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Sending Advice Upstream

All the “Advice for Job Seekers/Interviewees” columns that pop up during this ‘waiting for the new joblist’ time of year (actually all year) made me start thinking seriously about my parting shot the other day “write better ads, ask better questions.” A quick Google search, not exactly exhaustive research, revealed that there are many articles in the business world about how to write a good job ad and/or attract good candidates, but in academia the advice is all pointed at the job seeker. As you might have noticed from the last post, I’m a little tired of it all. After some serious consideration, here is what I have to offer, some advice from the other side of the table for everyone currently getting ready to post ads.

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Too Much and Not Enough

For whatever reason, the stars have aligned turning this October into the month of ALL THE DEADLINES! Really, there are 3-4 CFP’s with deadlines between October 15 – 25th (and those are just the ones I’m interested in). Consequently, one of the ways I’m avoid the massive pile of grading that must be done before tomorrow (okay Wednesday at the latest) is to feel productive by working on these CFP’s.

The CFP I’m working on this weekend, which is simultaneously the least related to my professional work and the one in which I am most invested, is for a book chapter in a book about first generation & working class graduate students and faculty. Given all my discussions here about being working class in graduate school/the academy, you might think this project would be coming along nicely.


The current draft of my proposal consists of an unusable paragraph, complete with strike-through.

Since I spent my entire dissertation writing process thinking, “Wow! That really works.” whenever a writing center technique would come in handy, I figured I would start with the basics, with something I counsel writer’s to do when they are stuck — go back to the prompt. While the prompt hasn’t provided me with an epiphany just yet, it has made me realize the problem.

Like most CFP’s this one includes a nice list of suggested topics/areas of interest on which writer’s might like to focus.

    Cultural Difference
    Academic Preparedness
    Economic issues
    Work-life balance
    Social and cultural capital
    Family responsibilities and relationships
    Peer relations
    Mentorship Strategies and relationships
    Academic and social skills

My problem here is not necessarily a bad one. The problem is not that I don’t have anything to say about the items on this list; the problem is I could probably say something about every item on this list. In this case, having too much to say is just as problematic as too little, because I completely lack focus. Sure, I could talk about nearly every item on this list, but that doesn’t mean I have something useful to say about them all. The difficulty lies in figuring out my “So, what?” Why and how has being a working class/first-generation graduate student/faculty impacted me the most; and, what might be useful for someone else in that story?

At the coffee shop this morning I returned to Donna LeCourt’s Identity Matters, which is my go to place for starting to think about class & education. Modifying Sharon Crowley’s claim that inexperienced writer’s are better able to see the “differance” in a discourse, LeCourt argues graduate students (particularly first generation/working class) serve the same role in the academy. (I’ve probably tried to oversimplify here, so please do check out LeCourt & Crowley.)

The struggle I face is picking out the moment that resulted in the most clear conflict between my working class identity/values and the expectations of the academy. Here’s where it all get a little sketchy, because there is so much and it is all so inter-related that I’m having a difficult time picking out the unifying thread. What I currently think, however, is that there is something for me to write about in the difference between my response to crisis and the “time to degreee” expectations.

Yes, a stroke is rare, and could happen to anyone during their graduate work, and it isn’t necessarily a “working class” or “first-generation” issue, but my response to that crisis is what I think most clearly brought my working class identity/values into conflict with the academic demands made on me as a graduate student.

Now, I just have to figure out what it all means and send in a 500 word abstract. 😉
And, since you’ve been patient enough to let me talk-it-out here, I give you PUPPIES!

20130929-135723.jpg They love sitting on the porch.

What I learned in the process

Earlier this week the Malarkey Bin tweeted that Ouiser is putting together an annotated bibliography of advice for anyone considering graduate school. Given that Ouiser often articulates my darker feelings of this whole experience, I think this is an amazingly optimistic of her. I think I’ve crossed into a slightly more jaded realm.

Partly, it is just that in the push to get done I pushed down some serious irritation. Partly, it is that over the course of the last three years I’ve talked a couple different student through decisions about graduate school. While I’ve not actively tried to dissuade anyone, I have tried to be as honest as I can about my own experiences – including sharing the things I wish I’d known when I started -, and I don’t think in any case it has made an impact. However, among all the other powerful influences that lead a person to a position where they need to make a choice about graduate school there is a strong dose of of exceptionalism. I can almost guarantee that every person I talked to about graduate school left my office thinking, “yeah, but…” So, I guess my optimism about offering advice to someone thinking about graduate school has taken a hit.

Today, this came in the mail:


And my heart grew a couple sizes, so here are the two things I wish I’d known at the beginning of graduate school.

First, I wish someone had given me Paul Silva’s How to Write A Lot. During the dissertation process I am pretty sure I ready a million “how to write…” books, and really they all say the same things. For whatever reason, however, I find Silva’s book the most approachable. As someone who got through school on last minute writing, it wasn’t until I started the dissertation that I had to learn how to spend time with an idea, and how to do something besides binge write. I think reading this book earlier in my career might have helped me make something more significant out of my seminar papers.

My second piece of advice is perhaps a little more esoteric; get an Audible account. Audiobooks helped me stay sane in this process because I could listen while driving, doing chores, working out, walking the dogs. The only rule I had for my audible account was that nothing I listened to could have anything to do with my school work. Personally, I listened to fluff – the cheesier the better, detective novels, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, young adult novels. Nothing I listened to required serious thought on my part. The importance of all this listening is that it kept me linked to my love of reading without making me feel guilty for not doing my “work.”

These two thing boil down to – Mind your writing process, and stay connected to what you love.