Archive for the ‘Grad School’ category

Signing Off: Greg Jones Bids Farewell

July 8, 2013

Friends and Colleagues:

After three years of service as the grad rep for the Conference on Faith and History, today marks my final work in the position.  I’m passing the torch to Mary Sanders, an Oklahoma State University PhD student and enthusiastic member of the CFH.  I’m certain Mary will do a great job for us.

Just by way of update, I am still finishing my doctoral work at Kent State University.  This fall I’ll be teaching via a temporary appointment at Geneva College, my alma mater.  I’ve been working as a part time instructor there for a few years and love it.  God is very good in His provision.

I thought I’d finish off my work at the CFH with a few personal reflections.  It is not an easy position to be both a Christian and a scholar.  I’ve learned that I need to spend a lot of time focusing more on Christ and less on my career.  Here are a few points of perspective for your consideration.

First, I learned that God provides.  I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a college professor.  In fact, I started talking about it in middle school.  My parents smartly reminded me that I might consider actually attending college before I thought about teaching it.  God opened the doors for my MA and PhD programs in ways that are hard to describe. When I faced the ending of my adjunct work at Kent State, God provided the opportunity at Geneva. I’ve learned a lot lately about the foolishness of cutting pieces of scripture out of context to suit our own needs, but I have to say the “seek ye first” passage [Matt. 6:33] seems true in any context.  Seek first God’s wisdom and righteousness, before personal career, and He will bless your work (albeit not always how you envisioned).

Second, I learned that no matter the work, my family matters most.  Without getting too autobiographical, I’d just like to say that time spent with family is never lost time.  For those of us with small children bouncing around our rooms, it may be difficult to focus on that book review or last minute edit, but time spent with family is never lost.  Don’t use family as a crutch to miss out on responsibilities, but remember that family is the root of life.  When you put them in the acknowledgements of your book one day, you want to mean what you say about their support.  Don’t cut yourself off from that which brings real blessing.

Third, I learned that nothing is promised.  Not a day is promised to us.  We have to live for the moment not in a hedonistic sense, but to do our best.  I may never teach another class.  The higher education bubble may burst any day, closing our access to ever teaching or researching again.  So enjoy today.  Read what you must, but also read what drives  you.  Tomorrow is not promised so work and play as hard as you can today.  When I hear colleagues whining and complaining about how much work they have to do, I can’t help but feel for them.  This “job” is such a blessing to me.  Do I always love grading?  Of course not.  Do I always love meetings?  No way.  But do I count it a blessing to work in the conditions I do with people that I love, reading and discussing the things that matter most?  Of course.

Wherever you are in your program, or even if you’re a non-academic that surfed your way to this entry, keep working.  Keep your hand to the plow.  Keep your nose to the stone.  Work, love, play, and embrace the world that we have.  God is good and His bounty is not complete.  Seek Him.  Listen to His guidance in career, in research, in writing, and in teaching.  Faith is more than a nice set of moral standards for conducting our lives.  Faith is the lived evidence of a Living God.  Testify with your life, with your work, and with all that you are.

Thank you, again, to the CFH for inviting me to this position.  Thank  you to my fellow graduate students who have shared in CFH panel discussions or corresponded with me.  Thank you to the grad students who will carry on after me.  It is my prayer that the organization continues to grow, beaming the Light of Christ in the midst of an ever-darkening Academy.  Let us be a beacon of hope for the Kingdom of God.

Godspeed,
Greg Jones

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The Pages Were Red With Ink: On Feedback

June 27, 2013

You’ve always been an all-star student.  In third grade, your teachers talked about you in the teacher’s lounge, “She used a word I had to look up.  I don’t even know what vacillate means and she used it in a sentence…”  You were the top of your high school class.  College felt a breeze.  When your favorite professor said you should consider grad school, you smiled and rattled off the top programs you were already contemplating.  He loved your work.  You always got As.  You were destined for greatness.Red Ink

Then you arrived at grad school… and everything seems to have changed.

You receive feedback on your first… maybe second paper… and it’s full of red ink.  There are abbreviations for errors you don’t even understand.  What have I done?  Who has failed me?  Why do I keep writing in the passive voice?

Graduate school is meant to be a humbling experience.  What most students master at the undergrad level is how to speak the language of the professor.  “Oh I know Jones… he loves when I connect the Civil War to theology and reference Mark Noll.  I do that in every paper!”  Then the students replicate the winning formula with every subsequent paper, affirming self-fulfilling prophecies.  Then when students try to do that kind of thing in graduate school, they quickly realize the goal is not to say what the professor wants to hear, but rather write something the professor him/herself has never even thought about.  The goal of graduate school is innovative, unique, and powerful thinking.  This does not happen over night.

I will not pretend to be the expert on this.  I’m still working on my doctoral work, but what I do have to say is to take heart.  A page full of red marks means that the professor believes there is hope in “fixing” your writing.  Let it influence you.  Take in the comments and learn from them.  Not all professors agree on good writing.  Every year committees argue over the Pulitzer and the Bancroft because no one can agree on the best research and writing.  Fortunately your first seminar paper in grad school is not up for a Pulitzer.  So, learn from the red ink.

I will finish with this advice.  Visit the professor not out of a concern for the grad, but to learn more about how to think.  Teachers face students all the time who are concerned with grades.  GPAs, of course, in our market economy can determine all sorts of quality of life issues.  In short, for undergrads, the difference of a few letter grades can determine a $10,000 grant or not.  That’s a huge deal.  But what professors want to hear is a genuine concern for learning.  Grad school, as expensive as it can be, should not just be about your grades.  Rather, focus on learning.  “I see your comments here about this awkward sentence.  Can you explain to me how to write it more clearly?  How can I improve the way I’m thinking about this historical time period?”  Those questions will go a long way in establishing your relationship with instructors, as well as your own intellectual progress.

Take a few red marks on the chin.  Don’t argue with the grade, but always learn from criticism.  Remember that when you get out of grad school (if you stay in the academic world), there will be editors, peer reviewers, and still more red ink to fix.  Revision is part of the writing process.  It doesn’t mean you’re not an all-star student any more; it just means you’ve made the all-star team and the coaches here intend to push you harder.

When will you be done? And other questions grad students can’t handle.

June 2, 2013

This is not a post for graduate students.  This is a post for everyone who loves a graduate student.  Here are some things we hate to hear and a few reasons why.  If you are a grad student and can’t bear to say these things yourself, maybe you can click “share” and let these words speak for you.eating-alone-2

1) When will you be done?
We know you mean well with this question, but graduate degrees (MAs and especially PhDs) are not defined by chronological status updates like a BA or BS.  To complete a full original research project may take years even before writing begins.  Some scholars research quickly and take years to write.  Some take years to research and write in no time.  Others take years to do it all.  Oh, and as most readers are aware, most scholars are doing all of this work in the evenings or on weekends because our days are full of teaching undergraduates.  We don’t want your sympathy, but you might consider asking, “how is your work?”  Please don’t ask, “how is school?” like we’re still in elementary school.  We know you mean well, but grad school is our job.

2) When will you get a real job?
This is a difficult question that often does not get asked directly, but it’s what people mean.  When you ask when we’re getting done, you’re basically leading to this.  “So… you’re in your late 20s and you’re still in school… you have no money and no prospects… when are you going to throw in the towel and come work at the bank/bar/hotel/factory with the rest of us grown ups?”  We don’t want to hear that.  We don’t need to hear that.  We need support.  Graduate students took a leap of faith the days we applied, got accepted, and began working on this.  Our work is the life of the mind.  We know that you won’t all “get it,” but that question doesn’t really help.  By the way, if you’re really curious, our answer to this question is almost invariably, “when the market normalizes, my research is complete, Oxford publishes my manuscript, and the perfect job at the place I want has an opening and everyone on the committee thinks I’m amazing.”  In short, we have no idea and the truthful answer might be never.  Is it still worth pursuing?  Absolutely.

3) What does your spouse think of all this?
This one is sometimes in the form of a condescending statement, as in, “Oh your [significant other] must really love you to put up with ALL THIS SCHOOL.”  Again, I point to number one in reference to this being a job and not school.  But… more to the point… the sanctimonious attitude present in this all-too-common question/statement is that we, grad students, are mere leeches on our significant others, bringing down the household income to pursue some silly dream.  I didn’t buy a Corvette and go cruisin’ down the coast.  This is not a quarter-life crisis.  This is a graduate degree that is part of a larger career.  It’s personal advancement as well as, at least we hope, helping to expand the knowledge base of humanity.  You’re welcome.

The main thing we grad students need in this process is support.  We want you to care and sustain us, but this is neither a hospital stay nor boot camp.  We made the decision to get into this ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we always enjoy it OR always hate it.  We love and despise the life of the mind.  The best advice I can give is to treat graduate students like the professionals that they are.  Would you ask your dentist when he’s finally going to quit doing all the small time local patient stuff and get a degree in oral surgery?  Would you ask your lawyer why he’s working on your small time local stuff when he could be slaying corporate giants downtown?  No.  You would talk about their work with respect and dignity, with the care and precision of a semi-interested non-specialist who cares but does not condescend.  On behalf of grad students everywhere, we would love a little of the same.

Finding Conferences – H-Net is Key!

May 8, 2013

At this point in our careers most grad students have something worth sharing with the larger Imageacademy.  You have a seminar paper that “ain’t so bad” and you’re ready to share it with the world.  Okay, well not THE WORLD, yet… but you want to share it with someone other than your advisor (who hates it) and your mother (who loves it).  Where, pray tell, can you find such a place?

Sometimes departments post fliers for conferences in the area, but the best way to find Calls for Papers (CFPs) is on H-Net, the list serv software from Michigan State that will fill your inbox with delightful things nearly every day.  If you haven’t yet checked out H-Net, go there now.

You can subscribe to H-lists (the H stands for Humanities, by the way) on a variety of subjects.  There are announcements for conferences, book projects, and even book reviews.  It’s a great opportunity to network with other professionals writing in a given subject within the historical profession.

Go, subscribe, and get connected!

Advice for Surviving Graduate School

April 1, 2013

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. books

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

So you want to go to grad school? Five things advisers won’t tell you but you need to know

March 1, 2013

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 grjones83@gmail.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.

Spring 2013 – Status

January 26, 2013

AwaitingFriends, colleagues, and fellow Christian historians,

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?