Saturday, December 28, 2013

Being the Enemy?

Reading the intertubes lately, and talking to some job seekers, I have a sense of alienation, my own, more than theirs.  (They have plenty of their own.)

The thing is, it sometimes feels like those of us with tenure are being figured as a sort of enemy to job seekers, and I don't recognize myself as the enemy.

The problem with the interpellation is that even if I try to refuse it, I've recognized the call to myself as the enemy, no?  And so my alienation.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Uphill Through the Snow Both Ways

I had dinner with some folks on the job market the other day, and naturally, talk got around to the job market.  In the course of our conversation, I got to wondering just how much worse the market is now than it was say in 2005, or in 2000, or in 1995.  I know I think it's worse, but I wonder if there's a way of thinking about how much worse?  Maybe comparisons of numbers of PhDs produced in a field vs number of jobs in the field?  That wouldn't be perfect, but it might be at least something?

I wonder if the ADE Bulletin would have that information, and might be visible over a the years to give a longer perspective?

You know how when you're young, and you look at some older person and think they're completely out of touch?  And maybe they are, and maybe they aren't.  But some are.  And some are very out of touch.

I don't want to feel like that older person and not even be aware of it.

In line with the feeling out of touch, I was thinking about how we handle our department rejections.  I know I've asked, and our chair calls the people we had visit campus personally.  Or she says she does, and I have reason to believe she's honest about that.  But I don't know how we handle the other folks.  Do we send them a note?

I know we tend to have to wait until we've successfully made a hire to notify anyone, and that takes a long time.  The thing is, on occasion, we've had to do a second round of interviews to find someone willing to take the job we have to offer (at least in some fields), so we don't tell people we've rejected them if the job is still open.

Edited to Add:

Undine at Not of General Interest posted a link to the MLA statistics (2011-2012).
I found this graph particularly interesting:
I first went on the market in 1993, and got my first TT job in '96.  I went on the market again in fall 1998 (and started a new job in '99).  I guess my timing sucked, big time.  (There may well be more PhDs in English graduating now, or not.  I don't know.  So maybe it's harder now.)

(I have to admit, I kept my mouth shut when the job seekers at dinner the other night talked about how people with tenure couldn't get jobs now, and so on.  I was right to keep my mouth shut, but I feel a little less crappy about myself now.)

Stir Crazy

I hope everyone's having good holidays.

I had a few colleagues over for dinner last night.  I'm not a very confident cook, and was worried about the food.  It tasted like cardboard to me, a bit, but I think that was more my anxiety.  I had a ham sandwich for breakfast, and it was good, so the ham at least must have been okay.

Irony:  My mom complaining about someone talking about hirself too much.  (And yes, I recognize the additional irony of a blogger who writes mostly personal stuff saying that about anyone else.)

I need to get out and be by myself, but I don't think it's going to happen any time soon.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Empty Office

I finished packing up everything in my office, brought the last few things home, and took some goodbye pictures.

 There is the green I so enjoyed!  (Here's where I tell about the mysterious painting of the green.)

And here's a link to a post with some pictures of the office full of stuff.

Only a few of my boxes are in the room.  Most are stored in our central meeting room, along with most of the other boxes from our department offices.  We had to keep the last few in our offices when that got full up.
This is a view of my computer desk, which looks out into the hallway, not yet cleared (at least, not by me, since I didn't put them up).

And there's my green chair from the past.  It's surprisingly comfortable, but the wheels have been tending to come off, and each time, I practically fall.  So I'm getting a new chair with the move.

Remember the move?  Here's the layout of the new office.  And more on the new office.
 I closed the door and turned off the lights.  My door used to be covered with printed out comics, lots of them from XKCD.  Now it looks forlorn, along with the empty bulletin board next to it.
It's not alone.  Pretty much everything looks forlorn down the hallways now.
At the end of this hallway, you can see the big recycling bin they put out for our paper, which has been filled several times over.  And beyond that is a free book shelf, which has also been filled and then gleaned a couple times over.

And that's it for my time in the great Green Office.  Good times, and not so good times.  But now it's on to a new office.

When we're allowed to go, I'll try to remember to take some pictures.  At least it has wallboard and not concrete block walls!  And the halls are wide enough to pass current legal standards, so a bit wider.  They're also WAY longer, long enough to be something from a nightmare about bureaucracy in the 60s.

Anatomy of a Grading Session

First, you gather your materials.  I use pencil for grading (except for very short journal sorts of stuff, for which I use different colored pens), but I also often need coffee or tea, some music (I prefer classical or jazz without words), and a fairly solid notepad.

While gathering your materials, you may become distracted.  Perhaps there are dishes in the sink.  Or maybe there's effbee.  Or snow to push around on the driveway.  There's probably something.  Fight the urge.

You sit down, pick up the first paper, and start to read.  Congratulations, you've just done the hardest part, the getting started part.  If you're lucky, the first paper you've read is good, and you can power through several more.  If you're not lucky, and the first paper sucks, then the dishes become so much more important.

No matter how brilliant the assignment, how good the papers, you power through a few, and then you want a distraction, something else to do.  So you count the papers.  You've done six, and there are 30 more to go.  This is the vital moment, almost as difficult as sitting down to the first paper.  If you can power through just a few more, then you can get to being a third done.   And a third done is close to half done, right?

If you can't, then may I suggest writing a blog post about how difficult it is to power through?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Heater Diaries

I've mentioned that my car heater's out, and that this means that I sometimes have to drive around (in seriously cold weather) with my front window down a bit to keep the windshield from totally fogging up.

Last Thursday, I went by the shop, and they were packed with lots of cars, many of which also have/had heater problems.  It's a very casual shop, which doesn't take appointments, and they suggested that they'd need the car overnight (as I mentioned before), so we chatted, and we agreed that I should being it back on Monday.  So I did. 

On Monday morning, I took it in at the buttcrack of dawn (well, not quite, but close) and Gary, the garage owner/mechanic gave me a ride home.  I spent most of Monday at home, and then Gary called in the early afternoon to tell me that they couldn't fix it.  They thought it was an expensive part, but they weren't sure, and they didn't want to order the expensive part without being sure, and so on.

So I got a ride, and picked up my car.  And then Tuesday (it was too late by the time I got home on Monday), I called to make an appointment at the dealer. 

The dealer gave me an appointment at 7:15, and I took my car in and they gave me a ride to work.  So I've been at work all day, giving finals (my last final is from 5-7pm tonight).  And then I got a call a bit ago, and they've figured out that they need an expensive part, and it won't be in until tomorrow.  Meanwhile, my car is in pieces, because that's easier than putting it all back together and taking it all apart again.

So I guess I'll call a taxi to go home tonight after my final.  (I live quite a walk off a bus line, especially on a cold night with finals to carry, so I'm going to spend the big bucks on a taxi for a 3 mile ride.)  (I could call a friend, but it seems like it would be a pain for someone to have to go out and drive around in the evening for me to avoid a taxi ride.)

But tomorrow, I should have a working heater in my car!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Grading Jail

I feel like Mephistopheles, where I am is grading jail, nor am I out of it, even when I'm not actually grading at that moment.

I have an assignment that seems to me really good in some ways.  And when students actually follow the directions, it works GREAT.  When they don't, they really bomb horribly.

But it takes for bleeping every to grade, and that's not good.

Friday, December 13, 2013

You'll Know it's Me...

... when you see someone driving in mid-winter with their front driver's side window down.

Yeah.  It's minus hella cold here, but as soon as my breathing makes the windshield start fogging up, my side window has to come down.


(I took the car into the shop yesterday, but I'll need to leave it over night, and that's best done on Monday.  Apparently it's so cold that before they work on certain sorts of stuff they need to have the car warm or things are brittle and break.  Who knew?)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Making less Misery?

One of my facebook friends commented about some job market stuff, and it got me thinking about what we can do to make the job search a better experience for everyone, or perhaps a less miserable experience.  And what we can't do.

Let's face it, short of all quitting our jobs, faculty folks can't make the job market suddenly and magically open up.  Nor can we move our midwestern schools to places with less brutal winters, or move them closer to places with good jobs for spouses in specific industries.

What we can do?  Here's what I'm thinking about the early stages of the search:

Think really carefully about asking for materials up front, and where possible, ask for electronic submissions to ease mailing costs.

On the search committee side of the market, I think it makes a lot of sense to ask for letters of reference up front, though I recognize that getting people to write letters of recommendation can be hell, and getting people to write them in time is sometimes a worse hell.  (Those problems are with letter writers, and not with search committees or the market, though.)  I've looked at interfolio, but I'd be interested in hearing more about it.  It gives one price for a year (and other prices for 3 or 5 years), but it's not clear to me if there are also additional charges for sending out portfolios or letters of recommendation.

I'm less convinced either way about asking for writing samples up front.  I don't tend to use them for the "first read through" of a set of applications, but I do by the second, and if there's not much time between, I might want them up front.  Having them up front means that the committee can work from one cut to the next a bit more quickly.  Whether they actually do or not, that's a different question.

I've been on several searches that have used phone interviews for the first round, and I've found it at least as good as conference interviews.  For one thing, I had pretty horrible experiences at MLA, so I have no urge to ever go back.  And for those who say that grad students should go to conferences, that's great, but let's be realistic about which conferences are likely to be useful, and which not.  For me, MLA was useful when I was on the market because I was on the market.  It was useful at other times because I was giving a paper and able to go see and hear papers.  But those two never happened at the same time.  Market years were simply to miserable to go see and hear papers meaningfully.  More local or area-focused conferences probably make more sense in terms of budget and networking for most grad students.  Talking to friends, my sense is that some smaller or poorer schools really prefer phone interviews, and have for some time.

I don't have a lot of experience with Skype, but I prefer phone, I think.  That preference is based on watching students Skype when I was overseas, and on an old photography article I read once about taking baby pictures.  Here's the baby picture article in short:  if you're taking pictures for the parents of a baby, then you get really close to the baby's face, so that it's like a parent being right up close to the baby.  If you're taking pictures for non-parents, then you take the picture a bit further off, because non-parents aren't usually as comfortable with the extreme closeness that parents are used to.  People may not articulate their discomfort, but they'll choose photos that way.  The connection to Skype is that most people do it sitting pretty darned close to their computer, and the social distance feels awkward to me, like we're too close.  Just me?  Maybe.  How about you?

Timing.  It takes a huge lot of time to read job applications.  Even if you read fast for the first cut and spend ten minutes per, if you've got a hundred to get through, you're looking at a lot of time.  And if you've got 200, a lot more time.  Then there are all the discussions, rereading, preparing for the next step.  All this is done, in my experience, as an add on to the rest of the job.  I know it's hard to wait for an interview call, of course.  My suggestion is that when the department sends an acknowledgement, it should include a realistic timeline for hearing about interviews.  And at each step thereafter, candidates should get realistic information about the timeline.  At the same time, we all know searches where the first two or three campus visits didn't pan out well, and the third or fourth person was asked late, but turned out to be just the right hire.  So for those on the receiving end, try not to take late calls as bad news or as personal issues.

What else should we on the search committee side to to make our searches as humane as possible?

Sunday, December 08, 2013


I had a long phone chat with a friend and former roommate from grad school this morning, and it was just great to talk.  We haven't much talked for years, not because we had a falling out or anything, but because other things happen, and we're both busy, and so on, but talking was great, and I hope we talk more sooner rather than later.

This roommate was one of the sanest, most common sense, down to earth people I knew in grad school.  She was really smart in all sorts of ways, but also really decent and thoughtful.

Of course, chatting with my former roommate also got me thinking about some other grad school folks, many of whom were (and are) wonderful in their own ways, but few of whom I have much contact with these days.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Free Advice

If you're interviewing for an English department type job, don't call Shakespeare "the Bard" even once, and certainly not repeatedly.

You sound like an fool.  And not a good kind of fool.


So, yes, here in the upper Midwest, it's unseasonably cold right now.  If the past is any hint, it's unlikely to stay this cold for long.  But yes, it's cold.  (Though not as cold as some places!)

We have a number of new colleagues in various roles and departments around, and I'm rather amused at the facebook posts I'm seeing and our encounters in the hallways.  Early on, several of them were sort of laughing when we asked if they had winter clothes, assuring us that they were from really cold areas, so no worries.  And now, they're facebooking (look, I made a verb!  Surely I'm not the first.) about needing boots rated for arctic expeditions and such.

Somehow, I've found myself in the rather odd position of comforting them about the relative pleasantness of winter in the teens.

For those who know me in meat-space, you're probably laughing at that one, because I'm notorious for putting on long johns sometime in September, and wearing them through nearly to June.

Then there's the shock of ice on the sidewalks.  With a wet, heavy snow, followed quickly by a cold snap, we've got hellacious ice on the sidewalks and such.  But again, experience tells me that people will scrape, and salt, and ice will sublimate, and before long, the sidewalks will be clearer.  (To be honest, yaktrax are my friends all winter long.  But for now, it's too cold for road salt to work, even.  Brrr!)

One of my students was in shorts and flip flops yesterday.  I still can't quite believe that most people in the upper Midwest somehow grow up with all their fingers and toes intact.  But he seemed sanguine.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Professor's Dilemma

Let's imagine, say, a professor is teaching an advanced underwater basketweaving class.  And let's imagine, too, that the class grades are based primarily on a presentation, a portfolio of several baskets, and a self-evaluation of the basket portfolio.  Just imagine.

Now imagine that there's a student enrolled in the class who appeared for a couple of weeks, and did the group presentation, and did a fine job at that.  And then the student pretty much disappeared.  But the student emailed occasionally saying that zie was coming to class the next week.  And then that zie had had to miss class, but couldn't drop because [fill in excuse], and zie would do the work for the class and turn it in on the last day, because that's what the grade depends on.

How should the professor handle this?

Not that I'd be asking for a specific reason, because, of course, I don't even teach underwater basketweaving.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

New Digs, Part the Second

As I posted previously, we're moving to new digs.  They've promised to get me another file cabinet, and they've revealed that there actually IS a coat hook on the wall behind the door (I'd looked at the door, only), so things are looking up.

It's a massive logistical undertaking, really.  Two big departments from our building, plus a whole school from another building, plus some resource type offices (tutoring centers and so forth) will all be moving to the new building.  And it all has to happen in mid-winter, when we're not in full on teaching mode (though there is a winter session).  As with any big logistical undertaking, they've made rules to govern us.

First, except for books and "official" files, they won't move any personal belongings.  So if you've brought an office lamp to campus, you have to move it yourself.

Second, none of us is supposed to be in the way on moving days (ie, in either building).

Third, none of us is supposed to have more than one set of keys.

So, it looks like we have to get all the personal belongings out ahead of time, and then wait and move them into our office some days later.  We'll be able to use our offices (well, more or less) until the day to move offices, and then we'll have to lock up, turn in our keys, and wait.  Then on moving day two, we'll be given keys to the new building and our offices, and be allowed in.

And as they move people out of the old offices, they'll take the locks off the doors so that nothing can be locked while the rooms are empty.

Our department office has one moving day, our individual offices a later moving day, and I guess that's also different for each of the other units moving.

We're all supposed to have our stuff (well, the stuff they'll move) boxed up in boxes with labels, which we're storing in our department's conference room by the department moving day.

Fortunately, we have student workers to help with packing books and moving boxes of books from our offices to the conference room for storage.

Today, I packed some files and old student work.  I think (when I came here) I was told that we were supposed to keep student work for two years so that they could pick it up later.  But I've recycled all but the last semester's work now, and packed that, along with files from classes and committee work  (fortunately, I'd gone through my files and weeded some last winter) this morning.  I've also had student workers pack up six and a half of my 20 shelves of books (just the ones in my campus office, of course).  Packed are Shakespeare (because I'm not teaching Shakespeare this semester), though a couple went home because I want to read them over break, and contemporary drama, and most early modern texts, and contemporary lit (admittedly, that shelf is pretty small).  (You can see a picture of my old office, with art and books, here.)  (And here's the tale of how my office got its glorious green walls!)  (There will, alas, be no gloriously green walls in the new building.  I've been warned.)

I'm hesitant to pack up my lit crit, because I feel like those are handy for students, and since I keep them in alphabetical order (of course), I don't want to pack them randomly if I can help it.  I think I'm about ready to pack up the anthologies and such, because I think I won't need them much.  (I rarely need them, but when you need them, they're super handy to have just there.

I've been taking personal stuff home bit by bit: all the art is home, and most of the toys (especially the Einstein Action Figure, with Power Chalk!  Raised Fist!), and my regalia.  I still have some things to take home, though, and printed out comics to take off the door.  But that can wait until the last, since the office will seem much less friendly that way.

It's strange walking through the department and seeing some folks shelves barren of books.  We do love our books around here.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Not Your Mommy

I'm chairing this committee and there's this work we have to do.  It has to get done, or bad things will happen to other people.

We set a due date of today for 11 of the things to be done (by 11 people).  How many are done?  3.

(These aren't things that can be done in just a couple of minutes at the last moment, but take a fair bit of time.)

Sometimes, my colleagues are worse than my students about lateness.  (But, fortunately, I know that, so we set the date a bit earlier than absolutely necessary, and I sent out a reminder today.  Yeah.  The thing is, if the task isn't done by the real deadline, there's no way to do it late and push the deadline back.)

Sunday, December 01, 2013

When a Thesis Doesn't Have a Thesis

Back at the beginning of the semester, I wrote about a problem I've had in the past with MA students who disappear for a couple of months and then send a chunk of work and hope for a quick response.  And despite my request that it not happen, it's happened.  I sent the student an email last week, asking about hir disappearance, and zie sent me a short apology and a revised chapter and a new chapter.

I'm so frustrated.  I've been slowly reading, stopping when what I really want to write on the paper or in my response how frustrated I am to be reading a thesisless, argumentless hunk of writing.  I don't know what to call it, but it's irritating.

And then, of course, I wonder about the quality of my own dissertation draft chapters.  I don't think I was so aimless in my writing, but it's hard to tell retrospectively.  I hope they were better.

I resent the amount of energy I put in to responding and then get a new chapter (or revision) that doesn't seem to have taken anything away from the previous responses.