Archive for September, 2010

I’m not sure how your internal clock works, but I personally know that I’m in the midst of a busy semester when I find myself looking forward to the day after Thanksgiving because I’ll be able to sleep in and, upon waking, do something not related to work.  This is sad both because Thanksgiving is so far away and because there is a likelihood that I will, in fact, have some work-related tasks to accomplish that day.  Regardless, my time this semester has been filled with the usual class prep, the new experiences of committee work and advising, and hours upon hours of meetings with students.  This final point has led me to realize that spending so much time meeting with students is making me a bad professor.

On Thursday of this week, for example, I had planned to spend most of my time preparing for class on Friday and Monday (the upside of three-day-a-week classes is that if you have enough of them your schedule appears clear on the other two days).  Those plans were in place before I gave an exam back that I also encouraged students to meet with me to discuss.  The result is five meetings with students spread far enough apart that students shouldn’t have to wait in the hall to speak to me but not so far apart that I can get any real work done between them.  This leaves me with less time to prepare for my classes on Friday and pushes some necessary work on research to Thursday evening and preparation for Monday’s class into the weekend.  In the end, I will likely spend less time preparing for class than I otherwise would have, so my presentation of class information will probably suffer and I will need to spend more time meeting with students to make up for the deficiencies caused by meeting with students.

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Today’s Boston Globe describes a new program at UMass Amherst that allows students to graduate from particular majors in three years instead of four (or more).  Eventually, this program is intended to expand to 1/3 of the university’s majors, but for now there are only three options: economics, music, and sociology.  The key to this appears to be a lot of AP credits, “with the help of advisers trained to steer them through a sequence of courses that may include online offerings and summer classes.”  Of course, “Because of the heavier course load required to graduate in three years, the expedited degree track would not be a good option for students who want to study abroad, double-major, or conduct independent research.”

As an entering freshman I was only dimly aware of what sociology was, so I had no idea that I would decide over the next four years to dedicate my life to it.  Students like me, who come to college hoping to fall in love with a major, seem unlikely to benefit from programs like these.  Some students may also end up choosing majors based on their length rather than true interest (this will undoubtedly lead to programs that cannot be completed in three years perpetuating the idea that longer is better…).  The real losers, though, appear to be students who went to school in districts without many AP options (my own high school had AP English and nothing else) who will have to take on more debt to complete the same degrees as their AP-rich classmates, potentially heightening social class differences.

Via Inside Higher Ed

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Lots of people seem to have trouble with focus these days.  From kids texting, tweeting, posting racist comments on the internet, and yelling racist comments into the microphone of their online gaming system of choice to graduate students texting, tweeting, reading for comps, decrying racist comments on the internet, and updating their Facebook status while driving down the freeway, the world is constantly calling for our attention.  In response, those of us who want to get something done have to fight our chronic procrastination, often through attempts to minimize distractions.  Some have employed programs that limit web access while others have tried to recreate the Doogie Howser-esque writing environment of WordPerfect 5.1.

Now, there is another option.

As the developers state, “It’s a distraction-free writing environment that we call “ū—” (pron. “YOOOoooouuuuu…”). And, it’s going to change the way you think about thinking about maybe writing some day forever.”  This unprecedented freedom from distraction is achieved by a careful elimination of nearly everything, “including cruft like paragraphs, lines, and words. This is why ū— only displays the bottom half of one letter at a time. Talk about focus.”

Beyond the ability to focus, the developers recognize that what sets one program apart from another these days is customization.  This is where ū— prevails, offering an “endlessly re-customized combination of options” that includes the ability to:

  • Play non-distracting circus music every time you manage to finish a word
  • Enjoy the minty “DONNNNNNNNG!!!” of a distraction-free wind chime every 60 seconds—just to remind you that you’re really “in the zone”
  • Stay in non-stop touch with The Distraction-Free Community by showing distraction-free real-time Facebook and Twitter updates from your fellow ū—sers
  • Set which affirmations you’d like our lovable “Focus the Clown” to scream at you by random intervals. He’s focus-larious!
  • Set the “Angry Masturbation Break” timer to whatever interval suits you and your distraction-free genitals.
  • Say sayonara to the tick-tock of that distracting clock; “Tojo the Time-Teller” will announce the exact time every seven seconds, occasionally offering distraction-free encouragements in distraction-free pidgin English
  • Ask “Virtual Hemingway” to silently monitor everything you do and suggest when it’s time to try a new customized distraction-freeing setting. But, watch out! He might shoot your distractions and put them on his wall! Ha ha.

With this sort of customization at your disposal, how can ū— go wrong?  Your dissertation will be finished in no time!

Via Daring Fireball and Crooked Timber, which suspiciously quotes the same text as Daring Fireball…

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Even though I have been off the job market for quite a while, I still visit the US News rankings from time to time to look up information about various schools, such as enrollment or location.  During a recent visit I put in the name of my own school and was surprised to find that it now has an actual numeric ranking rather than being placed in the alphabetical “Tier 3” category.  The reason for the change was not, it turns out, that my school has gotten remarkably better since my arrival.  Instead, US News has decided that they have enough information about liberal arts schools to rank those that are in the top 75% instead of the top 50% as they have done in the past.

In the past, the top 50% made up Tier 1, the next 25% made up Tier 3, and the final 25% made up Tier 4.  In addition to numbering more schools, the bottom 25% is now designated with the more respectable “Tier 2” moniker.  For schools like mine, the symbolic meaning of this change seems quite large.  Students and job applicants who check these rankings when considering schools may be more likely apply to a school that is ranked between 100 and 200 than they would have been to apply to one in Tier 3, even though nothing about the school has changed.  Additionally, this revised ranking may be more impressive to those who have never heard of my school.

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One of my students was abnormally giggly in class the other day, which could have been the result of any number of factors.  Later, however, I had a student apologize for said giggly student’s behavior, explaining that there were really good deals at the bar the night before.  How much does one have to drink in order to still feel drunk at 11 am the next morning?  Hungover I could see, but still drunk?  Seriously?

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When I started my first position as a full-time faculty member last fall there were obvious challenges related to preparing, teaching, and grading for three classes instead of one but the experience itself was nothing new since I had been teaching for years.  The introduction of advising to my routine this fall, however, has been a very different experience.

The first time that I taught I had years of experience as a student to draw on for examples of what kind of teacher I wanted to be.  Beyond my experiences with various mentors over the years, I am quickly realizing that I was never advised about choosing courses as an undergraduate because I had a copy of the graduation requirements and I knew what I needed to take.  Magnifying this inexperience is the fact that I am still learning about the requirements at my institution, which are sometimes fluid as courses in various departments substitute for others.

As a result, each meeting with a student has felt inefficient as I hurriedly searched for answers to their questions on the school’s somewhat ineffective website.  Through this process I am learning a lot but I wish that my education in these areas did not have to come at the price of looking incompetent and, worse, potentially directing students down the wrong paths.

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From Esquire, the bastion of sociological knowledge, comes a groundbreaking expose on the clothing industry.  Sarcasm aside, Sauer’s examination of the size of waistbands in men’s pants is fairly interesting, if not scientific (as far as I can tell, he measured one pair of pants at each size).  His findings:

And his conclusions:

This isn’t the subjective business of mediums, larges and extra-larges — nor is it the murky business of women’s sizes, what with its black-hole size zero. This is science, damnit. Numbers! Should inches be different than miles per hour? Do highway signs make us feel better by informing us that Chicago is but 45 miles away when it’s really 72? Multiplication tables don’t yield to make us feel better about badness at math; why should pants make us feel better about badness at health? Are we all so many emperors with no clothes?

The mind-screw of broken pride aside — like Humpty Dumpty, it cannot be put back together, now that you know the truth — down-waisting is genuine cause for concern. A recent report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that men with larger waists were twice at risk of death compared with their smaller-waist peers. Men whose waists measured 47 inches or larger were twice as likely to die. Yet, most men only know their waist size by their pants — so if those pants are up to five inches smaller than the reality, some men may be wrongly dismissing health dangers.

But vanity waist sizing is so entrenched, it couldn’t possibly be changed overnight, at least not without a government mandate. The only solution seems to be a gradual, year-by-year shaving of quarter-inch by quarter-inch until, in 2021, men’s pants finally correspond with the label numbers — conveniently just in time for the New World Order’s switch to mandatory full jumpsuits.

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Before each semester begins I look forward to the gentle transition back to teaching.  When each semester begins I contemplate the reasons that this transition is actually abrupt.  The reasons I’ve considered range from teaching a new prep to heavily revising a previous course.  This semester, I filled my “transition” weeks with student meetings, hoping to prevent some of the problems that appeared in a spring course.  Again, I thought of how nice it will be when I finally encounter the mythical smooth transition.  Of course, this semester is also my first with advising and committee duties, which promise to interfere with these transitions for years to come.  At this point, it may be time to realize that the best transition is not found at the abrupt beginning of the semester but at the equally abrupt end.  Until then, I guess that I will embrace the distinction between break and not break by diving into teaching, research, and service, which reminds me that I still need to find some mythical time for research during the semester…

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I was recently reminded of my reflections on academic behavior by Tenured Radical’s recent admission that:

As it turned out, I was unable to sit through a meeting that bored me without fidgeting, texting, whispering to my neighbor, and going on Facebook repeatedly to update all my “friends” (many of whom were in the room) about my status. Status as what? Status as a middle-aged person who has utterly lost patience with meetings? Status as someone who has utterly lost hir manners?

I have to admit that there have been times in the past year where I sent text messages during faculty meetings – usually to let my wife know that I was not going to be home anywhere near the expected time.  I find it interesting, though, that Tenured Radical blames Facebook for her behavior:

If it were not for the mileage I get for this blog from being on Facebook, I would definitely punish myself by canceling my account, since my behavior yesterday seems like de facto proof of cerebral and personality changes that have been wrought by this particular form of new media. I wasn’t even able to sit there quietly reading The Atlantic on my iPhone, which is the kind of non-disruptive behavior that many fifth graders with ADD have mastered.

As I’ve said before, I strongly believe that the bad use of technology is a symptom, not the disease.

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Dear Journal Editor,

A while back, I received an R&R at your journal.  Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself – an invitation to revise your paper based on the feedback of anonymous reviewers and then resubmit the paper to the same journal that issued the invitation.  If you have experienced this, then you likely know that R&Rs can be a lot of work.  Obviously, an R&R is no guarantee that a paper will eventually be accepted, but it does imply that a paper will be given a fair appraisal upon resubmission.

It turns out that your tenure as editor began while I was hard at work on the aforementioned revisions such that the R&R was invited by the previous editor and the resubmission was submitted to you.  I recognize that a journal editor has considerable influence over the direction of a given journal but I believe that a journal editor also has a responsibility to finish the work that the previous editor has started.  You can imagine, then, how interested I was in receiving word from you three and a half months after my resubmission, which is a relatively quick turn around for reviewers these days.  You can also imagine how surprised I was to find that after three and a half months you had decided to inform me that you would, in fact, not be sending my resubmission to reviewers because it was not in line with the type of research that you were interested in publishing, despite the work of previous reviewers, the previous editor, and myself.

Based on this turn of events, it is reasonable for you to expect me to be bitter.  Thanks to the work of the reviewers at your journal, my paper quickly received a conditional acceptance at another journal where it was recently published.  Publication was a nice validation of the hard work I had put into this paper but my validation did not stop there.  In fact, you may have seen the discussion of my paper in newspapers across the country and you may have heard interviews discussing the paper on the radio.  The paper, it turns out, has gotten quite a bit of media attention, much of which mentions the name of the journal where the paper was published.  That journal is not your own.  I write to you, then, not because I am bitter but because I wish to inform you that, in your effort to further limit the type of work that is published in your journal, you lost.

More generally, situations like this reinforce my decision to work at an institution where tenure depends more on a combination of factors than on the whims of journal editors.  While you are certainly not The Paris Review, I hope that you noticed my work somewhere in the press and felt a pang of regret that your journal was not getting the attention that your previous editor and reviewers made possible.


John Smith

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