Academy of GTA Excellence

Discussions and Thoughts as I work with and in the Academy of GTA Excellence

Applications Are Open! And What It Means to Be Part of GrATE

Now that applications for GrATE (aka Academy of GTA Excellence) have been open for a few weeks and will be open for a few weeks more, it is time to discuss a bit of the application process and what it means to be part of the Academy.

First, I will focus on the application process. I applied to GrATE as everything was being developed, though the process has been refined rather than changed over the semesters. Whether applying as a Member, and Associate, or a Fellow, a Letter of Application is asked for. Within the letter we look for why someone is applying to GrATE, how it fits within their future career goals, their views on 21st century teaching (contemporary pedagogy) and diversity/inclusion within pedagogy, and what they can bring to GrATE. As a Fellow, I read all of these letters and what stands out to me in particular are why people apply to the Academy and their views on diversity/inclusion in the classroom and higher education. Reading why people apply to GrATE has helped us develop needed sessions for the whole Academy. The CV is important too, though partly to know how long someone might be at Tech and active with GrATE.

When someone is applying to Associate or Fellow, we ask for a letter of recommendation from a faculty member or someone who is aware of one’s teaching experience. We also ask for teaching evaluations. For some people that includes SPOTs and for others peer evaluations or a different version of reviews to indicate about their teaching (e.g., guest lecture evaluations). We ask for this not to judge people on their teaching skills but to see their background in teaching experience or curriculum development.

For Fellow applicants, we also ask for a Teaching Portfolio and an interview. We hope the applicants have been involved in GrATE, whether they have been a Member or Associate, or join for events without applying before. The interviews are generally 15 minutes with current Fellows and a few Faculty Scholars, as well as Dean DePauw or other Graduate School administrators. I personally am very glad I went through the interview portion of GrATE, as it helped me immensely while I have been on the job market. The interview shouldn’t be scary, though it is important. We ask questions about the applicant, follow-up on some ideas presented in the application materials, their views on diversity and inclusion, and their views of being a leader. As we have grown and developed as an organization, we have realized that leadership skills and time management skills are important. So, we ask about those pieces as well as what was clearly asked for in the application.

Overall, people apply to GrATE at the different levels for various reasons. I see the reasons people joining GrATE falling into two categories: 1) to learn more about teaching and pedagogy and 2) to have a community of people who desire to be the best teachers they can be. I do acknowledge that some people only want the CV credit, though there is so much being left on the table if that is the case. For me, though, the greatest benefit is the community I have through GrATE. Before Jordan and I became Founding Fellows together, we were in a class together and just chatting about teaching our classes for the first time. Suggestions she gave then, I still use in my classes today. We have maintained that over the years—sharing stories of what is happening in our classes and helping come up with solutions. Now, we have a bigger community of people to share ideas with. People in our community now come from different disciplinary backgrounds who have pedagogy traditions that we would never think of but would work great. There are those with socio-political backgrounds different than our own. It allows for a broader set of ideas and so many people to get to know and work with.

With the Walk-In-Advising, every week I have multiple people to tell stories with and come up with new ideas for the classroom. For others, the panels and workshops that the Academy does is what they are looking for. Or they come to Walk-In-Advising for assistance on a particular challenge or question. Sometimes it is one event a year that sparks an interest or fills a need and for others, they come to everything and learn as much as they can. Check out our Twitter feed for more of the events we have done recently—there may be something that sparks that interest for you or an idea you have to bring to GrATE!

Fall 2017 Reflection

I am writing about my fall semester today. I am trying to reflect on the fall before moving ahead towards finishing preparations for the spring and before reading my SPOT evaluations. So, these are my reflections, with little outside influence. I am a little nervous to open my SPOTs this fall, though I’m not sure why.

I taught Human Sexuality online this fall. Probably the last time I will teach this course at Virginia Tech, as I am teaching a different majors-only class in-person this spring. I have taught human sexuality multiple times during my years at VT, online and in-person and both for a regular semester and for the short Winter Session. It is one of my favorite classes to teach partly because it is within my area, it is what I have taught the most, and a course I have helped keep up-to-date for the department. I have used a variety of assignments over the years and knew going into this semester being online and a full semester I needed to update my assignments.

I decided to sort of merge some of my regular assignments into a larger semester long project. Instead of every student focusing on certain topics, I gave them an option of five topics to dive deeply into. I also decided that there would be multiple pieces to the assignment to match as closely as I could to the learning objectives, which had just been revised. Overall, this project went wonderfully. I saw so much growth and excitement in the work this semester in a way I don’t remember seeing in any written work I have assigned before. And part of what made it gratifying was due to the fact that I didn’t write some of the questions to guide their assignment until I had read other pieces of the overall project. That helped me tailor the project to the class. I loved this project and hope to keep iterations of it around for a while.

One thing that I have thought about a bit this fall is how I have grown as an instructor over the last few years. I have always been quite strict when it came to due dates, especially for online classes. It is hard to get to know your students’ true lives and styles when the class is online unless they come to office hours. Thus, for the most part I held firm to due dates. However, over the last year I have tried a new thing of discussing “when life happens” in my syllabus. It is a short paragraph about discussing what is going on in your life as it is happening rather than at the end of the semester or long after something is due. My goal for both holding firm to due dates and being flexible is to help with professionalism. Life happens and it affects our work, whether in college or in a professional position. We have deadlines that we must meet and sometimes when life happens, those deadlines go by the wayside. But it is always easier to work with and around those deadlines when honest with those we are working with. So far, this added piece in my syllabus and understanding of what I am doing and why has helped make fore more pleasant semesters.

Those are two of the big things I have been thinking about this semester. I always worry that I am not fulfilling my own teaching philosophy of being feminist enough. And worry that I could be doing so much more for the online classes. Yet, when I see where I have come from to where I am now, I see the growth and development. I see the changes I have made over the years and the changes I will make in the years to come. And that is when I know that I can worry all I want, but it takes time, and I have the time to make the changes in the future. That is part of the wonderful thing about teaching—it is never boring and you are always adapting.

Teaching Philosophy and Portfolios

Now that we are nearing the end of the semester and the Academy (aka GrATE) applications are open again, it seems like an apt time to write about Teaching Philosophies and Portfolios. I like looking over my philosophy and portfolio after a semester is over. I have been fairly prompt in updating everything each semester, though now that I have taught many more semesters, some of my portfolio could be overhauled. While I have enjoyed doing these updates, as it gives me a chance to reflect on the semester, I have also been required to keep a teaching portfolio thus far in my career through GrATE applications and my department’s teaching seminar.

While I was still in my Master’s, I took a course on college teaching. This was at least three semesters before I would ever teach. I am glad I took the course before teaching since it gave me chance to contemplate who I was as an instructor and my teaching philosophy. It was also interesting since I was at a predominantly teaching intensive institution and am now teaching at a research intensive institution. In this course I was provided a template to creating a teaching philosophy. I started with bullet points answering the prompt questions of: 1) My aspirations/goals/objectives as a teacher and for your students; 2) What methods will I consider to reach these goals/objectives?; 3) How will I assess student understanding with examples; 4) How will I improve my teaching?; and 5)Additional considerations of why teaching is important to me, how I collaborate with others, what is successful teaching, and how I maintain positive relationships with students.

While the first draft of the teaching philosophy focused on the hypothetical style of my teaching, I have slowly updated it each year to what it is now. Since I predominantly have taught survey courses to large classes, online and in-person, with students from every college around campus, my teaching philosophy reflects that. I am sure that as I teach higher-level courses, it will continue to shift. I already see some shifts from my original notes to now, particularly related to group work. I also notice shifts in my teaching to better match my philosophy, such as with what I test students on.

I won’t give too many ideas related to how to write a teaching philosophy, since there are dozens of templates and guidelines available online. For example, through Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, University of Minnesota, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Professor Is In blog and book. Most of them say some elongated version of this: A Teaching Philosophy is a brief essay (1-2 pages) that will give readers (typically hiring/award committees) an idea of what you actually do in the classroom and why. It should be a reflexive, straightforward, well-organized statement that avoids technical terms and favors language and concepts that are easily understood (no jargon). There will be some general statements, but also be sure to include examples that illustrate what you mean.

For Teaching Portfolios, I highly recommend the book, The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions by Peter Seldin, J. Elizabeth Miller, and Clement A. Seldin. The book has numerous examples and styles from a wide variety of disciplines, even my relatively small discipline. It is easy to read and reference, especially for someone first developing a portfolio. I used their guidelines along with guidelines from my department to originally create my portfolio. That has been the basic outline I have used since. In general, a Teaching Portfolio, whether it is digital and fluid, or a single document, helps demonstrate who you are as a teacher. It takes your philosophy and puts additional information to what you claim. You are able to show your teaching strengths and accomplishments, evidence of teaching, and assist in reflections and improvements of your teaching. Some suggested pieces to include in a Portfolio include: 1) Teaching philosophy; 2) Summary of teaching responsibilities 3) Evaluations; 4) Sample syllabi; 5) Sample lesson plans or assignments; 6) Honors, awards, or trainings for teaching; 7) Anything else that shows who you are as a teacher or your identity as an instructor.

I hope as you are developing your philosophy and portfolio, you take the time to reflect on what you want to put forward as your teaching identity. These are dynamic pieces that take time and are constantly works in progress. I have enjoyed working on mine over the years and I hope you do too.

ePortfolios

This fall the Academy or VTGrATE assisted with the Graduate School’s GTA Workshop sessions on ePortfolios. In the spring, the Graduate School decided to work with the library, which was beginning work on an ePortfolio pilot using Portfolium. Dr. Hajj, the associate dean with the Graduate School who works on the GTA Workshop, approached GrATE to help with this for the workshop.

Through the summer two of the Founding Fellows, myself and Jordan Laney, worked with Dr. Hajj, Dean DePauw, and the staff in Learning Design/Teaching & Learning Engagement within the library to prepare for the ePortfolio sessions within the GTA Workshop. It took some time to figure out how the members, associates, and fellows of GrATE could learn about Portfolium and ePortfolios and then communicate that in a workshop session to new graduate students. Also over the summer around 20 people from GrATE were trained in these areas by Learning Design staff. During the fall, in the GTA Workshop sessions, 15 people from GrATE introduced ePortfolios to around 120 new GTAs. The fall sessions were wonderful. Overall, the GTAs had never heard of ePortfolios, so we had the opportunity to introduce the concept to a new generations of GTAs and future faculty. Most of the session attendees were interested in the concept.

Knowing that  many people would not have an ePortfolio or would be unaware of the concept, the workshops had a two-fold piece to them. First, it was introducing ePortfolios as a tool. A tool for us as professionals and scholar to have a place to demonstrate what we are working on and have learned. We can cultivate our digital presence through ePortfolios and provide access to the work that we are doing/have done.  This can be an individual aspect or for one’s culmination of their major/degree.

The second piece ePortfolios can be used is for teaching and learning. ePortfolios can be used in the classroom to demonstrate what has been gained and learned through a course. By showing elements of skills that were learned, such as communication and critical thinking or collaborative work. A piece of using ePortfolios in the classroom that I like, because of my own teaching philosophy using feminist pedagogy, is the reflection aspect. Making discoveries by taking time to process what you did for a course, why, what was learned, how you came to the final product, etc. A student can show their process, their initial reactions, and how they might take what they did for one course further into other courses or their career.  Hopefully by the end of multiple courses and maybe even an entire degree program, a student will have their own digital identity and professional development presence. This can even include what they have learned outside the classroom through field study, internships, study abroad, clubs, volunteer activities, and more. ePortfolios can help students and professionals present a holistic image of who they are, the skills they have, and what they can bring to a position.

There are two areas that draw me towards ePortfolios. One is the reflection aspect when presenting artifacts (e.g., assignments, CV, research, publications, presentations) on the ePortfolio page.  The second is that ePortfolios are dynamic and accessible ways for us to show who we are in a holistic view. We are not just one piece of what we have done, but a whole collection of what we know, have experienced, and even where we want to go.

Mindfulness and Graduate School

I have been thinking a lot about mindfulness this week. It was probably sparked by a quote I read by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. It is called The Invitation, but more than the words I was struck by the idea of intentional living.

I read this last Saturday night while I was in Richmond. I went there to attend one of the parties for one of my best Hollins friends. I have been very intentional about attending these parties this summer. Even though we live ~6 hours apart, we normally have been seeing each other about once a year. I don’t make it east and she doesn’t make it west. This spring when my original entry into the job market did not work out and I had made the decision to slow my pace towards completing my degree, one of the benefits I saw was time to travel this summer. To take the time to be there for friends and attend these parties and the weddings early in the fall.

While I have been traveling for these parties, I have also been intentional about exploring and re-exploring parts of my state. While in Richmond I drove to Charles City to visit William Henry Harrison’s (president in 1841) birthplace. I arrived to Berkeley Plantation as it was opening on a Sunday morning. As many of my travels are, the tour consisted of a retired couple and me. Walking around this home and grounds from the 18th century, there was an interesting sense of peace. Not because of the history, but the taking the time to stop and take it all in. I wasn’t on Facebook or Twitter or e-mail. I was looking at how the sun hit the brick buildings and the James River. How the mix of magnolia, brick, and historic paint reminded me so much of Hollins and why I chose that university. Even time to contemplate how there is history we know and talk about and history that we do not. But I took that time. I wasn’t rushing back to Blacksburg or worrying about what I could be doing that was work related. I stopped, and thought, and processed.

Due to factors of life, I have recently been taking back over some of the household chores that my brother and father had been doing [I have had the privilege and the challenge of living with my family of origin during my PhD work]. As I was doing tasks such as loading/unloading the dishwasher, grocery shopping, and mowing the yard, I realized that by slowing down and processing what I was doing, without lots of noise around me made the task enjoyable. It wasn’t about rushing to do something because it had to get done, to check it off the list, and be able to return to my academic work.

At some point during my PhD journey I had gotten away from these things—being intentional about time with friends (not just rushing in and rushing out while always thinking about what you should be doing); the meditative nature of moving back and forth mowing the lawn; nourishing our bodies through grocery shopping and cooking; etc. I was somewhat aware of it and knew I needed to shift back. I was aware of it when I read Brigid Schulte’s book Overwhelmed. I was aware of it when all I wanted to do was travel, because when I travel, I stop and observe people and place rather than check e-mail and work.

Yet, it occurs to me that the academic culture is not generally about mindfulness. It is about busyness. You go full-speed-ahead for roughly 36 weeks a year, plus a lot of additional work trying to get ahead or catch-up the other 26 weeks. It is the e-mails of needing to get something completed immediately or at least in the next 48 hours. It is the knowing that there is always more work needing to be done or that could be done. It is also as graduate students, feeling that we do not have the power to say that something may need to wait. That poor planning on someone else’s part, should not equate an emergency on our part.

This week, as life was happening, I was very lucky in that those sort of e-mails stopped. In part, because of summer but also because of people’s travel schedules. The two or so that I did receive, I was able to say that I was not currently available, and not feel guilty about it. And I think some of our busyness is guilt. A need to feel useful all the time, which can also lead to guilt when we don’t live up to that. But taking the time to slow down, to process, and to be mindful about what we do, when, and why, can lead to more dynamic work, whether it is research, teaching, or working with our peers and colleagues. When we take the time to slow down, rather than frantically work on multiple things at once, we may become better colleagues and scholars.

P.S. As I had been contemplating all of this, the book, The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber arrived in the mail. It feels fortuitous in the timing. I look forward to reading it.

A class full of introverts? Or is “sage on the stage” sometimes a good thing?

This has been an intense semester. The political climate, trying to figure out whether I was graduating this semester or not, whether I was going to get a job, more hours taken up by service than normal, etc. I think it has been intense for almost everyone, at least those I have talked to. Looking back, the last semester that was this intense was the last time I taught during a regular semester (not summer or winter session). Teaching semesters are a lot, especially when you care so much.

Today I have been working on preparing for my last two class sessions of the semester. I wrote the final exam earlier in the week, so it really is the last two classes I had to prep. And I struggled. I think the intensity of this semester and the fact that I have no idea how this semester went for my students is making me unsure of the entire thing. Leaving me with a knot in my stomach about it all. It’s sort of like wondering if I can only talk a good game about teaching and not actually do it well. (Then again, what is good teaching exactly? We all seem to have different definitions).

Really the issue this semester has been that I can not get my students to talk in class. A very small number of them will speak when they are presenting group work. But when I try and do a class discussion, it is consistently crickets. I have done every trick I know or can think of. I have had them do small group work, write-pair-share, writing and then speaking, calling on people randomly, etc. And still, every time I attempt to do any discussion, they do not make eye contact and do not respond. I have stood there waiting for someone to speak for a couple of minutes, even (I sing a song in my head, which helps me know how long I have waited). Getting little to no response is disheartening. It is also difficult for me as a shy introvert to have to be on for a full 75 minutes.

Yet, I am not convinced that they are not engaged. I have had them do weekly journals, which are in part a reflection on that week’s material. Most of those have been amazing. When I take up their written ideas or reflections during class, they are fully thinking about what is being discussed. I have not had a big problem with phones, Facebook, or shopping in my class. Of course there is a little bit, but not to the point where I have had to say anything to the class like I have in the past. So, I am wondering if there is not some piece of selection bias, where I have a class of introverts, who are more comfortable thinking about things and processing them on their own.

I am also left wondering if the “sage on the stage” is always a bad thing. We talk so much about how in 21st century learning, we need to not be a sage on the stage and feed the students with answers. That we should guide them. That we should do hands on learning. Yet, in this semester, with a class who rebels against the in class activities and does not like discussion. But when the class pays attention during class and presents clear and well-thought-out reflections every week, could sage on the stage and lecturing be a good thing? I guess time and the Student Perceptions on Teaching (SPOT) scores will tell!

Trigger Warnings or Transparency?

I started this post multiple times in the last couple of weeks. But after a couple of events, I am finally sitting down to write it.

Two weeks ago the author and academic, Roxanne Gay, came to my alma mater to do a reading and lecture. I live close enough where I was able to meet one of my closest friends there to hear her and meet Dr. Gay. Roxanne Gay is most known for her book, Bad Feminist. I had come across the book last year and read it quickly, with much of it speaking to me as a feminist and an academic. I had taken note of her essay on trigger warnings, but that was not the part that had stuck out to me initially. However, that essay was one Dr. Gay read the night I went. One thing she said when an audience member asked her about why she chooses to not use trigger warnings was that her pedagogical style is to have discussions with students throughout the semester about what they are reading and why. She is not shying away from topics that may be controversial or difficult for students, but openly discussing them and allowing for the challenging and brave spaces in the classroom.

This week the other GrATE fellows and I were chatting about different topics on pedagogy. We are getting ready to begin a brown bag series during the Wednesday office hours and one of the topics that we are discussing is trigger warnings. Some people are wondering what the right path is for using trigger warnings, whether they are necessary, and for which topics within their classes.

Finally, also this week I went to one of the theatre events on campus. I grew up around the theatre and theatre being provocative, including using the arts as a way of addressing social justice. The play I saw was a fairly new one (published in the last 6 years) and has won numerous awards. Yes, the topics begin to address race relations, gentrification, and social justice. That part was not what caught my attention. Rather, some of the other topics and items within the play that I was not prepared for caught my attention. There was a lot of language in this play, which on any given day wouldn’t be noticed, except for the fact that in my line of sight were two young girls under the age of 10 in the audience. Also, the storyline in the play is connected in part by an unseen character’s suicide and his family’s dealing with that. At intermission and after the show I started looking more intently in the playbill and the sign at the entrance to the theatre for any mention of the language or the content of the show and found nothing. I was shocked that this department, which normally is quite good about forewarning the language at least in a play, had said nothing about either item. I had read a bit about the play before going and have done even more reading since going, and there is no mention anywhere about the suicide topic within the play. So, if the department does not mention that this content, and the general write-ups about this play do not mention it, how are people who may have dealt with death, suicide, rape, etc. within their lives and want some warning or awareness of what is coming their way going to know?

I understand that a lot of the discussion around trigger warnings is that by using them and using safe spaces means people will opt out of hearing about tough things or having challenging conversations. I disagree. I think whether you use the phrase “trigger warning” or not, it is about being transparent in what is being discussed. It is giving a heads up to not be blindsided by something.

I am in a social science and human services discipline. We are always talking about people’s lives. And people’s lives include a variety of experiences, including traumatic experiences. So, for me, when teaching courses, especially when teaching Human Sexuality, I try to be cognizant of that. I rarely, if ever, use the exact phrase of “trigger warning”, however, every topic that will be discussed in a semester is covered in the syllabus. In multiple places and in multiple ways I try to link previous material to the current material and foreshadow where we are going next. I provide information about the resources on campus and in the community that may be of assistance or interest to anyone in the class who has had any number of lived experiences. Yet, I do not shy away from controversial topics or topics that may “trigger” someone.

So, for me, it is about transparency in what we are discussing and why we are discussing it. It has to be pertinent to the learning objectives and course material. I will always use some level of forewarning about what is coming up in lessons whether in an online course or in-person. It may look differently at different times, but on some level, I would rather have the open dialogue and preparation. With openness and transparency, hopefully students will feel that I and the classroom environment I create allow them to grapple with these topics.

Preparing a New Class

We are officially on day three of the new fall semester. This is the first semester in my life that I am not in the classroom as a teacher or a student. It is a little strange. Especially with the flexibility of my time. However, it does not mean I am not involved with teaching at all. I am one of the teaching supervisors/assistant for the teaching mentor for my department as well as a fellow for GrATE.

In my department we have a well-structured program of teaching apprenticing leading to independent graduate instructors. There is support, guidance, and oversight every step of the way when teaching within the department. I appreciate having this, as there are always people to go to and discuss teaching challenges and ideas. My role in this as a senior graduate student and assistant to the teaching mentor, is answering questions, providing feedback on syllabi and course sites, and generally keeping track of what is required by the department and university. As I keep saying to people, for some reason I have the institutional memory and understanding of policies where I am often the contact person for quick questions.

Within the role a fellow for GrATE I hold office hours in the GLC every Tuesday afternoon. I only had one person join me this week and it was a new student from my department who needed assistance with the LMS, Canvas. There is an interesting thing with the transition to Scholar to Canvas, and probably between any LMS’. Some people jump on the bandwagon quickly and are willing to give it a try and use any new technology to the best of their abilities. Others are slower to transition and really don’t want to. But that is an aside.

The start of any semester has people who have never taught before or never taught at a specific institution before. There are learning curves, such as figuring out a new LMS. But last week when we were speaking at the GTA Workshop, a lot of the new graduate students were wanting to know the first steps of preparing for a new course. The student who joined me in office hours is in the midst of helping a new faculty member prepare a course while also working with a returning faculty member in a different class. This GTA has a great view of what it takes to prepare and how once you prepare, it becomes easier and easier over time to get ready for a new semester.

At this point in my career (year 4 of my PhD work), I have prepped for three new courses and am getting ready to prep for my fourth new course. The pattern I tend to take when preparing for a course I have never taught before includes:

  • Seeking out syllabi and information from those who have taught the course before me. This primarily includes from within my own department, though it can include seeing what those teaching similar courses outside of Tech do. There are a lot of syllabi available online, which is useful to update assignment ideas and see which textbooks are being used. At some point, hopefully, GrATE will have a repository of syllabi as well.
  • Start reading through the textbooks. For some courses I have had a choice as to which textbook to use and some are standardized within the department. I have worked with both systems and don’t particularly have a preference. Mostly because, with the standard textbook, the number of different options I’ve seen don’t compare to what was chosen before my time.
  • As I work through the textbook(s), I am also updating or creating any slides and lectures I am planning on having. Again, this depends on what has been done before me in my department. Some courses have a more complete shell for us to launch from than others.
  • Thinking about, updating, and creating assignments for both in-class and out-of-class. Writing out the instructions and rubrics for assignments is helpful for me to do before updating the syllabus.
  • Update the syllabus. This includes updating any information that may have changed—office location changes, websites that are out of date, policies that changed over the summer, etc. I also update the assignments and the point system I am using for that semester. Each semester this gets more and more refined, even when teaching different courses, much of the information is similar across syllabi.
  • Creating the course site. One of the aspects of Canvas that I appreciate is that the course site shell is already created for us with the roster included. That has saved at least an hour or two of headache and fighting with technology. I also appreciate that with Canvas we can link information every time we use it, so students are always able to access what we need them to, no matter where they are on the site. The entire course set-up takes some time, but it still is less time than our previous LMS. If you need assistance with the course site, there are wonderful people all over campus who are great resources!
  • At that point, I am ready for the semester to begin! I typically prepare the first week’s announcements and/or anything particular I plan to do the first day of class (shifts for online teaching and in-person teaching). Of course, there are always things you are shifting throughout a semester, but you should be on solid footing to continue on with the semester!

Research and Funding

This blog post is in part processing a few research thoughts and working on research statements for my Feminist Research Methods course.

Last week was Grad Ed Week at Tech. Part of what that brought other than the wonderful free food that all grad students love, was the inductions of new members and associates for the Academy of Graduate Teaching (GTA) Excellence and Graduate School Awards. Of my classmates in Feminist Research Methods a few of us were recognized. Jordan Laney and I were named and inducted as two of the three Founding Fellows of the Academy. She also won a teaching award at the Awards Banquet while I was recognized for my service work.

12799238_10154145210823578_5632464424736611130_n   [Picture from Academy Social and Induction]

During the Awards Banquet those who won a lot of the awards were from lab disciplines and the qualifications that their letter writers presented was about the amount of grant money the grad students received and the number of publications they had. One person who won an award had received $85,000 in grant money for their research. Other grad students had over 10 publications. After the Banquet, I was left with amazement that grad students could have that many but also the realization that their disciplines have different opportunities than mine. No matter how I look at it, even if I include all the grants and fellowships on my list for the Feminist Research Methods assignment to practice writing applications for money, it would not equal $85,000. In a lot of ways doing feminist and critical work means that money is a little bit harder to come by to complete. There are of course ways to shift what you are doing to do the work, but I am not sure the only way to complete work is to do it where the money is. Limiting the work to only where the money is, limits the research questions being asked and who is being discussed.

10398574_10154152117878578_6151948063232028333_n      [Picture from Graduate School Awards banquet]

Additionally, to do thorough feminist and critical empirical work takes a lot of time to complete and not always as easily dividable into multiple publications as lab work can be with a lot of people working on multiple projects all together. It can be important to do slow scholarship, as I have discussed before, to ensure that the work is worthwhile and makes an impact on the world. What we do is not just about the number of publications that we get or how much money we bring in, as much as our advisors and society want to argue it is, it is also how much of a citizen to our university and the world we are being. Are we helping those around us and those who may not have had the same experiences we have had? We do not have to necessarily perpetuate the Publish or Perish mantra or continue to only work in the neoliberal rat-race. However, as I write this, a friend from another university posted on social media about a GoFundMe page to help pay for her travel, supplies, and compensation to participants for her dissertation work. Sometimes to do the work we want and feel led to do, we have to get creative in how we fund it! It also requires us to be able to translate our work to multiple audiences.

The rest of this post will be on my research, to work on how I present myself as a researcher. I am in this awkward period where a few projects have been wrapped up and are submitted to journals or are close to being submitted and am just getting started on my next projects (including my dissertation). I have not fully gotten in the swing of the publication pipeline. So, I am trying to figure out the best way to present not only the research that I have completed up to this point but also how to describe my dissertation work. I also have a tendency to expect everyone to be on the same train I am, so I welcome feedback from my classmates as to what I am presenting.

Research Statement: My overarching work is on gender and sexuality within the family context. This includes intimate and family relationships through kin altruism and kin networks, family diversity (including sexual minorities across the lifespan and singlehood), dating and partnership choices, and sexuality education through media and families. Most family scholars want to strengthen families, relationships, and sexual health. However, when people do not define family in the same way, we need to understand how diverse family structures function including their strengths and weaknesses. The more we understand all relationships, including families of non-genetic kin (families of choice), the more we can work with all families to be the best they can be with success broadly defined.

Future Research: I will continue to work in the above areas, with my primary focus in my next projects on sexual minority baby boomers. Much of the literature of older LGBQ adults discusses the health challenges the community faces, using minority stress theory as the guiding perspective (it’s where the money is). When the literature discusses families it is often in that LGBQ individuals don’t have children and are not married (neither necessarily true and becoming less and less true). There has been the discussion of families of choice and caretaking in the face of health crises, such as AIDS and cancer. So, the primary question overarching both projects is how does the literature and LGBQ older adults conceptualize family?

I am particularly interested in single lesbian baby-boomers. There has been a renewed focus on singlehood, particularly single women as seen in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day 2016 with the Washington Post doing a series on singlehood, movies of ever-single women (“Hello, My Name is Doris”), and a set of books being released about single women that goes beyond the discourse of “how to get a man” (see Bolick, 2015 and Traister, 2016). The entire fact that the primary discourse until recently surrounding singlehood has been about what is wrong with women and their approaches for not being married is problematic in that it perpetuates compulsory heterosexuality (Rich, 1983) and heteronormative discourses. Historically, lesbian women have always been considered single because their relationships were not recognized legally and frequently not recognized by their families of origin (Franzen, 1996). Thus, for lesbian single women, there are two discourses—those that are legally single and socially single. My focus will be on legally and socially single lesbian women of the baby-boomer generation. They came of age during a time that allowed for more women to be single and to be out as non-heterosexual. It is also the generation that is beginning to retire and face old-age. So, how do women who are lesbian identified, unmarried and uncoupled define family? How does their position as historically marginalized individuals plan for their later years and retirement?

 

Slow Scholarship and Building Community to Thrive in Graduate School

When I first started at Tech, for my PhD and after my masters, I wasn’t thinking about friends or colleagues. I was so focused on starting my new program and succeeding at what I came for. I had some “townie” friends still around, which were wonderful in reminding me to stop what I was doing work-wise and be present in having a social life. Different groups of friends—some near, some far are important as is family in whatever way we define that. But finding and giving support to one another as graduate students and as professionals is also important. This can be a challenge as people move in and out of town—the transient nature of a college town and this stage of our lives.
The further I get into graduate school, especially following a long break in my hometown without most people around, I have been thinking more and more about community. Though, it must have been on my mind for longer than I realize, because I spoke about it a lot with Cathy Grimes as we talked when she was writing the story about the Academy of GTA Excellence. Dean DePauw has been writing about challenging us all for thriving in graduate school rather than just surviving. Part of what she discusses is the community that the Graduate School can bring for students. Between reading Dean DePauw’s blog post, some of the books for pleasure I read over break, and even the readings we have already had in my Feminist Methods course this semester, I really think we all need community to thrive in graduate school and beyond as we enter into our career in academia or industry.
We live in a neoliberal society, and our universities are no different. Everything is about making money, being the best, being competitive—between each other and between institutions. We are all about being elite. We are about pride and self-promotion. We are all about output, rewards, maximizing our utility, impressing the world, and building up our CVs (Brooks, 2015). We like to compare ourselves to others, though we are especially good at comparing ourselves through others’ highlight reels that they choose to tell us about in person or through social media. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a bad habit of looking at people’s CVs when they are public to compare myself to them. Especially newly hired assistant professors, so I have some idea of what I need to do to get a job once I am finished at Tech.
With the world of academia constantly shifting and those who are young and still entering into long-term academic employment, we are forced to be publicists for ourselves—yes, advocate for ourselves, but also promote ourselves via websites, blogs, cultivating our online presence. We are supposed to be known—but only for positive things and our academic work. So, when we are trying to be our best selves, which for many of us include trying not to be too prideful and to be humble, being forced into this public self-promotion is a challenge. Even as I write this, I am aware that it is a form of self-promotion. Yet, the part that I like about blogging and posting when I write to multiple places, is it helps to bridge some of the gaps of different colleges and institutions, where I can then begin conversations with people from multiple locations around the country and even the world. It is a way to build a community and network in a digital space, that then can bring community in a physical space. It allows people to broach conversations with you that they may not normally do so. It allows you to process through what is running through your head, as I am doing now.
Mountz et al. (2015) wrote about slowing down our work and our scholarship. That we should challenge the status quo of the academy. This can be in part by not competing with each other. We don’t need to be all about the quantitative areas of our life and work—a counting culture. We do not need to force self-surveillance and self-auditing. I think this includes not touting how many hours we worked that week. I fully admit that I am a workaholic and yes, I know how many hours I work on average, but that has more to do with knowing how many hours I need to be busy so that I am not bored and thus, grumpy.
We live in a society that focuses on and touts busyness. We like to tell each other how busy we are and often in frantic ways. It is nice and better when we get the chance to stop and spend time together, even if it is time to stop and spend time together working. It can be more important about slowing down or stopping to take the time to listen, converse, engage with each other. In this time to slow down we build community, we allow for creativity. We allow time to process everything that is going on. You never know what sort of connections you might make—personally and in your work. Dwight Eisenhower supposedly said that people should make mistakes slowly, as it was better to proceed to a decision gradually rather than rush into anything before its time. That life organized around self-restraint rather than self-expression (Brooks, 2015).
Some people take writing retreats—especially if a group is working on a project together and are at different institutions. But I don’t know that it has to be as big as taking a weekend or week to go somewhere to work together that can help build community, slowing down scholarship, etc. It can be as simple as sitting in a coffee shop working together at a table on your own thing in silent solidarity. It can be getting together with those who are in your program at someone’s home to chat, catch up, and eat goodies, and drink for those who do so. Though I think traveling together builds community faster and in a different way than hanging out can. But I also think that community is built in a multitude of ways. It can be through different groups we are involved with–including groups outside of the university world. For some people this is through religious organizations. I like having multiple groups of friends and community to turn to to help me slow down and process things. Not every friend or group can do and be everything for us.
With slowing down and coming together, we can make our work environments better and more supportive. We can listen to and read what others/each other have to say. It allows time to stop, reflect, reject, resist, subvert, and collaborate, allowing more reflexive academic cultures (Mountz et al., 2015). We can talk about work, we can talk about life—they are not clearly delineated unfortunately. We can step forward in discussing our dreams, our failures, and our fears to help each other do the same. We can come together to have these discussions and to work through our differences with care and grace.
Community is a challenge in our individualistic society. It is difficult to cultivate, to maintain, etc. Graduate school can be an incredibly lonely time. Added to the natural stress of being constantly challenged to go outside our comfort zone, the loneliness is all the more acute. We may have people we see regularly that we like, but do we have people we can turn to in crisis or as we are processing things? Do we have people who will stop with us and slow down, talk through what we are doing with work and with life? Or are we trying to compete with those we are around too much to get to know each other and see their point of view and benefits? I think this is part of why I have enjoyed traveling with my Graduate School colleagues in the last year—it allows us to slow down, talk, step outside our academic disciplines even for the 8-12 hours we are visiting campuses or in meetings.
In the end, it is about assisting each other, supporting one another, learning about one another’s work as we navigate this bizarre, stressful, yet thrilling period of our lives that we call graduate school.

Readings
Brooks, D. (2015). The road to character. New York: Random House.
DePauw, K. P. (2015). Thriving in graduate school. Retrieved from: https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/kpdtge/index.php/2015/12/01/thriving-in-graduate-school/
Mountz, A., Bonds, A., Mansfield, B.,…Curran, W. (2015). For slow scholarship: A feminist politics of resistance through collective action in the neoliberal university. ACME, International E-Journal for Critical Geographies.