Friday, March 27, 2009

Thank you, Dolly Parton

One of the nicest things about iTunes is the shuffle feature. It often reminds me of music I forgot I had, like Dolly Parton. I just listened to the song "Marry Me" on her Little Sparrow album (which is awesome). If you haven't listened to much of her music, she has a fabulous sense of humor in some of her lyrics, such as the following:

His momma don't like me one little bit
But you know I don't care
Let her pitch her hissy-fit
Cause I ain't a'marryin' her

Just hearing that brought a smile to my face...a nice way to finish up the week. And no, it did not bring a smile to my face because it reminded me of my own life - my mother-in-law is a very dear woman, with whom I get along quite nicely.

Have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why does this frustrate me so much?

Early last week a student asked me for a recommendation that is due this Sunday. I told her I was happy to complete the recommendation, but that she needed to leave a signed copy of the recommendation form in my box by last Friday (this week is spring break), and email me at least a draft copy of her personal statement by this past Monday, so I'd have time to write her a thorough recommendation.

I didn't hear from her until today. She sent me her information, which is good. What is not so good is that today is Wednesday, and she still has not gotten me the first page of the recommendation (which has the important student waiver of information on it), and would like me to campus mail her the recommendation letter. She, herself, will not be back in town until Friday.

I sent her a reply that I will still write her letter if she wants, but it will be less thorough given the time lag. Additionally, I have told her that she needs to get me the first page of the recommendation by Friday morning because I am going out of town for the weekend. I said she'll have to let me know if she still wants me to write it.

Why am I so frustrated about this? I have a really hard time sometimes not taking student actions personally, when they're really only hurting themselves. Have any of you had similar experiences? How do you react to students who aren't on the ball?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring Break

Scene: College classroom; nine bright-eyed, first-year grad students sit around a large square table, waiting for their professor (Dr. X) to arrive. Class begins in five minutes, and the usual chatter is occurring.

Student 1: So, Student 2, what are you doing for spring break?

Student 2: Oh, I'm going to go hiking at _______ National Park and do some camping. What about you?

Student 1: I'm going to ________ City. It will be so nice to get away for awhile and relax!

(Enter Dr. X, who has apparently heard the previous exchange.)

Dr. X (sounding horrified): I can't believe any of you are actually taking a spring break! Spring break is the time when you get lots of work done.

Stunned silence hangs over the room like a shroud. Students 1-9 have been totally schooled...and are seriously wondering why they decided to come to grad school in the first place.

This IS a true story, and I was one of those nine bright-eyed first-years who was terrified by Dr. X's admission (there were also other reasons to be terrified of Dr. X), and I did not in the least understand his reaction.

Eight years later, I have more sympathy for his position. I'm especially giddy about this week off from my students, who are lovely and motivated, but, in the tradition of students everywhere, expect me to know things and to teach them, which gets exhausting from time to time. I also have some interesting research projects I'm working on and taxes to do, so this week off from teaching will allow me to get a lot done, thankfully.

That being said, however, I still don't agree with Dr. X's tactics. Despite what graduate programs may want, the fact is that first-years are finding their way within the discipline, and are probably not churning out papers in their first year. Additionally, the transition to graduate school can be really tough, especially for those who recently got their bachelor's degrees, and having some time off is probably psychologically healthy. Lastly, I think one of the biggest lessons to be learned in grad school is how to be productive without deadlines breathing down your back all the time. So, if students are getting their required work done, who cares when they do it? And if they want to take a spring break, more power to them!

Ultimately, this discussion comes down to a larger problem in the top R1 institutions - the illusion that professors are constantly working (or at least should be). Yes, there is always more that could be getting done. But (and I know this may shock people), there is life outside academia, and I'll bet those that take periodic breaks (like weekends and evenings) may actually be more productive since their brains get to rest every now and then.

Enjoy your Spring Break, whatever you're choosing to do with it!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Candy and Social Change

One of the administrative assistants in the office has some leftover Valentine hearts on her desk.* I noticed today that in addition to the typical "Be Mine" and "Cutie Pie" messages, there was a message I have never before seen: "Email Me." I wasn't able to find a picture of the same heart online, but I did find this, which includes a white "Chill Out" heart.**

I'm beginning to think that we could learn a lot about cultural practices and technological change from analyzing candy. Does this fall under the sociology of culture? The sociology of food?

*In the interest of full disclosure, Valentine heart messages have been a subject of some fascination to me since 8th grade, when I gave each of my teachers at the private evangelical school I attended a plastic bag filled with Valentine hearts. I came to see that this had been a terrible mistake when my Bible teacher (yes, my Bible teacher) read the messages out loud at the beginning of class. Of course I hadn't checked the messages in each bag, and so the whole thing was a big embarrassment. Just another data point on my list of unintentionally/intentionally cruel things that happened to me at that school, but that's a post for another day.

**As a side note, I have no idea what the subtext involved in giving someone a "Chill Out" heart would be. Chill out and leave me alone, you crazy person - I don't love you? Chill out b/c Valentine's Day is so last year? Chill out because we live in the north and it's freaking cold out there? Chill out because we live in south Florida and need to get into the air conditioning?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My Civic Duty

Tonight I attended a "get to know the candidates" forum for the position of Village Trustee in my new community. Now that I'm out of graduate school, I feel this sudden urge to shuck off the last vestiges of my cocoon and spread my wings. I'll leave it to you to decide whether a community meeting was the best venue for this...

My thoughts upon returning from the meeting:

1. It's interesting to observe status differences emerging in a room with a high proportion of Ph.D.s in attendance. It's somewhat like grad school, but surprisingly, fewer people seemed to be flaunting their intelligence. There was also a good deal of talk about specific status characteristics by the candidates, for those of you up on the SCT literature.

2. I fail to understand how the two "parties" differ.* It appears that everyone is for handicap accessibility, "open" government (whatever that means), implementing a planning committee, fiscal responsibility, etc., etc. What they did NOT mention was how their plan was different from the other guys, but I suspect that's because the plans are not all that different.

3. Re. 2: Which means that this election will probably end up a popularity contest by default. I don't think any of the people running want it to turn out this way (they all seem to genuinely care about the community), but there was little differentiation over the substantive issues. In this particular popularity contest, the vote will come down to the ex-Wall Street guy, amusing retiree, and "stay-at-home mom" (who is so involved in the community I doubt she has much time at home) in one party and the woman who walks/jogs in the neighborhood wearing a jester hat, the woman with a cold who did a good job convincing me she's qualified (especially once she recovers from said cold), and the college professor who is probably a great lecturer, but who should put on a different hat when talking to a group of her peers in the other.

I'm not exactly sure how to decide on this. I would welcome suggestions, but right now the jester hat is honestly in the lead.**

*Parties appears in quotes above because the two parties in our village are new to me: the Community Party and the Open Government Party. Both sound pretty good, hunh? I like community (I am a sociologist after all), and I like open government (it's much preferable to that dodgy closed government that we all can't abide). Give me Democrat and Republican - it's SO much easier to navigate. I'd even be content with Green and Independent.
**The jester hat is really cool - she brought it for show and tell. Each section is a different color and it looks like it's made out of felt. WAY neato.