Friday, October 25, 2013

Everything has changed — or has it?

I need to get my ass in gear for the upcoming Big Giant Pseudology Conference, and my abstract has become a stumbling block.  My (semi-)brilliant idea for a presentation that I concocted last winter is now out of date, in some ways.  Research Country's irritating habit of not freezing in historical time Brigadoon-style means that some of the assumptions that drove my abstract are no longer factually accurate.  (Although they were when I wrote it, I swear to you!) 

BUT...has everything truly changed?

(Ominous and portentous rumblings on soundtrack)

The key observation to draw out in my presentation should really be that my original analytical point is even truer now than it was then, even though some of the surrounding historical architecture has altered somewhat.  The cast of characters has changed a bit, and there's been a classic reversal of fortunes narrative in the works, but the way that people think about Important Research Stuff has not really changed at all.  I'm using this state of affairs to write a paper that offers the same analysis while cleverly swapping out a number of concrete examples, or shifting the emphasis from one bunch of stuff to another.  It isn't a bait-and-switch, folks, it's just cutting-edge research!

I kind of knew this before, but it actually didn't become crystal-clear to me until I sat down and thought it out here, writing this blog post.  I guess I should go and write that paper, now that my thinking is clear(er).  Thanks for serving as my sounding-board!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Five in one evening

I managed to crank out five completed job applications this evening.  Good grief.  I dared myself to try, thinking I wouldn't actually succeed.  But here I am.  Still, seven more job apps to go before I clear all of the deadlines that fall during the first week of November.

Now that my right shoulder is aching from typing and my left lower back is aching from sitting in two different office chairs and my car for so many damn hours today, I'm going to soothe myself with a glass of Zinfandel and a heating pad.

Three more days until Fall Break...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Grading 'til I plotz

I remained sleep-deprived for another solid week; last night was the first in weeks in which I really got a full night's sleep, and rose without the aid of an alarm.  This past Sunday, I managed to catch some interesting conference proceedings over in Major University Town down the road.  It put a number of interesting ideas in my head, about which I might blog someday, depending on how fast the gears start turning.  But of course, doing one thing sometimes prevents you from doing another, and going to the conference (and, er, the party afterward at the organizer's house) meant that, even though I started grading essays on Saturday, I couldn't get hit the bulk of my huge stack of papers for Intro to Pseudology until Monday. 

It took me the full damn work week to finish grading the essays.  No joke.

I've never felt grading to be such a challenge as this turned out to be.*  I'm trying to be a kinder, gentler Koshary, so I kept it firmly in mind that the process of composing a reasoned argument supported by source materials is actually way more important for my students than any particular fact I might tell them.  (This goal is really a subject for a post of its own.)  This meant that I had to read past some truly daffy thinking and concentrate on whether or not they demonstrated good practice in how they got to their daffy ideas. 

It also meant that, since I really do want the students to learn how to write a clear analytical essay, I ended up having to write far more extensive comments than has been my style in years past.  Most of these students didn't even process what I said to them when I explained how to structure an essay like this, because they have absolutely no experience with it.  Couple that with their previous total ignorance of pseudology, and you can imagine the bizarre meanderings that I had to read and grade all of this week. 

Perhaps the greatest challenge for me in all this was figuring out how to channel my impatience with stupid ideas and terrible command of the English language into positively phrased comments.  There's a lot of effort involved in the changeover from "Indefensible claim, unsupported by sources, and this is a sentence fragment" to "Be careful to double-check the exact language of your sources so you don't misstate their ideas.  Also, it's a good idea to proofread your work for correct grammar and clear meaning as well as spelling."  Also some wine.  Wine helps, as long as I'm winding down the evening when I pour myself a glass.

I was dreading diving back into grading for these classes, since they just took their first test on Friday, a test composed primarily of long essays.  Two classes of three- to four-page essays took me six days.  But today, I sat down with my coffee and a classful of tests, and four hours later (including breaks!), they were finished.  I should be able to do the other class in roughly the same time frame.  I'm trying to find some way to parse this difference other than to note dolorously that grading is a lot easier and faster when you don't have to care as much.

*That is, not when I felt there was any hope to teach the students anything.  Lord knows grading at Ghosttown U. was a challenge, but that was more Sisyphean heartbreak than pedagogical process.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Chronically underslept but highly recommended

The title says it all.  I've been operating on less sleep than I (apparently) need all week, even though I haven't been burning midnight oil.  The last two weeks, really, have been draining for me.  The benefit is that I feel like I've been productive, especially in regard to this year's job hunt.  I recently completed a soup-to-nuts revamp of all of my key job application materials, a process that took something like six weeks in total.  Now that my portfolio is thoroughly refurbished – and ooh, look, my writing sample is now a press-formatted book chapter! – I can throw myself into the irritating but necessary task of tailoring job letters for the relatively small crop of jobs so far that I could fit.

In combination with that, I successfully recruited three shiny new referees to write letters for me: one of my colleagues at CBU and two colleagues in my field who teach at universities I've never attended or worked at.  I feel an odd sense of satisfaction when I look at my list of references and see no mention of Dear Old University.  It makes me feel a little more like an academic grown-up to see that three people with no skin in the game are willing to write on my behalf, and even more so that two of them are highly respected pseudologists of Damn Lies in Research Country who teach at fancy-ass R1 institutions.  (Of course, I still have two referees from DOU up my sleeve as well, just in case some jumped-up school demands four or five references.) 

Of course, when you're working that hard on something, something else has to give a little.  I've been so discombobulated about my schedule this past week that I somehow convinced myself at frequent intervals that it was a day later than it really was.  My cooking schedule that allows me to make myself dinner and bring the leftovers for lunch the next day got totally fucked up, and I had to subsist on pistachios and some old doughnuts for lunch on Thursday.  Worse, I forgot to set my alarm for Wednesday morning, and it's only by sheer luck that I woke up soon enough that I could get myself to work mere minutes before I had to walk into class.  And on Thursday, because of the aforementioned crappy lunch, I compensated by drinking too much coffee: I was pretty tweaked out during my afternoon class, and after I came back to my office from that, a colleague remarked that I looked strangely wide-eyed.  Fortunately, zi knows me well, rather than suspect that I had a drug habit.

The cherry on top was that, much as Academic Cog has been dealing with lately, I cannot keep straight what the hell I teach from one day to the next in my double helping of Intro to Pseudology.  These different time banks are hell on wheels to manage, although I admit that it's a pretty speedy education in pedagogy: since one class runs half an hour longer than the other, I not only have to teach different materials at times but must also cook up different ways of engaging the material.  My brilliant achievement in fucking up my shit this week was – hi, Academic Cog!! – forgetting to check my syllabus and assuming I knew what I had said.  Consequently, we spent ninety minutes discussing a piece that I meant to discuss for perhaps thirty, because I forgot that I was supposed to show a film in class. 

The truly amazing part of this to me is that not a single one of my students even mentioned this.  Not in class, not in an email, nothing.  I'm relieved about that, too, because I would have looked like a goddamn fool in front of them.  I came perilously close, even so: when I showed the film (on schedule) to my other class, the stupid worn-out VHS tape (!) died on me, and I had to discard everything I was going to ask them about it on the test.  The silver lining to this problem was that I then got to email the first class and explain that I opted (ha!) to concentrate on our reading last time, but now the film that I "planned" to show them next week was ruined, and we would have to move on to other topics.

And yes, before you say it: I am painfully aware that the moral of this story is, "Read the fucking syllabus, Professor!"