Archive for the ‘Self-Congratulatory Navel Gazing’ Category

Seven* years ago, having accepted a tenure-track job offer and realizing that my ability to give graduate students advice would be greatly diminished by working at a small liberal arts college, I started this blog by bragging about my job market success. Over the years, some things have changed (I finished my dissertation, started my first job, then started my second; I started a corresponding Facebook page) and some things have not (I still use the same now-ancient theme for the site, I still occasionally think I’m clever, I still like giving people advice).

As I said on the site’s fifth birthday, I originally thought that five regular readers would make writing this worthwhile. Now, I’m closing in on 100,000 total views. (Don’t scoff. Not everybody can be like Conditionally Accepted with their hundreds of thousands of views and getting called up to the big leagues!) Even though I’m not writing about grad school and the academic job market nearly as much these days, I hope that people are still finding my career musings worthwhile. Since WordPress now distinguishes between “visits” and “views,” once in a while I will notice that somebody new has discovered the site because the daily “visits” will remain constant while the “views” climb, which is always nice.

When the blog was three years old I posted lists of the most popular posts and my favorites. (Those lists of favorites still make up the “good places to start” section of the blog – maybe I should update that…) It is harder to remember which posts were my favorites now that I’ve written over 700 of them, but the post that brings people here in the most ironic fashion is probably the one in which I talked about Kanye West and Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs, quoting one of the twitter responses in the title. Over the years I have seen quite a few people arriving at the blog by searching for the title of that post, but I don’t think that an analysis of racism is what they’re typically expecting to find. Take that, racists!

In other news, today Mattel announced that Barbie now comes in three body types: petite, tall, and curvy. I have no doubt that Mattel purposefully shared this news on my blog anniversary in an attempt to bury it (like when companies release bad news on Fridays). Clearly, the two posts I’ve written comparing Barbie to Lammily and their nearly 400 combined views are the reason for this change. Take that, Mattel!

Given the huge effect my blog is having on racists and toy manufacturers, it is clear that similar influence on sexists, classists, and college administrators is not far behind. Yes, I think it is safe to say that my work here is nearly complete. Maybe this will be my last post!

*If Prince didn’t work so hard to keep his songs off of the internet, I would put a link to the song “Seven” here.

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Ten years ago I walked into a college classroom to teach for the first time. A few minutes after that, I walked out again because I had gone to the wrong classroom. Then I walked into the correct classroom and began my teaching career. If you had asked me a few days ago, I would have said that my teaching hasn’t changed that much in the past ten years, but looking back at the materials from my first semester the gradual evolution of my teaching became much clearer.

Looking at my first syllabus (which was only six pages – maybe syllabus bloat is a real problem), I am struck by how light the workload was (in my defense, I had 70 students and we were advised not to shoot for the moon in our first courses). Attendance and participation were each 10% of the final course grade and the remaining 80% was made up of the three exams. Students could also write three short “bonus” papers for up to 3% of their final grade, but these were the only writing assignments. About half of the students completed the first and about 60% completed the final one. I was apparently very lenient with these because most students received between .9 and 1 (out of 1). The average final course grade was a B.

Without looking at the roster, I can remember only three students’ names from that semester, one of whom I labeled “squirrely looking” on my roster (he earned an A), one of whom later died of cancer, and one of whom was friends with the student who later died of cancer. Even looking at the roster I can only picture a few more. What I do remember is walking across a stage at the front of the room every time I wanted to change the PowerPoint slide and then waiting for students to write down a definition that I had displayed (I didn’t use a textbook but had not yet discovered guided notes). I also remember feeling awkward when standing on the stage because I was so far above the students and feeling awkward when standing in front of the stage because I was so close to the students.

Although I felt fairly comfortable at the time, in retrospect I did a terrible job of getting students to participate in class discussions, which was noted on my evaluations. One student also noted that I seemed nervous a lot of the time. Another commented that by making them copy vocabulary words I was treating them like they were in seventh grade. The student then drew a frowny face, demonstrating that I may have been aiming at the right level after all!

Ten years later, preparing to start teaching at my fourth institution (including grad school and a small commuter college I taught at for a few semesters back then) it is nice to see that things have progressed. Given my emphasis on teaching as a grad student, I think that the biggest changes have been more about refining my approach than adapting to new institutional settings. At this point, I’m glad that my oscillations between different approaches for things like class participation and attendance have gotten much smaller. While small refinements may not seem as exciting as big changes from one semester to the next, it is nice to have gotten to a point with fewer glaring errors. I’m excited to see what changes the next ten years will bring.

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When planning to attend the graduation ceremony for my Ph.D., I opted to rent academic regalia because purchasing it is ridiculously expensive and grad students don’t get paid that much (if they get paid at all). The situation hadn’t changed much three months later when my first convocation as a faculty member (also my first convocation in any role) was looming. Thankfully, my institution offered to rent regalia for faculty who did not own it. It turned out that all of my departmental colleagues also had regalia that the institution had rented. This worked out really well for me and I ended up using that regalia for the past five years. (All of my departmental colleagues also had rental regalia and I have no idea how the rental system worked since we all kept it in our offices year-round rather than returning it and re-renting it twice a year.)

I recently returned this rented regalia when cleaning out my office and have received no word from my new institution that they have a similar sort of system, so I decided early in the summer to purchase my own regalia. Having made that decision, I then needed to figure out which regalia to buy. There are a lot of options and I don’t really know what the differences between them are, but I settled on purchasing the official regalia of my graduate institution (thankfully, I didn’t go to Princeton, though I also didn’t go somewhere with a particularly colorful gown that I’ve admired on some of my colleagues). The official company offered three “levels” of gown that all looked basically the same to me, though the highest level offered a pass-through to a pants pocket. If I ever sell academic regalia, such pass-throughs will be standard. Despite the desirability of such an option, I opted for one of the less-expensive models.

After a number of weeks, during which I forgot that I had ordered regalia, a square box arrived with my gown, tam, and hood. My rental gown had always been too large and my rental tam had always been too small, so I was interested in seeing how this purportedly custom-made regalia would fit. I am happy to report that the gown is definitely not as big around as my rental gown had been and the tam actually fits on my head without feeling like it will give me a headache. Unfortunately, the gown still seems longer than would be ideal, but maybe that is because my preferred ground clearance is twice the recommended length (maybe in a few years I’ll go to a tailor to have it shortened and have a pocket installed…). The hood is basically like my rental, though possibly a bit heavier, which will surely make inadvertently choking myself when I sit down on it even easier.

In general, I can’t say that the most expensive outfit I own (by far) seems that special compared to my rentals. If anything, it feels stiff (I swear that the area around the neck has cardboard sewn into it). I assume that these things get broken in over time, but wearing it a few hours twice a year means that the break-in process could take years. I’ll have to wait until this year’s convocation before finding out how it really performs. Alternatively, I could always wear it around the house Harry Potter-style (I think Harry Potter’s robes have pockets, though). If nothing else, the expense of the gown and the fact that it actually fits should give me a strong motivation not to gain weight over the years.

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When media outlets celebrate anniversaries, it seems that they are also required to promise that rather than resting on their laurels, they are working on new and exciting things for the future. As a sociologist, I recognize the importance of adhering to social norms, so I am happy to announce that after five years, Memoirs of a SLACer now has a presence on Facebook.

On a basic level, this means that if you haven’t subscribed or added this blog to your RSS reader, you can “Like” it on Facebook and receive updates in your news feed when there are new posts. Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook will also fill a few other roles, though. Most importantly, it will let me post links to things that are related to academia and the liberal arts that I don’t have time to comment on or that don’t fit into the posting schedule that I may or may not have.

The most noticeable change, though, will likely be the addition of this annoying line at the end of each post:

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Five years ago today, I posted about my job market success and Memoirs of a SLACer was born. Given that the average blog lasts about two weeks I am fairly surprised by my ability to keep this up for so long. I may have originally considered blogging to be a way to waste time that I should have been spending on my dissertation, but my dissertation was completed long ago and 572 posts later the blog is still going.

Early on, a friend who encouraged me to start a blog (probably so that I would stop sharing my “wisdom” with her) asked me how many readers I would need to consider this venture worthwhile. I responded that five readers would probably be enough to keep me going. Luckily, while Memoirs of a SLACer is not among the most read sociology blogs, more than five people read it every day (sometimes as many as eight!) so I don’t think I’m wasting my time.

Although there have been lulls in my blogging productivity, I have also been relatively successful at sticking to my preferred posting schedule. If you were not aware that there is a preferred posting schedule it is probably because talking about how frequently or infrequently I will post is prohibited by the Memoirs of a SLACer founding principles. These principles, eloquently titled “blog rules” in the text file I saved them in five years ago, are printed here for the first time:

  • No Comments unless I ask a question
  • No family life unless it is related to sociology
  • No mention of how frequently or infrequently I will post
  • No talk of singing in the shower at 3 am
  • No jumps
  • Capitalize the first word of post titles with no punctuation at the end

A few comments on these principles, which I have done a fairly good job of upholding over the years: Although I think that allowing comments can help develop a community around a blog, my thoughts regarding comments were influenced by this. Later, I read this, which reinforced my views. If it weren’t for John Gruber, you might be able to comment on this post right now!

The words “I have been meaning to post more” mean that the writer you are reading will soon stop providing updates. My policy on this has always been that I will post things when I want to post things and I won’t post things when I don’t or, more likely, when I’m too busy.

Possibly the most important blog rule was inspired by this. I have always connected with writers who allow some of their personality to come across in their writing, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing…

Although I’ve made it five years, I will not promise this blog will be around for another five. I won’t even promise that there will be a post on Thursday at 6 pm Pacific time. To do so would be to break my third rule of blogging.

At any rate, thanks for giving me a reason to keep writing!

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