Archive for July, 2013

The importance of maintaining a schedule

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

As I’ve been reading for my comps this summer, there is one little tip or trick that stands out above all others—

It is the importance of maintaining a schedule.

If you know me, you know I’m a creature of habit. Every morning I have the same routine where I put dishes I left out to air dry the day before away, make coffee, make my bed, and do my makeup. I do it this way every day and in that exact order. No deviation. Ever. I’m very boring overall, and probably a little OCD, but I think this also shows me to be reliable as well. You couldn’t exactly set your clock by me, but you could certainly predict what would happen next, which is where I think the boring comes in.

So when I took up this studying for comps, I knew a schedule for myself would be imperative and would also help to keep me motivated. I also knew that the possibility of such a schedule during the early part of summer would be impossible because of other work I had to do (teaching, conference, fellowship, more teaching), and really this was my downfall for studying this summer and led me to not doing a lot of reading until after mid-June. But once I got a schedule going, and forced myself to follow it, I became really productive and things worked out well. The only problem was that I probably didn’t reach this point until July, but at least I got there.

So this is what I do now, and will continue to do so for as long as possible because I think a schedule is the only way I can get through this: In the morning, I do whatever class prep or grading I have to do. When I first started hardcore prepping, I tried to read for comps in the morning, but it didn’t work as well because I tend to eat a very light breakfast, and so I got hungry quickly. Instead, now I eat lunch first and go and read for comps until I feel I have met my quota for the day, which I usually set for 1-2 sources per day. This seems to work out pretty well as I can usually get through at least one source and take good notes on that source, though if I don’t meet a quota that means reading for the weekend. At the end of the day, I go over the notes I took and highlight and review. I repeat things back to myself in my head and try to remember things I had taken notes on previously and connect them to the day’s readings. But the really fun thing I do is that I make notes of what I could argue in my dissertation using these sources. I love that part.

While a schedule isn’t probably necessary for everyone, and I could see where more extroverted or spontaneous people would die in these conditions, it works for me. I also have enjoyed my time reading for comps. I know, right? I have enjoyed my time being able to read, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel anxiety or worry about my upcoming exams. I definitely do feel those things. But it is still great to have all this time to myself to just read. I’ve always been a reader, and so this is really the easy part for me, whereas for some others I can imagine this part is the harder part.

Also, here is a good article about studying for comps from a comp/rhet PhD student. She actually passed and while I have been doing most of what she states here, I certainly could start imagining and looking over past questions, timing myself with those questions, and maybe using some 


The crazy graduate student self

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

Now that I am done with my coursework and working on studying for my comprehensive exams and have built somewhat of a good reputation in my department (I say somewhat here because I don’t think people know me very well, which is really my own fault and something I plan to remedy), I have had opportunities thrown my way and also have had to make some decisions I don’t particularly enjoy making. I’ve also been thinking of how to approach this coming semester regarding my comps along with all the other responsibilities I have, such as teaching a new, and challenging, class and traveling to a conference to chair my first panel on authorship.

All this has had me thinking about how I feel I have two lives, or at least two distinct personalities that I’ve developed during graduate school, or perhaps I should say because of graduate school. Now don’t think I am meaning to sound crazy, though I know the way I phrase that may sound crazy, but what I mean is that in reality, I’m a very calm, collected, rational, and practical individual. A friend once said, “everything you do is deliberate.” He is right. I think through every possibility and examine the consequences of each decision I could make. I always do this. In fact, I’ve been doing this for the past couple days regarding my comp schedule for the coming semester. I haven’t completely made my decision yet, but I am certainly thinking about each action and the consequences and opportunities of those actions to figure out which is more beneficial to me.

So that is the calm, collected, rational part. The graduate student part of me is downright crazy. She is concerned more with what the CV says, than what may be best for her at that time. While I think sometimes I think she is right because, yes, my rational side says it would be possible to do it that way and be OK, that doesn’t exclude the desperation the crazy graduate student side demonstrates. As one of my friends would say, “that girl is just cray” and she kind of is sometimes.

Though I could give tons of examples, I am going to focus on the comps, which I know is a huge surprise to you all who have been reading this. One thing I have learned about the comps is that it is like having a newborn and listening to all the advice other people with children give. Everyone has their own ideas of how you should read for the comps. I’ve heard everything from “just take notes on two points from each article. Only worry about that” to “take good notes because it will help you with your dissertation.”  Some people also treat the comps as if it is just “something to get through” and while you will gain something from it, the meat is the dissertation. While I believe that is true to an extent, I know that if I take good notes and pay attention, I will be able to write a dissertation in a year or less. I know my work ethic. I know I am highly productive, even in the summer months. I also know that because I have not always taken classes in all of these areas, I need to pay close attention to my reading.

The point is that all this advice will drive you half-mad, to the point that crazy graduate student self is trying to tell you to pick the “easiest route” so that you can “be done quicker.” But the more mature side of me knows that probably isn’t the best idea, particularly because I am taking a route with this work that isn’t something I’ve been studying in classes as a student here. It is something that I’ve studied previously and worked on a lot and even have a life outside academia where I do work similar to this. (Wow, did I just say a life outside of academia?) So I know that while I can ask for advice until my head pops off, I need to follow my own best route.

And I have had other examples of this, too. Most recently is when I felt that I shouldn’t take (but didn’t receive anyway) a position after I had applied and interviewed for it because of how open-ended the position was and where I was at in my program. Knowing my own work ethic and thoughtfulness, I know how consuming that could really be, and at a time where I couldn’t have time for it. There is also the time I took three seminar classes while also teaching as a Master’s student because then next semester I wouldn’t have such a load and could work more on thesis research. That was crazy and probably not wise, but I survived. I received my first B because of that semester. And yes, I’ve done similar, crazy things as a PhD student just so I could make sure to finish coursework “on time,” whatever that means.

It is as if as a graduate student, there is always a clock running in the background that you are constantly aware of, and you are worried you are not up to par against that clock. It is a silly thought, really, my rational side says, because there is no such clock and everyone has their own levels of determination and momentum. Intelligence, really, has little to do with it. Being super smart helps, but it certainly isn’t necessary. And I know that sounds hilarious to some of you who are probably not in academia, but it is the truth. It is really just about getting the work done, being competent, and knowledgeable in your area. You do not have to remember everything, though I am sure it is helpful if you can, though I am not sure how you could, frankly. You simply have to know where to find the information you need. If you have that down, you are golden.

In sum, as a wise friend on twitter said, this is really just all about choosing which hill you want to die on and I have encountered some hills recently that I know I should not die on. I’m sure I’ll see others that I have to avoid in this coming year.

When work does not feel like work

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

While I have been spending each day, more or less, reading for my comps, I’m also prepping to teach a new class this coming fall semester, Grant and Proposal Writing. I’ve been in this class as a student and was able to TA for the class last semester, and now I am transitioning into teaching it. So, most days, once I get done with reading and annotating a few articles for my exams, I’ve been working on getting this new class together.

Today I wrote up the agenda for the first week, which those of you who teach know that this also means my first couple assignments are nearly ready to go and my syllabus and schedule is probably complete. (Yes, this is true.) As I was writing the agenda, I was looking over the agenda of the previous teacher so that I could use her ideas as a springboard for my own as well as incorporate the activity she does for the first couple days, which as a student and a TA I really liked. But, of course, as with anything that suddenly becomes “your own” in some sense, changes occur. For example, I’m using Twitter in this class as as a semester-long project. Students will create a twitter account and follow nonprofits, organizations, or people related to their interests that will hopefully apply in some way to their final project ideas. In the grand scheme of things I know this won’t happen for all the students, but I also think Twitter will be a good arena for them to keep up on discussions, sometimes as they happen, regarding social, political, and/or personal interests they have. Plus, I try to have some type of social media professionalization in all my classes and I have probably already demonstrated my somewhat notorious love for Twitter to far more people who would even care to know. The thing is I have just learned so much from following my interests on Twitter and networked with many people because of Twitter.

Aside from Twitter, as I worked on the agenda, and because of something a tweep shared with me on Twitter, I got to thinking about how writing the agenda, as well as writing the syllabus, schedule and first few assignments never felt like “work” to me. I actually enjoyed working on these documents and critically thinking through how to teach what grants even are to my students on that first day of class.

But the Twitter share relates more strongly to how I was procrastinating on reading for my comps just a few days ago. Instead of doing my reading, as I had vowed to do according to my agenda, which I sadly even keep during the summer months, but then I am a graduate student, I started creating an online portfolio for when I go on the job market. I did this because  I knew that while dissertating (yes, I made it a verb because it is really) and looking for a job, I am not going to have the patience to work on also creating an online portfolio. I know this about myself. I will not have the patience to care. So right now I have what is an in-progress online portfolio geared to getting me, with any luck, a good teaching job somewhere not where I am at.

But also while working on the website, I didn’t feel it was work. I instinctively knew it was work because really, why the hell else would i do it? But it didn’t feel like work. In fact, the digital writing I do, and at times the non-digital work I do, doesn’t ever really feel like work. Not like how writing those seminar papers that I loathed felt like work. (Though I did not loathe every paper I wrote. Just a lucky few.)

The article that was pointed out to me by someone on Twitter is from Computers and Composition by Leon and Pigg (and Stacey Pigg actually spoke at our institution a couple years ago about her work in the WIDE Program at Michigan and it was cool stuff) regarding how graduate students professionalize in digital spaces.  (and yes, you need to find it on your own university database, as annoying as that is.) As I was reading it, I could totally relate. That is pretty much what I was doing in the creation of the online portfolio. It is my reason for being on Twitter, and for trying to get my students to use Twitter in professional ways. I also love iAnnotate on my ipad for reading PDFs of articles since I can highlight and take notes without having to print out the article and file it who-knows-where in my tiny office space or my small apartment.

I’ll admit that teaching students the importance of digital professionalization is not easy. Some students are downright resistant, and remains so, throughout the semester, for example. But as digital arenas become the ways by which we see professional organizations and businesses, it becomes imperative to learn how to use them in a professional context. And really, this is already happening. If someone wants to give a business a bad name, they’ll call them out on Yelp or Facebook. In this sense, these digital spaces are powerful tools and I always do read the reviews. I just need to get better at teaching these skills to my students, and use them in the classroom, because as much as we use them to form consensus, we can also use them for dissent.

Reflections on comp reading and women in creative writing

Monday, July 15th, 2013

A lot of graduate students tend to bemoan or fear the comprehensive exams portion of their study. I do admit there is stress involved, for sure, and perhaps a little fear, so far I have learned quite a lot from my reading for comps. And while I don’t feel I have made as large a dent in the reading as I would have liked, it seems the more I read, the more manageable this work becomes. It is also nice to be able to go through a very long list and cross out a recent reading. I also enjoy reading something in the morning and then reading something later in the afternoon and being able to already draw comparisons and synthesize the two readings, even when they are very different, such as how I was able to draw comparisons between my Kant reading and later my reading about the creative writing workshop. I know that sounds crazy, but there were comparisons, mainly around the idea of how the mind creates cause and effect.

To be honest, I’ve been reading mostly from my pedagogy list for creative writing because that is the one area I have not had a class in. While I have sat in plenty creative writing workshops, I have not sat down and read about creative writing as pedagogy and creative writing as a discipline. What I have found is while there aren’t very many good histories written about creative writing as a field, most people seem to argue that creative writing is often easily linked to composition and literature, and in fact came to exist at the University of Iowa because of these reasons. At the same time, many feel it needs to be considered its own discipline, distinct from literature or composition, and everyone has their own theories for how to do that. And this fact also explains why creative writing has so many problems with site identity in the university.

But creative writing is also very masculine and why it is so is partly because of when creative writing came of age. When the workshop at Iowa opened, it was right when WWII vets were returning to school because of the GI Bill. And the writers who entered these programs, and why the creative writing MFA came about in the first place, was to give support and a place for experienced writers. But what many scholars, such as Vanderslice, Ritter, and Bizzaro, note is that the demographics of creative writing programs has changed. For example, there are undergraduate programs in creative writing and often writers who are still at the beginning stages of writing are entering MFA programs. Thus the traditional workshop model that is masculine and based heavily in fictive bloodshed is not a good pedagogical tool for these students. Critics of the workshop, such as the late Wendy Bishop, proposed instead the “transactional” writer’s workshop, and this idea was later addressed and revised by Stephanie Vanderslice. This workshop often has three aspects:
1. it demystifies authorship so that students understand what a writer’s life is really like and how there is no such thing as a muse or anything similar to that. It also helps to demonstrate the real work that goes into a piece of writing.
2. the new workshop provides reflection on one’s writing and creative process so that students, particularly those beginning writers, understand what drives their creativity and where and how they are most creative.
3. This type of workshop also provides reflection on one’s own writing process. Bizzaro himself notes that number three, to him, is most important since student writers need that space, in class, for reflection. He also adds that having students look at published poems and help them to imagine what a writer may write next or talk about the possible writing process for that poem is also helpful in regards to numbers 1 and 2.

As I was reading in my office this morning, I kept thinking about a brief exchange I had with a friend who has a PhD in Creative Writing. He has commented a number of times about how the poetry workshop always seemed like a “happier” or more feminine space since his fiction workshops were often like a Bobby Knight school of workshop and composing. I don’t remember saying too much in response, except maybe more or less agreeing or mentioning how there were some moments in poetry workshops where things got tense. But what he was really commenting on had nothing to do with the distinctions between poetry or fiction workshops, and everything to do with the reasons for creating the workshop in the first place during the 1930s-1940s, along with those who were his teachers, along with the reputation of the program itself. Creative Writing, whether we like it or not, has a largely masculine influence.

When I was in my early 20s I had my first in-print publication. It was a collection of writing from three different female poets, all under 25, since women under the age of 25 are the least published in creative writing. I just remember thinking it was cool and not really realizing the significance of the work we were doing. As I continue reading, I keep thinking about creating a press, digital or otherwise, that would focus on publishing only women writers. Even though I think this would be great, and though I am sure similar avenues exist, I also feel that the small press has created a voice for women in creative writing, the small press has also confined women writers to those areas. It is still easier to get published if you are male and writing fiction. Most women seem to publish in poetry or in the fields of creative nonfiction or get published because they wrote a really great romance, or perhaps something akin to 50 Shades and none of these are considered to be “serious” writing. I know this isn’t always the case, but often it is. I know J.K Rowling exists, obviously, but she also published a more “serious” novel under a male name, didn’t she?

Or maybe I should just start telling everyone I am working on a novel.