Friday, October 31, 2008

Just in time for Halloween: Zombie Abbesses!

From one of today's papers on the early medieval clergy:

"Sainthood, qualities of extraordinary virtue and manner of life or death, gave women an opportunity to enter a monastery and run it."


Monday, October 27, 2008

Care and Feeding of the RoC

Today over at Bitter-and-Sweet's, the topic of book MS revisions came up -- primarily because BSGirl is going to play NaRevWriMo, and invites others to join. Which I'm gonna, btw, just as soon as I figure out how.

But the topic soon turned to what I can only describe as "Reviewers on Crack" [hereafter RoC]. What happens when you get an unreasonable reviewer? I've submitted my book to Dream Editor (everyone says so), so I have high hopes that he'll pick people who are rigorous, but reasonable. But it's my nightmare that the MS will go to someone like the person who reviewed my Journal of Excellent Studies article (see here, and here for me trying to be as mature as possible). BSGirl had a similar experience, and her comments section flushed out many others.

Well, this is all very timely, because last week, not one but two close friends with books out for review drew a RoC at two separate major presses. Friend #1 got subspecies A of the RoC: mean, petty, and unhelpful. This reviewer actually used the words "voguish" and "feeble" (I'm reading it -- it's neither of those things). As Friend 1 said, "How is that a helpful criticism?" RoC subspecies A should be fed tea and Xanax before being allowed to pick up a pen. Or, since publishing house budgets might not pay for pharmaceuticals, they should be told what our mothers told us: "How would you feel if someone said that to you?"

Friend #2 got the other major subspecies of the RoC: Utterly Clueless. Friend 2 has written the first study of a region (call it "Erniestan"), running from Historical Period X through Historical period Y, and engaging with Important Phenomenon in a way that really, honestly does challenge current historical understanding. In other words, it's a new case study on one level, but it's one whose main purpose is to show how people have been looking at the big picture in entirely the wrong way. The report came back: why didn't my friend expand her study to include not just Erniestan, but also Bertia, Oscarland, and Snuffleupagopolis. And while she's at it, why not take it up to Historical Period Z (about doubling her time period, with tons and tons of new issues)? RoC subspecies B should be strapped to a chair and forced to read the unabridged version of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire -- all 6 volumes of it -- to learn that just because you can say more doesn't necessarily mean that you should.

Other subspecies out there?

(UPDATE: Just in time for this post, Female Science Professor has a post up at her place about her own encounter with what I would describe as a RoC -- though she's grown-up enough not to put it quite that way.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"Magic Johnsons"

I've recently started following the blog "Got Medieval?" -- a chronicle of medievalism in popular culture written by an advanced grad student in medieval literature. Good stuff all around, but his most recent post ("Negative Campaigning, Medieval Style") was fantastic. My favorite part (other than his coined phrase from which this post takes its title) was this bit of analysis:

"Not every medieval woman found taking an interest in a suddenly mobile phallus should be considered a witch."

You said it, sister.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

blogger comments: "WTF?!?" edition

Hey all --

this morning, I've tried to comment on two people's blogs, both on blogger. Apparently there's a new sign-in system that won't accept my blogger ID, and demands that I enter the secret code letters, but won't display them. And Blogger help pages seem to be unavailable.

Any ideas out there? I invite you to post comments in my comments section if you can. If not, maybe e-mail me at notoriousphd ~~ at ~~ mac ~~ dot ~~ com.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Grading Jail: The File in the Cake

This semester, I'm fortunate to have a very light teaching load. That's because my Chair is a Good and Merciful Chair, who decided that the grants I brought in last year actually bought me out of a bit of my teaching this semester.** So I'm only teaching two undergrad classes (both ones I've taught before), plus one independent study for a grad student who showed up to work with me just as I left for Fellowship City.

This was very nice, as I had to function on teaching autopilot for the month of September while I worked on my book MS & tenure file, all while adjusting to post-fellowship re-entry.*** But while sailing through my classes, I completely forgot that the grading was piling up. So now, I find myself in Grading Jail. Thursday, I finished grading a stack of papers for my intro class, just as they were finishing their midterms. So net gain/loss: zero. Five minutes ago, however, I finished another stack of papers for my upper-division class, so I'm pushing ahead.

You know what has helped me? The proverbial file in the cake sent to bust me out of Grading Jail? It's simple: A timer. Yup: I now set a timer for grading (mine happens to be and "egg timer" downloaded from Mac widgets, which pops up a chicken at the end and says "time to check the grading!"). Each three- to four-page paper gets ten minutes, then I move on to the next one. I do a six-paper (one-hour) stack, then take a break. Three sessions like this (either back to back or spaced out during the day), and I can crank through almost 20 papers, writing fairly detailed comments all the while. It's fantastic.

UPDATE: I've managed to get through all the papers for my advanced class, and the larger papers for my intro class. I now have remaining a stack of short assignments for my intro class, and their midterms, which they took on Thursday. Next Thursday, advanced class sits for its midterm, so that's my deadline for getting the materials for intro class polished off. My goal is, by next Friday, to have only one stack of grading on my desk, and to possibly be completely busted out of Grading Jail by a week from Tuesday. At least I know what I'll be doing for the next week and a half...

**Actually, her repsonse when I contacted her in February to schedule my Fall Semester classes was, "You're teaching this fall? I thought you had three semesters?"

***The biggest challenge here was that I had forgotten about the stupidity: mostly administrators, but also some students. Sadly, I readjusted to this distressingly quickly.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Making the most of it, part II

(see the original post, here)

A couple of commenters on my most recent post posed an interesting question: What if your fellowship year is at your home institution? If you have to avoid your office in order to really be "on leave," how do you work?

Since I didn't have this experience, I turned to friend and colleague C., who had a non-residential fellowship the same year I did, so stayed close to home. She agreed that staying out of the fray was important, and offered a couple of common-sense tips.

In general, this kind of fellowship requires a lot more self-discipline. You've got to work in your usual environs (home office if you have one, coffee shops if that's your thing, whatever), but you have to break out of any normal rut you may be in. She told me that she did a few things. First, she set a schedule: a certain block of time in the morning was "work time" for her, and nothing interfered with that. Second, and most interesting to me, is that she set up little rituals to mark the transition into work time. For her, it was a morning cup of tea. For you, it may be a few physical stretches, turning on certain music, putting on a specific article of clothing. The important thing seems to be to make it something that you didn't do as a normal part of the work routine when you weren't on leave. This is not the rut; this is something new and different, a way of signaling to yourself that you will be productive for the next three hours, or whatever your schedule dictates.

As long as we're talking about simple tricks, I'd like to share one more that a colleague at Fellowship Institute shared with me: earplugs. She swore by these, even when she was working in her office with her door closed. She said that shutting out even small aural distractions somehow tricked her into shutting out other distractions, and turned her mind inward towards her work. I tried it, and let me tell you, she's right. Best four bucks I ever spent.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Making the most of it

(NB: there is a follow-up post here, prompted by some commenters' questions.)

A commenter on yesterday's post requested that I share some tips for making the most of a fellowship year. Granted, this probably would have been more helpful a couple of months ago, but better late than never.

The suggestions below are going to take for granted what you already know you should be doing: work hard, research, write lots. But there are other things that you should consider, and these things will improve not only your year there, but also your work and personal life when you return to your normal job:

Cut yourself some slack, already. Seriously, you need to give yourself time to decompress from the years of frantic deadline pressure you've just been given a reprive from. Plus, you've probably just moved, and you have lots to do. Seriously, your first 2-3 weeks will involve getting your apartment set up, learning the ins and outs of your new neighborhood, getting your library card, etc. If you move in the summer, there may be fun community activities in your neighborhood or town. Check them out, and become a part of the place you're living. The next 2-3 weeks after that, if you're on a residential fellowship, are likely to be "social" weeks, having lunch or coffee with the other fellows, or making courtesy calls on local faculty, and all this will be hard to reconcile with a sustained work schedule. This is not to say that you won't be working during this time, but it's going to be light working – compiling bibliography, plotting out a work plan for the year, figuring out what resources the local library has. Give yourself permission to take things slowly, and let yourself ramp up to full work speed. The amount of time this will take will vary depending on the length of your fellowship, or your own personal degree of exhaustion. But you already know that you do better work when you're well-rested. So consider this both a reward for hard work already done, and an investment in the hard work you will do.

Go to the office. If you have an office, that is. I tend to be a coffee shop worker, so this was a difficult thing for me to get used to. But being at the office makes you think, "I'm at work. I should be working." During your normal academic life, office time is often a mix of teaching, grading, meeting with students, etc., so it's hard to think of office time as research or writing time. But here, that's what it is, and that's what you came here to do. Getting in the office/work habit will serve you well not only during your fellowship year, but when you come home and learn that your office can be a place where productive things happen. Plus, being in the office lets you build those personal and professional connections that make a fellowship year so wonderful. My presence there meant that other people knew I was there, and we talked to each other about our projects, and I made some great friends. (And in my case at least, my presence in the office provided an opportunity, one particularly cold night, for a certain Interesting Development to offer me a ride home, and to suggest that "we should do something sometime." I'd hate to have missed that.)

Don't go to the office. The "go to the office" rule applies only to people on residential fellowships -- that is, those where you're away from your home institution. But if your fellowship has you staying in the same place where you normally work, stay well away from your office. If your regular work colleagues (not to mention your students) see you around every day, it's hard for them to process the fact that you are, in fact, on leave. You will be asked to read files, serve on thesis committees, and do all those things that you need time off from. If you must go in to the office to work in this situation, do it at times when no one is likely to be around. Resist the temptation to participate in the work-related e-mail chatter that will come your way. Mentally separate if you cannot do so physically. Behave as if you really are in another part of the country, even if you're not.

Impose some deadlines. Giving yourself time is important, but it's easy for a fellowship year to trickle away. No matter how diligent you are, you will almost certainly get less done that you thought you would, and that's okay. But you will hate yourself if you reach the end of your fellowship year and you've barely accomplished anything. If you make a schedule of medium-term goals, especially if it's punctuated by external deadlines (like, say, scheduling a conference paper each semester that depends on the research that you plan to do), you'll be more likely to get stuff done.

Get ahead of the game. This is something that I was not able to do, that I wish I had. Plan your fellowship year so that you finish your project several months before the year is up, then get started on the next one. That way, when you have to go back to your regular job, you've got some momentum built up on the next project. Right now, I find myself sputtering and trying to get started again, and it's difficult.

Take some time for yourself. This is aside from the "ramping up" month at the beginning. When we're in our normal work lives, we tend to place non-work-related things at the very bottom of our priority list, and they often disappear. This year is a chance to reset that balance, and bring it in to your life after the fellowship. Number one on my list was getting eight hours of sleep almost every night, for a year. Can you imagine what this would do for your health, your mind, and your overall attitude? This one thing alone made me a happier person. But I also started taking weekly yoga classes, made friends with my next-door neighbor, went cross-country skiing, exercised semi-regularly, took a trip to Chicago just for fun. I wish I'd done more exploring of the local countryside, as my online friend Dr. S. did on her fellowship year in England. Become a whole person again, and resolve to try to maintain that, at least in part, when you come home.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Room to Breathe


This post marks one week (almost to the minute!) that I wrapped up the most work-intensive month in my life: I've sent off the manuscript, I've turned in my tenure file, and now my academic future is in the hands of other people. I could be nervous, but strangely, I'm not. Part of it is that I think I've done a decent job at both; part of it is that now that I've done all I can, there's nothing more to do.

And that's kind of the issue. Sure, I have stacks of grading this weekend, and an ambition to clean up my apartment and organize my office, but without the book and tenure file hanging over my head, I find myself waking up some mornings and wondering what it is I'm supposed to do with my day.

But you know, this was nice. Last weekend, Interesting Development came to visit for five days. We played tourist, we had Important Discussions, and generally just reaffirmed that we were still happy to be an important part of each others' lives. Best of all, I was able to relax with him with no feeling that I should be doing something else. I was right where I was supposed to be.

The work will surely pile up again, and there's an article idea that I'm kicking around that I want to start work on in a week or so. But the breathing space was a beautiful thing.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Let us now praise fabulous office staff.

An invitation to the comentariat to present their encomiums of truly wonderful staff members who save our bacon for far too little compensation.

We've all had to deal with bad office staff members. The one who loses everything, then blames you for it. The one who you need to bribe with little gifts to make sure that you get the thing you need in a timely manner. The one who always seems to be out of the office for two days. The one who snarls and sneers, but can't be fired.

Right. But what about the good ones? And the really great ones? Put yourself in the position I was in last Friday, less than 24 hours after I submitted my tenure file. I found 3 or 4 typos in the narrative. Not a disaster, but I'd like to put my best foot forward. And the "open period" to add to, subtract from, or make changes to your own file absolutely, positively ended on Thursday.

So, an office staff member would have had several alternatives when I showed up Friday (very few classes that day for us), 10 a.m., with revised narrative in hand:

1. Sneer and/or pretend unctuous sympathy, but refuse to make the change; possibly spend the next six months telling anyone who would listen (including department chair) about your impertinent request.

2. Apologize, but refuse to bend the rules, on the grounds that rules are rules.

3. Chuckle, say "oh, I think we could probably risk it," pull out a folder, and say "pop it in here with the other stuff I'll be putting in the files this afternoon."

C., the head office admin. in my department is a type 3 -- for this and almost all similar occasions. I will never stop loving her.

Please use the comments to contribute your praises of your own favorite office staff members. Then go tell them in person how great they are. Get them a gift card to the local coffee shop. Remember: they make about half what you do, but you couldn't do your job without them.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

One more thing checked off the list

Turned in my tenure file today at 3 pm.

Now there's only a conference paper (tomorrow at 3) standing between me and a relaxing long weekend with Interesting Development, who arrives tomorrow night.

((begins to breathe again))

EDIT: ...aaaand... I just discovered the 3 typos in my narrative statement. I guess 3 in 12 single-spaced pages won't doom me, but still. Dang it.