Thursday, October 29, 2015

Syllabus Impossible

I've been agonizing over a revision to a course that I'm teaching this semester--a 100-level, Gen Ed, lecture-style course.

And this morning I realized what the problem is.

In revising the syllabus, I would like to change only two or so books, and somehow achieve a perfect balance of the following:

  • male and female authors
  • authors of different ethnicities (from all around the world--so including, e.g., African-American, African, Asian, Indian, white USAmerican, European, Latino/a, etc.)
  • authors writing in different national languages
  • authors writing from, or about, different religious perspectives or backgrounds--ideally including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, atheism, and Hinduism
All of this in no more than nine books, please!

Clearly, I have set myself an impossible task.

And so I release myself into imperfection.

Besides, I'll be teaching this course at least once a year forever. I can change it up.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Networking: Another difference between institution types

So I strongly suspect that most of my keen, incisive observations about the differences between my new (public, big, R1) institution and my old (rural, private, tiny, SLAC) institution are pretty freaking obvious, but they still keep smacking me in the face like they're subtle and earth-shattering revelations.

Well, maybe not earth-shattering.

Anyway, one that's occurred to me lately is the ease of networking at this big school, which also happens to be very close to four other schools. At Field, I was the lone medievalist of any kind at the entire college; I was also a half-hour drive from any OTHER college or university, and those others (a couple of community colleges, a state university, and two smaller private universities were within about 45 minutes) weren't really powerhouses in my field. Nor did I have any real "in" at those schools. Nor did I have a great deal of time (or, okay, desire--I'm a little shy) to cultivate such "ins." Nor am I--truth be told--any good AT ALL at networking.

For the longest time--in fact, still now, but I'm fighting it tooth and nail--my inclination, when asked about my research, is to change the subject as quickly as possible. It's probably easiest to just blame that on my thoroughgoing imposter syndrome.

NOW, however, I am in a substantial community of medievalists (from a variety of disciplines, from all five colleges/universities in the area), some of whom are very friendly and have made a point of introducing me around. And there are Events--a series of seminars, for example, that I'm involved with and that brings together scholars from a range of Humanities disciplines from various periods; at our first big meeting this last weekend, I had lunch with an art historian, an English professor, and a religion professor, from three different colleges, all of whom have interests that overlap with mine. (Also an archaeologist, which was cool but less professionally relevant.) This coming week, I'm invited to a dinner with a Big Shot Awesome Medievalist visiting Nearby College, so I will get to talk with her and the other local lit-medievalists who will be attending. And immediately upon arriving on campus I was asked to give a talk this Spring to the local medievalist group (because of a dearth of willing speakers, I suspect).

All of a sudden, I get how people wind up with those prefaces that thank twenty-five thousand people. If you're at a school with a large network of scholars, and that also invites scholars to campus, you will meet more people; you will have circles that can help you think through problems or give feedback on manuscripts; you will (eventually) be invited to submit to collections or give talks or do other cool things of that nature.

I should mention here that the acknowledgements page to my first book thanked, I believe, exactly three other medievalists: my dissertation committee. No, make that five: I also thanked the reviewers.

I still think that I'm not very good at networking. But I'm excited to see how being in an environment that facilitates networking might help me to find a (local, live) scholarly community.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

So Far, So Good, I Think

I somehow thought that I would be less busy at this new job than I was at Field. I mean, look: the teaching load is 50% of what I'm used to. Of course, research takes time and is a much higher priority now, but I don't feel "busy" when I'm reading and writing--not in the same way that grading, prep, and scrambling from class to class feels busy.

However, I'm somehow on two departmental committees already, as well as two dissertation committees and two Master's committees. And I now have a commute--15 minutes, granted, but it feels a lot longer than my previous 5-minute walk. Plus there are lunches to prepare in advance, and I'm doing 15 minutes of Latin translation every day (because I need, need, need to keep up my Latin, especially with the work that I'm doing currently). Also, unless dire circumstances intervene, I'm going to yoga twice a week. And I have a weekly lunch with an informal support group for recently hired mid-career women, which is excellent. And there are talks and the like to attend. And I'm in this big seminar thing that has two mini-conferences, essentially, per semester. So: yeah. Busy.

The other thing is that I'm actually trying to do everything well. At Field, at least in the last few years (and especially since Bonaventure's birth), I did tons of stuff but not very thoroughly. Half-assery was easy to pull off on many fronts; I'd been there long enough to have my classes pretty well under control (I did reread just about everything--Jane Eyre in the seventh consecutive year of teaching it was the sole exception--but prep was minimal); I did my committee work on time, but didn't invest much in it (except for search committees); and I didn't engage in much research or writing during the academic year. As a result, I occasionally read for pleasure and was able to take naps (living so close to campus helped a lot with the latter!). Now, though, I'm really trying to do everything thoroughly, including setting aside daily writing and Latin time.

Because if not now, when? This is my life, right here.

And also, I want to make a really good impression this semester--on my colleagues, of course, but on myself, too. I'm setting the tone for the rest of my career. I want it to be one that I can embrace.

But I do hope that next semester is a little calmer.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Service Counts! Who Knew?

Flavia commented on this recent Chronicle article about who gets hired where, and when. I have no statistically significant information to impart on this subject; however, I am moved to muddy the waters a bit by introducing some anecdata regarding searches at my new uni, including, especially, the one that resulted in my hiring.

First: I've met a good handful of new faculty at Idyllic State, and none that I know of is right out of grad school; a VAP position seems to be minimal (and there's a contingent of us in the Humanities/Fine Arts who were TT for five years or more prior to moving here). There is one person I've met whom I don't know to have had a previous position, but I don't know that he didn't, either. VAPs and moving from one TT/tenured post to another seems well within the pale, in other words.

Second: It's becoming increasingly clear that, while I'm sure that I wouldn't have been hired if my research hadn't been up to snuff, it's my undergraduate teaching and service experience that clinched my candidacy. Surprise! I genuinely didn't think that my service experience, extensive as it is (and frequently in leadership/chairing positions) would help beyond a certain minimal threshold. As it happens, there is a Service Gap in my new department, and also increasing pressure to grow undergraduate enrollments. My strengths, unexpectedly, were a fit for their needs.

Thus, my teaching award, years of positive evaluations with a 4/4 load, chairing of the curriculum committee and subsequently the division, and directing the Honors Program (which involved recruiting and considerable encouraging of students) made me a particularly attractive candidate. Presumably the fact that I continued to publish during this time helped, of course, but it's been pointed out to me since I got here that I have a lot to offer in terms of undergraduate education and outreach. I honestly didn't think that that would matter so much at what is a decidedly research-oriented university.

So...you never know. My research portfolio, on a more junior candidate, might have been much less appealing to the search committee (not that I know that, of course). The things that I emphasized on my CV because, well, why not? happened to respond to needs within my new department that I could not possibly have anticipated.

Good luck to everyone who's on the market. It sucks, truly. And "fit" is a real thing, even if it means a lot of different things; you really can't judge what a committee might be looking for, beyond, of course, what's on the job ad. (And there's always stuff beyond the job ad.) The only (rather lame) bit of advice that I can give is to 1) clearly note on your cover letter how you are the best possible fit for what the committee is asking for; 2) explain yourself if you're moving from a t-t or tenured position; and 3) play up anything (within reason) that may help you stand out.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

TM is really TM, now

In her comment on my last post, What Now? quite sensibly asked what TM's new field is, since he left his tenured position to follow me to my new job.

Well! TM is now...a minister! --Which is sort of funny/ironic, since TM stands for The Minister, the sort of tongue-in-cheek nickname (used only on the blog) that I gave him when I met him back in 2007 and we were both new VAPs at Field.

So he's really a minister, at a UCC congregation in a nearby town, and I, surreally, find myself a minister's wife. (Not that that means much of anything--but someone did ask me a couple of weeks ago if I were "the minister's wife." Life takes us on strange paths, doesn't it?)

A couple of weeks ago, following his selection by the search committee, he preached a sermon before the congregation, who then voted him in as their new part-time senior minister. Tomorrow is his first sermon as a their full-fledged pastor.

He has not entirely left academia, however, and there may be some very good adjuncting possibilities around here (that would allow him to teach his field much better than he could at Field). And hurrah for being a two-income household again!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Settling In

I expected Bonaventure to have some adjustment problems as we started our new lives here in Idyll. And he did, a little--especially when I started spending whole days in the office, back in early September, he would be alternately surly and needy with me in the evenings. And he woke up a little more at night for a while, too; he's still not a champion all-night sleeper (and in fact he now comes up to our bed at around 4 or 5 am--please don't judge; sometimes I let him stay), but he's more or less back to normal.

What I didn't expect, for some reason, was that I would have adjustment issues, too.

At this point--a little over a month into the semester (and somehow already having midterms?!)--I'm feeling like myself again. But things were strange for a little while. Of course, while change can be exciting, changing everything at once is a little bit much.

And the change has been pretty dramatic. We're 1200 miles from our old house; we're closer to family; I'm in a job in the same field but with very different expectations; TM is in a whole new field; Bonaventure is in all-day nursery school for the first time (4 days a week); and we have to drive everywhere, when we used to walk. Even the landscape is different:



Fig. 1: down the street from my first apartment (and last house, actually; they were half a block apart) in Field Town



Fig. 2: the view from my bedroom window in Idyll

Anyway, by now I'm feeling acclimated, more or less. Overwhelmed with work, as always, but it's interesting work, at least for now. I'm on two dissertation committees and a master's exam committee, for students who are doing neat things and from whom I'll learn something. I'm involved in a seminar series that will kick my ass. I'm preparing my first graduate seminar. It's cool. And every day I feel a little less like I'm frankly out of my league, and a little more like this is my new, good life.

Oh, and we DID close on our house--in time to move in the weekend before classes started. Had I not mentioned that?