Doing what you love

I love watching blog conversations take their twists and turns and seeing how they interweave together. Aspazia at MMF writes about pursuing a course of study that you love, a post that’s a riff off of Dean Dad’s riff of Bitch, Ph.D. and Oso’s posts about what you’re supposed to do (or not) with a Ph.D. And now, here I am riffing again. I have almost always pursued what I love. My father always told me this, so I saw it as my main goal to find what I loved. Unfortunately, I didn’t always discover that right off the bat or I went astray into areas because I wanted “a good job.” I enjoyed every minute of going astray though. I took all kinds of crazy classes–from Economics to International Studies to Calculus to Photography. I learned something from all of them. If I had simply pursued my English major with narrow-minded focus, I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun nor learned as much. Sure, there are trade-offs to that. When I got to grad school, there were lots of things I hadn’t read or done because I didn’t take every. single. literature. class. So, I got caught up on my own–much more fun to read Tom Jones for pleasure than for a class sometimes.

I think I finished the Ph.D. this time and not the last time because I loved my topic. I had always loved it, but I didn’t realize it until I started working on it. I had chosen my former topic because people told me I was good at it and because I thought it would land me “a good job.” Once I realized there were no good jobs really, I just did what I wanted.

I often tell students these stories, explaining how I changed my major 8 times, thinking at one point that I was going to be an international business lawyer (seriously). I tell them this to let them know that they don’t have to know right now exactly what they’re going to be when they grow up and pursue some particular course right. this. second. in order to achieve that goal. There are always second and third and fourth chances. Most people change careers several times in their lives. There are plenty of opportunities for smart people of any age to retool. I retooled at 34. I may retool again at 50. Who knows.

This year, I did some freshman advising. I hope I don’t get nailed for being a bit of an iconoclast in my advice. My first three advisees had their courses all laid out. They didn’t know what they were going to major in, so they took a couple of required courses and a couple of exploratory courses. Good for them, I said, and sent them on their way. The next three all had some difficulties. They thought they knew what they wanted to do, not just in college but beyond. They all had parents telling them what to do. Note to self: do not intervene in Geeky Boy and Geeky Girl’s choice of classes. One student wanted to take Japanese and not French as her mother had suggested. I asked why she wanted to take Japanese and had she taken French. She said she loved anime and Japanese culture and wanted to learn more about it. She’d never taken French. I asked how far away her parents were and told her to sign up for Japanese.

I think Aspazia’s right, undergrad students should explore. Although there are second chances, you never get another chance quite like college to just learn. After college (unless you go to grad school), learning tends to happen on the edges of making a living (unless you make a living doing something where there’s lots of opportunity to learn, a path I highly recommend). So here’s to doing what you love even if it’s not what you’re supposed to do.

Academic Year Resolutions 2007

Last year, I had 6 goals for the school year. I achieved the first goal, of course, finishing the dissertation. The relief of not having that huge project over my head is just now sinking in. I also felt like I did pretty well with numbers 4 & 6. I could certainly do better. The rest kind of fell by the wayside as the realities of my workload hit. So, what does this year look like? Well, here’s what I’m aiming for? And you?

1. Relax. I’m putting this number one because my inability to relax and my anxiety over work, family, etc. has had a huge impact on my health. I’m going to stop obsessing over getting every little thing done. There’s only so much time in a day. I don’t work in a life and death environment. If someone has to wait overnight for something, no big deal. I will not worry about what other people think of me and speak my mind (politely and appropriately). I will focus on what is good, what is fun, and what I have control over.

2. Exercise. This is related to the first in my mind. Last year, in addition to doing yoga, I had hoped to go on some hikes with the family. Although we made an effort early on, our busy schedules quickly caused us to put family activities that didn’t involve soccer, lacrosse, etc. on the back burner. At the very least, I hope to start a better exercise program next week, focusing on activities that are healthy and destressing.

3. Publish something. I am working on a few things in this area. It may be an academic article or a poem or a newspaper article. Who knows.

I think I’m going to leave it at that. I usually revisit this list in January, which I think is the great thing about being in academe. Two new years. Two opportunities to reflect and dream.

What I need to know

In talking to people over the last few weeks–and really years, I guess–I’ve noticed that people don’t always understand not only what I do, but the broad knowledge I have, and feel I need, in order to do my job effectively. So I just wanted to put this down off the top of my head:

  • A variety of software applications, including but not limited to:
    • iMovie
    • Flash
    • Dreamweaver
    • Photoshop
    • Word Processing
    • Spreadsheet
    • Camtasia (screen recording)
    • Cleaner (video and audio file conversion)
    • Audacity and/or Garageband
    • Acrobat professional
    • iPhoto
    • Skype
    • iChat and AIM
    • PowerPoint
    • A variety of web browsers
    • Blackboard and other course management systems
    • Drupal and other blogging platforms
    • CD and DVD burning software
    • FinalCut pro
    • Picassa
    • Illustrator
    • QuickTime
    • OpenOffice
    • GIMP (linux-based photo editor)
  • HTML and CSS
  • An understanding of how our Student Information System works (PeopleSoft)
  • A general understanding of databases. I have actually created a simple database-driven web site, but I wouldn’t want to do that on a regular basis. It’s harder than it looks.
  • Knowledge of the field of educational technology. I need to know the latest research and understand what experts say about the effects of technology on learning. Best practices in integrating technology into different disciplines
  • Basic understanding of instructional design. People get whole degrees in this, but I understand the basic principles. We don’t actually do instructional design, really, at our institution.
  • Understanding of web design principles and standards.
  • RSS, XML
  • Some system administration skills–modifying the apache configuration, setting file permissions.
  • A smidge of php.
  • How to use search effectively. I can’t tell you how many times Google has helped me solve a difficult problem.
  • Various web 2.0 applications
    • Blogger
    • Odeo
    • furl
    • flickr
    • linkedin
    • facebook
    • youtube
  • An understanding of how above applications are affecting education and learning
  • Excellent writing and communication skills, especially the ability to communicate technical information to non-technical people.
  • All three major operating systems–Mac, Windows, and Linux
  • Streaming media creation and serving
  • How to connect various hardware–digital cameras, scanners, palms, iPods–to various kinds of computers.
  • How to scan slides, photos, and documents into appropriate formats and at appropriate quality levels.

There’s lots more, I’m sure. But I think sometimes faculty (and others) who tend to have a narrow area of knowledge don’t quite understand the scope of what I do. Many, many people believe I have one of two areas of expertise. And while it’s true that I have a greater depth of knowledge in some areas over others, I still need an understanding of things (like system administration) that I’ll never be an expert in. I feel that this broad knowledge is not something that’s always valued in academe–at least not on the faculty side. But maybe I’m wrong about that?


I’m feeling a distinct lack of motivation. Partly, that’s because there’s so much to do, I don’t know where to begin. I’m only going to be at work one day this week (today). Tomorrow, I head to Baltimore for a conference, which I’m looking forward to, but now I’m thinking about how much work needs to get done before classes start on Monday. The world will not fall apart, but still. I’ll also be gone next week for a day and a half for a mini conference. Looking forward to that, too, but again, the timing. Next month, I’m running my own conference. So far, so good, but lots of stuff to do for that, too. Things will clear up by March and I swear, I’m taking a vacation then.

I guess that’s the way academics are. There are stretches of time with no specific obligations but plenty to do during which the things that need to get done don’t quite get done. And then there are the stretches of time with too many specific obligations, plus the leftover stuff that didn’t get done before. I suppose every industry has its busy times, but I think I’m getting too old for this roller coaster ride. Partly, it’s my own fault for signing myself up for these things, but life would be boring if I just sat back and coasted, wouldn’t it?

Why I’m afraid to do research

Specifically, what I didn’t realize was how much my confidence in my ability to do research had been blown to smithereens and scattered to the four winds.

New Kid on the Hallway: Minor epiphany

I have no confidence when it comes to research. New Kid, thankfully, has regained hers, but me, not so much. And yet, I’m plugging away at my dissertation anyway, as if I had all the confidence in the world.  I mean, really, what else am I going to do?  But, I think my fear of research keeps me from even considering a faculty position. Because what if they ask me to do *real* research? Then what? They’ll know that I’m just talking out my butt.

I think there are lots of reasons for my fear. First, and foremost is that I’m now in a field, a very loose field, that I wasn’t formally trained in. My dissertation is in Composition and Rhetoric, but all my research training in literature. Even in literature, I found research somewhat overwhelming. What if I missed something? What if I’m just saying everything that everyone else has said for 100 years?  There’s just so much to read. 

I have kept up pretty well with comp/rhet research and of course, have read lots more since starting my dissertation. But I again often find myself feeling overwhelmed. I especially feel overwhelmed when I feel like I have to recap the entire research background on topic x before I can even begin to speak for myself. I hate that.  I find myself thinking sometimes as I’m writing, is there research on this particular point? Did I look?

And worse, there’s the quantitative part of my research, which I have *never* done, never had a class in.  I’ve read plenty of articles based on quantitative research, but never been trained in how to do it. So, I had to read a bunch of books about it instead, and thankfully, I had a colleage from the social sciences help me determine what kind of statistical analysis would be useful. Otherwise, I would have been screwed. I also didn’t know how to write that stuff up, so I struggled. I read models of papers or book chapters that had similar studies. I Googled. And then I forged ahead anyway.

Basically, I’m always worried that I’m doing something wrong, like the kid who isn’t sure what the rules are and goes ahead and plays around anyway, but with the nagging fear that she will be punished any minute and not be sure what for. It’s not a good feeling.

And then there’s the informality of my voice.  My writing is only slightly more formal in my dissertation than it is here. I don’t use big fancy words. I feel pretty confident about this most of the time, but then I’ll see a “dialogic” thrown in somewhere in something I’m reading and I think, man I don’t use that word. Am I gonna get dinged for that?

And then, there’s the practical bent of what I’m doing. I’m not a theory person. Although I’m defining a new approach in my dissertation, which is based on a theoretical foundation, my main intent is practical. I want people who read my dissertation to get some new ideas for teaching and to appreciate that they’re based on sound pedagogical principles, both from the realm of writing and from the realm of education more broadly.

So I feel like I’m always doing something wrong and that my research isn’t real because it’s practical and not theoretical and I present it too informally. And while I’d like to call myself a maverick for breaking down some kind of research hierarchy, the truth is, I just feel like a fraud.

I ignore this fear most of the time because if I didn’t, I’d never do anything, much less write a dissertation. But one day, I’m going to face this thing down. I just don’t know how right now.

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