Monday, September 23, 2013

Memo to college boys

OMFG you fucking filthy animals, FLUSH THE FUCKING TOILET.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The self-loathing never ends

I got the verdict on the article I submitted this summer: revise and resubmit. This is good news, I know, and yet it has made me mope for days.  It's hard for me to remember, whilst staring at the entire list of suggested revisions by both reviewers, that I am not obligated to do all of them, nor any one in particular, but rather those which I think are good ideas and feasible within a reasonable amount of time.  Instead, I went to bed in a deep funk last night, excoriating myself for being a fraud of a pseudologist* who would never properly understand theory and would have to read for six months at a shot to grasp what everyone else already knew.

In short, my academic self-loathing returned the moment I read the critiques.

Really, I was in the same headspace today until I consulted a colleague about it, and zi assured me that R&R was definitely good news, and that it's just a matter of talking with my editor and figuring out what needs to be done and what needs to be politely refused, based on what I want the article to be.  It all feels astonishingly like grad school, which especially surprises me because the form of the correspondence of this R&R resembles the revision process for my book manuscript far more than any dissertation chapter I ever drafted.

Do other people feel like this when they receive an R&R on a journal article?  Am I actually responding in part to the thorny matter of my research statement for my job applications?  To my general anxiety that I won't land a job this year?

And of course, to pose the question is to provide the answer.  Of course my reaction is influenced by all of those scary existential questions of what I will do for a living a year from now.  I'm genuinely curious, though, whether or not other people temporarily despair when they receive an R&R, rather than celebrate not being rejected.

*How's that for meta?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My research statement

Dr. Koshary's Research Statement

My current research project takes several bodies of study and magically twists them into beautiful delicate rainbows of cutting-edge theory on which unicorns gambol and shit publication-ready articles for top-flight journals. Okay, seriously, that's so not true. I have no fucking idea what my research is now. Straight up. Lest you think I'm being modest, let me walk you through it.

I just finished writing a book. Do you hear that? I just wrote a motherfucking academic monograph. It's in copy-editing at Reputable Academic Press at this moment. I sent in the revised manuscript to RAP mere weeks ago. The only journal article I have moving through the system right now is based off part of that same book. This book has consumed my scholarly attention for the last several years. GIVE ME A GODDAMNED BREATHER. 

Oh sure, I've got some vague ideas here and there for my Next Book. They're only slightly better fleshed-out than my vague ideas about how I'd most like to die, or what I'd say if I somehow won an Academy Award. If you ask me to explain the theoretical basis for my Next Book, I will fucking hurt you.

The real pain in the ass for me is that all of my most interesting ideas operate on the assumption that I can/will go back to Research Country for some more extended field research. That's all well and good when things are stable in RC, but stable is right out the window nowadays. For the first time ever, I am seriously worried that the paper-pushers in RC will not let me back in. Let's just say that they're a little paranoid right now, and the scuttlebutt I hear is that even pretty innocuous research projects now draw closer scrutiny and more skepticism from the kind of very scary people that I hope never to encounter. This is not to say that I'm some covert saboteur; the point is that I wouldn't be all that surprised to see RC essentially forbid all foreign researchers from entering the country, even for ostensible tourism vacations. I may not be allowed to do anything that interests me professionally.

So yeah, I can tell you this or that idea, but there's no more substance to most of it than water-cooler chitchat. I also happen to think that this description also fits a fair number of the high theory pieces that people jack off to nowadays, but of course, if you're really so interested in what those insufferable fucking douchebags at Theoryfart University babble about, I really doubt I'd have any chance of landing a job at your institution anyway.

Just to cover all my bases, though: unique and innovative.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My teaching philosophy statement

I'm re-drafting all of my job application documents as this year's job cycle gets underway, and now that I've cranked out a shiny new cover letter and the CV is almost done, I need to start thinking about the dreaded teaching statement. As long-time readers of this blog know, I have been banging my head against pedagogical techniques and approaches for a while now, since I keep bouncing around to different schools with different institutional cultures, and I am still working out my personal philosophy of how to deal with students who may be unmotivated or even recalcitrant to put forth what I consider essential effort. I figure the thing to do is to start with the writing exercise of writing exactly what I mean to say, then revising that into something smoother and more diplomatic. How does this look?

Dr. Koshary's Philosophy of Teaching

I teach by making my students read stuff outside of class, and then we talk about that stuff in class. I do this because it has worked for the last 5,000 years or so, or however long it's been since classes began to focus on written texts rather than memorized orally transmitted texts. Human beings seem to have worked out how to have a conversation many tens of thousands of years ago, and I am fond of the idea "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

I am told that one must demonstrate a unique and innovative pedagogical approach in order to obtain a job in today's academic market, even though what I describe above is actually what 99.99% of social science classes still are. That being the case, I consider my pedagogical approach unique and innovative, because I said so. There, I used those two stupid words. Are you assholes happy now? Good.

I have always adhered to a firm standard of doing whatever your institutional culture demands of me, as long as it doesn't make me want to drive a stake through my heart. Please give me a frank heads-up beforehand so that I know if a student who does not produce even satisfactory effort, much less results, should earn a C, an F, a B, or whatever other grade you are used to assigning in such cases. In the absence of other marching orders, I may give Ds for shoddily written bullshit that doesn't contain any clear ideas at all. Don't get on my tits about that, just because those students have been conditioned to think everything they do deserves plaudits. But if you feel that children from wealthy families need to be encouraged to give alumni donations by earning Cs for anything better than setting fire to the classroom, then just tell me so I don't have to think harder about my rubric.

My grading rubric is magically unique and innovative, too. For realz. I'm thinking of replacing my number/letter grading system with a twelve-sided die a la Dungeons and Dragons, with each side bearing an image of a different fruit or nut — say, a jalapeƱo or an almond. I would roll the die for each paper, and assign the result of the roll. The student would then interpret that image however they desired. For ease of reconciliation with the registrar's grading system, I would employ a second twelve-sided die with ordinary Arabic numerals that can be entered on a spreadsheet. The student would not know any of these numbers that I roll until final grades come in. I think you will agree with me that this system is unique and highly innovative. It's also kind of stupid, but then again, so is using the first five letters of our alphabet to evaluate the quality of someone's subjective effort to comprehend the world around us. (And wouldn't you rather have gotten three bananas, a chili pepper, and a walnut in that intro class you took, instead of that C+ average that you couldn't rise above?)

I am aware that the old-fashioned lecture format has some genuine pedagogical weaknesses, and that even using the word in a job interview is like using the word 'vagina' in front of a Republican legislator. Rest assured that I avoid lecturing as often as possible, except when students need to acquire a set of unfamiliar facts in order to analyze material. A few facts in near-isolation are easy enough to bring out in open discussion, but if you are foolish enough to insist that I teach a quantitative course in spite of my clearly defined areas of expertise, I am going to lecture as often as I think necessary, and you will shut the fuck up about it. Similarly, we all know that, once one can number the students enrolled in a course in the dozens or even hundreds, it is utter nonsense to discuss any other pedagogical format than the lecture. I have little love for such a learning environment, so I'll gladly avoid this situation if you will. However, if you actually advertise this position as a research professor in a big R1 institution who would teach an intro lecture whose enrollment is capped in the hundreds as well as grad classes, I will regard that as acknowledgment that you don't really give a fuck how I teach undergrads, and I will laugh at you openly if you dare to discuss my unique and innovative pedagogy.

Back on classroom discussions. I am always stealing good ideas incorporating new strategies to goose along conversation, since of course most students are a bit hesitant to speak and a minority are always champing at the bit to dominate the discussion. But for fuck's sake, people, do you really, truly care which little games and stratagems I use? Of course you don't. You understand that I'm having an open-ended conversation with my students, right? Don't you have over 300 of these applications to plow through? Just trust me when I tell you that my pedagogy works, and students learn stuff. Many of them even enjoy it! Oh yeah, and it's all magical and unique and innovative and shit.

If you are a small liberal arts college, then I shall draw your attention to the ways in which my classroom interactions with students subtly influence not only the way I write books and articles (which is absolutely true) but also shapes the research projects I take on so as to accommodate undergraduates' research conveniently (which is totally bullshit). Have no doubt that I will devote all of my waking energy to thinking of new stuff to do in class and new assignments to grade, rather than work on any of the publications that you will later privilege in your assessment of whether or not to fire me. If you are intent on hiring someone who can oversee undergrads' research projects conducted on and around campus, then you may not be terribly interested in a pseudologist like me who needs expensive airfares and a living stipend in order to conduct my research far, far away from your institution. But if you bring me in for an interview, be honest with yourselves about what you're doing: don't annoy me or yourselves with stupid questions about how I would involve students in my research, because I won't, and because you're not really that interested in overseeing student research anyway. 

(Except for that one guy, right? And he doesn't actually want to do it, does he? He just made a fuss about it during the committee discussions about the posting, even though he's about to go on sabbatical/retirement/death and this committee is the first service he's done since the McKinley administration, right? Yeah, I thought so.)

If you are a large R1 institution at which faculty live and die by their publication records, and you expect me to present an icy demeanor toward everything except publishing more books and articles and winning grants, please disregard every word above about undergraduate research. Just ignore it all. Instead, focus on the $250,000 death ray that I will require as part of my start-up costs so I can vaporize every unfortunate soul who tries to gain entrance to my office outside of my formal office hours. Seriously, I'll melt a motherfucker.

(If you are a SLAC, please disregard that last paragraph, thanks.)

In closing, I will sacrifice all that I hold dear for my (pick one) students/research, since this teaching philosophy statement is ultimately a statement of my seriousness of purpose and dedication to the mission of the (pick ONLY one) university/college/department as a first-rate (pick one or two, but be honest!) scholar/teacher. If I had any choice in the matter – and I know that I don't – I would be very good at both and understand that I will probably not be either the nationwide Teacher of the Year or the most productive dues-paying member of the Big Giant Pseudology Association. If this floats your boat, then you should bring me in for an interview and prepare for blinding awesomeness! If you are firmly in one camp or another, though, you should bring me in for an interview and give me a discreet signal which way to lean. I am a man of firm principles, but I can always change those if it's convenient.

Finally: unique and innovative.