Feels like seventh grade all over again...

...but not in the petty, awkward way. It feels like seventh grade in that "I don't wanna go to school" sort of way that hit me heaviest in middle school.

So I was thinking I'd spend a bit of time today writing about "Bionic Woman" - how often do you get to make jokes involving Donna Haraway? And wouldn't it be worth pausing to think about the moment in the show where the little girl sees our new Jamie Sommers running as fast as the family SUV and tells her mother, only to be accuses of lying, allowing her to offer the response that she just thought it was cool because she didn't know women could do that.

But I'm too tired.

I know I've been away from the blog a bit, and that's been largely due to workload. About a third of our term is done, which is nice because that means it isn't slow and agonizing, but it's also meant a lot of juggling. And the job search takes a lot of energy. I knew this. I just managed to ignore it somehow. There's a lot of silly planning to that, too, that I've mentioned already (though for those curious, the consensus seems to be that sending a CD application packet is a bad idea - I've even called two of the schools - one more hole in the idea of a "paperless society").

But a big part of the desire to hide out in bed is that the charm of teaching students on both sides of the door - freshmen coming in and seniors going out - is starting to wear off. And a lot of that is due to conversations with colleagues (though there is a fair bit of cognitive dissonance that goes along with it as well). Yesterday another professor who I often seem to find myself teaching behind stopped to chat as I got the room up and running. And when she found out the class was primarily freshmen, she tutted (honestly, who knew anyone outside of mothers in Jane Austen novels ever really made that sound) and offered her sympathies.

You'd think I'd be better at ignoring these moments by now. I like my freshmen. They're a bit chaotic, but then, so am I. They want to talk and ask questions. They don't have the rust and jade my seniors do. They're intrigued that they can say things they've never felt safe or allowed to say. So what if they haven't figured out that all the new freedom is a blessing and a curse? Isn't that part of our job?

The woes of the job market?

New Kid on the Hallway in this post (found via Tenured Radical in this post) has me thinking about the whole job prospect question. The underlying question that we rarely get to ask is about whether the whole shebang of these jobs actually makes us happy.

I remember when I entered my Ph.D. program, there was an annual start-of-the-term new kids on parade moment where all the incoming students had to address the sea of obviously not-ready-to-be-back faculty and explain what they wanted to study and why they wanted the Ph.D. When my turn came up, I explained my area of interest and then said "I'm getting a Ph.D. because I always wanted to see if I could get one." This comment was the only one I recall causing anyone to stir. Later at the "reward you for being good monkeys" dinner, not one but three faculty members pulled me aside to caution me that my answer was, at best, politically dubious. One even told me I'd never make it if that was my reason.

Of course, he didn't realize just quite how far I've been willing to go for spite, so maybe I owe him thanks now that I've got the degree.

But still the question gets buried now that I'm out. And it's interesting to think about - particularly in light of the looming question of whether my mode of providing job application materials might actually be seen as somehow contentious - whether I want to be a member of this particular club or not. My parents were shocked recently when I expressed such a strong to desire to be out of this locale that I'd consider jumping the academic ship (or is that the academic shark?). Of course, I haven't been able to get them to look at the blog though it answers oh-so-many of their questions about my doubts about this field.

So I still don't know what I'll do about the job packets. But I've got more food for thought.

The grand experiment...

It's amazing how picky academics can be.

I say this in anticipation, though I could certainly offer more than a little evidence. As I've noted previously, I'm hitting the job market this year. After a few years teaching - typically (at least for those of us just starting out) we're advised to wait until our third year of teaching someplace to apply elsewhere - I've decide it is time for me to see what the jobs out there are like. And while looking for jobs is never fun - even when you've got one and can look just to see - looking for academic jobs is about the worst experience I've ever had.

Typically for an academic job, you're putting together a fairly lengthy packet of information: a letter, your C.V., references and/or their letters as a start. Then you might be asked for samples of your research/writing/production (depending upon your field). Possibly they want syllabi. Maybe they want statements of your teaching philosophy and your research intent. Maybe they want evaluations. Oh, and while you're at it, it couldn't hurt to send your transcripts (official, of course). Sure, send both the graduate and undergraduate transcripts.

If they want all of that, it's a pretty sizable packet. For me, the full packet can reach 200 pages., of which the average search committee member will look at maybe 10 (letter, C.V., references, and maybe a syllabus of interest). I'm told the smaller packets used to be very popular, but it hasn't been my experience. Now everyone wants everything, and frankly, it's a pain in the ass.

Sure, I can come up with a justification for why someone might want to know what my GPA was fifteen or so years ago in courses I might not even be teaching anything about today. I had to reach for that explanation, but I found one.

It still doesn't make this process any easier to swallow.

So this year, I'm going to experiment. Instead of printing and somehow binding together 200+ pages so someone can subjectively knock me out for my choice to talk about research before teaching on page three of a CV that chronicles everything but my shoe size (14, depending on brand), choice of beverage (Coke Zero if we're talking non-alcoholic) and a brief description of my ideal mate (thank goodness, because my answer still changes daily on this one). So before the University of Southern Nowhere You Want to Live asks me for a printed letter telling them whether I like Pina Coladas and walks in the rain, I've decided to let them do the work (or at least the printing) by sending them a CD with all the documents they could ever want.

Here's where things get nervous though. It's entirely possible though this would be a good, applicable, environmentally friendly use of technology to solve a problem, it may be seen entirely otherwise. After all, we all had professors who seemed so ancient they probably wore sundials on their tweed-covered wrists, right? And that hasn't changed. So what I risk with this approach, designed to save me some effort while demonstrating some tech savvy (which I like to think would be important for the sorts of things I want to do), is that it may land on the desk of someone more curmudgeonly than yours truly.

Imagine, doing all that it takes to make a CD-Rom that'll run on PCs and Macs (and maybe Linux/Unix machines) with 200 pages or so of documentation in some way that's both easy to follow and interesting, only to have it be the excuse someone doesn't call for an interview?

Wish me luck.

Where's Lassie when you need him?

"What's that, Lassie?

Dr. Curmudgeon's trapped under a pile of grading?

We'd better get the sheriff!"

Oh, if only help would come. Don't worry, gentle readers, I've not forgotten about you. I'm just buried under 25+ proposals for undergraduate capstone projects. If I make it out alive, maybe I'll tell you about them, and I'll definitely need to talk about applying for jobs.

And if I don't, then screw you, U.S. Department of Education - you'll never get my loan debt!

And now, back to our program...

Thanks to A. of Pop Tart fame, a few more tales of academic woe: professors unable to make it on their salaries. Not a new theme here - in fact, it's the theme that got us going - but the cases here are particularly distressing to hear about because they do a better job of giving real numbers.

It's interesting, sad and frightening to hear that average wages for professors have only come up .25% - yeah, you're reading that right - over the last 20 years when inflation is accounted for. There are very few careers that can match (and obviously, people in those careers should be glad they don't) that atrocious number. What the article doesn't discuss as it offers these tales is what the average cost of education is. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average student at a publicly funded school has $13,000 per year to cover for school attendance (note that doesn't include actual living expenses), which means just educational costs for someone getting a 4 year Bachelor's, a 2 year masters, and a 4 year Ph.D. would run $130,000 before they paid for food, rent, etc. The other interesting point in those stories is the number of times people were able to go to their families for help. I do wonder what happens to those students who don't have parents who can give them $100,000?

I've not gone so far as to work a second job, though I've considered it (teaching a 4/4, I'm not sure how it would work), I've not done it. And one thing I have decided is that if I can't find a job that puts me in a better position, then it won't be long before I have to leave this career behind.

You Saw It Here First (or "Take This Out of Context and Chew On it")

I'm going to try to invent a new blog trend (think Random 10) as a way of measuring the cultural zeitgeist, recognizing strange syncronicities, allowing the universe to nudge in me in unexpected directions, and (most importantly) a new means of filling up posts.

So, ladies, gentlemen, and people who identify more creatively, let me present, for the first time on this or any stage, the magical device that all the kids will be talking about and all the adults will be scratching their heads to think about. The one, the only, the stupendous...

Things From My In-Box

"Without joining the group, I'd like to throw some questions out here. Why should Facebook be anything more than a place where a group of (mostly) college students leave each other messages about the daily goings on in their lives? Why does it need to be intellectually interesting for a group of academics?"


"I am looking to identify faculty members who would be willing to participate in an informal conversation about the academic possibilities for a program (yet to be defined) in something geared around national and homeland security. I am deliberately being vague because I want to proceed judiciously and not necessarily jump on the “Homeland Security” academic bandwagon that has begun around the country."

Feel like screaming yet? See a connection? Know what the universe is trying to tell me? Dive in and take a shot.

And remember, tell your friends your head hurt here first.

Big noise in the sky

So here in the land of nodding off, there's big storms tonight, and big things in the air. The afternoon was spent in a two and a half hour department meeting that attempted to map out the next five years of the program course-wise as we shift from our current teaching load to a more realistic one (except that there's not a coherent explanation of how sections currently taught will be dealt with university-wide). It was, in spite of being hella long, a good meeting.

I like this department. I want to carry it in my pocket to someplace I'd like to live. But I like this department. As a model of how things can run, this place isn't bad (see above about long meetings). There are big dreams that are a bit frustrating, but there's a level of respect and consideration that has been sometimes lacking in previous departments.

And tonight I got a proposal off for a book chapter which, as such things go, feels like one of the best and most coherent proposals I've written in ages.

And now there's a wicked thunderstorm which I've missed for years. Today's been good.

Karma, I hear you knocking...

So tomorrow I have an educational-by due to extreme religion. As mentioned in a previous post, my institution is headed by a priest and takes its religion seriously. Tomorrow, religion trumps education with a Mass taking place during one of the heavily-used class time options. There's no word on whether students will be refunded for that credit hour they're losing to Jesus.

Needless to say, I won't be attending. But more surprisingly, I won't be using this post to bitch about that. You may thank the higher power of your choice if you're so inclined. I don't care.

Instead, tomorrow is a big deal because it's the first day that my students - who I assume also won't be attending Mass - have to come talk to me about their proposed research questions. This moment of the term always feels a bit like the last segment of "The Dating Game" to me - everyone talked a good game so far (or more accurately, avoided speaking at all), and now we're going to have the big reveal to see whether all those clever moments were leading me to an evening of ugly reality. Trying to launch students on a year long research odyssey (and try selling that bill of goods to students - so much for clever marketing fooling the masses) is always a bit iffy.

Now, as the term goes, I've already had pretty good luck. Out of the students doing more advanced theses and projects, I've dodged some bullets and managed to poach the department's current wunderkind. And having managed that coup, I fear for what the kids in the research class are going to bring as even karma sometimes pays attention in class.

Random 10 for Academics Hiding Out in their Offices Doing Research on A Friday Afternoon

Tucked away in the office, lights out, door closed, reading articles in preparation of a new project. To make the isolation (and hopefully, focus) more complete, here's the random 10 from the .mp3 player.

Now I guess we'll know why this project lives or dies...

"Working Class Hero" - Green Day
"Here I Am" - Lyle Lovett
"Stella By Starlight" - Miles Davis
"Epilogue" - Bill Evans
"(Don't Go Back to) Rockville" - R.E.M.
"Bunk Trunk Skunk" - Be Your Own Pet
"Shake Your Rump" - Beastie Boys
"Pure" - Golden Palominos
"Baby Hold On" - Foo Fighters
"Southtown Girls" - The Hold Steady

I'm ready for my close-up, Professor DeMille...

Here's an academic dare for you: would you put your course up on YouTube? According to this article from Inside Higher Education at least one professor is willing to give it shot, having created a class that will, at least for the first half, be filmed and posted on YouTube. You can check it out here.

There are some interesting ideas raised by this type of course. YouTube is certainly a growing part of our culture, though we might be over-emphasizing just how big a part it is. Last term I spent a considerable amount of time talking with my students about Lonelygirl15 and the drama surrounding her YouTube videos (not sure what this is? Here's the first Lonelygirl15 video - you can watch the rest from there). Taken in by articles in the New York Times and other major news sources about the popularity of LonelyGirl15, I entered my class confident in the assumption that my students were rushing back to their dorm rooms to see what the latest YouTube offerings were.

Not a single student out of 70 had heard of Lonelygirl15, and as is only possible in the mathematics of student apathy, even fewer actually cared. But I pressed on, confident that we were exploring something they'd find useful to know about. But as the term went on, I had to ask myself was I just one more professor (with an admitted desire to study technology) sucked in by a gimmick?

Recently I was asked by so members of my institution to explain why I don't use Blackboard. I had a whole host of reasons, most of which boil down to Blackboard's ability to make everyone who uses it lazier. There's an appropriate way to use that technology, but me posting my lecture notes doesn't seem to be it. Too many students come to rely on that as a means of keeping up with everythng, and hence, they can't or won't keep up with anything themselves.

With technologies like YouTube, the question is a different one: is this technology so important that it should warrant the focus we sometimes give it? As a professor, I'm often tempted to run wherever my interests lead. Sometimes that's a good thing; sometimes not. I'll be curious to see how the YouTube course goes, and I'm sure I'll be posting about it again.

Blame Canada

For a little bit, after I'd complained in a previous post on the blog and with friends about the low pay of faculty members, I began to think I was off my nut. Years of swallowing the rhetoric of a pure market economy had me a little dazed. If I wasn't making good money and couldn't afford to rent an apartment as a new faculty member because I was saddled with debt, wasn't that my problem? How could I even think that the market might be weighted unfairly.

"Time to move on to other issues," I thought. I almost faltered.

Until I saw this article about assistance to new professors working at Canadian universities. Briefly, momentarily, I'm given hope. Now I see that it's possible that an employer recognizes all those costs and actually wants to help. What an interesting model helping with housing suggests to American universities. Here's something small schools might try to think about when they're wondering about the third year bleed of good faculty who've been there but won't stay.

Now if I could only get a job in Canada....

Check, please...

Back to the education beat: this article in the New York Times detailing the rapid growth of the fee sends a pretty interesting warning to colleges and to students. Anyone who has been in school in the last decade has been victim to the university created fee (yes, it's more apparent at publicly supported schools, but don't mistake easy visibility as a symptom).

It's good to hear that students striking back. Transparency wouldn't be a bad idea here. Imagine going out to dinner and finding a $1 chair fee tacked on to the bill. But as a solution, that doesn't go far enough. The increasing privatization of education seems to have not only turned down this road years ago but to have strapped a brick to the gas pedal. Consider the evidence together: financial aid scandals where schools are taking money to steer students towards high cost private loans, a sort of payola scandal to help with high -cost study-abroad programs, and renewed distress at ever growing fees.

I'm reminded of those discussions and charts that show what funds for the war could have done if spent on other things (here's one if you're curious). While I don't want to mire this down in that discussion, all of these symptomatic financial problems beg the question: what would happen if we Valued (capital V intentional) education the way we all say we do during election years?fin

Crusin' 'round the 'net in my six four...

A moment away from griping about education.

For all you media fans out there, police in Colorado Springs have linked gangsta rap to a rise in crime. There are so many ways to run with this. I suppose I'd like to know what their method of study is. I bet if we checked, we'd find there was also an increase in the number of country music radio stations there.

Seriously, folks, I've tried shooting a Tupac cd at people, and nothing happens. And try as he might, even Toby Keith hasn't figured out how to put actual bullets into one of his songs. Chris Rock has it right - want to stop gun violence? Charge more for bullets.

Teachers who make a difference

Fair warning: this post could also be titled "One More Reason I Should Get Out of Here" or, after reading my last post, "Nothing Goes Up That Does Not Come Down".

So yesterday, I was out hobnobbing with other faculty around a field throwing things to each other. And during a break, we did what faculty often do: we began to talk about students in classes, comparing notes, horror stories, and the all-too-rare success story. Somebody was telling us about a student who from day one of his very difficult class - and I say this with a twinge of envy: I want my class to be as difficult as his is reputed to be - just got it. The student could offer a good definition off the top of her head, could argue a point, and most importantly, felt not one iota of shame for being smart and liking it.

Incidentally, feminist friends, this is the next mission. Body image aside, let's start to deal with the fear of being seen as smart.

It was at this point that another faculty member chimed in.

"You've got to shut that down," he laughed. And we weren't - or at least I wasn't - quite sure what he meant.

"You've got to shut that down," he repeated. "I had a student once who had their hand up at every question. They answered them all, 10 for 10, perfectly correct. So I said to him 'Man, you've got to get a social life.'"

Awkward laughter and a bit of stunned silence.

"He got up and left the class, and never came back. Never saw him again." And he was beaming proudly. Proudly! He thought he'd done a good thing. Why is it that if a dog craps on my carpet, I can smack it, but when a colleague does it, we're forced to be polite? I can only hope he recognized the sarcasm and bitterness in my voice when I said "Yes, teachers who make a difference" and walked away to get some water.