Organization

Dispatches from the Dissertation (and the Impending Job Market), Part 8

Yesterday, I sent a revised version of my first chapter to my committee for the first time. I made revisions based on feedback I received from my advisor on the first draft, reverse outlining I did at a retreat earlier this year, and a meeting with my advisor a few weeks ago, in which we discussed devoting more attention making sure each chapter’s argument is evident as well as establishing throughlines throughout the four chapters, now that they’ve all been drafted.

I definitely feel more comfortable working from the drafts than I did creating the drafts (surprise!). There was a lot of cutting, a lot of adding, a lot of rewording, a lot of rethinking, etc. And I’m sure there’ll be more in the future once I get feedback from my committee. But it feels like I’m in a good place. Summers can be difficult because the openness of the schedule can make it harder to focus when needed. I try to balance that out my creating a set schedule habit for my work days that I (mostly) stick to. I also started out the summer by setting goals/deadlines for myself to work toward. For example, one of the goals for this month is to revise chapter two and send that to my committee. Part of the bigger picture for me has been trying to have as much done as I possibly can before the fall semester kicks off because life and teaching and writing and the job market is…a hefty load. It’s not that I don’t think I can manage it, but if I can alleviate some of the pressure ahead of time, I definitely want to do so.

Speaking of the job market, I’ve been collaboratively working on the development of job market materials with some colleagues this summer, and I’ve found that to be incredibly useful. This is an idea that I got from Maia L. Butler and Krista Benson, and the idea is pretty straightforward. On a weekly basis, we share job market document drafts and provide feedback to one another. We’ve been at it for about a month now, and we’re almost done with what we’d planned to work on. I now have drafts of the majority of the job market documents I’ll likely need, and instead of creating from scratch, I can focus on revising and retooling as needed this fall. It might seem like we started early, but having already seen some fellowship and job posting with August and September deadlines, I’m actually really happy that we did start early.

I suppose the theme of this post is planning/thinking ahead. I’ve always done a fair amount of that, but going into my final year of grad school (🙏🏾), it’s been on my mind even more than usual. I don’t know what all is going to happen in this next school year, but I’m ready for it.

Title screen from BSG that says "And they have a plan"

My first chapter is about BSG, so this seemed apropos.

(Some of y’all are thinking “WHAT? IT’S JULY! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” I’m like that sometimes too, but also, I was the kid that was definitely ready to go back to school by a smooth August 1st at the latest. This is all very on brand for me.)

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Dispatches From the Dissertation, Part 7 (plus some other stuff)

Today in posts I meant to be able to make approximately 3-4 weeks ago…

Jessie Spano's caffeine pill induced time related panic

I just sent my advisor my fourth chapter draft (it’s actually going to be the third chapter in the diss, but I wrote them slightly out of order). I think that this is maybe the lengthiest one of all four, which is funny because I was (mildly) trying to write less.

Alas.

Now that I have the four chapters drafted, I’m going to be focusing on revision (I’ve already done some revision on two of them, but I need to do more focused overhauls/additions based on some changes I made to my structure after those drafts). I’m still putting off the Introduction and Conclusion for now because I want to make sure the chapters make sense (and make sense together) before I jump into those parts. The goal is to graduate next spring, and so far, so good.

In the last post, I mentioned that I’m teaching a summer class this year. It’s an online class, and we’re still a couple of weeks away from the start date, but I’ve been trying to have everything pretty much ready for it beforehand. Ideally, I’d actually like to make the course site available by the end of next week, so students have some time to get acclimated, peruse the available materials, etc. I think I can probably meet that goal. The main thing I’m working on right now is captioning the videos I’ve recorded, which is both an important and mildly humorous experience. Some of the interpretations of my speech that I end up having to correct are wild. I’m happy to it though, and I’m glad it’s pretty easy to manage with what Youtube has available.

The class itself is an Introduction to Fiction class, and I’m looking forward to it, in part, because I’m not typically scheduled to teach literature classes (my MA is in English & American Literature, but I pivoted to Media Studies for the PhD). Since I prefer to teach things I like whenever possible, the class is going to utilize two YA fantasy novels: Sherri L. Smith’s Orleans and Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation. I read and enjoyed both of these books these year, and I think (or hope?) they’ll both do a good job of capturing my students’ attention as well as providing plenty of material that my students can work with to grow as critical readers, thinkers, and writers.

In addition to diss revisions and summer teaching, I’m also working on drafting job market documents this summer. It’s a little bit wild to be at this point actually. I’ve been in grad school since…2012, and while I did graduate from one program and start another, going on the job market will really be the first big professional life change I’ve had in a while. Y’all may recall that I was a secondary teacher in the past, and in both 2010 and 2011, I think I applied to 40+ teaching jobs each year. Those applications also tend to be lengthy, so I have at least some familiarity with the complexity of such a process. I also know that the academic job market is basically in shambles right now, so I’m very much trying to avoid putting my eggs in one basket. That being said, I’m completely clear about what kinds of work I want to do. Now I just need to convince someone to hire me to do it 😛

Dispatches from the Dissertation, Part 6

So the last time I updated y’all on my dissertation progress, I’d met with my advisor a couple of times to talk about my first (extremely long) draft of my first chapter, and I’d started watching Beverly Hills, 90210 because that was originally supposed to be part of my second chapter. This was at the beginning of November.

A few weeks after that post though, I started to see my dissertation a bit differently than I’d originally planned. This makes sense because when you make a dissertation prospectus, you literally have no idea what you’re doing (at least, I didn’t lol), then you start writing the thing, and then it starts to become a different thing entirely.

So my original plan had been three chapters, each of which focused on analysis of a few different shows that shared some sort of structural similarity. That first chapter draft had, for example, focused on three shows that would be classified as remakes (in the most basic sense). But I realized a couple of things through this initial process of drafting. First, I was trying to write about too many shows (#TVScholarStruggles), and while I think my advisor would be totally fine with me writing a 300-page diss, I am not haha. Also though, I started to realize that the structural similarities of the shows wasn’t really an organizing principle that I was interested in.

And so, I needed to rethink my organizational structure. In thinking about what I’d written so far, and based on some of the feedback I’d received from folks who’d seen bits of that, I realized that I’d sort of written myself into focus that I never would have really thought of when I was writing the prospectus. Such is the way, I suppose. Once I figured that out, I realized that the chapters really only needed to focus on single shows because each of those shows (and their associated genres, productions, and networks) approaches the particular problem I’m exploring differently.

So then, I basically tossed the old structure and started to craft a new one. My advisor and I talked about which shows would actually make the cut and which ones I would let go.

(This is when I tell y’all that, sadly, 90210 did not make the cut. Steve Sanders is still the worst though because I didn’t make it to the Ray Pruitt years in this rewatch)

As I waited for some feedback from my advisor, I went on a dissertation writing retreat offered by my university. If you have the chance to do something like that, I highly recommend it. Having dedicated time to focus on your writing without having to worry about anything else can make one quite productive. During the weekend that I was retreating, I went through all of the pages I’d written, made some revisions, wrote out the outline for my new structure, and determined what research I needed to do next. ‘Twas greatly beneficial for me.

My advisor and I met again yesterday to hash out the details of this new structure, and he and I both feel pretty good about where I’m at right now (both with the diss and for going on the job market this fall 😬). There are still some strands that will need to be pulled together more tightly as I progress, but the direction I’m moving toward is much more clear now.

So next steps? I’m (a) revising the chunks I’ve already written, (b) working on various other projects because academia, and (c) in the midst of completing research for the next chapter, which naturally means I’m watching another show.

Which one?

Well…

Season 4 Boy Meets World cast photo

#youths

 

Incorporating Student Feedback from the Start

The new semester started at my university this week, and I’m teaching First Year Writing for the first time in a couple of years. Our First Year Writing classes are themed, and they focus on analytical writing. I decided to have my section be themed “Representations of Food in Culture” because I’ve been wanting to teach a class about food for a long time and because I knew it’d be fairly accessible to the entire class.

This is my second time teaching First Year Writing here. As I prepared for the new semester, I found that I really wanted to slow down the process, and I wanted to make sure there was some solid foundation before we get to working on the bigger assignments.

As such, we’ve spent most of this week on topics like using your voice, how to read for college, how to take notes, what we know about writing, etc. We’ve had one reading related to the theme, and we talked about their first essay today, but beyond that, we’ve been taking our time to get established. Thus far, I’m enjoying this approach. I’m one of those people who gets REALLY into course prep, and I’m susceptible to the impulse to DO ALL THE THINGS. But I think that sometimes less really is more. There’s more breathing room and more time for things to marinate.

Over the years, I’ve done various things to get feedback from students, such as mid-semester evaluations and course blogs. I don’t generally like to wait until end-of-semester evaluations comes because (a) we should all know by now that those evals can be #problematic and (b) while that feedback is useful for future classes, getting feedback earlier is more useful to the current students.

Thus, I’ve decided to incorporate various reflective and metacognitive activities into the course this semester. One such activity is the Minute Paper. I’m sure a fair amount of you are familiar with the activity (or something similar). Essentially, at the end of class, you have students turn in a short response noting something they learned and a question they have. You could do this at the end of every class session, but I’m having my students submit it once a week.

What I like about this, besides the fact that it allows me to make changes/tailor future sessions as needed, is that students will write things they would probably never say to me directly. This opens up a line of communication between me and them that might not exist otherwise. It also allows me to check and make sure that the messages I’m trying to convey are coming across clearly. Here are some things they found important this week:

  • “The most important thing I learned is that you value the writing portion of the class more than the grades, which I appreciate”
  • “The most important thing I’ve learned this week is that writing doesn’t have to be so structured and put-together, which basically throws everything I’ve ever learned about writing out the window”
  • “The most important thing I learned this week is that you are encouraged to tell your own story and not simply conform to ‘normal English rules.'”
  • “Most important: speak truthfully and with purpose. Write the same way.”
  • “The most important thing I learned all week was how to approach academic readings. The excerpt we read the first night was very helpful.”
  • “I learned that there are not as many limitations to writing. It’s just how, when, and where these limitations can be applied. Writing can be whatever the writer wants it to be.”

When I look at these I responses, I feel reasonably confident that they got what I wanted them to get out of this first week. When we have class again next week, I’ll respond to some of their questions. All in all, I think this is turning out to be a much appreciated addition to my teaching repertoire.

About Classroom Participation…

I have a problem with classroom participation.

Well.

I have a problem with grading classroom participation.

This problem has been brewing for a long time. Even back when I was in undergrad, I found it a bit strange to be graded on participation. And once I began teaching (first at the secondary level and then the college level), I incorporated participation into the assessment because it was something I believed I was supposed to do, not because it was something I actually knew I wanted to do.

To me, it’s always seemed bit fuzzy (even when you provide specific things you’re looking for), and I have a hard time making it fit in my head next to student work when I think about the learning that takes place in the classroom. I also know that my perception of what “good” participation looks like is somewhat colored by my own behavior as a student as well as the types of student behaviors typically privileged by the educational system.

(Sup, fellow extroverts?)

In the past few semesters, I’ve actively started to pull away from more traditional methods of assessing participation. Last fall, I had my students complete participation logs, which I mostly liked because they allowed students to take the opportunity to be thoughtful about their experiences. And they gave me an insight into things I may not have recognized. In the spring semester of this year, I didn’t grade participation at all, and in case anybody is wonder, I didn’t notice any discernible difference in how much students participated (lol) in the class.

This semester, I taught Intro to Film, which is a big lecture class here. The lecture meets twice a week, and then recitations (discussion sections) are taught by grad students on Fridays. This was my second time teaching the class, and one of the things I knew going in this time is that it can be quite difficult to foster community when you only see each other for 55 minutes per week. And without that community foundation, typically important elements that folks designate to participation, like discussion, become even more challenging.

The course’s professor included participation in the assessment, and so I spent some time thinking about what I could do with that this semester. Of course, I’m always observing them throughout the class, but I wanted to hear more from them about participation. But I knew that our recitation meetings wouldn’t necessarily afford the same level of detail as what students pulled out in the course in which I used that method. So this time, I decided I’d just have students complete a relatively simple form at the end of the semester that would give me a sense of how they understand “participation” and how they saw themselves participating in the class. Here’s what I asked them to respond to:

  1. Describe what “participation” means to you within the context of the class.
  2. Describe how you participated in lecture throughout the course of the semester.
  3. Describe how you participated in recitation throughout the semester.
  4. Describe ways that you think you could have participated more effectively in the course throughout the semester.
  5. Are there any other factors or details related to your ability to participate in the class that you think I should know?
  6. If you were responsible for giving yourself a letter grade for your participation in this course, what would it be and why?

While these produced an assortment of interesting responses, I think the most useful to me came in response to #1 and #5. Regardless of what we might perceive, students know what participation is generally expected to look like. Responses to #1 included points such as, read/watch the material before class, answer questions, pay attention (which is a whole other soapbox I have, but I’ll leave that one for another day), complete work on time, etc. I don’t think any of these responses are bad, but when I read them together, they make me feel pretty…blah.

Now there were some responses to that question that I thought hit on really important points like developing your understanding, knowing that your answer doesn’t have to be “good” or “correct,” being generous while listening to other people sharing, and thinking critically. Some of these items are not the easiest to measure, but if I think about why participation might be important, these are things I care more about.

For #5, students often to took the opportunity to explain why they might not have participated much (in the conventional sense). Many students expressed shyness and anxiety, some noted depression, some pointed out that sometimes they literally just didn’t have anything to say, some felt more inclined to discuss material they felt strongly connected to, some felt that my choice to ask specific questions made them more likely to speak up, and some noted that since this was their first film class, they would much rather listen to what others had to say.

There’s a lot going on here, but my key takeaway is that there are several factors intersecting with a student’s participation. And if participation doesn’t look the way you think it should, maybe it’d be worthwhile to think about some of those factors and ways to work with them. I didn’t do a midterm eval for this class (that’s my bad), but if I did, I think I could have addressed some of these issues earlier.

But do you want to know what at least half of the students noted as something that made them more likely to participate?

Small group work.

I think a lot of us already believed this, but it was nice to hear it from the students. I often incorporate such work into my teaching, and I will continue to do so going forward.

(even when I fully stop grading participation :D)

Dispatches from the Dissertation, Part 5

Today, I had my second meeting with my advisor to discuss my first draft of my chapter. Across the two meetings, he gave me a lot of questions and angles to consider as I continue to revise the chapter and as I work toward the second chapter. He also asked me about my process, which was, I think, just curiosity on his part, but I liked being able to talk about it a bit. It’s a really long draft, longer than I’d intended, and I’d expected him to tell me to cut something. But actually, he wants me to expand one of the parts.

So.

There’s that.

Haha.

More than most other things I’ve written in graduate school, I feel like the dissertation that has a really vague shape to me. I’m the type of person that often looks at samples when I’m writing something I’m unfamiliar with, but dissertations are all over the place and non-specific in terms of what they’re supposed to be doing (at least from what I’ve seen). As a result, I’d told my advisor that I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to be, and he said, in reference to the draft, “It looks like a dissertation chapter,” which is to say, that even though I have things to work on, I’m apparently on the right track. I have a couple other streams via which I’m getting feedback, so it’ll be interesting to see what other people see/think, but I’m glad to know that I’m in the correct vicinity.

So the way I have my schedule laid out for the rest of the semester is to continue researching for the chapter two as I’ve been doing for the past couple weeks while also doing some revision of the first chapter on one day per week. My advisor said I could wait until I finished a draft of chapter two before going back to chapter one, but I don’t think my brain will allow it lol.

Speaking of chapter two, this is what I’m wrapped up in right now:

Beverly Hills, 90210 cast photo

Oh Scott…

So unlike some of the other series I’m writing about, I’ve watched this series in its entirety on more than one occasion (shout out to FX). But I last watched it circa 2003. And wow, I have a lot of things to say about this show now like STEVE SANDERS IS THE WORST. My advisor told me that the process of doing chapter one would make certain things stand out more easily in subsequent chapters, and I think that’s definitely right. And I feel like going into actually writing this second chapter, I have better sense of what it can/should be.

Dispatches from the Dissertation, Part 4

Just a few moments ago, I sent my advisor my first full chapter draft (along w/ a message containing several concerns that I have about it haha). Remember how I was talking about my ever-changing deadline before? Well, this last go-’round, I set it for the end of Fall Break, and I actually made it this time. Huzzah! I know that there’s still a long road ahead with this, but I’m glad to have gotten past one particular hurdle, and I’m (almost) ready to start tackling the next one.

In other news, it’s approximately the middle of the semester. My students had midterms/essays due last week, which means I have a nice chunk of grading on my desk. Part of why I really wanted to get this draft done is so I can focus on that. I hate feeling like I’m shortchanging students, and I always want to try to get work back to them as soon as possible, especially if they have more things to turn in.

(Because what’s the point of feedback if a person doesn’t have it in enough time to actually use it?)

This balancing act is tricky, but I think my already embedded practice of scheduling my life in grad school helps. Back when I taught middle school, there were definitely times where I let the prep and grading bowl me over. There are so many ways in which, even with a degree in English Ed, I wasn’t ready yet. I was exhausted on the daily and not making the progress I wanted/needed to make. I’m better equipped now, thankfully. I just wish I could go back in time and help out 24 year old Jacinta.

(Though that’d likely throw off the time-space continuum, which is probably not a good idea)

A picture of the doctor from Back to the Future

#WritingLife