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 . . .

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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.

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.

Response to “How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities” (with Class Activity)

For the past five years, I’ve been examining the pros and cons of reading on-screen versus in print. The bottom line is that while digital devices may be fine for reading that we don’t intend to muse over or reread, text that requires what’s been called “deep reading” is nearly always better done in print.

Naomi S. Baron via How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Baron’s short discussion of digital versus print texts in the humanities classroom caught my eye, probably because it reinforced some thoughts I expressed in a previous post when a family friend urged me to purchase e-texts so he’d have less books to move for me. In that post, I commented that bound books are easier to use in the classroom, and Baron supports that statement in “How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities”; she writes of the results of a survey taken by students on the pros and cons of bound books and e-books:

Several open-ended questions on my survey were particularly revelatory. I asked what people liked most (and least) about reading in each medium. Common responses for what students liked most about reading in print included “I can write on the pages and remember the material easier” and “it’s easier to focus.” When asked what they liked least about reading on-screen, a number of Japanese students reported that it wasn’t “real reading,” while respondents from all three countries complained that they “get distracted” or “don’t absorb as much.”

My all-time favorite reply to the question “What is the one thing you like least about reading in print?” came from an American: “It takes me longer because I read more carefully.” Isn’t careful reading what academe was designed to promote?

Which brings us back to the humanities.

Readings in the humanities tend to be lengthy, intellectually weighty, or both. The challenge of digital reading for the humanities is that screens—particularly those on devices with Internet connections—undermine our encounters with meaty texts. These devices weren’t designed for focused concentration, reading slowly, pausing to argue virtually with the author, or rereading. Rather, they are information and communication machines, best used for searching and skimming—not scrutinizing.

Teachers and scholars must look beyond today’s career-mindedness in talking about challenges to the humanities. We need to think more carefully about students’ mounting rejection of long-form reading, now intensified by digital technologies that further complicate our struggle to engage students in serious text-based inquiry. (Baron)

As a student, I can testify to the veracity of Baron’s survey results. Texts that I read via a paper copy (whether a bound book or printed article) invariably taught me more and stayed with me longer than those texts read digitally. In fact, as a graduate student, I would frequently make decisions regarding whether to purchase print copies or digital copies of a text based on whether I thought the text would (or could) prove to be significant or relevant to my personal research interests and fields of study; texts that merely fell into required reading for a course were downloaded digitally as not being worth the (extra) money spent.

Kindle App, e-texts, technology

Screen Shot of my Kindle App for Mac

But as a graduate student in English literature, I am far more aware of my personal reading habits and reading needs than first- or second-year undergrads.

I think Baron’s short essay may prove useful in introductory English classrooms, particularly those introducing students to the study of literature (although it could be equally relevant in the composition classroom if reading skills are being stressed). This is not to force my students to purchase paper copies of texts, but to at least get them thinking about the difference medium can have on their reading practices. Such a discussion could easily be used to transition into a discussion of close reading strategies or even active reading and learning; it would also offer students an opportunity to reflect on their current reading practices.

Furthermore, an activity whereby half the class is asked to read Baron’s piece (or an assigned short story or critical article) online while the other is given a paper copy to read could prove both interesting and enlightening. Would the students with the paper copy of such a short piece prove more able to discuss the points in detail than those who read online? Or would the results of such a small sampling prove to be inconclusive, or even the opposite? No matter the result, I think such an activity and discussion could function as a simple and productive gateway to what we mean by “reading” in the English classroom. Moreover, I think this activity would urge students to reflect on their own reading practices and encourage them to make thoughtful choices when it comes to reading medium and their learning in general.

Beginning Thoughts on a Teaching Philosophy

“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

― Albert Einstein

I heard the above quotation while watching a rerun of Criminal Minds (to be exact, “Zoe’s Reprise,” S4 Ep14) and found it resonated with me. This, this is what I attempt to do in the classroom; really, I think it is all any instructor can do. We “provide the conditions”: a space that encourages exploration and questions, the information students need to acquire necessary skills, the guidance and feedback that motivates and encourages progress. (I know I’m repeating the word “encourage” but I can’t think of a better one at the moment.) But no matter how much effort I put into creating the ideal learning conditions for students, it is ultimately up to the student to LEARN, just as what exactly they learn or take away from the course is ultimately up to them as well.

“encourage students to take responsibility for their learning through reflection–>repeated student feedback and reflection opportunities in class help students become more self-aware regarding their learning needs, skills to be improved upon, habits to change, etc., which will help them throughout their lives

evaluate and adjust/adapt”

I jotted the above on a Post-It in a moment of teaching philosophy inspiration, similar to that I experienced while watching Criminal Minds. I absolutely believe that students need to take responsibility for their learning. I cannot anticipate the ideal learning conditions for the individual students that make up each distinct class, and I therefore am constantly evaluating each class’s overall learning needs and making adjustments in the schedule and/or adapting class activities and assignments. But my evaluation can only see so much, and I have found student self-evaluation and feedback to be particularly useful in making such adjustments necessary for the occurrence of the maximum level of student learning and progress.

One pedagogical practice that I have readily researched and implemented within the classroom is that of reflection (or metacognition). I have found this practice to be useful in my own learning, as after almost ten years of higher education I have finally developed my own personal “best practices” when it comes to learning, reading, writing, etc. It is, of course, always in fluctuation, but then reflection is a continuous practice, not a one-time deal. In the classroom, I periodically ask students to reflect on learning:

  • Is there anything you still have questions about and/or would like to review in class?
  • What are you confused about?
  • What classroom activities have proven most/least helpful to your learning?
  • What are your thoughts/feeling on the course theme (or a specific text) and has this changed as the course has progressed?
  • What skills do you think you have achieved?
  • What skills do you need to continue working on?
  • What would improve your learning experience in this course?

Similarly, I ask students to reflect upon their own works-in-progress:

  • Do you have any questions regarding the assignment?
  • What do you need to do to complete the assignment successfully?
  • What steps have you completed? What still needs to be done to complete the assignment?
  • How much time do you have to work on the assignment?
  • How will you prioritize the work still to be done?
  • What is your planned work schedule?

These latter reflective activities require less action or response from myself as the instructor; they are directed more towards the students’ self-identification of learning needs (such as spending more time on the assignment, asking questions about the assignment) and uneffective habits (such as procrastination). This metacognition encourages students to succeed not only in my course, but in their other coursework and more general endeavors; knowing how to assess a situation as objectively as possible and make appropriate changes to improve the situation are skills that will serve my students long after they graduate and enter the workforce.

PS: I think creating a teaching philosophy concept map, like this one, would also be a good and fun idea.