Saturday, April 24, 2010
In other news: procrastination, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I spent about 20 minutes in the coffee shop this morning going through my article for edits, and have spent over two hours procrastinating on every single possible online site known to man. All I've done so far (and I started this read-through at least a month ago) is finish one pass through the article; there is a to-do list at least a page long of other stuff to do on it.
At least I've gotten back to it, eh? Although I am so damn tired of this topic and have so many different iterations of it in various lengths that I want to check against each other, that I don't even know what my argument is any more, or if it's at all interesting. It certainly is not interesting to me any more. Of course, the idea that I could actually send it off and not ever have to look at it again is highly motivating. Hopefully motivating enough that I will keep working on the damn thing.
I didn't do any job searching stuff this week either, except send off the materials request I got. Meh. Funny how working a 20-hour-a-week job and obsessively checking facebook and my email can sap all my energy. I have no clue how I would ever transition to full-time employment of any sort. I hope that I would actually adapt.
But, you know, maybe I needed a week of basking in (semi)success to fortify myself for yet another spurt of job-searching activity. At least I felt good enough about things to try and work on the article today. I just have flabby, out-of-shape focusing muscles. I've been cross-training on my procrastination and distractability muscles, though, and it certainly shows today!
And I haven't made my bed, cleaned the catbox, or washed any dishes all week. I did fix some of that this morning but the dishes still await. Ugh. That'll be a job and a half. But I don't feel like doing that or more of my editing.
What I really feel like doing is taking a nap. But I don't think that will fly in this coffee shop. And I'm meeting a friend for coffee here for about an hour. Guess I'll go see if I have any procrastination web sites left.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
And then I did a bunch of errands, got my dry cleaning, registered some bureaucratic stuff, etc, and went home, and felt like my day was done. Somehow, this has become my life.
Except it isn't, because now that I am down to my one part-time job I am losing money each month and it won't be long until I have nothing and can't even pay my rent.
So obviously I need to be applying out to jobs, right? Sigh. I don't know if I can do this anymore. I have a long list of jobs culled from last ads week, and I think I am not going to apply to any of them. They are lectureships for comp that are advertised as one-year or term positions, and they are all over the country ---- Florida, Wisconsin, NY, etc. The salary plus the temp nature of these jobs, plus the fact that there will be a huge applicant pile even for these, has all combined to put me off. I'm not saying I wouldn't relocate across the country for a t-t job, I'm not saying I wouldn't relocate for a comp job, and I'm not saying I wouldn't relocate for a visiting or limited term position, but put all of those together for about 30K and I just don't see it as worth it. Hell, if that theoretical comp job was a permanent lecturer position instead of a limited term one, I'd be all over it. But it's not.
And the next step then is to go back to the nonacademic job thingy, but I am so not excited about that. I was whining to my sister a few weeks ago and ended my speech with, "I don't know what I want to do when I grow up, waaaaaa! Figure it out for me!" She laughed and said that of course I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn't find anyone that would pay me for it. She said I had a real calling but it wasn't being properly appreciated. And I guess that's true --- unlike a lot of people I have talked to who ended their PhD burnt out on research or sick of teaching, I still really love it all. To the extent that I have a hard time applying to or even understanding the point of many of these nonacademic jobs.
I have tasked my sister with figuring out what I should be doing now (was on the phone with her again today). She will get back to me. Right now I'm waiting ---- I have academic applications out, but they are recent enough that I don't expect a response quite yet. Or maybe, any minute now. Or, maybe this deafening silence will stretch on long enough to make it clear that they are all going to fill their positions without contacting me. Sigh. It's this total lack of certainty that's the real killer. Ideally I could hear back from them soon and get hired for something and move off to some new place.
Or, less ideally, I could move back in with my parents or sister (still haven't negotiated that cat thing, though!) or my cousin and start over and really throw myself into the nonacademic local job search. I don't feel like doing this yet, because of the previous idealistic paragraph. But then again, I have been in this holding pattern for---? I was going to say since January, but really, let's count the fall job market too. Argh.
My sister suggested I might have to move twice and that I should just get on with it. But then when I asked if she would help me move (baby sister whining alert!), she said yes but then took it back for until after my niece graduates. So I'd stay here until the end of spring semester then throw myself on the charity of whatever family member I can. I can handle that, I think.
That leaves now until mid-June here in GradSchoolLand. What should I be doing with myself? I could continue on as is --- acting as if my pt job was a regular full time job and just hang out the rest of the time, while trying to spend as little money as possible. Or I could apply for those damn temp lecturer positions. Or...? What? Revise my book? Apply to crappy nonacademic jobs even though I don't live in the area yet? Watch a lot of movies? Start a hobby? I don't know. I'm open to suggestions.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Here is some cool footage from an old 70s documentary. Check out those plumes!
And here's one with lava and explosions and cool sound effects, shpluck shpluck, gloop gloop hiss. And French, should you know any French.
This one, of the actual current eruption, just shows a big plume of smoke. Kinda boring. Proof why I am not a scientist, if you needed any --- I just want the flashy stuff and don't care how it works.
What I really want is for a cameraman to be engulfed by the flowing lava so I can understand just how hot it is. Surely that's not too much to ask? Maybe we can draft unemployed humanities PhDs for the purpose --- prove that we can be educational and entertaining at the same time. (Lions in the Coliseum are just too too passe.)
Now I am off to find videos of volcanoes exploding underwater. I was looking for them a couple years ago but YouTube didn't have very much. I watched a documentary once back in high school and loved it. I could just loop the footage and stare at it all day and meditate. I think you have to search under some variant of "popcorn." Ahh, beautiful! With a properly arty classical music soundtrack, it becomes like kinetic sculpture.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Monday, April 12, 2010
I need coffee and to figure out what I actually need to work on today. I did not apply to jobs over the weekend and I must get back on that horse again soon.
Also, I am very angry at the ETS people --- I was supposed to grade for them in their CSU early application program but could not get certified by the deadline. Those bastards! Their online program uses a version of Java that is five years old and that will not download and work right on my computer. I couldn't get it to work on the department computers either (although I was instructed not to use a public computer, but now the point is moot, hey?) Grr! I could have used that money, too. Don't know what I'm going to do about that now.
And remember how I suggested we label each grad post? And wondered if that would be the equivalent of the Scarlet Letter? Well, here's an article all about literary t-shirts, if you are so inclined. My only complaint is that the scarlet letter one is not scarlet:
It says there is a Poe one too, with team number 13. I might prefer that one, actually. I'll have to go check them out.
ETA: Ooh! A tell-tale heart with "Poe 13" on the back??? I must have it. Unless the raven one is better. Ooh ooh, raven or heart, raven or heart...
Saturday, April 10, 2010
I did a huge gob of staff and adjunct apps and the last of the CCs at the end of March. I feel like I should have heard from them if I was a contender by now. Sure, I know it takes everyone a long time to close a search, months and months ---- but I still think that people who actually are desired candidates and get interviews and move on to the next stage hear much faster than the rest of the pile, you know? And so I feel like all the stuff I sent out is probably moving on to stage two without me. Sigh.
I think it's going to rain today. I should go out for my coffee snack before it does that.
And a couple postdocs have opened up recently, which I hate. I mean, of course I will apply for them, but I expect those to take even longer to close and they will be due at the end of April or even later, so I could prolong this waiting period, this sense of floating in limbo, across almost the whole year. I was just talking to a friend about how I had noticed the rents dropping a bit on Craigslist and how I was thinking about moving somewhere with a roommate so that my rent would be more manageable, but that I was also expecting any of these jobs I've been applying to to pan out any day now, so why move if I have to move again? I'm afraid to look back through my old posts and figure out how long I have been on the cusp of moving away at any moment. I will depress myself.
My health troubles have started up again. It doesn't match up quite with the food theory or the idea of stress. So that's one more thing I'm dealing with.
Another thing is that this friend who I ate dinner with (fun!) is the same one who worked at The Weird Hippie Place, if you remember my old posts. She was fired. Ok, now you could say I was fired too, but I was hired to teach during first period for one year and then they let me go at the end and pointed to money troubles. She was asked to leave in the middle and to bring back all their proprietary materials. (It's the equivalent of cleaning out your desk when you don't have one.) Much good gossip there, but I won't tell you about it.
Anyway, she still talks to people there, I guess, and she said that one of the old guard had recently walked out --- just retired himself and stopped showing up. (I know; it's a crazy place. What does that tell you about it?) This had actually happened a few years back but it was a bit more understandable: this older guy had suddenly up and left, without much explanation, and the administration went and checked up on him and turned it into a health leave and then an early retirement, and then he died abruptly from long-term alcohol-related problems. It made a lot of sense to me that he somehow knew he was getting very sick but was dealing with it in a poor way, because of the damage that alcoholism had done to his brain. This was before I got there, but soon enough before that people still talked about it. It happened probably a year before I came there, so my pt status was probably partly to fill his absence.
So, to make a long story even longer, when another person ---- Extremely Neurotic Tinfoil Hat Hippie ---- took a health leave that became permanent last year, I sent some very polite and nice emails to the principal saying how sad it was that she was having health problems and I was very sympathetic and would love to teach for them again or do whatever I could to help out. No answer. They hired a couple young and competent people, who I know, and pulled in another grad student to do the same first-period thing I had done. But their funding is also precarious enough ---- and their reaccreditation shaky enough ---- that I could see them closing this side of the program outright in the next few years.
So now that I know someone else is leaving, I'd really like to apply there again, except there is nothing official to apply to and sending a subtly worded plea for consideration didn't work the last time. But it could have been as much about lack of funds tying the principal's hands as anything else; I don't know. What could I do, how could I "apply," in a more effective way this time? Is there any better way I could get my "in"?
If you remember, I said I loved to work there and I hated it. I would loooove the chance to go in there and radically change it so that it actually fulfilled the vision of the school. And I'm sure that having young and new people in there already is changing a lot about the place. And the old guard is on the way out; they have gone from from 6 people who probably were at Woodstock and think and move and talk like they have pot-induced dementia down to 2. On the other hand, I did hate a lot about that place and this mass exodus plus a rocky financial situation may mean that I don't want to work there. I dunno! I don't know how to get that (potentially nonexistent) job! Any suggestions?
Or, you know, someone could actually invite me on an interview or offer me a job or something. I'm getting pretty tired of doing the same thing over and over and over again and not actually seeing any results. I'm going to have to move somewhere in a few months, though, as my little hoard of spare money I've scraped together rapidly dwindles. I would like that next place not to be my parents' basement, or the equivalent thereof. But I guess that would be better than moving out under a bridge somewhere.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Why would anyone send a catalog for press-on carpet squares to an apartment dweller? And why have the designers ruined that gorgeous high-ceilinged wrought-iron view with those ugly mod purple and orange and brown squares? I do not understand.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
I thought to myself, what if we named each slot in a grad program, kinda like how they name distinguished chairs? Ooh there's a lot of interesting ramifications of this. At first, I thought the slots would be named for the field of study --- the Dickens Graduate Chair? The Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama Chair? Ooh, the Foucault Chair of Textual Perversion? (I don't care if that grad slot guaranteed you'd never get a job; I would pay for a title that cool!)
Of course, this causes as many problems as it resolves: these grads can't change their minds? Would it reinforce canon formation? Marginalize or hold open one guaranteed slot for minority literatures? How would interdisciplinary or cross-historical projects fit in here?
Would the name of the chair determine what TA assignments you get? I, for example, TAd Shakespeare every quarter they didn't have enough people to cover the massive lecture, my own research specialization be dammed. And that didn't really bother me, since I like eating and having them pay my fees. (Ten weeks, you can suffer through pretty much any topic or professor, not that I don't enjoy Shakespeare. But I haven't liked everyone I TAd for.) But would that mean that my program would accept grads based on the TA availability, or just expect everyone to become "well rounded," as they do now? Fascinating.
The advantage to naming each slot is of course that it makes it easier to keep track of. You can't "accidentally" let more 18th-century scholars in and forget about your struggling stragglers if they have a labeled slot set aside for them and go every where with a big sign on them, or their cv (although I like the literal big sign idea too --- a scarlet letter? a leprosy bell? What is metaphorically more appropriate?). Another plus would be that you could tell by the turnover who was pushing their students through or what fields are doing marginally well. (There's no such thing as a "hot" English field any more.)
I can tell you that a couple professors here would still be on their first set of grad students from before my time ... they have a track record of, I don't know whether it's they are perfectionists or they attract perfectionist students who stick around ABD for 8 or 9 more years before suddenly vanishing from the program entirely. So if you can't be arsed to mentor your grads into finishing or bluntly telling someone that s/he isn't cutting it and needs to go, well you just don't get any new grad students, and that means you are messing with fewer people's lives.
Furthermore, you usually endow these named chairs for professors, which would be interesting at the grad level. What if you funded them during the year through your TAships or writing program assistantships (the real reason most English departments have grad students, let's face it), but you got donors to name grad slots by covering, say, summer funding? While I would hate to have the Ethel and Herbert T. Lamprey Grad Chair (and I'm sure that's what I would get), I would have loooooved to get some summer funding, which our department has never done. And I think ---- you can correct me in the comments ---- that all the UCs have chopped summer stipends recently so we're all in the same boat now. Anyway, the ability to write our dissertations and do archival research and publish and prep for the job market for a few months while not working would just be fabulous, and do a lot for the profession's terrible completion rates.
You could announce the upcoming graduates who were going to file and walk in spring on the department web site and that would determine who was getting accepted ---- several of the big postdocs and fellowships already do something like this. Each fall you log on to their web site and they say "English and Italian language scholars will be supported this year. In the academic year of 2011-2012, candidates will be chosen from the fields of art history and film studies." It would make it clearer to potential grad students whose applications were going to be considered, which is also to the good.
And now that I'm thinking about it: what if we kept separate literature departments, but rotated grad admissions around them? You know, this fall we are accepting a German literature cohort, and next year we are accepting a French literature cohort. Have the grad classes be parceled out across departments so that everyone had to teach grads from these different backgrounds --- that would make everything much more interdisciplinary and multilingual! We'd have a dozen different languages spoken in seminar, and grads might actually do cool transnational dissertation projects! I wonder if you could work it so that you cycled the literatures grads in and out of the English/writing classes as well, or if there's too much demand for those beginning language classes. Huh.
Another advantage to my named-chair-one-in-one-out program would be the idea that in a bad year or if people went on the market and didn't get anything, you just kept them around to continue teaching. Why not keep the trained and experienced person to teach the freshmen rather than induct more fresh new innocents into a process with a crappy outcome? Now I realize that time-to-degree limits are often imposed at the school or division level rather than the department, but I still like this way better. You get tired of having them around, pressure them to finish their diss and file and go their way, or if they get sick of it because the low wages outweigh the job stability, they can always file and leave. Besides, on the professor side, everybody held on for a year or two after the stock market crash instead of retiring; why don't the people competing for those few replacement jobs get the same option?
And really, if we're going to have a horrible bottleneck of scholars, I'd rather it came pre-grad school rather than after the huge emotional and financial investment of grad school. Seriously: 22-year-olds being denied and disappointed and having to figure out some sort of career back-up-plan? Oh darn! They're going to have to work a job and get real-world experience for a year because their field interest isn't opening up this year? Darn, they're going to pay down their debt while becoming much savvier about the business world, oh, whatever will we do?
Wait, that may be the whole point of why bring 'em in when they're young and hero-worshiping and stupid. Ugh.
Come play along! What do you think? Can you invent another model? Or give me some snazzy names for the grad chairs.
Monday, April 5, 2010
In "We Need to Acknowledge the Realities of Employment in the Humanities," Peter Conn argues that we have mistaken a "bubble" in PhD employment, much like the subprime bubble, for the normal state of affairs. He sees a combination of long-term trends that are only going to get worse, from the casualization of the workforce, to declining support for public higher ed, to the rise in for-profit online instruction. He also makes the following important point about "perpetual ABDs," as I call them:
In addition, attrition in humanities Ph.D. programs amounts to academic carnage. According to estimates from the Council of Graduate Schools, something like 43 percent of the nation's graduate matriculants never earn Ph.D.'s. To be sure, attrition requires more interpretation than job placement: It is not self-defining as a quality indicator. Not all attrition is bad. We should encourage programs to make judgments about students who are not making satisfactory progress. However, that sort of attrition is exceptionally rare, at least at Penn and the other places I know something about. Most attrition represents a vast group of unsupervised students who spend as long as a decade enrolled in doctoral programs before resigning (or simply disappearing). In the years before their eventual departure, these students provide a pool of cheap and disposable labor that administrators at all levels can use to subsidize the salaries of more-expensive, long-term staff members.He goes on to consider that doctoral programs should limit their sizes despite arguments that having lots of PhD students are necessary to the functioning of the university, the profession, or the egos of professors.
From a different perspective, Frank Donoghue writes about the difficulty of determining "what is our placement rate" in "An Open Letter From a Director of Graduate Admissions." I disagree with most of his article about how difficult it is to determine placement rates and the implication that prospective students are somehow being carreerist or annoying by asking the question ever more frequently. Elsewhere, people are constantly writing in the chronicle fora about how stupid and clueless prospective PhD students are: didn't they even ask about the placement rates? Well, the answer is when we did ask about placement rates, we often got misleading answers, cherry-picked data, or a fuzzy "sell" to get us to choose that program. All of Donoghue's equivocating can't hide the fact that his model year of placement, 11 ABD students getting 2 tenure-track jobs (no word of how many PhD-in-hand candidates from his dept. went out and tried again that year) --- this model year of placement is both an utterly shitty placement rate and par for the course for departments.
He also has this gem in his article: "No one spends eight or nine years getting a Ph.D. simply to take any job available," which leads me to think he hasn't been talking very closely with recent grads going on the market from his program.
However, near the end of the article Donoghue starts to make some interesting suggestions. He also notes the staggering attrition rates for the PhD and connects them to the low-wage labor we do, particularly once we run out of the "guaranteed funding":
Steward counts a total of 6,457 students in English Ph.D. programs in their first year through their fourth year and beyond who were supported by various teaching assignments: composition instructor, literature instructor, discussion leader, paper grader. His companion "Report on the Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2004," however, notes that 933 Ph.D.'s in English and American language and literature were awarded that year (a typical number in recent years). That means roughly 5,500 Ph.D. students who were reported as holding teaching assignments during their first four years did not complete, or had yet to complete, their Ph.D.'s—and were thus stuck in professional limbo.
Any student who doesn't proceed nimbly through a Ph.D. program eventually runs out of funds, whether it be after four, five, or six years. If that happens, the student (and I'm speaking here from extensive anecdotal evidence) is less and less likely to complete the Ph.D. as the years go by. The abundance of A.B.D.'s bears directly on the problems of recording job place-ment in a responsible, accurate way, because so many A.B.D.'s end up working indefinitely as adjuncts.And here is the money quote, where he points out that structurally, departments kick their "old" grads to the side to bring in a constant supply of "fresh blood" for the comp classroom:
Sadly, one of our profession's near universal practices is to use fresh graduate students to teach first-year writing courses. In other words, however much we debate the qualifications for faculty appointments, we've already established that the qualifications for a postsecondary teaching appointment need be no more than a B.A., a summer vacation, participation in a graduate program, and a teacher-training workshop. We can exhort our institutions to provide research support for the tenure-ineligible, and to include them in departmental governance, but so long as we set the qualifications for teaching as low as we do, we will guarantee a surplus of minimally qualified teachers, and we'll continue to make career placement in English a difficult struggle.Yup. Why is it that untrained, inexperienced new grad students who have possibly never taken a comp class are preferable to the "old fogies" who have been teaching there for several years and become experienced and have a slate of syllabi already broken in?
Donoghue makes the interesting suggestion that we change admissions to a "space out, space in" model --- that is, you can't take in a new grad student until someone has filed and "opened up" that space. I like it:
What if Ph.D.-granting English departments across the country took a systematic inventory of those Ph.D. students who fall between the cracks that Steward's surveys revealed—those past the fifth year, probably out of funds, but not yet finished—and then tied those findings to admissions quotas?Of course, part of the problem with graduation rates is that we, the grad students, are not stupid. If we go on the market and can't get a job, we're going to stay in school and try to scrape up funding of some sort rather than file. I did that a couple times before finally deciding I needed the degree (turning off the trickle of ta support also edged me out). That's the basic point in a social science postdoc's column, "Just Stay There": "I took another swig of chardonnay, looked my A.B.D. friend in the eye, and said: "You're better off in graduate school. If I were you, I'd hang out there as long as I could."
Let me elaborate. I suspect that seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-year graduate students suffer most from lack of mentoring and advising, indeed from lack of connection with their home departments. Yet those departments all continue to admit new students. That is, we perpetuate the system that brings in fresh recruits, even as it tolerates the disappearance of advanced graduate students at rates comparable to that of casualties during the Gallipoli campaign. My rationale for tying admissions to placement is simple: If we can't keep track of the students who have been in our programs for years, we have no business admitting new ones. We'd all be better mentors if we capped admissions.
Why haul ass on your dissertation if there are no jobs out there to apply for? Why move across the fucking country to a VAP or adjunct position as long as you have pretty much the same shitty prospect at your home institution? I know many of my friends who got offers for something, whether it be a postdoc, fellowship, or tenure-track position, were able to pump out that dissertation in a fraction of the time it had taken them until then. I think a lot of us get beaten down by the market and figure we'll just stick it out forever in our programs, and then get shoved out of the program abruptly. What starts out as "I'll just adjunct these few courses now while I get back on my feet" can easily turn into a treadmill of debt and low pay and time-consuming work and no visible means of escape.
Friday, April 2, 2010
You go to HERC or whatever and find some jobs that potentially fit your experience, and you work up a cover letter from one of your templates, and spend 30 minutes or so re-entering all your damn
Doing any more than four could put you into despair, because applying to the same type of admin job over and over really gives you the feeling that the whole exercise is pointless and you will never get this type of job --- I mean, you just applied to three! And you applied to a bunch of the same yesterday! And nothing has happened! And there is nothing else for you to do all day besides continue down this dizzying feeling of pointless insanity, or stop doing it and just sit around. Then, if you pick option 2, you get to beat up on yourself for not doing anything to get a job and your general lumpishness.
So yesterday I only applied to one thing. Today, none. And I am sooo glad I will be able to go back to my crappy pittance of a part-time job on Monday --- seriously, this was no vacation for me at all. And I should be able to send out more apps ---- when you're hurry hurry hurrying and yelling at the on-line system that it shouldn't crash any more because you have to get out four apps before going in to work, for some reason, it's just way easier to function. Plus there are people to talk to at work. Plus it's easier to make the time pass.
Today I worked all morning on a neglected part of my to-do list: my accepted article, which has to be proofed and fixed and permissioned and all that so that it can actually get published. It was pretty nice, reading in the coffee shop all morning, and saw a dude from film who I talk to regularly and got caught up on campus gossip, and then I went home and ate lunch and had a nap, and really, the day isn't much different than my grad school summer schedule was. I'm collating two different revision versions and then marking all the reviewer suggestions and made it through about a third of the article this morning.
This afternoon when I went back to the article, I started feeling really weird and depressed. I couldn't figure out why I was getting so upset, and then it hit me: this part of my article was my job talk.
I can't work on this any more right now. Maybe later. I'll go find something else to occupy the time while I wait for my job apps to work their way through their various systems. No idea how I'm going to make it through this shitty weekend.