Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Not Ready To Give Up. Or Am I?

The other day, Kelly J. Baker's (@kelly_j_baker) latest book, Grace Period came out. I follow Baker on Twitter, and really enjoy her work, the variety, the style, and she posted about the book release so I went and bought it.
https://www.amazon.com/Grace-Period-Kelly-J-Baker-ebook/dp/B071GLR1Z9/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
 I read it in one sitting.

It is touching, and real, and authentic, and heartbreaking. While I knew some of the story, the pieces from following her and reading various bits, somehow it's a very different story when laid out all together in Grace Period. 
I wrote a review, and signal boosted online, and wished there was a paperback so I could read, reread, and dog ear, and highlight and jot notes in it. Maybe one day there will be. I also touched on the fact that because of people like Baker, and Joe Fruscione (@Joe_Fru) and David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) 
life after academia is a little less scary, the idea of leaving, doing something else. They are examples that this is not a failure of me as a person, or even as an academic. Academia is not a meritocracy. And each in their own way has shown a version of what life after academia can look like.

This gives me hope. And it's good to have models.

But several things happened yesterday that made me reflect on where I am.
The dissertation is done. Mostly. It's out to committee for final revisions. My director is confident I can finish those revisions and send the whole thing out mid-August and defend mid-September. After a year plus of purgatory, it seems like I might actually be done this time. I've Tweeted and blogged about how this feels the second time around.
As prep for this final stage, I printed out and had my uni copy center bind, the entire dissertation. While the chapters are out to committee, I plan on reading through the whole thing, as an entire dissertation, and checking for repetitions, word choice, active verbs, italics, typos, etc. Style notes mostly, nothing that will affect content, and something to keep me busy.

For those of you who have gotten here, you know this is a big deal.
I've now been here twice. I was here last March.
So, rather than celebrating this, taking a minute to understand that this was one of the last hurdles before being a Doctor, I was nervous. Because I don't believe in any of this anymore.

My director is great, and throwing the old dissertation out and starting over from scratch was not quite as hard as I thought. And this process has been great, revising and notes like I imagine this is all supposed to be. But I'm tired. And in many ways the academy has already failed me. Most than once. So I'm just tired.

If I get a defense date, despite people wanting to come, I don't think I'll invite them. Because I just couldn't take inviting them then having to explain to them oh whoops, not happening. Again. Because I've done this twice now. The same for graduation. These should be HUGE celebrations. I've worked doubly (literally, doubly) hard for all this. And I should be celebrated. But I'm tired. And at this point this is just something to be done so I can stop feeling like I'm in Limbo. Done so I can decide what I'm doing next. Done so I can stop feeling like my adult life at 41 is on pause.

I blogged the other day about ramping up for the job market season this fall. A sort of, this is what I wished I known when I went on the market a couple of years ago. Things I learned late in that season, so wanted to pass on.

One of the things I talked about was the fact that I was grateful that I had less stress going into this market season. I have my full time job teaching high school, so I'm not worried about cobbling together adjunct gigs or finding a job to pay rent. I'm also not teaching for my uni this upcoming year, so as I've written, for the first time in a really long time (so long I can't remember) I will just have the one job. So, I can have the time to focus, to dedicate, to rest. All of which are a privilege, and I acknowledge that. This was part of what I wanted when I went back to high school teaching last year, the safety net, the steady pay, the benefits.

But in the days finishing Grace Period, I've been thinking as I wrote that blog about the job market, and other things. Has part of me already given up? Have my experiences resulted in me already thinking that it won't work out, I won't get a job, I should just give up, in fact, I started wondering, have I already given up? Is it even worth it? I don't have the uni pedigree. I don't have what most people say is necessary to succeed. I've seen people with ALL the right qualifications season after season not get jobs. So if they can't, what makes me think I will?

Then yesterday, three things happened in the same afternoon.
Outside Magazine posted this job ad on Twitter:
It struck my eye because I like Outside magazine, an effect of dating a rock climber in undergrad, and because it was just north in Santa Fe. I briefly read it, thought it'd be a cool job and kept scrolling.

Then a little bit later Smithsonian Magazine posted a similar job.

And then this came up: 

And I stopped.
And I thought.
Seriously thought.
Asked some questions on Twitter.
Started thinking through the practicalities.


I have a B.F.A in technical theatre. I worked professionally in New York City, as a master electrician for the Manhattan School of Music, and The Joseph Papp Public Theatre/Shakespeare in the Park. While the ad didn't ask for this, this experience would be a real selling point in meeting the responsibilities they listed. As would my experience as a dancer as a youngin. And reading through the responsibilities I thought, I can do all of that.
But then the first qualification is a Bachelor's degree and a minimum of four years overseeing digital operations. Now, I run this blog, which I think shows my range and capability. I think too the How to Grad School While Poor Wiki and the Google Doc that started in also does that. I could probably make a real case for me. But that four plus years of editorship, that may be tricky.

But it's a job in New York City. With apartment life. And I have a 81 pound dog. Who likes her yard. And big parks. And lifestyle. She's never not had a house with a yard.

So rather than dive into THIS job, this dream job for me, that I am uniquely qualified for, I immediately sidestepped it. I started asking questions of my Twitter folks about how I could  in the next year increase experience in digital editorship, so maybe, possibly, in the future, I'd be qualified, or more qualified for this type of job. The type of job I see more and more and might be a really interesting job.
Then I started thinking, social media editor is a full time job, or at least a job that requires flexibility during the day, which teaching high school full time locks me out of. Yes, it'd be cool to try and do this for a journal or website, but I'm not a grad student anymore. I don't have that flexibility anymore. I get to school at 7a, and leave at 3p, and my day doesn't allow for sitting at the computer and curating content, no matter how much fun that sounds like.

Because one of the thoughts I've had the past year is, if I don't get a higher ed job, what do I want to do? Do I really want to stay in Albuquerque? Do I even want to stay a teacher? There's so much that goes with that. And I'm tired. And it's tempting to just leave it all behind. At 41, to just go do something else. It was the same thought I had last year when I applied to the FBI. Maybe I just wanted to walk away.
But the FBI didn't work out, and because I'm my mother's daughter, I thought, well, it just wasn't meant to be. Assigning purpose and hope is stupid and dangerous, but it's what I do.


The New York City Ballet job is a great job. A dream job. But I can't help but wonder if it's a job for another me. Not the me I am now. A me who has given up on teaching, scholarship, academia, and truly given it up, let go, and not in a "I didn't really try so I'll regret it forever" way but REALLY, TRULY gave up.
And this came on the heels of another realization.
Yes. I am tired. I am exhausted. I feel let down. Whispy. See-through.
But maybe I'm not as ready to give up as I thought.
Maybe I will be in the spring. I certainly know after the last year of limbo, I have no desire to continue this. No desire to spend three, four, five years on the market. I am 41. And I am ready to have a real, grown up life, whatever that may me. But part of me also knows that last time on the market, I didn't have Doctor in front of my name. I don't think I had great letters. I didn't have support. So part of me wants to give this a try when I'm firing on all cylinders.

Because the New York City Ballet job is a great job, a dream job, and it deserves someone who will go all in. And as much as that might be a version of me, it's not me right now.

But part of me wishes it was.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Prepping for the Job Market Fall 2017 Edition

It's only June, but already the phrase JOB MARKET is starting to be whispered in the dark. It is said in a sibilant voice, darkly menacing. It can be a trying, stressful, awful time for people.
I have a job teaching high school full time, so my position is not that of many recent PhD graduates, or graduates who have been on the market several years. Yes, I will apply this year, no I'm not going to starve if I don't get a job.
I went on the job market two years ago, the year I thought I was graduating, and while it did not result in interviews, not even first rounds, I did learn a lot just going through the process, and have also been through my university's job market prep workshop twice. So while there are a TON of websites about how to navigate the job market, and what to do, how to prep, I thought I'd share my experiences- the things I wish I'd known.

This is by no means comprehensive, and is specific to English literature, so I encourage you to seek out field specific advice. I also suggest that you read widely the blogs and advice that is out there, but make sure you're in a good head space when you do it, don't do it for hours on end, and never, ever, internalize the crushing despair (that last one is hard).

So, here's my list:
  • Create an Excel, or Google Sheets so you can track your applications. Put the school, title of position, deadlines, material asked for. I also color coded ones I got confirmations from, when they went to interviews, etc. This helped a lot.
    • A tangent for this- Because I went on the market a few years ago, I've stayed on the jobs list, so I've seen jobs that were posted three years ago, then two, then last year. These are warning signs. I suggest that when the MLA joblist comes out you select all the ones you think you're a good fit for, then sit down with your director or advisor. If you haven't been watching the list, they have, and can warn you against applying for those positions.
  •  I suggest creating your documents in Google Docs. It makes them easy to share with people to comment on. It also makes it easy to search and make changes. 
    • I made a CV, a template cover letter (one for teaching, one for research), a teaching statement, and a research statement.
      • In my applications, some schools wanted a diversity statement. I included this in my teaching statement.
      • You might also need a writing sample. It's usually an odd length- 20-25 pages, so you'll have to expand an article or cut down a diss chapter. Ask your director what they recommend.
  • Timeline:
    • Two years before (I know, if you're already here, it's too late): Start sending things out to try and publish, ideally in the fields you'll apply for. Most of my publications have a throughline, but are more folklore/pop culture based. I feel confident I can explain these connections in an interview, and have tried in my letters, but I was never advised to publish strategically, and I know it's a weakness.
    • Summer before September MLA Joblist: tell you social media networks you'll be on the market. Ask them to keep you in mind for jobs, ask if anyone is willing to look at your materials. Your friends will be an invaluable resource- they've been on search committees, hiring committees, know what people are looking for.
      • Ask them too if they're willing to share with your samples of what got them their job.
      • Prep good templates for all your materials. You should still tailor your applications (I like to do this specifically in the intro, to explain why I fit the ad requirements), but good templates will save you a lot of work. 
      • Go ahead and order a couple of copies of your transcripts. Electronic will be handy but for some you may need actual, official ones. These take time. If you already have them, you won't delay anything.
        • I suggest merging all the electronic ones for ease of uploading.
    •  Beginning of August: ask your recommenders for letters, aiming for end of September. This gives them time before the semester starts, and plenty of time to write them.
      •  Join MLA so you have access to Interfolio. THIS WILL SAVE YOU A BUTTLOAD OF MONEY. Otherwise you're paying like $6 a pop, something I didn't know until partway through my season and it got REALLY expensive.
        • Here's another tip- most of your recommenders will NOT tailor your letters. Your director probably will, but no one else. When they upload their letters, you can generate a hyperlink to their letters. Put this on your CV under their names under references. This link can also be what you put on the ridiculous amount of online applications you'll have to fill out.
    •  The MLA Joblist drops mid-September. I would suggest everything done by then. That way you can spend the fall tweaking, tailoring, but don't have to worry about creating from scratch.
      • There are some field specific groups on Facebook that might have postings the MLA doesn't.
      • Same with Vitae.
      • Set up an alert with Higher Ed jobs to weekly email you position openings.
      • Some will allow you to apply through Interfolio. Some will have ridiculously redundant online applications. 
        • You'll spend most of the fall applying to the jobs initially posted. I suggest treating it like a job, setting regular time aside to work on applications. Take time to tailor, think very hard about personalizing.
        • Once the initial flurry has passed I suggest setting one day aside each week to check on any jobs that are late postings.
    • By the end of the fall semester, I'd have  a real, honest discussion with your director/advisor. Start coming up with a Plan B.
      • Does your uni hire graduates as adjuncts to fill gaps?
      • Do you have alt-ac jobs you can make contacts for?
      • Start lining these things up now, revise your CV into a resume, network, make contacts.
      • You don't want to have it suddenly be May and you have no income, no way to pay rent, buy food.
      • I also think this is where the internet and social media can help- ask people what they did, what they recommend, if your department or advisor can't give you these tools.
    • By December, you should hear about making the cut for MLA interviews.
      • You might be tempted to check the jobs wiki. I advise against it. First, the webpage is buggy and will affect your computer. Second, it's vitriol. Yes, you'll be able to read about jobs that have gone to interviews, know what you're out of the running for. But I don't think this information is worth the damage it'll do. It's a death spiral, and on top of everything else, I don't think you need it.
    • By February/March, you should hear about making the cut for campus interviews.
      • Having never made it to these two points, I'm going to point you to others for advice on this.
  •  In addition to making your social networks aware that you're on the market, I suggest asking what friends of yours are on the market. Start a support group. Share materials. This will not only help with prep but will help with the experience. 
    • Avoid the idea of competing with your friends. Don't be nasty. 
    • I'd say set up a Twitter DM, or Facebook group, somewhere where you can ask advice, vent, but try not to lead each other down the rabbit hole of despair.
There are lots of blogs, articles, and books about how brutal the job market can be. How soul-sucking. How good people don't earn positions. And this is all true. And I know it'll be hard, so maybe write yourself a note to put over your desk- it's not personal. Whether or not you get a job this year, or next, if no indication of your worth. Your value. Your work as a scholar.

There are lots of alt-ac scholars who have written about how to leave academia. How to transition. Even if this is your first year on the market, I still recommend reading them. They will let you know there are other things out there, and provide a way through, for this year, or for longer.

I don't know what this year will bring. I taught high school for years, and am happy doing it. I am certainly less stressed knowing I'm paying rent, and buying Nehi kibble this year without problems. Of course, I've worked very hard to earn my PhD, so I'd love to make the move to professor. But something I've learned from all the alt-ac people I follow is that my identity as a teacher, scholar, activist will not disappear if I don't get a tenure track job. While it's what I want, it certainly won't define me if I don't earn it.

Some recommended readings:
Good luck to all! 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Grad Student Use of Blogging and Social Media in the Dissertating Process: A Resource

More and more graduate students I know, or are in my extended social media network, are using social media and blogging in their dissertating process. We use it to network on Twitter, we blog about the process and experience of grad school in general, and specific events like comping, writing a prospectus, and dissertating.

I figured this post (updated as people add to it) can serve as a resource for other graduate students about the types of technology platforms you can use, and how they can help.

So, here's my bit.
My name is Karra Shimabukuro, and as of summer 2017, I am a PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico, in the English Language and Literature Department. I am in the final revisions of my dissertation on the role of the political devil in English literature to make nationalistic arguments. This is my blog, which I have used the past four years to chronicle my grad school experience. I have blogged about teaching (once blogging every week in real time what it was like to create and teach a course), student evals, prepping for comps, writing two dissertations, and other posts of interests to grad students like branding yourself, sharing your work, and starting the How to Grad School While Poor Google Doc then Wiki.

The blogging, of literature reviews, working our arguments, tangential conference papers and presentations, has created a tangible record for me. This means that when I'm trying to remember something I need for the dissertation, I don't have to search paper or computer files. I Google it, because my blog comes up immediately. I have also blogged my presentations for conferences, which makes them available outside to people who could attend the conference and helps with accessibility. I also think a quick look at my blog gives a pretty complete picture of who I am as a scholar: I am deeply committed to my teaching, reflecting often on the process. My work covers both the medieval and early modern period and focuses on folkloric figures, mainly the devil, and how he is used. I also look at how these ideas and concepts are forwarded into popular culture and the modern imagination. I am also very involved with issues of the conditions of graduate students, poverty, and class.

When writing my original dissertation, I created a hashtag (#DevilDiss) and storified my tweets weekly (#DevilDiss part 1, then #DevilDiss part 2 when I hit Storify's limit on tweets). This allowed me to have an online version of notes, and share my work. I have had senior scholars tell me that following my hashtag made them invested in my work. I also found this very helpful when thinking about the big picture parts of my dissertation to scroll through and track my thought process. In addition to all this, I wrote my dissertation (both of them) in Google Docs because I didn't have to worry about backing up, and I could work on it everywhere. Once I sent drafts off to committee members, I'd download as a Word Doc, saved in Dropbox, and work from there.
For me, blogging regularly about my experience helped me organize my thoughts. It helped me to brand myself as a grad student and share my work with other scholars in the field in a way not available to previous generations. Tweeting my work functions in a similar way, I can share my thoughts and work and make connections I wouldn't be able to otherwise. I also like that my materials are online, and available.  I have an online teaching portfolio in addition to this blog that I use to share my work. I am careful about curating my online image, managing what represents me. For me this is important as a role model for other graduate students, but also as a teacher and scholar, I believe in making things as open as I can. I think this type of open process and open scholarship is the future for scholarship.

I'd like to grow this resource, so if you're interested in writing up how you've used blogging and/or social media in your process, email me and I'll add it.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Katherine Group and Tattoo Theory

My paper for the International Congress of Medieval Studies, and accompanying presentation, focused on a duality of narratives- comparing the narrative of my tattoos with St. Katherine's torture as narrative.

Applying sociological theory of tattoos, most notably Bevery Yuen Thompson's Covered in Ink (2015), women who are heavily tattooed face several expectations and obstacles. Thompson's work specifically examines how heavily tattooed women are considered to:
  • cross a socially accepted line
  • violate gender norms
  • perform a narrative publicly
My paper asked the question of whether or not we could apply this to medieval hagiographies, specifically to draw a parallel between how tattoos are seen as a narrative written on the body and how the torture of saints are seen as a narrative.

The personal "cuteness" of my Kzoo paper will probably ultimately just become an anecdote that opens my article. But today I sat down to close read The Katherine Group (MS Bodley 34) to see if my hypothesis was supported by the readings.

So here are just some preliminary notes.
All the women in this group, Katherine, Margaret, Juliana, are all described as young maidens. Each of them cross a socially accepted line and violate gender norms because of their faith.
  • Katherine does it when she challenges the Emperor, the scholars who debate her, and secular authority. 
  • Margaret does it when she yearns to suffer for the Ruler but later the idea of debating with her is also mentioned.  
  • Juliana counters her father, and her husband, and the reeve, when she refuses to comply with her expected duties.
Each of these women's beauty, their exterior looks are mentioned. Perhaps, as a way to emphasize just how catastrophic the effects of the torture are on their bodies later.
  • Katherine is described "by her lovely form"
  • Margaret "shimmered and shone all of face and form." Later as she's tortured "the accursed scoundrels laid so miserably on her lovely body that it burst firth overall and was lathered in blood." In this same session her lovely body and the blood bursting is connected twice more.
  • Juliana's body during torture is likewise described, "her lovely body that it lathered in blood." Later others say there is "sorrow" on seeing her "beautiful flesh" tortured.
The men who oppose these women are constructed as demonic adversaries.
  • Katherine's Emperor is described as "the very child of the devil." 
  • Olibrius is first described as a "villain" and "heathen" and "wicked." 
  • Juliana describes her husband, Eleusius, as "entirely committed to devils." Later after the wheel, Juliana remarks, "guard me against the devil's drudges and against their tricks" and says "the reeve with his devils."
Writing metaphors are key to these women professing their faith. There is also an overlap in debate, speech, and proselytizing, all variations of narratives.
  • Katherine's journey begins when she traces the holy Rood on her breast, before her teeth and the tongue of her mouth. Later she asks for "strength to my speech" and the Lord pours into her mouth. Also, when she is beheaded, she tells the executioner to do it, giving the order herself, thus determining how her own narrative will end.
  • Margaret makes reference to torture as a mark, and her healing as "His mark"
    • In the incident with the dragon, it's interesting to read the swallowing as a form of silencing Margaret's narrative.  
    • Once Margaret is dead, she is told by the Lord, "Where so ever your bodyt or any of your bones are, or a book of your passion should the sinful man come and lay his mouth upon it I shall heal him of his sins." So we have this overlap between body/narrative/mouths.
  • Juliana's narrative opens with specific mention of her tale as translated.
    • She describes her torture, her speaking about faith, as "teaching."
    • Juliana's debate with Belial draws a parallel between her professing her faith as model and how the devils lead people astray.
Each woman's torture is both a narrative of their faith for all to see ("read") AND is the enforced narrative of the patriarchal (demonic) authority is trying to inscribe on their bodies as a way to counter the narrative of faith.
  • The emperor orders Katherine be "stripped stark naked and her bare flesh and her beautiful body beaten with knotted scourges." She is later imprisoned and starved. Angels appear and heal her wounds and feed her. Enraged, the emperor creates the cruelest torture he can image- a set of wheels set with spikes where Katherine will be "torn apart wretchedly and piteously ripped up." Yet the wheel is shattered.  Not to be deterred, the Emperor has iron nails driven through her nipples, dragged outside the city, and beheaded.
    • Katherine's story just ends, with an apparent, but unknown, narrator. 
      Harley MS 928, f. 10r c13619-50
  • Olibrius orders Margaret stripped naked, hung up, and beaten with rods. Then she is hung up, and cut with swords and awls. Then she's torn apart so badly no one can stand to look at her. She is then cast into prison where she encounters a demon in the form of a dragon, who swallows her, but she defeats through a Rood-token, revealing another demon, the brother of the dragon. In this exchange there's a lot of focus on what comes out of the devil's mouth, which is another addition to the writing metaphors and an addition to the types of narratives in the haiography. The devil also provides a parallel for the saint's story- how they come to people because of faith, or lack thereof, the tools they use, what their purpose it. There's also the incident of discussing "nature" or as the original text has it, cunde, as in "kind" which I think holds a different meaning than "nature." Olibrius strips her naked again, hands her and burns her. She is then thrown into a vessel to drown. Then she is beheaded, but like Katherine, she is able to turn this into a point of control for herself, deciding how her story ends by first praying for others, then it being HER order the executioner listens to.
    • Margaret's narrative ends with a similarly obvious but unnamed narrator as Katherine's.
Yates_thompson_ms_3_f282v_detail
  • Juliana is beaten with rods, than stripped naked by her father for defiance. Next the reeve stips her naked and stretched her out earth, then has her beaten. Eleusius then has her pulled up by her hair, and beaten. Then molten brass is poured over her. Then she is thrown in prison. After Belial visits her sh is next put on a steal wheel, her limbs pulled apart, her bones burst. This torture is specifically named as inspired by the devil. But the wheel bursts. The coverts of Juliana are all beheaded, a foreshadowing of Juliana's fate. She is burned,  then put inside a vessel full of boiling pitch. Like Katherine and Margaret, she also takes control of her narrative by determining when she will be beheaded.
    • As Juliana drags Belial out of the prison and towards the crowd the fact that he "hoots" and "hollars" and "squawks" is emphasized, the noise he makes marked as different from a coherent narrative. This is later countered by Juliana asking people to "listen" and "cry out" as she seeks to speak of her faith one last time before dying.
    • Juliana's narrative is unique in that Sophie comes and takes her body and cares for it, thus continuing the narrative. This in turn changes how we see the ending, placing agency in the hands of women, despite the last five lines specifically noting the narrator/writer/translator is a man.

Codex Bodmer 127 044v Detail
In addition to the idea of written narrative in the form of torture, there's the idea of proselytizing and speech as narrative.
  • Katherine debates.
  • Margaret speaks of being a martyr.
  • Juliana has an extended display of faith through speech when she argues the fiend, the devil, Belial (interestingly though not part of this article, but the devil is named, but also called "unwiht," "unholy" and "deovel." Her speech, her faith, her argument is so strong she can defeat the devil.
    • The devil is also associated with "weorc" and "crafte" which are historical markers. But he's also called a "thurs" which I've never encountered.
So there are some takeaways here. The first is the overarching metaphor of writing, and speaking, and presenting a narrative and all the forms these take in each hagiography. Then there's the way that these narratives evolve in response to, as a counter to a specifically demonic patriarchal authority.

Using the theory of tattoos, I can argue how each of these hagiographies follow these tropes of heavily tattooed women:
  • cross a socially accepted line
    • Katherine, Margaret, Juliana all do this when they make the conscious decision to counter patriarchal norms.
  • violate gender norms
    • Heavily tattooed women are often asked, "why would you do that to yourself?" In many ways we can see these hagiographies in the same way. Each of these women had a choice to live normal lives that conformed to authority and expectations. They violate these norms and thus their bodies end up not as objects of beauty but as objects of torture.
  • perform a narrative publicly
    • The speeches of each, against authority and/or demons, is their public performance of faith. In addition to this the torture that is written on their bodies is a performance of both their faith and the authority attempting to reinscribing norms on their bodies for all to see. 
So those are my notes. I think this is roughly how I'll outline the article. The theoretical basis is applying the theory tattoo, and the next step is to dive into scholarship of what's already been done with the idea of hagiographies and narratives, torture as writing, etc.

The other two pieces in the Katherine Group I will not address as neither is a hagiography, one is a how to stay a virgin piece, and the other a sort of morality tale, neither of which fit. However, what I may do, depending how this susses out, is look at other versions of Katherine, Margaret, and Juliana's tales and see if this torture as narrative trope holds up or whether I'm just making an argument about the Katherine Group.

Friday, June 2, 2017

End of Semester Evaluations and Reflections- Spring 2017

Just about every semester I write a post about those end of semester student evaluations. I try to use these posts to reflect, to take hard, honest looks at how the class went, what stood out, and what to improve.

I've also written about how to talk to students about their evals and I've written about how I try to use them for reflection, and improving the class.

I also use Brian Coxall's "Letter to Future Students" idea at the end of the semester, so I feel like I have a good idea of their reactions before the evals get released.

First, some general notes about this class this semester. 
  • I designed the class similar to my Early Shakespeare class, and because they had similar approaches/shells I was able to incorporate a lot of the feedback from the Early/fall class into this one. 
    • I labelled weekly modules and the syllabus so it was easier to navigate.
    • I took the low stakes assignments that build towards the bigger assignments and made many extra credit. This way students who were juggling a lot could prioritize. 
    • I added more video lectures, as students said they liked them.
  • I built last year a One Note Writing Notebook to help with general issues I kept seeing in writing (it's a 300 level class) but this year, I continued to see fairly big issues with description and not analysis.
  •  The numbers in the class were more stable than in the past.
  • Students contacted me less, so that always makes it hard to judge how they feel.
  • I heard over and over again this semester that I needed to provide examples of work. This was a new course, so that wasn't possible (but more on that in a bit), and when I asked at the end of the course, like I always do, for volunteers to supply work, no one really answered.
    • This bothers me a bit. I give a detailed overview of assignments, along with the statement in the syllabus that work needs to be submitted in MLA format. I think that this, plus all the low stakes assignments that build the parts mean that the assignment expectations are clear.  Also, my assignments are all based in student choice- them exploring their interests, their majors, what they thought was cool or confusing. So there's no one "right" assignment. I'm not looking for a cookie cutter. But I don't want students to be confused, so I'm not sure what to do here. I feel like students ask for this because they want to be told exactly what to do. But that's totally against my pedagogy- I want them to work through figuring it out.
    • Some comments on evals were "needs to explain MLA format" and "shouldn't expect me to double space." Now, I rarely flat out disagree with student comments, I try to always think about what I need to takeaway, see their point of view. But in a 300 level Shakespeare class where the syllabus clearly states all papers must be in MLA format? Sorry, nope, I can expect you to know it or look it up.
  •  I saw some fairly major flaws in writing. Introductions that summarized, no clear topic sentences, improper citations, both internal and Works Cited. I state in my syllabus that I expect writing to improve with feedback and throughout the semester, and they're allowed to revise for a high grade (I leave copious feedback on all big papers). I also use comment starters on smaller assignments, where I point out the purpose of the assignment and what I was looking for.
    • More than any other area, this semester's class hated this most of all. I received the most comments addressing the type of feedback I gave.
Analyzing and Reflecting
As with most surveys I had 62 students and 30 responded, so I try to keep that in mind. I also try to keep in mind that survey responders always have something to say (positive or ax to grind) so it's important to realize that maybe that middle ground is not represented.

I work really hard to let students know that I am there to help, listen, there for them. I am transparent about this in all my class materials, and video lectures. Yet this does not seem to result in the changes in "How comfortable do you feel approaching the instructor with questions or comments?" This makes me sad. Because I want my students to be able to check this easily. Because this is a straight rating at my school, there's no comment section to provide clarification on what specifically they mean or what could be improved. 
This also came as a shock, because I had a lot of students contact me this semester about how much they appreciated me understanding, working with them, being available, etc. So this didn't match what I expected. And I don't know why. Did those students not respond? Why didn't they feel comfortable?

The next part on the evals are two comment sections: what features of this course and the instructor's teaching contributed most to your learning and what specific suggestions do you have to improve the course and the instructor's teaching?
For me, these are the hardest sections to parse out because there's conflicting information.
  • One student said the step by step instructions on assignments were very detailed and helped them understand exactly what they needed to do. Another student says all the assignments were vague.
  • One student said the communication on assignment feedback contributed most, another calls my feedback passive-aggressive.
  • One student says a problem was too many assignments were based on open ended questions. Another says the projects weren't open ended and restricted their ability to write original work.
What I try to do with these types of comments is be transparent with the students. In video lectures and assignment materials I try to explain WHY I designed projects and assignments a certain way, list out some issues past students have had, and some suggestions on how to address those issues. I don't know any other way to try and address these contradictory comments.

Many students said they liked how organized the course was, and the lay out, so that's good.

There are comments that make me feel like crap, mainly because I'm horrified a student would feel this way:
  • I think this class was difficult, and I feel like when approaching with questions or something, the responses were rude, so I did not learn a lot.
  • What contributed most to my learning was how afraid I was to ask for help because I knew she would give me a passive aggressive insult on every assignment so I resolved to do more research myself.
  • Her TAs were more helpful than she was because she would just reply in a rude manner and would be condescending.
Again, these are comments without context, so I don't know what responses they mean- small assignment feedback? Emails? Help forums? Feedback on larger papers? I'm not sure what made them afraid to ask for help, what phrases they saw as passive aggressive, what they saw as rude. So without the context I can only try and be more aware, but I am very conscientious in responding to students, through email or feedback, so this makes me very sad. I feel like I'd fix it if I knew how but I just don't have enough information.

I think every semester, we each could point to a comment that makes us cry at our desks, cringe, want to hide under a blanket fort. The one comment we'll hear in our heads for months.
This is mine this semester:

"The grading was absurd. Would advise the instructor to back the fuck off on the nitpicking. I wasn't interested in studying Shakespeare (had to take it for core), but this class provided a lot of information that made it fun to read and work on. If it wasn't for the piss poor grading style/attitude of the instructor this would've been one of my favorite classes this semester."

So, first, I wish more than anything, that students understood their professors were people. People on the other side of these evals. People with feelings. 
That being said, I am confused by this- what about the grading was absurd? What was nitpicking? What about the grading style or attitude? Were these small assignments or large ones? 

One of the reasons I use the comment starters on smaller assignments is so I can explain to students what I was looking for, what the purpose of the assignment was, but also to provide parity to students as I grade in a large class. I add personalize comments for improvement after the starter, but this helps #63 student get the same feedback as #1.

For larger assignments, I tend towards Elbow- I ask questions. I also use Nancy Sommers' Responding to Student Writers. So I tend to leave feedback like this:
  • This seems to summarize the quote/scene/line. What do YOU have to say/analyze about it?
  • How does this connect to your larger thesis?
  • I'm afraid you're losing me here, can you clarify what you're focusing on?
Part of the reason I do this is the same reason I allow choice in projects, I don't want to provide them the answer, because often in my assignments there's no "right" answer but rather I want them to learn how to fix it. I try NOT to point out things to patch, as though just fixing errors is enough, I try to get them to think about constructing an argument and the writing throughout the semester as an ongoing improvement process. I stick to only commenting on a couple of items (focus, analysis, support, explanation) per paper, and try to ask questions that ask them to clarify what they're arguing or analyzing, and how they're reading it.


By the end of the semester, when I see similar issues on things we've covered in class, I tend to leave summarizing feedback. 
  • Introductions to formal analytical writing should have a clear thesis, an analytical foundation to then build the rest of the argument on. I prefer it to be the first sentence, because then I know how to read the rest of the introduction. The introduction should act as a roadmap, a guide to what the paper will cover. So I expect it to cover all the major subtopics (what the body paragraphs will analyze). By the end of the introduction I should know what you're analyzing and how you'll do it.
  • In formal analytical writing, in body paragraphs, I expect to see a topic sentence that tells me WHAT the paragraph is about (the topic covered) AND what you have to say ABOUT the topic, what the analytical focus is. I then expect to see specific evidence from the text that "shows" that argument/analysis, and then an explanation of HOW that evidence shows or proves your thesis, using secondary sources to support your point, not overshadow it.
By the middle/end of the course, I've explained/taught these two things a lot. So if I'm still seeing it, I leave this feedback. 

But I don't know what about my feedback can be read as rude, passive-aggressive, or condescending. The next time I teach, I will definitely make feedback a focus. Right now, I ask when students submit an assignment what they'd like feedback on to guide me. Maybe I will create a worksheet that lets them self-grade on things, then I respond to same. Maybe I need to help give them some framework for formal analytical writing, and how to talk about it. Sommers' has some specific templates in her book that maybe I need to incorporate.

So, overall, my takeaway is I'm sad. I purposely created my course to be welcoming, to make my online students feel welcome, like they could talk to me. Likewise, I strived with my feedback to help and support the students.
Next time I teach, those two things will be my focus- perhaps I'll go back to some interim checkins, asking students how to improve communication, insert some tools for bridging the gap between how I feel about the feedback I give and how they feel receiving it.

Ultimately, the hardest thing with evals is trying not to let the meanness get to you. To be able to take a step back, sift through the comments and measurements, and figure out what you can fix, what you can't, and what you need to ignore. This process, and then identifying and reflecting on a couple of goals for improvement, to me is what's important. If anyone asks, wants to challenge or question my evals, I can track student comments, my reflective practice, and clear, concrete steps I took to improve.

So how do you deal with student evals?
How do you use them in your reflective practice?
Senior scholars, any advice for how grad students and early career scholars can navgigate this?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Summer 2017 Dissertation Update

1 June 2017

#DevilDiss take Four Million and Twelve

 
It's been a busy year, and a busy end of the semester.

It's been about a month since I sent off the latest revisions, and since then there's been Kzoo, and I had a chapter to write based on the How to Grad School While Poor wiki, and my uni class to finish, and my high school job to wind down.

So busy, busy enough that while I'm champing at the bit to be done, there's been plenty of things to fill the time.
People have said "it'll be fine." "It'll all work out." "Everyone goes through this" these last couple of months. I've also heard "you're so close!" And I appreciate the cheerleading. But especially the last month it's been hard not to feel like I'm in limbo, not moving forward, similar to how I felt last summer. But I know a lot of that is the process, where I am, and is normal.

There were some good things to this semester- I have my high school teaching job for next year, so I can pay rent and buy Nehi's kibble. I am not teaching this summer, essentially my first true summer off since 2013, the year I moved out here. All I have to do this summer is diss revisions, and I did sign up to get certified for my district to teach online courses.
So lots of clearing out my TBR pile, and snuggles with Nehi.
I will not be teaching at my uni this upcoming year unless something changes, but I'm trying to see that as a blessing, only having one job, for the first time in a long time. And if I'm defended and done early fall? That could be so very nice.

But I'm still not graduated.
Still not defended.
And every time I see people, they ask- are you done yet? Are you a doctor?
And I'm touched they care to ask but I also want to cringe. Please stop asking. I finally started saying, "Trust me, when I'm done, defended, a DOCTOR, I will scream it from the rooftops."
 I just met with my director for three hours and here's where we are:
The entire dissertation is done. Has been done since this spring. So there's that.
✓ We're at the point where I'm making stylistic, throughline changes with my director, and have addressed a couple rounds of notes from my committee.
✓  Today I got notes on the latest (revised) introduction, chapter 3 (the Shakespeare chapter), and chapter 4 (the Milton chapter). My director is happy with where things are, and the notes are pretty minor.

Most of these notes I can turn around in a day, which is nice.

So, the next steps:
✓ I will spend the next few days addressing those notes. Then I will send the revised intro and chapter three to my early modernist committee members.
✓  My director and I will meet again Tuesday after she's had a chance to look at chapters 1 and 2 and the conclusion.
✓ Then I will fix those notes and send the whole thing to an outside scholar who is an expert on the devil and has said they'll read and offer notes. I'm also going to send the whole thing to my outside reader. There have been some issues with addressing their notes, in part because they're the Miltonist, and the Milton chapter is the final chapter and revisits how the patterns from the first three chapters (devilish leaders, demonic parliaments, and diabolical rebellion) are seen in Paradise Lost. So in addition to fixing their notes, I'm thinking (hoping) that sending them the whole thing so they can SEE this will help.

I am going to ask for a couple of things when I send stuff out this time.
  1. Clearly, at this point, if there's something wrong I don't know how to fix it on my own, so I'm going to ask that they specifically tell me, walk me through it.
  2. I'm going to explain that my director and I have talked about my schedule and we're aiming for a mid September defense, so I'm aiming to get the whole thing to them mid August. So I'm going to ask them to get notes on these drafts back to me by the end of June, so there's time for a round after this of revisions. I'd like with the next round (in July) to send it out as the One Doc, so if they want they can look at other things, format, see whole size/scope if they want.
While one of my early modern committee members is a VAP, and so is leaving, they told my director they were happy to stay on my committee.
And my other early modernist is coming back from a fellowship, so will be back o campus for the first time in a year (although I really hope that just means I only have to Skype in half my committee and not that we need to hold lots of face to face meetings.)
My director leaves the country at the end of the month and is back the end of July, but that should be fine. Hopefully (please, GOD, let this be true!), the notes back from committee by end of June, and certainly any notes from next round by end of July, certainly, will be super minor, and we can work on just through email.

So that's the diss plan.
It allows me to do the majority of the work this summer, when I'm off, which is good. I'm aiming to have the fixes done from June as soon as I get them. Then July notes the same, and the whole thing to director by the end of July/beginning of August. Beginning of August she'll look at the whole thing, and offer last look notes. I report back to my high school teaching job 7 August so hopefully I won't be working really on the diss at that point. Maybe some minor style, typo type things. 
Fingers crossed!

This summer, I don't really have much else to do. I have a couple of projects I'd like to get done/make progress on:
  • Take chapter two on Þe Deulis Parlement and revise it so it's an article and submit it (welcome suggestions if you know a good fit).
  • Find out what the tiny book on tattoos would entail. This will dictate how I take my Kzoo paper and revise it, narrow it, into an article on reading the Katherine Group hagiographies through the torture as narratives written on body lens (also welcome suggestions if you know a good fit. This takes modern sociology research on tattoos and applies it to torture as narrative).
  • I feel good about my job market materials, having been through two job prep workshops/classes with them, but some things need updating so I'll do that. Plus, I have a new director who has a lot of experience, so I look forward to seeing what she says.
  • My director also recommended going through whole diss and double checking the bibliography. I've been adding new things as I go but I think after next Tuesday what I'll do is put everything in the One Doc and start working there, so it's easier.

But that's it. I have my Captain America and Class piece that was got an edited collection accepted, and then was cut, so I may try sending that out somewhere. I had a friend working on a Biblical Epics in Film edited collection that I said I'd write a chapter on- focusing on the devil in The Passion of the Christ, reading it through a post 9/11 lens. This will fit nicely with some of my work on demonizing Others in politics, and will use The Last Temptation of Christ as a touchstone for controversy, historical moment, etc. I can also use some of the Harrowing stuff the diss has. But that's not due til January, so I have the fall to putter.

But that's it.
There may be a Kzoo presentation for 2018, but that's spring semester work.
I put in for #ShakeAss because I've been advised to, and for the first time it falls over my spring break so I won't have to take time off PLUS it is in LA so the cost shouldn't be awful. But again, that's after the new year work.
And for the first time, I'm not teaching for UNM next year unless something changes, so nothing to prep there.

But that's it.
It's a really manageable schedule, so I should have plenty of time for rest, recharging. Which I guess is nice.
But this is how I feel...
 
Like the entirely of my life is totally out of my control.
That I have no control, or control over little.

I am hoping that this summer goes according to plan.
I hope that this time, the plan, the calendar, for defending (successfully) and graduating happens. My director believes it will, so that's something. Actually, she believes in me, so that's a lot. She even joked today about December graduation (versus May which always conflicts with Kzoo) being better!

At this point, I'd just like to be done. To be able to move on. Make plans.
But at this point, I have announced that I was defending TWICE. Made plans TWICE. Told people TWICE. And it hasn't happened. So, sadly, this great thing, this HUGE accomplishment, isn't something I'd celebrate, invite people, make a big deal of. Because I just can't be disappointed, or disappoint others, any more.
I will be proud. And happy. But I have a feeling I'll be those things by myself.

Defending (successfully), graduating, means that I can pass GO. Collect my $200. Go on the job market. Start thinking what my life looks like after the PhD. Start planning.

So, what are your summer plans?