Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Not so much lately

I haven't been writing so much lately, at least not here. It's good to check in though, and I will continue to make the effort to have something to say here every day or so. I've been busy, which is good. I've been more productive lately. I'm still working on the distillation article from my dissertation. As I explained before it's becoming a lot more than simply editing down the dissertation.

I'm not sure I fully explained the sitation before, so I'll do that briefly now. While I was overseas doing mostly archival work on my dissertation, two volumes came out by a foundation press named for the central figure of my dissertation. It was a collection of his essays, letters, lecture notes, drafts, etc. many of which had not been published elsewhere. I purchased them then, and referenced them in my dissertation (and in a couple articles I published at the time). However, I principally used them as a resource for the original text of articles I was previously aware of, mostly having read them in translation.

In deciding to publish a distillation article from the disseration, I thought I ought to revisit these materials and go over some of the articles in the original, rather than relying on translations or basing my quotes on second-hand references from other articles. Last week, I thumbed through the first (and much larger) volume, to select out articles and such that I should read over. I knew of two, and thought there might be another 3 or 4 to read.

I was sorely mistaken! I came up with 25 different entries which I ought to have read, and be knowledgeable of, and possibly cite. Granted, there are perhaps only 5 or 10 other people in the world who will have read all of those articles. More now that the volumes have been published. But that's exactly the point. If I am an expert of this, I need to be an expert on it. Most of those who will have read those articles, don't publish in English.

I've been trudging my way through it all. I've gotten through the first two articles, translating large sections of them. I've also been writing my distillation article as I go along, citing from the articles, revising things I wrote before. All the while, I'm working on my other blog, which while seemingly unrelated to the topic of my dissertation, is research-oriented, close to my heart, and an area of research that I am working to develop into a larger part of my life, hopefully my professional life as well. So, I've been reading articles in this additional area of research as well.

My mother always told me that if only I would concentrate on one thing I would accomplish anything I wanted. Well, I've come to realize that I work best when the thing I focus on is deep beneath the surface, while all evidence points to a scattered mind. Synthesis is my forte, drawing diverse ideas together from seemingly unrelated fields, finding their erstwhile hidden links, and piecing these together.

We all must follow our paths. I think finishing the PhD was some accomplishment, and evidence that my path works for me. Now back to it... more reading, and translating, and writing. Oh yeah... and some job applications... and calls to set up servicing for the car... and registering the van... and scheduling a doctor's visit... and.... one thing at a time, eh?

PhD Weblogs

Just discovered this site called PhDweblogs.net, as they put it a non-profit initiative to bring together PhD students' weblogs from all around the world. So, check them out, if you're interested.

Monday, January 30, 2006

One person's view on the job search

Here's an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by an English Department chair about what, and with whom, to discuss about the job search. Just one guy's take, but he's in a much better position than I to dispense advice on this, I suppose.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A small rant about society

Just need to get this out. Last night had my weekly date with my wife. We decided to just do a little shopping, spend some time walking and talking, then have a nice meal together. We had Thai food.

First we visited the mall. Stepped into Banana Republic. What?!? $78 for some ugly button-down shirt that is likely made in the same sweat shop as other shirts sold for $30 or $40, which by the way probably cost the manufacturer more in terms of shipping costs and customs duties than materials or labor. What's the point of spending extra money when: a) you don't get any extra quality in materials or workmanship and b) you don't get any added value from knowledgeable and helpful staff. So, no thank you.

I remember stepping into a Rolex shop a few years ago, when I was tired of the cheap $30 watches I kept buying. I figured maybe it was time to step up to the $200-250 price range, something that would last. HAH! Okay, first off they don't have anything less than 4 digits in price, we're talking their budget models were starting at $2500 or so... and it's probably $4000 by now. I said, "wow,... okay, so I can get some good quality watches for 250 bucks by another brand, what makes this watch here worth 10 times the price?" "The brand name." "No, no, no... I mean, I know that, but I can get a really good watch for a tenth the price... what makes this one different, or better." "Just the name." Ah...

When I was a boy, the kiss of death for just about anything was my mom saying, "but, it's fashionable." You know what's fashionable these days? Guys walking across the streets with one hand permanently attached to one side of their pants, so they don't fall down to their ankles! I think I'll pass.

Friday, January 27, 2006

To name names or not?

Okay, now that I've sent the new cover letter off, I need to get a few more opinions. Noticed two new postings yesterday, one for a one-year gig stateside, and another two for lectureships at a school in the UK. Both in departments incidentally where I am on friendly terms with a senior faculty member. In fact, they both served on a panel I organized and chaired at an international conference a few years back. In fact, they have both been among my references. So, it could be a good sign.

That said, I'm not relying on nepotism. It doesn't seem to work that way. In anticipation of preparing the next round of letters, here's the question:

In the latest cover letter, I named names. I noted particular faculty members at the school and aspects of their research that appealed to me. I specified ones in and out of the department with whom I would seek to set up collaborations, and on what topics. The point was to show that I know them, I've researched them, and I think it would be a good fit, and here is how and why. The feedback from the three profs I consulted prior to sending the application was split on this question. One said "name names," a second said "don't". Any comments?

Second somewhat related question: I also quoted a couple student evals saying in effect: "he's a great teacher." The point here was to allay any concerns over the fact that I look on paper much more like a researcher than a teacher. I want to make it clear that I am both. The first prof (who said "name names") said on this point, essentially "don't quote students, it sounds boastful," whereas the suggestion to quote student evals came from the "don't name names" prof. GAH!

Well, it seems less boastful to quote students than to simply assert, "hey, I'm a great teacher, and if you don't believe me, well, you can just go away, okay?" So, I went with the quotes. Any thoughts from the ether on this count, especially from those of you sitting or having sat on hiring committees?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mushrooms (for parents)

#1, tonight at dinner: Daddy, why do you call them mushrooms? They're not rooms, they're things you eat.

Me: Well, I guess I'll have to check the etymology of the word. Can you say "etymology"

#1: eta-mology

He's a pretty amazing little linguist, he is.

For those curious (from the Oxford English Dictionary online):

[< Anglo-Norman muserun, muscheroun, musheroun, musherum, musscherom, musseron, mussherum, mosheron, Middle French mouceron (c1190 in Old French in form mosseron, cf. also musserun (13th cent.), earlier in Franco-Occitan in form moisserun (c1180 in Girart de Roussillon; cf. Old French moisseron (c1225)); Middle French, French mousseron (1532 in Middle French; cf. MOUSSERON n.)) < an unattested post-classical Latin *mussarion-, *mussario (cf. musarion-, musario and mussirion-, mussirio (both 6th cent., although perh. later: the MSS in which the forms are attested are 11th cent.)), of unknown origin. The Franco-Occitan and Middle French palatalized forms in moiss- (which in turn give rise to forms in /{sh}/: cf. Anglo-Norman forms cited above, and also Occitan mocharnon, Catalan moixernó (1762)) have not been satisfactorily explained (see Französisches Etymol. Wörterbuch s.v. *mussario; and for an alternative theory see J. Coromines Diccionari Etimol?gic i Complementari de la Llengua Catalana (1985) s.v. moixernó). Cf. also Old Occitan molsairó (14th cent.), app. showing the influence of Old Occitan molsa MOSS n.1 ...]

Sent off, etc.

I sent my application materials out this afternoon! I feel good about the new cover letter, including specific references to the school in question, ideas about collaborations, and a good deal more detail about my research and teaching. The feedback I got here and in RL were abundantly helpful.

Number One came with me to the post office to priority mail it. Both boys & I spent the morning together, going for a long walk down the hill to the local bagel shop. It was great fun. We left around 8:00, and arrived there around 8:45 or so. At 9:15, after bagels and donuts, I called the au pair to come rescue us (especially as, halfway there, I realized Number Two needed a change, and I didn't have the diaper bag). But I wanted to get back and get to work. I'm proud of myself though for really letting go, and concentrating on just being a dad. Getting out the house helps me avoid the distractions.

But, Number One was terribly upset when the van showed up around 9:30. He had wanted to walk back home. And he weepily insisted that I not work today. It breaks my heart. I explained that I love spending time with him, but that it's best for people to have well-rounded lives, meaning we do a variety of things. Sometimes we spend time with family, and sometimes we work.

It's a fine balance, though. And I'm not always convinced I've settled it yet. My schedule and my life are always in flux, so there's always room for tweaking. At times I do forget to let myself enjoy the parts of my life that really are wonderful. I decided yesterday to institute a new policy, but I haven't figured out the details yet. My mistress and I have to spend less time with each other in the evenings. (Okay, stop gasping... the mistress is not a woman but a computer, my Dell Inspiron), whom we affectionately call "Di". I want to make a commitment that I can and will keep, one that's realistic. Something along the lines of no computing from 5:30 until after the boys are asleep, is what I'm thinking. But I want to make sure that accomodates quality time with my wife also.

Maybe I should just cut it out entirely in the evenings. But I don't have access to a printer on campus (one reason why I sometimes work at home, like today). So, I have to make sure I can get things printed when I need to. Typically, I watch the boys in the mornings (usually until 8:00 or 10:00/10:30, sometimes until noon) and in the afternoons (normally from about 4:00 to about 5:30/6:00, when my wife gets home, and I make dinner). The au pair watches them about 40 hours a week (including time for a weekly date for me und die Frau). But I sometimes want a little time for myself when she gets home, and I justify that it's good for the boys to spend some time just with mom.

Well, I'll work it out, and let you know. Any thoughts of what works for you?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Taking some time

I've been up since about 4:00 this morning. One of the cats woke me up at 3:38 (I always look at the clock and remember exactly when I'm awakened, don't know why). I tried to go back to sleep, but tossed for about a half hour.

Decided I had too much on my mind to sleep. I can never sleep when I'm thinking about something I'm working on. I lay in bed with my eyes closed, composing in my head. Not conducive to restfulness. (That's why I never take work to bed to read anymore!) So, I got up, and worked on this cover letter from about 4:30 until 6:00.

I was in a good mood this morning (until I asked my wife to critique the letter, but that's another story). Then son number one tumbled off a chair, splitting his lower lip, and I later discovered his upper gums. I'm taking him back to the dentist in about a half hour to get it stitched up.

So, I'm sitting here just now (the boys are at the park with the au pair for an hour) feeling guilty that I'm not working on translating these articles. But... my energy is low, my mind is wandering. So the guilt sets in.

But I decided that, you know what, I did get things accomplished today. How productive should I expect to be when I got up at 4:00? The job search is draining, emotionally, physically. At least it is for me, and I suspect for others in my field. For most of them ...

I made the mistake of stopping by a young assistant professor's office yesterday in my old department. She was hired in two years ago (ABD at the time). She's nice. The students love her. She asked me about how things are going. What I'm gonna say? The job search sucks. It was awkward, uncomfortable for me, watching her squirm, trying to posture empathy.

She's good. Don't get me wrong. Different specialization from me, but same field. She came from a Ivy League school. I'm guessing she had two or three interviews, and took the best offer. She has no idea what I'm talking about. I'm thinking she's probably never felt rejection in her life.

Does that make me less of a scholar that I struggle to get a job, and she didn't? I don't think so, not most of the time. So what if life is unfair? It does me no good to wallow in it. The better part of me wishes good fortune on most people. It's not fun to be turned away.

... had to run and take the boy to the dentist, more about that later...

Frankly, the first time I ran into trouble was applying to PhD programs. Before then, I had breezed into just about everything. I applied to four schools, and got accepted only to two of them. It was a shock to me. I took it as a challenge though. And I accomplished quite a bit. I finished in five years, in a field with a normative time of seven, and not uncommon to spend 9 years before graduating. But I've been in slow motion ever since.

I guess that's a large part of why I started this blog. My wife sympathizes, but she doesn't really understand what I'm going through. She's in a field (in industry, not academia) where last spring when we decided we couldn't keep coasting off our savings, she made two calls, got two interviews, and two job offers!

As I've discovered, many academics, in fields more in demand than mine, don't experience the same difficulties. As I wrote above, clearly there are many even in my own field who somehow make it through. It's a tough line to hold, believing in oneself, yet accepting that others for whatever reason have an easier path. The trick is to keep believing in oneself.

History jobs and calm nerves

It looks like History is the field to be in these days (too bad it's not my field). More jobs than PhDs.

In other news, according to Reuters, researchers in Paisley have determined that sex before a talk or presentation is what the doctor ordered. Another good reason to bring your lovers along for job talks, but leave them in the hotel room.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Some more feedback

Well, here's some feedback I got from a friend of mine, who happens to be an Associate Professor in the department I graduated from, and one of my references for jobs.

Here is my overarching concern. Your research is truly exciting and unique. It is also so unique that very few people in [our field's] departments know or have interest in the core of your research. Have you considered [a particular research establishment in Paris]? There you might be able to present yourself as the research scholar that you are. But what about just about every job stateside? You need to figure out how you fit into a [departmental] program. Yes, tell committees about your work, but also tell them why they should be interested and what it will contribute to their interests and that of their students. Reassure them that you will cover those service courses they need taught. ... This is what junior faculty have the privilege of teaching.

... Right now your letter reflects your mind, and that is not a bad thing in and of itself. However, it must also place you in a department, and you have not done that yet.

Please excuse me if this is harsh. Just one semi-junior guy's read.

My response:

No apologies necessary. I want direct and honest feedback, something I've gotten little of since I arrived here in 2000. No one has stood in my way, but I've had little guidance and direction, partly just bad timing I guess. The result may have been a sort of estrangement from what others are doing. I guess that's the downfall of heading off in your own direction: you might think you're blazing a trail, but when you look back, there's noone following.

I've had enough self-pity, and probably enough of the flip-side, arrogance. The task at hand is for me to get a job, where I feel a part of the culture, where I can contribute to research and teaching, where I respect and admire my colleagues, and they me (at least enough of them in both cases to make it worth it), and where I have a connection to my students as well. I truly believe I have something to contribute. I want to find the best way to do that.
Just so you know, I very much appreciate your input, and your friendship.

Well, there you have it. I've got a task in front of me, and hopefully a job at the end of the road.


Alright, so I tweaked the CV a bit, putting "Honors & Awards" on page 1, not page 3. I cut down my references list from 11 to 5. I cut out extraneous details (like the city of publication for journals I've published in). Finally, I added a separate heading for Conference Panels that I've organized and/or chaired.

I also completely rewrote a new cover letter, expanding to two full pages. I detailed more about what my dissertation accomplished. I wrote two whole paragraphs on my current and planned research agenda. I included three paragraphs on my teaching, lectures, conference presentations, and other public activities, talking about courses I've taught, new courses I propose, and my general approach and philosophy to the subject matter.

My dissertation chair (yes, I got him to email me!) suggests that I work a bit more on the opening paragraph (since it may be the only one they read) to be "more of a summary and less of an introduction." As he puts it:

In general, I find it better when people speak of their enthusiasms rather than their accomplishments, and use a cover letter to do the kinds of things you can't do in a CV; that is, convey the flavor of the applicant and their thought.

This one goes out to an Ivy League school tomorrow. Wish me well.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Apologies to all of you regulars. My moods go up and down. Today was a bit better. Good meeting with the Young Professor in my department, who gave me a good deal of suggestions for rearranging and honing my CV, and suggested that I fear not to extend my cover letters beyond one page, especially since I should spend a few paragraphs outlining my research, and not be afraid to tackle the "here's why this is relevant to you" issues.

And, I've spent the day going over two of the foreign language articles that I need to work my way through. The deal is there is a series of articles, by a central figure in my dissertation (written about 100 years ago), but unavailable in English (unless I translate them), and virtually unavailable in their original (a language with about 10 million native speakers). I just didn't incorporate that work directly into my diss. But, it seems necessary to fill in that gap now. So, I'm on the path. I'll keep you all informed of the journey.

Thanks for being there.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Valued & useful

I think of Thomas the Steam Engine. Sir Topham Hat: "You're a very useful engine." Boy wouldn't that make my day?

Valued & Useful. I said to my wife this evening, as she stressed over the pressures of work, that yes there are stresses, and it would seem that "upper management" would have been better off to listen to their charges a bit earlier, like last August when they said they needed 6 more people on the job to get things done according to contract schedule. Instead, they dragged their feet, and now are threatening the possibility of mandatory 50-hour weeks. She did work 50 hours this past week. So, yes, she is working hard, and has a great deal of responsibility, and is being asked to sign off on things that she isn't really given enough time with to honestly do that task.

But she is valued and useful. Which, sadly, is not something I can say about myself these days. I'm more like a skin tag that hangs from the neck or nose, which every now and again gets picked at until the host remembers I'm a permanent fixture of their physique. It's not pretty to feel that way.

The more I think about the career, the more depressed I get. There is only one thing for me to do, however, at the moment, and that is to forge ahead. I'm actually doing a bit more though. I've got a lunch meeting with a young professor in my department, just to talk about the academic job search and career path. And I've got a half hour appointment with a career counselor on campus this week as well.

I just need to break the silence. If there are things I can do, I want to hear it. If it's typical and expected that I'll be searching for a couple years, I want to hear it. I'm slowed down in sending out this article, since I feel a need to review these foreign language materials... but I'm going to do that, as efficiently as possible, and get this dissertation condensation article out as soon as possible.

More about alternatives

I wrote a little while ago, that I've begun to consider "alternatives". I recently went to a talk by a PhD in my second field, who has been working as a consultant for several years, and was in part recruiting for her company. I wasn't entirely convinced, but wanted to get more information, so I wrote to her, sending along my CV, a link to my professional webpages, and some other brief information about my background.

Her reply:

First, I'd like to say, "Wow!" You have a most extraordinary background. I would be happy to answer any specific questions you might have about working at [my company], but I think the most important thing to consider for someone with a background as extensive as yours is whether or not you would really be willing to walk away from all of that.

Well, no. "Walk away from all of that"? Who's walking? I'm desperately (I used the word, you see) seeking employment, a meaningful job, where I can use my talents (we all have them, I'm not so special) to accomplish something.

I have little experience with seeking employment. I've been self-employed most of my adult life, hustling for clients and students. And I've been a performer, going from one gig to another audition. I've worked odd jobs, and temp work. It's not that I haven't worked. I've hardly not worked since I was 10 years old with my first paper route. I paid my way through undergrad, and worked part-time while working on my Master's.

It wasn't until 2000, when I started the PhD program that I finally stepped fully into the life of a scholar. Because of a series of fellowships that I applied for and received, I wound up not TAing at all, though I did teach one interdisciplinary course on my own.

I had two years community college teaching prior to that. I have given about 8 conference presentations, including organizing and chairing two panels at international conferences. I have published 5 articles, though admittedly in second-tier journals. I've given invited lectures on my research, and have standing offers for more talks from five institutions in parts of Europe (if I can ever get the funds to head over).

All I need is one job offer, at an institution where I feel I can make a contribution, where I will feel a part of the culture, where I can teach and research, where I respect and admire my colleagues, and they me. Is that too much to ask?

The essential question is: how can I succeed?

It is unadvisable to compare onself to one's colleagues. But it at times seems unavoidable. Perhaps that's a sign of depression (unhelpful contemplation). I celebrate for others when they reach success. Yet I feel a distinct lack of success in my professional life.

I wonder why others get interviews and offers and jobs. (Yes, I had some interviews, last season; even one campus visit... but no offers, no job.) I wonder how it is so many ABDs go straight into their faculty careers without a break, signing a contract before they've even finished the diss. I have no malice toward them, just envy. What are they doing right, that I haven't figured out? Or is it really as I hear over and over, just a matter of luck, of being the right person for the job. Most importantly, however, is not to focus on them (though I should delight when friends and colleagues succeed), but to forge ahead on a path that will lead to my own success.

No feedback. That is my biggest bane. I tire of hearing from professors I know, who sit on committees at schools where I've applied, who tell me vague things about "positive comments" or "impressed with my credentials." The problem is, I feel stuck, and vagueries will not lead me forth. One of my committee members repeatedly said my dissertation was "brilliant" and "well-written," though he's provided little feedback otherwise. It's not a matter, I don't believe, of noone understanding what I'm about, or what I'm doing in my research.

The fear I have is that to get a job I need to be doing what people are looking for. But I believe my work is innovative and forges in new directions, meaning it may be a generation of scholars before a department is looking for that expertise. The reality is, this is the right path for me. Each of us takes our paths. The trick is to excel at what we do on the way, not simply in choosing a direction. The hope is that along the way, though it may seem a desert, I will reach some oases, and it will seem worth it.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

In the Beginning

3:36 am:
Can't sleep. The three-year-old woke me up around 2:00. He wanted to snuggle. Got back to bed around 2:40... but couldn't sleep. Too much on my mind.

In Chaim Potok's 1975 novel In the Beginning, the narrator's father, a Polish-Jewish emigre to New York City, is struck by a great depression. It is one that is prompted by the events in the outside world, and by his seeming inability to alter them as he was wont to do before. The once powerful and admired figure is reduced to a pitiable has-been. Eventually, he emerges from his cocoon, and once again finds the drive within to rise as a phoenix from the ashes of his life.

I think this is an apt image for many of us casting off our raiments as PhD candidates, achieving that pinnacle of accomplishment, then entering the bleak world of the academic job search. Many perhaps look up to us, just like the father in Potok's novel, but we have difficulty adjusting to the changes in the world around us. I have been in a depression before, of this sort. Every time I have overcome it.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Added drag

Just reading Small Milestones on Acade(me). She writes about her dealing with a mass of foreign language materials that she sorted through. With my renewed drive to get published, I had decided (in part at the urging of the illustrious B*) the easiest first step would be to condense my dissertation and submit it for publication in a journal.

I came to the conclusion that there really wasn't much point in my trying to get the dissertation published as a book in its own right. First, because it already is published with UMI/Proquest; Second, because a book would head off in different directions from the dissertation; Third, because I don't lack for book ideas, which would be more appealing to me, and likely more broadly interesting to a readership.

So, I did a selection from the diss, culling about 300 pages of text down to about 120. (That's not necessarily a fair comparison, since the required formatting of the diss makes the page count look inflated.) But I still need to cut another 2/3 of that. So, I started to edit. The immediate realization I came to is, well, there is some recent scholarship that I ought to include in the article, including a good deal of material that (in hindsight) I probably should have included in my dissertation.

Of course, as I wrote about a week ago (Silence is definitely NOT golden), my committee's lack of commentary was astounding. I suppose if they had done their work, these absences may have been pointed out to me before I filed. Then again, perhaps I'm just being overly critical of the work.

In any case, I feel a need to review these materials, and work through them, to incorporate as much as possible into anything I send out now for publication. Thus my hope to have something to send out this week is being delayed. The stumbling block -- or should I say the added drag on my race car -- is that just about all of these materials are in a foreign language. Granted it's the language that I needed competence in to even do my dissertation. But, my reading speed is significantly slower than in English.

I will have at it nonetheless. Perhaps this process will take me further down the road towards mastery of the langauge, which I would very much like to have anyway.

Am I keeping up?

Up early again. For those of you curious re: my "new resolution", I packed away one article the first day, read a book the second (which wound up really being a bound volume of a journal with one 75-page article in it). Yesterday was the third day. I read/skimmed several chapters of another book, typed up some notes. So, I'm keeping up.

The bigger deal I think is the new found motivation to write and publish. A few years ago, I gave a talk at a conference, which in the midst of things introduced a novel methodological twist.

... like clockwork, 6:47 am: the boys are both up. Gotta run.

11:40 am:

Finally settled back into my things. Number one has just begun taking gymnastics class on Friday mornings, so I'm with the boys later than usual on Fridays. What I was saying above...

I gave a talk which introduced a novel methodological twist. A colleague asked if I had published it anywhere. No, not yet... The other day at a colloquium in my department, I suggested some things for the speaker which were taken positively. Have you written that up somewhere, she asked. Nope... you get the picture.

It's not that I haven't published. But not much. Not as much as I would like. I think I'm a bit afraid of sending my work out. Part of it is a bit of perfectionism, partly its defensiveness, part it's simply not knowing where to send it. Since my work is interdisciplinary, and touches upon several areas of expertise, I feel a need to present myself as master of all of them. At least, I want to be sure that I've considered all of the obvious points before sending it out, hoping not to receive some reply like: "uh, well, have you read these 23 articles that answer all of your questions?"

I sent an inquiry a couple weeks ago to a journal in a field other than what I got my PhD in. The response was:

Please excuse my tardiness in acknowledging receipt of your mail. As a matter of fact, my colleagues and I are unsure as to how a paper like yours could be accommodated in [our journal]. My sense is that we should not hold out too much hope that we'd receive informed response from a [specialist in our field] who is ready to evaluate the entire paper and urge us to consider it for publication. Needless to say, we appreciate your interest in [our journal].

Not a total brush off. But anything but encouraging. It's just more of the same. I need to change the perception of this work as peripheral. But how can I do that without getting published? So, write write write. I need to submit the articles even if they stand a good chance of being rejected. I've really got nothing to lose.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Up early

Got up around 6:00 am this morning. I'm inspired by my wife. Yesterday and today, she awoke (before dawn) to get into work early. There's a backlog of work there, and some important deadlines coming up. She's got lead responsibility for a program. She had kissed me good-day just a few minutes earlier, but I still missed her. My fault, I forgot to put her coffee on last night before going to bed.

She's being an inspiration to me. It's got to cycle like that. Before we moved here initially, so I could go back to school, she had been miserable in her former job. It wasn't what she had planned or expected of her field. The work left her cold. She was bored. I helped give her perspective, and when the time came, I helped her "escape". We've been through quite a few incarnations since then. And now, suddenly, she's more driven and interested by her work here.

She keeps reminding me how lucky I am, that I have a lot going for me: a wonderful family, a PhD, wit, charm (those are her words!). It is a real blessing to have someone like her as my partner. With all the talk about divorce lately, from some of my blog-friends and other parts of my RL, I want to say it's wonderful to have someone who is truly a partner in my life, to share the ups and downs with. I wish the same on all of you.

6:48 am: Now, I've got to run. The one-year-old is up. Daddy duty calls.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Am I crazy?

Let's take this one step at a time:

* I had a master's degree.
* I attained a degree of success in my former place of residence, where among other things, I taught for two years at the local community college.
* I enjoyed teaching.
* I wanted more, however. I wanted to achieve some success in research, and writing. I hoped someday to publish books on my area of research, and to continue teaching.
* It seemed that applying for the full-time teaching post at the community college (that just happened to have opened up) would have been a dead-end. So, I took the plunge and went back to school for the PhD.
* Why? I wanted to be better at research, writing, and be in a position where I would be expected to do these things, and teach.

So much so clear?

That was about 5.5 years ago. Now, let's jump ahead to today. I'm done. I'm PhD. I'm Dr. [me]. I did what I wanted to do. I got through all my course work in two years, which in my program was at least a year ahead of expectations. I took several graduate courses in other departments, and convinced my department to accept some of them as replacements for courses in my department that I thought less useful to my area of research. Again, this was quite a feat, since so far as I know no one else has ever done that, before or since. No one stood in my way, as I boldly forged ahead with my research, asking my questions, finding my answers.

In my first term, I was required to take a bibliography and research techniques class for my discipline. It was a lot of what seemed like make work, but I think it was quite useful. We were assigned to prepare an exhaustive annotated bibliography on a topic of our choice. When I announced my proposal to the professor, she was a bit skeptical that I'd find enough to write about. I guess I took that as a challenge. To this day, my pulling off a 55-page document (which included at least five pages of additional references without annotation, because I simply ran out of time) in the approximately 5 weeks we had to write it is still talked about. The point was, there was a lot in my field even if it wasn't mainstream, even if the articles and books were ostensibly written for audiences in perhaps four or five different disciplines.

Isn't that what a PhD is all about? Doing something new, something different?

But here I am today, with rejection letters trickling in. But, you know what, I still love my chosen area of research. It's still what drives me. And I still want to write those books. And I still want to teach. These are the things I want.

I won't go hungry, I know that. I'm resourceful. There are many things that I could do, and do well. But, if I can live off the largess of my wife, at least for now, why not pursue those things I want, by any means necessary? Now, I don't mean hiring a hit team to knock off my competition. But, I'm a bit more motivated at the moment to publish publish publish.

And, I want to develop some classes all my own. See, I can teach the mainstream courses in my discipline. I've studied it long enough. And, frankly, I enjoyed teaching even the introduction to... for non-majors that I taught at the community college. But I want to teach other things as well. I want to be one those professors who writes a book in a few years that thanks my seminar students for all their input in the developing and refining of my ideas.

So, why not draft up some syllabi... then shop them around. Write to places where I'm friendly with a member of the faculty. Offer to give a lecture there, or teach a course. "Hey, don't pay me if you like, but put my course on the books and give me students." Is that worse than trying to take an "assistant dean for what-noone-wants-to-do" post somewhere, and trying to negotiate in one class a year, and some time for research? I don't know if it'd fly, but it's worth a shot.

I mean, right now, other than my fatherly duties, I've got all the time in the world for research. Because of our childcare situation, that leaves me with 4-6 hours a day to work, which is plenty. I just need the motivation to do it. Where I want to be in 5-10 years is directing a center on my domain of research, with a tenure-track post in one of two fields, but straddling the various disciplines that are relevant to it. It's the type of research that should always be interdisciplinary, rather than eventually emerging as its own field. The problem I run into now is the perception that what I do is peripheral to several departments, rather than core for any of them. So, I've got to show how it can be relevant, significant, useful. I've got to change the perception, and it seems the only way to do that is to emerge as a known quantity, someone you want to invite to your campus to teach.

Good night!

Working in a cafe & speaking a foreign language

Wanna Be PhD recently posted and Academic Coach commented about doing work in cafes and about speaking/writing in a foreign language.

There's a lot there. I spent some time before my time overseas, working on the dissertation in a Peaberry's Coffee shop with wireless internet. It was nice, except... *SIGH* I always feel inundated with noise. It's not just cafes. Just about everywhere in public. Frankly, I pity all the people I see wandering this earth with little white wires constantly dangling from their ears. I wonder if they ever listen to the sound of water trickling in a fountain or stream, if they ever hear the chirp of birds, or the rustling of dessicated grass in winter. Do they hear the sound of the breeze brushing their pinnae? Are they even aware of the sounds of plumbing pipes, and streetlights, and refrigerators, and car engines? I wonder, and it saddens me.

No, I'm not some troglodytic anti-musical ghoul. It's just, I have more respect for the art of sound than to persistently background it as wallpaper. Music is something that should be listened to, attended, caressed by the ears, massaged by the mind, and enjoyed. If we can't do that with it, then it's not really worthy of our time, nor we of it.

So, I can't work too well with other people's noise. Yeah, sure, I do sometimes play music in the background. But it's normally something I know very well, which I choose for it's ability to strike the right mood in me for the type of work I must do. I guess that's the attraction to having an iPod or some such device. One gets to chose their own poison. But, wouldn't it be nice, every now and then, to leave off hearing, and just listen? Is it too much to ask that once in a while, A Quiet Day is
declared, so no restaurant or cafe or store can invade us with their noise?

So much for the first part. As for speaking and writing in a foreign tongue. I have the utmost admiration and respect for those who choose to study in a non-native language. I have studied, what 7 languages now. But I feel the constant pull back to my own tongue, feeling that I'm just not so articulate in the others. I love to speak them, and to listen to them. But I labor over writing in them, and feel I don't fully understand a text, until I can translate it.

During my first extended trip overseas, I wrote this poem. I had been abroad for about two months at the time, living in a small village, where I was teaching English. The only English-speakers were my students.


Oh, had I eyes to see,
see all,
and ears to hear,
hear all,
a heart to feel,
all, all --
and yet -- and yet
no tongue to speak,
Were I as an exile,
forced beyond my will
into silence --
A silence from which
perhaps, there is only hope;
for nothing long endures such silence --
Or, if it does,
it is like the blind fish
who dwell in the waters of a cave,
eyes still there, but no use to them:
appendages of futility.
Here, is my tongue like such an appendage --
groping in blindness for the words to express
all that lies silent in my soul.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Another one down

I'm trekking along. Another article down. And I've started to come up with some more ideas about what to write up and where to submit it.

In fact, inspired by Bright Star's recent degree of productivity and her comments, I just did a quick selection from my dissertation, which I will subject to more severe editing and rewriting this week. I plan to send off the "distillation article" by the weekend. I just have to render 114 pages down to about 30-40. Most of that is examples, with analysis and discussion, so it should be easy enough to just drop that down to say 60-70 pages. The rest will take more work. But I'm determined.

I'll get more than silence on my dissertation work, one way or the other!

A start

Yesterday, I finished reading and taking notes on one article, as per my new resolution. I just finished typing up those notes. That still counts on yesterday's tally, so I've got an article to read today, or a part of a book. Starting small. If the ball gets rolling though, I've got some momentum.

Here's how I read:

* If it's an article, I use highlighters to mark the pithy sections.
* If it's a book I own, I'll probably use pencil markings that I've devised, with an open bracket at the beginning of a section, and a close bracket at the end of the section. Then I'll mark the lines of this text in the margins to make it easier to find. Pencil means I can erase at a later date, and it's less obtrusive.
* If it's a library book, I will take out a small notebook, and manually copy all the relevant text. I find it abhorrent when patrons mark up or otherwise abuse a library book. It's so selfish!

Next step, once I've finished the entire article, or a section of the book, I sit down at my computer and open a file for that specific work. I name the file in abbreviated citation form, i.e. Markowitz 1998; Smith, Thompson, et al, 2001. Then I simply type up the highlighted sections, adding my own comments to the text as needed.

I find this to be a good procedure. First, it forces me to reread the sections I've found most relevant. The procedure of manually copying out the text does this even more so, but I don't always have patience for that, except when I don't own the text. I also find that I often edit down (or expand) these sections as I retype them. Second, I have a "reader's digest" version of the article, which I can print out and reread when I'm preparing an article or talk. Third, I have all the quotes right there, for ease in cutting and pasting and citing for said talks or articles.

It also permits me to run a text search, when I remember having read something, but I can't recall the exact citation. Windows isn't always the best search, since it sometimes misses things. Any suggestions out there on better programs or plug-ins for searching text in files would be appreciated.

By the way, I took the switch to open source software over the summer, just after filing the dissertation. I use the Open Office suite for most of my documents and presentations now. There is a built in "export as .pdf" feature for documents, which makes it easy to ensure others can read it.

I have also started using Mozilla Thunderbird for all of my email, and have been experimenting with Mozilla calendaring software. At the moment they are working on a standalone calendar program (Sunbird is out now, but still beta). Lately, I've switched to a calendar plugin for Firefox, in anticipation of the more stable standalone.

I just got very tired of leaving Outlook open all the time. It was such a resource hog. Besides, I like the idea of standalone products for the various features. And, I support the open source concept. Try them out, as they say, "free upgrades for life". I haven't looked back.

More after I get another article under my belt.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A new resolution

No matter what, I've got to get some reading in every day. I work best when I have various ideas floating around in my head, and make the effort to pull them all together. I have a shelf full of books, and a large stack of articles to get through.

Reading helps me focus on what others have done and thought about topics of interest to me. Enough of that, and I'll just have to start writing again.

My wife suggests that I set myself some deadlines for articles. Maybe my first deadline should be to get through some of this reading. Once I'm aflush with ideas, the writing is easy.

I resolve: (a) to get through at least one article a day or one book a week; (b) to have a new article submitted for publication by the end of February.

Time takes time

Time, Time (9/11/90)

"Look to the fields
of withered grass,
bent with wind
and bleached by sun.
"Look to the ancient oaken tree
with gnarled trunk
and stretched out limbs.
"Look to the starlight twinkles
far, far away, away
deep in the blacknight sky.
"Look to the waves on the ocean;
and imagine when they'll reach
the farthest shore, then - lashing back -
begin their long return.
"And think! dear child,
of the generations
that have come before -
how many, how varied.
"Think of the nameless numbers,
and the numberless faces,
each with a smile or frown,
or some such gesture,
and each a history.
"Think of what language
each might have spoken.
They all have done so,
through the years
throughout the years.
"And they have dreamed of you,
some vaguely, some concretely.
Some vision of you has endured,
has prospered and declined,
inspired and despaired,
but mostly has delighted.

"And today you have arrived!"

The old man creaked
as he sat himself down on the step.
I could not understand his speech,
it's meaning: this dance of spirits,
which to him appeared as so familiar.
He settled his body and turned his face toward me,
with a crinkle in his lip and a small tear in his eye.
(I would guess it was Joy he portrayed in this manner, or
Hope; but there was so much in even such a simple seeming that
I almost dare not attempt to interpret its intention.)

"Time takes time," he said. "That's all! -
Remember: Time takes time!" ...

Back to the Drawing Board

Today I applied for an adminstrative support post at my university. I did so with little energy and half a heart. The job search brings surprises, but at this moment I'll be surprised if anybody calls me about anything.

I also sent off a package of materials for a faculty post at the University of I-Really-Don't-Want-to-Live-There. But I'm feeling ever more stuck in a rut. Maybe, I keep reminding myself, I just need to get a job, somewhere, even if it means spending half the week away from my family. Maybe I've been too selective (though with 30-some apps out there, it's hard to imagine). Perhaps I need more teaching experience. More likely, I need some publications in more prominent journals. I have five pubs, but none in a big journal.

I feel like I've been out on the boat fishing for days without a bite... the weather is drizzly, and my clothes are wet. I'm really beginning to get hungry, but I can't remember if I even like the taste of fish. Yet here I sit.

Yeah, others have been here, and many are still.

I sent out a preliminary inquiry about a week and a half ago, to a second tier journal that might be a good venue for a distillation of my dissertation. Their website says you should send an inquiry to the editors in advance of submitting a complete article. I'd be happy with a form letter that says, "thanks but no thanks". Anything. But I get silence. Is 11 days too short a wait? WHY? Skylar suggested in comments to a recent post of mine that I may simply be hypersensitive to silence these days. I can't deny it.

I've foregone submitting papers for conferences this year. I think publications are more what I need at the moment... if only I could write. I've said before that I operate in spurts of productivity. I mull over an idea for a long time. I read. I compare. I consider. Then bang, I've got the energy and the follow through. It was that way with the dissertation (especially after the comments I received from the first 100 pages).

I read and read, selected materials, and considered them. I spent months working on aspects of the research that I eventually excluded entirely from the dissertation. But eventually I reached a point of readiness to write.

Deep breath. Deep breath. I know I can do it again. I simply have to let go of the job search. Return to my own thoughts. I do what I do because it speaks to me, because I have things to say that are worth saying.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Alternatives? What alternatives?

On January 13th, Bright Star
posted some links to a series of articles on what they don't teach you in graduate school.

The first one, in part 12, mentions the strategy of seeking a job in administration, but negotiating in teaching a class and some time for research. Hmmm.

A few months ago, I applied for a post as an advisor for graduate students at my university. I thought I was a shoe-in. I had been active with the graduate student's association for a couple years, and knew many of the staff pretty well. It seemed like a good place to plant myself while I applied for jobs.

The problem is, I guess my motives were transparent. My thought was I knew I could do a good job, and it was something I would enjoy and feel useful doing. But the feedback I got (roundabout by someone I knew on the inside) was that it was obvious to everyone that I really wanted a faculty position, and I'd be gone in a year or two. That seemed not to be what they wanted.

Would I even have a chance parking myself in administration for a couple years? Who knows, assuming I could even negotiate some teaching and research time. I guess it doesn't hurt me to apply for some jobs, and see what takes. At the moment nothing is doing in my search for a faculty post. Every day that goes by, my chances grow slimmer for the coming Fall.

Do I give up if nothing comes of this season? I guess it's crossed my mind. But I can't really commit to anything besides a faculty job search at the moment. I know that's what I want. I'm just not sure how to get there. My advisor says "patience." But what do I do in the meantime?

I guess I'm lucky. My wife can support the family for now, and we're not going hungry. It's not that I worry about the money, or really that I have any wounded pride that my wife is supporting us. We're a team; we've always been. It just happens that her career is more available and more lucrative than mine. We both recognize that.

It's mostly that I feel lost, without purpose. The PhD is in many respects a self-indulgent exercise. It's all about me, and my research, and my drive, and my perseverance. It's done. It's behind me. Now what? Where can I head from here that will allow me to keep my head up, knowing I'm doing good in the world, and making the best use of the talents I've been given? That's the question that remains.

Unlike Ms. PhD (aka "Young Female Scientist") I don't have the option of working as a researcher for a pharmaceutical company, even if I wanted to. That just not my area of research. There must be ways my work is relevant to real-world applications. I'm just not even sure there are any companies working on them. Let's hope for the moment that I don't have to seek them out.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Silence is definitely NOT golden

I don't intend to spend this post moaning about the job search. Suffice it that silence during the job search is in many ways worse than a rejection letter.

But what I want to write about is something entirely different. I was just rereading Mixed Bag on The PhD Explosion. Odd, I left a comment there before, but don't remember all of the post from my first reading. But it got me thinking. She writes in part about feedback from others.

I'm going to come out with something that is almost embarassing for me to relate. I spent five years of my not so young life writing a dissertation, over 62,000 of my words. Because my committee had been scattered to the winds (only two of the four members of my committee were within 1000 miles of my home institution), my chair advised and the others agreed that my defense be waived. So it was. But here's the crux: The sum total of all the comments I received from my committee would fit on a single typed page of text!

In fact, two committee members essentially said nothing related to the content of my dissertation; one basically indicated that comments would be forthcoming, that I would receive suggestions for changes that I should bear in mind if I wanted to publish any of it (it's been nearly a year since the committee first read the completed draft, and more than six months since I filed the diss with everyone's signatures on it, so I doubt those are ever coming); and the fourth member of my committee, ironically the "outside reader" was the only one with substantive comments, albethey brief.

What am I to make of that? Let's get this straight. I respect and admire all four of my committee members. I enjoyed and gained from my interactions with each, over the years I worked with them. My committee was truly interdisciplinary, each one with their own, mostly non-overlapping expertise. My topic crossed the domains of all four of them, and it's certain that no one of them "got" all of the dissertation. But... couldn't they come up with something to say? Okay, they had more to say when I sent them some preliminary chapters, but again, the most substantive came from the "outside reader."

When I wrote the first 100 pages, I sent it along for comments. At that point Dr. C wrote to me that I would make few friends with those chapters in their present state, that I should put all the theoretical stuff aside, do something substantial, then get back to them. Ouch! So, I did put it aside. I wrote little for the next year. In the end I probably edited out at least half of that original stuff, and rewrote much of what remained. In the end, I did do something substantial. I don't believe they would have signed off on it, if they didn't believe so as well.

Don't let it be thought I didn't earn this PhD. Well, think what you like. I have no doubts. But I tell you, it's damn lonely to have so little feedback. Is my topic really that obscure, that remote from what others have done or thought about? I'm not sure I can accept that. Was my committee that uninterested in what I wrote? Were they just so busy that all they could muster was a read through and a signature? Do they really have that much confidence in me and my work that they considered their comments to be superfluous? (How many academics do you know who think their remarks are superfluous?) Did they think I'd be too sensitive to their criticism? (That never stopped them before.)

I don't know the answer to any of these questions. But I sure wish I had more than silence to reflect on.

A better day: a few words always help

I heard back from the chair of my dissertation committee yesterday. I had written to him just to check in about the job search. It was very awkward because the two professionals I feel most comfortable leaning on about these things happened this year to sit on two search committees considering my application for employment. My advisor was one of them.

The good news is both of them are now available to speak freely with me about job prospects. The bad news, of course, is that neither of their institutions have put me on the short list. Alright, so I move on.

My chair wrote a brief, but nice note:

I'm always delighted to support any application you put together. Don't get discouraged, it just may take a while to get things moving where you want them to be.

It doesn't take much when you're feeling isolated, to feel a little more connected to things, and thus a little better. Part of my brain responds: how long? But I know that's not a terribly productive question. Besides, no one has the answer to that.

I'm beginning to think of alternatives, whether temporary or permanent, in case I end up among that cohort of highly-qualified, intelligent, and capable PhDs unable to land a tenure-track job. I have applied for a few post-docs, but at the moment I consider them to be "real jobs" even if they are short-lasting. As I look over some of the online resources, I'll post the links for useful ones.

I try not to despair too much. Admittedly, it was my choice to pursue an area of research that was (and for the most part remains) outside the mainstream. It's interesting how interdisciplinary is such a hot buzz-word, but when your research is truly cross-disciplinary, people nod and smile, say how interesting it is... but I suspect they're thinking, "well, we don't have a place for him on our faculty, but I'm sure someone will hire him." If only I could find that who!

The weather here is gorgeous. I've been out in the garden pruning a bit this week. I've got to get more exercise. It's hard for me to remember it's okay to take care of myself. I feel guilty about spending time on my body, when I feel there are "more important things" I should be doing. But I have to remember, extending my life-span is pretty important, and in the end will likely permit me to accomplish more of those "more important things" than dying young.

Okay, out into the world.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A word about academic depression

I was looking at an article on the Chronicle of Higher Education website, "A PhD and a failure." The authors were well-intentioned for sure. Indeed they are both career counseling professionals for graduate students and alumni. But the way they wrote about depression during the job search seemed to miss a bit of the point.

I will relate a little bit of my own feelings, because I suspect others may share some of them. First off, I don't feel like a failure, not exactly. The point they make is that many PhDs or ABDs feel like failures if they don't land tenure-track jobs, and that they more highly prize jobs at top research institutions. Perhaps there is a heirarchy. As an officer of the Graduate Student's Association, I had sat on several university committees as the grad representative; and surely I heard my share of, "well, let's remember folks, we're not a teaching institution, we're here for research," and the like. Yes, there is some division. And yes, at the moment, I see myself landing a job at a doctoral-granting institution, because I would like to have advanced graduate students to work with.

But I'm not entirely partial to that, and I fully recognize that my eventual degree of satisfaction will be determined by a variety of factors, and the research/teaching balance, and level of students are only two of those factors. I welcome the new classifications of institutions by the Carnegie Foundation as one move toward helping us all reevaluate these factors.

But here's the deal. I don't feel like a failure if I don't land a tenure-track job at one of my top choice institutions. Rather, I am saddened by the failure of the system. I'm depressed by the lack of value society assigns to those of us who excel at teaching and research, who most shine in an academic setting. It's not that I value what I do any less; it's that I fear I live in a world where what I do, and what I do well, and what I believe is truly worthwhile, is simply not acknowledged.

Partly it's the system, for sure. A simple case of supply vs. demand. If there are too many available PhDs for the available jobs, then many of us will remain out of work, or otherwise employed. So, partly an overabundance of graduates may be at fault. But so is (and here is the clincher) the devaluing of education and research by society. Adjuncts are overworked and underpaid because there are not enough people hired, because there is not enough funding given to the system to hire a sufficient quantity of highly-qualified individuals to prepare a generation of students for the future, and help to guide our thinking through research activities toward new ideas.

I am depressed not because I think I have failed, but because I have not yet succeeded in a world that may not support the very things I am best at, and which I truly believe will benefit it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A new meme

Okay, let me start a new one.

Here are five things I do for distraction or amusement:

1) Gardening. I just love to prune overgrown bushes, and weed. More mulch, less grass.

2) Cooking. What therapy. There's something wonderful about creating a delicious meal. And it's always better when there's someone to share it with, who appreciates it. I smile at how my mother-in-law privately asked my wife recently if I were cooking special just for their visit, or do we eat "like this" all the time.

3) Write poetry. But less and less these days. Still it's something I am pleased to have done, and still will turn to, when the circumstances require. My dad was a good poet. It was something we shared, and something I miss in his absence.

4) Check email. All too often, I confess. I used to be obsessive (still am a bit) about the mail, wanting to know precisely when it arrived, so I could open it right away. Email is a distraction for me, especially when I feel like I'm just biding time. When I have other things to do, I don't miss it so much.

5) My latest: The Legend of Zelda. I bought my wife a GameCube for mother's day a couple years ago, along with the game, because she had really liked it when we were visiting some relatives of hers a few years ago. I thought it would be a surprise. But I've played it more than she has. That was not my intention, but it's an entertaining escape.

Reading again, that's good.

You know, I'm one of those people who really delights in reading. And I'm not talking about a good story. I mean the deep books of academe. I enjoy them. I laugh aloud while reading books with words like "empirical" and "methodological" in their titles. I like academics (well, some of them anyhow). I find their writing can be quite amusing.

I haven't been reading enough lately. That's a real problem. Oddly, not reading isolates me more than physical solitude. When I was young, say 8 or 10, and complained on having "no peers," my father told me to find friendship in books. To read them like they had been written to me. So, I revel in the personalities of writers. And I take it personally. I say I like them. But I can also abhor them. I can curse and mumble at books. "That's stupid!" "What? What? What is your point?"

I become quite annoyed when an author seemingly obscures their points rather than presents them. I glare at random Latin phrases peppered throughout a text that bear no meaningful work like mirabile dictu. If it's so wonderful to relate, just relate it. There's a reason I won't take work to bed, nothing I might take notes on. Because all the cursing and mumbling keeps my wife awake.

But, reading is good for me. It's what keeps me seeking. And I want to write. Oh, do I want to write. Hell, I penned that dissertation. 376 pages. 62,681 words. It's done, finished, completed, approved, signed, and filed. I've got the (albeit rather pathetic looking) diploma to prove it. And those three little letters after my name, which I'm at times a bit hesitant to use, for fear of seeking status in symbols rather than actions.

I did finish, and I'm frankly proud of it. Sure, it's not a perfect work. But it's mine, and it's more than I had before grad school. But I'm afraid. I'm afraid that it ends there. So, I've got to read. And take notes. And when I feel the inspiration return, and the juices begin to flow, I can write.

If only it would rain again

While I'm on a poetry kick. Here's another one of mine, completely unrelated to depression in any form. It's no mystery however that I wrote this before having children (sometime in 1999, best I can decipher). There is a feeling of freedom and solitude that as a father I find hard to recapture just now. I'm not sure I lament it's passing (and I suppose it will return again at a later point in my life), but I recognize the stages of life passing from one to another. What is appropriate at one time, becomes less so at another. It's neither good nor bad, simply a different time.

To Dance in the Rain

Great big tears weep from the sky.
I wonder at why the heavens have cause to cry.
And yet the tears embrace me as I dance
in the mud, on the ground.
Their tears encumber me with their wet weight,
Endrenching my clothes in their embrace, melting
One tear into the next, becoming altogether one,
One with each other, one with the mud, one with
The rains, with me and the sky.
And heavily my vestments cling to my flesh
Holding my shape as a hand caressing the form of
My body, the shell of my dwelling, and I
Feel not so much alone with myself, abandoned, but
Alone as one with the earth and sky.

A little bit more of me

I know this time and feeling will pass, for it always does. The cycles repeat. Each time, I hope I learn something new. Here's a poem from about a year ago.

Depression (1/26/2005)
It’s nothing novel anymore,
it’s passed from new to boring.
I wonder when I’ll get it back,
that silent spark of longing.
The triumph of the spirit … sags.
The pomp and fanfares … mumble.
The time that once sped by … just stumbles.
Hilarity that once delighted, now appears a gag.
I know this passing day will pass,
this cloud of gloom will dissipate,
and so I wait,
until that time arrives.

What is this, self pity week?

I feel like I've been down lately. It's hard to get excited about things, hard to feel motivated. I'm a jellyfish floating on the waves. Blogging seems to be good therapy for me, but lately it seems that we're all getting down. Is it the season, the return from a break, what? I look on other blogs for a bit of inspiration, a modicum of solace. But we're all down in the dumps.

The more I say I won't obsess about this job search, the more I do obsess. And the news I get is mostly bad. "Sorry to say, you're not on our short list." Sure, there are many places which have yet to formulate theirs. Yes, several places have indicated that to me. But some have, and I'm not on them. The odds are getting slimmer each day. What will I do if I go through an entire second year of job searching with nothing?

My wife was asking me if I felt I should start looking for something else to do during the day, as in find some work, any work, to occupy me. Especially since I'm having difficulty finding the drive to get much writing done. What, I asked? I don't see myself finishing the dissertation then taking what I consider an undergrad's summer job. I've waited tables. I've worked in bookstores. I've gardened for a living. Is that what this is coming to? (I'm sorry to drag it down, but I need to vent.)

No, I believe in a world where knowledge, and learning, and inquiry are valued for their own sakes. I don't think we should bury our heads in the sand. But I firmly beleive that expanding our understanding of the world, and ourselves is a fundamental task of humanity, and part of our obligation to this life. I was raised to answer the question: "why are we here?" with a very direct and simple: "to leave the world a better place for our having lived." In part that means doing what we do best as well as we can. For me, that best is thinking about certain things, and making connections and linkages, drawing things together.

I'm a synthesizer more than an analyzer. I like to have five things going at once, so I can chance upon some connection that would otherwise elude me. And you know, I do feel that what I do is worthwhile. I believe the questions I ask are interesting, and that they will ultimately lead us to a greater understanding of some part of our world and our experience of it. But, what do I do with that if I can't get a job, that I ask. And I dwell in the peace that this too shall pass, that this feeling of despair that currently overwhelms me will fade, and some part of me will emerge from the conflagration of it, and lift the rest of me out of it. That's my only hope.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Five weird things

This has been going around. Thought I'd give it my shot.

Five weird things about me:

1) I don't like putting silverware away. I leave it for last, when unstacking the dishwasher, and try to pawn it off on someone else when I can.

2) I've not lived anywhere for 5 years running, except once, when I was 4-11.

3) I'm strongly right-hemisphere dominant for language (even though I'm right-handed). I can't hold a phone to my right ear (contra-lateral connections are stronger!) for more than a few seconds without becoming disconcerted.

4) I started college at 15, after only two years of high school. I received a bachelor's degree 12 years later. I got a GED in my fourth year of enrollment at college, because my school required a high school diploma. I started graduate school, before having completed my bachelor's, necessitating taking a class at my graduate school, to transfer back to my undergraduate institution, so I could graduate.

5) I love learning languages (I can passably speak about 7), have an excellent ear for imitation and a good accent, but I'm terrible at grammar.

So, you've got an Advisor. Is that good?

Just read All in a Day's Work on ABD Mom. A few thoughts come to mind. She writes in part about her relationship with her Advisor. I've had a bit of uncertainty over the years about just what it is I've wanted from an advisor.

First, when I decided to go back to school for the PhD, after getting a Master's degree, and teaching at a community college for two years, I knew what I wanted to work on, and needed only to find a place where I would be left alone to do it. But, I also wanted to feel a part of a community of scholars. I've prided myself on being on the cusp between disciplines, on developing an area of research that only a handful of people around the world are working on. Yet, I've very much wanted to gain respect for my chosen field. It's an odd place to be.

Last year, during one of my telephone interviews, which ended there without a campus invitation, I was asked where I saw myself in terms of the mainstream of my discipline. "Well," I said, "I guess the first question is, what is my discipline. I really feel my home discipline is _____ & _____ studies... but there's not really a field in that. So, I feel like I'm on the cutting edge. That said, I continue to attend the [mainstream society] conferences, and feel it's important to make my work relevant to the mainstream." I guess that wasn't exactly what they wanted to hear.

But, I've learned in job interviews, there really isn't a right answer. At least, one should never try to guess what it is they want to hear. While it's true a job interview is partly about selling yourself, it's like the beginning of a romance, you want to sell what you really are, or you're both going to be sorry down the road.

So, I found a place that was willing to take me as I was. At least, I found an advocate, a full professor at the institution, with whom I had corresponded a bit for a couple years, who was willing to pull for me, and actively recruit me for their program. So I went. Unfortunately, the timing (for him) was bad. I'm not bitter. I realize that even professors have personal lives. I hope to be one someday soon. But his situation led him to be absent more and more. I think he was on campus three days a week the first term; then on leave the next; two days a week after that; then a whole year of leave. By my third year, he was a visiting professor quite a distance away, where he eventually was hired permanently. He remained the chair of my committee, through completion.

But I felt very alone throughout it all. Interesting that. I wanted a place where I would be left alone... but not THAT alone, I guess. My third year, I was done with classes, had a son, prepared for and passed my qualifying exams. My fourth year, I was overseas on a Fulbright. My fifth year, I buried my father, had a second son, and finished the dissertation.

Now, I've got my PhD, and a nice title at a university, but few perks. I'm in my second year of actively seeking employment, and floudering about for focus. I've decided to take it easy on myself for a while. It's work, not worry! That's my new motto.

Friday, January 06, 2006


I admit it. I'm quite moody. I wonder if there is a higher percentage of bipolar disorder among graduate students and faculty? I've not been diagnosed with it. Nor do I have clinical depression. I guess I'm a border case. But I have highs and lows. Boy do I!

And when I'm down, I tend to overreact. Being a parent of young children that can be a problem. A big one. See, a child learns so much from our behaviors. First they learn to imitate us, which can be quite amusing, and certainly revealing, when we see these little reflections of ourselves walking and talking. But they also learn that when they do something and daddy overreacts, well, there's power. There's control. "I can control daddy's mood, and daddy's behavior by doing X or Y."

I tend to overreact in other ways too. I hate waiting. This job search, as I have written seems interminable. So, the more I dwell on the wait, the longer it seems, and the worse my mood becomes. That's dangerous too, because who knows when a search committee may call. Just my luck then to be in a foul mood. So, I can't let that happen.

I turn 38 in just a few days. Not too old, I suppose. But no spring chicken either. It's a great irony that is not lost on me that I started my college career as a high school refugee at the ripe age of 15. Wasn't I hot? Barely into puberty, and I was taking honors classes at a top state university. It was a commuter campus in a major city, so I still lived at home. Another irony, 22 years later I received a terminal degree, ostensibly never to be a student again, at least not officially. About half my life dedicated to institutions of higher learning (discounting the four years I took off 1985-1989, and the three years from 1997-2000). Now I'd like to spend the rest of my working days, on the other side of the table.

Sure there are other options. And it's not just the thought that I've already committed so much to it, that retreat is unimaginable. (I'll leave that sort of flawed logic to politicians who calculate the loss of life in thousands.) No, I long ago came to the realization that needing things was often my worst enemy. When I was 21, I leased a brand-new Ford F-150 (I had a landscaping business which made a pickup necessary). It was a great truck. But frankly, more expensive than I could afford. I had gone to the dealership with a top figure in mind for monthly costs, that I had budgetted for. They said sure. Then they handed me the contract.

Taxes or fees of about $36/month took me over the top. The problem was I was not prepared to say "no". I wanted the truck so badly that I convinced myself I needed it. So after that I established a rule, or a motto: "Always know the difference between what I need, and what I want; never begin to want something so much that it becomes a need." When I live by that, my life is much better. I have often heard the advice (especially when I was a performer) that one should only take a chosen path if it is "the only thing you could do." Well, no. That's bad advice. It leads to false expectations, and great disappointment most of the time.

Rather, you should do what you love, what you most enjoying doing at the moment. But you should never shut off your mind to other possibilities. You should never close up your life so that all your life was lived before you made that ultimate decision of "the only path I could take." There are many paths in life, and many tributaries off of each one. Living life means taking paths, not sitting on them.

So, yes, there are other things I could do besides being a professor. It's just, that's what I'm focussed on being at the moment. That, and being a husband and father and son and brother. Sometimes I forget these latter titles I admit. Partly because I tend to focus on the areas of my life that are not satisfying rather than the ones that are. I have often been drawn toward difficulties, shunning the easy routes. But family is important, and community (that's in part what you my reader's, imagined or real, are). I need to remember that, and keep the frustrations of my professional life in perspective.

And I need to get over this cold! Yech!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The "PhinisheD" anticlimax

Just reading "Other People" on The PhD Explosion. Started thinking again about the anticlimax of completing the PhD. It was five years of my life. That may seem short to some of you. The normative time in my field is seven years. But, I hit the ground running when I went back to school.

It was 2000, and I was 32 and married. I had a Master's degree, and had spent two years teaching at a community college. I had floundered about for much of the time after I finished my Master's. But every time I thought of doing something else for a career, like managing a bookstore, my wife would say, "you don't get excited thinking about where to shelve a new biography of Kafka, or what category applies to a photojournalist's take on kindergarten in Zimbabwe. Do what you love!"

So, I spent some time thinking about what most fires my passions, and excites my mind. And I decided to go back for the PhD, to learn to do research. Mostly that was it. I love teaching, I do. For me, it's got all the thrills of being on stage, except I can write my own script, and interact with a live audience. But I want to write as well, and contemplate things. That's what my research allows me to do. To ask questions that go beyond a freshman seminar. I want to do both.

So, I went back to school. I had spent a couple years looking into where I would study, and with whom. I knew the what, but I was uncertain about what field my work best fit into. When I finally began graduate school again, I was ready to take off. My first quarter, I had put together an interdisciplinary group, and was holding meetings with faculty from three different departments.

The professor for my first-year bibliography class told my advisor she thought I was "cocky". But I think she softened on me, when I handed in an 18,000 word annotated bibliography for the term project. She had insisted the project should be "exhaustive". I apologized for it's incompleteness, but explained that I had simply ran out of time to annotate the remaining 60 items. Apparently it made an impression. I recently met a new graduate student in the library on campus who asked if I was the one who wrote the 50+-page essay for that professor's class. I confessed.

All this is to say, I felt pretty confident. My work was unusual, pathbreaking I'd like to think. I spent a lot of my time as a doctoral student being defensive about my research. I liked being on the cusp of things, but I wanted recognition from the broader discipline that it wasn't a fringe area. But all the time and energy I spent building up my self-image as a unique, powerful, interesting, contributing member of the intellectual community, I failed to realize that so were many of my colleagues.

It was only after the first failed job season that I accepted this fact. A committee may get 50 or 100 applications from hopefuls, about half of whom all stand out, and shine in their own way. I just still hope there's one place where my own light can shine.

The interminable wait

Okay, so I have to blow off some steam about the faculty job search. Perhaps you will find this amusing:

Yesterday, January 2, I felt like following up on some of the open postitions that closed for applications two or three months ago. I figure they've had enough time to review materials, to make an initial cut, and possibly formulate their short lists. Perhaps I could mark a few of the possibilities off my own list. So far, I heard virtually nothing from anyone except a school in New Zealand, which made an appointment about three months ago. Otherwise, it's just been acknowledgement letters for receipt of my materials, or EEO cards, and a couple invitations to have preliminary short interviews at one of the national conferences (that unfortunately I was not going to attend this year). But I hear those conference interviews amount to little.

Patience has never been my strong suit. It seems that every job application goes out with a little piece of me. And while I allow myself (or force myself) to get excited about each post I choose to apply for, I feel just that little bit diminished with each package that I mail. The hope is that a call or a letter or email, or (dare I even hope!) an interview will help increase my confidence again.

So, I made some calls, and sent out a bunch of innocuous emails saying something like:

Dear Prof. ___________,

I just wanted to ask about the current status of the ____________ search in your department. Any information you could provide regarding my application or the search would be appreciated.

Happy new year,


Here's the reply I got from one school to which I sent materials October 4. Their acknowledgement letter was dated October 21, which stated: "the search committee has begun reviewing applications... we will notify you of your status as soon as possible." Calculate it, that's more than two months ago. Okay, so I sent the email... and this is the response:

"Dear Dr. _____________

The position is still open. I cannot comment on our progress until we make an appointment. All candidates are still in the running -- but I expect we will work quickly towards making an appointment in the next 4 - 6 weeks."

What amuses me is the gratuitous use of the word quickly! [SIGH]. What? Are they kidding me?

Here's one that came this morning:

Their search closed October 15. The committee chair's letter, dated September 22, reads "we will begin reviewing applications after October 15." The email I just got reads:

"Dear Prof. ____________,

The search is ongoing. When we have an announcement to make about it, we will make it."

Is it me? Or does that come across just a might bit testy? I guess after is a relative term.

Last, here's one I reached by phone:

Their acknowledgment letter is dated November 12. The search officially closed November 15. At the bottom it reads: "if you have any further questions concering the position or your application, do not hesitate to call me at home (###) ###-#### or email me at _________@_____.edu."

Sounds pretty inviting. And, to top it off, this is one of the schools that actually encloses a nice little brochure about the university and department, along with bios of the faculty. A nice touch.

So, I called. To be honest, I wasn't reading the letter terribly carefully. I only saw "don't hesitate to call me" ... and the number. So I dialed. As it rang, I thought, "oh, good, I'll charm them with a happy new year greeting first". This is what transpired instead:

"_________ ________ please?"
"Yes... who's this?"
"Uh... I'm ________ ___________. I'm an applicant for the position in ________ at __________ University. I was just calling to check on the status of the search."
"Oh. Well, this is the Christmas break. It's January. We haven't met the committee together yet."
"Oh. Okay. Have a nice break then. Thanks."

[SIGH] You know. If you really don't want people to contact you... Don't write "don't hesitate to call". SHEESH! I mean the text above doesn't do justice to how annoyed he came off. Sure, sure, he must have thought it quite an affront of me to call him AT HOME, and DURING THE BREAK!

Big deal! I mean, am I really out of line to follow up on a search that has had my materials for more than seven weeks?

Okay, okay. I've calmed down now. You know, I admit it... looking over my shoulder and reading the letter more carefully now, I should have waited. It does read, in the second paragraph, "screening of applications will begin after November 15... full-scale review will go on from mid-January to mid-February... we expect to make final recommendations by the end of March." Maybe I blew it with that one. I did mention my name. Perhaps he'll forget by the time the committee meets. At least I didn't bother anyone whose searches closed at the end of November or later.

Mostly, what annoys me, is the lack of understanding or appreciation from these search committees of the precariousness of most applicants' lives. It's just a matter of professional courtesy. If you won't start reviewing materials until January, why close your search in October or November? Perhaps they think, "what's the big deal? The position won't start until next fall!" But, you see, we all have lives to live between now and then. And having no sense of even what time zone one will be living in makes it somewhat difficult to make any plans.

Maybe they all got their jobs right out of graduate school, maybe they were still ABD. But I suspect most of us don't. Sure, if I were still enrolled, and still writing my dissertation, I'd have more patience (or at least more distractions ... you know, writing that little paper can take up a good deal of one's time). I did get a campus interview last year, while I was still ABD. And it was darn close. But I got no faculty offers. So, it's another year of limbo.

I feel like a ravenous hyena at an abandoned zoo, waiting for scraps of bloody meat from the zookeeper who never comes. Meantime, I wait some more.