Post-Defense Reflection

Well, first things first, I SUCCESSFULLY DEFENDED MY DISSERTATION ON MARCH 4, 2015!!!!

To be perfectly honest, although I was extremely nervous before the defense (and was feeling a bit sick to my stomach and like I could cry), once I began my presentation I calmed down a lot. I was thrown by some of the questions asked by my committee, but for the most part they made suggestions for revision or future research, and in the end, when I was asked how it went by those not in attendance, the first word that came to mind was “easy.” It was easy. I was ready. I trusted my knowledge and expertise. Overall, it was a wonderful experience and now all that remains is the graduation ceremony on May 7th.

Now, all that being said, everything now feels oddly anti-climatic. I expected some kind of euphoria or to at least feel different after the defense and the unofficial granting of my doctorate. But I didn’t and I still don’t almost a month later. While at first I thought it was just taking a bit to sink in, I’m not so sure now.

To be sure, my defense was immediately followed by a series of unfortunate events. I got sick the next day and had trouble kicking it. I suspect adrenaline kept it at bay until the defense was over, because now that I think back I was taking 3-4 hour naps during the day in the two weeks leading up March 4. I also tripped over my puppy and messed up my knee for a while. Then I got sick again. And through it all, I was receiving rejection letters from teaching positions I had applied for prior to the defense. Finally, the online fairy-tale course I was going to teach this summer was cancelled. Basically, there hasn’t been much good news.

So now I’m hoping that either the graduation ceremony or the eventual teaching position will give me the feeling of accomplishment that I’m still missing. The worries associated with lack of employment certainly aren’t helping, but I’m a firm believer in education for the sake of knowledge, so while unemployment may be worrisome, it shouldn’t be the defining factor of my achievement. But then again, maybe I will eventually be forced to realize that it is the missing piece.

I know this isn’t the happiest reflection, but I think it helps to express my mixed feelings. I have been enjoying the recent downtime, although I find myself increasingly antsy to get back to work. I have been eyeing some books I’ve been wanting to read, so maybe I’ll move on to that or revision next. I’ve also been thinking about putting together some sample syllabi and/or revamping this blog sometime soon. So many options . . .

Powering Through the Last Month of Dissertation Writing

This will be a short post, as I’m not feeling great at all these last couple of days. I’ve officially caught some bug, and the timing couldn’t get much worse given that I have less than a month to complete my dissertation in preparation for my March defense.

But as I frequently say to myself and my students, now is the time to “power through” the feeling sick, the exhaustion, the desire to let work slide. This does not mean that I’m working as productively or diligently as I do when I feel well, but it does mean that I don’t halt all work. If I did that, I’d lose momentum, quickly fall behind, and find it to be a real struggle when I try to then frantically wrap up my dissertation.

Instead, I’m taking a break from revising my last chapter in order to review some reading for my introduction. I still can review and read text right now even with the exhaustion and coughing. But final revisions require an objective eye and an alert brain, and I can’t claim to have either of those assets right now. So I continue to work a little each day to keep the momentum going and make a little progress, but I do so with lowered expectations. (Admittedly, even with lowered expectations, I still fall short, but that’s because I dream big so I don’t beat myself up about it–I’m just grateful for any progress.)

So I guess, for me, powering through means keep moving forward despite the obstacle(s). But also know your limits. Don’t push so hard that you wear yourself out and extend the illness or create new problems. It’s a skill that will serve you well in academia and in other environments (professional or otherwise).

Reflections on 2014 and Resolutions for 2015

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Hello, 2015!

I have found myself super excited to begin this new year and a new phase in my life. So excited, in fact, that I woke up at 5am and couldn’t fall back to sleep! While I’ll remedy my lack of sleep with a nap later today, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the amazingness that was 2014 and document my plans, expectations, and resolutions for 2015.

To say that February 2014 was a good month is an understatement. I received a series of amazing notifications:  I was awarded a travel grant for a conference presentation, a fellowship to complete my dissertation during the 2014-15 academic year, followed by another fellowship to work on my dissertation during the summer of 2014, and notification that I was selected to present at Wayne State’s 2014 Graduate Research Exhibition. This was all cherry-topped with the news that my article on Mary de Morgan, “Seeds of Subversion in Mary de Morgan’s ‘The Seeds of Love,’” was accepted for publication pending revision. (This article has since been accepted for publication and will appear in Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, volume 29, issue 2 in 2015).

Yet beyond the this excellent news, February 2014 validated my original evaluation of my research and dissertation project: it is worthwhile and important. Before entering my doctoral program, I had not doubted that my research was important. I was shocked to find how very little had been written on the topic of 19th c. fairy tales by women when I first became interested in Mary de Morgan. Most scholarship on the topic is to be found in anthologies of the tales themselves, but these are usually on the topic fairy tales in general or Victorian fairy tales (many if not most written by men). The opportunity for innovative scholarship on the topic was (and still is) practically wide-open and the need to “rediscover” and/or bring to scholarly light the works of neglected female authors persists. But despite my own enthusiasm for my research, doctoral programs were far less enthusiastic. It was made explicitly clear to me by the DGS that I was accepted NOT for my interest in Victorian fairy tales but instead for the list of additional research interests I included in my purpose statement, such as women’s literature in general and sensation novels. I was admitted in spite of my research in fairy tales, not because of it.

But with the help of February 2014, I was finally able to put aside my inferiority complex regarding my research on 19th-century British fairy tales by women. Despite the general consensus that I will not be hired for my work on fairy tales, people are more than happy to hear me discuss them at conferences. And I have clearly become quite adept at selling my research to earn funding, as the multiple fellowships, research awards, and travel grants indicate. Surprisingly, the DGS assured me that I was awarded the Rumble Fellowship by a unanimous vote of the department’s graduate committee. So while at the beginning of my doctoral program, my research in and of itself was not valuable or scholarly enough, I now find that this perception has changed as I quickly approach graduation:  Perhaps fairy-tale research is undervalued, but *my* fairy-tale research is worthwhile AND worth funding.

Beyond the flurry of activity in February, 2014 saw me make a lot of progress on my dissertation. In fact, I submitted my 5th chapter (of 6 chapters) to my director on Jan. 1, 2015. All that remains is 1 more chapter and an introduction, so I am very much on track to defend in early March and graduate in May. I also moved “home” to MN to finish my dissertation writing and perform archival research on the British literary annual at the U of MN. I returned to University of St. Thomas for an invited presentation on Letitia Elizabeth Landon and the proto-feminist fairy tales she published in literary annuals as well as to sit on a panel discussing what could be done with a BA in English (the audience of this panel was a classroom of English majors). I also presented at several conferences, all on the topic of my dissertation research, and have applied for several teaching positions for 2015-16.

Additionally, I returned to physical therapy for some balance work, and I began taking watercolor classes. I also utilized HabitRPG to encourage the development of new and productive habits and to meet the various goals I have set for myself, including periodic blogging.

I feel confident stating that 2014 has been a wonderfully productive and successful year for me.

As I look forward to 2015, I anticipate my dissertation defense and the conferral of my Ph.D. I am particularly looking forward to leaving behind my student status after 10 consecutive years of higher education. I want to experience adulthood that is about working rather than studying, and I very much want to settle down into a stable job that will offer me the same challenges I have come to enjoy over the last 10 years.

I have further found that I have missed teaching while I have been on fellowship. I have not missed grading, but I do miss the interaction with students, the development of courses, course topics, learning objectives, lesson plans, and assignments, as well as witnessing students’ “aha” moments. I have also missed the class rapport and discussions, and as I work on writing my dissertation, I wish I could share my writing process with my students and inspire them to continue writing every day. I therefore plan to return to the classroom, to teach new courses and help new students, and perhaps to use my recent interest in online pedagogy to teach a hybrid or online course in 2015.

Additional resolutions:

  1. Read Dickens’ novels, 1 chapter a day, beginning with Oliver Twist, to try to duplicate the serialized original and experience if the novels appear less overwhelming in small pieces (to perhaps implement in the classroom).
  2. Become more active to reverse some of the unhealthy effects of sitting to read and write every day, as well as to possibly increase my balance and strength deficits.
  3. Work on publishing my dissertation.
  4. Begin new research projects and continue current ones on topics ranging from the literary annual, the femme fatale, Letitia Landon, etc.
  5. Enjoy the experience of transitioning from student to professional!

I’m sure I’ve forgotten to note some of the fantastic events of 2014 as well as some of my plans for 2015, but I’ll leave it at that. It has been a fantastic year of discovery and success and I hope that continues in 2015. Essentially, I hope to continue working my passion.

Dissertation Break & Scheduled Relaxation: Community Watercolor Class

While I am ever so slowly getting back into my chapter (and getting excited about the topic once more), the dissertation writing process frequently feels like a lonesome task. And it is lonely, particularly as I am focusing on my dissertation rather than teaching this academic year. While I certainly don’t miss the hassle of course preparation, lesson planning, and grading, interacting with students and other instructors is a method of getting away from the solo business of writing and focusing on something else; in my world (and I assume in that of many other academics), teaching can become a research break that forces me to stop thinking about my chapters.

But what do you do when you aren’t teaching? The guilt of not working on my dissertation is ridiculous, especially when I can’t claim other types of productivity. Moreover, while I’m happy to be done with coursework, I do miss being a student and the joy of learning. Enter the community center introduction to watercolors class.

My community center art class has proven to be a great method of forcing myself to relax and forget about my dissertation for at least a few hours a week. There are many reasons for this:

  1. It’s fun.
  2. I’m paying for the class so I’m going to attend the class because, like most grad students, I have a tight budget. But, the class is not nearly as expensive as a college course so it actually fits within my budget. Supplies were also affordable, which is why I chose watercolors over the more expensive ceramics class.
  3. Nobody in the class cares about my dissertation. Unlike my friends, family, and colleagues, the instructor and other students don’t want to hear about my research, beyond the general topic being fairy tales, so while I’m in the class, I’m not talking about my progress and challenges.
  4. It meets regularly in the evenings, so each week I have 2.5 hours set aside for the class without worrying about losing or wasting time. Basically, relaxation is built into my schedule. Also, evenings are usually my least productive time of day, so I’m not painting during normally productive hours.

I really enjoyed my 6 week late summer class, and this weekend I will be registering for Fall session classes. If you’re like me and find it difficult to relax but really need to get out of the house and away from your research, look into what classes are offered by your local community center. You may be surprised by the options available and find a great new hobby. Plus, my finished artwork (pictured below) made a lovely birthday present for my mother.

Watercolor purple flower

My Finished Watercolor (Painted from image at top of post.)

Resolving to Return to a (Work) Routine

As I begin writing this post, I can’t help but sigh heavily. To say that August has been a whirlwind of chaotic activity would be an understatement. But as it comes to a close and my special collections research ends (or at least is put on hold), I find myself struggling to get back into my old routine of writing and reading. Or rather, I need to find a new routine. Either way, productivity is down.

Part of this is simple burnout. I want and need a break. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I have approaching deadlines that require that I continue working and accept the last two days as break enough. As Tim Gunn says, “It’s time to make it work!”

So, since I’m not simply falling back into a work routine, reflection is in order to push past the feeling of being overwhelmed with “stuff” to do. What do I need to do? What is the first step(s) to getting it done? What is my priority? What can wait a while?

And to make this official, I’m sharing my “To Do” list, in prioritized order with any formal (or informal) due dates:

  1. Organize desk top. (It is a mess from the move still.) [X]
  2. Register for conference in Sept. [X]
  3. Reserve shuttle for Nov. conference. [X]
  4. Read and incorporate secondary sources into my current dissertation chapter. [in progress]
  5. Polish my current dissertation chapter.
  6. Submit to dissertation director before meeting on Sept. 15th. [X]
  7. Condense to conference presentation and submit to graduate student presentation contest by Sept. 18th. [X]
  8. Begin creating colloquium presentation (PowerPoint or Prezi) while on the topic.
  9. Attend and present at conference Sept. 25th-28th. [X]
  10. Finish preparing 40 minutes colloquium presentation paper/notes and visuals by Oct. 16th.
  11. Jump into next chapter (already begun but put on hold last semester), in particular to prepare for Nov. conference presentation.
  12. Prepare conference presentation by Nov. 5th.
  13. Attend and present at conference Nov. 5th-8th.

I think at that point in November I can afford to take a week or two off to recover.

And, just as I’m about to publish this post, I realize I left all my job application materials off the official list, so . . .

*1-13* Scatter job application prep, search, and submission throughout.

Making a Good First Impression: Does My Hairstyle Matter in Academic Job Interviews?

I debated with myself about whether or not to write this post, but the me that said yes won out, mainly because this question has been bothering me and I think it may be a legitimate concern: Will my personal choices regarding my hair have an impact when I’m searching for my first academic job?

My decision to write this post was reinforced when a quick search of The Chronicle of Higher Education website (search terms: interview appearance) yielded this article by Rob Jenkins, “How to Dress for Your Interview” (2009). Interestingly, while Jenkins goes into extreme detail, noting clothing colors and styles, shoes, specific accessories (including hose for women) and makeup, and even mentions men’s hair length and grooming, women’s hair is conspicuously absent from his advice. Jenkins’s advice reappears in 2010 in “How to Stand Out in Your Interview,” in which he briefly states (after repeating a summary of the detail from his 2009 article), “Women should avoid extremes in hair styles, makeup, and jewelry.”

I like to experiment with my hair cuts and styles as a fun form of expression that is not permanent. Currently, I’ve been focusing on low maintenance so I do not have to worry about making and going to appointments for upkeep. This means my hair is now quite long, its natural brunette with only a few subtle lowlights mixed in away from the hairline (so no roots to worry about), and my previous heavy bang has been allowed to grow into side-swept bangs (in part because it’s nice to be able to pull them back during the hot summer). Practical, no nonsense, no upkeep hair that still leaves me the option to experiment with new updos when I’m in the mood.

long hair, brunette, side bangs

Current Hairstyle via Pinterest

Ginnifer Goodwin, Pixie, Short Hair

Ginnifer Goodwin via Pinterest

The hair I’ve been dreaming of is Ginnifer Goodwin’s pixie cut, which manages to be quite versatile despite its short length. My concern is whether such a hair cut may potentially negatively impact me when I begin my job search in the fall and (hopefully) have interviews. Could some established academics (in particular those on hiring committees or those with fixed opinions like Rob Jenkins) still be put off by a woman with short hair? I don’t know and that is what is bothering me. When you hear colleagues judging candidates based on their shoe choice (I’m not kidding! Someone was bashing a candidate because his shoes were too shiny, pointy, and fancy!), deciding whether to take the leap and cut your hair short becomes a bigger decision than whether or not you’re personally ready to take the plunge.

Yet I’m also concerned that leaving my hair as long as it currently is may also not give the best first impression. I look young, and long hair tends to accentuate youth. I feel like that would work against me in potential interviews and that could be worse than looking too “edgy” or trendy with a super short cut.

So I’m now considering the compromise below.

mid-length hair, heavy bangs, edgy yet professional

Compromise Cut via Pinterest

brunette, highlights

Compromise Color via Pinterest

This cut and color combination may provide the best of both worlds: the cut is professional and timeless while the bangs still add a little edge, and the color is basically brunette with subtle highlights to add interest. The other benefit is that I’ll still be able to pull it back into an oh-so professional bun if I choose.

I haven’t made my decision yet, but it’s amazing how something as mundane and personal as hairstyle can seem to have larger connotations and permanent consequences, particularly when job prospects are so dismal. Where clothing can be selected specifically for an interview and quickly discarded, hair is less easily professionalized.

Thoughts??? Could hairstyle be a concern when it comes to making a good first impression when job searching, or am I simply over-thinking things?

Sixth Anniversary of Spinal Cord Tumor Removal

Today, July 9th, 2014, commemorates the sixth anniversary of my spinal cord surgery. In 2008, I was diagnosed with a pilocytic astrocytoma in the thoracic region of my spinal cord (T4-T7). It was, without understatement, a life-changing discovery. Nonsurgical treatment was not an option in my case; the tumor needed to be removed, and quickly, if I was to have any hope of recovery. Six weeks later, on July 9th, 2008, Dr. Michael Edwards successfully removed the tumor surgically at the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford.

While the surgery was a success, following the surgery I was paralyzed from the waist down. I have since regained the ability to walk with assistance (a cane for the last several years), and, more importantly, the tumor has not returned. Yet permanent nerve damage remains, and I cannot help thinking fondly of my life prior to my spinal cord tumor and disability.

As suggested in the above video, my education and academic aspirations have remained a significant constant both before and after my surgery. They kept me from giving into depression following the surgery, and academia still remains a field in which I am not limited by my physical disability. I’m happily writing my dissertation, preparing to apply for teaching jobs in higher education, and planning to graduate with my doctorate in May 2015.

In regards to my limitations in mobility, I’m also preparing for continued progress, as I will be returning to physical therapy at the end of this month in the hopes that further freedom of mobility can be achieved. My dream is to be able to walk unassisted, to finally lose the constant companion of my cane.

I’ve met a lot of amazing people since my surgery and the release of the above video, and we can all attest to the fact that life goes on after surgery and/or disability. It’s different and difficult, and it’s not what we may have expected, but it continues and we adapt and thrive.

I hope to have more good news to share on my tenth anniversary in four years. 🙂