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.


“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!

Grad school is funny business

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what a strange, funny business I’m in.

I took my preliminary exams a few months ago. For the exams, I had to write and orally defended my answers to my exam questions. During the exams, I also write a “pre-prospectus” which is basically the early beginnings of a prospectus but not quite the full thing.

Even though I passed my exams, I wouldn’t say that the experience went well.

The causes for this were many, and I’ll avoid going into too much detail about it here because I don’t want to spend any more time dwelling on it. But the resulting outcome was a nasty case of impostor syndrome. I spent the past few months rewriting and tweaking my prospectus for my dissertation and worrying about going through the same turmoil that my exams put me through.

The week before spring break, I had my prospectus defense meeting, and it went really well. Much, much better than the exams. No big deal, in fact. I finally felt like a junior colleague, and I was proud to talk about my work.

And I just keep thinking about what a funny thing it is to walk into a room and ask a bunch of smart people to allow you research and write a really long paper. To tackle this huge, gigantic, seemingly insurmountable task. Please please let me do this huge, sort of crazy thing.

When we get into complaining jags, my significant other often reminds to remind myself that I want to be here. That I chose to be here. That the me of 5 years ago dreamed of this moment. That makes me appreciate it more, but it still seems sort of crazy to me. It’s a funny thing that when you’re really lucky, sometimes you have to remind yourself how lucky you are.

The Collector

I have this tendency to collect and accumulate things. I think that’s probably common. My apartment is covered in a light layer of paper that includes magazines, academic articles, photographs, and cards. Recipes are my latest obsession.

This compulsion started about a year ago, when I became a vegetarian. I decided I’d read up on my new meat-free lifestyle and get down to business, making healthful, delicious meals for myself. I have hundreds, maybe thousands, of recipes. Most of them are digital, from sites like Vegetarian Times, and I store them on my various electronic devices: iPhone, iPad, computer. I like to have them readily accessible in case inspiration strikes and I decide to pull out my iPhone in the kitchen and start cooking.

Often, when I’m sitting at home on the couch trying to do work but procrastinating instead, I’ll decide I want to make one of the recipes, so I diligently look through my cupboards and fridge to see which ingredients I’m missing. I add all the ingredients to my grocery list, and the next time I head to the store, I plan to pick up all the new ingredients which will aid me in my quest to become a master chef. Usually, by the time I get to the store, I’ve lost my motivation to search out or deal with anything new, and I just pick up the usual items: milk, veggies, ice cream.

Two days ago, I opened a package containing a new recipe book that I ordered. Vegan with a Vengeance. One of my best friends has sworn by this cookbook for years, and everything she has ever made for me from it has been delicious. It has been lying on the floor, unopened, next to my beautiful, barely touched collection of yarn that I bought a few months ago, thinking I’d knit some new scarves.

Even though I rarely use these recipes (or, for that matter, my knitting needles), I like the promise that they hold. I like knowing that they’re there, waiting for me to get to know them. I feel this way about all of the unread books on my bookshelves and the journal articles I have saved and bookmarked (Instapaper is another problem…). I guess that perpetual student in me likes to know that there are always new things to learn, always things to be explored.


I just read an article by John McIntyre in the Baltimore Sun about the word(?) “irregardless.” The specific debate is whether or not “irregardless” is a real word. But the more general argument that McIntyre brings up is the question of whether language is (or should be) prescriptive or descriptive.

I, like McIntyre, take a rhetorical approach to language. So, rather than saying “you have to use language this way,” I prefer to see how language is used and figure out how and why. As McIntyre says, “In this regard, I am neither a prescriptivist nor a descriptivist but a rhetorician: I choose what I think fit for the subject, the occasion, and the audience, and I move up and down those registers freely. So can you. So should you.”

Somewhat tangentially, this questions about language use make me think of something that has been happening recently in the writing classes I teach. When I give my students an assignment, I usually give them some general guidelines (for example, “In your report about a topic or issue of concern to you, please address as many points of view you can come up with about the issue rather than only siding with one.”). But I tend to resist giving them too many specific details about what they should do in their assignments. This is for various reasons. First, they all have different types of projects, so to give them too many guidelines (“you must mention at least 3 counterarguments…”) seems too definite or restrictive. Second, I want them to push themselves and their writing abilities. By giving them guidelines that are too specific, they seem to only work to achieve those standards rather than pushing their own boundaries. Sure, some students don’t push themselves or even care to try to go above and beyond. There are always those few who are completely disengaged. But I’ve found that much of the time, if I don’t give them too many specific guidelines, I’ve found that they often surpass what I’d have ever thought possible of them (which is perhaps a failing on my part as a teacher). I want to see what they can do. I want them to amaze me, to dazzle me, to show me how smart they are.

But over the past two semesters, I’ve had many, many students come up to me and ask me why I can’t just give them an outline of exactly how the paper should be formatted. Why can’t you tell us exactly what you want from us, they ask. Just tell me what to write. Give me the exact problem, and I’ll give you back the exact answer.

But writing doesn’t work that way, at least not in my classes. Writing is descriptive, not prescriptive. It’s rhetorical. It changes. It’s based on the individual. And there’s no one right answer because there’s no one problem to solve.

Really, what I’m trying to teach them is to create the problems themselves.

Many of them want to resist this. But I’ve seen them do it, so I know they’re able to, irregardless of their majors, their past experience, and writing abilities (or what they have been told their writing abilities are by previous teachers). And I love the moment when they realize it, too. That moment doesn’t always happen. But when it does, it’s luminous.

Weirding Language

There’s a Calvin and Hobbes strip in which Calvin talks about the ever-evolving state of language. Words are constantly retooled and adapted to fit different rhetorical circumstances. While Hobbes worries that this could eventually cause a break down in our understanding of one another, I side firmly with Calvin.

I love verbing words.

I love when language gets weirded. Neologisms are wonderful tools that we have at our disposal that help us create and name the world around us. Heck, even the word “neologism” is a wonderful thing!

As a writing teacher, I want my students to play with language. I want them to analyze all the many literacies and languages they have available to the them, and I want them to learn how and when best to use these literacies.

Dr. C. tells us that blogging is a space in which we can say interesting things in front of other people. A space to narrate our work, a window into cognition, a place to make connections as a learner and the life we’re living. A way to keep things off balance.

So, in that spirit, I hope to use this space as a way to escape the tyranny of the squiggly red and green lines that Microsoft Word insists on inserting into my documents. I’m not afraid of you, Christmas-colored squiggles! And I want my students to feel free of you, too.

So let’s weird some words.