Contestants, hands on your buzzers!

Trivial Pursuit

Image cc license from Flickr user: sparetomato (

Research has demonstrated that short breaks can increase overall productivity.  Next time you take a break, instead of playing Angry Birds, try Sporcle. Sometimes, playing ten rounds of Angry Birds feels relaxing, but at other times, it can seem too mindless and not fulfilling.  Using Sporcle, one could instead spend five minutes matching countries and flags, identifying elements of the periodic table from their symbols, and determining which lines of dialogue come from Space Balls and which come from Star Wars, which can feel like time well (or better) spent.

Sporcle has the appropriate tagline “Mentally Stimulating Diversions”, which seems very appropriate. Use of Sporcle will not bring you any closer to finishing that paper or blog post you’re supposed to be writing or knocking items off your lengthy to-do list.  However, when combined with self-control, it can provide a few much-needed minutes of entertainment that won’t leave you feeling as though you’ve killed brain cells unnecessarily. You didn’t waste time, you tested your general or subject-specific knowledge and improved the likelihood that you, too, will have what it takes to more successfully compete in pub quizzes.

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Fall Rituals: Back to School

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Aisles of school supplies, shoes sales, and seven-thirty am school buses on the streets – all September signs of that most familiar fall ritual – back to school for kids of all ages.  My youngest nephew turned five this summer, so, armed with a new Spiderman backpack, he started Kindergarten this week.  The 22 thousand students in the Bethlehem Area School District started school last Tuesday.  Lehigh’s campus, so quiet and sleepy all summer, is suddenly alive with a wave of undergraduates, almost five thousand of them.  As for Lehigh’s graduate students, over two thousand of us, well there’s really no “back to school” for us – grad school never really stops.   Courses may end; exams may be taken, passed or not, even retaken; deadlines may be set, extended, or shifted; but the dissertation has a life and a timeline all its own, more dependent upon the motivation, enthusiasm, and sheer persistence of the author than on arbitrary dates.

So, as much as I’m tempted to get juicy new highlighters, fresh notebooks, and a spiffy new book bag, there’s really no need.  The old will do just fine, as I try to put the dissertation process back on track after a summer of teaching, researching and writing curriculum, vacationing and moving.  Don’t get me wrong, I have great advisors, a wonderful support system, and a shelf full of books on how to “do” dissertation work.  The sage advice in the latter runs the gamut from how to structure the work itself to how to manage and motivate yourself in the process.

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