A day in the life, summer edition

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Blog, Main

Now that the semester is over, all of my friends and family outside of academia say to me, “Wow, you must be so glad the semester is over, now you get vacation again until August!” (Or some other refrain along those lines.) And again I am reminded of how fundamentally misunderstood my job as an academic, and everyone else’s job who is an academic, is. People think that as a PhD student, I take a few classes, maybe teach one if I’m lucky – and that’s it. We need to do a better job of telling people all that our jobs entail! A lot of folks participated in the #DayofHigherEd last month (and I did too, writing a blog post for it). Hence this second version: “A day in the life – summer edition.”

Here’s what I did yesterday, Tuesday, May 15:

7:30am: Up, coffee, checking emails – nearly all work related. One related to my HOA board that I serve as secretary for that needed to be addressed ASAP.

8:00am: Read How we became posthuman by Katherine Hayles, a book on my digital media theory reading list.

10:00am: Break from reading to look at web project I’m working on with others and presenting at the upcoming Genre 2012 conference. I work on a collaborative project management doc and sending necessary emails and files to various members.

11:00am: Back to reading How we became posthuman.

12:00pm: Lunch, put in a load of laundry, feed the dog, and do the dishes.

1:00pm: Review plan for workshop presentation that I’m giving for the Computers and Writing conference this Thursday. Put finishing touches on our Prezi and make sure that I have all of my parts in order.

2:00pm: Take notes on book I read this weekend for my reading list, Where wizards stay up late: The origins of the internet.

3:00pm: Put together list of goals for the summertime and sketch out approximate deadlines for each item. Things on my list include:

  • Follow strict reading schedule to finish all exam reading by Sept. 1. (This is my number 1 priority.)
  • Give workshop at Computers and Writing on Thursday afternoon. 
  • Finish joint manuscript currently working on by June 8. Need to prep for writing meeting we have this Friday. 
  • Prep questions for Summer I class that I’ll be studying with partner in scholarly crime.
  • Finish hybrid composition course technology study – get all data in one place and backed up; set writing schedule with collaborator; identify target journal for manuscript. 
  • Continue to work on web project that our research team is presenting at Genre 2012 at the end of June. I’ve been assigned the role of task management along with my research duties for the site. 
  • Continue to think about dissertation prospectus and chip away at taking notes for that while I read and formulate a more thorough research description. 
  • Work as RA for Campus Writing and Speaking Program research project throughout summer. Major task at the moment is data analysis from the courses we studied this spring, along with a grant report. Also have to prepare for two other conferences after Computers and Writing and then, hopefully, get a manuscript written. 
  • Compile Enculturation special issue from Computers and Writing conference. This will be an ongoing project with Enculturation editors and reviewers until the issue is published in October.
  • Prep for a new class that I’ll be teaching next year.
    (As you can see, this is a huge list of ongoing projects. To complicate matters, every single joint project is undertaken with a different set of collaborators – that’s a lot of people to keep up with and coordinate schedules with.)

4:00pm: Get ready to leave for meeting at with Computers and Writing workshop team.

4:30-5:30pm: Happy hour meeting with C&W workshop team. Final discussion of plans for Thursday and a bit of fun chat, too.

5:30pm: Leave for tennis lessons across the other side of the city.

6:00pm: Tennis lesson.

7:00pm: Pick up sushi for dinner on my way home. No time for food prep tonight. Walk the dog before eating.

8:30pm: Respond to emails for a variety of things – workshop on Thursday, HOA, research grant, Computers and Writing conference, etc.

9:00pm: Unwind with husband (finally!).

10:30pm: Squeeze in a bit more reading of How we became posthuman. I find this book quite dense, and it’s taking me a while to get through it.

11:00pm: Bed. Coach Sunday kicked my butt at tennis tonight, and I have a full day planned for tomorrow!

So, friends and family, there you have it – sure it’s “summer” (aka. I’m not taking classes), but every day, I have a full plate of reading for exams, conducting research, writing manuscripts, and dealing with other tasks related to my job – conferences, workshops, etc. etc.

What does your summer schedule look like? Share it! I think it’s really important to make our work more visible so that people better understand the work that academics do – we might be fighting for our jobs, our funding, etc. in the future if we aren’t better prepared to talk about the value that our work brings.

Taking on a new year

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Blog, Main

I hope you all enjoyed some nice time over a holiday break. Personally, my favorite time over the school break (and one of my favorite weeks of the whole year) is the first week of January, when the business of holiday get-togethers has subsided, and I have one week of blissful quiet in which I can start the year off right by taking care of myself, taking time to think, read fiction, and organize the house for the coming year. I love the first week for all of the promise it holds for the coming year and the bit of time I have to enjoy some nice and quiet time.

But as it always must, that will end tomorrow with the beginning of the semester. Back to the routine, resuming my posts as Assistant Director of the First Year Writing Program and the Campus Writing and Speaking Program. I’m working on a new website for the CWSP, a project that I’m excited about and that will keep me busy this spring. The CWSP team is also continuing our research project, which we have found out that we will be presenting in a workshop format at Computers and Writing in Raleigh this coming May! Come and check out our workshop, titled, “Screencap Your Feedback: Using Screen Capture Technology to Provide Audio-Visual Feedback to Writers.”

Course-wise, this spring is all about preparing for the final legs of my degree: exam and dissertation preparation. I’m taking my final class (I thought the day would never come!) along with directed readings and research. One of my exam lists is in solid draft form, but I must get moving more seriously on the other two. With my goal of taking exams in early October, there’s no time to waste.

Travel-related happenings this spring semester:

  • Attending the Carolina Rhetoric Conference at Clemson University with Ashley to present our latest research on the Duke Energy-Progress Energy merger. Hope to see you in Clemson in February! 
  • Attending CCCC in March with a crew from CRDM and presenting on a panel with fellow CRDMers about establishing a sense of community in hybrid writing courses. With the bit of chatter that is re-emerging on listservs about hybrid courses, I hope our panel will be a timely topic. I also hope to see you in St. Louis this spring! 
Before I turn in, I must get back to reading 1Q84, the latest novel from Haruki Murakami, which I started over break. Each year, I *try* to read just one of the top ten novels of the year, and this is the book I chose for 2011. (Though I’m wondering why I chose the nearly 1,000 page one to read on Kindle… it takes forever!) It is a strange but compelling book. I’m enjoying reading fiction, the one time per year that I do read fiction.  
Happy New Year to all, and best wishes to those heading back to school tomorrow! 

How an academic can have an epic summer

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Blog, Main

Summer is winding down (not scientifically, but according to the university calendar, which at NCSU begins tomorrow!). This brings a combination of dread and groans from scholars who again feel they didn’t accomplish as much as they wanted to. I’d like to think of myself as a positive person (even though my last post used the word frustration no less than four times), so I’m going to buck this trend and explain why I had an epic summer, because remember all that was great about it will surely keep me in a cheerful mood past Labor Day.

How to have an epic summer

Do some work – but prioritize: Your list of things to accomplish that are academic-related might include 10 different things. Be realistic. It’s the summer; that will never get totally completed. Pick the three most important things and focus, focus, focus. When you’ve accomplished them, you’ll feel great. I narrowed my priorities to the most important professional development for a PhD student: getting published. I’m happy to say that an article I’ve written with Ashley R. Kelly will be published in the SIGDOC Proceedings from this year’s conference, and I should be able to discuss another publication soon, too. Achieving those two things made my summer feel enormously productive and successful. I also completed a research assistantship with Carolyn R. Miller, which expanded my knowledge of genre theory and gave me a well-rounded list of things to do.

Go away. As in, take a vacation that is truly a vacation, in which you “unplug” and don’t read anything remotely academic or try to keep up with Twitter. I was lucky enough to get to do this several times this summer, including trips to Canada and Aspen, and multiple long weekends at the beach. The trick is to have done some of my first point – productive, prioritized work – and then you can really enjoy getting away. I used to feel guilty about taking a day or an afternoon off, but realized that was not a healthy or good way to think about a much-needed break. Focusing and working diligently to achieve my main goals allowed me to soak up the time off, enjoy the Rocky Mountains for the first time, and come back re-energized and ready to tackle a new project/school year.

Hiking to American Lake in White River National Forest, Aspen, Colorado with my dear friend Julia

Read for fun. Yes, being an academic requires a lot of reading, so you wouldn’t think that reading when you’re not working would necessarily be a first choice, but I find it’s important to keep using your “reading muscles” outside of the school year. I say “reading muscle” after a discussion with a faculty member who suggested that, particularly for doctoral exams, that you need to train your “reading muscles” by starting out with small reading goals, and gradually building up to being able to read greater amounts of text each day/week. And if you stop using your reading muscles, they atrophy. Thus, reading during the summer is important, so that you do not start off the semester with a weak reading muscle. I find I was able to keep up by reading books that are unrelated to my research but are important topics for other parts of my life: healthy lifestyle, vegetarianism, and local food movements. Some of the books I read: Eating Animals by Jonathon Safran Foer; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and Peas and Thank You by Sarah Matheny.

Nothing I’ve said here is necessarily ground-breaking or novel, but it’s so easy to be so wrapped up in our work that we don’t enjoy the summer as much as we could. It’s the best season of the year, after all, and while it still requires work – which many non-academics don’t understand – the potential for flexibility in our schedule is there, and we shouldn’t forget to use that. Enjoy life!!

Doctoral Student Priorities

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Blog, Main

A little over a week into my program, and my head is full of student obligations, professional obligations, teaching obligations, personal obligations… too many obligations, not enough Meagan. Typical PhD paradox – what do you tackle when there’s not enough time to do it all?

This has really gotten me thinking about priorities. What comes first? I was initially thinking coursework… duh. But conversations with fellow CRDMers have me re-thinking this. If my ultimate goal is to earn a position as a scholar in my field, teaching somewhere, shouldn’t I focus on professional duties, such as presenting at conferences and getting published? That’s not to say that books can go unread and seminar papers unwritten, but there’s definitely a need to balance the two.

Added to this are those twenty-two little faces staring at me each day we’re in class, students who expect me to be on top of my game, teach them something interesting, and grade things in a reasonable period of time. At least, that’s what I expect of my professors, so I shouldn’t give any less to my students. Though Carolyn Miller, a professor in my program, muddied the waters for me this week when she said in class something to the effect, “Teaching is a distraction. It will eat up as much time as you let it and then some.” This was echoed by David Rieder, another CRDM prof, at our orientation, who remarked that I should always remember why am I here in the first place – that I love to learn and do research. Obviously, I’m conscientious and always want to bring my best to the classroom, but it’s true: teaching and all of its accompanying responsibilities will take all of my day and then some if I let it.

Mixed in the middle is the obligation that was reiterated over and over by our faculty – write, write, write. Hence this blog. It’s harder to write than I realized – and I know I still haven’t gotten to academic material, but that’s coming as we’re now waist-deep in rhetorical theory, communications history, and visual content analysis – especially because it requires carving out at least a half hour for these personal posts, likely more for academic material that I could be dedicating to reading. It’s true what every other PhD student has ever told me, but I never truly believed until now that I’m living it – there’s more reading than you can handle.

I’m thinking of writing a post that discusses reading strategies for tackling large block of reading that will help me focus my attention where it’s most needed. I may consult my academic idol, CRM, and other faculty for some much-needed advice and report back with hopefully some new ideas and a fresh take on accomplishing my reading lists.

In terms of ordering priorities… I’m not sure that I’ll always place coursework over getting published or vice-versa but that I’ll advocate being highly scheduled and highly disciplined when it comes to following my schedule. So, when I have a Wednesday to read a book, I get it done – then I can grade on Thursday without feeling like I’m shortchanging my studies. Or watch TV with my husband on Friday night, because I got everything done on Friday that I needed to do. Speaking of that… better go finish that reading!!

Go Pack!!