Translingualism at the University of Strasbourg

I spoke with Monsieur Serge Potier from the University of Strasbourg yesterday following his presentation about the PhD process at the university. During the Q&A after his talk, he mentioned that some theses are written in a combination of both English and French.

I was wondering what language(s) classes were usually conducted in. From M. Potier’s description, many professors actually conduct classes somewhat bilingually, with instruction in French but slides and materials in English. He said this is because slides are often reused at international conferences, and English is a more commonly used language.

It was interesting to hear about this translingual integration of languages, especially since M. Potier seemed to feel it was both expected and necessary for both faculty and students to communicate multilingually in the classroom. While translingual approaches are starting to gain purchase in some classrooms in the US, I wouldn’t describe it as an expected norm.

It has been interesting to see the integration of multiple languages in an academic setting, and I look forward to seeing what we find in southern Switzerland and Italy!

Here is a picture of Larry, who has kept me company on this trip.


Hallo Zurich!

Raclette and fondue at Swiss Chuchi
was a great way to kick off our first official day of the Global Perspectives 2013 program.

I have had a wonderful time traveling around Switzerland this past week, visiting a cheese factory, chocolate factory, winery, Zurich, Fribourg, Lausanne, and the amazing Matterhorn in Zermatt. And we have had the wonderful opportunity to travel with a Swiss friend who was an exchange student at Virginia Tech a few years ago. She kept us on time, well fed, and exhausted but deliriously happy.

However, I am definitely ready for a change of pace, and I look forward to visiting some schools and learning more about global higher education beyond what we’ve already discussed with Dean DePauw and each other. I’m excited to talk to people and hear what they think about their educational systems, and I’m really looking forward to how all this multilingual stuff works in a higher ed context. It seems like the definition of what it means to be multilingual shifts depending on the national and cultural context you’re in. I can’t wait to learn more!

Tomorrow: University of Zurich and ETH, here we come!


Different perspectives on different countries

Recently, I worked with a graduate student from China in the Writing Center. He’s graduating in May, and he’s currently debating whether to stay in the U.S. or to go back to China to try to find a job. He told me that he thinks it would be easy to find work in China, especially with his graduate degree from the U.S. However, he doesn’t know if he is willing to give up the comfort of life in the US. He told me that I don’t know how lucky I am to have been educated for my whole career in a country that has access to clean air, water, and food.

He asked me if I had ever been to another country, and I told him that I have been to Europe a few times as well as Australia. I told him that I’ll also be going to Switzerland, France, and Italy this summer, and I’m looking forward to studying higher education in a global context.

And he said, “So basically…no, you’ve never been to another country.”

Now, I don’t consider myself a particular well-traveled individual. I’ve had a few international experiences, but I recognize that it’s probably nothing like studying abroad in a country that does not use my mother tongue. And in all the countries I’ve been to, I had easy access to things like shampoo, electricity, clean food, water, and air.

I wasn’t insulted by his insinuation that I don’t know anything about what it’s like to be in a different country. But I was certainly surprised. And it made me think about what it really means to experience a different country, a different culture.

Being Faculty

During a recent campus interview, I was talking to the chair of the search committee about the position for which I was interviewing. The position was to replace a faculty member who had been in the job for almost 30 years. I told the chair that I’d like to meet the faculty member I would be replacing, and his response to my question was interesting. He told me that he was hesitant to introduce me to her because he didn’t want me to think that I had to do everything the way she had been doing it in the same ways she had been doing it for 30 years. Rather, he wanted someone to come into the position and make it their own.

He said, “I know it’s hard to make the transition from being a grad student and thinking you need to ask the expert about what they think to you, yourself, being the expert in something.”

I thought he made an interesting assumption about where I was coming from. I didn’t really feel the need to know how things were done in order to replicate them. Rather, I just wanted to know a bit about the institutional history, learn about any battles she found and won or lost, and figure out if some things had or hadn’t been attempted. In other words, what the search committee chair advocated—that I take something and make it my own—was exactly what I was trying to do.

This brief conversation with him made me think a lot about what being a faculty member means (as opposed to what being a graduate student means). I have been fortunate during my time as a grad student to be responsible for my own classes of students. I have had the authority to create syllabi, run classes, and grade papers. But the overall outcomes of those classes were given to me (even if I was responsible for determining the details). I didn’t have the authority to propose classes or change the curriculum for undergraduate students. But as a faculty member, I will have those opportunities. In fact, I’ll be one of the people who is considered the “expert” in my field, and I’ll be the person who others seek out for advice and ideas. And that can be a scary thing; I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’m done learning or done experiencing things and growing, and I certainly won’t ever feel like I know everything.

So to me, being a faculty member means that I’ll continue to seek out new knowledge, and I’ll get to work with people—both other faculty and students alike—who will always encourage me to keep learning and growing. Being a faculty member means being one of the fortunate individuals who gets to encourage others—other faculty members, grad students, undergrads, administrators—to find their own strengths and use those strengths to find their bliss.

On Trusting Politicians

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting/meet-and-greet in the Graduate Life Center with the Swiss Ambassador to the US, Manuel Sager. In the meeting, the ambassador discussed the frequent elections held in Switzerland—four per year!—to decide on a number of policy issues.

One of the relatively recent elections had to do with adding another two weeks of vacation time onto the already four weeks of mandatory vacation time for all Swiss citizens. The Swiss people voted against this measure. While all the Americans in the room shook their heads and scoffed at this rejection of more vacation time (who doesn’t want more time off?!), Sager explained that the politicians in the country had explained to their constituents that two extra weeks of vacation time would decrease productivity, which would, in turn, be detrimental to the economy and the country as a whole.

And the citizens listened to the politicians and voted against the measure.

I was struck by the trust placed in the political system by the Swiss. The citizens listened to what their representatives had to say and believed that their representatives had their best  interests at heart. This seems so different from the ways we view politics here in the US. While I’m an optimist, and I want to believe that my elected representatives have my best interests in mind, sometimes it’s hard not to believe the common refrain, “never trust a politician.”

I remember my dad saying this when I was a kid. Although his statement, more specifically, was “never trust a politicians whose eyebrows are a different color than their hair.” So maybe all the Swiss politicians have matching hair colors, and are, inherently, more trustworthy? Regardless, it was refreshing to hear about a political system that really seems to value the voices of the people and seems to make an effort to have the citizens and political system work together.

The Eeyores

I always underestimate the mental energy it takes to get through October. Every year when this month rolls around, I’m surprised by the demands on my time and the depletion of my energy. I find myself wanting to vent to my friends and family just for the sake of complaining. Why did I sign up for so many things? Why are there so many meetings? How am I going to get through the rest of the semester? My friends and family can’t really do anything about all of my responsibilities. And the truth is, I’ll get through it. I always have in the past. But something about venting just feels so good.

Or does it?

I’ve been noticing recently that sometimes when I vent, I can’t seem to get myself to stop. It’s like trying to scratch an itch that won’t go away, no matter how long my fingernails or how much Benadryl I use. And I’ve noticed, too, that I’m certainly not the only one going through this. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had countless friends and coworkers stop by my office to complain about various things. This conference presentation or that job cover letter. And I’m happy to be a listening ear for them just as they are for me. We wouldn’t have gotten this far in this crazy grad school endeavor without being a support system for each other. But sometimes after they leave, I find myself feeling drained and weary, even if I started out in a good mood.

That’s why I found this article about “complainers in the office” so apt. In it, the author discusses how listening to complainers (especially the one who just want to vent and don’t want a solution to the problem) can actually be detrimental to our own wellbeing. And the author offers some suggestions for how to deal with people who just want to complain. I think there’s some great advice in there—like getting some physical distance from the situations you know are unhealthy for you. And I also think it’s useful to look at this through the lens of my own experiences as a complainer. Yes, sometimes we all need to vent. But from now on, I’m going to try to be a little more cognizant of how my mood could be affecting the people I come into contact with.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go pull on my invisibility cloak to protect me from the Eeyores.

The “Right” Job?

Being on the job market is a funny thing. As I look at different job ads, I have to live hundreds of possible lives. Could I do Job X? Do I want to do Job X? If I took Job X, where would I live?

This article in the Chronicle finally made its way out of my Instapaper, and it really resonated with me. In it, the author works through the tension between seeking out and taking the best job and taking the right job. To some job seekers, this might be the same job. We’re urged to think that we should go after the most prestigious, the highest ranked. We’re often told that we should apply for all the jobs, even if they’re not really jobs we want (and even if they are jobs that we think we could do).

I’m not sure if there’s any way to know what the “right” job is so early in my job search; so much of it comes down to a fit with the people, the program, and the university. But I think it’s important to talk about this process and hear about other people’s experiences. Because graduate students are not a homogeneous group. Some of us will take awesome jobs at research intensive schools and hardly ever teach, some of us will end up teaching and doing barely any research at all, and some of us (all of us?) will be rockstars.


Differing Opinions

I’m on the job market this semester, and I’ve been getting as much feedback as possible on my job documents. This week, I started putting together my first cover letter for a position that seems like it could be a good fit. I sent a draft to my advisor and he responded with comments and feedback. “Don’t sound too cocky. You don’t want to step on any toes,” he said. Then I sent the letter to my partner who had a highly successful job search last year in the same field as me. His feedback on my cover letter was the exact opposite of my advisor’s: “Make bolder statements; tell them what you can do for them; be aggressive.” Who to believe?

Actually, they’re probably both right. The cover letter is such a tricky document, and it’s really difficult to strike the right kind of balance in tone. I want them to know that I’m awesome, I do awesome things, I think awesome thoughts. But I don’t want them to think that I think I’m too awesome. Otherwise, I’ll come off as a jerk. And, quite honestly, I tend to find it much easier to downplay my accomplishments. So I also run the risk of not impressing them enough to give me a second glance. At the same time, I don’t want to come off too beggy.

So what’s a job candidate to do? Get more advice? I’m certain that I could give the same document to five other people and get five different (and possible disparate) bits of advice. Indeed, there is no end to advice offered each year by folks The Chronicle (and along with it ProfHacker) and GradHacker. All the advice can get so overwhelming and frustrating.

Why won’t somebody just give me the right answer?

And that, right there, is one of my biggest realizations during this hunt for a job. There is no right answer or any one right way to do this. I have spent years being a graduate student, being told–if not what to think–then the many different ways that there are to think. “You could think about it this way” or “you could think about it like that.” I’ve been trained to see all the possibilities (or at least as many of them as possible), to stretch and flex my brain in many different (and sometimes uncomfortable) ways. Now’s my time to figure out which stretches feel the best.

I’ll listen to everyone’s advice, and, ultimately, I’ll take my own. Because this is what I’ve been training for.

“That’s called research” — issues with access to information

For my dissertation, I have to collect the entire corpus of four separate academic journals.  One of those journals goes back to 1939, and it has 8 issues per volume. The trusty calculator app on my iPhone tells me that’s almost 600 issues, and with somewhere around 20 articles per issue (although, thankfully, there have been fewer articles in recent years as the journal became more selective), that’s a whole lot of text.

And that’s just one of the journals. There are still 3 others that I have to collect, some of them with even more articles per issue than the previously mentioned one.

But the amount of text isn’t what is currently stressing me out. I proposed this topic, and I’m excited to start going through it to collect my data. (Ok, so maybe I’m a bit daunted by the vast quantity of information, but I think that’s how it’s supposed to be, so I’m trying not to focus on that part too much.) My current stressor is the method of collecting these texts.

I’m fortunate to be able to access the entirety of two full journals (and some of the third and fourth) electronically through JSTOR. I’m also fortunate to know someone well-versed in Zotero and the art of downloading full issues from the database. With so much text to procure, downloading full issues (rather than downloading article by article) saves me literally hours and hours of time. This has made the collection of my texts much more efficient, and it allows me to get to the real work of sorting and coding my data.

After getting Zotero set up and introducing it to its new best friend, Dropbox, I basked in the glow of doing research in the tech-savvy 21st century. The basking lasted for about a half hour.

Then – after I had downloaded about 7 issues (not even one full volume) – a nasty little message popped up telling me that I had downloaded too much information from JSTOR, and my IP address was being suspended for overuse.

I’m sorry, what???

So, because I was using the database quickly and efficiently for its raison d’être – the collection of and access to texts – I was flagged.

I felt like a bad dog. I felt like I was being punished for trying to do an archival, historical research project. I felt defeated before I even began. I felt like throwing in the towel.

But I persisted. Being a researcher, I like to have as much information as I can about a topic, so I thought I’d look up the terms and conditions to see if they had a set limit to the amount that I could download in one sitting. But, because I was flagged in the system, I wasn’t even able to look those up.

So I didn’t know I wasn’t playing by the rules, and once I found out I was a rule breaker, I couldn’t even find out what the rules were. The gates were closed.

But I get it. I do. JSTOR wants to protect JSTOR and all the journals it compiles. I am fortunate to have free access to all this amazing information. And I can see how someone might try to take advantage of that access. Or, maybe I shouldn’t even call it taking advantage. There was a case a little while back where Aaron Swartz was indicted for “stealing” too many academic articles from JSTOR. Now, granted, the amount of data he downloaded was absurdly large. And, from what I’ve read, he was an activist trying to make a point about access to and circulation of information. Without getting too much into the many debates regarding hackers and ethics (ok, one small point: information wants to be free!), I will say that it is frustrating to be a researcher who loses access and ability to do the research she set out to do because of one or two extreme examples.

Last week, I attended a conference and I brought up my problem of access to a colleague. Her exasperation and surprised matched my own, prompting me to contact JSTOR to tell them, “that’s called research.”

Right now, my only recourse is to sloooowly and steadily download bits and pieces of the data I need and hope I don’t get flagged too many times. Anybody else have any issues with this sort of thing? Any suggestions about how to handle it? Venting to other people has been helpful, but that doesn’t really get me any further along the road to finishing the dissertation.



Things that have happened in the past two weeks

1. As previously mentioned, I passed my prospectus defense. Yay!

2. I got a wisdom tooth pulled. Not so much yay.

3. I messed up my neck, which left me incapacitated for a few days and in need of a trip to a chiropractor. Definitely not yay.

4. I came down with some sort of stomach bug that left me incapacitated for the part of spring break that I didn’t spend tending to my messed up neck. The least yay of them all.

5. I learned – again – that the universe sometimes claims takes its dues, and I should just let it have what it wants. And that’s ok. Sometimes I just need to be forced to stop for a few days, even if I don’t like it. Back to yay again (after a time).

6. I started watching Community. Have you guys seen that show? It’s pretty great! Yay yay yay!