Friday, March 31, 2006

Small milestones

I'll take 'em. I finished the initial analysis of the first set of data for my current small project. This is the analysis I was doing yesterday when the program crashed. I've taken to obsessively hitting Ctrl-S, since there's no automation of this function (It's a shareware program, but perhaps the best for what I'm doing). It's a good habit for me to get into (especially since this program doesn't prompt at close to save).

It's a cold and grey day here. It's "Cesar Chavez" day, so the entire campus is closed as well. Since I have a building and lab key, it was no problem for me to get in and work. But... I couldn't get lunch anywhere, and didn't think to pack a lunch today. Sorry to say, I didn't know it was CC day! So, I've been subsisting off of dried apricots and a bag of Chex Mix. (Now, why do I feel like a grad student today?)

It feels good to have reached a small milestone. I had a nice chat with the newest member of the faculty here in my host department. He's a couple years younger than me, but quite accomplished. And we share an interest in [InterdisciplinaryField]. As he put it, he's been lucky. And he has. But he's much more published than I. He gave me some ideas that I think I'll take away with me. Mainly he simply reiterated what I wrote a few days ago about publishing. I've got to simply take the attitude that what I have to say (even if it doesn't seem perfect) is worth sending out. I have to trust that it's at least good enough for feedback. And, who knows, maybe some of those articles will be stamped "pending revision."

Most importantly, I simply have to keep on keeping on.

WhatNow? has been writing about some issues that speak to my present experience. The situations are different, but I think the underlying emotions are recognizable. The main thing I take away from it is the need to remember it's my life I'm living, it's my choices that have gotten me here, I'm in the steerage... and what's more, I kind of like it. I'm the one who's had most to do with forging this life, and I'm the principal player in all that happens next.

Granted, Dryden may be right, when he says misery is more entertaining than most other alternatives. But, frankly, I'm tired of my own whining. Timna may be right as well that others like to catch us at our whiniest. So maybe I won't be getting links for a while. I can suffer it.

No promises, though. But I'm going to make some effort to just enjoy my life. Misery makes us martyrs, leads us to disregard our own best interests in pretending our suffering serves some greater goal. Just think of Zacarias Moussaoui.

A new day

Sorry for my self-pity last night. Sometimes I good cry or whine is needed to purge.

As I promised, today is a new day.

This morning, I drafted up and sent off an abstract for the chapter meeting of SOD, which is coming up in the beginning of May. The abstract was on one of my current smaller projects. And it gives me impetus to draw some conclusions. I've also decided this will play a major role in my host department's colloquium presentation in the middle of May.

Then, I've caught up on all my blog feeds. So, I won't have to write comments on five day old posts for a while.

I intend to have a good and productive day, and a wonderful weekend with my family, keeping priorities where they lie.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

What's keeping me in this fight?

At times I think it's sheer momentum. There are times when I think half the reason I am still here is what I've always considered a sorry excuse: because I already have so much invested. It's like the current U.S. administration's excuse for continuing headstrong on one failed policy after another.

Am I as guilty as they?

Maybe it's pure selfishness. I'm shocked by the headlines in my news feeds. More bombings every day. Now dozens die in Iran from earthquakes. Tsunamis and Hurricanes.

In the face of that, what's it matter if little ole me is a professor or not? Who cares? Does my plight have any impact on the suffering in the world?

But at the moment, I'm too invested, or too afraid of considering any real alternative. I can't exactly pack up, abandon my family and head to Indonesia for the Peace Corps. To be fair, there are times (often enough) when I believe I have much to contribute in academia, when I know in my heart that I am a good teacher (my student evals, albethey yellowing from age at this point, attest to that), when I'm excited by research, and convinced that my efforts will ease us closer to some hidden domain of knowledge. There are times when I believe, as my Jewish heritage teaches me, that this too, a life dedicated to knowledge, perhaps even above all else, is worthy.

I miss the stage: the applause, yes; but the faces too. I miss looking into the faces in the audience, speaking directly to them, seeing their tears or fears. That's meaningful! That's doing something I can be proud of.

That's the point. We can (I have, I know) justify our lives in myriad ways. It is possible to find value and worth in waiting tables, or gardening, even in changing a diaper. It's just... I'm not sure I can, anymore. I want to be a professor. Damn it, I want that!

Just now I feel embarassed and ashamed. I'm a mere statistic: an unemployed PhD.

Ah. Tomorrow's another day.

Life's a rollercoaster, and all I want...

All I really want... is to get off and taste the fried dough!

A bunch of random thoughts. I guess Prof. me is contagious.

I didn't get too upset this afternoon, when the program I was using crashed, and I lost about an hour's worth of work. That's okay. The analysis always goes quicker the second time around.

I've been getting pretty excited about this prospective one-year gig, 1500 miles away. Why? Why should I be pleased over a long shot (aren't they all?) that would be the worst continuing logistical nightmare of my life? Because I really want to get my career started. That's all I can say.

I wrote to a conference friend of mine, who's a prof. at a school less than an hour down the road from there. In response to my general inquiry (which was in part, I admit, just an excuse to be back in touch with him), he wrote:
Obviously it would fantastic for you to be at [that University] as they have one of the most exciting [field 1] and [interdisciplinary field] groups in Canada.
A-yup, I know. That's why I'm excited. But it's just a posting... I haven't even worked up the new syllabus yet, to include with my application. But I've been working on it. Next, my friend went on to write that he anticipates having a post-doc opportunity at his school, that might be appropriate for me. So, there's another possibility.

Maybe this is a good sign though. Usually when I get excited about something, I forget all about the other irons I have in the fire, until I start smelling some smoke. When the smoke comes, it often means something completely unexpected has turned out. None of the three schools who called me for telephone interviews last year were what I expected. Each was quite different from the other: one medium-sized comprehensive state university (where I had the campus interview); one small liberal arts college; a one-year at a major research university.

What do I make of that? Hell, I don't know who'd be interested in me, or why. I can't say why those particular schools called me last year, nor why I've gotten nothing so far this year. But I've got applications out. If it weren't for the records I keep on my computer, I'd have no idea where I've applied. So, who knows? Maybe one of those schools will yet call me up.

I just want to feel a part of the academic community again. I feel like since I filed that diss, and walked across the stage, in my [borrowed] regalia, it's been like severed ties. I'm just this old floor lamp, sitting in the corner, with a frayed power cord, gathering dust.

My wife tires of my ups and downs (as do I). It's frustrating for her, because she realizes there's really nothing she can do. The one thing really lacking in my life is my professional career, about which she has no control. I'm doing everything I can it seems. So, all I can do is wait.



Have I said it before? I hate waiting!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


I'm not a religious person. Not superstitious either. But I've come to appreciate what I call convergences in life. A convergence is when something comes up again and again, from different angles.

When I was younger, my mother bought the oddest little car, an AMC Pacer. Suddenly I noticed them everywhere. Of course, that mostly reflected my own perception of the world. We're always best attuned to hearing our own name spoken over a noisy and distorted loudspeaker at a train station or doctor's office. So a convergence may mostly be one's own awareness of the world in particular ways. For me, being able to pick out connections to the same object (the "all roads lead to Rome" phenomenon) is a good sign that I'm on the right path.

This happened for me as my research focus emerged over the past decade. The more I read about disparate things that interested me, the more they seemed alike, the more connections I could draw. That's where my interdisciplinarity derives from. Sometimes however, these convergences emerge in more mysterious ways.

Yesterday, I mentioned a one-year job I'll probably apply for that would be a tough commute. This morning, while [obsessively] checking my webstats, I noticed one hit on my personal research website from the very city in Canada where that school is! Hmmm. I haven't even applied there yet. So, I looked more closely. The click (to the web-version of my CV by the way) was based on a Google search for one of my references. My PRW was the top page result. Sweet!

They say in advertising and politics, name recognition is king. So...
in your face, folks... this is me, I'm here, oh... and by the way, got any jobs?
More posts keep coming up. Mostly one-year gigs. But that's okay. I just want a jump start now. I can buy a new battery down the road. I just want to hear that engine purr.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Chinese Fortune Cookie

Ahh, if only there were an intelligence behind this!

Lunchtime the boys and I had lunch with my wife. We had a makeup gymnastics class for The Painter in the vicinity of her work and the timing was right. We had Chinese buffet. Pretty good. Here was my fortune:
Your skills and talents will be called on in unusual areas.
Somebody, make a believer out of me!

Citation formats

Okay, here's a quick question for all you other interdisciplinary types: How do you deal with citations? I mean... okay, here's my problem, journals that I read, have, or might submit to require entirely different formats for citations. On my shelf, among other things, I have:
Each one, proclaiming a slightly different formatting. I'm even running into this issue on my personal research website. For now, I'm just citing things the way I have them written down, or some logical means that I happen upon for the moment. When I taught at the community college, I used to just tell my students (much to the dismay of colleagues) that the rule was to cite enough information that any reasonable person could find the source in a library in five minutes or less. I've just read so many different formats, that I have no idea which is which, and I don't really care.

Remember last month, when I was preparing that dissertation distillation article? I spent about three days simply reformatting the thing (mostly footnotes to endnotes, and changing citation formats). Alright, this is one of the banes of interdisciplinarity. In order to talk to different audiences, you have to learn to speak their language. Sometimes I wish someone would just write up a script that would automatically change citations into various formats.

That doesn't quite handle the issue entirely though, since as I pointed out during that reformatting process just mentioned, some of the reformatting meant rethinking whether something should be an inline citation or a footnote, or perhaps just remade into main text, with or without a citation. No program is going to replace those thought processes. But it could help.

How nice it would be to enter information into fields, then select the formatting from a drop-down list [Chicago;footnote] style please, and brrrling There you go!

A tough commute

Okay, here's the scenario. I saw a posting for a one-year gig on the opposite coast, in fact north of the border as well, in Canada. About an hour after I saw the posting (from a listserv of SOD) Dr. TassePlein forwarded it to me with the annotation: Did you see this?.

It's nice that he's taking a more active interest in my career. I've come to understand that he really is committed to my success. So, I looked it over. Granted, let's be straight, this is just a posting, which is a far cry from an offer, even an interview. But, the question is: do I make the effort to apply? There is a top researcher from one area of my tiny little niche who teaches there, but in a different department. And it's a good school.

The gig would be to teach six half year courses. They're asking for a full application (more than most, but not everything):
  • a letter of interest
  • a detailed curriculum vitae
  • a statement of teaching philosophy and practice
  • a syllabus
  • and the names and complete contact information for three referees
I'd have to work up a new syllabus, which reflects my current thinking and approach to the subject matter. I'd want to fulfill their needs, but my own as well. Tough commute though. How would I handle it? It looks like I'd have to leave Sunday nights, for a red-eye, arriving early on Monday morning. I'd sleep on the plane, and likely head straight to campus, depending on my schedule. Likely Thursday afternoon or evening, I'd catch a return red-eye flight, and again sleep on the plane. Then I'd have about 2.5 or 3 days to spend with my wife and boys each week.

The flights would run about $500-600 round trip; I'd be earning somewhere in the range of US$45k. So, for a 30-week contract, I'd spend about a third of my gross on flights. If I just rented a room somewhere there, I could probably keep my housing costs to a minimum. I'd expect to live on campus while I was there, just showering and sleeping at home (maybe dinner and breakfasts too). My general rule is that I don't want to take a one-year that will eat up more than half my earnings in the commute and housing.

The real issue here is how much sacrifice is reasonable for jump starting the career? I'm willing to do a lot... but is this too much? I have made an effort not to unduly limit my geographic region. I've mostly just avoided small schools that are in out of the way places, since the task is to find an area where both the wife and I can have careers, which wouldn't happen in that sort of place.

Any thoughts?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Cruel anticipation

My Vonage service sends me an email every time I get a new voice mail, with the calling phone number in the message. Wow, I thought, I don't recognize that area code; could be a school calling to interview me. Hmmm... 10 second message, looks good. Brief, and to the point... My heart starts pounding in anticipation. I open up the vonage voice mail screen, and click on the message, expecting something like:
Hello, Dr. ______, this is _____ calling you from the University of ______, on behalf of the _____ search committee. Please give us a call at ###-###-#### at your convenience. We're looking forward to hearing from you.
Instead, I got
Hello, this is your Arrowhead water service, calling to remind you that your local delivery-person will be in your area tomorrow for your regularly scheduled delivery. If you would like to make any changes to your order, please leave a note with your empties. Thank you for using Arrowhead...
[aaarrrggh!] [SIGH] Ah well, back to the drawing board.

What'll I think in 30 years?

Not much to write here these days, I admit. I've been working. Had a great weekend with the family... hence the silence on the weekend. I've been on campus today, plugging away. Analysis: it's always quite consuming, since it requires a great deal of concentration. The departmental computer lab here on campus (where I work) is relatively quiet. It's spring break, so only the stalwarts (or holdouts, depending) are here, but mostly working, not gossipping. I contribute as much to talking now, but we're all pretty good at letting each other work.

I've been reflecting a bit lately on how several senior (or retired) scholars I know speak almost without exception with a bit of embarassment about their earliest publications. Naive is the word I most often hear them say about some article they penned thirty or forty years ago. And, I've realized the important part in this is not that they are ashamed of what they wrote at the beginning of their careers, but rather that they had long, distinguished careers despite of (or perhaps because of) their willingness to just get out there and say something.

In my worrying about not sounding like an idiot, or thinking of all possibilities or confounds to my arguments, I've been holding myself back from just testing the waters of an idea. Perhaps the main difference between potential and accomplishment is simply writing a conclusion, being willing to draw some circle around a collection of thoughts, and accepting that thirty years from now I'll most likely think it naive.

So, I've been excited by some smaller projects, short, not too ambitious, but different and quirky in my own way, forcing cross-disciplinary conversations, and making them seem inevitable. I've got two of these underway, and a third (which has been mulling around my mind for years) will be the next one. Each of them is fun, and likely more appealing (at least more accessible) to a broad audience than some of my BIG projects. They'll be good as conference papers, or invited lectures, or articles. I'm just going to do it, and get them done. Find a conclusion, and draft it up. And if the ideas are rejected from conferences, or journals, then I can work on them some more. But, I'm feeling pretty good about this right now. I think they'll fly.


Maybe this blog is degrading into a strange hodgepodge of unrelated reflections... but...

The wife and I saw the movie Tsotsi during our weekly date over the weekend. It's an import from South Africa, based on the 1989 novel of the same name by Athol Fugard. We had seen a play by Fugard a few months ago, Exits and Entrances, which was good, so we thought this worth a try.

I think it's a fine movie. Sort of a Pulp Fiction without the glorification of violence. I hated PF. I found the main characters despicable, and while they were painted as sympathetic, I had no desire to sympathize with them. I felt dirty leaving the theater. With Tsotsi, you have an equally despicable main character, yet he's humanly complex. You sympathize with him, not because he's funny or quirky as in PF, but because he's human, because you come to believe redemption is really possible for him, or you lament that it may not come.

I recommend it, if you can find it anywhere!

Saturday, March 25, 2006


No, really, this post is about pancakes. I tried an experiment this morning, and it turned out well, so here's the recipe:

Oatmeal-Apple-Raisin pancakes

1 cup flour
1/2 cup dry rolled oats
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup apple sauce
1 cup (or so) milk
1 egg
1 tbs brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
dash of cinnamon

Mix dry ingredients well, making sure the brown sugar is mixed in. Make a well in the middle, whisk up the egg. Add the apple sauce. Mix. Slowly add the 1 cup of the milk, while stirring. Add more to obtain proper consistency.

Stir as you pour or dip the batter, since the raisins and oatmeal may drop toward the bottom. Cook in a small quantity of butter or oil over medium heat. Flip pancakes when the popped bubbles remain open. Cook second side until lightly browned.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Work is good

Work is good,
work is fun.
I like working,

Ha, ha. A little bit of doggerel for you, a la St. Vincent Millay. It feels good to be working. As Professor Zero put it recently (in a comment to an old post):
it's time to define your next research project in *your* terms. Being sure you're working on something you can be enthusiastic about makes you an attractive job candidate, believe it or not.
Oddly enough, today, I'm not so concerned about my attractiveness on the job front. Maybe I'm resigned to the likelihood that I will remain professionally unattached for another year, so I might as well make the most of it. I'm just doing my thing, and enjoying it. All I can say here is that it's got something to do with Louis Armstrong, and I'm diggin' it. As I'm beginning to accept, despite the uncertainties of my current state, and the discomfort of my status, I'm really in a good place to just enjoy my work.

Part of me has been too worried about fitting in. Isn't that always the big question: finding the best fit. Yet, trying to fit a round me into a square hole just won't cut it. Really, I've been trying to say hey, I'm round... but I can also be square, see. And, I guess, noone's been buying. While I might prefer the badge of having a professorship right now, so I could no longer suffer the awkwardness of trying to explain to the inlaws that I'm not unemployed by any fault of my own, it's simply out of my hands. I'm trying to keep that three year plan in mind, making it ever more difficult for search committees to ignore me. I've got to do that in a way that keeps me excited.

As you may have guessed by now, I'm not likely to convince anyone that I'm TimidScholar. In any case, I don't feel like making the effort. At the risk of unduly dismissing Dr. TassePlein's advice on this count, I've got to be me. I think I'm more likely to succeed by enhancing my visibility than by appearing needy. I've sometimes given the advice to cultivate naivety. It's this approach that has allowed me to act as if in the past, and to succeed where perhaps I should have failed. I simply didn't know any better. I simply was unaware that what I was attempting was impossible. So, back to work it is.

.... nah, nah, nah... I'm not listening...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Me, with nothing to say?

Gah! I just read the post over at ABD Anonymous about heading out into a wilderness of dissertatiana without a map, no street signs, and the sky is ominously overcast (okay, those are my words, not hers). And I want desperately to have something pithy, enlightening, amusing, reasonable, tolerably sensient... to say. But... duh... um... uh... I'm speechless. Go ahead, smirk, Professor Me, sometimes I am at a loss for words.

I feel the same way reading over Brightstar's posting about relationships, and Dryden's from a while back, and I feel like I ought to have something to say... I've been happily married for 8-1/2 years now. But, nope, nada, nothing. It's not that there is nothing to say. I guess ... hmmm...

You know I try not to dive into things halfway. Maybe it's simply that I believe the issues raised in these posts require more energy than I'm willing or able to muster at the moment... and so, I say nothing, rather than say something insufficient.

I fear I'm that way too often. I think I can be that way when it comes to articles and conference papers. I was that way for a long time with the dissertation. My wife kept asking me when I was going to stop reading, and just start writing. And I said I didn't know. There was always something else I had to follow up on, some other angle I had to pursue. But, then, bang, I hit the point when it was time, time to stop reading, time to cut the loose ends and let them fall. It was finally time to recognize I wasn't going to cover every possible avenue.

I guess it's like drawing a map. If you want it to be perfect, you might spend so much time on it, that everything from the beginning has already changed by the time you reach the end. That's why conventional wisdom says a finished dissertation trumps the best one any day. So too it must be with so many other things in life.

I've written recently about feeling all potential, and wanting more achievement. Getting there it would seem requires me letting go of the desire to get everything right. It's okay to make mistakes and stumble, even in public. It's from those mis-steps perhaps that we grow the most. So... here's to tripping up a bit, and enjoying it. Dryden, will you drink with me?


I'm taking little, plodding steps. Working, working. Following up on some ideas, running analyses. Adding bits to my research website (I set a goal to add one substantial item per day to that site... so it keeps building). Still finding a few jobs to apply to for next fall, mostly one-year or temporary gigs, but also a few full-time tenure-track posts.

Mostly, I'm trying to keep busy, so I don't spend my energy worrying about not hearing back from others. I'm working to get more things out there: more article submissions, more entries and posts on my website, more job applications. Years ago, when I had a landscaping business, I liked sending out bills, knowing I had receivables, that someone always owed me money. I'm trying to create the same sense now, to maintain receivables in my professional life.

Surely, some will come back in the form of rejection letters, but some will be acceptances, or invitations, or interviews. The good, the bad... it doesn't really matter, as long as there's always something coming in or expected.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Short night, long day

[SIGH] ...
The Inventor was up earlier than usual this morning... 4:24 am was when I finally crawled out of bed. In my sleepy half-sense I said to my wife that I'd get The Painter to come snuggle with us, and let The Inventor just cry it out. He's usually not up until about 5:00 or 5:30 for his morning nursing, and sometimes, gasp, we get to sleep uninterrupted until 6:00. The wife, in her wisdom (hard to fathom at that hour) suggested I try to soothe #2, instead of getting up #1. Ah... good thought.

So... about 10 minutes later, I uncoiled him from my lap, wrapped him back up in his blanket, and returned him to his crib. That bought us 20 minutes of shut-eye. [SIGH]. So I brought him to our room, where we keep a travel crib all set up and waiting for him. He fussed and cried off and on for the next 15 or 20 minutes... not really awake, but not letting us sleep. So, I brought him to bed with us... nothing doing until my wife turned over. That's what he wanted.

I even went to bed early last night (as in around 11:00). So.. I probably got around 6 hours sleep all told. Though how do you count the hour and a half of almost sleeping? Not enough. Too little sleep, and the morning is harder. And when I'm cranky and short... so are my boys. And wouldn't you know it, one of the cats chose just when I was tightest to knock over a vase of flowers we bought at the farmer's market yesterday.

But, we all survived. Now, it's to make it a productive day.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Finding direction

I'm still a bit out of sorts. I can't quite put a finger on it. The past few days, I've not really felt like reading blogs... I've not really felt like writing posts. Of course that feeling hasn't kept me from either.

I'm realizing that I've been coasting a bit since filing the dissertation. Unfortunately, some of that took place even before. 2004 was a rough year for me: I cut short my planned time overseas (okay, cut short isn't quite right... but I turned down a three-month extension to my Fulbright, so I could head stateside, to take care of my ailing father). That change in return date however meant that I had to cancel one invited university lecture in Central Europe, postpone indefinitely a trip encompassing three invited talks in Northern Europe, back out of a conference paper that had been accepted in the UK, and forego a possible talk in South-Eastern Europe.

Then, I took care of my father in his final months, wrote the dissertation, tended to my pregnant wife, then our second son, applied for jobs. That started the cycle of coasting. I chaired one conference panel and presented a paper in August 2004. But that's about the last the world has seen of me. 2005, I packed up and moved the household for my wife's job and my post-doc, played full-time stay-at-home dad for a few months, applied for more jobs. All the while, I kept expecting something to come along, some offer somewhere that would give me impetus and drive again. But here I sit. Direction from outside is not forthcoming.

So, I've got to find it once again within. That's what I'm working on now. I started a couple smaller projects this week, that hopefully I can turn into conference papers or articles within, say, the next month. I got an announcement for a conference today that sounded quite interesting, and which I knew would appeal to a friend of mine, who happens to be chair of a department in my second field. I forwarded the notice to him, about which he was excited. He wrote to say he was running out of town for a conference, and wondered whether I'd be submitting something for that conference. My reply was that I wasn't sure I had anything to present (on that topic). His advice: Do it!

Maybe that's what I need... to take some outside deadlines (like calls for papers) to simply work on something. Perhaps the more deadlines I have the less likely I'll be to stretch my projects out. I have to remember those thousand steps, rather than looking always for the giant leaps. And... I have to finally work up a real grant proposal for my planned longitudinal study. The idea has been in draft since last summer. It's a good idea. I simply have to follow through and make it a reality. I guess I've got work to do.

Too much potential

It's been a strange few days. I've been up and down. Not too down, I admit, just a general malaise. I'm working, but oddly, it doesn't always feel like I'm getting much done. When I look back on the days, I can account for my time, and much of it has been productive. But productive in the sense of getting things started, or analyzing data -- general middling work, that has to get done, but that doesn't really satisfy much on its own.

The research website is up and running. I'm adding bits piece-meal, and beginning to send out announcements of its existence around, mostly to individuals I know. The novelty of it has worn off a bit. It's somehow established, not pending (though it's still very much in development). I guess I still feel my career is pending; I'd like it to feel more established. I want to hear the satisfactory hum of an engine in motion.

I realize I've got much work to do. My biggest problem (always) is focusing, narrowing down my range of things to just get going on one or two. I tend to have 15 irons on the fire... so many that the flame often goes out... then needs to be rekindled. Maybe having so many ideas is my defense mechanism. I can feel like there's so much potential. I've grown tired of potential. I want a bit more actualization.

It's a strange feeling to at once be excited by one's own contributions (or potential contributions), and on the other hand feel inadequate, ignorant of so many things. Of course, recognizing one's own ignorance has been said to be a sign of wisdom, no? Maybe that's why so many of us PhDs feel this way.

Sure, I've accomplished some things. But it ever feels like they count for nothing. What's past and done is over. There is no resting on laurels here. I fear to coast. As they say, you can only go down hill in neutral.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Don't fall behind

Tonight I popped over to look at the CVs of a couple young faculty members in my host department. Wow... I was initially floored by the sheer volume of publications and presentations. Then, I realized that while they are both likely around my same age, the first completed his PhD in 2000 (the year I began my doctoral program) and the second received her PhD in 1997. So, yeah, wow... but it's not out of reach.

I simply have to set myself some goals. Alright, I've been out of conferences for over a year. But I had been doing pretty well with them. I have given a few invited talks this year so far, have one more scheduled, and can probably finagle a couple more. So, I've got to massage the cogs... and I've got to prepare some abstracts for conferences.

Most importantly perhaps I've got to get moving on more publications. Still haven't heard anything back from the last journal (other than the initial acknowledgement). It's only been three weeks, though, so I can't read much into that. In any case, I have no control over it now. If it's returned with comments, then I can do something with it. But I've got some new ideas for smaller articles, and I've started working on them. I've really been a bit hesitant to submit articles. I think in some ways my attitude hasn't been that far from what the Academic Coach described as going Academic AWOL, only it's the longer I go without publishing a "big" article, the bigger the splash I think is required.

Instead, what I really need is to keep plugging away. I need to take full advantage of my situation right now. Time, I have. The energy, I need to muster. I need to set myself some concrete and ambitious but achievable goals for the coming months. Who knows, I may yet land myself a one-year post. But I've got to keep that three-year plan in mind. If I don't, I may slip... and I'm not sure I'd be able to recover from that.

Appopriate expectations

This morning, I read an article on Inside Higher Ed, regarding a new study of political attitudes in academia, which got me thinking. ...

Years ago, during my Master's program, I had a good friend. I ended renting a studio apartment in the same building as he, leading to us spending even more time together. We were both studying the same thing, took many classes together, and found a degree of affinity toward each other within that context. But, we were very different. He was a conservative Christian, and I was not.

Should that have affected our friendship? Surely it did, but not to the extent of preventing it. Rather, I came to the realization that my expectations of our friendship should remain within the context that we shared. I recognized that our friendship would not, and should not extend to discussions of a political or religious nature. Sometimes, when two people disagree about matters, they can still be topics of conversation. In this case, however, I think our views were so disparate that such a conversation would not have been fruitful or enlightening.

That did not make him a bad person, or an evil one (though I might find myself at times vehemently opposing something he would support). I wished him well in life, I was pleased by his successes, and saddened by his difficulties, as I hope he was by mine. Surely it was not a matter of my repressing my own views, but rather one of suppressing them for an appropriate context. If I go to the grocery store, does it matter what the checker thinks of Kosovo or Sudan, Iraq or Iran? What matters in that context is whether or not my items are scanned efficiently.

A few years ago, when serving as graduate student representative to the faculty senate, one item on the agenda was a resolution to oppose the Iraq war. As I remember it, I was sympathetic to the wording of the resolution, but I was uncertain whether it was the appropriate venue for faculty to present these ideas. In part this was motivated by my belief that matters of national and international politics was outside the purview of the faculty senate, in part because it smacked of imposing ideological orthodoxy on the campus, and frankly in part because it seemed a relatively meaningless gesture (did Washington politicians really care what California university professors thought of their policies? -- in terms of the neo-con establishment, surely not!)

I applaud one conclusion of the study cited in the article above, which, as reported, presents a strong call for professors to be willing to present ideas that may upset some students. But I also recognize that this depends upon context. We can easily offend students any time we like. The question is to what end is our upsetting our students aimed? We do have an obligation to act within society, never to be silent in the face of injustice. How and when this is done, not whether, is the hard question.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Posturing vs. Reality

Go read today's article in Inside Higher Education, re: the U.S. Senate's increasing funding for higher education. Then read the comments by some clown* from the Cato Institute, who argues really funding for education is quite high, and besides, it's funded by robbing Americans through taxation. Gah! Here is my response:

[This is posted in that article link on IHE, but because of it's relevance to this blog, I post it here.]

Sorry, Neal, we'll have to step back a bit from the ideological posturing. Statistics can tell us whatever we want them to, especially in an age where we can so easily manipulate (or fabricate) them to suit our needs.

Let's step back from the broad scope, let's forget the forest for a moment, and just look at the trees. I'll tell you something about me. I'm 38. I have a wife and two kids. I began college at the tender age of 15 (surviving off of Pell grants and the limited largess of my family). I worked part time during my first two years of college. Then took off for four years to work full-time. I returned to school in 1989, then transferred to a new school in 1990 (beginning again as a freshman in my fourth year of college). I was young and didn't quite know what I wanted to study.

All along, I maintained an A- average. I worked to support myself (waiting tables, mowing grass, fundraising for the university, taking odd jobs and temp work). Student loans were the only way I could sustain myself. I graduated with a Bachelor's degree, and began a Master's program in 1994. More student loans. My full scholarship did not cover my living expenses. More part-time work, and full-time classes.

I taught at a community college for two years after that. My measly income from that worthy activity was about $6000/yr. I supported myself by teaching privately, tutoring, and other part-time and temporary work.

Today, I have a PhD. And I have no income. My student loans amount to nearly $74,000. I've never been late on a payment. I've applied for about 90 jobs in my field in the past two years. No job. Sure, I could take a job as barrista at Starbuck's, shelve books for Border's, or work at the checkout at Walmart. Is that what education is for? Is that in the best interest of these United States (and the world) that highly educated folks like me have difficulty working as educators?

But why is it difficult in this economy? Because there is not enough funding for education! Because our government puts a higher priority on subsidizing the private student loan industry than in providing direct loans, or better providing funding to support education without forcing students into debt. It's a simple answer. Sure, it's complicated to execute. But isn't the education of our people worth it?

Sorry to say, Neal, we do have an obligation to the greater good. And part of the obligation is ponying up our dollars to benefit society.

*Edited, to remove the name. This clown from the CATO institute is so vain, he keeps running google searches of his name, and pulling up my blog. I tired of seeing it in my stats!

How does anyone read that much?

I can't seem to keep up on my bloglines. Of course, I keep adding blogs to my roll there. I've got about 29 at last count. More than some, but I'm sure far less than many! I've dropped some blogs that are just too prolific. I'll still visit occasionally, but I just can't look at (36) unread messages in one blog. It's too depressing. It's too much like academic AWOL (I feel so bad... I'll never get through them all... maybe I need to comment on 12 of them!)

Some of you folks just keep posting and posting! I try to read, I really do. But, I've lately found some other distractions, you know, my work! There's a guilty sensation about clicking on the links, but only skimming some of the postings, or worse ... just skipping them entirely. [SIGH] It'll be okay, really.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

An old favorites list

Looking for something else, I came across my old old old website (not from 1994, though, maybe I haven't been a web presence as long as I thought--this page was created in April 1996!). Here is something that was included there:

Some of my favorite books

  • The Collected Dialogues of Plato. (Check out other translations, or if you can afford the money and effort, get some of the Loebs -- bilingual editions. Best bet for your money though is still the Bollingen Series edition, edited by Edith Hamilton -- of Mythology fame -- and Huntington Cairns. It's handy to have them all together, even if Benjamin Jowett gets annoying.)
  • The Complete Book of Plant Propogation, by Graham Clarke & Alan Toogood. (If you love growing plants like I do, you can't survive without it. A dense 250 pages, published by Ward Lock Limited, out of London.)
  • Complete Poems of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. (I have an old Modern Library old it's not even dated.)
  • Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. (Modern Library again, but at least I'm certain this one's still in print. If you don't happen to be from the USA, or if you've just never tasted of his eloquence, try reading Descent Into the Maelstrom -- what a gorgeous word! -- Berenice, and Morella for tales; and Israfel, and Alone for poems.)
  • Essays and Letters by Percy Bysshe Shelley. (Never heard of them? Don't blame me. If you get a chance to check it out, read his essay On Love. It's great stuff! The volume I have was special ordered from an outfit with the all-too- innocuous name of Books for Libraries Press, Freeport, New York. Reprinted 1971.)
  • The Language Instinct, by Steven Pinker. (You just have to read it.)
  • Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke. (I have Stephen Mitchell's translation.)
  • The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry. (Yes! The Classic. We have begun a collection, which now includes the original French, as well as English, Spanish, German, Czech and Slovak translations. Gift idea, anyone? I hear there are dozens more translations.)
  • Lucy: The Beginnings of Mankind, by Donald Johanson & Maitland Edey. (A good introduction to evolutionary theories.)
  • A Man Without Words, by Susan Schaller. (You'll never think the same way about thought or language.) Check out American Journal of Psychology Winter 1992, Vol. 105, no. 4, pp. 648-653, for a review by Carol A. Padden. I haven't read it yet, but intend to.
  • The Monadology, by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. (I have it in a larger volume pubished by Open Court Classics.)
  • A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman. (She's also written A Natural History of Love. I'm halfway through it.)
  • Seeing Voices, by Oliver Sacks -- of Awakenings fame. (Be forewarned, his footnotes are as long as his text.) This book is included among a full list of books relevant to Deaf issues.
  • Winston Churchill's Afternoon Nap, by Jeremy Campbell. (A fascinating, and largely undiscovered masterpiece purportedly addressing the Nature of Time. If you've read Grammatical Man, don't let that turn you off. This one reads like a different author.)
Sorry, I had to remove all the old links, like my list of books relevant to Deaf issues (mostly because they are dead-ends now.) I confess, my tastes have changed a bit since then. Like, for instance, I've gained a much more critical attitude towards Steven Pinker... but nonetheless, the list is revealing. Pace, Dryden... I like Shelley. :) By the way, we still have our collection of The Little Prince (now totalling 17 volumes, one currently on loan to a friend, in 14 different languages).

Show your books!

I got this idea from a mailing from St. John's College that I recently received, which featured a photo of three tall stacks of books, assumedly comprising their four-year reading list. If you don't know anything about SJC, it's an amazing concept: all required shared curriculum, all original source readings, no majors, no departments.
So, taking the idea one step further...
Academics of the world, show your books!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Not so good at secrets

I've never been terribly good at secrets. For those who are curious about a new site in progress, email me.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The agony of...

This begins to get tired and old.

Today's mail brought:

Dear Mr. [ArticulateDad]

<--Interesting. The envelope was addressed to Dr. [ArticulateDad]. Is this a bit of informality, or simply an (un)intended slight? Am I petty to notice these things?-->

Thank you for your interest in the Department of [Field] at [Leading Ivy League Institution]<--in their own humble opinion as gleaned from their website--> We have completed the faculty search and chosen a candidate who best fits our needs at this time.

On behalf of the search committee, I thank you for your interest in the position and wish you well in your job search.


[FirstName LastName]
Chair, Faculty Search Committee

[SIGH] I'd say, with my growing expertise on these matters, that this is a middling sort of rejection letter. It's polite enough. Perhaps too brief. But at least they wish me well in my job search, rather than pursuing other opportunities. I feel like I'm describing the bouquet and finish of a nice Merlot, rather than the repeated misery of yet another place where what I have is not what they want.

The problem is what are departments' needs? But then, if I knew, would I be able to reform myself to fit their mold? Mostly, I try to avoid the postings that specify in a bit too much detail exactly what they are looking for. But it all depends. The size of the program determines a great deal about the sorts of classes one will need to cover. I'm happy teaching.

I try to read each posting individually, judging it on its own merits. (I'd like to think each committee extends the same courtesy to me.) I research the school and the department and try to envision myself working there, teaching there, interacting with those faculty as colleagues. I investigate other departments with which I might seek collaborations. I look at faculty research interests within and beyond the department. Only when I'm satisfied there is something workable (and let me tell you, if I've applied for nearly 50 jobs this year, my standards can't be too restrictive, now can they?) I draft up a cover letter, and whatever other materials are needed, and I send them off.

So far, what I've gotten in return does not quite fit my needs at this time.

Sometimes distraction is good

Lately, I've been consumed by my efforts to create a Personal Research Website (PRW). This morning, I received the following email:

Dear Dr _____________

The Appointments Committee was pleased to receive your application, and read it with interest. I am sorry to have to tell you, however, that the Committee has decided not to take this application further.

Thank you very much for your interest in our post. The Committee has asked me to wish you well in finding a suitable position in the future.

Best wishes,


At least they were quick. The closing deadline was less than a month ago. Of course, maybe that's a bad sign, that I was dropped at the first cut. At a certain point you get used to it I guess. I'm not sure I've reached that point yet. I don't really want to become an expert on how not to get an academic job. It's, uh... not really the expertise I'm seeking.

But, distraction can be good. I've been putting in hours and hours developing the content, organization, and appearance of my PRW. In a sense it's my way of telling (myself and) the world that I really do have a job. This is my career. I'm building it, one step at a time. I can't allow myself to be bogged down by the misery of rejection letters, of failing so far to land myself a faculty post somewhere.

I didn't allow myself to be guided in my doctoral studies by what had been done before. To be honest, I really can't understand a PhD that is. Perhaps this present difficulty I'm having in landing a job is the consequences of those choices. But my work couldn't really be all that bizarre, unfathomable, and worthless. They did grant me a PhD. That ought to say something.

I suppose a cynic out there might contest this conclusion. Perhaps indeed there are many unworthy PhDs granted every year. If that's the case, I simply don't believe mine is one of them.

I'm quite convinced that my own little niche is not quite as small as one might suppose. This PRW is intended to allow me a means for organizing my thoughts and research. Hypertext allows a multidimensional organization that seems perfectly suitable for interdisciplinary work. But this website is also intended to give a public face to the field, to convince others that it is real, and the ways in which it is useful.

Wish me luck in staying distracted by my work!

Bill Ford?

Off topic, to be sure, but I couldn't resist.

Has anyone else noticed the conspicuous inclusion of Bill Ford's picture in all these recent Ford Motor Company ads lately? Let's see: why would I need to know the name and face of a CEO? Hmmm. Well, they could just be trying to soften their image. I mean, they are rolling out hybrid vehicles. But wait. Hybrids? That's kind of popular these days isn't it? I mean, even the POTUS has been making grunts in the direction of weakening our dependence on imported oil. (He wouldn't do that unless the polls, which he doesn't read of course, were telling him something).

Here's my prediction: Bill Ford is running for Senate or, who knows, the white house. Could just be my own suspicion. And frankly, I don't know the first thing about him. I've never heard of him nor seen his face until recently. What's his political persuasion? I have no idea. But he's a handsome guy for sure. And he's got that politician look, sort of a cross between Al Gore and John Edwards. Take a look. What do you think he's running for?

Give credit where credit is due. The photo was snagged from

Monday, March 13, 2006

To what do we lend a voice?

A link on Inside Higher Ed brings with it a huge uptick in site visits (I've had well over 300 unique visitors in the past two days, according to last count), and incidentally a bit of soul-searching about the nature of the blog, and the voice that is being heard. To what do I lend a voice?

This is my second link on Inside Higher Ed. The first was Silence is definitely NOT golden about the near silence I received from my dissertation committee, after submitting a complete draft. I realize in reading other blogs over the past few months (see my blog roll!), that each one's relationship with their mentors is quite different. And I recognize that much is determined by our own personalities and propensities.

This most recent link from IHE was a posting of what I dubbed a tacky rejection letter. As I mentioned there, perhaps it's a bit of sour grapes. Nonetheless, there is a wide range of tactfulness exhibited in academic rejection letters. There's little reason why search committee (or grant committee) chairs can't make the extra effort to exude a bit of courtesy, a modicum of respect, a degree of genuine openness to the diversity of ideas, backgrounds, and experiences, without making rejected candidates feel inadequate or unappreciated. Failing to get the job or grant is quite insult enough.

But I'm not writing now simply to rehash those earlier posts. I'm wondering what this all means. I've written over 100 posts, but only a few of those have been picked up by others. I am still new to the blogosphere, I confess. There is a temptation with a captive audience (knowing so many visitors will come) to get on the stump with a megaphone and rant. But what is the appropriate topic of my posts? And, secondarily what will my audience hear?

As teachers and scholars we deal with this everyday. We prepare lecture notes or conference papers; we labor over the outline, our path through the data and ideas, our conclusion. Yet, we don't have ultimate control over what will be heard, much less what will be retained.

There are many topics about which I am passionate. Yet some of them seem tangential to the purpose of this blog. It's a constant wrestling with ideas, and that process is good. Not only how to say things, but which things should be heard. If I remain silent on something important, am I culpable in the end for collusion with what I failed to oppose?

I think of Socrates at his trial. There was one argument he made that always struck me as tragic: I never opposed these laws when I was free to oppose them, though I think they are unjust. How can I defend myself against them now that I am no longer free?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A web administrator I am not!

Let's just say, several hours of frustration later... and a desperate chat with my brother (who thinks I'm about as bright as someone who would call a tech support line only to discover that indeed the computer won't work unless it's plugged in)... and I finally finally finally got the website up and running to the point that I can begin to start to do something with it. This will be an awkward few weeks, as I report on what I'm doing, as I come to grips with a new sort of relationship with the public, and my field, and myself. I'll have to do a bit of soul-searching as I figure out how much of my real self I'll allow to be revealed here.

One thing I believe... this blog is not really about my research. It's about me, and my experience as a human being, as a scholar, as an academic, dealing with the ups and downs of that state of being. In a sense, the details of my research is somewhat irrelevant here, perhaps distracting. Then again, who am I if not defined by my work? But... I'll be working on those issues over the next few weeks, as my "professional research website" takes form, and I'm sure you'll all be privy at least to a bit of this wrestling with myself.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Oooh, got my candy... now I can play

Had a wonderful dinner with friends (and two of their three kids, their #1 was with grandma). I made goulash with spaetzle, followed by home-made green tea ice cream. Yum!

Then, I checked my email... and I've got my IP address! Yea... now I can play. I'll let you all know how it goes.

Tacky, but I'd expect no less


Got a rejection letter from my old department in today's mail. You know, the department that wouldn't consider me for a post-doctoral faculty fellowship. This is from the same chair who wrote I am sorry if I slipped up if the obligation was mine. This was for a faculty post in the same department. The fellowship was intended to hedge my bets.

The funny thing is this is nearly the exact letter they sent out two years ago when they first opened the search. See... by the time they got around to interviewing then, ALL of their top picks had already accepted posts elsewhere. And it took them a full season to convince the dean they should be allowed to reopen it.

As a model for tacky rejection letters, I think this one is tops:

Dear Dr. ________:

Thank you for applying for the position of Assistant Professor of ______________. We had many fine candidates, making the process of selecting a small group of finalists difficult and lengthy. I am writing to report that your candidacy for the post is no longer under consideration.

[So far nothing too bad. Nothing pleasant, but standard drab... then he writes:]

The finalists chosen were considered to have the skills, knowledge and experience that closely meet our needs. We appreciate your interest in employment at the [University of Paradise], and wish you success in pursuing other opportunities.

[Oh, so you mean everyone else was considered not to have the skills, knowledge and experience that fit your standards... I see.... Oh, and by the way, good luck in landing a dishwashing job somewhere. You know, other opportunities] And... to top it off, the signature is a really bad pixelized digital reproduction.

Okay, a little bit of sour grapes on my part I suppose. But it is one of the worst written letters I've gotten. A little bit of dignity and respect for having completed a PhD wouldn't hurt, now would it?

I sit and stare

What am I waiting for? It feels like I'm sitting around with nothing to do. Of course, that's not exactly true.

I drafted up a decent preliminary outline for my planned research website. Yup, I decided to go ahead with the plan. I ordered the hosting service (signed up for a 2-year pre-paid contract), and registered a domain name (plus 2 free variants, i.e. .net, .info, .org). Turns out the [MySite].com domain (which I wasn't so interested in) was already registered. I wonder if that will lead to confusion?

I thought this would be easier however. Have I said it before? I hate waiting! Tick... tick... tick. I signed up, they were supposed to call to confirm. After an hour, I called them back, and was able to confirm over the telephone. I'm supposed to get an email with directions for how to get started. Tick... tick... tick.

Yeah, I'm impatient. What's the big deal? Hmmm. I've gotten used to composing my thoughts at the computer. I want to get started setting up the website. I haven't figured out how to do that locally on my computer. I've been reading over documentation for WordPress. There's a learning curve. I want to do this right from the start, so I establish a system, and will be able to just post content.

Meantime, I'm like a kid promised a trip to the candy store, but somehow we're not in the car yet. There's some more delay.... I want my candy!

A typical morning

[... knock... scritch... jingle jingle... kschwoo...]

Painter: Ducky opened the door.

[He carries a stuffed "Ty silk" duck, which in fact more resembles a platypus, or a flattened duck. This is his "friend".]

Me: uhnnn
Painter: Hi daaady! Will you please get me some milk?
Me: Uhnnn... what time is it? What does the clock say?
Painter: 6...2...3
Me: Unh hnn... it's 6:23. That's too early.
Painter: When will you get me some milk?
Me: at 7...
Painter: what are the numbers?
Me: 7..0..0
Painter: Oh... okay... why won't you get me milk now, daddy?
Me: It's too early.
Painter: But why?
Me: We go through this every morning. And every morning I say I'll get you the milk at 7. Daddy needs his sleep. Why don't you just come snuggle?

[Problem is... we have a "Full" bed... The Inventor (1;4) is already in bed nursing by this point... The Painter has left the door open, so the three cats have migrated to the bed ooh... warm spot!. It's a good thing the wife and I are both small.]

Painter: Now it says 6...2...8
Me: uhnn urgggh

[Painter proceeds to stretch out, pushing me with his feet.]

[I get up to pee. I crawl back in bed... there's really little point in this. I get up at 6:43, and wander to my computer, to mindlessly check email and Bloglines.]

[Half a minute later...]

Painter: Daaaddy? Will you get me some milk?
Me: I'd be deligh-
Painter: Cause the milk-time clock says it's 43-o'clock, and that means it's milk time.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

A professional research website?

One thing I've been contemplating lately is creating a professional research website. What do I mean? Here's part of my motivation: I've had a near constant web presence since about 1994. It's my public face to the world.

My current webpages at my graduate university consist of dozens of connected pages, including the posting of several papers I've written, along with my CV, comments on research, and personal pages. One page of mine, an annotated bibliography from my first-term as a doctoral student, gets about 5-10 hits per week from various search engines, drawing individuals with widely divergent interests toward a single reference covering over 100 articles and books. I think it's a useful resource, and would like to add to it, and set up several more.

Recently, I've renewed a commitment to raising the awareness of my area of study, as well as a desire to pump up my public profile. So... creating a website dedicated to my area of study seems like a good idea. And, it would allow me a way to maintain my web presence under my real name. My university account expires one year after I graduated, which was last June. My Visiting Scholar status grants me an email address (and access to letterhead and the library and such), but no webspace, so far as I know. I just emailed the chair and my sponsor to ask. But even so, there may be a benefit in establishing a web presence for the area of study, as a point of contact for the various researchers and the curious. From what I can tell, it would cost me about $100/year, plus all the time I commit to it.

Any thoughts anyone?

On hold

Some days I just feel like feeling sorry for myself. Sometimes I curse myself for being too damn self-reflective. God, I wish I could just be indulgently selfish sometimes and not contemplate the causes and effects of my inner drama. But, alas, that's not me. If I can't feel miserable and guilty, what good am I? ;) Not that I can't be selfish... but I have to make myself suffer for it.

It's been a rough week, to some extent. For me, rough means especially that I have to wait for something from someone. I hate to wait. One of my favorite songs has long been Franz Schubert's Ungeduld, as much for it's title as anything else.

I am constantly working out contingencies, and alternate plans, and laying out on the table all the life possibilities I can imagine. I have no problem considering these things. But I'm totally thrown off when something arises that I hadn't considered (even if it's something small, like my wife arriving home an hour later from work than planned... dinner is waylaid, movie night is delayed).

Mostly, however, I'm waiting for this journal to give me word on my article. Sure, it's not even been two weeks. But, of course, I have no way of knowing how long the process is expected to take. They've given me no time frame other than hope to be back in touch with you quite soon. And, that is only one thing I'm waiting for. More importantly (though my anticipation is guided by less hope at this point) are the remaining schools I've applied to. Even getting their curt we're pleased to announce the hiring of Dr. What-Do-You-Mean-You've-Never-Heard-Of-Me Google-Turns-Up-Nothing. Good luck in your career letters at least give me closure.

I know that I am not the center of everyone else's universe, that their sense of time does not revolve around my desire to hear. But, as I recently commented on Confessions of a Community College Dean: The unemployed have the leisure of time to ruminate.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


A couple days ago, I mentioned how Dr. TassePlein wished me to be a better student of institutions. There was more to it than that. He wanted me to be more aware of interpersonal politics. What leads someone to behave in a particular way towards or about another person?

Let me tell you a little story about one of your cohorts. You know TimidScholar, right? When he asks me for something, I think he's so fragile, so needy, that I want to take care of it right away. I don't feel that way about you. You come across as self-sufficient. That's good, but somehow you need to convince certain people over the next couple years that you're TimidScholar.

The point he made was that, if you come across as self-assured, and independent, this instills confidence in you, but doesn't motivate action. You need three people you can reliably depend upon to write your letters, to take care of you. You need them to feel that your career depends upon them. Not in a whiny way, but they need to feel a commitment and an obligation to your success.

For someone like me this is a constant struggle. I'm motivated not out of my status (though digging one's way out of a pit is quite motivating) but by my ideas. They drive me, which I admit sometimes leads me to overstep propriety, when I act as if, as if I have the power or authority to make things happen. Sometimes, this works; things do happen.

The summer after my second year as a PhD student, I organized and chaired a full-day (!) session at an international conference. Including myself, there were 10 scholars, from the USA and Europe. They ranged in status from independent scholars to emeritus full professors. They represented a variety of disciplines and methodological approaches to the question. They came for the simple reason that I asked them, that I had organized the panel.

The idea had come from a friend of mine, Dr. Virtuosity (who couldn't believe I'd actually done it). She had casually asked one day, as we were both bored at a conference, what would be my dream team for a panel? So, I compiled it, drafted a session proposal, invited them all. Most of them agreed. And it was accepted.

Yeah, sometimes it works. But... I still don't have a job. Something isn't working. Dr. TassePlein's comments bring me to understand that I am not so totally self-sufficient as I or others might believe. There is a hierarchy and a custom to academia. I need the involvement and support of others to succeed, which it's as important for them to realize as it is for me. So, no, I can't become TimidScholar, but I sure can cultivate some timidity in the midst of my temerity.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The hardest part

As Academic Coach relates, in a comment to A three year plan: is difficult to stay on track with work when you are working in relative isolation. A-yup. But that's not the hardest part.

Of the things that Dr. TassePlein said during our talk on Saturday, the deepest comment, which I might easily have ignored, regards the nature of my research itself. His question went something like this: Are you doing something that others consider of central importance?

I think of the post My department is dreaming of a wedding from about a month ago, over at In Favor of Thinking. In discussing one particular job candidate, she wrote: of the visitors ... was so fantastic that we are all ... completely in love with him. He's smart, accomplished, thoughtful, energetic, nice, good-looking -- basically he seems like a completely amazing person, who's perfect for this position. Fantasies abound about how he will revolutionize the way we approach a certain area, how he will help us do more hires in the future, how he will be a wonderful resource and colleague...

Let's dissect that a bit. What made him so amazing (by the way, I wonder if they snagged him)?

Smart: okay, we're all smart. Check.
Accomplished: okay, more articles, more presentations, etc. Check.
Thoughtful: we're back to the smart again. It's not a matter here of objective features, but how we come across. Still nothing out of the ordinary it would seem.
Energetic: Sure, got that.
nice, good-looking: Well... I leave off on this one.

But here's the clincher, I'd think: he will revolutionize the way we approach a certain area.

Eureka! There's the bull's-eye. There's concensus that he represents something innovative and needed. She goes on: he will be a wonderful resource and colleague.

This is the secret ingredient: to come across as someone with something to give that everyone needs.

Now, one approach would be to chase the next big thing, like a gambler at the roullete wheel, trying to guess if red 7 or black 13 will come up next. Or to focus one's energies on whatever seems to be the current big thing.

That's not my approach. I know what I do. I love what I do. These are my questions. The trick for me, the task at hand, is to forge that something into something big, to create enough buzz for my area of research that everyone starts thinking about it, wondering about it, and wanting it on their campus, in their department.

In a sense it's no different from a business approach that says I'll focus on getting the public interested in my service, not on competing with other businesses. If everyone needs what we have to offer, there'll surely be enough work for everyone. It's like Academic Coach's comment cited above. She went on to remark: I would recommend hiring a coach to meet with at least occasionally. My own private practice is full, so this is not self-promotion.

So, in the midst of beefing up my academic street cred, I need to be building my area of research. And that's just exactly what I plan to do.

Monday, March 06, 2006

A three year plan

That's what Dr. TassePlein called for. He started by saying: You know, most people prefer success; but really failure is much better for us. We learn a lot more from failing. It gives us room to move, to improve.

He said I needed to think about just what I was willing to take, and what my needs were at the moment. Then, he said, You've got quite a few good things going for you. You're living in a beautiful place. And you've got a spouse who has a good job, and can support you. So, you've got to figure out whether you could remain in that place for a while, while you beef up your academic credentials.

Hmmm. So I said, well, the answer is: Yes! We could stay here, indefinitely it would seem. My wife's job appears secure (at least for the next few years) and her income is enough to support us. So, yes.

Good, then. So what you need is a 3 year plan. Let's suppose I came up with the TassePlein-MacArthur $150,000 3-year fellowship. What are you going to do? Sorry, he explained, he can't really come up with the 6-figure award. But the point was well taken.

Hmmm. In discussing it later with my wife (who seemed actually quite pleased and excited about the prospect of keeping her job for a while, and the thought of not having to move again anytime soon), I said we should just consider her making about 60% of her income, and the rest is a fellowship for me. That way, we'll both feel better. She is an engineer. Just take a look at the salary differential, and you'll get what I mean.

The point he made was that I'm in a really good position to not have to take whatever comes along, and not having to lower my standards and expectations. The right job will come for me. My job is to make it more and more difficult for anyone to ignore my application. Since I'm not dependent upon making income for us to meet our expenses, then I can take this time as an opportunity. If I start thinking like I'm on fellowship, I can use this time to my advantage, and get a leg up on my career, and a head-start on tenure.

So, while I will continue to apply for jobs, and continue to pursue adjunct and other possibilities, it's best if I take the attitude that this is a part of my career, rather than feeling waylaid. Most importantly, as Dr. TassePlein explained about the next big project: I should aim to be in the middle of it when I start a job. That means getting going on it now.

I've really got two projects: one this longitudinal study, for which I'm doing a thorough literature review; the second, an ongoing analysis that follows up on some of my dissertation work, and involves the development of a new methodology for comparative work between my two main disciplines.

None of this is really new. I've been working towards these goals over the past few weeks. What's new is a renewed vigor, and a more stable attitude toward the task. I like the idea of a three-year plan (taking into account the hopeful outcome that I'll actually be employed during that time). And I like the idea of viewing my time as being on a fellowship.

Sure, ideally the fellowship would be funded other than by my wife. I can and will continue to apply for fellowships and grants along with the faculty applications. But those things I can't control. What I do with what I have I can!

Get famous!

Here's the first bit of advice that the Mentor (whom I'll call Dr. TassePlein) had for me: well, you could get famous.

After the chuckles, here's what he meant: Beef up the academic credentials.
  • Publications (preferably in "A" journals).
    • I spoke about the Journal of SOD.
      • No self-pity, he said, you can't afford it.
    • Not self-pity, I said, just wondering if it's the right venue.
      • Look, the editors change every couple years. Here's the new editor: write to him and tell him what you've got in mind. I'm sure he'll give you feedback. But only send them your "A" work!
  • Get your next project underway.
    • Ideally, you will start your next job in the middle of some exciting research, not before it starts or after it's done.
  • Get into the pecking order. Figure out what people need, and offer it to them.
    • I need you to be a better student of institutions. Right now, you're at the bottom rung, whether you like it or not, whether it's fair or not. People want you to behave "keyed in to your status." You don't have to suppress you. Your an enthusiast, that's fine. You just have to figure out how to climb that ladder. The first step is getting into the pecking order, so someone outside sees you as inside. You don't want to be invisible, like a faculty spouse at a party. The only reason people talk to them (unless you have a personal interest) is because you want to get into the good graces of their spouse. So, talk to the department (and see if you can take on some task that no one wants).

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Mentoring update

No, of course, I didn't send my mentor the open letter posted here a couple days ago. Though, I suppose I could have.

But after the treatment from my former department chair, I did feel it necessary to touch base with my mentor. Yesterday morning, I forwarded him the email from the chair, and added some commentary and questions that were intended to provoke feedback. He responded quite promptly by email that perhaps we should talk on the phone. So we did, for nearly an hour.

It was quite productive and encouraging. My conversations with the mentor tend to be a series of loosely-connected tangents (I think it reflects both our personalities), so I always take notes, to make sure I've got some pithy bits to reflect more on. I don't think I'll blog too extensively about it now, because there's a lot there. Expect more commentary in the coming days.

He made it clear that he's committed to my success, and is available to me as much as I need him. The one thing that was absent from his comments, that I kept expecting, was any indication that I should hang it up, that I should reconsider my career goals, that I need to lower my expectations. Ultimately, those decisions are mine alone. But, his remarks were encouraging in that he sees my goals as realistic. Like I've said before, a few words is sometimes all it takes.

Ah, but the question is... which one?

Taken today, at the local Botanic Gardens. I've realized that the signs that speak to us tell us more about ourselves than about metaphysics.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Here's your degree. NOW LEAVE!

If I believed in some sort of mystical metaphysics, I might conjure up some demon or god seeking to challenge me at this point in my life. I showed my wife my open letter to my mentor, which ends with the mantra "patience...". She remarked, you're getting a lot of practice for that these days. A-yup!

Yesterday: Gah! Okay, I started yesterday getting an undeserved parking ticket, which I had to appeal, and now I'm waiting for their response (which I almost expect to be complete disregard for reason, like a doubling of the fine which I shouldn't have to pay in the first place).

Then, in the afternoon, I sent an email to my former department chair, where I had applied for a university faculty fellowship, which permits recent PhD grads one or two years of half-time teaching/half-time research to help jump start their careers. I hadn't heard anything, and couldn't find a "decision by" date anywhere in the materials. The department chair is supposed to send the application along with a recommendation to the dean. The whole thing is paid for by the university president, so the department gets a free teacher and colleague out of it!

After I submitted the materials to the department chair in December, I emailed him for confirmation, and asked if there were any questions or concerns regarding my application materials. I received no response. So, a few days later, I stopped by his office on campus, to see if he had any issues. Nope! Got it fine. Everything's okay.

Actually, those couldn't have been his words. He never speaks more than 3 words at a time, bringing the grand total of words he has ever said to me, to about 27! In six years. But the brunt of his reaction when I stopped by was that nothing more was needed from me. Apparently that was because he must have tossed it all into the dust bin as soon as he received it.

Here was his reply:

I don't believe that faculty recommended to accept the fellowship proposal. I will check, but I believe that was the outcome, and I assumed you would have been notified. I am sorry if I slipped up if the obligation was mine.

Oh, gee, oh yeah... was that your job? What do you mean I don't believe the faculty recommended to accept? I think what it means is that he never did anything with my application. I suppose I could easily find out if such a vote ever took place, which I seriously doubt! But what's the point?

He and my dissertation chair had been rivals for the post of chair before I arrived on campus. My dissertation chair has left (and is now chair of his own department). Was I too naive to suppose that faculty rivalries would not be visited upon their unsuspecting former students? Was it naive for me to expect that a department that had granted me a PhD would actually have some commitment to my success?

So, I guess I'm on my own. No support from my former department. At least my dissertation chair/mentor is still writing me recommendations, and encouraging me (in his way).

Friday, March 03, 2006

An open letter to my mentor

A la Wannabe PhD, but not quite. I won't likely send this. I think posting it here may serve.

An open letter to my mentor

Dear [Mentor]:

I'm feeling a need to chat a bit, to gain some guidance. I hope you will find the time to read this, and to respond.

The immediate impetus here is the issue of whether or not to renew my membership in the Society of Old Dinosaurs. I recall your comment regarding the job search: Don't get discouraged, it just may take a while to get things moving where you want them to be. And, I know you are right. Sure, some people get their first job straight out of grad school, but many just as inspiring folks languish for years before obtaining their first tenure-track post. It's not really about that.

But, the question to renew or not? stirs existential questions in me, regarding my staus in the field. As you may recall, when I applied to the [University of Paradise] in [OurSubdiscipline], I was a bit apprehensive about what area I should associate with, even to some extent what field. But your reassurances, and encouragement helped firm my resolve to come study with you. You actively recruited me, saying that [OurSubdiscipline] needed fresh ideas like the ones I presented.

I also remember in my second year, when I was feeling a bit discouraged, and considered seeking university approval to pursue an individualized interdisciplinary PhD, you kept me on the path. You said at the end of the day, you want a job, and there are no "interdisciplinary" departments. Stay in the program; it'll be fine. And it was. You encouraged me to draft up requests to emend the curriculum, to allow greater flexibility in my coursework, and you had them approved. And I wrote that dissertation, didn't I?

But just now I'm a bit back where I started. As they say: My jsme tu, kde jsme byli. I'm wondering whether this is my field and area at all. When I looked over the accepted papers for the SOD conference last October, I didn't find anything of interest. Sure, I didn't submit this past year. But I've not yet had a paper accepted there.

I told you I wrote this big article recently, and submitted it. But, I didn't send it to the Journal of SOD. I don't think I was too scared, just uncertain that it would be the right venue for my work, and figuring I'd rather have it published sooner, than set myself up for a long wait until they sent the manuscript back stamped not [OurSubdiscipline].

Perhaps it's not fair of me to assume a priori that it'd be turned down. But why do I feel this way about SOD? And if I do, is it really the place for me? More importantly, will I ever get a job in [OurSubdiscipline]? Okay, I guess it really is about that after all.

Patience... Don't get discouraged, it just may take a while to get things moving where you want them to be. Okay... okay.


Projection, hmmm... so what's really eating me?

I'm pissed. Yeah! I brought #1 to his gymnastics class, on campus... then dropped off the wife at work (we were running late). Then returned to campus, to find a parking spot. Last week, I got a $40 ticket on the van, since the permit they give parents of gymnastics students is only good for 20 minutes at a time. I paid it last week, it was really my fault (despite the fact that another parent had assured me that she'd been using hers for two years and never got a ticket). Okay, so I shouldn't trust other people, and I ought to just play by the rules. So I paid it. (Found out today she got a ticket last week also).

So, today, I walked straight from the parking spot to the pay machine and bought a permit for the whole day ($8), because the au pair was to come at 10:00 (which she did) to pick up the boys and swap vehicles, so I could park all day, then pick up the wife, and come home for dinner. So... what do I find, on the van, when we go out to swap vehicles? A ticket! 40 bucks again. No, I shouldn't have to pay it. See... there's a permit for that spot (you don't actually display them here, you just pay, and the computer is supposed to be updated). But apparently this meter jerk didn't look at his/her computer, just wrote a ticket, because that 20 minute permit is permanently displayed on my window. Aaaarrrrgh!

But, you know what? It's annoying, yeah. And I have to wait until tomorrow, when the webpay site is updated, so I can dispute it online, and I can't imagine that they won't okay the dispute, since I'll have the permit number with times and everything (including the spot number, which you have to input when you pay). But, it really hit a nerve with me. I don't know why. I realize when I fly off the handle like this, the blood pressure rises, and I get infuriated, there's usually something else eating me, that has nothing to do with the instigating event.

My knee hurts. It's lack of exercise I guess (mixed with overuse). I go from doing nothing, to riding my bike for an hour trip. So, it's been bothering me off and on for a couple months. I always sit cross-legged, so I guess that exacerbates it.

And, I've had the flu. But... I got this aticle done and out. (I guess the waiting in silence bugs me a bit, though rationally I realize I only submitted on Sunday, and it might be a few weeks before they get back to me.) And, the job search anxiety is starting to creep in a bit again.

This is my first day back on campus. I realize that there's really not much more for me here than there is at home, or the public library, or the toilet for that matter. I can read anywhere. Just need a pencil or a highlighter, or a pen and my notebook (if it's a library book).

I'm doing okay, really. I was saying to the au pair last night -- while trying to decide if I would finally go back to campus to work, leaving her and the boys in peace at home -- that I didn't really know what to do these days. Wise beyond her years (she's 19), she said, what do you mean? Work on that [longitudinal study] stuff. That's work! Gotta smile at that. Yeah. That's work. And that's on my list.

First, is more reading on this book for the review. Though, I think I should not plan to do that at the exclusion of everything else, as I have the past couple days. I don't work well that way, when I'm focusing on just one thing (unless, like with the dissertation during those final two weeks, the end goal is concretely clear). I think I'll mix and match, reading the book, reading some articles, bloggging, distracting.

I've got things to do, I know that. The hard part is consistently finding the motivation. At least, if I have a stack of papers to grade, I know there is something obvious (that I may be avoiding) that I can get back to. But, I'm awash in a sea of no deadlines. I can tell you, those of you lamenting too much work to do, too many papers to grade, too long departmental meetings, too boisterous search committee rancor, the grass over here ain't too green either!

In many ways, I've got it made. I am mostly free of financial worries (other than this stupid house that won't sell!). My wife is busy at work and well-paid; we've been good with our finances over the past several years (even the better part of a year that I was writing the disseration, and we were coasting off savings). It's not from inheritance I can assure you. Not that we're rich, by any stretch, but we're comfortable, living within our means.

But... I want to be a professor. I want to have that title, that recognition. I want to stand in front of a class again, and set those minds ablaze. I want to give conference talks, and invited lectures, and radio interviews. I'm anxious about it. No calls. Tick... tick... tick...