Grad School: On surviving the lean years

Courtesy of Flickr user Images_of_Money

As we begin a new academic year, I am thinking of the many people who are about to make the transition (either from undergrad, employment, or full-time family life) to graduate school.  I have been reflecting on my own transition – in Summer 2009 – right before began my PhD program.  In that time leading into the Fall semester, I was obsessed not only my academic chops and proving my worth, but also with the logistics of A) living apart from my husband B) carrying two rent payments and C) entering a world of uncertain funding.

I was having night terrors thinking about the change, and started to concentrate on the things I felt I could anticipate and plan.  While I had little control over what the Fall would bring, I could start being proactive about finances and conscious about spending to prepare for this large economic shift I was making.

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Living in a digital world, part 7 — in which our heroine joins Twitter

Blue bird graffiti on a light post box in Winchester

Image cc license from Flickr user R_rose: http://farm1.staticflickr.com/53/113353654_446ec6af9d_b.jpg

Back in 2010, I attended a presentation given by Michael Stephens on libraries and social media entitled “The Hyperlinked Library — Trends, Tools and Transparency”.  As I had followed his blog Tame the Web for few years and had also read a few of his papers and presentations, this was possibly the first time I was looking forward to an event co-sponsored by our library association. I was impressed by his straight-forward, animated and engaging way of speaking and the fact that the presentation left us feeling excited and encouraged to try and use these tools in our libraries.  Although many of the newer staff had personal experience using LinkedIn and Facebook, our library was only just starting to create a Facebook presence and there was only a weak interest among staff and administration to take steps forward with social media, particularly Twitter.

I changed jobs and my new post overwhelmed me. I postponed thinking further about using Twitter or any social media for the library, hoping to get my feet beneath me before taking such steps.  So it is with a bit of sheepishness that I admit that I only finally joined Twitter last week. I feel a bit like a Johnny-come-lately, to say the least.

In addition to Michael Stephens’ inspiring presentation, SES and my husband had both made convincing arguments in favour of my joining Twitter.  Twitter could give me entrance and access to a wider community of similar interests, both academic and professional, with whom I could share information and experiences and from whom I could gather advice and ideas.  I would be able to have interactions and connections with other librarians, invaluable for a solo librarian if only because it would help me step beyond my home library and my personal echo chamber. I could gain better familiarity with a technology whose usage is still increasing and whose applications could be both personally and professional useful.

But still I dragged my feet.

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A blog post about a blog post about the decline of blogging

image of Mark Twain created by Flickr user DonkeyHotey

Image cc license from Flickr user DonkeyHotey

“The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” — a misquotation of a Mark Twain quotation

During grad school, I wrote a paper on e-books and why they had not risen to popularity as quickly as anticipated and why the technology had not progressed more rapidly. I think I probably referenced this quotation in that paper because my conclusion was that, though e-books had not yet taken off as trend-trackers had expected, they should not be discounted. They were not dead yet.

In the last year, there has been a whole lot of discussion on the Internet regarding whether print books are dead and whether libraries are dead.

Earlier this month, a report from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Center for Marketing Research stated that, for the first time, an overall decline in blogging has been registered in the 500 fastest growing organizations in the U.S. In announcing the report, Information Today Europe produced an interesting post entitled “A blog post about the decline of blogging”, which in turn inspired the choice of title for this post.

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Living in a digital world, part 6 — end-of-year review posts

The reopening of the Library in January meant digging my way through my inbox, checking in journal issues that had piled up in the intervening weeks. The colleague who delivers the mail had filled the box as full as possible and left the rest on my desk.  Normally, as I prepare the tables of contents for distribution, I browse and find at least one or two articles of personal interest to me. At least three periodicals had December or January issues with “best articles of 2011″ or “most important x of 2011″, and as these articles traditionally provide good synopses of 2011 from different perspectives, I had expected these issues would provide rich and intriguing content.

They didn’t.

Instead, I found myself trotting over to Google Reader (which I still use as I am still evaluating some of the options SES suggested in “Google Reader Fail”) and scrolling. It was a mixed bag, but there were some very good and helpful year-in-review style posts that might have been otherwise overlooked in the first month of the year, when suddenly one realizes that there are hundreds of new e-mails and thousands of new posts and one really needs to invest in a better strategy to manage information overload.

Now that February is giving me a chance to breathe, I wanted to share the few end-of-year review posts that I think are not to be missed.

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Parrhesia: Academic bold speak

WORD POWER  Words are one of a teacher’s most powerful tools.  Like tools, they can be wielded to construct, disassemble, or repair.  Israeli born educator and psychologist, Haim Ginott’s most famous quote on the relationship between teachers and students included the lines,

“It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.”

Ginott’s work centered mostly on younger children and teenagers.  His book Between Parent and Child, originally published in 1965, drew on his work with troubled adolescents in Jacksonville, Florida, and emphasized the need to combine compassion with boundary setting.  Of course, compassion and her sister, kindness, serve a teacher well at any stage of a student’s development.   Parrhesia, or bold speaking, may serve a teacher better when a student is a little older or when the relationship is already strong enough to withstand some shaking.

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Living in a digital world, part 3 — the Internet echo chamber

Image cc license from Flickr user Librarian by Day: http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2740/4301281196_508c52a617_o.jpg

After reading SES’s post “Thinking Big Thoughts: Blogs to Follow”, I added GOOD to my feed reader and I am happy I did — while I might not go so far as to read all the posts, there have been a fair number that interested me enough to click-through to the full article. One such post was Cord Jefferson’s Community Engagement: How the Internet Ruined My Perception of What’s Popular” and the concept of the Internet echo chamber, which led me to a new understanding about the ramifications of my dependence on RSS feeds for news and trends.

As someone who helped coordinate an effort to gather signatures on a petition to keep My So-Called Life on the air, I can appreciate Jefferson’s confusion at finding out that the television show Community was being put on indefinite hiatus. Everyone I knew liked My So-Called Life; students, teachers and parents signed the petition before we sent it off to the show’s producers. While there are any number of reasons or combination of reasons that lead television producers to cancel shows, we could not understand how a show that was so popular could be cancelled.

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Disrupting assumptions: Living with a cognitive mess

We Interrupt This Broadcast Image courtesy of tvhistory.tv

Attending a professional conference can serve a variety of purposes; among them the opportunity to deepen one’s core knowledge in the field, attend paper presentations of research in progress, subject one’s own work to the scrutiny of informed peers,  and be inspired by conference speakers, often the field’s established scholars and thought leaders.   The novelty provided by a break in the daily routine, along with the chance to interact with like-minded colleagues promotes reflection and renewal.   As an added bonus, attending a high-caliber professional conference can unsettle, discomfit, and disconcert you.  Better it can interrupt any number of your most dearly held assumptions.  In other words, it can mess with your mind.

Recently, I attended the annual convention for University Council for Educational Administration in Pittsburgh.  Thankfully, the presenting to informed colleagues part took place on day one.  I made a small contribution to a paper and was grateful to get my two minutes of (nerve racking) fame  over with so soon, leaving me free to enjoy the rest of the sessions.   Paper sessions are a form of academic blitzkrieg where scholars have a scant 12 minutes to  present research in progress.  In short order one can ponder prevailing discourse analysis in policy, principals’ career trajectories in low-performing schools, heteronormativity in curriculum and hiring decisions, and social justice principal practice in successful ‘outlier’ schools.    It often helps to get out and walk.  In the late fall sunshine on a break between sessions, walking Pittsburgh’s downtown Strip District interrupted an unexamined assumption.  The city is lively and personable, not industrial or gritty.

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Qualitative methods: the role of the researcher

Photo by filmphoto.net

One of the most powerful graduate school experiences I had drove home the point that we all “see” the world through our own filters.  In small groups, my classmates and I were asked to visit a local coffee shop, sit together, observe the environment for 20 minutes and write a description of what we saw.  Then we were to share and compare our field notes.  Of course, our notes shared similarities; after all we were in a small, communal space.  We all noted the menu, the number of tables, and an overstuffed couch in the corner.  However, we had each noticed different things.  One of my classmates, who’d built furniture as a hobby, included a lengthy description of the chairs.  Another, the mother of two children, focused on describing the play area at the back of the shop where the owner’s four year old was playing.  Coming from a family of movie buffs, I described in detail the vintage film posters on the walls.  In short, what we noticed revealed as much about ourselves as it did about our surroundings.  In a way, it reminded me of that cartoon where a group of people were looking at a house.  The real estate agent saw her commission; the young couple saw their first home; the roofer saw loose shingles: well, you get the idea.

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TED Talk: The Danger of a Single Story

I am adjuncting a course this semester called Global Systems and Societies.  The course provides a nice wide umbrella to discuss all things related to globalization, politics, societal shifts, and other forces of global change.  One theme that I have been consistently emphasizing is the danger of only hearing one perspective, one voice.  Whether it is developing students’ media literacy, exposing them to opposing viewpoints, or merely showing students that there are different facets of our world, educators play an invaluable role in developing the next generation of critical reasoners and leaders.  It is also essential to show students that in those varied voices, they can find their own and feel included.  Finally, as researchers, we must value the many voices that gives us differing perspectives of phenomena and lived experience to make our research as complete as possible.  One of my favorite TED talks is from Chimamanda Adichie, who warns of the danger of only hearing one narrative in a world of billions.


To Be or Not to Be… Involved in Campus Community

Courtesy of Flickr User: nyealumniadvisor

Courtesy of Flickr User: nyealumniadvisor

My calendar is a mess.  I have recently been trying to get myself organized and into a routine for this 2011-2012 academic year, and it has been challenging.  I have taken on a leadership role on campus, I have a Graduate Assistantship to pay for my education, I am adjuncting, and there’s something else…. oh, that’s right, COMPS!

That being said,I have been thinking a lot about service, leadership, and the role that my non-academic opportunities have played in shaping both my personal and professional life.  So often in graduate school, we get swept up in the grind of the academia that we lose sight of the world outside our library, lab, or apartment.  For my Master’s degree, that was certainly the case.  But here in the PhD program, when I most likely should be of singular focus, I have found that such on-campus participation has enriched my experience (and my research) in new and unexpected ways.

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