academia

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And the semester begins

Though I look forward to the fall weather (such as it is!), I am a little sad that my stay-at-home-mom summer is over. We don't have daycare for Henry yet, but we have him on waiting lists all over town. Some of the places don't take babies until they're six months old or a year old. Right now we're taking turns doing childcare, as we have alternating teaching/office hours schedules. We live very close to campus, so this is workable for the time being.

As one would expect, I didn't get as much research done over the summer as I'd hoped, but I did a decent amount of work. I had intended to do the following:

* submit book proposal
* write an article (from scratch, not based on a diss chapter)
* write a proposal for another article
* write a book review

What I actually did was:

* wrote an article (from scratch, not based on a diss chapter)
* wrote a proposal for another article
* wrote part of a book review

I also reviewed two manuscripts for journals, though that's not my research.

Now my research goals for fall:

* submit book proposal
* write an article (from scratch, not based on a diss chapter)
* finish the book review
* compose a conference presentation for LACC

And administrative goals:

* start a mentoring program pairing up new and experienced TAs
* create a web site for the first-year writing program here -- nothing fancy, just a page of text using the department's style sheet.

And teaching goals:

* find interesting and unexpected ways to teach Classical rhetoric and connect the theory to contemporary life
* use the experience teaching Classical rhetoric (a split undergraduate/graduate course) in the service of my research so that I produce something as a result of teaching it, even just a conference presentation

If it KILLS me

It's a pretty sad state of affairs when the title of this post goes through my head all the time with regard to work. I have such an overwhelming amount of work to do, especially with administration but also research and teaching, that I work at a frantic pace every day. Part of this is probably my own fault; I'm doing more than the bare minimum, but I feel like the bare minimum is too risky to my career; plus, the minimum makes me feel like a gigantic loser.

Also, I feel like I'm in a race with my body. As I work on proposals, articles, administrative memos and other documents, teaching materials, etc., I can see, below the screen, in my peripheral vision, those little protrusions poking and shaking my abdomen. There's so much stuff I must knock out SOON, before the fetal boy gets here, even if the deadlines of these projects are a few months away. For example, tonight I'm revising a draft of a brief article that's due in mid-March. I intend to finish it tomorrow -- if it kills me. Then this weekend, I'll be working on two projects due in early April...and so on. I don't ever want to be that person who holds an entire project up.

I don't know anything about whitewater rafting, but I suspect it could be analogous. Isn't it true that sometimes your raft gets swept into currents, and you have to paddle like crazy to get out of the current immediately, because if you don't, it'll take you and hurl you over the edge of Niagara Falls?

What's Your Administrative Persona?

I've been thinking a lot about how I'd compare my administrative persona to a character or characters in popular culture. The closest I've come to is Dr. Cuddy from House, but without so much of the drop-dead gorgeousness:

She's a good administrator, but she's a little too nice and is preoccupied with damage control.

I'd like to be more like these next folks. Or, perhaps, I feel that I'm already a lot like them, but I have to keep the qualities they and I share -- impatience, snarkiness, antisocial inclinations -- in check.

So what's your administrative persona? I know not many people will be able to answer this one, but maybe Dean Dad and Collin could have some fun with it.

Taking the Baby Plunge: Q&A

Nae left a comment on a previous post with several questions related to my pregnancy. I'm glad you asked, Nae, as others might have been wondering the same thing. I've decided to address them here in sort of an interview format.

Was becoming pregnant a hard decision to make?

No, it was pretty easy. I'm grinning right now at your assumption that the pregnancy was a conscious decision on my/our part. But there was no way I could have played that off with a straight face: "oh, wow, this pregnancy was quite a surprise, but we're happy and will make the best of this unexpected situation!" Nah. Academic woman falls pregnant, baby is due in early May, just as the spring semester ends. How convenient...

What, after what you've been through, made you decide that now is the right time?

To start at the beginning, I should mention that until I was in about my late twenties, I didn't want children at all. Then I still didn't really WANT want them, but I did kind of think that having them was slightly preferable to not having them. So that covers me until I was in graduate school (first starting my PhD program). Beyond that, the general consensus in academia, expressed in forums, blogs, Chronicle articles, etc., is that graduate school is the best time to have a child. That's great if the situation works out; however, I wasn't just going to "have kids in graduate school" without being in a stable relationship with someone else who also wanted kids. At that point I still wasn't old enough to be brave enough to cease waiting for a relationship and pursue single parenthood. If I hadn't met and married Jonathan, though, I certainly would've gone ahead and had a child by myself, probably by around age 34-36.

Anyway, while I did get together with Jonathan in graduate school, I was almost finished by that time, having finished my comprehensive exams. I could have slowed my dissertation writing waaaaaaay down to sort of see how things would play out with him, but then I'd have been prolonging the dissertation phase for four or five years: let's say two years of building the relationship and making a commitment, nine months of pregnancy, and then a year or two of the intense attention an infant requires. And keep in mind, our relationship was long distance for about the first year and a half. I think I made the right decision to not deliberately put off finishing just so that I could have a child in graduate school.

So that's why I didn't do it *then.* Why am I doing it *now*? For a few reasons:

1. I have a great marriage, so lack of a stable relationship isn't an obstruction.

2. When I was born, my mother was 35 and my father was 37, and I'm an only child. All the time, people thought my parents were my grandparents. I have always thought I would never want to be as old as they were when I had kids -- not when I *started* having them, anyway.

3. I'm an only child (see above). So is Jonathan. Our child, then, will be starting out never to have any aunts, uncles, or cousins. It's very important to us that he has siblings at least, and (hopefully) nieces and nephews. I wanted to start out having children before it's too late or too difficult for me to have more than one.

4. I'm 33 years old now. By the time I go up for tenure, if I go up for tenure here, I'll be 39. Confronting that fact, I put my foot down and said that come what may, I was absolutely never, ever going to wait for the tenure decision to try to have a child. Doing that, to me, would have been just absurd. I reasoned that if I'm going to try to have a child without tenure, I might as well go ahead and do it now, at age 33 (actually, 32 at the time).

As a newly married woman entering a career with much potential, how do you make the choice to have a child?

You might be surprised by this answer. I think it's because I'm more confident now than I have been in the past. I know I'm productive, I'm talented, and I have a strong work ethic. I make significant contributions, I have good ideas, and I'm collegial. I'm an asset, and I really believe the people in my department and university are smart and sophisticated enough to understand that that will not change and I will not suddenly become worthless once I have a child. And for the sake of argument, even if it turns out they did think that, I believe I would be able to find another job in a department that would recognize the work I do.

Is having a child something you can speak rationally about right now (in a pregnant state)?

Oh yeah. I haven't noticed any kind of "pregnancy brain" sloppiness; I'm not convinced that exists. I am a little more emotional than usual, but I'm trying to process it whenever I get all weepy and what-not. I think that mentally, I'm about the same as I always was, but Jonathan may come in here with a retort.

Is it really one of those things you "have to experience" before you can comment?

I don't think so. You can have empathetic speculation about how you think you'd feel or behave, or what you think you'd do. It helps if you have a lot of friends who are pregnant or who have babies/small children.

Does being pregnant "change" you? Have any of your outlooks/positions on life changed? Do you see the world differently?

Actually, right now I'm reading -- finally! -- Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution by Adrienne Rich. She has three sons, and I'm having a boy, so I'm starting to notice and think about things I wouldn't have otherwise, but I still have the same world view I had pre-pregnancy. Perhaps when he's born I will go through a significant perspectival shift.

Does your husband view/treat you differently now that you are carrying "your" offspring?

No, not really; he's wonderful, just like he has always been. I'm going to address your very last question in this answer too, the one about the yours/ours distinction. I think it's easier for me to think of our little guy as ours because he's a boy. Jonathan is going to be responsible for a LOT of key components of his upbringing because of that. I keep thinking about all these things I have no idea about and would never be able to teach him, especially all-male social situations like how to behave in a locker room, how to participate in rough play, or the finer points of urinal etiquette. If anything, and it may sound awful to say this, I kind of think of him as more Jonathan's than mine.

Do you think having a child will influence how you teach?

Not sure. That will be interesting to find out. It may also affect my approach to administration.

Do you feel you will have to sacrifice your career?

Not at all. In fact, given Jonathan's and my shared views about financial security, I don't think we'd be comfortable in a single-income household situation, no matter which one of us stayed home. I know I'm too risk-averse and debt-averse to stay home -- too concerned about earning potential over the long term and retirement savings. It's great to do generally, but not for me.

Will your husband share child-rearing responsibilities so that you feel free to pursue your career?

He'll be delighted to, actually. He knows how disgusted I would be with him if he failed to take on parenting responsibilities. Also, his political views would demand that he assume equal responsibility, and he isn't a hypocrite, so I think he'll do great.

And I don't think either of us will have to give up career plans, but we are going to have to make out a schedule and re-evaluate it periodically so that we are each getting an equal amount of time to work on research. I can imagine that uninterrupted time and access to it may be a source of many future arguments.

Are you comfortable allowing your husband to be a stay-at-home father if that is what is best for the family, knowing that you may not experience the first step your child takes?

Oh yes, but again, I don't know how financially feasible that is for us. Another thing to keep in mind is that, as unpleasant as it is to contemplate, I might die of a hemorrhage during or right after childbirth like Jennifer Lopez's character in Jersey Girl or get hit by a Mack truck when the baby is three months old. I might not be able to raise him at all. I have no choice; I simply must put an enormous amount of trust in Jonathan, my and his family members, daycare workers, teachers, community members, and all kinds of other people. That has been a big challenge for me, and I still don't know if it will be surmountable. First poo diaper and first steps aren't important to me when compared to the big stuff, like my son's physical and emotional safety. I get really choked up and sobby when I think about the possibility that anyone would violate his trust, especially when he's so little and so completely trusting.

3...2...1

Three weeks of class left. (and then finals week) I guess I should say two and a half, since Thanksgiving is one of the weeks. I hope I can make it.

In other news, I have been thinking about trying some of the recipes in Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management. Probably not this one, though:

COLLARED PIG’S FACE (a Breakfast or Luncheon Dish).

823. INGREDIENTS - 1 pig’s face; salt. For brine, 1 gallon of spring water, 1 lb. of common salt, 1/2 handful of chopped juniper-berries, 6 bruised cloves, 2 bay-leaves, a few sprigs of thyme, basil, sage, 1/4 oz. of saltpetre. For forcemeat, 1/2 lb. of ham, 1/2 lb. bacon, 1 teaspoonful of mixed spices, pepper to taste, 1/4 lb. of lard, 1 tablespoonful of minced parsley, 6 young onions.

[Illustration: PIG’S FACE.]

Mode.—Singe the head carefully, bone it without breaking the skin, and rub it well with salt. Make the brine by boiling the above ingredients for 1/4 hour, and letting it stand to cool. When cold, pour it over the head, and let it steep in this for 10 days, turning and rubbing it often. Then wipe, drain, and dry it. For the forcemeat, pound the ham and bacon very finely, and mix with these the remaining ingredients, taking care that the whole is thoroughly incorporated. Spread this equally over the head, roll it tightly in a cloth, and bind it securely with broad tape. Put it into a saucepan with a few meat trimmings, and cover it with stock; let it simmer gently for 4 hours, and be particular that it does not stop boiling the whole time. When quite tender, take it up, put it between 2 dishes with a heavy weight on the top, and when cold, remove the cloth and tape. It should be sent to table on a napkin, or garnished with a piece of deep white paper with a ruche at the top.

Time.—4 hours. Average cost, from 2s. to 2s. 6d.

Seasonable from October to March.

Weekend's work

I must devote a big chunk of this weekend to preparing my presentation for LACC next weekend. Of course I have forty or fifty other things to do as well, but that's the most pressing.

An Open Letter to ABD Job Seekers

Dear ABD Job Seekers,

Since I'm on the sidelines this year as far as the job market is concerned, I feel comfortable dispensing some advice based on my experience in the job search and that of my friends.

First, here's one thing you have to do for your sanity. You must keep your two goals -- finishing the dissertation and getting a job -- completely separate in your mind. The "I have to do well in the job search so that I'll be motivated to finish my dissertation" line of thinking is a pure, poisonous recipe for anxiety and depression. In the fall 2005-spring 2006 job search season, things didn't go the way I'd hoped, and I figured I wouldn't be starting a tenure-track job the following year. I then focused my efforts completely on finishing my dissertation and made peace with the fact that the job search hadn't gone my way, and that made the writing go a lot better. Well, part of it too was that I wanted to stick it to anyone on any search committees who interviewed me and thought, "she won't be finished in time." Then I got a great job offer in June. It's probably good to think of your ABD turn on the job market as a practice run, even in rhetoric and composition or technical communication -- it's not that easy to get a job.

Next, background matters. This piece of advice may be hard to take, but I believe it's true. In my experience and that of most of my friends, search committees tend to glean as much as they can about your background and make decisions based on that. The most revealing bit of information about your background is probably where you got your undergraduate degree -- there's that old "most students go to college within 100 miles of home" statistic, which I don't know the origin of but which is cited here and here, and other Google-able places.

I went to the University of North Alabama for my B.A. It's a regional comprehensive, four-year university with a teaching mission and about 6000 students. It has a ten-year-old master's program. All faculty there teach composition and literature courses, and I have to say that it was great taking every single course with a very experienced tenure-track or tenured faculty member. Anyway, the places that showed the most interest in me were similar to UNA. They assumed, rightly, that I would have special knowledge of their typical student profile: underprepared, first-generation college, from rural areas, deeply religious, politically conservative.

So, for example, if you went to a small liberal arts college, religious college, military college, or what have you, you'll probably get a lot of interest from those kinds of places. Regional background matters a lot too. I don't mind revealing that I've never been a finalist for a job anywhere outside the South.

Okay. And if you have a train-wreck phone or MLA interview, an interview like a snake pit, you must know that they're likely treating all the interviewees that way, and it's no big deal. Believe me, those interviews don't end up being nearly as painful as the ones that go wonderfully, and the people were so nice, just perfect, but you wait and wait by the phone, and they never call to invite you to campus.

This last bit should be comforting. You may not have been told this before, but big-name senior scholars -- not even "advanced assistants", but associate and full professors -- apply for entry-level jobs. Admittedly, I'm guessing this mostly happens when research universities do searches. But it's definitely true; I could name specific instances. No ABD anywhere can possibly compete with these people. These are heavy hitters with award-winning books, editor positions at journals (journals they are bringing with them to the new department), big grant-funded projects, and other academic and fund-generating delicacies.

On a related note, when the ad says "Assistant or Associate Professor," they probably want the latter. Same with "open rank." Don't get too disappointed if you don't hear from those places.

Also, for those jobs you really wanted and never heard anything about, look at those departments' web sites come fall (you'll do that anyway). It'll give you some closure. You may find that they ended up hiring someone completely different from you in terms of research interest, or that they negotiated with one of those big name applicants and converted the position into a full professorship. Or you may find that they had a failed search, so you can apply next year.

Finally, sheesh! Update that wiki! Your colleagues will appreciate it.

Best of luck,

Clancy

Feminisms and Rhetorics Wrapup

I had a pretty good conference last weekend. However, one thing that was really lousy was the raging car trouble I had on the way.

I was on highway 167 headed north at about 10:30 at night, 40 or so miles outside of Little Rock. Yes, I got a very late start hitting the road. I was taking it slow, since it was so dark, and I hadn't gone over a bump or anything or made impact with any object, but all of a sudden, my engine started ROARING and there was a tinkling kind of rattle behind me sounding like something in the trunk. I pulled over at a gas station, and a guy there said it was my muffler. He recommended that I go ahead and go to Little Rock but then get it checked out in the morning.

I went on, engine roaring, back of the car rattling, with the occasional sound (and feeling) like someone was under the car shooting me with a rifle, which freaked me out. I was less than a mile from my hotel when I got pulled over by the police and informed that I was dragging a pipe behind me, which was creating sparks. I wasn't surprised, but he let me go the rest of the way to my hotel. I got out of the car and saw about five feet of pipe behind the car.

The tow truck driver the next morning didn't believe me when I said I hadn't hit anything, which was annoying. The subsequent analysis by Midas confirmed that the entire exhaust system was rusted, corroded, rotted out. I guess I have the salt on the Minnesota roads to thank for that.

They put all new pipes and everything in there, so that was great, but I missed a chunk of the conference dealing with all that. But I went to some great panels, one in particular having to do with work/life balance issues and the status of women in the profession, even though it scared me. One presenter, for example, observed that while men tend to be evaluated (for tenure, promotion, merit raises, etc.) on the basis of their performance, women are evaluated on performance plus a lot of other personal factors, including:

  • appearance
  • weight
  • style of dress
  • marital status
  • whether or not she has children (and if she does, how many children she has, and how the children look and behave)
  • home (location, decor, etc.)
  • cooking

I forgot what else, but you get the horrifying idea. I'm going to take Dean Dad's advice and make the lifestyle choices that are right for me, and if it means I don't get tenure, I can be at peace with that.

On a brighter note, on the way back to Lafayette, I saw this monastery. It was a gorgeous morning, and the whole place seemed to have the most beautiful glow around it. The photograph doesn't do it justice at all. Unfortunately, a little after I saw it, I started thinking about that awful MTV cartoon The Brothers Grunt. Is that really how my mind works?

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