Thursday, April 26, 2012

Three things that are Not About Me

I'm trying not to let things get to me.  Lordy, I am.  And I'm trying to insert some perspective.  Here are the things that I really oughtn't take personally:

1. Grad student who is just turning a corner on her thesis prep e-mails me on the day of her mock prospectus defense I organized to say that she can't make it... because she broke some bones in her foot that very morning and is trying to deal with the pain every time she moves while she tries to find someone to set it.

2. Grant due to have been paid out last fall still hasn't been paid out... because the country granting the money has had its economy more or less completely collapse.

3. Student plagiarized large chunks of a simple, 4-page source analysis, including material taken from a website and from a 600+ - page book written by my former dissertation advisor, because....  No.  Actually, that one I'll file the academic misconduct forms first, and then I'll let it go. But it's still not something to take personally.

Another thing that all three of these have in common?  All are irritations or inconveniences for me, but real honest-to-goodness crises for others. If I can manage to keep this in mind, I'll be okay.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

HEADLINE: Professor Argues that Her Work Has Value

Pearson Education just made Historiann (along with a lot of US history profs, apparently) an indecent proposal.

See her oh-so-cogent response here.

Yee-haw, cowgirl!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Midcareer Query: Is it actually getting harder, or are we doing this to ourselves?

SPOILER ALERT! The answer is: yes.

You'll notice that blogging has been light this semester.  Part of it is the post-book identity struggle.  Part of it is my aim to observe, rather than complain for the sake of venting.  But part of it is that I'm swamped.  And I've been wondering why.  Why don't things get easier after tenure?  Why, in fact, do they seem to get harder?

Part of it is that they actually are harder, at least from my vantage point. Budget cuts, starting a new research project, a bit more committee work (okay, so I'm mostly still hiding under my desk when it comes to that bit), a new prep, three independent studies with grad students... Yep.  Lots of work.

But here's the thing that I've been talking about with a few other local proffies around my vintage here at Grit City U.: Once you get tenure, and the pressure to publish that first book is off, you turn to your courses and start... tinkering.  You start, gods help you, trying to improve them.  A new assignment?  New readings?  Or, if you're like me, you go all individual conference-intensive, trying to get better results.  For the record, all this tinkering has produced better results, for the most part. And the former SLAC-er in me finds this a vindication of what I've always believed: individual attention is the way to go.

Some days, I think of the struggles my students are facing, and I think, "Okay, this might actually be a hill worth dying on." Other days, I feel like I'm being devoured by a monster of my own making.  And in the tug-of-war between wanting to be the best at what I do, and sanity, I'm honestly not sure what's going to win.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Ten-Minute Challenge

Today, I have student conferences booked back-to-back from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (with my evening class beginning at 6:30)

I also have about a gazillion little things I need to do: set up a committee meeting, mail off a check, register for this, that, and the other thing, turn in a book...

My conferences are booked for 30 min apiece, but they're really only taking 20 min.

I wonder how many loose ends I can get tied up today. I'll let you know. But right now, my 9:30 is here...

Monday, April 9, 2012

F**k the Bad News

... for now, at least. Oh, there's a Very Bad Thing that may be coming down, but what the hell: I'm scrappy, so I'll manage. And besides, It's a sunny morning, and I'd rather focus on a couple of excellent things:

1) I have a new newphew! He arrived Saturday, and is the latest addition to a roster that includes two nephews (Mr. B. and Emergency Backup Nephew) and one niece (Lady T). New newphew's name sounds like he's destined to be a historian of the early Republic (American, not Roman); his pseudonym will have to wait until I know him better. Making up pseudonyms is part of a crazy auntie's sacred duty.

2) Lady T. is coming for a solo visit this summer! She's 9 1/2, and pretty independent for her age (not to mention almost as tall as I am -- zoiks!). I'm really looking forward to this... as well as to the slightly younger Mr. B.'s visit later on.

So, heading into the week focusing on the positive. And as for the negative... okay, my school library is considering seriously restricting our access to an essential research resource. And that sucks. But as I said, I'm scrappy, and I do my best work when people are trying to get in my way. Heh.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Good News (Good News/Bad News Blogging, pt. 1)

The good news is this: I've been accepted to take part in a Fabulous Seminar Thingy (again, h/t to Dr. Crazy for the nomenclature) this summer! It's a sort of a month-long master class, complete with a "faculty" of international experts, on an area that I've long wanted to know more about... and that need has gotten pressing recently, as Another Damn Book is moving into that area.

Better still? Participation in FST comes with a stipend for travel, housing, and a bit more. If I pinch my pennies, the whole month will be taken care of.

Best yet? FST is being held in Blargistan. So I get to tack on a bit of research to the front end, with the airfare to get over there already paid for. Hooray!

Now, this means I'll be in Blargistan for almost half my summer break. That, combined with promises to fly one niece and one nephew to Grit City for a visit with their favorite crazy auntie, and a trip right at the beginning to give a guest lecture at Tropical City U. (and visit a friend who is now teaching there), means that already my summer is pretty much booked. But darn it, it's a good kind of booked. The best, in fact.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Book Review Strikes Back

I don't normally do book reviews. At least, I haven't in the past. For real: I'm finishing my ninth year post-Ph.D., and I've done a total of five book reviews my entire career, and that's including the one I did in grad school. One reason for this is that I'd just rather spend my time writing my own stuff. But really, a big reason is that I just never felt qualified to review someone else's book. What could I know?

Recently, however, things have changed. I know something about a few fields of inquiry. I know how to write a review, and what readers need. Most of all, after writing my own book, I know what a book ought to look like.

Since arriving at this newly confident place a couple years ago, I've had the opportunity to review one really excellent book. I like to think that I "got" the thing that was really cool about the book, and that I communicated it well to readers. But last month, I also put those skills to use on a book that I didn't think was as well put-together.

Let me tell you, it's a lot easier to write a review of a really excellent book.

With this second book, I found myself struggling to balance my professional mandate to write a review that was honest about the book's strengths and weaknesses with a personal desire to be... nice. "How would you feel if someone wrote this about your book?", that little voice in my head said. "Surely you can find a way to soften that a bit?" said a voice that sounded a lot like my mother. "Are you sure you know what you're talking about here? After all, you work on field A, and this is really A-prime" said another voice that sounded like the one grad school professor who terrified the crap out of me in my orals. "If you can't write a nice review, maybe you should just send it back and let someone else do the review" said a little girl's voice hiding behind the door. And, most doubt-inducing of all was the voice that seemed to come from everywhere: "What if the author's tenure ends up riding on this review?"

So, I sent my draft to Voice of Reason (who had recently asked me for feedback on a similar review she was writing). And she read it, and helped me shape it. The result was professional in tone, and spent some time pointing out the two best features of the book. But it was also critical where it needed to be critical -- again, with a professional tone, but clearly critical. "How would I feel if I got this review?", I asked myself again, in my own voice, and this time I tried to answer the question. I decided that I wouldn't be happy. But I also wouldn't be devastated or personally wounded. And I also decided that I'd put enough in there for a tenure committee to read it however they were inclined to read it anyway. And I sent it off.

And today, I got an e-mail from an editorial assistant from the same publication, thanking me for the review, and also letting me know that they had just received back a review of my book that they were going to publish soon... written by the author of the book I had just reviewed.

I'm think I'm just going to think of this as if it were a theatrical farce, happening to someone else, and sit back and laugh. Because that's really the only thing to do at this point.