Academic Coach Taylor Has Some Advice for You
“Write drunk and revise sober” – Peter de Vries
“Easy reading is damn hard writing” – Maya Angelou
“It is a pity that doing one’s best does not always answer.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Steve Furtick
“Basically, every piece of scholarly work is a hero’s journey. You are the hero. The topic is the field of battle. The dragon is ignorance/misinformation/poor scholarship. And your enemies? The scholars who have misled the populace with their false dogmas. You must save the day. You must uphold the standard of truth. It falls on your trembling shoulders to right the wrongs of the false scholars and rescue the populace from the dragon of ignorance.” – Karen Kelsy, The Professor is In
“Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” – Cary Grant
Some people hate icebreakers – if you’re one of them, maybe pass on this post – but I’ve got one that I learned from my undergrad adviser* that I swear by. The central gist of it is that each student comes up with an animal that starts with the same sound as their name. For example, my name is Sam so I could go with Serpent, Salamander, Snuffleupagus, Socially Awkward Penguin … you get the picture**. Not everyone can think of their own animal, at which point you can invite the rest of the class to make suggestions that the undecided student can choose from.
“Icebreaker” kind of implies “activity designed to make people comfortable,” but without other goals that’s a waste of everyone’s time. In this case, however, the activity serves two more important functions:
- It’s a mnemonic device that helps me remember everyone’s name. I often can remember every student’s name after the very first class with this, but if I forget, I just ask them what their animal was and the sound prompt narrows the options enough that I can almost always get it. Since I highly value learning all my students names (and helping them learn each others’ names), this matters to me.
- Students can organize themselves into groups based off of similarities between their animals. It’s best if you can tie this to the course material somehow. For example, in the bioanth class I’m TAing, each group had to identify itself based off of a shared “morphological, physiological, or behavioral trait,” which got them using new course terminology. I’m a big believer in small group work, so it takes care of that for me, but for students it gets them actively participating in course content in a low pressure situation and thus doesn’t feel like a waste of their time.
The activity takes about 30 minutes (including group formation) for a class of 25.
* The amazing Kirk Ormand, whose awesomeness cannot be summed up in a footnote.
** Oddly, however, it is not uncommon for at least one student NOT to get it. Halfway through the class, I’ll get someone who announces they are “Doug the Horse.” But it’s pretty easy to redirect this without shaming the student.
What gets us through the various solitary tasks of grad school? Music! And, if you’re like me, you have favorites for each. I would love to see what other people come up with, but here’s my own list:
- Grading: Ave Maria, by Schubert – sometimes my students need all the help they can get
- Office Hours: Pie Izquierdo, by Ana Tijoux – because she is awesome. That is all.
- Reading: Chaiyya Chaiyya, from Dil Se – unobtrusive, and not understanding the lyrics helps me keep from being distracted but the song makes me tap my feet so I don’t get dragged down into a reading stupor
- Grant writing: Eye of the Tiger, by Survivor – because I seriously need the encouragement
- Brainstorming: Calle Luna, Calle Sol, by Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon – salsa makes my brain work in exciting ways; alternatively, I take a break and dance by myself for a little bit*
- Paper writing: Beige Plastic, by Drosophilia – soothes my blank page anxieties and the walking beat keeps me producing steadily, so I listen to it on repeat …
- Paper editing: Take Off Your Shirt, by Bibio – like Beige Plastic, this song on repeat keeps me working, but with more intensity
- Conference Travel: I’m Not Your Toy, by La Roux – woohoo! networking is my favorite! also breaks in schedules ftw!
- Fieldwork travel: Quizàs, Quizàs, Quizàs, by Nat King Cole from the In the Mood for Love Soundtrack – seems to capture the bizarre mixture of emotions I feel when heading out from my home to the field
*dancing salsa by yourself is fine at home but you should probably listen to something else if you’re working at a coffeeshop.
In honor of Adrienne Pine’s Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet, here is a meme:
I don’t really have my own ideas to add other than generally agreeing with what Pine and others have said already, which is fine because I’m pretty late to the game. But look! Another anthropology relevant meme!
*That was the worst pun in the world. I am so ashamed of myself.
Socially Awkward Penguin Letter of Recommendation
If I were writing my own letter of recommendation for another professor, here’s what would really come to mind.
To Whom It May Concern,
It is my orgasmic pleasure to recommend Samantha Grace. I know Samantha best in her capacity as house dishwasher, a role clearly well suited to her capabilities and aspirations. I’m sure that families here in the country where she wants to work would love to have her around for that reason, if no other. I can attest to her adaptability and intellectual curiosity based on her ability to take the bus from our house to the downtown mall almost every day.
While I know little to nothing of her research goals, and frankly have no interest in learning more about them, I whole-heartedly suggest that you (who are you again?) give her lots of money. Maybe she’ll mention me in a future publication or something. Oh oh, I thought of something! She totally talked about her work a lot, like she cared about it or something, so that’s probably good. She even sometimes did it in the language we speak in this country, demonstrating a truly basic grasp of a language often described as “one of the easiest to pick up”.
In sum, Samantha is really the best person in the entire world that I haven’t talked to in five years. I’m happy to provide any more details if you want, just give me some notice so I can have her write up some bullet points for me.
Professor Roped Into This
Grant Writing Forever Alone
I am a happy, confident person. I generally do the things I have learned are beneficial to my learning success*. But grant writing is the loneliest, awful-est, ego-destroying-est task I have ever had set before me.
As I mentioned previously, this is my first semester of dissertation grant writing. I am keeping in mind the following pieces of sage wisdom:
- this process sucks for pretty much everyone
- it will eventually get better as I practice more (even though it may still suck a lot)**
- getting support from peers is a good thing (think samples, writing groups, and editing)
This wisdom, while good to know, generally doesn’t make me feel better. Neither do assurances of my awesomeness. I think this feeling of soul-wrenching inadequacy has a great deal in common with how I have felt in some of my most socially painful phases: when I have experienced personal rejection that I took as proof that I was fundamentally flawed. The best advice I ever got on how to deal – at least temporarily – with these feelings was to call the person doing the rejection a “dumb bitch”. So I think the time has come for me to stop thinking of Fulbright as my “new best friend”, and to realize that she might just be a dumb bitch*** whose opinion of me should not reshape my world.
Any other strategies for dealing with the similar yucky feelings are welcome. Except for @xarkgirl‘s because liquor is expensive and I’ve got a long semester ahead of me.
* These vary so much by person that it does not seem worth wasting a blog post enumerating them.
** Getting better at it is simplified with such awesome tools as Dr. Karen’s Foolproof Grant Template, by Dr. Karen Kelsky of The Professor Is In (http://theprofessorisin.com), which I highly recommend.
*** Yes, “dumb bitch” is a vitriolic and sexist thing to actually call someone and not something I endorse “in real life”. But the point of the original advice, and the application here, is to utterly disengage from one’s sense of obligations of appearing to be a good person to the rejecter in question. Thus, the immorality of it serves as a way to really turn off one’s instinct to “be good” so that instead one can focus on the task at hand.
Last year around this time Anthropology Major Fox* made it big when it hit Savage Minds. But that’s pretty much our only meme. How can this be? There are hundreds of anthropology bloggers looking for content! Apparently memes just aren’t our thing. It doesn’t seem like it has been the study of much anthropological study either, despite the obvious relevance of the communicative form to the field of linguistic anthropology**.
But when the What People Think I Do meme hit the scene, it seemed like one had arrived we could really get into. Suddenly my Facebook was full of people aligning themselves with Indiana Jones, Bones’ Temperance Brennan, exhausted paper pushers, and 1920s ethnographers. And it struck me that, far more than the random ass Anthropology Major Fox, this was our meme.
“What People Think,” broken down into six panels most relevant to one’s particular cultural milieu, and always including the two parameters: “what people think I do” and “what I really do”. It also commonly includes “what my friends think I do,” “what my mom thinks I do,” “what my boss thinks I do” and “what I think I do”. Seriously? This meme is a basic field method. Maybe you the anthropologist choose the other subjects, maybe you let your informants choose. Maybe you have your informants draw in the boxes with a pen. Maybe you’ve got a computer savvy group who’ll do it online. But how could this not work out and be awesome? (That actually wasn’t rhetorical, because I’m thinking about putting it into my grants and if I’m missing something it would be great to be told that ahead of time …)
And because, you know, how could I write this whole post and not provide an example of what I’m talking about and because this is the internet and I can:
* fuckyeahanthropologymajorfox.tumblr.com seems to have disappeared, but many of the memes live on in places like this.
** though I wish I had a copy of Lisa Newon‘s 2011 AAA poster to share.
This is my first semester of real grant writing, and that means that suddenly my whole life revolves around getting to know what sorts of things I need to do to become BEST friends with the people distributing that money. I want to know everything about them so that they think I’m the coolest. You like salsa and pickle flavored ice cream? What a surprise! Me too! Allow me to introduce them.
Fulbright is super eager and new to the area (she probably just got a job at a local NGO). She imagines you to be potential soul-sisters but she’s not really interested in your work*. She likes to hang out, but not just chatting over a drink or anything like that. She’d rather go dancing, volunteer at soup kitchens, and ride the double decker tour bus. She also wants you to tell her about all your other friends.
By contrast, SSRC and Wenner Gren are work buddies from the University. In fact, it’s hard to imagine hanging out with them in any other context. They each have their little quirks. SSRC is delighted when he recognizes dropped names. Wenner Gren is a bit of a luddite (keeps paper back-ups of everything) but loves to sit and talk about new ideas and directions. In election season SSRC keeps track of the constellations of political alliances and Wenner Gren likes to forecast what will happen next. SSRC reads the literary fiction recommended by the New York Review of Books but you’re more likely to find Wenner Gren with her nose in a good dystopian fic.
Secretly, though, I know I’m just barely scratching the surface with these guys and if anyone knows them better, they should give me the inside scoop.
*Even though you’re pretty sure that your work is your soul.