record- I'm not a gender bender by nature, and I'm not making a statement about my sexuality. There's a short answer reason why I dress this way, and the answer I give most people- girl clothes are stupid. Men's clothes are cheaper, more comfortable, and last longer.

The longer answer is that I find the patriarchal norms by which women are judged for professional dress ridiculous- hair styled, make up, clothes must be in style and fit a trend, high heels. I find these standards, and the time/money women spend living up to them LUDICROUS. Some women claim to like it. And that's fine. I do not judge them for it. But I refuse to participate in a cycle which I think continues to tell women that they are only as valuable as their looks, and what they physically present. And if you want to start an argument about how this isn't true, read this and the fifty gagillion other studies that say the same thing in addition to the anecdotal evidence from female TAs and professors and how they get judged and treated differently based on looks. You'll get no such stories from the men.
On days where I just have office hours, I tend to wear "business casual" which means a blouse/sweater and slacks. I read on one of the higher ed blogs/articles years ago (have looked for two hours for the damn link and can't find it- if you can please post in comments) that he dressed a little more "approachable" on office hours days- a sweater rather than a tie so students would perhaps feel more comfortable talking to him. That's actually a pretty good reason, so I follow it.

There's also the very real concept that as TAs and graduate students, particularly PhD students, we're in a weird limbo land where we are still students, but also transitioning into a world where soon we will ask our professors and faculty to see us as peers. That means getting rid of the mentality that your clothes/hair/make up should scream how different you are. You know what I'm learned in my years on this planet? If you're different, and your ideas are special I'll know after about five minutes of talking to you.
I originally had a different version of this, but after good points made by a Twitter friend, I decided to replace with one that was more the point I was trying to make.

Your spiked hair, overdone make up with white see through top with black lace bra underneath, untucked and/or wrinkled shirt, frayed pants, or pants with holes in them, unbrushed or unkempt hair/beard do not tell me you're different.

They tell me you don't take your job seriously.
They tell me you're slovenly.
They tell me you think you don't have to conform to professional norms.
They tell me you think in some way you're above all this.

And to me, that makes me wonder about work ethic, pulling your own weight on projects, and exactly how seriously you take your own teaching/work.

None of those are good things.

Now, those are all judgey things. And if I saw any of the above on the street, I wouldn't think twice. But in a classroom? A work environment? A meeting? An interview? That's a different ball of wax.
There comes a time where it's time to put aside childish things. Grad school, and the job market seems like that time.

So put aside the band t-shirts and ripped jeans and save them for the weekends. Search the Internet and Goodwill stores for professional dress ideas that won't break your pitiful TA budget. Start dressing for the job that all too soon you'll be competing against (in some cases) anywhere from 100-900 other people for. Your professors will notice. Other faculty will notice. Your students will notice. And in this job market, you shouldn't be doing anything that can take you out of the running when it's such an easy fix.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Prepping for the Job Market Part 3- The Research Statement

This week, our job seeker's workshop focused on the research statement. Our pattern is to post ours, then we get feedback from at least two professors, sometimes more. This week we again had a small group (8 folks).

Yesterday's workshop was the first one I felt completely unprepared for.
Up until this point, I've felt like I had a handle/idea of what the genre was asking for (CV and cover letter) and while I got copious notes on how to improve, knew they were all good notes and my work would be the stronger for it.
That was not the case yesterday. The research statement is an odd duck to begin with, so it started in an odd place.
Some of the general notes we received:
  • First paragraph should be overview, second should be your dissertation, the third should be recent publications, fourth your next big research project, and then conclusion which ties your work together.
  • Have deliverables and a clear timeline for future research.
  • Shorter = better, scannable = best. We were told that some ads will state just 1 page, but usually anything under two pages is good.
  • We were encouraged to take the scholarly publishing class next semester, and one piece of advice was to delay graduation so we could time our dissertation coming out as a book before graduation.
I received a lot of personal advice on my research statement. Some was very helpful, such as rephrasing my work so it's clear I'm not just a Miltonist, but work through medieval and early modern periods. Another was to clarify my folklore approach so that it was accessible and understandable by literary scholars.
Some advice was less helpful. Like the bit about not mentioning my popular culture work because it meant I wasn't a serious scholar, and not literature scholars would take that seriously. I was told to remove the chapter I've worked on on Steve Rogers, "I don't know who this is and no one else will." I was also told that my next research project, an extension of the dissertation, which examines how Milton's mythology becomes what is forwarded in popular culture, should be revised without the popular culture (despite the fact that I'm looking to submit it for a series called religion and popular culture).
I was also told I couldn't prove my dissertation.

I wanted to go cry. This was done at full volume (although I stress not in a mean tone) in a room full of other grad students and professors. Several turned to look at me with pity at several times. I was embarrassed, and felt awful.

But here's the thing- these are not uncommon views. I am lucky to have a great support network of media/culture studies folks. And while some of these ideas are changing, I understand that hiring committees may be weighted with older faculty and it's my job to make my work clear and not to make them work for it. I get that.
This was also a abject lesson in how to be a grown up and behave. Whether or not I agree with the views of this person, they took the time to come to the workshop. They took the time to read my research statement, and give me feedback. They deserve respect for that. Which is why I took notes, some of which I have noted for improving my statement, and when finished, thanked them, shook their hand and was done.

But part of me also feels a lot like this, I mean seriously, who's Steve Rogers? *headdesk*
(gif posted to my timeline on Facebook by a friend)
Being a PhD student is hard. It's like Great American Hero where he has all this STUFF but no idea how to use it because the instruction manual shrunk. Except for PhD students the manual isn't shrunk so much as password protected and hidden by some Skulls-like group.

The job market at times seems to be like the Swamp of Sadness. The place that slowly makes you more and more depressed until you simply cannot go on and DIE!

There are silver linings. 
There are some great people out there who are offering advice (or at least passing the whiskey bottle).  I have friends who are looking at my documents and offering long-distance advice.
There are also more senior scholars out there who blog about these issues, or offer Twitter support.
These two posts are wonderful for people actually on the market this year:
But despite all of the support, advice, or help, this is still a lonely business. Sharing can be seen as personal weakness. You're often told you're not good enough, your work is crap, etc. And I think part of the weaning process is whether or not you do quit or whether you put up with this, shake it off, and go back to being your own personal cheerleader.
I for one will go back to thinking I'm a rock star. Because Stiles thinks so, and Stiles is never wrong.
Next week, the teaching philosophy and teaching portfolio.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Prepping for the Job Market: Part 2 Application/Cover Letter

This week's job seeker's workshop was interesting on a couple of levels.
First, the number of attendees dropped by half. I don't think this is a reflection on the workshop. Half of the attendees the first week were not prepping for this year's market, so maybe they don't see the need to prep. I think they are very wrong. I'm not on the market until next year, but I think it will prove to be incredibly valuable to have vetted templates all ready to go come next fall. I want to be able to personalize these letters and statements and just send them out. I don't want to be creating them.
But that's me.
This past week's focus was on the cover/application letter.
My first draft was crap. The year before I applied to/started my PhD program I applied to a wide range of community college, lecturer positions to see if I could get hired with what I had (masters in education, masters in English literature). The draft I submitted for the workshop was the letter I sent out for a lecturer position at Middle Tennessee State University- a place I'd love to be. After seeing the feedback I got on that letter, I see now why I didn't even make the cut! Draft 2 was a little better. I am especially grateful not only to our professor running the workshop, but also a Twitter connection for taking the time to give me specific notes and suggestions as well.
What I ended up with was this. I think it's a strong template for me to use as a basis next fall, although it's over the two page limit we were advised of, so I've sent it off to my professor for advice/comments.

We also got some basic notes on the letter:
  • Use the preferred qualifications in the ad to see what you need to address in your letter. One professor said search committees scored how well letters addressed these on a numeric scale that determined whether or not they made the cut.
  • We should have two versions of the letter: one that put research/publications first and made that our emphasis and one that put teaching first and emphasized that.
  • We should research the schools we're applying to an mention courses of theirs we could teach as well as make reference to undergrad/grad contact. However, don't mention specific people there you'd like to work with as that can blow up in your face.
  • If they don't ask for a teaching/research statement/philosophy bulk up those sections in your letter.
  • Consider getting a letter of interest/contract for first book so you can say that in your letter.
  • No more than two pages, dump header address if needed for more space
  • Set up interfolio account. It allows you to upload all these documents and helps you track everything. It also has the bonus that your recommenders will only have to upload their letters once (in a secure manner) which makes it easier on them.

This week we're covering the research statement. I'm a little concerned/worried about this. We were told to relate to other disciplines, how my interests would help the university, and I'm a little unclear on how to do this without feeling/presenting as scattershot flake.

Also asked my professor about marketing myself. I'm a medievalist/early modernist. Yet professor said I was more early modernist. So having a medievalist as my chair may be a detriment. He said we'd have to revisit that.
So, that's week 2. Let me know if you have additional advice, or if you have questions for me to ask for this week. I'm off to try and sell my varied research interests in some coherent manner.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Prepping for the Job Market: Part 1 The CV and Ad

Some background: I am in my third semester of my PhD program. I finish my course work this semester, comp in February, will defend my prospectus soon thereafter, am currently writing my dissertation, and am planning on going on the job market in a year, with a dissertation defense date of early spring semester 2016.
I have my committee of studies for comps in place, and just secured my fourth/outside reader for my dissertation last week.

Over the next month my department is offering job seekers workshops on different topics to prep people for the job market. We had our first one this past week. The MLA Job List comes out today. And half the people in the room didn't seem to know a whole lot about the job market or how to prepare. I have to admit- this is worrisome to me. Particularly, this is worrisome because this knowledge is everywhere on the Internet and I worry about people attempting to go into this field who are not aware of the field or aren't being told this by other sources. What was perhaps more worrisome is that the job list comes out today- so why don't these people have their job market materials ready to go? I digress...

This week we focused on our CV and how to break down/respond to job ads. I had a member of my committee look at my CV last year, and we made corrections, but based on the feedback I got for the workshop, I still had a lot to do. This was what my committee member and I came up with. This is what I ended up with.

The professors running the workshop (two of whom were on the job market the last couple of years) stressed how dire the market was, although the stat they gave was 150 for every application, and from what I've read, that number is more likely 400 or 500 depending on your field.

We all got feedback on our CVs, so I'm feeling pretty good about how it looks now, and thanks to     all who were wonderful about sharing their CVs and pointing me towards Dr. Karen’s Rules of the Academic CV for some extra help. We spent the majority of the workshop (2 hours) asking questions and looking at a sample job ad.

So, here's a list of the good information/tips we got about the CV:
  • Make sure your CV is streamlined, use the white space, make it easy for the committee to read. Don't make them work for it.
  • It should be 2-3 pages right out of grad school
  • It's a toss up on whether to put your dissertation title and abstract. Most seemed to think that the paragraph about it in the cover letter was enough.
  • List committee members as references. Side note: make sure that your faculty stress in their letters that you'll be DONE if going on market ABD. Also, along these lines, even if you just put dissertation title on your CV, ALWAYS put defense date.
Other advice that was a little more general:
  • A lot of ads are starting to say medieval literature (or whatever field) + digital humanities. We were encouraged to take the DH courses offered here, or publish with an emphasis to qualify.
  • I also noticed that there's been a lack the last couple of years of ads mentioning sub categories (feminist, Marxist, etc.).
  • Start saving now so you had a slush fund to go to MLA to interview if asked.
  •  Number of publications wasn't important, as long as you were working, could show you submitted something. Also, feel free to put on CV that you've submitted to a journal (even if you haven't heard anything back from them). I STRONGLY disagree with this. I think in this job market one of the few ways you can prove you're a rock star/solid bet who can produce is to publish. I think you need at least one publication for every year you've been in grad school. I also think that you should not put submitted, as anyone could do that- accepted, yes. Asked to revise and submit- maybe.

We're covering the application/cover letter next week (here's my draft), but we did cover some tips this past week:
  • Don't mention previous (read high school, for-profit) teaching experience in cover letter. Mention only in interview if you get there and it's relevant.
  • Cover letter should follow this format: publications, dissertation, teaching. The paragraph on your dissertation should be a really good one. Also, write dissertation title to include tags of what your research covers so it's clear what areas you work in. I used this template for my letter.
  • Create a template, then tailor each letter for each job. Research the school, and be sure to specifically refer to their programs/faculty.
On a more personal note- 
I am fully aware that the job market is dire. Next fall I will not only be competing with newly/almost minted PhDs from schools that have better reputations than mine, but also this year's PhDs that didn't get jobs, and last year's, and the year before that, and so on and so on. I can't control that. I can't make my school higher ranked, or ivy league. I can't lessen the numbers of the competition. The way I see it, I can only control myself. 
It's a short list, but this is what I'm going with:
  • I have three current publications- two articles and one chapter in an edited collection. In the next year I should have two more chapters in edited collections, one on fairy tales, the other on comics and the working class. I have two journal articles submitted, but have heard nothing back yet. I plan on aiming for a medieval publication this year and an early modern one next year.
  • I was always told that conferences were only valuable if your CV also showed that these became publications. That seems like sound advice to me. I've lessened the conferences I'm attending one, because I'm writing my diss at this point, and two, I'm focusing WHERE I'm going more.
  • Teaching is important. It's no longer, for most jobs, unnecessary, or a barely there requirement. That being said- even SLACs are going to require research, so a page of local teaching awards with no publications and few conferences is not the right mix. I can tell you that I'm not even applying for these awards because they are a lot of work, and I don't think they will move my CV the way a publication or conference would.
  • Get on social media. Start a scholarly blog- share your work. Be on Twitter. Connect with people in your field- share your work. Get your name out there and engage with people.
Last year when I looked at the MLA Joblist there were 23 jobs that I qualified for. I'm marketing myself as a medieval/early modernist. These fields have collapsed the last few years, so I feel comfortable with this positioning. 
This year there are 17 jobs that I would qualify for. 
That's a shrinking pool of an already miserable job market.
But I'm not giving up. Is it possible I may end up flipping burgers after grad school? Absolutely. But I'm not thinking like that. I'm focusing on everything I can do to make myself the best possible candidate. That's all any of us can do.
Next week- my reactions to the application letter and more on the job list ads.