Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

This year:

-I read more books than I believed imaginable. Thanks, comps prep!
-I did more traveling for research and conferences and have come to really enjoy it.
-I made friends outside my department
-I strengthened some friendships within my department
-I dealt with epic problems in some of my studies, but came out the other side
-I developed a better sense of which professors are interested in promoting my success
-I survived my first year of home ownership and my first semester of TA'ing

Next year:

-I resolve to get back in touch with old friends and acquaintances
-I will finish up classes and move on to the next step of my program
-I look forward to TA'ing and teaching a summer course
-I hope to read for fun more (now accepting suggestions!)
-I will do some more local sightseeing and enjoy the place I live while I'm here
-I will continue to stand up for the research I want to do

I hope everyone has had a good past year and is looking forward to 2011!

Do you have any academic resolutions? Hopes for the new year? Share below!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Creep

Normally, I would consider the ability to pack up a bag and do my work from nearly anyplace to be an awesome job perk. I'm rarely "stuck in the office" until the pre-dawn hours of the morn, an experience my corporate friends report with great frequency. Sure I'm often up until 3, but I'm in my bed with my cat and access to my fridge and TV breaks. Or I'm reading for comps on the beach during a summer weekend trip. Even when I'm stuck at the airport or waiting for my car to be fixed, I can do work.

This perk really comes back to bite me at the holidays.

First of all, whenever I go to visit family during Christmas I inevitably show up with 2 bags: one with clothes, toiletries, the usual, and the other with books, papers, exams, binders, and highlighters. Then I have to beg off to go set up shop, try to get my computer to recognize their internet, and disappear for hours at a time. I hate it because it's rude and I miss out on social time, but it's necessary. The flip side of being able to do work anywhere is that there is rarely a true day off.

For me work has a way of creeping in at Christmas the most. I think it's a combination of Christmas being extremely busy and all the eggnog. We go snow tubing and when we're done I throw my snowsuit off and holler, "GOTTA GO READ!" before grabbing a cup of hot chocolate and retreating to a pocket of some room now dedicated to the giant pile of books I've brought in.

I've been fortunate that about 90% of people I spend holidays with are more amused than annoyed by my academic antics. My boyfriend's mother has taken to referring to the guest room as my "office" and this year lent me her amazing bed-chair device to use to finish writing the bazillion pages I had left. Also I've discovered that eggnog is a helpful writing aid and there was a steady supply of the stuff for the duration of writing.

But I'm proud of me -- I didn't work at all on Christmas Day, save for reading a book for half an hour while waiting for a reasonable hour to wake everyone up to open presents. This is an improvement over last year's post-Christmas dinner write-a-thon.

For those who celebrate Christmas, I hope you actually got to celebrate it instead of work through it. Right now I'm working on clearing my schedule enough to enjoy New Year's Eve!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Things on the Horizon: Holiday Insanity

I FINISHED THE GRADES! Now on to bigger and better things that don't require coefficients and graphing calculators circa 1999.

It's time for Christmas. Due to divergent family and religious traditions, my partner and I celebrate two Christmases, at least. I do Christmas hymn-midnight service-lessons and carols-children dressed as wise men and shepherds Christmas first. Then we do Santa-sick from cookies and eggnog-open presents under the tree-watch Rudolph 18 times Christmas. There may also be early-January-with-friends Christmas and sometimes early-spring-Christmas with my family. There's usually also just-the-two-of-us-fighting-over-last-piece-of-pie Christmas.

Suffice to say, Christmas is big and lasts a long time. Then there's New Years. New Years is also huge. I make two tons of monkey food and a giant cheeseball and get dressed up (sometimes the only time that year) and ring in the New Year by beating on a pot with a metal spatula. Yes, you read that correctly. Then it's time for midnight kisses and resolutions and learning to write the correct year.

What else will happen before school begins again? A few exciting things:

  • Like last year, I will be live-blogging from the annual meeting. Last year all sorts of madness happened, so stay tuned in the beginning of January for that!

  • Also in late January there will be a giveaway. I am very excited about this and will require much creativity on your part, so get ready.

I'll be updating periodically between these two major projects. As always, feel free to send along great stuff to me. You might even get your own "corner".

What does the holiday break hold in store for you?

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

Dear readers, please meet me:

I'm up to my ears in Blue Books. For every Blue Book, I have an email in my inbox inquiring about the grade. On the exam given at the end of last week. Bleghajfeiohrh!

One of my challenges this semester is in convincing my students that, while I am a conscientious instructor, I am not a human grading machine. This body is not a Scantron reader. This is part of a general effort to let my students know that I am a living, breathing person. Earlier this semester I encountered a student in the dining hall. Shocked to see me, he uttered out, "What are you doing here?". As if I didn't need sustenance or was somehow not supposed to be there.

When I was an undergrad, I frequently encountered professors at the gym. This was slightly awkward because we would be forced into polite conversation while wearing spandex and rolling around on exercise balls. If I can deal with getting my English professor un-stuck from a Thighmaster, these students can handle my lunchtime routine.

So, here are 5 things I wish students would understand about me. I'm thinking about getting it printed up on a tee shirt.

5. The reason you don't get your paper back the day after you turn it in is because I spend a lot of time on grading. I read thoroughly. I write comments that are designed to help you. This is better than me slapping a C- on it and calling it a day.

4. I am a friendly and approachable person. But this does not equate to sending me Facebook friend requests with the message, "Ha ha, found you, want 2 b frenz?

3. Contrary to popular belief, I don't live in my office. Showing up there at random times and leaving notes about my "unexpected absence" is futile. Also, don't eat my candy while lingering at my desk, complaining about said absence.

2. Review sessions. They are for you. They are most definitely not for me.

1. If you see me heading for the coffee cart, it is NOT the time to ask me a question. Stand back, let me take a few sips of caffeine, and then proceed.

Are you a grading grinch this year? Have you been at the mercy of one? What do you wish students knew about you? (that's it, we're making tee shirts for sure. and tote bags.)


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Your Finals Survival Guide

Way back in the day, my best friend and I went to a school with a bizarre scheduling policy for final exams. All normal classes were canceled and each day for three days you attended a smattering of final exams between 7:15 and 3:20. Of course this left huge chunks of the day when you were just sitting around the school, being told to be quiet and getting really bored. So my friend and I made each other survival packs which usually consisted of homemade, slightly offensive word searches, hand-drawn comics, and locker scavenger hunts that involved a bit of lock-picking.

Exams are not so different now. We proctor them, we wait around, we sit still and try to be productive but, much like Alvin and the Chipmunks' being good, it won't last. I could make you a word search, but for now I've turned to to find you some links that only get funnier the more tired and depressed you become. And I've tried to make it educational. Here's a few things we can learn.

1. The Past is a Strange Animal. This includes your own childhood.
Case in Point: Kids are simultaneously strangely perceptive and totally oblivious. As a youngster I was freakishly aware of the stereotypes of Native Americans and how they were wrong and bad. I also frequently danced about the house singing a song from The Great Mouse Detective that was about prostitution. Talk about not having a clue.
Here lists the 9 Most Racist Disney Characters. I'm a little surprised the Siamese cats from Lady and the Tramp didn't make it in, but that's only because there were so many other choices.

2. Writers of Good Books are Cracked.
Case in Point: Roald Dahl, creator of such characters as the Grand High Witch of the World, Matilda, and James of Giant Peach fame, was a freaking spy -- and he didn't get a spot on this list of 5 Authors More Bad-Ass than their Characters.

3. Saving Money is Only Good Up To a Point
Case in Point: I would save a lot of money if I didn't eat, but then again, I'd be dead in about 9-14 days after making that decision. It's cheap to only provide public education up until eighth grade, until you realize you're paying with your life when there's no doctors, dentists, or police officers in your state. Which is pretty much what's happening in these situations, the 7 Most Horrifying Cost-Cutting Decisions.

4. Badgers are the Chuck Norrises of the Animal World
Case in Point: It appears that most animals just want to get drunk and destroy things. Three cheers for evolution! Here are 6 examples of Animals That Just Don't [expletivetrailoff].

5. Death in Movies Can Be Equally Pointless as Real-Life Doom
Case in Point: It has always really bothered me that Harry Potter and the gang are so dependent on magic that they seem completely unable to improvise. I keep waiting for Harry to pull an Indiana Jones and just pull out a pistol and shoot Voldemort. I mean, why not? Or when Harry and Voldemort do that wand-connecty thing, Ron could just walk up and conk him on the head or something. Turns out, lots of movie deaths don't actually make much sense. Here's a few particularly amusing ones.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Shopping 101: A Cheat Sheet

A few weeks ago I was thoroughly stumped over Christmas gifts. I was a day away from going to the Christmas Land kiosk and buying everyone penguin ornaments with their names written on them. Instead, I interrogated everyone in my group office on what they were hoping to get for Christmas and what they had bought for other people so I could steal their ideas. Now you, too, can steal their ideas. With these 5 hints, plus the ideas I mentioned last time including making 80 gajillion chocolate-covered pretzels, I am ready for the manic Christmas gift exchange.

ALERT: If you're related to me, stop reading now, unless you're like me and hate surprises.

1. I recently learned about the ridiculously amazing Groupon. Use it, live it, love it.

2. Here's a list of books some people think are good. My two notable books-as-gifts? For fiction, the well-written, twisted tale The Likeness by Tana French and for nonfiction, the profoundly sad but moving The Memory Chalet by the late Tony Judt.

3. Depending on where you live, holiday craft fairs may be in full swing. Hit them up -- you can buy gifts for everyone you know and sip on Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa in a school cafeteria, in the same afternoon. This year we stumbled across cool paper mache holiday ornaments and knocked out about a third of the Christmas list.

4. Don't count out Etsy and ArtFire!

5. Toys R Us has stepped up their game in offering variations on old favorite toys. Let's just say, someone is getting a blast from their past in the form of the Super-Deluxe Mr. Potato Head-Mrs. Potato Head Combo Pack.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday Madness

So I've been AWOL since Thanksgiving. It's not a coincidence. I'm kind of a Thanksgiving grinch. Frankly, when you study early American history, the "First Thanksgiving" story is kind of depressing. Also compounding my grinch-ness is my completely irrational but nonetheless militant hatred of pumpkin products other than jack-o-lanterns. The third and fatal factor is that everything, everything, is due around Thanksgiving. So the holiday turns into a turkey-eating fest that culminates in frantic grading and writing before fighting off some uncles for the last bit of stuffing.

But after Thanksgiving, we enter a distinct stage I've identified as pre-Christmas. Christmas preparation begins on Black Friday, when radio stations play Christmas music and otherwise sane people beat each other up over a My Walkin' Pup toy. Garland and mistletoe abound, kids freak out about Santa, and I busy myself making endless sugar cookies shaped like fat snowmen when I probably should be writing about 40 pages. Somehow the Christmas season supersedes other obligations while the Thanksgiving weekend just makes me panic, drink wine and watch football.

But Christmas is difficult, too. First of all, there's the travel. Then there's the gifts that get lost in the mail. Also, there's always one person you have no idea what to get. There's usually also one person you're not dying to see during the holiday gatherings. But no amount of bad Christmas sweaters, black ice, and crazy great-aunts will hold me back! Here's some things you might find helpful.

Coming up short on gift ideas? Check out You can shop by demographic, topic, price, even general "personality".

Need super-cheap gifts and/or lots of goody bags? Try my favorite chocolate-covered pretzel recipe. You can make a whole bag in less than an hour and you don't even need a double-boiler. I put them in holiday-themed bags and they're always a huge hit.

Never leave home without a good supply of holiday jokes. I like this site, which features 'Twas the Night Before Finals.

Don't wear these: Epically Bad Christmas Sweaters

What was the worst Christmas present you ever got? Does it rival some of these?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Offering to Those in Rough Draft Wasteland

Given the truly shocking number of people who checked in when I posted "MIDNIGHT WRITERS' CLUB, SIGN IN!" as my Facebook status for the past TWO night, I feel like a little gift is in order. If you have the wherewithal to click an arrow a few times, you can enjoy more hilarity like this:

Here's a bunch more and they only get more funny/disturbing. To sum it up, just don't try to send your boss stuff on your iPhone.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Washed-Out Wednesday: Get Your Chicken

I was hoping to have something profound to say about the article I posted yesterday. Unfortunately, today is Wednesday. It's a Wednesday after an all-nighter. After which I gave a lecture, graded a bajillion quizzes, and tried to do research before I realized that all I can really do today is laugh in that sort of constant creepy-chortle way.

So here's some Wednesday funny. Because there is something really funny about this, even if I'm too brain-dead to tell you what.

And, I suppose, strangely pertinent to the title of this blog.

Monday, November 15, 2010

You Should Never Open the Door. Or Split Up.

This will scare TAs and faculty everywhere:

Holy Cheating, Batman!

Here's some instructions straight from paper comments -- read this for content, not style. I'm not particularly impressed with the author's quasi-sad explanation for his descent into this business. I'm truly shocked by pretty much everything else he has to say.

So I guess it's time to start worrying about cheating we can never detect or otherwise do anything about!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cheap Things That Help My Life

I should note, before I begin, that I've not been asked or otherwise compensated to endorse any of these products. I just like them and want to pass along things that make my life easier.

1. Goody Simple Styles Spin Pins

I keep two of these in my purse. They are great for those days when Mother Nature decides to screw you over with humidity/rain/hail/other assorted nastiness. They will fix any hair problem in 30 seconds. All you have to do is pile your hair atop your head, screw in these pins, and it somehow magically looks good. Definitely worth the $6 I paid at CVS for them.

2. Simply Asia Noodle Bowls

Much like the Cookie Monster now says about cookies, I will say this: instant noodles are a sometimes food. But sometimes, you have 7 minutes before an afternoon meeting and crackers aren't going to cut it. But if you can get 2 tablespoons of water and access to a microwave for 2 minutes, you can enjoy this delicious, economical lunch on occasion. I keep a stack of them in my desk and I doubt 8 of these a semester is going to kill me; it also beats the heck out of paying $8 for a wrap at the food court.

3. Netflix

I've heard plenty of discussion on this, but I'm still firmly on the pro-Netflix side of things. I like getting movies mailed to me after doing minimal work to arrange it, and I also like watching shows on streaming when I'm alone in the office and need a break. It's just easy and if the place you live is anything like my area, going to a single movie costs more than a month of Netflix. And if you fall asleep from sheer exhaustion during the movie, you just start it again without being out $12!

Any other cheap life-improving items? Leave them in the comments!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ode to Patrick, or, Why You Need Grad Student Friends

One of the complaints I hear from graduate students is that it is difficult to make good friends in the cohort. I have fortunately not experienced this. Both my MA and PhD programs were pretty much full of awesome people who were both intellectually stimulating and downright fun times. But I can imagine why this problem presents. Some programs are super-small, others are extremely competitive to the point of preventing friendships, and on occasion, some programs might just be full of awkward and/or boring people.

My advice this week is: do whatever you have to do to make grad student friends. In your department, in another department, it doesn't matter. You will need them!

Grad student friends are unique in the following ways. 1) They understand that "finals" might mean crying fits and eating an entire cake by yourself. 2) They know that graduate student work isn't 9 to 5. 3) They will check out books for you when your interlibrary loan account gets shut down.

They will also save your sorry grad student behind when catastrophe strikes.

EXAMPLE FROM REAL LIFE: Sometimes, your boiler breaks. And it is cold. And you don't have hot water or heat. And it is going to take the plumbers approximately a week to fix it. This is when you need a grad student friend to let you stay in their house for 7 days, let you eat all their spaghetti and tomato sauce, and drive you from their house to campus, all the while insisting that no, you aren't inconveniencing them and no, they can't imagine anything better than watching Family Guy with you late into the night for many, many nights in a row. (Thanks, Patrick.)

All kinds of friends are great. But only a grad student friend is going to have enough pasta to support two grown adults for over a week.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Application Advice: The Introspective Questions

I've been softly avoiding giving out application advice. People interested in my own insane journey through the bowels of the admissions system are advised to go back through the 2009 posts. That said, in a recent conversation with a grad school applicant I came up with three questions that are worthwhile for determining which schools to apply to. Obviously there are an infinite number of questions to ask, but these three are a good place to start.

1) Would I actually move to the place where the school is located?

I flat-out ruled out some schools in places I didn't want to live. If you can't see yourself packing up and moving to New York City, why even apply to schools there? Location is more important to some than others, but do your research on the place, because you will occasionally leave campus. Think about where you'd be willing to move ahead of time.

A lot of applicants treat grad school admissions like undergraduate admissions -- send out a bunch of apps, then go on the prospective student visit and make a decision on the location. Bad plan! Don't waste money on applications for schools you'd never in a million years go to.

2) Is there someone, or multiple someones, to work with at the school?

Online faculty profiles are your friend. Email and phone contact with professors is even better. Sometimes faculty will be interested int the project but simply can't take on new students: they are going on leave, they have 82 students already, there's no room for a new student on the grant, etc. Find out this information before you apply.

My experience is that 95% of professors aren't bothered by a short, polite email inquiring about their graduate advising availability. So long as you aren't spamming them, this won't stymie your application in any way, and in some fields it can radically boost your admissions chances. If there's no professors around to take on your project, most schools won't admit you because there's no advising structure in place for you. Anticipate and take action to prevent this.

3) Is the program what I need, both in the next few years and for my career?

In this insane world of 12% acceptance rates, I understand the desire to gain acceptance to any program and enroll faster than you can say "is there funding?". That's because the regret of attending a school that doesn't have a solid program for your needs comes much later, like 4 years down the road when you realize your department specializes in research and you really want to teach. Whoopses!

This is 100% preventable. Do your research. Ask about placement. Ask about how the program works. Try to talk to graduate students there. If nothing they are saying appeals to you, don't apply.

The end result is this: if you only apply to schools you'd actually go to and do well at, you really only need the one acceptance to be on your way. The only general advice I can give is to try to remain sane long enough to figure out the answers to these questions. Don't worry, I'll have lots of advice on how to make the months pass as you're waiting to hear back!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Future Career

My students can attest to the fact that I enjoy adapting well-known songs to reflect important historical events. When it comes down to it, I don't mind if they're all reviewing my raps in their minds during the midterms as long as they can tell me who John Winthrop is and why he's up in Anne Hutchinson's grill.

This, however, takes everything up several notches:

My favorite part is when the wig spins off. This is historically accurate, by the way. Exactly what happened. 1776 represent.

If this academic job market doesn't creep back from the abyss, I'm just going to take to the YouTube channels.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sneaky Hate Spiral: Taking Students Down, At Least Twice a Semester

Thanks to grad student field correspondent Molly, I bring you the next installment in the "Midterms: Lose Your Mind" series.

Question for you. When you think about midterms, does it make you feel like this?

If yes, then you need to read this. Consider it required reading, but the kind you want to do right away instead of 8 minutes before class begins. You will need longer than that to recover from the hilarity.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Drop the Dope Beat, Dandies

This just in: fainting has nothing to do with corsets, and everything to do with man-ringlets.

This is a good visual of why people are fascinated with the past. The past was weird! I spend hours explaining to students that they shouldn't identify with the American colonists because if they managed to time-travel to a 1770 Philadelphia tavern, they wouldn't even know what the heck was going on. And if they time-traveled to this fair scene, depending on gender they would either be passed out or wearing a seriously curly wig. See? Weird!

Monday, October 18, 2010

You Put the Lime in the Coconut, Grade it all Up

"If you get your paper back on Monday with some sunscreen or sand on it," I announced to my class last week, "it's because I graded them on the beach in Florida!"

A look of shock crossed with envy appeared on 45 faces. Finally someone uttered, "Why are you going to Florida?"

"For vacation, of course. They do occasionally let us out of the archives, you know."

In this instance, I was visiting some family who happen to live near a beach. I decided to make use of a precious day off, The Three-Day Weekend, for sun and fun and fresh fish sandwiches and boiled peanuts. But I wasn't kidding the students either; I had 45 papers to grade and the red pen doesn't write that well against sand and shells.

I've never quite mastered the Short School Break Vacation. Long breaks, easy. At the end of each semester I would stumble home and stay up for 4 days doing take-home exams while slowly finishing off my family's entire stock of Goldfish crackers and, during Christmas vacation, pie. But then the exams would be done and I would get some quality time with friends and family and digest all the pie.

Not so with the short break, where you go from 0 to 60, then return to school and accelerate to 130. Grading on the plane, writing at the beach, reading at the pool, it all sounds nice until you're on mai tai number 4 and only one chapter into an enormous book on American liberalism, and you're sunburned.

The gist of it is that short breaks are extremely problematic. First of all, the timing can only be described as whack. Fall break falls in the middle of flu-times, and spring break happens weeks before spring is a viable description of what's going on outside. Secondly, the length of the break is just cruel. You have just enough time off to make a trip possible, but not enough time to actually relax.

But my biggest pet peeve of all regarding school breaks has not changed since first grade. Work should NOT be due on breaks, folkses! If there is no school, there should be no school-work. Now, I admit that I tend towards thinking there shouldn't be work if you're away, and some of these situations are dicey. (Brace yourself, Mom, because you're about to get exposed.) In elementary school my mom would always be the chaperon on the museum field trip, and she would do the "museum ditto" for the kids in my group so we could go be kids and stare at the T-Rex bones for hours instead of drawing what "sarcophagus" looks like in hieroglyphics. So I come from a tradition of bucking the extra work system.

Parents of young kids complain a lot about the amount of homework. I don't believe the amount has changed drastically; I think people finally woke up and realized that making kids do math packets instead of going to visit family for the holidays is plain wrong. What has changed is the amount of pressure on all kids to perform not only well, but exceptionally well. And that means making paper machier volcanoes and writing in iambic pentameter all the time, instead of just most of the time.

After thinking about this, I felt better about making my insane trip. I'm a student, but I'm somehow more free of the system that kept me doing summer reading. I can tell you that not a single one of my students will ever turn in an assignment on the 7 days we get off per year...unless the paper is late, then they better get it in before I deduct another third of a grade!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Early American History versus Space Quest

First point: There's something just so hilarious about the idea of "Butterfingers" being the reason for the loss of important historical and cultural documents.

Second point: Is it bad that I think T-Rex might not be 100% wrong? Think, just think for a minute, about the titles of the academic books you read. They fall into one of two categories. Category A is boring as all get-out and might offer you something along the lines of Ancient Greece: a History. Who wants to read that? According to T-Rex, nobody.

Which brings us to Category B, better known as Gone-Ape Titles. This is where you get books called Booty Call: The Treacherous Tale of Treasure and the Scary Stories of Sea Dogs and Scalawags. Now T-Rex would argue that this book won't get tossed out, but it's still not the best idea if you want your book added to class reading lists.

I often struggle with titles. How much alliteration is okay before you cross into obnoxious territory? Should you leave out content for the sake of grabbing attention? Is it ever appropriate to use old-timey insults, like bumwad? (Right now my answers are a bit, no, and yes.)

Third point: The phrase "Meanwhile, in Tudor England" is vastly underused. English historians, get on this.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Application Advice?

Someone asked me why I haven't posted any application advice, since apparently 'tis the season. Being the first fall in quite some time that I haven't personally been freaking out over 12-page biographical sketches, financial information, and listing 8-10 lifelong goals, I have not spent much time thinking about applications. But I'll come up with some good stuff in the next week or so. Side note: I'm always willing to pass along information, but it isn't like I'm an expert or anything. I'm not about to start an advice column to answer such questions as, "OMG I uploaded my app to Columbia on the Brown website what do I do now?!?!?!". It would almost certainly end in disaster for both the adviser and the advisee.

In the meantime, my advice is: don't spend all day looking at this here website full of cute cats or by the end of the day you'll be feeling like...


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Read for Banned Books Week!

I'm a little late, but there's still plenty of time for us all to pick up some Challenged Books.

This, from the American Library Association Website:

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

September 25−October 2, 2010

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

You can read more about it here.

I perused the list of some of the top challenged or banned classics and this list of books challenged or censored in the past decade. Due to scholarly duties I decided to focus on one of my longtime favorites, To Kill a Mockingbird. The ALA reports that this book is most frequently challenged for racism, offensive language, and being inappropriate for the age group.

Remember yesterday how I said I try to rein myself in sometimes? Yeah, well, not today.

First off, I am absolutely against these challenges. I love books rather mightily, as you might have guessed from my photo. But often these challenges don't even make sense. One of the reasons people consider To Kill A Mockingbird an important piece of literature is because of Harper Lee's treatment of rabid racism and the various methods of defiance of the racist regime employed by the Finches. The "offensive language", namely the n-word, is absolutely in context and used purposefully. And it is only inappropriate for the age group if there is no guidance from adults. With a teacher in the classroom, this should not be a problem.

I think many of us in academia take freedom of reading and of book choice for granted, but clearly that is a mistake. If you decide to read or reread a book on this list, leave the title in the comments. I'm always looking for recommendations and these lists are as good a place as any to start.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What Nation-State Do You Live In?

The two-a-day posts happen so rarely, but this is TOO GOOD to make you wait until tomorrow, folkses. Behold the Ultimate Map Quiz!

Double points to anyone from Ecuador actually living in "Equador".

Do I Have The Fear?

I sometimes am asked somewhat serious questions about this blog, including "are you a real grad student?", which I hoped would be an obvious yes. Usually I tip-toe around them, as after spending my day answering roughly one million questions I'm seldom in the mood for more. But lately, several people have asked me if I'm concerned that writing this blog will come back to haunt me later. That during my interviews at the Job Center, one of my interviewers will hold up the picture of me in the Tilt-o-Whirl and say, "What do you have to say about this?".

This question I feel deserves an answer. Here's what I have to say about this.

There is a lot of information one can glean from my writings here. I'm a woman. I have lived in several parts of the country. I like to read academic tomes, old-timey fiction, and online comics. I have an insatiable appetite for gummy candy. I have broken many bones. I have pets. I like to attend academic conferences. I love Shark Week. All of this information, I wear on my sleeve, and it wouldn't take reading this blog for prospective employers to figure out.

Information about others, I guard closely. I always ask people if I can use their first names and if they say no, I make up a title for them. Insofar as I have a personal life outside of my studies, I keep it quite private. And I never mention any professors or students by name (and they're all named Alex anyway, so you wouldn't even know who I meant if I did!). So this blog will hardly create enemies for me or the people who contribute to it.

Occasionally I post things of a political nature, on topics like higher education reform. I do this to spark debate, not rag on anyone, and I try to obscure my political views. Oddly enough, the posts that are most likely to get me "in trouble" are those which describe what being a graduate student is like (for me, at least), that existence which to many is shrouded in mystery. Applications, requirements, and the day-to-day experience. Which usually involves Auto-Tune the News and XKCD.

Prospective employers who might read this blog will know that I love when song lyrics meet historical art:

They might also like to know that I think this is awesome:

Anything else they want to know, they'll have to go back through the older posts, or ask me, since I'll admit to all of this...except this little episode of utter mania. That wasn't me.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Requirement File: Language Exams

Let me begin today by stating the obvious: graduate programs have a lot of requirements. To put it simply, you have to do a lot of stuff before you can get a degree. And rightly so. But more requirements = more stress, which = more demand for me to find ways to make these things palatable, if not hilarious.

Other graduate students are often shocked to find out that many history graduate programs require proficiency in a language other than English. I once deployed this knowledge bomb on a pretentious freak who tried to tell me that by studying American history I was making myself more narrow-minded. He was then forced to eat his shoe when it was revealed that he could only read English and OH OH OH the history graduate student habla Español! Who's narrow-minded now?

...and, I'm back. Anyway, the way departments test this proficiency varies, but usually is accomplished through a little thing called The Language Exam, where you have to translate somewhere between a hundred and a bajillion words into English. Now when I think of the language exam, this comes to mind:

On any given day I remember the weirdest words in Portuguese ("lagarto" means lizard!) but not the words particularly useful for historical endeavors like, say, "century" or "old". This is the reason The Language Exam drums up such fear: because as children we spent years learning how to ask for a red tee-shirt or "where is the discoteque", but never did we learn what "the history of the fur trade is especially challenging due to the lack of preserved documents" might look like in French.

Nonetheless, languages are important to the study of history, and so we make new flash cards. No longer interested in the word for duck (pato!), we instead turn our attention to what I like to call "history words" -- author, argument, sources, American Revolution, demonstrate, and 'flesh out'.

So here's to everyone going through The Language Exam! Frankly, as long as you don't write "pregnant" when you mean "embarrassed", you're doing okay!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What do Cosmo and the Constitution Center have in Common?

They both have quizzes that will tell you who you are.

NewsFeed procrastination strikes again! I saw this on grad student superwoman Sarah's wall and got so ridiculously excited, I obviously had to stop what I was doing to find out which founding father I would be! Much better than reading Cosmo to find out which shade of lipstick I should wear to attract the man who is my best astrological match.

Now...which founding father are YOU?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First Day of Fall, My Rumpus

So, allegedly today is the first day of fall. I respectfully disagree.

"Fall" started for me when my email inbox was filled with "FALL SEMESTER" messages from the registrar ("fall semester registration, do it or we'll get you!"), students ("Dear Professor, I need to take your fall semester class..."), and business services ("fall semester bill, pay up now fool!"). Summer was usurped by the early coming of fake-school-induced fall.

And so summer gets its revenge. It is 85 degrees here. In New England. A few days ago I was swimming in a lake. Autumn in the northeast is the nice little period of time where you put on a sweater and drink hot cider while the leaves turn pretty colors, as opposed to winter when you wear 3 sweaters and a parka, drink numerous hot toddies in rapid succession and watch the snow turn from brown to black. I.e., not swimming times.

So either way, I'm challenging this fall thing. When I start seeing copious amounts of candy corn, pumpkins, and leaf peepers, I'll reconsider the issue.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tricia's Corner

Sometimes fellow graduate students dig up gems in such rapid succession that I give them their own sounding board here (I just don't tell them -- surprise!). This week, history grad student and dissertation sorceress Tricia delivers the goods!

If Historical Events Had Facebook Statuses

Three Books for Surviving Graduate School

Tricia also loves Married to the Sea, so here's a bonus entry that will speak to all you grad studenty types:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

You Learn Something Every Day. Sometimes.

Three things I've already learned from being a teaching assistant.

1. You begin to have a deep understanding of naming trends. 40% of the students in my sections are named Alex, split about 60-40 between boys and girls. The "power names" of the 80's, like Ashley, Christopher, and Kevin, are, as a grad student friend put it, "nowhere to be found". Instead I have more Kaylies, Gabbys, Dustins, and Aidens than I can keep track of, and I did not know a single person with any of those names before today.

2. You get really good at repeating yourself. I've mastered the trick of using many different phrases that mean the same thing. You must write two papers. Two papers are required. There will be two paper assignments. Por favor, dame dos papeles. Gracias.

3. You take on multiple identities. "Professor", "Hey you", and "Mrs. Teacher" all = me. I tried to explain to them that I am, in fact, not married, and not married to someone whose last name is Teacher, but they aren't having it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

College Move-In: Tales from the Windstar

I was all ready for the mandatory pre-fall semester snarky posts, when someone sent me this New York Times article about how schools don't want parents hanging around for days/weeks/months. Fair enough, though I find myself hanging on, and utterly disagreeing, with one point: someone claims it takes several hours to move in a student.

This has most definitely not been my experience.

Shall we start at the beginning, then?

Picture it. 2004. A midwestern town. My mother, who swore her whole life she'd never drive a minivan, and I pack most of my belongings into a Windstar. We then drive eighteen hours east, during which time my mother manages to lose one of her shoes at a rest stop, the impulse-purchase IKEA chair bounces nonstop, and I consume an obscene number of Chicken McNuggets. By the time we arrive at the college we're exhausted, gross, stuffed full of fast food, and one of us is shoeless. A few hours, you say?

But of course that wouldn't be the end of it. My college had dreamed up a little pre-semester bonding for new students that involved 2.5 days of hiking. Which meant that while I geared up for the trek, my mother got to unload the van, set up my room, and try to recover before having to drive the van back. By the time I got back from the trip she was done, but it had taken days. We said our goodbyes and she drove the empty Windstar back for another eighteen hours.

My second year of college, we did manage to move in a couple of hours. But it nearly killed me. I was moving dorms and had a short amount of time to get my stuff out of the old dorm. My boyfriend was with me and he was moving like Speedy Gonzales on steroids, down the stairs, across the street, up the stairs, into the new room with a suitcase on his head and pulling three more behind him. We were tossing bedding down the stairs, carrying shoes in the hamper, dumping the contents of the dresser into garbage bags to carry Santa-style while we sprinted through campus. Then we slept for a few hours, unpacked, and used Icy-Hot for a couple of days. But I felt confident that my third year move-in could go something like that.

Third year would become known as the Year of the Broken Legs. Yes, two broken legs. At once. And of course, I was moving into a fourth-floor walk-up! In a bizarre twist of fate I managed to break my feet while I was at home, so my mother and I got to replicate our first-year drive, only she didn't lose a shoe and I was hopped up on painkillers. I don't think I even have to explain how long move-in took. And I don't remember exactly how most of it got done other than a steady stream of Good Samaritan friends.

Fourth year should have been a breeze after that. Wrong! My schedule was packed to high heaven with meetings and training and planning sessions for extracurricular activities. There was just no time to do anything. My "moving team" and I were just so glad it would be the last time that nothing else really mattered.

And then, of course, I decided to go to grad school. And we got movers.

Anyway, the point is that schools do need to recognize that this process is stressful. People are arriving after driving with a U-Haul trailer all night. People are emotional. People have to wait in line for an hour while trying to purchase towels at Target. People don't have to be "superinvolved" or "Velcro parents" to want more than a couple of hours to get their kid set up for the year. The helicopter parents will always find a way to sneak in through the gate as the rest of the crowd departs in a sea of Windstars.

Author's Note: I never realized how crazy this all was until I wrote it chronologically. I hope some of you have some college move-in horror stories, because now I'm concerned that it's just me...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Theme Vacations: Shamu versus Thomas Jefferson

Apparently as a small child I was borderline obsessed with Shamu and begged to go to SeaWorld for every single family vacation. Some may call that crazy, I prefer "focused on my interests". So it comes as no surprise to me that now, I'm packing in as many history-related trips as possible.

One summer I spent a week in Charlottesville, Va., doing research, and also convincing/coercing my friend into driving all over the state to see Monticello, Ashlawn-Highland, a handful of plantations, and Colonial Williamsburg. I've been known to pull off the road at the sight of a brown marker. So when the opportunity presented itself to visit Philadelphia, it was like the mothership calling me home.

Fortunately my friend was extremely dedicated to showing me every. single. historical thing. We literally raced around from church to grave to Liberty Bell to any historical house still standing. Once we'd exhausted the history of Philadelphia, we drove west, stopping at the Daniel Boone homestead and the Reading Pagoda. We picked up another friend and went to watch the Windham Mountain Ranch Great American Frontier Show, which was entertaining and mildly horrifying. We then proceeded to the Ephrata Cloister before our legs and minds gave out.

This has got me thinking: do other grad students do this, or is this specific to history? Some places preserve more than others, but there is often an abundance of historical sites in a given area. And there are a lot of "history attractions" and Ben Franklin impersonators and places where you can dress up in revolutionary garb and fire a musket or roast a grouse. I like all these things. Architecture students have a lot to work with and some science students must have a never-ending supply of museums. But what are math grad students doing? Do they never take vacations? Or are they the ones who are actually making it to the beach?

Oh, wait. We did do one thing that wasn't historical:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Molly and the Owlettes

Apparently I'm late to this party, but I was recently informed of an OwlCam placed inside an owl nest that will bring round-the-clock owl activities to you. The mother owl, Molly, has three owlettes, and allegedly the father occasionally makes an appearance. The best time to see them active is in the morning, making it perfect for those already pulling all-nighters. Take an owl-break!


Note: the owlettes have not yet reached fluffy-cute-baby-bird stage. My friend who passed this along claims they look like Gonzo; I think that's not fair to Gonzo and they look more like those things from The Dark Crystal. Consider yourself warned!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

College Graduation Rates. Where to Start?

I believe the only beneficial part of Facebook's NewsFeed is that I can steal content my friends find and post it here. And that's what is happening today. Grad school survivor Jack posted this article about Obama's take on graduation rates. As with most things, I reacted with a mixture of excitement and fear.

Where this might go right: If financial aid reform increases access to universities by students who under the current system can't afford to enroll or finish a degree.

Where this might go wrong: If the burden falls onto the schools and professors to graduate out any and all students accepted and enrolled.

"The nation's education system", as the article calls it, does encompass a huge number of programs for preschool-age kiddies all the way to college and post-grad ed. I'm always shocked at the number of people who don't think that secondary and higher education are intertwined. Students gain acceptance to college based on their performance as reported by their secondary educational institution. If students aren't finishing degrees because they don't possess the necessary skills, it isn't enough to overhaul the college system.

Speaking very generally, I think a lot of college educators are tempted (even if they don't actually) to brush deficiencies in high school curricula off as not their problem. But when students enroll in your class, their problems are also your problems. I admit that I'm probably quite out of touch with what junior high and high school classes are like today. I was forced to admit this after learning that students in our classes might have been paddled by teachers. (The first quote in this article is fantastic, by the way, but the rest of it makes me sad.) What the heck else is going on in schools that I don't know about?

The bottom line is that I hope this call to increase graduation rates results in real changes and not quick fixes. Only time will tell. Also, I don't know whether to be concerned or relieved that my degree didn't make this list of college degrees that don't pay...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

It's Baaaaaack

The other day, it came.

The letter which says, "Hellooooo, I am Dean, and school is starting again!".


I'm not so far gone that I can't remember the days of parents opening that letter. From the table you'd hear some exclamation (or expletive), followed by, "Tempera paints, again???". Then it was off to the store to stock up on: purple gym shorts, Crayolas, wide-ruled lined paper, 8 different colored folders, protractors, compasses, safety scissors, oil cloth, glue you can't sniff and die, smock, mandatory box of Kleenex as a donation to the classroom, 200-pencil pack and Lisa Frank erasers that look like Unicorns.

Nowadays "school supplies" are pretty limited to a 200-red pen pack and maybe some Excedrin. It's less about the stuff and more about the mental preparation. That's why we get the letter way ahead of time, so we can emotionally and intellectually buck up.

For this:

And this:

There's also going to be this:

We're back to school in three weeks!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Somebody Open Up A Window

Where has this site been all my graduate student life? I love it because, if you study social history, most of history is decidedly in the non-LOL camp. But this is hilarious anachronism. Early American historians and 1776 enthusiasts, enjoy.

More evidence that Rhode Island was, indeed, using the necessary during all such proceedings. Also, North Carolina defers to South Carolina.

Monday Motivation

It's Monday, 12:30, an all-nighter, during summer? I fear I am the kayaker when I'm aspiring to be the shark.

demotivational posters - MOTIVATION
see more Very Demotivational

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"Analyze Your Writing"...More?

I stumbled across this I Write Like application thanks to UnlikelyGrad and deemed it perfect for 5-minute procrastination.

When I submitted a section of this blog, it said:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I guess I do enjoy a dose of hysterical realism. However, my academic writing also yielded a result of David Foster Wallace. Research paper = parodic fiction.

So...who'd you get???

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Random Advice

Since the end of the semester, several of you have asked me what happened to Meta-Wednesday and when it is coming back.

Although the very nature of Meta-Wednesday is to float about in the ether, existing even though we don't know it exists, it is on probably-permanent hiatus. Meta-Wednesday was a coping mechanism for a very intense theoretical class I was taking in the spring semester. Replacing Meta-Wednesday, for now, is Random Advice, which allows me to eat as many fortune cookies as I want under the guise of amusing you.

But FailBlog beat me to this one! Couldn't have said it better myself. Here you go, dissertators:

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Best" Places to Live?

This CNN Money list of "Best Places to Live" intrigues me. Of course, nobody will ever agree about these things. My New York City friends will have a conniption fit that these small towns and cities fill the top ten, and people in Montana will be pretty peeved to have been left off the list entirely. As someone whose grad student career could have taken me to either New York or Montana, I found that location was a critical deciding factor...but only after I had applied.

Because it took me awhile to come to this realization, my applications literally spanned the country. Major initial limitations were 1) could my boyfriend move there/visit regularly with reasonably low costs and annoyances, and 2) is there a good chance that I won't go absolutely insane living there (a little nuts was OK). Beyond that, I wanted to go to the best school possible. I'd love to believe that the fact that I ended up living in my favorite area of the country was simple coincidence, but that would be a lie big enough to set some pants on fire.

The best advice I got once in the thick of it was to choose the 3-5 most important things about location and see how the potential choices stacked up. Here's what I picked:

Proximity to People
After ten months of living in the south, I realized I wanted to be closer to most of my family and friends while I still had the choice of location. Even though I had wonderful cohort-friends in Va. and I miss them now, there were serious problems with the distance: it was impossible to get away for holidays, my nearest "emergency contact" was 6+ hours away, and I missed a lot of social events, including seeing a close friend visiting from another country who I won't be able to see again for a few years. Things just go more smoothly for me when I'm not two plane rides away from the majority of people close to me.

The Right Feel
I've been pretty spoiled: both my college and graduate school towns were very fun, adorable places to live that were fairly convenient for day-to-day life. I don't want to drive 30 minutes to the grocery, I like to have a pharmacy in town, and I don't want my domicile to be described as a "secluded homestead". The flip-side of the coin is that I don't want to live in a dangerous place, nor a place that is so bustling with activity that I'll never get any work done (or sleep, because I need quiet!). It also couldn't cost a bazillion dollars to live there. I like to go to the movies from time to time and I need to buy things like granola and toilet paper on a regular basis and not run through my stipend by January. So I devised this list of obvious questions and just started asking random locals and students:

1. What transportation, in town and out of town, is available? How will people get here to visit?
2. What is the cost of an apartment and utilities? Are necessary things expensive here?
3. What is there to do in the town for fun? How late are places open?
4. What types of stores (grocery, convenience, gas stations) does the town support?
5. Is this area safe? Has the town had crime problems or natural disasters in the past?

Climatic Compatibility
I don't do rain. I will contend with blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, hail, wind shears, and Nor'easters but not perpetual rain. Oddly enough, though, I don't much like deserts either. So while friends desperately applied to southern schools to escape the northern cold, I ran screaming from much of the west, as well as any place that had every experienced a landslide, which is too scary for me at the current time.

The moral of the story is this (ooh, a teachable moment!): do as I say and not as I do, and try to think about these things way, way ahead of time. I'll admit that I didn't visit all of the potential places, because once you get that letter you often have a matter of weeks or potentially days to decide. I should have visited as many places ahead of time as possible instead of applying to some places that never would have worked out. As it is, I'm glad that things worked out in spite of my inability to consider basic geography, but for each person like me there's a Texan shivering in their parka in Madison, and I'm not sure what the Wisconsinite is doing about the Texas heat. Also, if this list motivates anyone to move to Fishers, Ind., I'd sure love to hear it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Books and Their Movies: What Works, What Doesn’t?

Summer movie season always brings out the same problem for me and my grad student (and non-grad student, book loving) friends: what the heck to do about movies-based-on-books. The general rule of thumb is that you should read the book first, right? Well, that’s all well and good when you don’t have 100 academic tomes beating down your door to be read. I find that I often cave and see the movie first, but it’s not an uncomplicated decision.

One problem: I’m running out of time to read the books and see the movies. I have not read the Harry Potter books. I know, I know! I’m culturally deprived. But…I’ve seen the movies borderline religiously. I’m not quite waiting in a pop-tent outside the ticket window, but I’m close. I figure, if I only have 25 hours in my life to devote to Harry Potter, I’m going to watch the movies. I do think I’ll eventually be talked into the books, but I find myself satisfied with the movies. But in the meantime, how do you sort the books that have to be read before the film from those that don't?

Another problem: There are books that I love, and I fear extreme disappointment from a film adaptation. I put off watching Little Women for a lot of years, but was pleasantly surprised (I guess a cast with Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Eric Stoltz, Christian Bale, and Gabriel Byrne helps). But when The Lovely Bones came around, also with an impressive cast, I froze. I adore The Lovely Bones and I can’t risk seeing it ruined. Even films that come out well can feel like a shell of the novel. I think White Oleander is a good movie, but the adaptation was so sanitized; the book is gritty and hard, while the film is sad. I have to force myself to try to evaluate the book and the film independently.

I might be onto something, in considering the book and its adaptation as separate entities. After all, if an outing to the movies is supposed to be a break, I don't want to have to do pre-reading! So I’m seeking guidance. Are there movies based on books worth seeing, with or without reading the books? Are there movies you think are better than the book? Should I just get on with it and get all the Harry Potter books from the library right now? The entire series would be a good tool in the procrastination kit...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Opp Choice: To Inflate, or Not to Inflate

I was just going to skip June entirely, what with the Africa trip, the post-trip recovery session, and the pageant that is celebrating a birthday when friends and family are far-flung, but then a fellow grad student dropped this on my desk, which snapped me back to grad student reality.

Law School's Employment-Boosting Strategy: Grade Inflation

At first, I wasn't shocked, because I don't think this is particularly new, even leaving aside UofC's bucket of oddness. But then I thought about it again, because this article isn't just about grade inflation; it is about a variety of institutional coping mechanisms in the midst of rising debt and unemployment among recent graduates.

I'll tell you that I have never been ordered to raise or lower a grade based on an agreed-upon standard designed to boost students' post-education job opportunities. But I'll also tell you that I've seen graduate students, professors, and students themselves have radically different opinions on what a B paper looks like, let alone if any Ds or Fs should be handed out. We've all had instructors who love to give B-minuses on every assignment, and we've also probably had instructors who dole out the As for simply showing up and staying awake. Getting these instructors to agree on a grade scale based on the actual work would seem futile, but rallying them behind a "cause" to inflate might work.

I have to wonder if law schools have been doing this for awhile, and now the trend is just strong enough that more schools have to jump on the bandwagon just to keep up. I imagine that in law schools, where rankings are important and students often burden themselves with debt, managing expectations is important. In some academic positions where 6 spots open a year, a program can throw their hands up in the air and blame the hiring process, which is shrouded in much mystery. Law firm hiring may also be shrouded in mystery, but if you go to a school that will pay a firm to hire you, things might be a bit clearer.

Does this vary between programs, or between schools? Is grade inflation, at any level, becoming a problem? What do you think of some of these solutions to increased job competition? And, what will this mean for those of us who missed this mass inflation?

**For those waiting on an update on the trip, it will come after the 4th of July, once I can upload the billion pictures of elephants we took! Stay tuned.

Monday, May 10, 2010

How to Take a Vacation, Grad Student Style

I will not be posted after this week until the first week of June because I am approaching a rare event in grad student life: a vacation!

And not just any vacation, but a vacation where there will be NO CONTACT with the outside world, no concept of deadlines, no Blackberries, no nothing. I will be on a safari truck moving westward from East Africa, and there's no laptops in Ishasha. Just the way I like it.

I figure that a vacation really ought to be a vacation, as opposed to checking your email in an exotic locale. Because once that email comes in, you know, the one with the "do this now" and "get this to me ASAP" and "what are you doing? write that paper!", the "vacation" becomes a "scribble furiously by the pool" exercise in non-rest-and-relaxation.

Here are some suggestions for vacations you can take where people won't expect you to be in constant contact:

1) Safaris

2) Scuba diving trip -- did this one in the spring of my senior year of college, and it worked great! I was underwater! Perfect for avoiding virtually all communication!

3) Spelunking

4) Ye Olde Cabin-in-the-Woods

5) Reenactment vacation/historical location a la PBS Pioneer House

6) Any country where people have an impression of lack of communication regardless of the actual technological situation

7) Rainforesty places

8) Giant mountains or, even better, volcanoes

9) Most non-Caribbean islands, except Japan and Australia

10) Mime Camp

Good luck with the end of the semester! I'll be back with excellent photos before you can even miss Meta-Wednesday.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Haiku Challenge Results!

Thanks to everyone who submitted an entry for Haiku Challenge 2010! I had a lot of fun and chuckles reading through them. With no further delay...

The Winner receiving the "Sonic Special" graduate student survival kit is Courtney:

My nose senses fear:
The dreaded paper monster
is on the rampage.

And the Honorable Mention, from Elizabeth:

Thirty six papers
Number of footnotes: zero
A day in the life.

Yes, paper-themed haikus won the day here at Chicken Soup for my Grad Student Soul, and speaking of which, I hope this little exercise gave you relief from some, whether you're writing, grading, or both.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Haiku Challenge -- Penultimate Day Warning

This is your last chance
Submit your wondrous haiku
To win the booty

Tomorrow, May 7, is the last day to submit the haiku! I must receive them by midnight, eastern time. The winner will be announced on Sunday night and their haiku posted in all its glory.

Remember, the topic is anything having to do with graduate school. Books, students, exams, stipends, sleeplessness -- all fair game. There's a lot of material, so put down those books and write a few. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

5 Minute Procrastination

By now, I've learned to differentiate between what I like to call "long-term" procrastination and "short-term" procrastination. We all know that it is the long-term procrastination that is really dangerous -- the TV marathons, the movie theater screening all the Harry Potter films in a row, the decision to clean your entire apartment before starting work are all things that can potentially leave you thoroughly, entirely screwed over.

The short-term procrastination, however, is a different animal altogether. It is the lap cat to long-term procrastination's rogue man-eating tiger.

Everyone has their daily procrastination routine. I'm not going to publicly out those people who check Entertainment Weekly every day. Instead I'll out myself: I read police blotters religiously.

These things are hysterical. As evidence, I compiled a list of events which made the police blotter during one week in a town near where I live:

7:26 a.m. Investigated a report about someone who said they were going to kill a senator and discovered it was a mentally ill person from out of state.

9:37 a.m. Responded to Blue Heron Drive for a family feud.

10:59 a.m. Report taken about the theft of a $500 fuel tank caught on video.

11:13 a.m. An employer reported being assaulted by an employee who said, “I’m sick of you dissing me.” The employee apologized and said he wouldn’t return to the business.

11:33 a.m. Responded to Islington Street for a complaint about the theft of a 30-pack of beer.

12:43 p.m. — A theft was reported on the Route 1 Bypass northbound when an elderly person forgot to pay for gas.

3:12 p.m. A Woodbury Ave. store clerk told police someone came into a store with their own ticket gun and was re-pricing items.

4:22 p.m. Responded to Summer Street for a report of a sickly raccoon drinking from puddles and staggering.

4:35 p.m. Responded to an automotive business where employees were threatened after someone’s car failed an inspection.

4:52 p.m. While responding to a 911 hang-up call, a cruiser got stuck in the snow.

5:06 p.m. — Unable to locate what a resident reported was a "very large and possibly rabid raccoon" walking around the Lawrence Street neighborhood.

6:30 p.m. A Holiday Drive resident reported items stolen from his home which he left unlocked while away for three weeks.

6:41 p.m. Were unable to locate two teen girls who were reportedly running in and out of traffic “like they had a death wish.”

8:49 p.m. A caller reported an intoxicated man with a possible broken leg in some woods.

10:34 p.m. Investigated a report about someone who seemed to be breaking into a mailbox.

10:35 p.m. Shearwater Dive resident reported a skunk trying to get into her house.

The best part about the police blotters is that you don't even have to read your own town's for a honking good time. And they never take more than 5 minutes to read unless you go digging through the archives. Reading these always starts my day off right.

Police blotter: Breakfast of Champions.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Haiku Challenge Update

Thanks to everyone who had already submitted. For those who haven't, you have until May 7, so one more week to get those haiku in tip top shape!

I've received some good and grad studenty questions about the challenge, so here are some clarifications. The simplified haiku version of the three line, 5-7-5 syllables is acceptable, as opposed to the complicated extended guidelines.

The haiku will be judged by a committee of me. So a high-performing haiku will have a little dash of whimsy alongside the essence of graduate school.

Keep sending those haiku, folks!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


This Meta-Wednesday requires reader participation, in part because I want to see what you come up with, and in part because I'm meta-exhausted.

Here's the game: It's Find a Comic Loosely Related to your Research Interests Day! Post links in the comments and I'll incorporate them into the post after I get some meta-sleep.

Here's mine, matey! Blow me down!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Interspecial Encouragement

This, courtesy of grad student correspondent/icanhascheezburger phenom Maggie:

As long as "right" and "rite" are the same, we're good. Good luck to all who are taking finals, grading finals, and more luck to those doing both.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The 2010 Haiku Challenge!

In order to make finals a little more fun, I'm running a contest which combines my two favorite things: haiku, and total madness.

Here's the game! Write a haiku which captures the graduate student experience. There's a reason that "kids are killing me" and "sleep deprivation" are both five syllable strings, and its because it is time to get your haiku on like there was a fellowship up for grabs.

While a fellowship is unlikely, I am prepared to offer a kick-bum prize to the winner. More details on the prize will be forthcoming.

In order to play, you must submit your entries by midnight on May 7, 2010. No extensions! You can either post in the comments and send a copy to me via message, or just send the message and not have the haiku posted (unless you win, of course)! Either way I'll need some way of contacting you if you're the winner.

Here are the Rules:
1) You don't have to be a graduate student to enter. Allies are also eligible to participate!
2) You can submit up to 5 haiku before petitioning me to accept more of your haiku brilliance.
3) In order to claim aforementioned kick-bum prize, you'll have to be willing to fork over a mailing address.
4) All work must be original. For details, see generic academic honesty policy. All work must also be a real haiku.

What could be better than taking a 15-minute procrastination break and possibly getting a prize?! I look forward to reading all these haiku instead of* all these articles.

*by instead of, I really mean "in addition to"

Life Beyond Ding Dong Day

As most of you know, and many of you have obsessed over, April 15 is the deadline for responding to offers of admission. However, the story is far from over on April 15. Despite the increased waitlist activity and rapid-fire notifications that happen after the dreaded date, it is almost impossible to put that aside when you're waiting for offers to come in. Instead, you panic.

I handled my wait in a poor way: by hoarding and then eating tons of Ding Dongs. Even worse, I did this twice, once during my round of MA applications and then again for the PhD session. I cleared out the store's selection of Hostess snacks, then stacked the Ding Dong boxes in every available cabinet and moped around, talking about how when April 15 rolled around it would be Ding Dong Day and I could be released upon my processed treats like the Kraken.

So far I have only found one remedy for this sorry state of affairs, and that is "friends with a good sense of humor". My roommate once wrestled a Ding Dong out of my hands when I tried to eat one early in a fit of insanity. She also forced me to leave the apartment one day, took me to a park, and made me swing on a swingset until the wave of anxiety passed. She also, as you may recall, brought home a children's book about baby animals, which was both cute and the only thing I was capable of reading at the time. I remain grateful because even though I clearly needed an intervention, I wasn't aware of the depth of my obsession until I took a meaningful break to enjoy fresh air and look at adorable baby seals instead of my empty email inbox.

People, if you have a friend who has melted away during the application process, fear not. They can be brought back from the edge with a little concern and creativity. You might need to take initiative. Now is not the time to break out Schindler's List for a marathon evening of depression. Plan fun things and express support. Children's activities seem to work especially well: paint by numbers, play-doh, and jungle gyms were all things I enjoyed around Ding Dong Day.

And people who are waiting: take off the sweatpants, leave your house, stop sitting outside waiting for the mailman, and stop refreshing the page. For goodness sake, get off GradCafe. Two years in a row I missed early spring because I was reloading my email over and over. Learn from my mistakes.

Also, back away from the Ding Dongs.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Clue #1 that a comic is suitable for Meta-Wednesday: having "complexity", "nuance", and "atomic level" less than a breath apart. Like this!

Don't forget about the subatomic today.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Getting Jig-y with It

Hee hee!

This would have been a very visually excellent way to solve most problems in American history while simultaneously allowing for history-inspired ballets. "Tories v. Patriots: Dance Dance Revolution".

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


This week's Meta-Wednesday is a fun little exercise in two of our favorite things: academics and ethics. We have ethics to thank for all those "I have not injured any invertebrates in the course of my research" forms, and ethics is also involved in a new study about cash incentives for learning.

You decide: Should kids be bribed to do well in school?

Were any of you overtly bribed, or is the scope of this a new thing? I remember being bribed a few times when bombing the test would have been catastrophic (like the CRT you had to take every year to keep moving up a grade), but the idea of being paid per book read is foreign to me. If only I could get that deal now!
Another question: is rewarding for attendance and behavior substantially different from gold stars? Obviously a gold star doesn't cost a dollar, but it always seemed odd to me that gold stars could motivate even the worst kid in class to stop pushing other kids' faces into the water fountain or hitting them with a clarinet. At least addiction to money is a national problem; addiction to stickers beyond a certain age is just bizarre.
Finally, what does this mean for higher education instructors? I expect that bribing is actually fairly widespread, but not consistent like Fryer's programs. I expect that a couple of weeks before the semester ends there is a lot of haggling and begging and promises of stuff if there are no C's. Here the most important part of the article might be on page 3, regarding the kids' inability to figure out how to simultaneously earn more money and achieve success.
Part of the conclusion is that younger kids tend to respond better to the incentive programs. I'd be interested to see how many of these kids maintain their higher books-per-annum numbers several years after leaving an incentive program. This could go one of two ways. The first is that the lack of cash is felt immediately, and reverses the trend. Or it could go like clicker-training, where the reward eventually switches from the food reward (in this case, money) to the clicker (or, a love of reading) being the only reward. For the love of textbooks and the future of our profession I hope it is the latter.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Academic News

The good news: The Closest Thing to "Google History" We're Going to Get. Thanks, Britain!

The bad news: Lots of schools are seriously broke due to their endowment troubles. Here's a pictorial of the ones worst off.

The ugly news: You can buy your place off the waitlist at this school. For an explanation, see above link.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


This week we are learning about Freud. Unfortunately this post about Freud has turned into a dumping ground for all things weird. I think Freud would appreciate this little doozy, which came to me courtesy of Grad Student Extraordinaire Milly:

Women Try to Take Body on Plane

But it gets even weirder once you play the 1-minute clip interview with the women, who swear that a) the man was alive, b) he'd "been acting like that [dead]" for over a month, and c) they somehow know of eight people who can attest to the man being alive.

Perhaps a better strategy would have been to claim the man was never alive at all. This just in from a local police blotter:

April 2

  • 3:09 p.m. — Checked on a caller's report of three unattended infants in a parked car near Market Basket on Woodbury Avenue and found three "very realistic dolls in the back with notes on them."
Freud would have a field day with this!!!

And while we're speaking of things that can kill you:

This is a little something called the psychology of history. It invades your dreams, causes transference of affection from people to books, has you trapped in the Dissertation Stage, and it's all your mom's fault.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools -- That's Us!

April Fools Day provides a good opportunity to have a little practical joking fun. It also provides the opportunity for awkward conversations like the one I overheard this morning.

Professor: You failed the midterm.
Student: this April Fools?
Professor: ...No.

Now, I wish I could chalk the following list of bloopers to April Fools. I found them while googling "grad student jokes", which unfortunately appear to come from bad papers. Here's the full list, I've selected a random few since they're all so good.


The Bible is full of interesting caricatures. In the first book of the Bible, Guinessis, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, asked, "Am I my brother's son?"

Solomom had three hundred wives and seven hundred porcupines.

Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock. After his death, his career suffered a dramatic decline.

Queen Elizabeth was the "Virgin Queen." As a queen she was a success. When she exposed herself before her troops they all shouted "hurrah."

Abraham Lincoln became America's greatest Precedent. Lincoln's mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves by signing the Emasculation Proclamation. On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to the theater and got shot in his seat by one of the actors in a moving picture show. The believed assinator was John Wilkes Booth, a supposedly insane actor. This ruined Booth's career.

Julius Caesar extinguished himself on the battlefields of Gaul. The Ides of March murdered him because they thought he was going to be made king. Dying, he gasped out: "Tee hee, Brutus."

I think my favorite is the "Tee hee, Brutus". It is straight out of Monty Python. Which do you like? Also feel free to add any amusing anecdotes. Someone ought to be keeping a running list!

Happy April 1st!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


This week's topic: Women's History.

Please see below a potential example of "herstory".

Equal rights: A victim of pen fail.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


If Meta-Wednesday has taught us anything, it is that things need definitions, that those definitions are fluid, and that definitions will likely be the end of us. To try and prevent this, I have turned to one of the supreme authorities around to try to find a suitable definition of history. So begins the Epic Battle of Urban Dictionary Versus Sonic.

Let the games begin!

1) The tale of how many different nations, from all across the world, gained their independence from Great Britain.

Sonic Says: Close. No cigar.

2) A helpful course, usually taught in school, where students learn that Hitler was bad and jackshit else.

Sonic Says: Partial credit for being partially true.

3) Events that occured in the past.

Sonic Says: OR DID THEY??? See number 4.

4) What repeats itself over and over and over again.

Sonic Says: OH REALLY? See number 5.

5) Postmodernists say we don't really know what happened in the past, therefore we can't know if a) it really occurred in the past or b) if it is repeating itself over and over.

Sonic Says: This is why we can't wait for post-postmodernism. And post-post-postmodernism.

6) A pretty decent class where you can learn about anything ranging from the Egyptians to the Rennaissance to World War II, and much more.

Sonic Says: The "much more" really saved this one from the intellectual latrine.

7) Something the British created.

Sonic Says: What's with the freaking British???

8) A tale made up to explain to the wife why you came home drunk.

Sonic Says: No.

9) The way the dead torture the living.

Sonic Says: Yes.

10) [a list with examples!]
1 everything that happened in the past, more specially since humans learned to write.
2 everything that got written down and was accepted as "the history" by some elite or another.
3 the field of study of 1 and 2. Discusses all kinds of explanations of what happened.
4 a school subject devoted almost exclusively to 2.
1 Johnny Cash is history.
2 The history of the colonization of America has little to do with what actually happened.
3 An interesting question in history is whether guns, diseases or beliefs were more important factors in eliminating the Native Americans.
4 History is quite boring, especially if it's about your own country.

Sonic Says: This was looking good until the examples. Show me the historian that thinks beliefs 'eliminated' the Native Americans. Also, if the author things that question 3 is interesting, I really hope that they are not from America, as opposed to believing that Native American history is not, in fact, American history. Please also note Johnny Cash's appearance as an example of history.

11) What most people have a toally distorted view of due to being brainwashed by the government and indoctrinated in the government ran public school system.

Sonic Says: Caused by the British, no doubt.

12) A series of lies agreed upon by people who call them selves "historians".

Sonic Says: Oh dear.