Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

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.