Posts filed under: academia

So, Jim put out this call for advice this week:


It’s been a while since I last posted here, and Jim’s tweet got me to thinking, so I figured I might write a few thoughts down. They’re not necessarily complete, because I do think that discipline and venue matter quite a bit, as does the student’s progress, work habits, and readiness. While it might be nice if there were a simple 10-point listicle that provided us all we ever needed to know about publishing, the fact of the matter is that it’d be pretty horoscopic. I’m not sure my advice will be any better, but it’s generally worked for me.

There are a few essays that I hand out to graduate students on a semi-regular basis, pieces that I’ve found really useful to have and to revisit every so often for my own writing. In honor of the listicle, I present to you my Top 5 Must-Read Essays for the Aspiring Scholarly Writer:

* C. Wright Mills, “On Intellectual Craftsmanship” (PDF) — It’s dated, and it’s from the social sciences, but it’s worth every graduate student’s time to read and adapt Mills’ advice:

By keeping an adequate file and thus developing self-reflective habits, you learn how to keep your inner world awake. Whenever you feel strongly about events

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I want to wish everyone a happy Burkeday — Kenneth Burke was born on this day in 1897, making today as good a day as any to celebrate rhetoric.

KB is part of my origin story: When I returned to graduate school for my PhD, my first course wasn’t actually official. The summer before I started, I sat in on Victor Vitanza’s Kenneth Burke course. For me, it was like a homecoming, and only partly because I was glad to get back to academia. I was a fairly half-hearted rhetoric and composition person, having done a concentration in my MA program on the counsel of our graduate advisor. I’d originally gone to graduate school thinking to study Irish literature, and I was possessed of a fondness for critical theory. While I could see some connections with rhet/comp, they were weak ties at best, and it may not have been an accident that I ended up taking a couple of years after my first attempt.

Anyhow, reading Burke was a revelation for me. It wasn’t always easy reading, nor would I say that I agree with everything he wrote, but I’ve always felt a resonance with his work. I don’t doubt that it shows up in my own writing from time to time. But reading Burke was one of the things that made me feel (finally) like I’d made the right decisions to go back to graduate school and to stick with rhetoric and composition. One of Burke’s passages that …

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Every once in a while, everything just seems to flow into one large conversation full of resonances, connections, and it’s like striking a tuning fork. This is a post about the challenges of graduate education, and perhaps, by extension, academic work for those of us who identify with the digital humanities. Let me see if I can gather the threads together.

There’s a little history. Jokingly, I tell people that one of my biggest academic regrets is a paper I delivered at CCCC a few years back (2010). Our session took place in a huge ballroom (the size of our audience did not do it justice), and rather than a projector and portable screen, we had like a 30-foot monitor. It was colossal, and one of the things I regret is that, not knowing about it ahead of time, I didn’t prepare a full slide deck. Instead, I gave the only talk I’ve ever given that had just one, solitary slide. Don’t get me wrong, I was proud of that slide, and I wish that I hadn’t lost it in the Great Laptop Crash of 2011. It was a screen capture of a cover of an old issue of Field & Stream magazine, lovingly Photoshopped to reflect the topics in my talk, which was called “Writing Retooled: Loop, Channel, Layer, Stream.” Keep in mind that this was 3 years ago, when Twitter was still relatively exotic for academics, but what I was arguing was that

For those of us who

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I should be doing many other things, but every once in a while, there’s a bundle of ideas in my skull that gathers together and sets up a resonance field, and there’s really nothing for it but to write it out. So this is more suggestive than it would be had I the time to really write through it all.

The piece that clicked it all together for me was Jon Udell’s recent post on networks of first-class peers, which has its roots (I think) in the recent announcement of the demise of Google Reader, the death knell for which happened while I was in Las Vegas at CCCC, our annual conference for all things compositional and rhetoricky. I don’t want to project my own affect onto Jon’s post, but there was a sadness there, a nostalgia for the days when the weblog was the undisputed chief of social media. Jon closes his discussion with a look back:

What some of us learned at the turn of the millenium — about how to use first-class peers called blogs, and how to converse with other first-class peers — gave us a set of understandings that remain critical to the effective and democratic colonization of the virtual realm. It’s unfinished business, and it may never be finished, but don’t let the tech pundits or anyone else convince you it doesn’t matter. It does.

He’s responding in part to the “has Google decided that blogs are dead?” portion of the …

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You may have caught the news over Facebook or Twitter late this past week: I accepted an offer from the Rhetoric Society of America to become their inaugural Director of Electronic Resources (DER). First, I want to thank everyone who congratulated me over email, FB, Twitter, etc. I appreciate all the positive feedback and good wishes.

By the time we got to the point of the offer, it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. I really like how RSA has framed the position, imagining it as on an organizational par with a journal editorship, an ex officio board membership, etc. And there were several things, I think, that recommended me for the position–my familiarity with most things digital as well as the fact that I’m tenured/established, the support that SU was willing to provide me upon accepting the gig, and the fact that I have a good working relationship with the person who’ll be running the conference in 2014. All of those will make the position a manageable one for me.

I did spend some time this summer really thinking carefully about whether or not I wanted to dip my toe back into the pool of organizational service, though. After last year’s surgery, my health and energy levels are still somewhat precarious. I feel pretty solid now, but it takes less to incapacitate me than it used to, and taking on extra duties was something I really had to think about. I’m also in the process of getting my next …

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I left a comment over at Dave’s excellent discussion of the MLA Job Information List, and part of it was picked up at Alex’s equally worthwhile followup, so I thought I’d expand on it here. Here’s the comment I left:

I was going to make the same point that Alex makes vis a vis the costs of the JIL vs. the costs of the conference itself for both interviewers and interviewees, especially all those years that we were forced to compete with holiday travelers for both plane seats and hotel rooms. The list is the tip of a very lucrative iceberg that has supported the MLA for a long time.

I wanted to second your comments about opening up the job list database, which for all intents & purposes is the same (inc. the crappy interface) that they used in the mid-90s. A much richer set of metadata about the jobs could be gathered by MLA (and made available to searchers) if the arbitrary scarcity of the print list is set aside and MLA were to take their curative obligation seriously.

There’s been no small amount of buzz lately surrounding the MLA JIL, our fields’ annual posting of open academic positions. For a long time, that list has been proprietary to MLA. At one time, institutions paid to have their positions appear in the list, and prospective applicants paid for a print copy of it. I don’t remember the exact year that the online database version of the …

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There’s no way to talk about this without sounding like I’m #humblebragging, but really I’m not. I just finished the fourth and final book proposal review I agreed to do this summer.

Those four reviews were three more than I’d been asked to do during my first 14 years in the field (yes, yikes, this fall marks the 15th anno of my PhD), but this summer, le deluge. I know that there are folks out there who do a lot more of this kind of stuff than I do, but I’ve been conscious lately of all the largely invisible work that has been occupying my to-do lists. I’m not complaining about it–I believe in gift economy karma–but it’s forcing me to rethink a lot of my work habits and accept some limitations that I would have scoffed at ten years ago.

On the plus side, there are some really good books coming out in the next year or so. And when you see them acknowledge the anonymous press reviewers, one of them might be me.…

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Someone is less than amused by the lack of content around here lately.








Last week, unfortunately, my workload basically took my good intentions with respect to MOOCMOOC and turned me into a lurker, and the past couple of days’ worth of orientation activities wiped out whatever rest and energy I’d managed to save up. Hooray, end of summer.

On Monday, we had our annual grad program orientation day. Considering that last year at this time I was having my gall bladder removed, I can say without a trace of irony that there are worse places to be.

Anyhow, one of the conversations we had was about program values–what does our program do well, and where might it be stronger–and the discussion followed fairly predictable lines. One point that I raised then is something I want to mention here. While I was directing our graduate program, I considered it my duty to advocate on behalf of the graduate students in every way I could. The basic ethos behind that hasn’t changed for me–I doubt there are too many graduate programs out there we could accuse of caring too much for their students, and it shouldn’t just be the job of the graduate director.

At the same time, I think it is important to acknowledge the limits of what a graduate director, program, or faculty member can do with respect to graduate students. It’s hard to talk about this without feeling like you’re “shaming” specific …

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Late July is awfully early for CCCC notifications, but the Facebook and the Twitter were all abuzz tonight with news of whether or not our annual conference hit the Like button on our various proposals. Since I ended up doing a blog entry’s worth of writing in people’s FB comments as a result, I thought I’d collect my thoughts here. 4Cs might actually make a good theme for an upcoming Random Access Monday–there was a time when I was pretty shrill about what was wrong with the conference, even when I was in the middle of a long streak of acceptances.

The good news is that I’m no longer quite so shrill about it; the bad news is that the conference hasn’t really gotten any righter in the interim. CCCC ’13 will be the 4th or 5th in a row that I won’t be attending, after a 1992 debut, and a streak of 10 accepts in a row in there. While I didn’t get accepted this year, my record is still pretty solid, but it’s gotten harder and harder for me to get motivated to submit, much less attend. Health precluded me from attending once, and I didn’t submit for a few years after that, although I was a Stage I reviewer a couple of years, and an official proposal coach for a while as well.

I don’t claim to being a historian of the conference, although some of my first experiments with text mining were conducted on 4Cs program …

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William Pannapacker published a followup to his tweet from DHSI that I responded to a while ago. I spent a few minutes weighing in on the comment thread, and thought I’d go ahead and post it here.

I think what I’m responding to here is a general sense that the digital humanities is just another “area” to be “covered.” I don’t think anyone out and says so, but the vibe I’m getting is that notion that in a generation or so, people will all use these tools, and it’ll just be part of how the humanities operates from that point forward. Maybe so, but…

I take their project to be a little more far reaching than that. Could be partly because I’ve just been reading Hacking the Academy, but I think part of the DH agenda is to move the whole academic apparatus forward. That means making room for experiments with the review process, accepting forms of scholarship that aren’t always or only words in a row, and taking on an evaluation system that currently doesn’t accommodate the kind of “making” that DH advocates. Did I convey this successfully?

“such a person never needed a distinct, interdisciplinary field called DH to do that”

Well, yes and no. It’s certainly true that such a person could succeed without DH, by publishing articles and books, incorporating those passions into his or her teaching, etc. But one of the things that DH folks are advocating for, as I understand it, is

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