Graduate students who are either currently teaching or will be soon, take note. The University of Akron part time instructors are staging a rally for equity. Interesting. Feel free to comment on this!
Tags: part time faculty, pay equity, University of Akron
Categories: Advice, Grad School, Grad School Reading, Life of the Mind
Tags: advice, balanced life, coffee, family, friends, grad school, graduate school, stay connected, survival
While I’m not completely finished with graduate school, I am on the “downhill” side of doctoral coursework and comprehensive exams, so I thought I’d provide some thoughts on surviving graduate school for some of my junior colleagues. In a world spent mostly looking toward what’s next in my career, it seems appropriate to take a look backward for a moment.
- You can’t read everything, so read strategically. There are some graduate advisors cringing at this right now because they read so adamantly, they’re even reading my blog. They won’t skip point two because it might be the point that unlocks the piece. But the bottom line is that you can’t possibly read everything, especially when a syllabus has “extra readings” for the week. On top of the two books required, the professor suggests you read three of these others. Really, professor? Five books for one class? Yes, seriously. This will be asked of you. So you have to read strategically. Learn to grasp the nuts and bolts of an argument quickly and efficiently. It’s an acquired skill, but it’s best to acquire it early in the process.
- Stay balanced. One of the biggest mistakes people make in grad school is selling out to their program of study. You have to go to the gym. You have to sleep. You should stay plugged into a church. Even though none of us are studying science, we need to know enough about how the human body works to give it food and workouts and rest. Your brain will not allow higher level thinking if you don’t take care of your body. Aside from that, research shows that creativity (and higher level processing) happens when we shift our focus away from what we’re working on. It’s why places like Google and 3M allow their employees to play pingpong and take walks. Because when those workers return to productivity, they have better ideas.
- Make and cultivate relationships with colleagues. Graduate school is, by definition, an alienating experience. You are becoming one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet in your niche of specialization. So in that, there are very few others who can relate to what you’re enduring. Your significant other may not “get” what you do. You friends may not understand the time commitment and may drive you nuts with the “so when will you be done?” question, as if grad school is just a jog around the block. That’s why connecting with colleagues, beyond just someone to complain about that “stupid paper we had to write this week” is important; they can commiserate on the life of the mind.
- Protect your intellectual vitality. This is not an excuse to be lazy. In fact, what I mean is not that you read more but that you stay connected to the important influences that directed you to graduate school. Don’t get so sidetracked by the theory-heavy reading lists of courses that you forget to read theology and life-giving ideas about the profession that motivates you. Read pedagogy when you’re frustrated with disengaged students. Read a biography of your all time favorite pitcher if it breathes life into your historical intellectual curiosity. Don’t get bogged in the mire of grad reading lists.
- Vary your studying atmosphere. Some of my colleagues have their spot. For some it’s at home, others a coffee shop, and some (shockingly) can get work done in the office. But wherever it is, you will eventually hit a wall. When that happens and the words won’t flow or your eyeballs seem to cross, find a new place. Universities are full of places to study. Switch it up. Study in a different building on campus. Go to a different part of town. Sometimes studying at a friend’s house can result in minimal actual “study” work, but I’ve gotten more done in 15 minute chunks in intellectually-stimulating places than I have for hours in the institutional confines of various places. Find what makes your lightbulb glow, but don’t stay plugged into the same outlet. Explore and illumine other places.
Categories: Advice, Grad School, Tips
Tags: Benedict Anderson, CFH, debt, deconstruction, Foucault, grad school, graduate school, Imagined Communities
When students get the idea to go to graduate school, they immediately put their undergraduate advisor in a difficult position. The professor can encourage you to press on, apply, and go for your dreams. Or, he/she can choose to be honest, explaining the realities of the dreaded “job market” and the general societal malaise for all things “higher education.” Somewhere in this conversation of “well… you know” and “how can I say this without sounding offensive?” awkward moments, maybe inklings of truth creep through.
I decided, in my service here as the CFH grad rep, to save some of the trouble with five things your adviser never told you, but you should definitely consider about graduate school:
- Grad school is nothing like college. Nothing. Seriously not even a little bit. It’s a job. You’re going to a job that doesn’t pay you anything. In fact, you’re going to a job that is quite possibly going to cost MORE than your undergraduate debt. The glorious stories of drinking coffee, up late in your tweed smoking jacket pontificating about some great historical figure are often squelched by extra side jobs, chicken-scratch esoteric jargon-filled commentary from frustrated research professors, and a general disconnect from the beloved “academy” that sparked your initial interest in the “profession.”
- Job Prospects. The golden goose at the end of it is not a guaranteed “practice” as in the medical professions. No, instead, you will be in the precarious position of trying to oust a senior colleague who is, at that time, making the most he/she has ever made in his/her career. There’s a reason people don’t retire.
- You start putting quotation marks around everything and your friends/family hate you for it. No, seriously, graduate school after the postmodern turn is akin to walking on eggshells EVERYWHERE you go. You start talking about “race” and “class” instead of race and class. You read Foucault and start deconstructing everything. You order a chocolate donut and begin asking yourself about the global impact of your personal cocoa reliance… then you throw the donut away and hope that the good people of Nicaragua forgive you for exploiting them. Then you put “exploiting” in quotation marks and feel awful, again.
- You feel guilty for having hobbies. You will find yourself justifying going to the gym because it’s time spent away from books. You have this immaculate pressure that, because your life is not on a 9-5, it must be a 24/7 immersion in theory and difficult readings. You will be in the middle of a workout wondering what a Marxist critique of this gym might look like. You wonder if anyone else has ever even contemplated such a thing. You apply Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities” to the gym rats. Then you cry a little, and remember you have a precis to write by morning. You cancel whatever fun thing you thought about doing that night and go read because no good grad student has hobbies.
- Awful War Stories. All survivors have a story. Mere survival IS the story. Graduate school, should you survive, makes for awful stories. When your “friends” ask where you’ve been for the past two years, you explain that you were on a mountaintop of exalted consciousness, connecting with the great minds of the ages. They ask about your library fines and tease about your use of quotation marks. Then, your friends stop calling you to hang out because either they don’t like quotation marks, or, more realistically graduate school changed the way you look at the world so much that you can’t tell a single, solitary story anymore without giving a theoretical background, a brief discussion of historiographic context, and an explicit, clear, well-articulated thesis statement. “Bro, we just asked what you had for lunch. You didn’t have to talk about the history of ‘Po boys.”
*This is decidedly tongue in cheek. If you’d like advice on attending graduate school, do not hesitate to email me at email@example.com. I’ve had some really incredible “experiences” in graduate school and am happy to help any aspiring students with the pesky questions you’d never really ask your own advisors. And yes, I do put a lot more things in quotation marks now.
Categories: CFH, Getting Connected, Grad School, Life of the Mind, What We're Reading
Tags: CFH, Faith and History, graduate school, History Books, reading, theology
Hopefully your semesters are off to a rousing start. I hoped that we could communicate a bit more extensively about our respective programs. One of the great things about the CFH is that we have this (inter)national breadth of scholars in various places, points in their careers, and experience levels. We all wrestle with similar problems and frustrations, yet we seemingly all put up with (or do I mean endure?) them for the same reasons. It’s my idea that in the comment section of this post, some of you might be willing to share an extended “status update” of sorts with colleagues. Who knows, maybe there’s a fellow CFH member at a nearby school… or sitting at the other table in your coffee shop. Won’t you join us?
I suppose I’ll get us started. After the awesome CFH Conference at Gordon College in the fall and the birth of my baby girl, life’s been a bit of a roller coaster. I’ll decline to comment publicly on the exact status of my dissertation, but suffice it to say I’m near(ing) in the end. That said I’m adjuncting (and, apparently, gerunding) at two different schools in two different states. I’m thankful for both opportunities. I am particularly excited about a course I’m teaching at Geneva College called Digital History in which I’m working with 7 undergraduates to build an archive. We’re still narrowing our focus and determining what it will look like exactly, but I hope to have something to share with you all.
In terms of “what I’m reading” these days… that’s an oddly personal question but one I like thinking about. I’ve been trying to read more on postmodern education, as I see it as an important obstacle to effective teaching compared to the late-modern era of schooling that bore my scholastic self. I’m working on N.T. Wright’s *How God Became King* for a dose of the theological. For my academic historical reading, I’m trying to broaden some theoretical work on correspondence in the 19th century as well as failing horribly in my attempt to keep up with the unending waterfall of Civil War historiography. The best book I’ve read recently is Mark Schantz’s *Awaiting the Heavenly Country* about death culture that motivated the society of Americans that fought and supported the Civil War.
So… what say you?
Tags: American history, Barack Obama, CFH, Historical References, R. Tracy McKenzie
We’re excited to learn that the CFH President R. Tracy McKenzie has a blog about the intersection of… you guessed it, faith and history. His recent comments on the Presidential Inauguration seem of particular interest to readers of this blog.
Categories: Jobs, Teaching
Tags: Christian College, Job posting, OBU
Oklahoma Baptist University
Tenure-track Appointment in American History
Oklahoma Baptist University’s Department of Anthropology, History, and Political Science announces a tenure-track position in American history at the assistant or associate level.
Appointment requires a full load of four courses per semester. Half of that load each semester is generally one section of “Western Civilization,” a two-semester, writing-intensive course team-taught with English literature. Appointment also includes committee service and student advising. Candidates with some expertise in secondary education social studies and geography will receive special consideration.
The successful candidate will assist the department and University in fulfilling its long-range goals for the intellectual and spiritual growth of students. Ph.D. degree is preferred, but qualified ABD applicants will be considered. The department currently includes six full-time faculty members with approximately 100 undergraduate majors and minors in multiple programs.
Oklahoma Baptist University is a private, Christian liberal arts institution with more than 1800 students and 280 faculty and staff on a 200-acre campus in Shawnee, Oklahoma. OBU transforms lives by equipping students to pursue academic excellence, integrate faith with all areas of knowledge, engage a diverse world, and live worthy of the high calling of God in Christ.
Application Process: To apply, complete a faculty application at http://www.okbu.edu/businessaffairs/hr/jobs.html. Submit the application, a curriculum vitae, a statement of teaching philosophy and interests, three letters of recommendation, a sample course syllabus (if available), and evidence of teaching effectiveness (if available) to Human Resource Department, 500 West University, OBU Box 61207, Shawnee, OK 74804. For questions call 405-585-4157. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply. Review of documents will begin February 15 and will continue until the position is filled.
Categories: CFH, Discussion, Life of the Mind, Reflecting on Faith
Daniel Cooley is a graduate student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He was kind enough to accept the invitation to reflect on CFH President R. Tracy Mckenzie’s Presidential Address from the conference at Gordon College. Please take a moment to view his family’s adoption page.
History that Matters
Recently, I learned that some members of my church were concerned about the growing balance of our benevolence fund, which is devoted to assisting members in financial distress. It seemed as though the rate of distribution of these funds was slowing. I spoke to a former member of the committee that is responsible for distributing the money, and she shared something revealing. She told me that
no one with a legitimate need was ever turned away; however, the definition of legitimate need had changed. It had narrowed. This former committee member felt that the process was designed to protect the church against being taken advantage of rather than for increasing access to these funds. As I reflected on Tracy McKenzie’s address from our recent CFH meeting, I wondered if Christian historians might sometimes be guilty of an analogous practice. I wonder if we historians who posses a wealth of knowledge are sometimes guilty of a similar practice of narrowing the definition of need?
Through the course of the professionalization of history writing, the definition of what a historian can legitimately say has narrowed. So the sort of history that finds at least part its raison d’être in moral example is no longer a “legitimate need.” A famous example would be Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which suggests that superstition and religious belief are dangerous to society. It brought down Rome, and it can bring down Enlightenment rationalism too.
This professionalization, of course, has afforded tremendous advances in the field, but this has also changed the definition of “legitimate need.” What I mean by this is that the sort of projects which are deemed significant, useful, and helpful has changed. Up until the modern period, it seems that historians were more likely to view their task in relation to their own real world context rather than an academic ghetto. Their task was to help their community to make sense of their identity, origins, purpose, and morality. At the same time, I suspect that nearly every professional historian working today would agree that they too want to make sense of questions related to identity, origins, purpose, and morality. If that is so, why does it seem that “public intellectuals” rather than professional historians are answering these historically minded questions for the general public?
To take this one step further, exactly how am I supposed to write history that matters? Who decides what is significant, useful or helpful? As I reflect on the conference this past week, these questions have been circulating in my mind. In the last few weeks, I obtained approval from my committee to begin writing my dissertation, and so these questions take on a new urgency for me. When I began to form my proposal, I did not sit down and think about these questions. My immediate concern was to write a dissertation that would satisfy my committee. My next concern was to write a dissertation that could get published. As I think back on this, I am not sure this was the best start in writing something that mattered. What do you think? How do we determine which projects are significant, useful, and helpful?
I think this question ought to compel us how we might “advance the field,” but I also think that it moves us beyond the world of the academy and into the realm of the world and the realm of the Church.