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12 June 2008 23:59:59 UTC-0500

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Links to my published articles online
List of Publications with Full Citations

Language Networks on LiveJournal (pdf)

Adolescent Diary Weblogs and the Unseen Audience (pdf)

A Longitudinal Analysis of Weblogs: 2003-2004 (pdf)

Conversations in the Blogosphere: An Analysis "from the Bottom Up" (pdf). Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-38) Best Paper Nominee.

Weblogs as a bridging genre (pdf)

Bridging the Gap: A Genre Analysis of Weblogs. Winner of the 2004 EduBlog Awards as best paper.

Common Visual Design Elements of Weblogs

Women and Children Last: The Discursive Construction of Weblogs

Time until my next publication submission deadline
If everything goes well with qualifying I will again be submitting articles for publication. I hope to submit as follows:

1 July 2008 23:59:59 UTC-0500

Links to my conference papers online
The Performativity of Naming: Adolescent Weblog Names as Metaphor

Buxom Girls and Boys in Baseball Hats: Adolescent Avatars in Graphical Chat Spaces

Time until my next conference submission deadline
1 December 2008 23:59:59 UTC-0500

Adolescents and Teens Online Bibiliography
Last updated July 8, 2005.

Weblog and Blog Bibliography
Last Updated November 22, 2005.

A weblog to gather quotations from my academic reading.

My CiteULike Page

My Book2
New books are added but reading status is rarely accurate.

February 17, 2009

Grad Students do have a higher insidence of depression than does the general public

Today's Chronicle has a must read article for every grad student, those who advise them, and those who love them--the article has some shocking stats but only in that the numbers are as high as many of us would think. Check out Grad-School Blues or read the extended entry for the full article.

Grad-School Blues

Graduate school is gaining a reputation as an incubator for anxiety and depression.

Social isolation, financial burdens, lack of structure, and the pressure to produce groundbreaking work can wear heavily on graduate students, especially those already vulnerable to mental-health disorders.

Studies have found that graduate school is not a particularly healthy place. At the University of California at Berkeley, 67 percent of graduate students said they had felt hopeless at least once in the last year; 54 percent felt so depressed they had a hard time functioning; and nearly 10 percent said they had considered suicide, a 2004 survey found. By comparison, an estimated 9.5 percent of American adults suffer from depressive disorders in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of the graduate students surveyed were not aware of mental-health services on the campus. And another Berkeley study recently found that graduate students were becoming increasingly disillusioned with careers in academe and did not view large research institutions as family-friendly workplaces (The Chronicle, January 23).

Temina Madon knows the problem all too well. Her former boyfriend, a doctoral student in biophysics at Berkeley several years ago, had talked about suicide on multiple occasions. Madon, then working toward her Ph.D. in visual neuroscience, begged him to seek help. The university's counseling center referred him to a therapist off campus, but he said it wasn't the right fit. Nine months after the couple broke up, and a few months after he sought help, he hanged himself. "It shouldn't have happened that way," says Madon, who now directs a center at Berkeley that studies diseases in developing countries. But there is still a stigma among graduate students about acknowledging mental-health problems, she says. In a highly competitive atmosphere, it can be seen as admitting weakness.

"Grad students are in a remarkable position of powerlessness," says Thomas B. Jankowski, an adjunct assistant professor of political science and gerontology at Wayne State University who runs PhinisheD, an online support group to help graduate students finish their dissertations. Often a single thesis adviser seems to control a student's destiny, he notes, and it can take years to finish a dissertation. And even if a student finishes, success on the job market is far from guaranteed; today's poor economy has only worsened job prospects. For students who already lean toward self-doubt or mental anxiety, graduate school can act as a magnifier.

One former graduate student blames his depression partly on the type of graduate program he chose. Diagnosed with depression as a teenager, he had been on antidepressants for most of his adult life but went off them a few years before going to graduate school. When he arrived, though, he realized he might need them again.

"I'm a very introverted person," says the former student, now a professor at a small Midwestern college. "I'm very self-critical. This is something grad school encourages."

The content of his history program, he says, was more focused on destructive rather than constructive behavior. He says students were encouraged to rip apart arguments found in reading assignments. Classroom sessions often turned into contests to determine who could be the most damning of one another's points. After one such class, he remembers struggling to work on his dissertation. "It was paralyzing," he says.

And even if things are going well, depression can skew one's perceptions. During his first year, the former student says, he constantly felt inadequate despite doing well academically. And because those who are depressed sometimes cut themselves off from people who want to help them, their condition can worsen. Luckily, he talked to his adviser, who also had a history of depression. She reminded him how well he was doing — a good reality check.

Gregory T. Eells, director of counseling and psychological services at Cornell University, says it is not unusual for some graduate and professional students to be turned off by the Socratic or adversarial teaching methods so common in graduate programs. And while many worry they will fail, statistically they are wrong. "Most make it through," Eells says. One problem, he notes, is that there is less built-in social support for graduate students than for undergraduates, who have many clubs, activities, and fraternities to keep them socially connected. And because graduate programs usually require many solitary hours in the library or laboratory, with little structure or external motivation, the isolation can separate students from resources that could help them.

Educating students about depression is crucial, experts say. Some warning signs and symptoms include difficulty concentrating, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, a change in sleep and eating patterns, persistent aches and pains, and a loss of interest in activities and hobbies that were once enjoyable.

Chris Brownson, the head of counseling services at the University of Texas at Austin, directs a national research consortium of counseling centers in higher education. A recent study by the group on student suicide at 70 institutions found that 47 percent of graduate students who considered suicide in the last year did not tell anyone. And 52 percent did not seek professional help. Students reported that relationship problems had the biggest impact on their suicidal feelings, followed by academic, financial, and family problems. Indeed, graduate students often feel the strain of juggling multiple roles, such as being a spouse, parent, and caregiver to an older parent, usually while bringing in very little income.

Meanwhile, graduate students are intimately tied to their specific programs, so relationships within their department become all the more critical, Eells says. "You can get blackballed," he warns. Counseling can help graduate students figure out what is important to them and learn to state their needs, respond to stress, and set boundaries. "You are more than a graduate student," he tells his patients. "It's easy to lose sight of that in graduate school, because there are pressures that say this is the most important thing in your life right now."

A ninth-year graduate student at a top Midwestern university, who had a long history of depression, fell into an unhealthy relationship with her academic adviser. Like many graduate students, she says, she arrived on the campus feeling intimidated and emotionally fragile. While she knew she needed to take care of herself, she also felt she should "tough it out." So when her usually supportive adviser began to bully her, she took it to heart. Her adviser told her, for example, that it would take long, grueling workdays with four hours of sleep a night to do well in academe. And the student was warned that she would have to quickly absorb an immense amount of material. She went into hyperdrive. She felt trapped because her adviser held her ticket to success. "In academe, there isn't enough status to go around," the student says.

Finally, the student realized she had to switch advisers. She began to exercise again. She found PhinisheD, the Web site run by Wayne State's Jankowski, which promotes the idea that "good enough is good enough." That means if a chapter of your dissertation is good enough for your adviser, for example, it should be good enough for you.

Avoiding perfectionism helped the student, who lagged behind her peers by a year or two, make progress. She suggests that others in her position seek out a dissertation-writing group, along with any activity, such as meditation, that promotes stress relief, and choose supportive friends. For her, cognitive therapy has also helped. She hopes to receive her Ph.D. in May.

Keeping balanced is essential to avoiding the kind of single-mindedness that graduate school fosters, experts say. James Alan Fox, a criminal-justice and law professor at Northeastern University who studies campus violence, believes graduate schools tend to reward students who go way overboard on work, "even if that means jeopardizing other aspects of their lives." Colleges should instead help graduate students avoid unhealthy extremes, he says. They could, for example, offer workshops on such life issues as relationships, balancing work and children, and managing finances. And all colleges should make sure that graduate-student health care includes mental-health coverage, he says.

Galen Papkov listened to the experts. He made a conscious effort to create a positive graduate-school experience for himself. Papkov, who received his Ph.D. in statistics from Rice University last year, had fought depression before graduate school. After college he worked in New York City as an actuarial analyst, which paid well but didn't excite him. Then his new girlfriend moved away. He got into "a downward spiral of negative thinking" and even contemplated suicide. "I really remember lying in bed one night having no control of my thoughts. I realized, something's wrong and I need help."

Seeing a therapist weekly for 18 months allowed him to gain control of his life again. At Rice, he took a proactive approach to meeting people and keeping active. He lived in graduate-student housing on the campus and was a resident assistant, ensuring lots of social contact. He also played intramural sports and consequently made friends with people from different departments and disciplines."I knew that would keep me healthy and happy," he says.

While counseling or therapy can help many, some students aren't at the point where they need it. For those simply in a funk, who are behind on dissertations, another option is a dissertation coach.

One such coach, who uses only her first name, Dale, on her Web site, says her job is to help people apply practical work strategies while building self-esteem. "Because if the Ph.D. process does one thing," she writes on her site, "it's to beat you down into a bloody and insecure pulp." She uses her own experience to inform her work. At Rutgers University, she finished her graduate course work in biology and was A.B.D. when she moved out of the state, divorced, found a new full-time job, and met a man. Meanwhile, her dissertation started to gather dust. It wasn't until she got an e-mail message from her department's secretary in her ninth year at the university that she made progress. The secretary told her she could not register for research credits unless she planned to finish the dissertation promptly. So she finally did, writing it in 15-minute increments, something she occasionally advises her clients to do.

"People call me literally in tears," she says. "Everything is more stressful because you have this huge dissertation in your life." Even just a couple of months of coaching can make a difference, she says, giving people the momentum needed to lift their spirits. "It's such an isolating process," she says, that having someone check in provides some accountability, without the pressure that an academic adviser can bring.

But coaching can cost anywhere from $20 an hour to $50 or more. For students who can barely afford Ramen noodles, a cheaper option is to find a free, online support group. Many struggling students find solace in sharing experiences. In a September 2007 poll on the PhinisheD Web site, for example, users were asked if they had ever taken antidepressants. Thirty percent reported that they were currently taking them, while another 10 percent had taken them in the past two years.

"Getting a Ph.D. is very much an exercise in deferral of gratification," says Jankowski. "That can be very discouraging." He says the typical PhinisheD user is a woman with confidence problems, often because a star faculty adviser is dismissive of her work. "A lot of people feel like they are being hazed," he says. PhinisheD has boards where users can post goals and daily progress, and links where students can get advice on topics as varied as how to have a successful dissertation defense, what bibliographic software to use, and how to deal with an unsupportive spouse.

For students with debilitating mental-health issues or for those who realize graduate school may not be right for them, considering a leave, temporary or permanent, can sometimes be the right solution. A former academic who received her Ph.D. from Berkeley in 2003 did not get up the courage to leave academe until she became a tenure-track professor. In retrospect, she says, she realizes how little support she had as a graduate student. Her laboratory had closed down, her mother had a chronic illness, and then her father and two grandparents died. When she was feeling her worst, suffering from panic attacks, she went to the campus counseling center.

"I was hyperventilating," she recalls. "I couldn't think straight." She says the center offered to schedule her for a 20-minute consultation with a therapist two weeks later. "There was no sense of urgency," she says. She would have had to admit to being suicidal, she says, to be seen immediately. Instead, she went to the emergency room where a physician prescribed a sedative.

She realized she needed to leave academe after she landed a tenure-track job and was stressed out and impatient with her students. While her colleagues were nice people, she says, she never found a true feeling of community. Academe was just too competitive for her. Although she has said goodbye to that world, she still worries that graduate students have problems getting the help they need. "There's this perception that if you hold your breath and make it through, you'll be fine," she says. But if you don't deal with such issues, she says, "you will not be an effective student, scholar, or researcher."

More and more students are seriously considering leaving academe before they even finish graduate school. According to a recent study at Berkeley of students at the University of California's campuses, 45 percent of men and 39 percent of women entering graduate school intended to become professors at research institutions. But for those who had spent more time in their programs, those numbers dropped to 36 percent and 27 percent. And only 29 percent of women and 46 percent of men saw major research institutions as family-friendly workplaces for tenure-track professors. That negative view of faculty life coupled with the factors that encourage anxiety and depression could spell trouble for the faculty pipeline, and for academe's future leadership.

Jeffrey P. Prince, director of counseling and psychological services at Berkeley, says graduate-student care has improved on the campus. An advisory board made up of graduate-student leaders, faculty members, and the associate graduate dean was formed two years ago, allowing Berkeley to expand its offerings to graduate students, he says. Those include a new counseling office dedicated to graduate students and close to their campus. Now, Prince says, graduate students don't have to sit in the same waiting room with undergraduates who might be their students. He says that the board has created a stronger link between the graduate-student community and counseling services in general. However, endemic problems remain. Many graduate advisers are not good mentors, he says. "I think many faculty members don't see it as their role," Prince says. While they may care about their students, they don't always know how to help those in distress, he says.

Prince says his counseling staff trains graduate students to be on the lookout for mental-health issues and to know the resources available, so they can refer fellow students if necessary. The center also publishes a newsletter about managing stress and holds support groups on the topic. Ultimately, he says, graduate students would welcome it if the administration considered mentoring in its tenure-evaluation process. Short of that, the notion of simply teaching people when to seek help would go a long way.

Depression is "not like your thesis," says the former student who left academe. "You're not going to write it up and be done with it.

"You have to deal with these issues, because they don't just go away."

Piper Fogg is a staff reporter at The Chronicle.

Posted by prolurkr at 06:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 13, 2007

Note Taking: University Style - long post warning

Note Taking must be on the communal species conscientiousness these days.  I took the following from D*I*Y Planner who, in turn, took it from My Creative Adventures.  So it may be third-hand but it's still very good stuff even for grad students.

When you first go to university, you are suddenly expected to do much more work than in school, and with much less help and guidance than you are used to. After all, you are an adult now, and you should be capable of managing your own affairs. Sadly, no one has ever told you how to do that. How do you plan for writing papers, giving presentations and studying for exams. And how can you manage to get good grades without too much stress and still have time for a job and a social life? I want to share some things I learned, and which I would have loved to hear at my first day of lectures.

First I will name some of the tools and supplies I used a lot. Then I will take a look at different aspects of the student life. I don't mention computer and printer, as every university has those for use.

Tools and stuff

* A planner/calendar. I think that you should use one planner for school and social stuff, to avoid planning a party the night before an important exam.
* Wire-bound notebooks with pre-punched paper. You can take the pages out and put them in a binder. In this way you can carry one notebook around to lectures, and later at home take the pages out and put them in the appropriate section in the binder.
* Binders and tabs. I use one binder per semester, with a tab for each course. Behind each tab you can put all the notes, and also the course outline or any other papers that get passed around. At the end of the semester I label the binder and take out a new one.
* Pens, pencils, post-it notes and flags. You can mark up your reading and put notes in it without writing in the book itself.
* Something to take notes in while you are out. I used my planner for this, but index cards or a small notebook will work too. You never know when you have a good idea for your next paper.
* Good dictionaries and reference works. Speaks for itself I think. You need these for writing.

To get the most from your time spent listening to lectures, it is important to prepare yourself. Read the assigned texts and print the handouts (if any). Now you will understand much more of what the professor is saying, and you know if there are any questions or things you donít understand. Ask if your questions are not answered during the lecture.

The other important thing is to take good notes. These will help you remember important things and they will come in handy when studying for exams. Good note taking takes practice, but a few tips can help:

* Use keywords and short sentences
* Underline or highlight important things
* Note things you want too look up later too
* Make references to page numbers in the textbook or handout to save time writing

If you then go through your notes shortly after the class, you'll have a lot of the material already in your head.

Sometimes exams can be scary, especially oral exams. But if you have prepared for all lectures and taken notes, it will not be too hard to study for the exam. The first thing I recommend is to try and find some old exams or examples of questions. Knowing what to expect makes it easier to prepare and feel confident.

Also, it is important to schedule your studying at times when your energy level and concentration are at its best. Donít forget to schedule breaks too. I study best in a quiet environment, like the library, but at least put off the phone and computer. Distractions donít help.

The last thing that I found helpful is to o over old exams and hard parts of the course with a few classmates. We would always do this with three or four people a few days before the exam. I then there are still things unclear, you can still find time to visit the professor.

All this should prepare you well for the exam. Remember to eat and sleep well, and if you can take something to eat and drink to the room. This helps to relax a bit when you are stuck, and keeps your energy up.

After exams, I believe papers are the hardest part of studying. However, there are a few tricks to make writing papers a little bit easier. The first thing is to set intermediate due dates for the individual steps needed to complete a paper: identify subject or research question, search for literature, read and take notes, draft, research remaining points, and revise. Try to really keep to those due dates, and plan to finish at least a few day before the official due date. Setting due dates for smaller parts does also work for other assignments than papers.

After you have thought of some subject or question, you must start to look for literature. A good starting point is wikipedia or google scholar. (But never ever cite wikipedia in the paper!) Here you will find at lest some background info and some references. For many fields there are also databases with publications you can search by keyword (like MathSciNet for maths). Or look at the bibliography on the course website of the textbook. Once you have found a few good recent publications on your subject, the bibliographies in there will lead you further.

Now you have your literature, it is time to read it. I do this in two steps: first I read everything one time, quickly and in chronological order, without taking notes. Now I now roughly what is in what paper or book, and I read the interesting things, taking notes and underlining as I go. For the notes I use the same notebooks as for the lecture notes, so these notes can go in the binder too. I try to relate everything I read to the research question in some way, and make sure to put a reference to the paper or book on every page.

Then, when I have read everything I want to read, I make an outline and start writing. This is the first draft, so it does not have to be perfect right away. While writing, some points may come up that are not clear and need a bit more research. I note these down for now, and go back to all these points after the draft is finished. I do the remaining research, and rewrite the draft. Then print it out for proofreading. In the printout, I check all spelling, grammar and references. After that, it is ready to be handed in.

Two last things: make sure to backup your work regularly, for example by sending it to yourself by email every night. And try to use a nice layout; this is an easy way to make a good first impression.

Now you know all the things you need to do, but not how to plan for them. That is the next subject. I plan in my calendar. I write all the deadlines, exams and such in another ink colour than the other things so that they stand out. The same goes for the deadlines for individual steps in papers I set myself. I donít write down regular things to do like laundry and grocery shopping; I just do those as they come up.

In my calendar, I first put in all time-specific things like lectures, appointments and work. Then, in the remaining space, I plan the time with studying. I plan this mostly in the morning and afternoon, because I am not that good at working in the evening. Make sure you don't plan your days too full with studying. Plan some fun things to do and some downtime too.

If you do all this, you will probably have an easier time managing all your classes and assignments. I know I did. But the reason to manage your time and stuff in a good way is not only to get good grades, but also to free up time for a social life and all the college activities there are. Your years at university should be fun, so make time for that.

Posted by prolurkr at 10:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 29, 2006

Dissertation Reflections

Clancy Ratliff at CultureCat has a valuable post on the process behind her dissertation writing, Dissertation Reflections. I'm taking notes and so should you.

Posted by prolurkr at 07:15 PM | TrackBack

May 10, 2006

Finishing the Doctoral Degree in a Timely Fashion

Taken from Tomorrows-Professor, if you aren't already subscribing or reading their blog you should be doing so ASAP.

Finishing the Doctoral Degree in a Timely Fashion

The Dissertation as a Key Factor in the Humanities and Social Sciences

The Dissertation from the Faculty Perspective

Additional insights for choosing a dissertation topic were offered at a panel discussion by faculty members entitled "What Makes a Good Topic and How to Find It"). The professors were able to approach the subject from their experiences both as dissertation advisors and as scholars who have gone through the process of choosing research projects themselves. The speakers acknowledge that choosing a dissertation topic is a challenging process that can produce considerable anxiety. A student's ego and identity are involved-it's almost like choosing who you are.

They then devoted themselves to dispelling anxiety by offering a series of practical suggestions for choosing a good topic. They stated at the outset that they could not provide a strict set of rules. Topics are as wide as
human knowledge; different fields have different criteria, different paradigms, and different methods. In the absence of a clear set of rules, the speakers proceeded instead to apply common sense and experience to arrive at helpful advice.

* Originality is a principal criterion of a good topic. You can be original in diverse ways. You may examine material that has never been studied before; or you can examine well-known material, but provide new interpretation.

* Another way to view these different concepts of originality is to recognize that some topics are central to the field and that there is always new work being done; other topics are on the periphery and have been neglected.

* It is important to choose a topic that is congenial to you, that you think is worthwhile not only within the framework of the discipline, but on a personal level. It is not all irrelevant to consider how much you like interviewing, computers, dealing with insects-or whatever it is that a topic demands.

* The specific topic that you study may have a personal and idiosyncratic origin. It is no accident that research on certain groups is likely to be pioneered by people of that group: women have often led the way in women's history, Blacks in Black history, immigrants in the history of immigration.

* You should have a doable thesis that has boundaries; you have to be able at least to imagine where and when it would end. It if hard to start a thesis, it can be even harder to end one.

* This means that you should be ambitious intellectually, but not too ambitious, think of it as a task that will enable you to get on with your career. Students sometimes ask if their dissertation should include A, B, C, and D after the dissertation is finished.

* One speaker put this idea in a different way. He suggested that instead of writing a dissertation prospectus it is best simply to write a dissertation chapter. He explained that what he really meant was that it is best to do a little piece of research think small. If it is interesting it will lead to a bigger problem. The best proposal is a pilot project; once you have picked a path you can add on different forks as you go along. He observed that everyone knows the BIG IDEAS, it is harder to do the little ones.

* Modesty is also helpful in choosing a manageable topic. Some students set out to write a dissertation that will change the world; others just want to write a dissertation. In terms of results, there seems to be no correlation between the quality of the dissertation and the ambitious nature of the topic.

* They noted that it is useful to make the dissertation separable into parts with short-term goals. Work on the dissertation often competes poorly with other tasks that offer more immediate gratification. Confronting the dissertation as a whole can lead to endless postponements.

* There was also a warning that dissertations seldom turn out as planned; it is important to hedge your bets and be prepared in case you do not find data that speaks to the issue.

* A good dissertation topic should also allow you to say something that is convincing to other people. Each field has its own rules as to what is compelling evidence. There is always a topic of explanation and there must be interpretable results.

* One speaker suggested that topics that involve comparisons provide a more structured framework than studies of individual subjects. He also recommended building on the work of others. This does not mean replication, but rather looking for gaps or for ways to extend other investigations. He stressed that very few things start de novo.
Having a framework, testing things that others have done is very helpful.

* To find out what it is you would like to do, it is helpful to be attentive to your reactions in your scholarly reading. If you find yourself saying "I wish I had written that," you can use that as a key to finding something similar.

* Preparing a research design also requires conversation. Research is often a solitary activity, but designing research is an activity that should be carried out collaboratively. Decisions made at the stage of research design are so crucial to the value of subsequent labor that issues must be talked out thoroughly at the outset. Even highly experienced researchers often collaborate with colleagues, teach courses on methodology with them, or pop into each other's office with a query twice a day. Rule numbers one for graduate students beginning their first large research projects is: engage in an extended conversation with your advisors. Even Jove, with his legendary powers, could not generate a good research design full-blown from his head.

* Looking to the future, the speakers addressed the relationship between the dissertation topic and job prospects. Both agreed that job considerations should be subordinate to intellectual interests. In any case, predicting the market is like "guessing in the dark." A topic that is in the mainstream of the discipline might appear to be safer, but it may be in an overcrowded field. That problem is not completely solved by choosing a more peripheral topic, since there may be less demand. In general, you should avoid choosing a topic because you think it is fashionable. They also added that the dissertation topic does not necessarily identify your field that precisely-hiring departments tend to work by broad fields.

During the question period, several students wanted to know how best to choose a dissertation advisor-especially how to factor in problems of personality or accessibility versus area of expertise. Both speakers strongly recommended working with more than one advisor-it can be beneficial even if there are no conflicts. The arrangement would depend on departmental policies; in some cases it could be a formal dissertation; in others, it may be more a more informal consultation arrangement. It can extend to faculty members outside of your department and even outside of your department and even outside of the University. In general, it is wise to have a number of potential advisors in mind. Some of the most popular, professors can be too great a demand.

The speakers tried to reassure students that most professors care about their dissertation advisees-indeed, professors often find it a source of personal pride to be an active part of the process of training a new generation of scholars. They added that the faculty have an obligation to teach and advise graduate students-that is what they are paid to do. The speakers urged students to be more active than passive in seeking an advisor, to be more aggressive in their outreach to professors. They strongly recommended that students work hard during their first year or two in getting to know the faculty beyond their classes-interviewing professors, and attending lectures or seminars.

Another student asked about the role of advisors in getting a job-he particularly wanted to know what to do if an advisor was planning to retire soon. The speakers responded that a professor's retirement need not pose a problem. He or she may even have more time to give to students. It is common for professors to continue to work with students after they have left an institution. It is important to talk frankly with a retiring professor about this issue.

Finally, a student asked why Harvard students seem to take so long in finishing the dissertation. The speakers observed that the problem arose from a combination of external pressures and internal factors. After exams, most students start teaching, which is a major distraction from the thesis. In addition, some topics take a long time. However, both speakers had the impression that students take longer than they have to, and that they are especially slow to begin. Both felt that this was a mistake and that students ought to plunge in as quickly as possible. It is very important to work hard enough during the first year of the dissertation to keep it alive even while teaching.

Timing of the dissertation was also discussed in terms of reaching a crucial point in the dissertation where the problematics become clear; you reach a conceptual breakthrough that allows you to imagine the end. The earlier that you reach this crucial point, the better. If you reach it during the first year of the dissertation work, then you can probably finish in two years, which in many fields is a respectable amount of time. You should be able to project even early in the dissertation what a reasonable amount of time would involve. There was a warning that people tire of dissertations. The ideal is to pick a congenial topic, work at a reasonable pace, and FINISH.

Posted by prolurkr at 11:15 AM | TrackBack

March 30, 2006

How to find good mentors

Tomorrow's Professor Blog has an good post on JUNIOR FACULTY - HOW TO FIND GOOD MENTORS. While it's not strictly for grad students I always think it useful to be looking a step or two ahead. Why? Well mentoring is as important as finding a good first job, in fact I think mentoring is potentially more important. Find a good mentor and your transition to faculty will be smoother and more complete.

How Can A Mentor Help?

In addition to addressing the skills needed to survive and prosper in academia already mentioned as reasons for seeking a mentor, there follow many other helpful influences a mentor can have on a new faculty member.

* A mentor can provide good advice on the key academic responsibilities of teaching and advising, including negotiating which courses to teach (balancing core and advanced), giving tips for getting good teaching evaluations from students and taking advantage of available resources for improving teaching skills, teaching the basics of students and advising (and where to find all the program and other requirements you will need to have at hand), supervising undergraduate and graduate projects, writing exams, grading strategies, interpreting course evaluations, and preparing for the unpredictable crises you are likely to encounter when advising students. Know your resources!

* A mentor can help guide you through your department's maze. You need to know how to get things done, whom to see for what, how teaching assistants and research assistants are approved and appointed, and, unfortunately, what to do when you encounter cheating or violations of the university ethics or honor codes. These things happen at the best of places. This type of mentoring requires inside knowledge and hence a mentor within your department or school.

* A mentor can be invaluable when you write grant proposals for research funding. They can provide you with successful examples and review your draft proposals. They can also be a big help in dealing with the rejection that often comes with a failed proposal.

* A mentor can be a demystifier of the tenure process, and in planning ahead for the process. This often means encouraging you to maximize your visibility in your field through publications, talks at conferences, talks in industry and other universities, grant applications, and professional service as reviewer, associate editor, program committee, professional society officer, and other visible positions that enhance your field. Key to a successful tenure process will be having people in the field know and like your work.

* A mentor can help build relationships with other colleagues both within your department and elsewhere on campus.

* A mentor can help you to keep things in perspective-they often have a more global and experienced viewpoint that can transcend the daily crises that can beset junior faculty. In particular, mistakes will happen. Get past it. Grants and papers will get rejected, don't take it personally and try again (and make it better).

Posted by prolurkr at 02:31 PM

March 22, 2006

Writing, prep practices or how to prove academics are obsessive

Parts-n-Pieces has chimed in with A Little Honest Self-Evaluation (about writing spaces). This entry is apparently part of a larger meme, one that I had missed so far.

Be brutally honest with yourself about your work habits.

I've been trying to find the right mix for myself so I can get this work done. I've tried it all, though: writing late at night, writing in the early morning, writing between other activities, writing at home, writing elsewhere, and at various times, none of it has worked well. I've always had to find the time and energy to write when there weren't other things to do. It's not as if I've ever (ever) been able to let the writing be the most important thing I was doing. When I was an undergrad and when I was in grad school, the Bundle was in elementary school and junior high school. I had a job, I was in school, but I also had to cook dinner and help with homework and do laundry and take care of the yard.... and then I had to find time to write. Typically, then, I wrote when the Bundle went to bed, but I'd be so tired... yet I had to crank out the work anyway. As she got older, I was able to write earlier in the day (while I was still mostly awake), but I still had the job . . . now, I'm finding that I need a specific environment to help me write. (As a quick aside: blog writing I can do anytime, anywhere. It's short and easy. Too bad the diss can't be that kind of writing.) But back to the point:

  • I need it quiet (or at least not jarringly noisy) as I'm so easily distracted. It helps greatly to not be a home when I have to get the bulk of something done. I can edit at home, but the hard work of getting it all down and semiorganized, I can't be home or in my office. There are just too many distractions.
  • I need my hair pulled back off my face.
  • I need to be wearing comfortable clothes (these days, yoga pants and a long sleeved t-shirt, thick short socks, no shoes)
  • I need to be drinking something cold. (I have no idea why I need this, but it could be 19 degrees outside, and I'd want iced tea or a frappuchino.)
  • If I have to be at home, the house needs to be clean. (Really. There can't be dirty dishes in the sink or piles of dirty clothes in the closet.)
  • The windows shades can be open, but the overhead lights have to be turned off. A corner lamp is OK. (Actually, I hate overhead lights anytime.)
  • It has to be slightly cool in the room.

Here are mine that I know now, I expect to have more during my seclusion:

Oh god I don't need any more this is way to many exclusionary vibs. LOL Looks like I need to work on it a bit. I've been, probably half-heartedly, trying to learn to work in 15-minute segments. Maybe that only works if you are less OCD about all of it. *sigh*

I agree with Professional Confessions, "In many ways, really understanding how I work best was the most valuable thing I learned during the dissertation process." We have to know what makes it easy for us to work and what gets in the way of writing, since this is going to be a lifelong activity.

Posted by prolurkr at 09:43 AM | TrackBack

March 20, 2006

Customizing Word when you work on large documents like dissertations

Charles Balch posted a link to his Document Automation Handout on Air-L, the listserv for the Association of Internet Researchers. The handout looks at automation/customization that can help in creating large documents such as dissertations. The page looks very helpful. It has tips on customizations to make within Word and includes several movie clips on such things as the equation editor and EndNote.

Posted by prolurkr at 11:11 AM | TrackBack

March 18, 2006

Two links to useful posts on writing

Todays reading brought me two views of writing that I think will be useful. First A Learners Space has Great Day and Useful Writing Techniques. I found this piece very useful to contemplate today, as I did non-writing work. I think it has a nice breakdown for many of the things we haven't been taught since we were children, assuming we were even taught then.

Defining concepts - not a dictionary definition but rather:
  • what the concept means in the context of what you are writing about

Working on patterns of problem-solution:

  • have you described the situation
  • have you identified a problem
  • have you described a possible solution
  • have you evaluated the solution

Achieving coherence in your writing:

  • repetition of key nouns
  • use of pronouns
  • use of transition signals
  • arranging sentences in logical order

Think of transition signals as things that tell your reader when to:

  • go forward
  • slow down
  • stop

thus enabling you as author to set: pace, tonality, focus. Examples of use:

  • a similar idea - similarly, moreover, etc.
  • an opposite idea - on the other hand, in contrast
  • an example - for example
  • a result - as a result, accordingly, in consequence
  • a conclusion - in conclusion, in summary, in brief, in short

Best advice of the day, though, related to the use of Summary Labels and Generic Labels in text analysis. Basically, summary labels are identifications of content which you list down the left-hand side of your text, and generic labels are identifications of kinds of writing, or indications of the author's purpose and you note these down the right-hand side of the text. Combined, these make really good representations for note-taking, article summaries, analysis of a text, identification of key ideas, themes, strength or weakness of an argument, etc.

Some generic labels:

  • introduction
  • explanation
  • comment
  • opinion
  • definition
  • evidence
  • illustration
  • analysis
  • process
  • interpretation
  • intention
  • position
  • conclusion

This technique worked so well when it came to analysing Lotman's text on the semiosphere. These activities really help you to focus your thoughts and enable you not only to extract key ideas but also to formulate your own position/thoughts towards/against them in a much clearer way. It's almost as if the labelling acts as a frame that just sets these elements in stark relief so that they are loudly foregrounded and thus become easily accessible.

New Kid in the Hallway tackled the Writer's block - a trip down memory lane giving us a timeline of her writer's block leading to dissertation and, more importantly, what she learned from those semesters.

What lessons have I gleaned from this process? Well, let's see.

1. DO NOT ISOLATE YOURSELF. Seriously. Personally, I got the most done during the times I was teaching or working on campus, and part of a dissertation group, and I got the least done during the quarters I was on fellowship. I got writer's block and I vanished and hid from my advisor and tried never to speak with her about the dissertation. I had no idea how to talk about my work and what I was doing at that point, anyway. It seemed so pointless to walk into her office to say, "Uh, I read some books/documents." I think this was partly because I assumed (actually, pretty much correctly, given this woman's position in the field) that she knew everything that was in those books already, so what was I going to say to her? Now, I realize I totally should have talked to her. But I couldn't at the time. (Partly, of course, because I wasn't reading any books/documents! It was an evil cycle.)

In any case, DON'T HIDE. DON'T DO WHAT I DID. A lot easier said than done, but what happened to me was that my advisor started making stuff up about what I was doing (or not doing). Not that I can blame her - she had no evidence to go on that I was actually doing anything! (Which, much of this time, I wasn't.)

It may feel like you can't possibly face (whoever it is) with as little done as you have. But you know what? NOT facing them, and isolating yourself, and STILL not getting work done, is not going to put you in a better position with this person. Dread is not conducive to productivity. Confessing your sins and moving forward is a much better idea.

Obviously, if you're writing a dissertation, this is much more useful advice than at other points in one's career. A book editor to whom you owe a chapter probably does NOT want chatty reports of what you're up to or a blow-by-blow of your research process (actually, one's advisor may not want that, either, but at least has some context/use for it). But if you're behind on something and you really aren't just about to get it done - you really are going to take a while - it's probably much better to get in touch with the person to whom you owe it to explain yourself and be responsible about it, than just to vanish for months. (I have another story along these lines, but it's probably not worth the energy to write it. Just believe me.)

2. DO NOT PLAN TO WRITE IN EIGHT-HOUR MARATHONS.* Honestly, I was never as relieved as I was the day that I read Joan Bolker's words: "There are not a lot of people who can just write - not stare into space, not get up to make five pots of coffee, not talk on the phone, but write continuously - for more than about two hours a day. You can write for a very long time on any given day, but the trouble is, you can't then do it again the next, and again, and again - and writing daily is the pattern that's best suited to finishing a dissertation." (pp. 53-4, if you're curious.) I mean, it made me realize how utterly wrong-minded I'd been with all my plans to write all day long, but it was nice to realize that I couldn't do that because it was an unrealistic goal, not because I was an undisciplined slacker.

*Unless, of course, this is necessary for meeting a specific deadline. I'm all about the 8-hour-writing-days to finish a conference paper or something. But don't plan on this as a regular schedule for writing, even if you are on fellowship or sabbatical or whatever.

3. IF YOU DON'T ACCOMPLISH WHAT YOU PLANNED TO ON ANY GIVEN DAY, DON'T BEAT YOURSELF UP OVER IT. LET IT GO. This was probably my biggest, biggest problem in the days I describe above. I reached such a pitch of self-loathing about my inability to get done what I'd (unrealistically) planned that I was good for nothing. NOTHING. Not every day is going to go as well as you'd like. If you blow off a day, you are not an evil, bad, self-indulgent person. Just start again on the next day. And do NOT expect yourself to do more on the next day to make up for it, because that's just setting yourself up for failure. (Y'all do realize I'm talking to myself here, right?)

In a way, the thing that's helpful about working full-time when you're trying to get research done (rather than being on fellowship or something) is that it's hard to reach quite that abyss of self-loathing. If you're working, then you're teaching classes and/or going to meetings/accomplishing other admin/service tasks, as well as probably dealing with independent study students, professional associations, articles for review, etc. etc. There's always more that needs to be done; but at least you're doing SOMETHING. And it's hard to feel so bad about yourself if you're running around getting classes taught and meetings held and so on. Sure, it's not research productivity, but it is productivity. Being on fellowship/leave (or even just off teaching for the summer) is, for me, an irresistible temptation to work out, clean the apartment, go shopping, and watch TV - none of which are remotely productive. So I end up feeling much, much worse than I do during the school year.

There is lots of useful advise in both of the full posts.

Posted by prolurkr at 06:24 PM | TrackBack

March 05, 2006

Poductivity and/or creativity enhancement tools

Early last week DIYPlanner had a post on "What five items for enhancing your productivity and/or creativity can you not be without?" I hit me that this meme might be really helpful for prolurker readers, and for me when I read what y'all do to keep your productivity up. SO here are my top tools and a bit of explanation on why they make the list. p.s. I use a paper planner so there is no calendar program on this list.

General tools

Academic recordkeeping tools

Research Tools

Ok I'm tagging three of you to get this ball rolling - David Brake, Angela Thomas, and A Learner's Space.

p.s. One of the nice things about doing a list like this periodically is you find out which of your programs have updates available. LOL Several of these were updated or plans were made to update for those that I must buy a-new.

Posted by prolurkr at 02:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 16, 2006

Why Grad Students Succeed or Fail

Inside Higher Ed has Why Grad Students Succeed or Fail in today's article offerings. The article looks at the recently released book, Three Magic Letters: Getting to Ph.D..

Among the findings:

  • More than 30 percent of all graduate students never feel that they have a faculty mentor.
  • Two-thirds of graduate students enter Ph.D. programs without any debt, suggesting that those concerned about expanding the pipeline to graduate education should pay attention to the affordability of undergraduate education.
  • Students rate their social interaction with faculty members as high in the engineering, sciences, mathematics and education -- and relatively low in the social sciences and humanities.
  • In rating the quality of academic interactions, students in the humanities think highly of their professors while those in the social sciences and math and science are more critical.
  • Significant gaps exist in the experiences of minority and female graduate students -- from admissions to getting teaching or research assistant jobs to publishing research while still in graduate school. Generally, these gaps do not favor minority students.

I wonder if the difference between social interaction with faculty is the existence of "labs" in many of the fields listed under the third bullet point. Or at least the communal nature of the research.

I also wonder what the difference is between "mathematics" and "math" might be that would land the in opposing lists.

Posted by prolurkr at 01:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 27, 2006

Why we love to hate peer review comments

Yesterday I received a rejection on a paper submitted for publication back in November. Rejection is always a nasty thing, and I do not take criticism any better than the average person. Why? Well I worked hard on this "extended abstract." In truth, no one I know has ever written an abstract like this CFP requested, so I was flying blind. As such, I gave my self plenty of room to soar or fail as either was extremely possible. Clearly, the later was the case, though you have to crawl before you walk and my skinned knees prove that point.

I've written before, though I can't find the post at the moment, about how I tend to handle these things. First, I do a quick review of what the reviewers wrote, and then I set the whole thing aside for a day or so to let me deal with the rejection before I tackle the constructive part of the process. Then, when I am ready - and usually after some cathartic complaining to friends and colleagues - I read the whole packet again and try to glean useful comments from what was presented.

So today, I sat down to read the reviewer's comments in more detail and to take away what I can from the process. One reviewer has many constructive comments that if used may well help strengthen the paper, or at least help target it more closely to the goals of this publication. Their tone is supportive, though firm. I read the comments, yesterday and today, as well meaning and I can definitely learn from what they are saying.

The other is less useful and as such becomes a different kind of learning tool. In these cases, I always look at the comments to find what I can take away and use to make my own reviews stronger. Reviews are places to be constructive not to exercise one's ability to "one up" the writer, nor is it the place to criticize just because the research is not done as the reviewer would have done it. From conversations with other scholars, I know all of us fight these tendencies when we write reviews.

As with reading reviews, I think review writers should lay their work aside for a day or two, then reread, and edit. One of the main questions on our minds, as we reread our comments, should be "What would I think if I received these comments on my work?" I'm not suggesting that comments should be sugar-coated rather that somewhere we keep an eye to the fact that constructive and mean are two very different things.

Oh and believe me I've written some critical comments myself. However, I usually make myself stop and take a deep breath before I revise what I have written. Just as I take time and I stop before I read comments I receive. A clear mind is a wonderful thing.

Related posts:
Upcoming quietness on prolurker
Getting an extended abstract ready for submission

Posted by prolurkr at 03:25 PM | TrackBack

Defining the practice of "close reading" theory

Terri Senft has some very good advice at Tis the season to read theory. I've given you the bullet points below but read Teri elaboration for much more insight.

  1. Consider the context.
  2. Read the text out loud. No, really.
  3. Re-phrase what you just read in your own words.
  4. Provide examples for everything .
  5. Recognize and defend yourself against front-loaded essays.
  6. Think about language, and make a list of KEY WORDS.
  7. Think about argument, and make a list of BULLET POINTS.
  8. Think about tone, think about the voice of the writer in this piece.
  9. Do some cursory research on the author.
  10. Put the piece you are reading in some sort of dialogue with other pieces assigned for the week.
  11. Stop consuming, start thinking.

Posted by prolurkr at 01:40 PM | TrackBack

January 13, 2006

What They Don’t Teach You in Graduate School, Part IV (Long post warning)

Inside Higher Ed has the 4th and final installment of their What They Don't Teach You in Graduate School series online today. The guts of it follows.

Life as an Academic

1. Bad Deans can make your life miserable. Don't assume that because the half-life of a dean is five years, you can outlast them. Get out your résumé.

2. Never, ever choose sides in department politics. The side you are on expects your support because they know they are right. They will give you no reward for it. The side(s) you are not on remembers forever.

3. Never take a joint appointment, particularly as your initial appointment. The chair of each department will assume that the other chair will take care of you. Furthermore, at raise, promotion, and tenure times, each department will judge you only on the papers or books in its own discipline.

4. Secretaries are a scarce resource. Treat them as such. Most universities pay secretaries below market wages and expect them to gain psychic income from the academic environment. They often work in physical space you would not accept even as a graduate student. (We estimate the chance that a secretary works in an office with a window is approximately one in three.) By any standard, they are an exploited class. If you develop a good relationship with them, they will work miracles for you. They know every arcane administrative procedure needed to get things done. They can say nice things about you to people who matter in the department. If they don't like you, they can kill your reputation.

5. After years of being one, you know that research assistants and graders are perceived as the sherpas of academe. Their role is to be as inconspicuous as possible and carry the burdens as their professors climb the mountain of knowledge. It is unfortunately true that many young professors rapidly adopt the same attitude. Doing so is actually a mistake. Your students learn from the feedback they receive, and graded papers are an important feedback tool. Thus, you need to pay attention to which answers are considered correct and what criteria are used for grading. In the case of examinations, you should grade papers personally rather than delegating the job. The examination is a form of communication, of feedback, between the student and you. You find out what the students really know and what principles and concepts did not get through to them. Similarly, your research assistants require supervision. Having them take data for your key experiment or survey instrument is appropriate but the final responsibility for their output is yours. You have to know what they are doing and how well they are doing it. Treat them with respect and show them that they are valued. One way to do this is to be generous in sharing authorship with them when they make contributions to your research. In short, you have to teach them the research art. Remember that a disgruntled grader or research assistant need not get mad at you; they can easily get even.

6. Learn the idiosyncrasies of your institution's computer center. You have a high probability of having to deal with the computer center, even if you are in the humanities. Although a computer center is a service organization, it is usually staffed by people who are not service oriented. This attitude is particularly true of computer center directors. Treasure the director who is service oriented. If not, your frustration level will be high every time you approach the center. Some directors are super security conscious. Like the librarian who believes that the best place for a book is on the shelf, such a director wants to keep you from actually using the center because you might not follow their arbitrary rules.

7. Like the computer center, you have to deal with physical plant. They are the people who create the services that you take for granted, be they moving furniture or heating or changing light bulbs. Your first contact will typically come when you move into your office. In our experience in a number of universities, we have found three typical characteristics:

  • Many people in physical plant are highly skilled craftspeople who can do wondrous mechanical and electrical things. They know about things you never learned.
  • Physical plant is working on many jobs simultaneously. Although your job is the one that you think is most important, it is only one of many, some of which are emergencies.
  • Physical plant charges departments for their services. Often they need to charge quite a lot because the job is much more complex than you realize. Be sure you have a big departmental budget available before you call them in.

8. Join the faculty club, if you have one. You will usually be taken there at some time during the interview process. If it is at all typical, it will seem like a cross between your undergraduate dining hall and the stuffy clubs you see on BBC mysteries. If you look around, it may seem that it is the haven for the superannuated. Don't be deceived. The faculty club can be one of your most important assets. It is a place where you can meet with colleagues without interruptions of telephone or students. People always feel better when they eat and will often tell you things they would not otherwise reveal. In other words, it is a good place to keep up with what is going on. Being seen there by the older faculty in your department can be a plus since it shows you want to fit in. You will be surprised to find that you can actually have occasional intellectual discussions with people from other disciplines. It is also a good place to impress visitors and students. The food, of course, will rapidly become tedious.

9. At some institutions, office hours are sacred. You MUST be there at the times you promise. At others, they are merely advisory. Know what the situation is at your institution and follow local custom. In general, you have to provide times certain for students when they can contact you. Making appointments is one way. If you do make an appointment, be sure to keep it. A reputation of not keeping appointments is as bad as one of not returning e-mails.

10. The best fringe benefit that a professor receives is the sabbatical. It is not, repeat not, a vacation. Here are some hints on what you should do on your sabbatical:

  • Do productive work.
  • Use the time for reflection and for getting into new things.
  • If at all feasible, leave town and never show your face at the institution during the sabbatical. If you appear, you will be put to work.
  • Stay in touch with your dissertation students (you can do this by e-mail or by meeting the students off campus).
  • When your sabbatical is over, write a good report on what you did so the administration will give you another one the next time you are eligible.

And, of course, always apply for a sabbatical as soon as you are eligible. Most institutions do not allow you to accumulate the time for future use. If you wait an extra semester or two, you will never get the accumulated time back.

11. Maintain collegiality. Collegiality is a difficult term to define. It involves maintaining good social relations with the people in your department and in related departments. If everyone in your department has coffee in the lounge at 10 each morning, be there even if you only drink mineral water. If someone asks you to cover a class for them or review a draft of their latest paper or serve on a doctoral committee they chair, do it. The web of obligations is two-sided and you will receive reciprocal favors over time. Collegiality is one case where the commitments, even though they take away from your research time, have positive results. Don't be perceived as a loner or a misanthrope, particularly by the senior faculty.

12. Be aware that as an academic you are a public person. Your students spend 40 hours or more a semester doing nothing but looking at you while you talk. This makes an indelible impression on them. You will find that several years later when they approach you by name at a gathering or in a public place they will expect you to remember them. You, of course, usually will not. They will have changed in appearance and dress. Some of them were lost in the crowd while in your classroom. The important point is that your behavior is noticed when you least expect it.

13. We firmly believe that people should be free to express their views on public issues, whether the views are mainstream or not. But, understand that there are associated career risks. The conventional wisdom that academics are free to say what they please may well have been a reason why you chose your career. However, our observations of what really goes on leads to a different "take" for untenured faculty. No matter what your position on an issue, be it popular or unpopular, for or against the environment, for or against gun control, once it becomes known there are inevitably people who are on the other side of that issue. They will consider your position a form of bad judgment and they will hold it against you. Remember that people in academia have long memories. Even if everyone in the department publicly espouses the same cause you cannot be certain what position they take privately. Consider something as seemingly safe as excoriating the oil company whose tanker caused the latest oil spill. There will be people who consult with the company or who are writing a corporate history or whose nephew works for the company or who own 3000 shares of the company's stock. Of course, once you achieve tenured full professor, the situation changes.

14. Get to know the people in development and support them. Most institutions have one or more people on their staff whose job it is to obtain endowments and other gifts, maintain relations with alumni, etc. Skilled, interactive development offices can help in obtaining outside funding for you, for your department, and for students, all of which improves your quality of life. Be careful, however: Many development offices are horribly inept. Their people are usually underpaid and in this world you get what you pay for. They are fund raisers who know nothing about the academic enterprise or what you do. You will have to educate them over and over. You may have to work with colleagues to get them replaced if they are extremely bad.

15. A corollary to working with development is to be responsive to your alumni office. For most alumni, their college experience is the highlight of their life and the old school tie is one of the few things they can flaunt. They like to hear good things about their college because it makes their degree more valuable. So, if you are asked to write something for the alumni bulletin or give a speech, do it. Alumni can support their old department in a variety of ways. If they know you, they can support you from the outside at moments of crunch.

16. When you do something noteworthy let your college's public relations department know and have them publicize it. When you publish a book, win a prize, get elected to a professional society office, or do something in the community, get them into the act. It has value to you because it is one way for a lot of your colleagues across campus to find out what a wonderful person you are. (They may even remember it at promotion time!). It lets you brag to your chair and to the people in your department without being obnoxious about it.

17. You may, at some point in your academic career become involved in a student grievance. We are a litigious society, fueled in part by a supply of lawyers and in part by demand for equal treatment under the law. Fortunately, most universities and colleges set up grievance procedures to handle disputes. We estimate that there is a 50 percent chance of your being involved in a student grievance sometime during your academic career. Typically these disputes are over grades, results of examinations, acts of cheating, and the like. Sometimes they are the results of behavior on your part that a student perceives as insulting or demeaning.

18. The last several years have seen the growth of sexual harassment as a basis for complaint. You may wind up as the originator or the recipient of such a complaint. The source may be a student, a staff member, or another faculty member. Remember that harassment complaints can lead to litigation in court. Your institution may or may not be supportive. If it isn't, you can wind up spending large amounts on lawyers and court fees. The best strategy is preventive. Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Know and obey your institutions rules on harassment.
  • Know what the procedures are for the offended party.
  • Never meet with a student or faculty member of the opposite gender behind a closed door.
  • Never use language or examples that are sexually offensive.

19. You may become the grievant against your institution. Disputes can arise over such issues as tenure, sabbatical entitlements, teaching loads, outrageous treatment by department chairs or deans, salaries, discrimination because of age, gender, or race, and more. The good news is that most institutions have a grievance procedure. The bad news is that people will remember the incident even when you are in the right

Some Final Thoughts

1. "The rich get richer" holds in academia as well as in society in general. Once you establish a reputation, people will pursue you to do things such as write papers, make presentations at prestigious places, consult, etc. To reach this position you have to earn your reputation. If you do reach it, remember that fame is transitory. You have to keep running, doing new things, to keep the demand going. Those who read these Hints will want your place!

2. A colleague of ours once told us: "Treat students as though they are guests in your home." It is simple, sound advice. If you carry nothing else away from these hints, remember this one.

Posted by prolurkr at 01:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 12, 2006

Writing Letters of Recommendation

Bardiac has a post on Writing Letters of Recommendation that breaks down the process very nicely. If you have to write letters for students this is good advice, likewise it is good reading for those of us that will one day be asking for such letters. This post, which I have sampled below, is very good reading for anyone for whom letters of recommendation factor into their working lives.

First, I try to figure out what my audience needs: I think, mostly, employers and graduate admissions folks want to know that the student is smart enough to do whatever it is, communicates well (verbally and in writing), listens, has ideas, and has at least the potential to contribute to whatever community is at stake. In order to "trust" my evaluation, the reader has to know how or why I've come to have my opinion, and then needs some good examples to see that my opinion is well-founded.

So, I start out with an introductory paragraph that tells a little about how I know the student, and for how long. The first sentence usually says something about how pleased I am to write on my student's behalf. That "pleasedness" is somewhat coded, of course. But I don't push that coding with any real skill, I'm afraid. I'm generally "pleased" or "very pleased" to recommend student X to program Y. If I'm not pleased (and for some reason haven't convinced the student that I'm a BAD choice), then I am just writing this letter for student X, rather than recommending student X. (I've written perhaps one of those letters?)

In the introductory paragraph, I introduce the student by first and last name, give information about classes (with semester/dates, if appropriate), advising, and so forth, being as specific as possible.

In the next section (which may be one or two paragraphs), I talk about the student's written work, again, as specifically as possible. This is where my previous advice about getting papers for letter writers helps me tons. I can quickly glance over the paper, get the title, thesis, and my response. I can also remind myself how well the student constructed the argument or whatever. If I've had the student several times, I emphasize the most recent work, and may also talk about the student's growth over the time I've known him/her. I use Ms/Mr X to talk about the student in this section.

In the third section, I talk about the student as a member of the community, in class, in the department or university, and so on. At this point, I generally switch to using the student's first name because I think this reflects the more personal nature of this sort of evaluation. If I don't switch, the letter seems cooler, somehow. Again, if I've known the student for a while, I can talk about his/her growth, his/her interests, and so on. I try to be as specific as I can; it helps a LOT if the student gives me his/her letter of application or statement of purpose, or reminds me about activities s/he's been involved with.

This section is where I deal with apparent problems in the application. For example, a couple years ago I had a rather wonderfully smart student who just didn't apply him/herself much. C had good ideas, was an intelligent, helpful participant in class when s/he was there, and was very capable. I LEARNED from C's work. C was also busy with things in life that had nothing to do with school, and so managed mediocre grades.

A few years after graduating, C decided s/he wanted to go to graduate school, and came to talk to me about a letter of recommendation. I responded honestly that while I thought C had great potential and could certainly do the work of graduate school, his/her grades didn't reflect that very well, and so forth. We talked a good bit about why C wanted to go on, what C wanted to do, and so forth, and I agreed to write the letter. In this section, then, I talked about our conversation, C's grades, C's strengths which I believed could lead to great success, why I thought C was ready to take real advantage of opportunities, and why C would be a wonderful member of a graduate school community. Whether because of or in spite of my letter, C was accepted to the graduate program s/he most wanted, and appears (from recent communications) to be thriving there.

In the final paragraph, I quickly reiterate my recommendation and offer to provide further information if the reader wants it. Here, again, I should probably do more with the code words, but I just don't seem to have them down in a meaningful way.

Posted by prolurkr at 05:57 PM | TrackBack

January 05, 2006

Mandatory grad student reading

Inside Higher Ed published an article on December 28, 2005 that is manditory grad student reading, assumign you are heading for a career in academia. Check out What They Don't Teach You in Grad School -- Part III. Here is one section if this very listful article.

p.s. Do not read this before bed as it may cause sleeplessness. *sigh*

I. Tenure

1. The most dreaded experience for an academic is the tenure process. Without tenure, you cannot stay permanently at an institution as a professor and must go job hunting in an uncertain market. Some colleges may consider it as a stain on your record if you tried and failed. On the other hand, colleges that rank lower than the one you are at may want to hire you because that gives them bragging rights. We know of at least two universities, for example, that hired ex-Harvard and MIT professors. With tenure, of course, you remove uncertainty.

2. Things are changing, but it is still true that tenure is the prize in academia. There are many exciting non-tenure track jobs in higher education and in research organizations (Both of us worked full-time for think tanks after our Ph.D.'s prior to our university positions). But most new Ph.D.'s seeking academic careers will want to become tenured professors.

3. Understand why tenure is such a hurdle. Consider the cost of a positive tenure decision to your institution. Assume for simplicity that you are making $66,666 per year and will serve the university 30 years after tenure. Assume your academic raises only cover cost of living (the worst case from your point of view, the best from the university's); that is, your salary is nearly the same in real terms for the rest of your career. From your point of view, you certainly think of yourself as worth the $2 million dollar the university must make. But think of it from administrators' view. If they give tenure when they shouldn't, they made a bad $2 million dollar bet. If they deny tenure to someone and that person many years later wins a Nobel Prize, everyone will conclude "Old Siwash was stupid." However, they will say it only for a few days and it will blow over. Although it will cost something to hire your replacement, with any luck that person will work for even less than you do. Any statistician will tell you that, given these upside and downside risks, universities are absolutely rational to err on the no side, not on the yes side.

4. The tenure clock is really four and a half years, not seven. Remember that the rule is that the seventh contract is forever. Thus, the latest the decision can be made is in year six. Your dossier will have to be completed for the powers-that-be by the beginning of year. Although you can count publications that have been accepted, journal (or book publisher) review time averages over a year in most fields. Thus, you have to submit your work for publication by the beginning of year five. It will take you six months to write up your results. Ergo, four and a half years!

5. Tenure committees look almost exclusively at publications that appear in peer-reviewed journals or in scholarly books. It is, in a sense, a tragedy that you get much more credit for what appears in a "write only" journal (i.e., a journal with minute circulation) than what appears in a high circulation, widely read popular magazine. But that is the way the game is played.

6. If, by chance, you have tenure, never take another appointment without it. The people who promise it "real soon" may not be there when the crunch comes.

7. Like research support, tenure can be negotiated on the way in. Nobody tells you (and nobody admits it) but tenure is, in effect, transferable. Be firm in your position that since you have tenure, you wouldn't think of moving without it.

8. New cross-discipline fields are tougher to get tenure in because you are judged by the standards of people who made their mark in a single, well-established discipline. For example, the field of Information Systems, which is taught in business schools, combines a hard science (computer science) and two soft sciences (organizational behavior and management). People in this field publish at the intersection of disciplines. However, they are judged by people in the pure disciplines and are expected to contribute to these pure disciplines. Research that combines existing ideas from several disciplines is discounted by the purists even though it is the essence of the field.

9. Tenure as we know it today may not be here forever. The problem stems from changes in the retirement law and in public attitudes. Beginning in 1992, you could not be forced to retire because you had reached a mandatory retirement age. Thus, colleges that grant tenure are stuck with you as long as you want to work -- whether you perform or not. The teaching life is fulfilling and the paycheck is better than your retirement income (Your income even gets better if you reach 70 because you can then take out of your tax-deferred retirement nest egg and can still collect your paycheck as well as your social security.) Beside which, what would you do with yourself in retirement? When our late colleague, Peter Drucker (who was still teaching at 92) was asked why he didn't retire, replied, "Why retire at 65? I can't see myself driving a Winnebago for 25 years."

10. Universities have a different objective than you do. They want to avoid deadwood and take age as prima facie evidence of your being past it. They certainly want you out of there before Alzheimer's strikes. If the number of positions is constricted, they prefer to take your slot and give it to a bright young person who is more current, may work for less, and who revitalizes your department. Tenure forces them to hold on to you because firing you for age would be discrimination. They are joined in this view by the younger faculty who want new opportunities. As a result, some universities already introduced a "rolling" tenure arrangement where people are reviewed every five years, and may be encouraged to leave after poor performance.

11. The number of tenured slots in some universities may decrease. Jack Schuster and Martin Finkelstein, in a forthcoming book on the American professoriate, report data that show that the number of part-time and full-time hires who are off the tenure track increased significantly in the last several years, from a few percent in the late 1970's to over 50 percent today. It is not clear whether this change is the result of universities hedging their bets because they fear enrollments will go down in some areas, or whether it is a deliberate move to reduce the size (and with it, the power) of the tenured faculty, or whether they simply want to reduce their payroll. Our advice is not to accept a position off the tenure track because your chances of ever getting back on could be between zero and nil.

Also check out - What They Don't Teach You in Grad School -- Part II

Posted by prolurkr at 02:02 PM | TrackBack

The academic blogosphere has been a buzz...

The academic blogosphere has been a buzz with discussions of the goings on around the special tenure panels at MLA. The discussion is very timely and probably right on the money. The real issue to watch will be how non-humanities departments comment on their output. Inside Higher Ed has a good series on the subject with today's entry being, A Tenure Reform Plan With Legs check out the Related Stories box on the article for more links.

A special panel of the MLA is finishing a report that will call for numerous, far-reaching changes in the way assistant professors are reviewed for tenure. Among the ideas that will be part of the plan are:

  • The creation of "multiple pathways" to demonstrating research excellence. The monograph is one way, but so would be journal articles, electronic projects, textbooks, jointly written books, and other approaches.
  • The drafting of "memorandums of understanding" between new hires and departments so that those new hires would have a clear sense of expectations in terms of how they would be evaluated for tenure.
  • A commitment to treating electronic work with the same respect accorded to work published in print.
  • The setting of limits on the number of outside reviews sought in tenure cases and on what those reviewers could be asked.

Posted by prolurkr at 01:52 PM | TrackBack

Well you only work 3 hours a week anyway...

A recent study by U.S. Education Department should have some colleges and universities looking at their tenure and promotion policies because they found administrative duties have pushed "service" out of the top three activities of the faculty. Some serious rethinking is required for those colleges and universities that do not now reward for administrative duties. I am told that at IUPUI you get no credit at all of admin work in the tenure process...moral of that story, don't take on admin duties before you are tenured.

From Inside Higher Ed, Dec 22, 2005:

People in academe constantly talk about the division of professors' time between teaching, research and service. But according to new data and a report released by the U.S. Education Department on Wednesday, the real triptych of higher education work activity is teaching, research, and administrative duties.

The figures were released in a study of faculty members' characteristics and work activities. The data were collected in 2003.

The Education Department's new analysis indicated that while doctoral faculty members spend much more time on research than do other professors, they report spending less than one-third of their total time at work focused on research.

When analyzed by disciplines, the data indicate that professors in the humanities and fine arts spend the most time teaching, while professors in the natural sciences and engineering spend the most time on research.

The title comes from something a student said to me last semester. I'm sure many of you have had the same experience, maybe even the same student. LOL

Posted by prolurkr at 08:27 AM | TrackBack

December 16, 2005

What to provide when asking for letters of recommendation

Bardiac has a great post on Letters of Recommendation: Help your writers! that should be a must read for any student, but in particular those of us that will need recommendations for funding and tenure-track positions. Following is a snip, but do read the entire piece it's excellent that again underlines the necessity of good record keeping.

Your job in requesting letters is to give each writer the tools to write you a good letter. It goes without saying that it helps if you've gotten A's and such. (If you're reading this and aren't actually at the stage of requesting letters, and aren't already an active contributor in classes, now's the time to start!) But even if you don't, you can help your letter writers write the best letter they can for you.

Take time to meet with your letter writer when you ask him or her to write for you. And be sure to ask what materials (in addition to the things on my list) you should provide. Meeting with the writer will help him or her remember you if it's been a couple years since you've taken a class with the person. It will also give you a chance to make sure that the letter writer can write you a good letter in good conscience. If the person hesitates, ask if s/he has reservations, or sees potential problems with writing you a letter. Take potential problems seriously.

As one who used to read letters of recommendation for a living and who has written more than a few of them, I totally agree with Bardiac that the best letters actually show you, not tell you, that the writer knows the person they are recommending. As a reader the flat canned letters are easily identifiable. As a writer it is torturous to pen a letter for someone you don't know well or for whom you have little to praise. At least in my old job, HR manager, it was hard to say "No I don't think you really want me to write that for you" so I wrote a lot of subpar letters for marginal employees. I was always amazed when they got the jobs they wanted with such think recommendations.

And here is where I differ from Bardiac:

*The waiver: I generally advise students to sign the waiver. You've asked people you think have a positive impression of you to write your letters. Unless you think they're incompetent (in which case, you shouldn't ask them), signing the waiver says basically that you trust that they're not incompetent. I'm willing to guess that a few people in this world have been abused in some way by bad letters, but I seriously doubt that not signing the waiver would have made a difference.

I don't sign waivers...if I apply for something I want to know why I didn't get what I was after. I want to know in specific so I can improve my performance for the next time. If there are chunks of information I can't access than now do I know what to fix, and yes the fix may be a simple as not asking that person to write a recommendation again. Unlike Bardiac I have seen many people's chances damaged by bad recommendations, I don't mean thin ones I mean out and out nasty negative recommendations that should have never been written. Is it a trust issue...well on some level. I consider it more of a self-improvement issue. I want to learn from my mistakes and it's tough to do that if the information is locked away from my sight.

Posted by prolurkr at 12:39 PM | TrackBack

December 14, 2005

The Simpsons on grad student life

David Brake sent this to me months ago and I ran across it again as I am doing my end of semester house cleaning on the campus email account. Made me laugh so I thought I would share it with all of you.

Bart: [after they watch a foreign film] I was so bored I cut the pony tail off the guy in front of us.

[holds pony tail to his head]

Bart: Look at me, I'm a grad student. I'm 30 years old and I made $600 last year.

Marge: Bart, don't make fun of grad students. They've just made a terrible life choice.

Posted by prolurkr at 03:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Handling criticism - some do it well...and some...

Confessions of a Community College Dean has a post that really struck me. After years as a manager I understand how some people can attack improvement after receiving criticism and how some can attack the critic. It makes me wonder if these categories map one-to-one on the teacher/student relationship. As usual the extremes are more obvious and I can certainly picture a student, from a previous teaching assignment, who carried the last category to the extreme - they often said and wrote in reflective work that all their shortcomings were really my shortcomings and if I would just leave them alone (no feedback and no review) than they would have been the best student in the class. If there ever was a collaborative activity in this world it's teaching/learning but do collaborate both parties have to be willing, if one is not than the collaboration is doomed to fail.

I do wonder if the Dean is correct though, is the last category really the most common? I sure hope not because that is massively depressing...it basically means there is no room for improvement. While on a quick read one could argue that the previous statement should be "no room for improvement without trust," I think that the trust issues are actually present in the second statement...they receive the criticism, evaluate it, and decide to ignore it because they trust the critic but simply don't agree with them. Of course this isn't always what we want to happen but it is at least healthy for the receiver and it shows a healthy, or healthyish, relationship. Even in the third category there is trust that no one is following them as "they move on."

No that last category are the people I would be forced to explain to General Mangers, back when I was a Human Resources Manager, as the folks who aren't happy until they hit the plant door, no those folks are never happy. They are also never reflexive because they themselves are perfect and always right. *sigh* Wouldn't it be nice to always be right? Written by a woman who usually falls into the first two categories, though who also has no doubt that instances of the third and even the fourth have been exhibited as well over time.

As a manager, this is physically painful to read. When people have shortcomings of which they're aware, it's possible to train them. When they have shortcomings of which they're unaware, several possibilities exist:

  • they never thought of it, they're glad to have it pointed out, they'll get right on it
  • they never thought of it, they don't consider it important, please go away now
  • they deny it and move on
  • they indignantly deny it, dig in their heels, and question your motives

You'll notice that three of these four possibilities are negative.

The last response, which is the most common, is also the most frustrating. It casts the manager as the villain and the underperforming employee as the victim in a bizarre psychodrama.

Posted by prolurkr at 07:56 AM | TrackBack

December 12, 2005

Thinking Beyond the Dissertation (long post warning)

The following is from The Chronicle of Higher Education article Thinking Beyond the Dissertation by David D. Perlmutter and Lance Porter. I think it is a well written article that ties in nicely with some of the entries I have posted previously in this series.

Start the Dissertation

Your initial priority as a doctoral student is to choose a direction for your dissertation. It is not something just to "finish." It ought to be your single most important source of research publications for your years as an assistant professor. A senior scholar once remarked that an ideal dissertation in the humanities and social sciences should contain the basis for six journal articles or one book or both.

To produce that volume of work, you should select a dissertation topic that is important, neither too vast or too thin, and can be completed in a few years. Specifically, does it contain discrete units of research that can be fleshed out as future articles or book chapters? Do not pick a "just something to get this over with" topic; you will be married to this enterprise for almost a decade (doing it as student, then publishing it as an assistant professor). Will your subject matter reward the sustained engagement?

Once you focus on a dissertation topic, try to orient all your classroom research papers toward it. Ideally, each new course in your program should yield the first draft of a dissertation chapter. Building an accretive set of knowledge toward a master document: That is called scholarship.

Think Publications Now

To become a scholar, you must become both a specialist and a generalist. Focus on one research topic so that you can legitimately say you are an "expert" on it. But also be able to claim credibly that your topic falls into a wider area of teaching and research that accords with the job categories in your discipline. An example from our field, mass communication: "My area is political communication; my special focus is on political advertising." It follows that you should not graduate with a CV or a bio-narrative that appears too narrow (six conference papers on "agenda setting in Bulgarian elections") or overly diffuse ("I study all forms of floral and faunal communication").

Think about avenues for your development as a scholar. While attending conferences is important, the single greatest imprimatur of credibility as a future scholar for hiring committees is publication in a top journal. Co-authorship is acceptable, although the suspicion will always be that the elder (in age and rank) author was also the senior "brain" behind it.

Build Relationships

Attend national conferences that attract scholars in your area of specialization and generalization. Meet with those people, even if only briefly; ask for their counsel on matters of research as well as your projected career. Those men and women may very well be on the hiring committees for your future job applications or be the "blind" referees of your future submissions to journals. Lay the seeds of your name recognition as well as your intellectual capital.

Take a similar track within your program. Work with scholars who have a national reputation and who seem to have many contacts throughout your field. The single best recommendation for a job applicant is not a laudatory letter from someone who barely knows you -- those are so common and so tendentious as to be largely ignored -- but a personal phone call from one of your intimate professors to a friend on the faculty of the department to which you are applying.

Make Yourself Marketable

Familiarize yourself with the employment marketplace. Even if graduation is years away, scan the job listings. (Do not, however, apply for jobs until you have at least finished your general exams.) Look for positions that attract you. What do they want? How will you grow to hold such qualifications?

Since one of the key qualifications will be teaching, you will need to develop classroom experience in your area of expertise. Show that you are able to teach a class in what you want to teach as an assistant professor. Prospective employers may be impressed by your publications, your erudition, your collegiality, but a basic question they have is: "What course of ours can you teach?"

Be honest with yourself and others about the parameters of your interests and abilities. Do not attempt to pass yourself off as a viable candidate for a position that involves research and teaching in areas of your ignorance or antipathy, simply for the sake for employment. Hiring committees can usually detect illusionists. Alternately, if your ruse (or self-deception) succeeds, the result will be a forced marriage of misery for years to come.

Plan Several Jobs in Advance

It is unlikely that your first job will be at the exact institution in the region of your dreams. Better to go after a college that could be your steppingstone (and who knows, you may grow to like it there). Institutions do not hire their own Ph.D.'s, but they do hire ones produced by their peers.

You need to decide which track you want to be on. A "teaching" college will not be a good gateway to a top research university; you will be too loaded down with class work, and the university will assume you are not on the "scholar" track. Better to get a first job at a university located somewhere you dislike, and then use that position to build up your CV.

Become an Expert Interviewee

An old piece of wisdom from politics is true in academic hiring as well: The most important message in any political campaign is the candidate. Faculty members will respect your CV, but they will hire you.

The interview -- at a conference or on campus -- is the crucial determinant of whether you get an offer or a rejection letter. Accordingly, it is best to learn as much about interviewing as possible. Volunteer to be the student representative on your department's hiring committee; observe incoming candidates; ask others about their experiences; accumulate lists of obvious questions; rehearse in front of your faculty advisers.

Remember, interviews are not broadcast communication where one size fits all. Study the department and its faculty closely. Show them you know who they are and explain how you will fit in.

If you take away only one lesson let it be this: Being a doctoral student, and then a job candidate, is not a hiatus before the proper academic employment begins. The career track starts immediately.

Posted by prolurkr at 09:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 01, 2005

How to Grade a Dissertation (or How to Write a Dissertation for Grading)

One of our faculty member's forwarded a link to How to Grade a Dissertation By Barbara E. Lovitts. The paper is very interesting and has a ton of information drawn from her focus group research, two section of which are reproduced below - The Characteristics of Dissertations (aka quality) and Some Dimensions of the Different Components of the Generic Dissertation. The second section is a nice benchmark for constructing or evaluation basically any written research work.

The Characteristics of Dissertations

Below are the criteria the focus group members specified for each level of dissertation quality


  • Is original and significant, ambitious, brilliant, clear, clever, coherent, compelling, concise, creative, elegant, engaging, exciting, interesting, insightful, persuasive, sophisticated, surprising, and thoughtful
  • Is very well written and organized
  • Is synthetic and interdisciplinary
  • Connects components in a seamless way
  • Exhibits mature, independent thinking
  • Has a point of view and a strong, confident, independent, and authoritative voice
  • Asks new questions or addresses an important question or problem
  • Clearly states the problem and why it is important
  • Displays a deep understanding of a massive amount of complicated literature
  • Exhibits command and authority over the material
  • Argument is focused, logical, rigorous, and sustained
  • Is theoretically sophisticated and shows a deep understanding of theory
  • Has a brilliant research design
  • Uses or develops new tools, methods, approaches, or types of analyses
  • Is thoroughly researched
  • Has rich data from multiple sources
  • Analysis is comprehensive, complete, sophisticated, and convincing
  • Results are significant
  • Conclusion ties the whole thing together
  • Is publishable in top-tier journals
  • Is of interest to a larger community and changes the way people think
  • Pushes the discipline's boundaries and opens new areas for research

Very Good

  • Is solid
  • Is well written and organized
  • Has some original ideas, insights, and observations, but is less original, significant, ambitious, interesting, and exciting than the outstanding category
  • Has a good question or problem that tends to be small and traditional
  • Is the next step in a research program (good normal science)
  • Shows understanding and mastery of the subject matter
  • Has a strong, comprehensive, and coherent argument
  • Includes well-executed research
  • Demonstrates technical competence
  • Uses appropriate (standard) theory, methods, and techniques
  • Obtains solid, expected results or answers
  • Misses opportunities to completely explore interesting issues and connections
  • Makes a modest contribution to the field but does not open it up


  • Is workmanlike
  • Demonstrates technical competence
  • Shows the ability to do research
  • Is not very original or significant
  • Is not interesting, exciting, or surprising
  • Displays little creativity, imagination, or insight
  • Writing is pedestrian and plodding
  • Has a weak structure and organization
  • Is narrow in scope
  • Has a question or problem that is not exciting--is often highly derivative or an extension of the adviser's work
  • Displays a narrow understanding of the field
  • Reviews the literature adequately--knows the literature but is not critical of it or does not discuss what is important
  • Can sustain an argument, but the argument is not imaginative, complex, or convincing
  • Demonstrates understanding of theory at a simple level, and theory is minimally to competently applied to the problem
  • Uses standard methods
  • Has an unsophisticated analysis--does not explore all possibilities and misses connections
  • Has predictable results that are not exciting
  • Makes a small contribution


  • Is poorly written
  • Has spelling and grammatical errors
  • Has a sloppy presentation
  • Contains errors or mistakes
  • Plagiarizes or deliberately misreads or misuses sources
  • Does not understand basic concepts, processes, or conventions of the discipline
  • Lacks careful thought
  • Looks at a question or problem that is trivial, weak, unoriginal, or already solved
  • Does not understand or misses relevant literature
  • Has a weak, inconsistent, self-contradictory, unconvincing, or invalid argument
  • Does not handle theory well, or theory is missing or wrong
  • Relies on inappropriate or incorrect methods
  • Has data that are flawed, wrong, false, fudged, or misinterpreted
  • Has wrong, inappropriate, incoherent, or confused analysis
  • Includes results that are obvious, already known, unexplained, or misinterpreted
  • Has unsupported or exaggerated interpretation
  • Does not make a contribution

Some Dimensions of the Different Components of the Generic Dissertation

The following dimensions emerged from the analysis of the results of the study described in this article.

Component 1: Introduction

The introduction

  • Includes a problem statement
  • Makes clear the research question to be addressed
  • Describes the motivation for the study
  • Describes the context in which the question arises
  • Summarizes the dissertation's findings
  • Discusses the importance of the findings
  • Provides a roadmap for readers

Component 2: Literature Review

The review

  • Is comprehensive and up to date
  • Shows a command of the literature
  • Contextualizes the problem
  • Includes a discussion of the literature that is selective, synthetic, analytical, and thematic

Component 3: Theory

The theory that is applied or developed

  • Is appropriate
  • Is logically interpreted
  • Is well understood
  • Aligns with the question at hand
  • In addition, the author shows comprehension of the theory's
  • Strengths
  • Limitations

Component 4: Methods

The methods applied or developed are

  • Appropriate
  • Described in detail
  • In alignment with the question addressed and the theory used In addition, the author demonstrates
  • An understanding of the methods' advantages and disadvantages
  • How to use the methods

Component 5: Results or Analysis

The analysis

  • Is appropriate
  • Aligns with the question and hypotheses raised
  • Shows sophistication
  • Is iterative
  • In addition, the amount and quality of data or information is
  • Sufficient
  • Well presented
  • Intelligently interpreted
  • The author also cogently expresses
  • The insights gained from the study
  • The study's limitations

Component 6: Discussion or Conclusion

The conclusion

  • Summarizes the findings
  • Provides perspective on them
  • Refers back to the introduction
  • Ties everything together
  • Discusses the study's strengths and weaknesses
  • Discusses implications and applications for the discipline
  • Discusses future directions for research

Posted by prolurkr at 04:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 28, 2005

Merit in Action

Confessions of a Community College Dean has a required reading post for all of us that will be looking for tenure tracks at some point in the future, Who Would You Hire?, or, Merit in Action.

Assume you're the hiring decision-maker at Hypothetical State. You're hiring for a tenure-track position in English. The position involves some teaching of composition, though the majority of the courses are literature and/or film. The department search committee sends you three finalists:

Earth Mother: ABD from Respectable State, "almost done," lots of composition experience at multiple colleges, great committee work and collegiality, likable personality, teaching awards, a few conference papers.

EuroDude: Ivy Ph.D., book contract, references from gods, great job talk, contacts/experience in film industry, slightly icy personality, minimal teaching experience, has never breathed the word 'composition' or taught outside Ivy U.

Sisyphus: M.A. from They Have a Graduate Program? State, longtime internal adjunct, trailing spouse of bigshot at Nearby U, faithful to the department for 15 years, plays well with others, taught everything from soup to nuts, no plans for a doctorate, never published.

Which one has the most merit?

The only intellectually honest answer is: it depends.

Like every other hiring situation in the world more goes into the decision than a single criteria - in this case which is the best candidate for where the department is currently and where they want to go? Well that depends...and in truth much of what it depends upon is unlikely to be obvious to the candidates. So make yourself prepared for your search...broadly prepared. Be skeptical of advisors who say you don't need publications or maybe, teaching experience before you go out...be broadly prepared because you have no idea what skills will be required or what will make you rise to the top of the pool.

Posted by prolurkr at 11:08 AM | TrackBack

November 22, 2005

Inter-discipline and Punishment...is it required?

Confessions of a Community College Dean has an excellent post that cuts to the heart of some of the issues/fears I and many of my colleagues share about in our upcoming (forth coming) job searches. In essence the issue is how to package ourselves so that departments see the value of interdisciplinarity rather then the fact that the peg doesn't fit squarely in the hole.

For myself I have been so lucky this year to spend time in a department were my weird and wacky view of the academic world, and disciplinary boundaries, has not only been accepted but has been nurtured. Nothing like having to tell you associate dean that you can't apply for the hefty university grant to do the cutting-edge-interdisciplinary project that for the last couple of years you've been dreaming of sinking your teeth into all because you simply have to finish quals...I could get used to this, I want to get used to this.

As Richard Bauman told me several years ago, "You have a healthy disrespect for disciplinary boundaries." I treasure that characterization...it's true and it's healthy to boot. I think there is an academic home out there for me and for you as well...we just have to be honest about who we are and what environments help us to thrive, then look for those places.

Folks of an interdisciplinary bent seem to find homes on the extremes: either very large places, or very small ones. Very large ones often have 'centers' that focus on particular subject areas without disciplinary boundaries. Very small ones need people who can cover multiple fields, since they're so short-staffed. It's the mediocre middle that won't know what to do with you.

If you manage to break in, though, you will have a higher ceiling than your more traditional peers. Unlike most others, you'll be able to talk across fields. You'll have at least a glancing familiarity with the ways in which other disciplines see the world. Although you may have a hard time getting that first job, the path to management should be easier, if you should choose to take it.

(That's why so many baseball managers are former catchers. Broadly speaking, there are two camps in baseball: hitters and pitchers. Hitters don't understand or like pitchers, and pitchers don't understand or like hitters. Catchers have to understand and like both to succeed. Catchers aren't usually the star players, but they're disproportionately represented in managerial ranks, since they alone can talk across camps.)

In the short term, I'd recommend focusing on the extremes, and emphasizing range. Show the small school that can't hire very many people what a bargain it's getting by hiring someone with range. They tend to care less about fashion, anyway. At my old school, when I was on faculty, I taught courses in several different disciplines; that's what got me the job in the first place (and that exposure has been invaluable as an administrator). It will make for a tricky and often frustrating search, but the long-term payoff could be quite high. Good luck out there!

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November 01, 2005

Planning out your publication agenda

One Bright Star posted on her long-term publication planning list yesterday. While she is mostly talking about her trajectory toward tenure I think it is still a good idea to be thinking about this while you are still a grad student.

I just had lunch with a tenured colleague who rocks! She totally gets the "I feel anxious ALL OF THE TIME, even though I value balance" thing. Seriously.

Before she got tenure, she did the SAME EXACT THING I do: checking off a list of publications. -- Imagine the set of publications you want on your vitae when you go up for tenure. Make that list and a timeline for sending them out for publication, and then work backwards to plan when each data set should be collected. Even if the nature of the projects change somewhat and the publications cannot be precisely predicted, imagining the trajectory of your research program helps make it feel managable (as long as I allow for flexibility in the long run for shifting). Have at least one paper under review and one in progress at all times. Check off each paper as it's accepted and celebrate each paper's acceptance.

Maybe this seems obvious, but I haven't talked about my List yet with anyone else, other than my husband.

I thought I was a being ol' control freak for having this list. Spouse is tired of hearing me recite the list at home. ("First I have this paper and the next paper builds upon that and then the follow up study looks at a similar behavioral issue with a different population and then I'm changing directions and then I will write X number of papers about that and ...") Hearing that someone I work with also has this list and thinks of it similarly and uses it to manage anxiety just totally rocks. I thought my list was a little crazy, because it's too hard to predict 5 years of work, but it's been working so far in order to manage myself and my uncertainty about making progress.

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September 14, 2005

Taking care of yourself

One of the first things that can often be lost when you undertake a doctoral program is your focus on taking care of yourself.  It's easy to lose, you are busy, you are stressed, and taking the time to eat well and get enough sleep and to exercise can just seem like more time you won't have to do what you need to do. Tomorrow you can do it tomorrow...but tomorrow can become next month and on and on.

Try to remember that you are the tool with which you do your work.  If the tool is rusty then it doesn't make a good cut.  In other words, make time to sleep...make time to eat well both quality and quantity...make time to exercise.

The sleep and eat part have never been terribly hard for me to do correctly.  In both cases if I don't I feel the difference fairly quickly.  And I know for a fact that a bad migraine can make me lose the productive part of a week...so I work to minimize their occurrences and have been quite successful with that plan.

No for me the issue is exercise.  I hate it...I don't want to do it...ever not just when I'm busy.  And besides I can skip a lot of exercise before I feel it but when I do feel it the problems are no fun.  So now I have tricks I play on myself to get me to the pool.  First I found a form of exercise I enjoy, and once I am doing it I am always glad I got up and made the effort to get there.  For me Deep Water Exercise is the ticket.  Second I write my workout classes in my datebook...every time every day and I refuse to erase them for just any old thing.  Lastly I have a goal of tightening up and fitting into an old pair of jeans...this isn't about weight I don't care about that.  I do care about how I feel and what the heck I can be as vain as anyone else.  I'm working toward a minimum of one hour every work day...not there yet but I'm getting close.  Remember it takes 30-days to change a habit.

Find some form of exercise that you can make yourself do on a regular basis and get up and do it.  It's a pain when you are pushing a deadline to set your work aside and go workout but if you do your study and research will profit.  Take a look around your campus for the recreational activities that are likely available to you for free or at reduced cost. 

Oh and did I mention that I get some of my best thinking done while I'm lapping my way around the pool?  It's amazing the stuff that will perk to the surface while I'm not thinking about work.

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September 08, 2005

A MUST read - Tomorrow's Professor listserv and the Prolific Scholar

I noted in a previous post I had been given a pointer to Tomorrow's Professor listserv.  Well after three weeks of reading their essays I have to pass on a strong recommendation about the listserv.  If you are planning on, or even strongly considering, becoming a professor you should join this group ASAP.  Here is today's message entitled "PUBLISH AND FLOURISH; BECOME A PROLIFIC SCHOLAR" just to give you a flavor for the listserv.

The myth persists that prolific scholars are born, not made, but research suggests otherwise. Much is known about how to become more prolific-and any scholar can.

These steps will show you how.

Step 1. Write daily for 15 to 30 minutes. Many scholars believe that writing requires big blocks of time. They're wrong. Research shows that scholars who write daily publish far more than those who write in big blocks of time. The problem with big blocks of time is that they're hard to find. In contrast, when you write daily, you start writing immediately because you remember what you were writing about the day before. This leads to impressive production. In one study participants who wrote daily wrote only twice as many hours as those who wrote occasionally in big blocks of time but wrote or revised ten times as many pages (Boice 2000:144).

Step 2. Record time spent writing daily, share records weekly. Writing daily increases your productivity as a writer. But to write daily you will need to keep a daily record of your writing, and share those records with someone weekly. What difference does keeping records make? Robert Boice led a series of workshops for scholars who sought to improve their writing productivity. Boice stressed the importance of writing daily, keeping a record of the minutes spent on writing, and being accountable to someone weekly. Participants were divided into three groups: (a) The first group ("controls") did not change their writing habits, and continued to write occasionally in big blocks of time; in 1 year they wrote an average of 17 pages; (b) the second group wrote daily and kept a daily record; they averaged 64 pages; (c) the third group wrote daily, kept a daily record, and held themselves accountable to someone weekly; this group's average was 157 pages (Boice 1989:609). Without records and someone to share them with it is too easy to convince yourself that you will write "tomorrow." But "tomorrow" never comes-or at least it doesn't come very often.

Step 3. Write from the first day of your research project. Write from the first day of your project-as soon as you have a research idea-and keep writing throughout the project. Don't finish the research first; research as you write, and write as you research. Not all writing must be formal and polished. Some writing is done simply to generate thought and to keep a record of ideas, however crude, so they can be reviewed and revised later. The roughest draft can be valuable precisely because it can be saved, reviewed, and revised. Physicist Dallin Durfee (Brigham Young University) explains how writing this way improved his research and saved time:

I've begun to write about my physics experiments while they are still in progress, allowing me to see weaknesses in our experiments and realize what data will be most useful in making cohesive arguments early on, before research time has been wasted on unfruitful ideas

Step 4. Post your thesis on the wall, then write to it. When you sit down to write, take a stab at describing what you are going to write about. Don't make this difficult by trying to write the perfect sentence. Just jot down a word or a phrase; you can develop it later. Treat this as a working thesis: You can and should change it later. Better theses will almost invariably arise from this writing process. Eventually, you will want a short, memorable sentence that tells your reader what is at stake, what problem you are trying to solve, what claim you are making, or what your result or conclusion is. Just assert your point; don't burden the thesis with trying to prove it-you have the rest of the paper to do that. Post your thesis on the wall. Then define, refine, and write to your purpose. Keep coming back to your thesis. Work back and forth between your thesis and the rest of your paper, revising first one and then the other.

Step 5. Organize around key sentences. Readers expect nonfiction to have one point per paragraph. The point of the paragraph should be contained in a key or topic sentence, located early in the paragraph and supported by the rest of the paragraph. A key sentence is to a paragraph like a street sign is to a street: it helps the reader to navigate by showing what is to come. A key sentence announces the topic of the paragraph (Williams 1990:97-105). It must be broad enough to "cover" everything in the paragraph but not so broad that it raises issues that are not addressed in the paragraph. To test this idea, ask yourself the (key) question: "Is the rest of the paragraph about the idea in the key sentence?" The key sentence should announce the topic without trying to prove the point-the rest of the paragraph serves that function. It should include the key words; that is, if the paragraph is about Napoleon, then "Napoleon" (rather than "he") should be the subject of the key sentence.

A key sentence differs from what many people were taught about topic sentences because a key sentence need not be the first sentence in a paragraph (Williams 1990:90, 101). The later the key sentence appears in a paragraph, the longer the paragraph tends to be. When writers take longer to warm up to the key sentence, they also take longer to explain, support, and qualify it (Williams 1990:92-93). How long writers take to warm up is mostly a matter of tradition, and various disciplines have various traditions. In most scientific disciplines, key sentences tend to be the first sentence in the paragraph; in other disciplines, key sentences appear as the second or third sentence in the paragraph.

Step 6. Use key sentences as an after-the-fact outline. To examine the organization of your writing, list the key sentences-and headings-to see an after-the-fact outline (Booth, Colomb and Williams 2003:213, 188). Now, read the list and question yourself about the purpose and organization of the writing:

* How could the key sentences better communicate the purpose (thesis) of the paper to the intended audience?

* How could the key sentences be better organized? More logical? More coherent?

Once you have viewed your key sentences as an after-the-fact outline a few times you will discover how valuable it is to see your prose through this new lens. You will also discover there is no point in waiting to view your paper this way until you have a full draft of a writing project. Instead, you will find it useful to begin each writing session by viewing only the headings and key sentences of the section you worked on the previous day.

Step 7. Share early drafts with non-experts. The biggest communication problem is overestimating what your readers know. After all, you have thought about your research problem for months or years, but your readers probably haven't. To find out what your readers know and don't know, flick the imaginary reader off your shoulder and find some real readers-actual humans you can talk to. Caution: The more expert your readers are on the topic, the less likely they will be to tell you what they don't know and need to know. So find readers who don't know very much about the topic: colleagues in different disciplines, family members, undergraduate students. These are the people who will point out problems of organization and clarity without fearing that they will appear to be uninformed. Prod these non-experts to think about clarity and organization: "What passages were hardest to understand?" "Where did you feel unsure about where you were going?" Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no," such as "Is the paper clear?" Such questions do not invite dialog. Instead, ask questions that start a dialog with your non-expert readers.

Step 8. Share later drafts with little-e experts and Capital-E Experts. Little-e experts include anyone trained in your discipline; Capital-E Experts include the biggest experts in your discipline or your sub-discipline. Share middle drafts with experts who can help you in some of the ways that non-experts can help you-as well as some of the ways that Capital-E Experts can help you. Little-e experts can help you with clarity and organization as non-experts can, but only if you make it very safe for them to ask questions about those topics. Because you have written this paper, you will know far more about the topic than they do. So you must make it safe for them to ask you questions. Some experts can also help you by giving you ideas for what you should read and where to send your article and they can help you get better known in your field by referring your work to others and so on. That is to say, some little-e experts can help you in many of the same ways that Capital-E Experts can help you. For that reason, you should approach them in much the same way you approach Capital-E Experts, as discussed next, except that you can share earlier drafts with them because you know them better and know more of them. Strive to get about half your feedback from experts.

Share near-finished drafts with at least two Capital-E Experts. Why do you want to send near-finished drafts to Experts, when you could wait for them to read the final copy in print? Because they are far more likely to read-and engage with and cite-something that lands on their desk with a letter addressed specifically to them than with something that they find "in the literature." So approach the Experts by tailoring an e-mail or letter that explains how their work has informed yours and by asking specific questions aimed at the intersection of your work and theirs. Explain that you are asking only for a "quick read" and would be delighted if they would spend even 20 minutes with your work. Then ask, "What articles should I read and cite that I haven't?" and "To what journal would you send this manuscript?" Don't be bashful; ask for a turnaround of 2 to 3 weeks.

Step 9. Learn how to listen. Remember, when it comes to clarity, the reader is always right. "Clarity is a social matter, not something to be decided unilaterally by the writer. The reader like the consumer, is sovereign. If the reader thinks something you write is unclear, then it is, by definition. Quit arguing" (McCloskey 2000:12).

Step 10. Respond to each criticism. The paper is usually read by several reviewers. Don't expect reviewers-or other readers-to make identical comments. It's tempting to conclude that, when reviewers don't make the same suggestions, they disagree. When researchers examined scholarly reviews, they found that reviewers gave good [specific] advice and did not contradict each other (Fiske and Fogg 1990:591-597). Generally, one reader will criticize the literature review, another will find fault with the methods, and yet another will take umbrage with the findings. If you make changes in response to each of these reviewers, you will improve the paper and reduce the chance that other readers will find fault with the manuscript. Think of each specific concern as a hole in your rhetorical "dam:" the more holes you plug, the better your argument will "hold water."

Step 11. Read your prose out loud. To polish your prose, read it out loud to someone, or have someone read it out loud to you. You can hear when the prose is awkward and least conversational. And, you can listen for excessive precision. If you just can't bring yourself to ask someone for help with your whole paper, ask someone for help with the abstract, introduction, and conclusion. If you can't find someone to help you, read it out loud to yourself.

Step 12. Kick it out the door and make 'em say "No." You are almost ready to send your paper out, but two obstacles remain: perfectionism and fear of rejection. Expect rejection and plan for it. Select three journals for every manuscript. Address three envelopes-and stamp them. By choosing three journals, you have a long-term plan for your paper. If your paper is rejected at the first journal, you are prepared to send it to the second journal without the usual delay. And, keep your perfectionism in check. You may say that your paper is not really done. It could be better. That's true today, and it will be true 10 years from now. It's tough to know when "enough is enough." As a writer, you must find the balance between "making it better and getting it done" (Becker 1986: 122). You've written it. Trusted colleagues have read it. You've responded to their criticisms-it's time to kick it out the door (Becker 1986: 121). Artists are encouraged not to over-paint a picture, and bury a good idea in a muddy mess. And so it is for writers: don't overwrite your paper and bury a good idea in a muddy mess (Becker 1986: 131). Don't worry-if your writing needs more work, you'll get another chance. Anonymous reviewers are not known for being over kind. Your job is to write it and mail it. Their job is to tell you if it will embarrass you publicly. You've done your job so make 'em do theirs: Kick it out the door and make 'em say "YES!"


Becker, Howard S. (1986). Writing for social scientists. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Boice, Robert. (1989). Procrastination, busyness and bingeing. Behavior Research Therapy, 27, 605-611.

Boice, Robert. (2000). Advice for new faculty members: Nihil nimus. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, & Joseph M. Williams. (2003). The craft of research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fiske, Donald W., and Louis Fogg. (1990). But the reviewers are making different criticisms of my paper! Diversity and uniqueness in reviewer comments. American Psychologist, 45, 591-598.

McCloskey, Deirdre. (2000). Economical writing (2nd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.

Williams, Joseph, with Gregory Colomb. (1990). Style: Toward clarity and grace. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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September 06, 2005

Getting if finished...dissertations or quals

Getting if finished...dissertations or quals

From today's Inside Higher Ed careers section.  Very good words I too need to take to heart. Emaphasis in the article is found in the original.

Words on Paper
By Brian Bialkowski

So you're still in graduate school, you've finished everything but your dissertation, and you're facing a pretty bleak academic future. You've been warned of graduate student attrition, shrinking job markets, tenuous adjunct work, a long and painful journey on the tenure track, and recurring bouts of insecurity and depression. Such dire predictions don't matter because you've invested too much time, effort, and money in graduate school to walk away without a guilty conscience. With so much discouraging news, how are you supposed to complete your dissertation?

As a former Ph.D. candidate at a major research university, I, like so many of you, have read, seen, and lived all the gloomy descriptions of academic life. I have questioned my past decisions and future plans, and at several points even contemplated calling the whole thing off.

Then, a funny thing happened at the end of one summer: I decided that I just needed to finish. Eight months later the dissertation was complete and gathering dust while I awaited an early-fall defense. From the whole process I learned certain lessons that, despite their helpfulness, didn't strike me as information that many professors are willing or ready to share. So to other graduate students and, perhaps, faculty looking for a novel way to nudge their wards toward completion, I offer my secrets to finishing the dissertation.

The first great secret about finishing is that there is no great secret. In my case, I had no sudden burst of intellectual insight, nor did I happen upon the forgotten piece of scholarship that suddenly brought all my arguments together and cleared the road for completion. There were a few stretches of frenzied writing and excessive caffeine consumption during which I lost sleep and became, shall we say, not fun to be around.But it would be an unfair exaggeration to characterize the eight months that it took to complete the lion's share of the writing as isolated and monkish toil. In fact, I held a part-time job throughout the whole process and even taught an upper-level course of about 35 students. In the plainest terms, I just plugged along.

It's hard, though, to sit down and simply begin to write. After all, the dissertation isn't just any piece of writing; it's the capstone piece of scholarship that will summarize your entire educational history, rightfully earn you the highest of academic degrees, and define you as you take your first steps into the scholarly life. A dissertation is different from the 15- to 25- page seminar papers that you can now crank out in a weekend. Not only are the individual chapters two or three times longer than anything you've written for your classes, but they have to fit together into a larger project than anything you've ever conceived. It has to be great.

Which brings me to the second great secret of finishing your dissertation: Stop telling yourself that the dissertation has to be great, that it has to redefine your field, that it has to be such a wonderful piece of scholarship that you will be able to trigger a bidding war between publishers the day after your defense. A dissertation doesn't have to be great. It doesn't even have to be good; it just has to be good enough.

If you need to be convinced of this, don't go to your department mailroom and peruse the dissertation propped on a stand - that's the one that garnered a dissertation-year fellowship from the university, won the "Dissertation of the Year" award from a national scholarly organization, and landed its author a plum tenure-track position at Big Time U. Instead, take a brief trip to the forgotten corner of the library that houses those somber rows of black volumes stamped with years and last names. Flip through a few of the thicker ones that seem remotely related to your discipline. Read their tables of contents. Skim their opening chapters. While there are sure to be some diamonds in the rough, for the most part you'll find that few dissertations qualify as great writing. Even if you miss some of the stinkers, you'll come across a number that leave you muttering, "Wow, I can do better than this."

You see, while second-guessing their own arguments and puzzling over whether vaguely-worded suggestions from a faculty member represent incisive comments or off-the-cuff and undeveloped thoughts, many Ph.D. students, including at one point myself, forget that they are already expert enough in a subject to produce a manuscript that will satisfy their committee. That's not to say that they can dump any argument on paper provided it stretches to 250 pages; instead, I merely suggest that they already know enough information and are familiar enough with at least the most significant works in a particular area of scholarship to put together a sizable and relatively original piece of work within that area. Of course, that work will be subjected to committee members' comments and criticism, but such criticism tends to grow more particular in focus as the larger project begins to coalesce.

You need, then, to complete something and get it in your committee members' hands. How do you do that in the quickest and most efficient manner possible? The answer is my third and, I confess, my favorite secret: words on paper.

Try repeating it. "Words on paper...Words on paper." It sounds simple enough. Say it a few more times. It feels good, doesn't it? It starts to sound like a chant, a motto, or mantra. It's almost like reverse meditation €” instead of repeating "om" or "one" to empty your mind of all thought and action, you repeat "words on paper" to reign in your wandering thoughts and commit to writing.

What do you write? Well, almost anything. The point is simply to sit down and write. Even the most accomplished and prolific novelists, short story writers, and essayists often begin their day with a writing exercise. Except for a handful of manic geniuses out there €” and even the quality of their work will probably be disputed €” heavy revision is the norm of composition, not the exception. You may set down some positively horrendous prose, but you will also express some of your arguments and provide you and your committee something tangible to work with and develop.

If all that is not enough to help you trudge through your final task as a Ph.D. student, I have this one final bit of advice that is either hopelessly pessimistic or brutally honest, depending on your point of view: nobody is really going to care about what you write.

Recall again those past dissertations that you glanced at in the library. How many of their authors' names are still on the tip of the tongue in scholarly circles? How many fewer are remembered for the particular piece of work that you flipped through? In writing a dissertation, you only have to satisfy your adviser and readers to the point that they sign off on it, after which it will be bound and stashed away in the library. Even if you view your dissertation as the first step towards a future career and hope to publish it as a book, you should realize that most dissertations are revised substantially before they're suitable for publication. Despite its length, it is simply not the equivalent of a book. What's left is nothing more or less than a graduation requirement.

This all sounds incredibly cynical.Readers out there will respond to my comments with a vigorous defense of the virtues of research and scholarly curiosity. They may even rightfully point out that my suggestions only fuel the deeper problems of a system that is leading students to produce timid, ponderous, and even unreadable dissertations. However, that is not students' problem to fix. Until institutions and the profession as a whole address that problem and adjust their graduate curricula accordingly, graduate students will remain stuck in that system, and will have to play by its rules.

Just remember that pages here and elsewhere have been filled with anecdotes of graduate student burnout and dropout, and statistics that confirm the frequency of such disheartening experiences. For every student who finishes a graduate degree, there is another one that burns out or fades away, and if you've been around long enough, you've learned that a good many stumble when the time comes to write their dissertation.

Cease your soul searching, turn away from the ubiquitous warnings about the profession, and give up your lofty dreams of producing a work that will earn you a place in the annals of scholarly history. Stop second-guessing yourself, stop imagining that you are writing a book for future generations, and write.

It won't be easy and it won't be pretty, but eventually you will finish. Sure, some of your work may be unreadable, but other parts will surprise you at their quality, and will be more concise and polished than anything you ever expected. It won't be perfect, it might not even be good, but it won't matter. In the end, you'll have words on paper and your degree in hand.

Grad School...tips to help you flourish

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August 28, 2005

Notes on Promoton and Tenure from the Faculty Retreat, and how that relates to grad students

Friday was the School of Informatics Faculty Retreat. We spent the bulk of the day at the Indiana Historical Society which I had not visited previously. It's a lovely building that runs along side the canal, or should I say the canal runs along side it since I think the building was there first.

During the retreat Larry Garetto, IU School of Dentistry, spoke to us on the topic of "The Research Agenda." In truth he said he was straying from his title and he did. Most of the talk was about preparing for promotion and tenure. I was gratified to see that much of what has already been addressed in my grad school series or is on the list to be addressed in future related posts, was right on the money with his presentation.

So here are some of the notes I took from his presentation with some tie-ins to our grad student world to follow the note in brackets.

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August 25, 2005

Getting involved in your department and beyond

One of the ways to show your commitment to an academic life is to pitch in and take on a role in the university's shared governance.  Now I'm not suggesting you do this your first year.  You might not even do this your third year, but do plan on taking on some role or roles before you complete your dissertation.  Lots of things are available to you, as with much of this process you just have to ask. 

You have opportunities within your department.  First plan on attending any governance meeting you are allowed to attend including faculty meetings, do that from the beginning.  Not all departments allow this.  I've done grad work in two different department of the same university...one did and one didn't.  But when I could attend I learned a lot.

Also look to your department's governance committees...curriculum, grad student, those sorts of things.  During my first masters degree work I served on a departmental committee that was drawn from all of the IU campuses.  I don't remember the tile of it but I do remember lots of debates about funding.  Most all of these type of committees will have grad student representatives.  Again serving here helps you learn what goes on behind the scenes, say, before a class is listed in the catalogue, or funding is allocated.  Pretty helpful stuff to know when you finally role out of school and into your first tenure-track. 

If your department has a doctoral student association of some sort, take on a role there as early as you can.  It gets you practice, helps you learn your way around the department and the university, and is a great moral booster for those days you are going to feel low.

Then look beyond your department to the university as a whole.  Most university bodies have grad student representative positions.  Though they are often "best kept secrets."  I have held the student representative to the Human Subjects Committee (HSC) at IUB for two years and recently extended my appointment for another two years.  How did I land this seat?  Well funny you should ask, cause that's what I did.  I don't exactly remember how I found out there was a student rep on the HSC but I expressed an interest in the seat and was told that it was not open at that time.  But then out of the blue I got an email asking if I was still interested as their student rep was stepping down...I was and I still am. 

Two years on the HSC has been like attending a monthly master researcher seminar.  I have learned so many things about survey research, experimental research, controversial research, and working with school corporations; all from just sitting and listening and asking questions.  And at the same time I am showing my interest in the university and helping the university get done what must be done.  I love those rare times in life you actually can find a win-win scenario.  Oh and I get to add my two-cents on tech issues which is great because it helps the committee and reminds me that I really do know a thing or two about my field.

Another great thing about serving on university-wide committee is that you get to meet so many more faculty members then you ever would through classes.  I now know a number of full professors in a wide-variety of departments.  That network has come in handy when I needed information or advise, now I can just look up a name and give them a call.  Not something that I would have ever experienced as a student had I kept myself inside the walls of my department.

Then also look to your academic professional organizations.  Most all of them have committees, student representatives - though elections are required for these, and conference related positions.  Take the time to do these so you get your name out there and you can learn as you go. 

In short this post is the beginning of the discussion on what you can do to help yourself flourish in grad school and to prepare yourself so you are well positioned for the job search head.  Now I need to tack on a disclaimer here...I've never gone through an academic job search as a candidate for a position.  But I have gone through business and governmental job searches both as a candidate and as a human resource person (I have literally filled hundreds of vacancies), and thought some will tell you the process is different from what I see it's not THAT different.  *S*  We shall see won't we.  Anyway my goal is to stand out...of course I could be shooting myself in the foot by telling all of you this and giving away my strategy.  Hummmm Might have to think on that one.  LOL

Posted by prolurkr at 11:36 PM | TrackBack

August 24, 2005

Looking beyond your first year

Hopefully during your first year you will be acclimating to your doctoral studies and getting your feet damp with a little research.  But after your first year you need to broaden out a bit.  The next set of posts will be looking at what you can do to add depth to your studies and start to build a solid CV for your future job search.  The next set of posts will be organized around some of the topics found in the lists in my earlier Recordkeeping for Grad Students post.

Posted by prolurkr at 09:30 PM | TrackBack

Forming your advisory committee

Profgrrrrl at Playing School, Irreverently has a good post which give us a word of advice to students forming committees. Here is a sample but you really should check out the complete post it's loaded with great information.

When putting together a doctoral committee, you'll have many things you want to consider. Just a few of them include:
  • Can you work effectively with the head of the committee? Do you have a good rapport with this person? Does s/he give you adequate time/feedback? Do you understand this feedback?
  • Are the committee members likely to get along? What (and between who) will the points of tension be? Can you effectively manage them?
  • Are these the people who can help guide you toward gainful employment? Will they be good recommenders?
  • Do these people support you? Can they look beyond their differences (interpersonal, theoretical) to support you?

Posted by prolurkr at 03:18 PM | TrackBack

August 23, 2005

Your CV - write one now

Assuming you are not applying for any of the fall deadline training grants, then one of the initial things I would do in my first semester is to pull together my Curriculum Vitae (or CV for short); if you are applying for one of the grants then you will need to do this for the packet so get hopping.  A CV is necessary for all sorts of things like grant applications, some workshop applications require them with the packet, and in truth people ask you about your CV all the time so you need to have one in place fairly quickly.  Like the other things listed in my earlier Recordkeeping for Grad Students post, learning to put together a CV and keep it updated is an important skill that is easier to acquire early when your updates are simpler then to wait for a future time when you are under the gun.

Like resumes there are some general theories on how one of these documents should be organized but in truth CV's are somewhat individualized.  I have seen a few self-help books that have a CV section, in what are otherwise resume writing books, though I think the internet is your best training tool.

When I wrote my first CV I did searches to find the CV's for a list of academics in my field whose work I admire and would like to emulate.  I made notes of how they organized the document and what types of activities went into each section and subsection.  I redo this process periodically just to calibrate what I am doing in my document against others in the field, you want to standout but not to far-out if you know what I mean.

Note that the examples you choose should be from people up and down the academic ladder.  While there is no doubt that my CV is more consistent with other grad students, than with full faculty members, I want to make sure that I am hitting and highlighting the same things faculty members touch upon, more on this in a later post.

I think that CV's should be updated once a semester or roughly three times a year.  Now that gets harder as you get busier but I do think that a higher goal is good...if it slips and you update twice a year it's still better then letting that slip to annually because then the document is almost always out of date.  Of course as I wrote this I opened a second browser window to check that mine had been updated in the last six months, May 23, 2005 not to bad.

If you can I would recommend that you put your CV online on a site that is indexed by search engines.  That way you can have a document with an accepted format; it carries some weight, out there as a marketing tool.  Get your name out there where others can find it.

So do some research and decide what information you need to put into your CV.  Then build a skeleton and plug in the information you have already noted.  Finally keep it updated...easy enough.

Posted by prolurkr at 07:26 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 22, 2005

Joining from afar

A few people start a Ph.D. program with a clear goal in mind for their research and they stick with it unwaveringly...a very few people do that.  Most students have a rough idea of an area but aren't really zero'd in on what exactly they want to research once they have completed classes.  And this is as it should be.  As academics, those that want to be good academics, we should be open to change and new perspectives on our work.

I have a four pieces of advise for ways to explore the edges of your interests.  Knowing where the edges are will help inform you as to what type of work you enjoy and how flexible you can be in your research interests.  At this point in your studies I think flexibility is a very important trait.

How do you do this?  First take as many classes in as broad a selection of departments and specialties as you can.  This exposes you to new ideas...and other people to your ideas which can be helpful as well.  It challenges your thinking in explaining your research through new lenses.  It makes you work to fit your interests into a new paradigm...which is very useful.

Second, subscribe to as many listserv groups as you can.  Do this for any group that looks like it may have a link to what you find interesting.  Do this no matter how loose that link may be at first glance.  Set-up a folder in your email to hold all of the "how to unsubscribe" emails you will get when you register, mine lives under the intuitive title of "HOLD." 

Give any list you subscribe to at least 90 days before you unsubscribe unless they cross standard lines of decency.  During that 90 days you should be reading the posts and watching for trends in who is posting, and on what topics.  No this isn't a CMC study rather it is getting to know the flavor of the group and the field.  You will get a feel for who are the movers and shakers in a field by watching whose work is referenced in the text of the messages.  Sometimes those people will also be ubber-posters on the list but I actually think that is rare.  Also look over some of the literature that is referred to the group...it gives you a feel for what kinds of work are regarded highly in the group. 

At some point post a question to the group about something you are working on that loosely relates to them.  This is very telling, especially for those of us that do bleeding-edge research.  I can learn a lot about a field by asking an internet research question and seeing what answers I receive.  I do log all reading suggestions to Reference Manager and have read most of the work I have been pointed to from these questions. 

If, and for many of these lists the answer will be when, you find that your work is not closely enough linked to the interests of the group or the group is closed to the work you are interested in doing, then you should unsubscribe.  Do so politely, you were just there to observe after all.

At one point I was receiving emails from around 30 listservs in probably 6 disciplines and a myriad of sub-specialties.  I learned much...some rewarding...some infuriating...but all useful in telling me the boundaries of my work.  I found the listservs by following links from other listservs, one group mentions that many members belong to another aligned group.  I got pointers in classes and at conferences.  I did searching online to find areas I thought I would find useful.  I got pointers from posts and comment to my own and to other blogs.

Five years into the process I think I have around 10 listservs to which I am subscribed.  A couple of the lists are very active but most are fairly quiet.  That's fine, it makes my reading interesting and manageable. 

Third as you can see from my sidebar I still read fairly broadly, but now it's blogs and other RSS feeds.  I recommend this process too for the same reasons as subscribing to listservs.  The difference is that with listservs you get to hear a myriad of voices which helps give you the tone of the group.  With blogs and other RSS feeds, it is usually only one voice at a time.  This is very useful for information but it doesn't tell you how the specialty functions as a group.

And fourth join as many professional organizations as you can afford.  Remember student memberships are much less expensive then full memberships.  Join broadly...attend the conferences when you can...read the publications...and ask questions.  You will be amazed how many links you can find and the network you can develop.  As I've already mentioned in a previous post there is nothing more fun then being the one at a conference that is different...it makes your work stand out and it is spotlighted.  Of course that does mean you have to know how your work fits into the greater scheme of things...but then that is what all this is about isn't it.  *S*

So pull out your course lists for spring and be adventurous.  The same with your reading on listservs and online.  Oh and let me know if you find anything you think I might enjoy...I love referrals. And get a little wild and join some professional organizations that challenge your thinking.  Come on it's fun.

Posted by prolurkr at 10:39 PM | TrackBack

Tomorrows Professor listserv

In a comment to my post on Owning Your Own Program Kathy pointed me to a both a new blog, Photoethnography.com, and a cool looking listserv.

The listserv is Tomorrow's Professor. The list of past email topics looks very useful so I signed up.

Posted by prolurkr at 11:26 AM | TrackBack

August 21, 2005

The value of conference attendence

I ran across this on the SocialTwister blog, a great social informatics blog, in their post the 80-20 Rule of Conferences.  Now while I am probably one of those people who would quibble about the percentages, especially for academic conference, I do agree with the over all discussion here...conferences are for networking.  I do think you need to attend sessions at conferences...and as a student attend conferences where you are not presenting.  So keep all of that in mind as you read this post and the one to which it links.  I'll come back to conferences a bit later in the series.

p.s.  If you are interested in social informatics, CMC, or related disciplines you should be planning to attend the Association of Internet Researchers Conference in Chicago, October 5-9, 2005.

For some time now I've been slowly telling people about the underlying value of conferences and workshops. In having that conversation, I'll often relate to people my 80-20 Rule. It goes something like this:
Conferences are:
80% people (the networking)
20% presentations (the actual content)
It's hard for anyone to really argue with this, though they sometimes want to tweak the numbers. The folks that have a vested interest in the content are willing to pump up the value of the presentations. The people that are shy also tend to align with this thinking. The extroverts don't even go to the sessions!

Generalizations aside, meeting people face to face is not just desirable, it's necessary for most things that are going to really stick (IMHO). Fortunately, I'm not alone in this thinking. I came across this link from Dave Taylor (via Business Opportunities Weblog):

The Critical Business Value of Attending Conferences

I definitely recommend you give it a read.

Posted by prolurkr at 07:03 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Owning your program

It feels very strange to be writing this as the fourth (not counting the elaboration on my NSF application post) in this series.  It felt strange to decide that this post would not be first as it is by far the most important thing I will write on the subject.  But I made it fourth because the first three are time sensitive and this is a more philosophical perspective.

Ph.D. work is not like undergrad or masters studies, in both of the later you have a fairly proscribed list of requirements and when you meet all of those requirements you are done.  With Ph.D. work the phases are more amorphous...slippery...and often damn elusive.  So how do you flourish in this environment?  You have to own your own work and drive your own degree.

I've seen many Ph.D. students flounder, both since I became one myself and previously, because they were looking for the known comforts of a requirement list and someone to hand hold them through the process...either actually or metaphysically.  Sorry folks that is not how it works. 

In my opinion Ph.D. studies are a bit like being forced on to a tightrope in heavy fog and without training.  You can see the rope a few feet ahead of you but you don't know how long it is or where it ends.  You know there is a chasm under you, and falling will kill your prospects, but you never know with any give faltering step how close you are to that wrong move that will send you tumbling.  How do you survive and get to the end of the process in one piece?  You have to own your own work and drive your own degree.  Even if you do the best job in the world when selecting your advisory committee, and mine has been unbelievably supportive I will owe them the world shortly, you are the one that really cares if you finish.  

To survive and flourish you need to:

At the end of every one of these sentences you should add "Don't wait for someone else to tell you to do this or what to do."  They are all busy...doing their research and teaching and often walking on their own tenure & promotion tightrope.  Talk to them, seek their guidance but it's up to you to select what you will do...there are so rarely hard and fast right answers in this process.  In truth if you don't have a high tolerance for ambiguity then the academic life may not be the best place for you.

There are two great ways to build the relationships you will need so that you can gather the required information to make your decisions.  In chronological order - first make friends among the group of more senior students in your program.  These are likely to be third and fourth year students who are still taking classes - i.e. who are around the building on a nearly daily basis - but get to know a few of those who are out of classes, candidates, and those dissertating.  All of them can help give you information that you won't find in the manuals.  Don't be afraid to send a fellow student an email and ask to meet with them for say lunch or coffee so you can discuss their experiences in the program.  Always remember that most students will probably not give you the whole story in an email - on one wants written evidence - so always invite them to join you for a face-to-face discussion.

Second choice your advisory committee carefully.  Like 1B* said in the snip I posted under Advice for first year PhD students

Select your advisor carefully. Finding a match is so hard! Yet finding an advisor that fits you can make or break your experience in graduate school. I'd take the first year and purposefully interview faculty and "audition" them for this role in your academic career. I would look for someone who is has some background in the work your interested in doing (obviously), but I think personality traits and interaction style is even more important than an academic match. I wanted someone who would be willing to talk with me about work-life balance issues, who would engage in helping me develop as a person, not just as a scholar, who would be able to give me feedback in constructive ways that also felt supportive and encouraging. I wanted to believe my advisor actually liked me and believed in me. I also think a junior faculty member could be as good of an advisor as a senior faculty member, but it's hard to say... some people prefer the senior folks as advisors because they tend to be better connected in the field (and can introduce you) and perhaps more effective as giving feedback with writing because they're more experienced at both writing and giving feedback.

Your advisory committee can be very helpful in giving you advise when you ask.  While good advisory committee members may take the initiative to talk to you about issues before you are faced with them, often they will - and should be - responding to your questions and concerns.  As silly as it sounds to say this, you need to talk to them.  If they aren't open to those interactions or you aren't comfortable going to them then replace them on the committee...yes you can do that and you should if you need to.

Like I said in the beginning the ball is in your court.  It's your degree and you have to police everything related to the process.  But you aren't alone...not at all.  Look around you.  There are lots of other people dealing with the same ambiguity...first years, second years, third years, etc....and tenure-track faculty (though their road is different then ours).  All of us are in this together but separately...remember that.  The people I have seen struggle the hardest in Ph.D. studies are those that feel totally alone...and many of us have been in that dark place at some time during the process.  Remember first that you are not alone and second if you can't remember that please take advantage of the universities assistance through their health services.  Ph.D. work is supposed to be hard...but not depressing.

Oh and take if from me...there is light ahead if you keep carefully walking that tightrope and keep your eye on where you think the prize will be.  I'm starting to see rays of it breaking through now...stay on the path and it's there for you too. 

Don't be like the lady in the graphic and try to hide behind dark (or worse rose-colored) glasses, that is a sure way to the bottom of the chasm my friends.

Posted by prolurkr at 10:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

My experience applying for an NSF training grant

I was asked in a comment on Grad School funding - for U.S. based students to give more detail on my own experience applying for an NSF grant.  The response would take somewhat more space then I think of as a comment so here is a post on the topic to give you more information.

I entered my PhD program Spring semester of 2001 while completing my masters work.  I earned my MIS in August 2001.  In October 2001 I applied for an NSF training grant.  At that time the general application included "Women in Science" awards, which was actually the group I was targeting. 

To be considered as a qualified applicant you had to be "young" in your educational career.  Usually this meant that applicants were in their first or second year of their masters work and they were applying for funds to pay for their remaining masters classes and their PhD work.

Well at the time I applied I was completing my second masters and was over 40 so I'm not "young" on anyone's scale.  (My first masters is in public administration with a focus on human resources, I earned the MPA in 1989.)  Though I did find a loophole that allowed those who have a previous masters to qualify if, and only if, they are changing careers.  As I remember there was an example of a lawyer who was no going to become a biochemist. 

I spent a considerable amount of time writing my essay so that it was clear that my doctoral work in Computer-Mediated Communication is distinctly different from my previous work in Human-Computer Interaction, the difference from Human Resources fairly obvious.  It was a good essay, but the NSF reviewers didn't buy it and well they should not have...LOL...because HCI and CMC are very tightly linked fields.  So I have no judges comments at all my application never got that far.

Now let me say here that I knew when I applied it was a total long shot.  But what did I have to lose?  Only the time it took me to complete the application packet.  I explained to everyone who write a reference for me that I seriously doubted that I would make it through the initial screening process.  They were all supportive and wrote wonderful letters tyeing into my descriptions of the differences between the two fields.  Not a one of them felt like the process was a waste of time for me or for themselves as letter writers. 

In truth I got a lot of support because so few Information Science students apply for these big grants.  I believe in taking long shots assuming that in the process no one is likely to shot you with a Uzi because you did whatever you are doing...not something that is likely to happen with a grant application.  So take that as a hint.

Of course you mail the thing off and you cross your fingers but when the letter arrived I knew what it would say.  "Thanks but no thanks on this one.  Apply for something else soon."  And so I will.

Posted by prolurkr at 09:19 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 20, 2005

Recordkeeping for Grad Students - hint keep everything

Many Ph.D. programs, including the one I am in, require that annual reports be submitted by students so that "continuing" status evaluations can be conducted.  Consider doing this type of report even if your department does not currently require it to be done, read to the end of the post before you decide to skip recordkeeping.  The annual report process is time consuming and not near anyone's the "Top 10 Most Fun Things I Get to Do Every Year" list.  BUT it is a process that has much value for the student particularly since those of us that go on to become faulty or research scientists in industry will be required to go through a similar process every year. Plus as I often state here about my monthly advisory committee reports, it reminds me that even when I feel like I'm not moving forward I most likely are doing so anyway.

For new SLIS students, and those of you at other schools who do not have a required format for reports, you can find the required forms linked off the PhD forms page.  Note:  The SLIS forms are altered slightly on an almost annual basis and the change is usually announced about a month before they are due.  So don't assume that form you are using is the current one, always check in late April to make sure you are presenting the required information.

I did some editing on my forms so that information is presented in a complete and logical manner.  You can see my 2004-2005 report for an example. 

Why bother?  Well as I said earlier you will have go through a similar annual process as a faculty member, and then there is the tenure review.  All of the information you use in annual reports, well once you are a on a tenure-track, will be required for your tenure packet.  I have a distinct feeling it is much much easier to gather the info and summarize it periodically then it would be to try to gather it three or five or seven years into the process.  Your universities Guidelines for Tenure and Promotion Dossiers are undoubtedly online so you can get an idea of what is required; you can click the link for access to IU Bloomington's pages.

Ok so if I don't have you convinced you need to do annual reports at this point I never will, so I'm assuming you are with me from here forward.  Ok the rest of this is recordkeeping.  Obviously each one of you will need to find a system that works for you.  I've seen people use all types of systems from a single box into which everything is dropped for later sorting, to paper file systems, to computer files...guess which ones I use.  LOL

I have a multi-tier system that works for me, any long-term readers out there who haven't figured out I'm an organization freak bordering on OCD...well if you haven't you will know for sure now.  Well I'm not OCD, you should see my house...no order at all.  * sigh* 

I use UltraRecall (UR) for my future planning; any good Personal Information Manager (PIM) will do roughly the same thing.  (The graphic at the right is a screen shot of my set-up, you can click on it for a larger version.)  Within each calendar year division I  have subsections for each of the major areas of my academic life.

Each has subfolders that help me organize information in that category.  I should note that research work is not tracked in UltraRecall but in KnowledgeWorkshop (KW) because I like having the information separated and KW allows me some features that UR doesn't possess thought I would say UR is the superior program.

Ok so once something I plan to do is completed I annotate it in UR and add a note to a database I keep in FileMaker Pro.  (The screen shot at the left gives you an idea what is in this database, you can click on it to see a larger version.)  I started databasing information for reports using a now obsolete program called Recordian so categories are somewhat of a holdover from that tool. 

Why do both types of entries?  Well UltraRecall works well for future planning but it categorizes and does not order by date across sections.  FileMaker lets me order by date, or category, which I find very helpful when I produce my monthly reports.  Likewise FileMaker lets me work outside my set category structure so I can enter new things that occur without redesigning.  In essence I stick with these two systems because I see archiving and to do lists as different faces of the same process...oh and I like the graphical capabilities in UltraRecall and could care less about that for the archive in FileMaker.

Beyond this notation and archive system I have folders set-up to contain actual copies of what is applicable to this process.  I have a folder titled "2005 stuff" in my university email account so I can stuff email messages into it that relate to something in the UR or FileMaker records.  For example I have my thank you notes from reviewing in that file so I can print them out if needed.

Likewise I have a series of electronic folders in which I store files related to both annual progress report and tenure & promotion information, preparing for the future.  Many of the titles of these folders came from information provided at the last Future Faculty Fellows Workshop, lead by Jay Howard.  These folders are:

Some of these folders have subfolders though in truth I am just beginning to use this system myself so I expect to customize it a lot over the next couple of years. I think there my be some duplication in the layout, at least for my purposes.  Plus I have to see how much of this system I actually use.

It seems like a lot of work to keep all of this information in a useable format, but it really isn't that hard.  The worst part is setting up your system, and training yourself to keep stuff, once that part is done maintaining the system and using it very easy.  Now I read an email and immediately think "Should I save this for the files?"  The same happens with hardcopies that cross my desk...if I think I may need them I scan them into the system for future use.  I keep very few hardcopies because I hate filing so things that need to be filed tend to sit forever in my "To be filed" box and are not easily accessible.  I usually scan...save...and add the paper to the recycling box.

Finally if you set your system, any system, up early it is much easier.  First you have fewer things to track so you can more easily train yourself to work the process.  Second it will be easier to tweak the system as you find better ways to make it all work for you.

So get to work and set-up your tracking system.  And remember save everything even your rejections/declinations and negative reviews.  All of it is important to establishing your track record.

Posted by prolurkr at 11:36 AM | TrackBack

August 19, 2005

Grad School funding - for U.S. based students

You can, of course, rely on your university to provide your funding through grants or work.  Likewise for many of us loans were our only recourse for part or all of our education.  But there is money out there...big money for those hardworking and lucky enough to be chosen.  Both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have competitive processes that, if selected, can virtually pay for your doctoral training - courses, books, conferences, and money for you to use for expenses.  Yes these are competitive processes and a limited number of applications are chosen. 

Here are five reasons why you should take the time to check out these and other similar grant programs.

Two notes on grants 1) read the instructions fully and comply to the letter, and now with that said 2) the only foolproof way NOT to get a grant is to not apply.  I know it's easy to say "there are many more qualified people then I out there and there is only so much money I just know I don't have a chance."  Well you do have a chance, as good a chance as anyone else...and this is definitely one of those processes that gets easier each time you do it so dive in the pool early.

Finally be open to working with organizations that may not be the usual ones with which your faculty are associated.  Here's a story.  Several years ago I wanted to attend the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) Biennial Meeting in New Orleans it was held at the Hilton, read lots of money needed for housing and transport.  Well I didn't have all the money I needed and had basically given up the idea of going when a announcement for a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) grant to attend came across email.  They had money and I needed money...so I applied for their grant, all the time figuring I was a long shot at best.  But you know what I won and I went to the conference. 

But the cool part of this is what happened after the conference.  Now I am a NIDA grant winner, and because of that status I have been invited to training sessions they host where I have learned many more tricks for grant applications. 

Now if you know my research you are probably scratching your head wondering how what I do fits into any of the research areas in which NIDA is interested.  Well it doesn't directly, but peripherally it is a perfect match.  NIDA, and other similar grantor's, are interested in new technology as ways to get their message out to their target audience.  NIDA's target audience includes teens, teens talk online, therefore NIDA is interested in how teens talk and how they receive messages online.  Makes it perfect for me to step in and fill that niche.

Let me tell you some of the absolute more fun I have had at academic gatherings have been at NIDA sponsored events.  Last summer I was in DC for a gathering of folks who had won the same grant I had, everyone there was either medical, biomed,  or social work...and me.  When we did our posters I have simply never had to speak to as large a crowd of interested people pressed in around my board.  It was a huge ego boost to have biomedical researchers, a field for which I have huge respect and absolutely no talent in, telling me how interesting my research is and how they just couldn't do what I do...to much computer, to much communication, to much time with the teens I research - all of these are the things I love of course. 

In the future I will be developing a grant application for NIDA requesting funding for my dissertation.  I have contacts and I know they are interested, thanks to my little travel grant.  *S*  Life is good.  Of course these are still competitive processes so anything can happen...but now I know I can compete so that fear is off my back. 

Oh and the most important note here is that as far as I know no one else in my department works with NIH institutes like NIDA...most of our funding comes from NSF.  It would have been easy for me to miss this funding source because faculty doesn't go there...but it has been a ride not at all worth missing.  *S*

SO crawl through the NIH and NSF sites really soon, some of the grants must be applied for during your first year and that cut off date was in October the year I applied for NSF funding.  I didn't get it but I learned so much about how the processes works it was well worth the effort.  Also I archived the material I used so for my next application some of it will just need updating rather then writing from the ground up.  Very valuable.

Oh and let me know when you win.  *w*  Cause someone will might as well be you.

Posted by prolurkr at 09:19 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 18, 2005

Reference Management Software

The first thing a new grad student should do is to acquire a copy of a reference management (aka bibliographic or citation) software program.  The technologically advanced among us might want to use BibTeX...but only if they like doing coding with things like @string{jgg1 = "Journal of Gnats and Gnus, Series~1"}.  Totally not my cup of tea.

Thomson ISI has three products for bibliographic management, two of which are available free to IU students, staff, and faculty from the IU Ware site and other universities have similar agreements check with your technical support personnel.  All three have trial downloads available on their respective websites if you don't have access to free versions.  All are around $99 US to purchase, and it is money well spent.

By far the most popular of the three is EndNote, it's one of the ones that is available free to IU students.  EndNote is a very powerful program that allows you to enter bibliographic citation information, "cite-while-you-write" in the major word processing programs, and output your bib in a large variety of styles including APA and MLA.  Most importantly the program has fields for your personal notes, as well as, an abstract for the citation.  You can even search the web and many major databases from inside EndNote and the citations found through the search can be automatically added to the program.  Likewise you can search through IU resources and download your results then add them automatically.

Thomson also makes Reference Manager and ProCite, only Reference Manager is available through IU's site licensing agreements.  I use Reference Manager and have done so for several years now, though I would not recommend it to new users.  The program is designed for work groups and is best suited to that application.  I began using it because at the time it was the only product with a spell checker, something that I require.  Now EndNote spell checks and allows you to have multiple database files open (another feature that was unique to Reference Manager when I began using it). 

Procite was developed by a librarian and many in the profession swear by it.  Though Thomson has not updated the program in several years and IU no longer carries the software under their cite licenses. The main advantage to Procite is its extensive customizability.  I feature set that I hope will eventually be added to EndNote.

All three of these programs were originally developed by independent companies and later acquired by Thomson.  They seem to put most of their development work into EndNote, especially adding popular features from the other programs into EndNote's functionality.  So if you have no pre-existing relationship with Reference Manager or Procite I recommend you go with EndNote.  In truth I think we will all be using EndNote eventually as I expect support for the other two programs to decline and disappear.  Oh and all three are cross-compatible so if you start out with one program and it doesn't serve your needs you can export your database to another of the product line. I started with EndNote and moved to Reference Manager when I found it had a speller, I anticipate moving back to EndNote in the next couple of generations of the program.

I found an article that gives an Overview of Personal Bibliographic Software online.  They list several programs that I have not run across before and that would require purchasing software.  Warning the information appears a bit dated so read with that in mind.

Pick the program that looks like it will work for you and get it as soon as possible.  Then take the time to enter the information on everything you read.  And yes I do mean everything.  My goal for using the software was to develop a database that would allow me to do much of my research on my own system without regularly returning to the hard copies or electronic copies of the works I have read.  Now, after five years, I can write  simple essays on any of several topics using Word and Reference Manager only.  Of course that means that I have a layered backup system because my bib is my world...electronically speaking.

p.s.  Make a subdirectory somewhere on your system and copy all of the electronic papers, websites, blog posts, etc. that you use in your writing.  Research has shown that there is a serious decline in the availability of electronic texts after about 2 years.  So something you use a lot is likely to disappear and if you don't have an archived copy you probably shouldn't cite the work.  Example:  I often site blog users statistics from the 2003 NITLE Blog Census in my papers.  This is a very useful citation that is no longer available online as their more current data overwrites the older statistics.  So I archived the page the first time I cited it...and now I have the stats I need every time I want to use historical information.

It would be nice to think that electronic journals maintained by the university are immune to this problem, but they are not.  Say you cite a journal article today and want to use it in the future, if the libraries subscriptions have changed the article may no longer be available at your fingertips and some journals do go out of production so their electronic copies may totally disappear at some point in the future.  Make sure you archive journal articles too.

To finish up, I believe that unless you have a photographic memory every grad student needs to be using a bibliographic management program.  Try using is as I said here and if that way doesn't work for you alter your usage to support your style.  All three products have listservs for their users, with subscription information on their websites.  Sign up for the listserv that supports your product...you will learn a lot and it gives you a place to ask questions should you run into problems.

Reference List:

NITLE Blog Census (2003). National Institute for Technology & Liberal Education (NITLE). Retrieved Mar. 15, 2003 from http://www.blogcensus.net/

Posted by prolurkr at 01:56 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Grad School survival tips

I've had so many positive comments on my reposting of 1B*'s post at Advice for first year PhD students that I have decided to add a category to the blog for Grad School...tips to help you flourish.  I will be adding to the list of posts over the next few weeks and then as new ideas become apparent to me.

Posted by prolurkr at 12:36 PM | TrackBack

August 13, 2005

Advice for first year PhD students

Yesterday I sent this to my department's PhD student listserv and targeted it to the new students specifically.  I've gotten such positive response from older student "Gezzz I wish I had had that when I was a first year" that I decided to post it here for all of you.

I could not have said this better if I had tried...which I haven't done to this point but will at some point in the future. The only note I will attach now is that if you have a graduate degree going in to PhD...this is different in so many, and so often hard to quantify, ways so don't assume you've been there and done that.  I actually had two masters degrees when I started and my first year of PhD was ever so much harder then my time in either of those program...one of which is within my current department.

From One Bright Star (1 B*) and her post Five Questions:

5. What advice would you give to someone starting out in graduate school, pursuing a PhD?

Select your advisor carefully. Finding a match is so hard! Yet finding an advisor that fits you can make or break your experience in graduate school. I'd take the first year and purposefully interview faculty and "audition" them for this role in your academic career. I would look for someone who is has some background in the work your interested in doing (obviously), but I think personality traits and interaction style is even more important than an academic match. I wanted someone who would be willing to talk with me about work-life balance issues, who would engage in helping me develop as a person, not just as a scholar, who would be able to give me feedback in constructive ways that also felt supportive and encouraging. I wanted to believe my advisor actually liked me and believed in me. I also think a junior faculty member could be as good of an advisor as a senior faculty member, but it's hard to say... some people prefer the senior folks as advisors because they tend to be better connected in the field (and can introduce you) and perhaps more effective as giving feedback with writing because they're more experienced at both writing and giving feedback.

Start working on your own research interests as soon as possible, but don't foreclose too early on a topic or question. In my graduate program, we had course projects that we could tailor in order to pursue our own interests. They were useful for me to jump start my research. Read widely in grad school, especially early on, because you might think you know what topic you're interested in, but once you learn about newer topics, you may realize that you never knew your passion actually was something else.

Appreciate the other grad students in your program. Many of the folks I met over the years in graduate school are now valuable colleagues of mine and dear friends. They serve as a supportive network for me now. I miss them.

Attend conferences and network as soon as possible. Some people think of networking at meeting "famous" professors. I thought of networking as meeting other grad students around the country in my field and also newer faculty members. Now I feel like a whole cohort of us are coming into our own as faculty, and I feel a part of something larger than myself. Plus, it's nice to have people to see every year at conferences, people I can share my writing with outside my building, collaborators in other locations, etc.

Be gracious to yourself. Honestly, I think the first year of graduate school was one of the harder years in my life. I went from being a professional to being a student again, from feeling confident about my skills to being broken down and starting over. I was humbled more than I expected to be. I was also built up more than I expected to be. One of the important skills to develop in graduate school (at least for me) would be learning to be kind to yourself when you're feeling extremely inadequate, extremely behind schedule, and completely over your head. It's okay not to know things and it's okay to be a developing scholar, because we go to school to learn, and then once we're out of school, we're learning for a career, and with learning causes dissonance and challenge. The thing is, researchers are at the edge of understanding something new, so it's not ever possible to feel like we have things all figured out, so there is so much opportunity to feel like we don't have it all together, when, really, we're just trying to learn something new. Be comfortable with the not knowing and embrace yourself for taking the risk and challenge of establishing new knowledge.

Posted by prolurkr at 07:08 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 19, 2004

Jennifer Stromer-Galley's Musing on Being "On" the Academic Job Market

Jennifer Stromer-Galley has posted an interesting musing on the wages of the academic job hunt. Check it out here, and scroll to Thursday, November 18, 2004.

At NCA last week I was struck by the flock of casually dressed recruiters standing inside the door to the "Job Fair" ballroom. They were waiting there not talking to each other, eyeing everyone who walked by outside, evaluating potential everywhere. I got a cold shiver seeing them there.

They reminded me to clearly of my HR days recruiting undergrads, where you could pretty much tell in 10 seconds if the candidate had potential for your organization. I would love to say it's all in the candidate's background but truthfully "fit" in an organization is the most important component, once you have crossed the threshold by meeting the basic requirements for the job. This is the stuff that is impossible to quantify...it's totally qualitative and pretty metaphysical. And as much as some folks would like to say that academic and business worlds are different...trust me they are not THAT different. Folks who think they are do so because they have little or no experience in both spheres as an adult.

Posted by prolurkr at 07:07 PM | TrackBack