Friday, October 30, 2009

Prioritize The Dissertation, Failing To

I mentioned to one of the other graduate students in my lab that I had achieved my goal of applying to 10 jobs this semester, and he was suitably impressed. Not at the number - like me, he has no idea how many job applications would be reasonable - but at the fact that I was applying for jobs and finishing my dissertation at the same time. He didn't think he could do it.

I'm not really doing it. Applying for jobs, yes; making progress on my dissertation, not so much. It's not the job applications that have delayed my dissertation progress, so much, although checking the various job posting sites has become my new means of "productive" procrastination. Teaching, and mentoring my undergraduate students, and just dealing with the daily influx of emails and small requests, are taking up all my time. Even telling myself that I would dedicate one day a week to working on the dissertation has not motivated me enough; there are always things with nearer deadlines, or straightforward end-of-week burnout.

In my defense, I have written drafts of the first four chapters - my introduction, and the first three experiments. I have also been kept busy with the design and data collection of my fourth experiment, so it's not as though I've done nothing. I've just done very, very little since the semester began. I had planned to have my introduction ready for my advisor's approval by the end of the semester; that's not likely to happen.

The good news is that our department colloquium lacked a speaker last week, so it became a q&a on dissertation requirements. The one member of my committee who was present advanced his opinions on length of the dissertation, explicitly stating a preference for an introduction appropriate for a journal article, and definitely not in the style of our huge comprehensive exam. I am relieved that my procrastination does not come at as huge a cost as I thought (I'm only 20 pages behind, not 50). I might even be motivated enough to turn to that introduction and start revising. Or I might be one of those people who only gets to writing within a month of the due date. At least my job applications get out several months in advance.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Small Conference, Remembered by the Stomach

At my first conference I was one of about 8,000 attendees; at my second, I was one of about 500. The most noticeable difference between the two was the food. At the large conference, the only food I received was at a special networking lunch I signed up for, and paid extra for. At this conference, there was food everywhere.

Each morning there was a continental breakfast. This was not "continental" in the sense of my (cheap) non-conference hotel, which was cereal, bananas, slightly stale muffins, and the opportunity to make Texas-shaped waffles; this was "continental" in the sense of coffee and danishes of plausibly European origins. More coffee would be served at the second session; no snacks, but then it was right before lunch.

Between the two afternoon sessions, tables were laid out featuring yet more coffee (obviously the caterers understood that attendees would be jet-lagged, and likely unused to waking up at 7 a.m. for several days in a row), and delicious fudgy chocolate brownies. There was an alternative to the brownies, but I ignored it.

The greatest surprise was at the poster session. These were over the dinner hour, and I expected people to be rushing through on their way to nourishment. Instead, there was an array of hors d'oeuvres, including mini kebobs, some little potato pancakes, and many triangular pieces of bread decorated with fancy flowers of butter.

Of course, there was more to the conference than just the food. There was the research, and networking (not well, but some) with other researchers, and getting the chance to present my own research. But I think the catering will be the most memorable part of the conference, and something by which future conferences will be judged. After all, I am still a graduate student, and entranced by free food.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Job Search: Relying on the Letter Writers

There must be some polite way to see someway and say, "Oh hey! I know you tend to be busy and not at all deadline-oriented, and I was just wondering if you'd written those letters of reference that are due this week, or even remembered that you agreed to write them".

There must be, but I don't know what it is. So I just stalked this particular professor at his office hours, a week after those deadlines had passed, on the pretext of asking how he would like to receive the next list of jobs to which I would be applying, in the hope that he would in some way indicate whether the earlier batch of letters had been sent. This turned into a 45-minute conversation on the benefits of microwave coking, his work with the Teamsters Union, and our mutual preference for CDs over mp3s. Buried within this array of topics was the information that he did remember the letters, and had kept the folder of supporting materials I provided in a safe place as he rearranged his office, but had not remembered the deadlines, or written anything.

In my gentle prodding way, I volunteered myself to produce stamped, addressed envelopes, with departmental letterhead, and a quick checklist of colleges and addressees first thing the next morning. I am deliberately not worrying about how an incomplete application will affect the opinion of the search committee, which only affects three jobs, two of which I wasn't excited about. I will, however, be stalking this professor at his office hours again later this week, or contriving a "coincidental" meeting in the hall where he might spontaneously update me on his progress.

I don't mind my job prospects depending on other people, in the form of the search committees that will make the employment decisions. I do mind my job prospects depending on other people, in the form of other people sticking to deadlines that really only matter to me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Adjunct ID

I didn't need to pick up an adjuct ID card. I blend in on almost any college campus. I spend only eight hours a week there, all of which is spent in my office or my classroom. I don't even have to cross campus to get to my office; my building is on the edge, and I get there by walking down a street with campus on one side and a residential neighborhood on the other. I certainly hadn't missed the card in the first three weeks of class, so there really was no reason to detour to the ID office on Thursday.

Except: I really, really wanted one. For two reasons, two little words: Adjunct Professor. There are days I can't quite believe I'm really a professor, hired to a position in my chosen profession. I'm not going to be taking the ID out of my wallet and admiring it - I'm not quite that crazy - but I will be saving it, the tiny, official memento of my first "real" job.