Sunday, December 30, 2007

Looking for real snow

Dad in the snow
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
The Valley in winter is often foggy and cloudy, but it's been particularly so this year. There hadn't been a partially sunny day until today. We took advantage of this brief sunshine to drive up to Mt. Ashland to check out the snow and the views.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bear Creek Greenway

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
We went for a walk today on the Bear Creek Greenway, which runs from Central Point to Ashland along Bear Creek. It's not entirely complete yet (I think - the website isn't entirely clear, and we didn't do the whole thing). Here you can see a road that runs over the creek and greenway.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


It's been quiet here on the blog, but I've just been doing Christmas stuff with the family. Most of you are probably too busy with the holidays to read this anyway, right?

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2007

All done!

One more semester is finished! I turned in my sociology paper and went to class this morning, and then I was free. After sitting on my butt for two days to finish that paper, I decided to celebrate by taking a hike. There aren't a lot of hikes close to town that I haven't done, but I hadn't been to the Narrows of Harpeth. It's almost at the limits of too far to drive for the length of the hike, which is just under 2 miles, but it turned out to be much prettier than many of the local hikes. If you hike much at all around Nashville, you've done Percy Priest, Warner Parks and Radnor Lakes a million times, and while they're pretty there's nothing particular outstanding about them. The Narrows hike starts off following the Harpeth River and then has three forks. One leads to a canoe spot (in the photo), one leads up to a bluff with a good view of the river, and the third leads to a man-made waterfall. The entire thing was surprisingly scenic.

Tomorrow I'm going to run errands, but today is all about recovery from school.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Still a process

The latest issue of The Review of Higher Education came in the mail this week, so I unwrapped it and flipped it over to see what was in it. I realized that I was reading the names of the authors instead of the titles of their articles. I'm pretty sure I didn't use to do that.

Yesterday I was talking with a first-year masters student, a bright guy, and he was talking about a class he took this semester. He said that when given the name of an author they had read - even someone they read an entire book from - he couldn't put the name together with what he (in this case) wrote. A stray doctoral student in the class, however, had no problem with this.

That flashed me back to my masters program. As an undergrad, I generally didn't remember the names of the scholars we read. (Since I was an English major, yes, I remembered Shakespeare and could tell him from Angela Carter or Charles Dickens. But when I read for my other courses, unless it was a big name - Descartes or Darwin - it was, as far as I was concerned, Some Dude.) When I started my masters program, it took me a good year to realize how important it was to remember that X said Y, rather than that Y is a fact. I had to consciously pay attention to names.

Now, I'm glancing at journals, scanning to see if the articles are by anyone really famous, anyone whose work I tend to enjoy, or any acquaintances. Then it's a second glance to see what the topics are.

Yes, they can rebuild us. They have the technology. Nerdier than we were before.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Getting close

Yesterday evening I had some PowerPoint slides to finish and a paper to polish, both for this morning. I had also promised to go caving, although if things got dire I figured I could back out. Things did not get dire, however, and I managed to do it all, even though it was a pretty late night.

This morning I turned in the paper and presented with my research partner. Now, all I have left is a paper for Monday, with three whole days to work on it. (We have class Monday morning, but that just requires showing up.)

The end is near.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Accomplishments and backslides

My sociology exam is now behind me. I came out of it with a massive headache (as well as with the conviction that I performed reasonably on it), so I treated myself to a peppermint mocha. I have been trying to swear off disposable paper cups, but vice got the better of me this time.

On the way home, I passed a cyclist I had also seen on the way into campus. I thought to myself, here I am destroying the earth in two ways, as I emit carbon while holding an unnecessarily dead tree, while this guy is being virtuous - and burning calories rather than consuming empty ones. The guilt!

Back to work, now, on an assignment due tomorrow morning, so I can go caving later this evening.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Should be buckling down ...

... and I am, really, but I did take some time out this weekend between studying and writing. Saturday night my advisor had a shindig at his place for current and former PPI staff. He and his wife recently bought this place out in the country, so I think this was their trial run at entertaining. It was a good time, but, yikes, I don't think I would want that long of a drive myself.

This morning I went to a yoga workshop by Chris Chavez. A friend had told me about it, but she ended up not making it. It was good, although tough, and it certainly didn't help that I'm out of shape. My brain thinks my body can do things but my muscles beg to differ, and you can only go on sheer willpower so long. But he got me doing handstands, which I've never gotten up the nerve to do. I actually think that it helped that he didn't have us do them right up against the wall. That's supposed to increase your comfort, but I have these visions of smacking my face on the wall and floor, especially if it has molding. However, I didn't faceplant into the trim or do anything else humiliating. Now tomorrow's forecast calls for soreness!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Checking in

What do I still have to do this semester?
  • For discourse analysis, create a presentation and present a version of our final project; do one final analysis.
  • For sociology, finish studying for the test, take the test, and write a paper.
  • For economics of higher ed, finish the paper, create a presentation, and present it.

I'll be done with econ first, as everything is due Tuesday. Sociology and discourse won't be done until a week from Monday.

Too soon

This year's job market leaves me depressed. It's too good - there are too many postings, including several I could really see myself in. Back in my first year, one professor told me the market was really opening up and that when I went out there would maybe be five jobs to apply for; this year, I've already seen more than five. Presumably, most of these places will find what they want (at least the most desirable places) and not hire again next year. Looks like the blossoming of the market happened too early for me.

Of course, a lot of these new hires will be upgrades, so next year Southwest State University will have an opening after someone moved from there to University of Flagship. But these jobs aren't particularly desirable, at least from our faculty's point of view. (Mind you, our track record for placing students doesn't reflect faculty ambitions, but this has to do with student ambitions as well as the faculty. They can't make someone who wants to do institutional research apply for a job as an assistant professor.) Nevertheless, they aren't necessarily jobs I am enticed by, either.

I have this fear that next year every job opening will be either be somewhere I don't want to go or for a kind of scholar that I'm not. Or there will be one fabulous job and every single fresh PhD and assistant professor will be vying for it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Frightening things

1. I was working out my schedule for next semester, and my advisor wants me to reserve Mondays (and possibly Fridays) for writing - not necessarily my dissertation, but other papers I am working on. It's an interesting idea but it scares me a little bit. I can write all morning, but I have a hard time writing in the afternoon. I may have to redefine writing to mean researching for papers or something after lunch. We will see.

2. The other day I was getting dressed and realized that "my posterior's getting big and my posterior's getting bigger." (Sorry, Beastie Boys.) It's that time of year again when my Nordic genes prepare for the long, dark winter ahead. Also, I've been exercising less without the goal of being fit enough for Mount Saint Helens driving me. I need to get back into balance, which is easier said than done during the Christmas season.

3. There isn't a number three, unless you count getting through the end of the semester stuff I'm not excited about, which is due before the stuff I am.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


From the NYT, here's the increasing use of adjuncts in higher education.

Malcolm Getz, an economist who studies education, gave a talk in our department on Thursday. In passing he mentioned a student who transferred to Vanderbilt from Middle Tennessee State University and found he had some of the same adjuncts teaching his classes. (This doesn't mean the material or difficulty of the course was the same at both institutions, of course.)

One area my advisor and I work on is studying professions. Classically, the three professions are law, medicine, and theology. Other jobs have aspired to be considered professions, and so a body of work has built up to describe what exactly a profession is. The resulting list generally goes something like:
  1. A profession has a body of knowledge that requires training of practitioners.
  2. A profession produces outcomes that cannot be readily evaluated by the layperson.
  3. Members of professions control entry into their field.
  4. Members of professions have a relatively high degree of autonomy.

College professors are one of the most widely agreed-upon professions outside of the traditional three. Body of knowledge? The doctorate, which has only grown as a requirement in recent years. Outcomes that are hard to evaluate? Yup. Control of entry? Faculty train PhDs, so they must. Autonomy? That's tenure. Adjuncting, on the other hand, is not a profession, most specifically because adjuncts possess no autonomy at all.

Adjuncts, however, are an alternative to faculty for some of the work faculty do - the teaching component of research, teaching, and service. Some adjuncts are full-time professionals who simply teach one course for whatever reason, but when articles like the NYT's talk about adjuncts, they generally refer to folks who piece together a full work load from teaching courses at several schools. Many of these folks do have PhDs or are working on them.

So go back to the "controlling entry into a field" requirement for a moment. College faculty aren't doing that. They're producing more PhDs than there are faculty jobs. This reserve force of would-be faculty, then, is desperate for work and willing to take adjunct work. The sheer number of them allows institutions to further reduce the number of tenured positions, because the adjuncts aren't scarce enough to hold out for better. (Or organized enough.) You might blame administrators eager to increase their school's prestige by granting PhDs, but this can only be done with faculty complicity.

In fields like education, this isn't a big deal, as there is a demand for PhDs in administration, and this is true of a lot of practice-oriented fields and the sciences. But in the humanities and many social sciences, PhDs are being overproduced. You sometimes see blame placed on students going into them, who "ought to know" better. Ideally, sure, we would all conduct extensive research on our career choices. It's more fair to point to their undergrad profs who encourage them and the graduate schools that accept them. This is something the profession has some control over, and if it wants to remain a profession, it has to use that control.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


All right! All this deep talk has moved my blog up:
cash advance

While we're being reflexive, my dad sent me this.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

You've been advised, part II

So if my dissertation is being driven by a central idea, what is that idea? I'm been thinking through a bevy of ideas, and I feel like I can't quite get there. Here's some of what I've been tossing around.

"Elite institutions have interests identical with those of elite individuals." A hundred years ago, Harvard wasn't selective. They didn't turn down a lot of students. Instead, it was in a mutually supportive relationship with America's elite, especially the Boston elite. The right folks applied and were admitted, and most everyone else didn't give a rip. This solidarity thesis may have been true back in that day, but it hasn't been for a long time. When Columbia and Penn started admitting more Jews, their relationships with the upper class eroded, according to work by Farnum. That they allowed this to happen suggests the institutions had some interests at least that did not coincide with the elite as a whole.

Well, how about a thesis about change over time? Because I'm not doing a history. Whatever changes have taken place are a backdrop; I'm just analyzing the current situation.

"To those that have, are given." This is accumulative advantage, or the Matthew Effect, made famous by Merton. Certainly I am looking at institutions that have and keep getting. But I'm not explaining why everyone else can't keep up; I'm looking at the active process of keeping at the head of the procession. Accumulative advantage may state that organizations do whatever it takes to stay ahead; it doesn't say why one course of action rather than another is what it takes.

Stratification is too broad, but I think I can discard it without delving too deep. Colleges are stratified, sure, but stratification theory is about how individuals behave. It's why the stakeholders in my dissertation are making the demands on colleges they do. But I don't think it describes how colleges decide to respond.

If you're talking about responding to stakeholders, you're talking resource dependency. That is, organizations respond to the demands of those who have resources, be those fiscal or regulatory or something else. The problem with this theory is that no matter what an org does, it can be explained by resource dependency. Therefore, it's not predictive. You can't model how a college decides to respond to one set of stakeholders or balance conflicting demands. I am arguing that colleges are in fact actively balancing contradictory constituent demands, but this can't tell me in what proportion, or why it just doesn't give up one set of stakeholders. For a theory, RD is strangely atheoretical.

I'm only starting to read about status systems, so maybe I don't know enough about them yet to really say much. I have a feeling there could be something there.

I'm thinking about consumption and how you know a good is high status. Some things are consumed only by elites. Say, yachts. Whatever interest most people have in yachts, we aren't buying them. Do you know yacht brands? I don't. Other goods everybody buys, say, cars. Here we can identify elite brands even if we don't purchase them ourselves. We all tacitly know that a Ferrari is better than a Kia. Part of that is price, but is it all? Doesn't part of Ferrari's status depend on being known as a status good? Kia could jack up their prices - even hire a Ferrari designer - and the end product might cost more than my Cinco, but I bet it wouldn't compete with a Ferrari.

So a high-end product in a mass market, I think, needs both scarcity (whether artificial or natural) as well as name recognition. (I'm wandering into Veblen territory here.) Colleges, back in the day, did not produce goods for the masses, and so were like yachts. Today, with the massification of higher education, they do, and are like cars.

Being scarce isn't hard for the top colleges to do - just limit admissions. Being broadly identified as an elite product is. Price is a signal to some extent, but just like in the souped-up Kia example it isn't enough. How does Ferrari stay on top? It makes cars that perform well. What is the equivalent for a college? It has to be known to perform well, which I think for a college doesn't mean it teaches students a lot. It means it offers entree into elite society. Frankly, that's really the only good an elite institution offers that other colleges don't. That's the hard thing to maintain that drives a lot of institutional behavior. The concessions made to elites, such as an advantages in admissions, are not because they have identical interests or because colleges need their fiscal resources, but because good relationships with elites are what they are selling to all comers.

But I know nothing about consumption and luxury goods, except what I know from The Theory of the Leisure Class, which is a century old. Somehow I don't think scholars have been sitting around twiddling their thumbs on the topic.

Wait, is this what my dissertation is about? If so, I had no idea until right about now. How can my central, driving question be entirely subconscious? I don't even know where to look in the literature. And if that's my argument, why aren't I just looking at legacy admissions? Why am I adding development admits too?

I need a luxury good right about now. Preferably a strong one with a little umbrella in it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You've been advised, part I

Today I had a meeting with my dissertation chair about another paper I'm working on (the one that was panned for being too long when it wasn't) and it turned into a meeting about my dissertation. He was really pushing me to conceptualize it as an example of a specific theory - as an example of how the world works that just happens to be taken from education - rather than as a dissertation about education.

In the good old days before I entered the Ivory Tower, I would have said all research questions were created equal. Oh, curing cancer might beat curing bruises from a useful standpoint, but "finding info about the world and how it works" was all intellectually equal. Right, not so much. Facts about the world, no matter how useful, that are isolated facts and not part of a system, just don't rank as high. That's why "practical" disciplines such as education have less prestige than "pure" disciplines.

So if you're doing research in education, you can conceptualize your question several ways.

One, it is a practical question of "does X work?". Education gets browbeaten for asking these atheoretical questions, but they have their place. Let's say one of your state senators decides that in order to improve education, all class sizes need to be 10 students or less. If his bill passes, the state is going to spend a lot of benjamins to reduce class sizes. So asking simply, "Do smaller classes lead to higher test scores/higher graduation rates/etc.?" without any kind of theoretical grounding is a reasonable question. One reason to criticize this work is that it doesn't lead to any guidance on how to answer follow-up questions. If you find that reducing classes sizes from 20 to 10 does make a difference, would it also be equally good to add a teacher aide to each class of 20? Would reducing class sizes to 15 have the same effect? What about lengthening the school year? Does it matter for all grades?

Thus, you can introduce theory. In alumni giving research, some folks draw on psychological theories of attachment. Alumni wish to identify with a school they perceive as successful, thereby boosting their own projection of success. Your hypothesize that alumni increase their giving if their alma mater rises in the U.S. News rankings. And if you find out it does, you can go on to test whether making more PR noise about your rise in rankings further improves giving. Great, now you're grounded in theory. But your work doesn't feed back into the work on loyalty and attachment. It's pitched at others in education, not to psychologists. Your central question is about education fundraising, not about psychology.

Your final alternative is to take a theoretical proposition and use education as a test case. Suppose you are interested in stratification. In a nutshell, stratification theory posits that we all want our kids to have at least as much status as ourselves. The trouble is, the elite have more resources to use as inputs on their childrens' behalves. Thus, no matter what the rules of the game are, those who already have win. So you might posit that if education is a pathway to the elite, those who are already in the elite will set the educational bar higher for the next generation. If a college education used to be enough to enter the elite, ambitious non-elites would start to get college degrees. But now the elite is getting bigger; maybe a masters degree will come to be seen as a minimum. Education is your test case here; your next project may well be on how the elite controls the Social Register.

Even at a really excellent education department, like, oh, Vanderbilt, most of the work being done falls into the second category. At the end of the day, it's about improving education. I offer no criticism of this, and in fact I think it's what "the public" expects from an ed school. We in LPO tend to frown on the first category - my advisor made it clear long ago that my dissertation WOULD have a theoretical grounding. There is no or else.

So why was my chair pushing me towards category three? In part, of course, that's because his own dissertation was like that. It was fundamentally asking a question about a theory of political science. I don't think that's the only reason, mind you, but he didn't give a list of reasons. He did go further and suggested actively insinuating myself into the networks of where those kinds of questions are being answered. As my advisor pointed out, this would give me a whole other set of peers. (On the other hand, it doesn't really open up any more jobs. It's still a PhD in ed, and you don't get into a sociology department with that.) I am finding myself that most of the work I think is interesting is Category III work, and it's being done by people I don't know at conferences I don't go to. That alone is an incentive for me to follow his advice.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Furniture rocks

Last Monday I stopped into my office and noticed that, joy of joys, we finally got our filing cabinets. (There was a mishap with the furniture delivery at the beginning of the year.) So this morning I spent some quality time rearranging things, putting things inside my file cabinet, and generally sprucing up my corner of the office. And then I got a key for the cabinet. Now I can lock my belongings up when I leave and feel secure they won't disappear, even if my officemate isn't around to keep an eye on things.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lost dogs

Lost dogs
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
While walking in Shelby Park this morning, two random dogs attached themselves to me. They followed me for most of the way back to the lot, obviously being people dogs, until I met a jogger. She didn't have a cell phone on her either, so we couldn't call Animal Control, but they liked her fast pace and followed her back to her car.

Their tags had registration numbers but no owner information; Animal Control wasn't going to be open (and able to look them up) until Tuesday. She decided to take them to the Humane Society.

So, if anyone in East Nashville is missing a German Shepherd and a Boston Terrier, call the Humane Society. And get tags with your phone number on them, because if the dogs had those they could be home with you now.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I'm back from Charleston, where we had a great Thanksgiving. We stayed with family on Isle of Palms, but we spent some time sightseeing in Charleston proper, too. The picture here is of the beach on IOP.

Yes, it was in the high 70s and sunny the whole time, although at night the temperature dropped considerably. And yes, I ate a great deal.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I'm leaving tomorrow for Thanksgiving break. I hope all of you have happy, healthy, relaxing holidays.

The photo at right is one of a series of fall photos I took on the Peabody campus. The squirrels, as you see, are not at all people-shy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

All quiet on the turkey front

I've been somewhat heads-down the last few days, partially because I've had a cold. It's not going to kill me, but I've been sleeping a lot. So there's nothing very exciting to report. (Except I did go to the new Whole Foods today. I've never seen such an enormous Whole Foods. It's aisle after aisle of food porn!)

I also think that having the grant application and my conference presentations behind me has helped me be more productive on some end of the semester stuff. This is in part because they're just out of the way, but also because I was spending nervous mental energy on them. End of the semester projects, on the other hand, do entail a lot of work but are not novel. They don't induce the same sort of anxiety.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Viewing pleasure

Here are two videos for your perusal:

This is something you just have to see. Really.

This might be somewhat less goofy if I spoke Korean, but only minimally.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Next steps

OK, I'm over it. I don't have room in my headspace to let this reviewer take up valuable real estate, so ... moving on ...

I came back from ASHE filled with ideas and plans, as usual. Dr. Carter, who was the discussant on my event history analysis paper, had several good suggestions, of which I plan to use all but one. On the drive home, Ms. Prepared had a really excellent suggestion for a slightly different direction in which to take the paper. So now I'm more excited about a project I had gotten tired of. (I am not taking one of Dr. Carter's suggestions because the new direction obviates the need for it, not because it wasn't a good one.)

I also have roughly mapped out where the various projects I am working on need to go over the next year or so, with next steps, where to submit them, etc.

But - before I can do any of that - I have some homework to catch up on for this week.

Adding insult

The reviews are available for proposals for AERA. Two of mine were accepted and one was rejected.

Reading the comments isn't necessarily fun - they tell you what's wrong with your paper, and I'm no masochist. However, generally the comments are useful. Some make me think, "Right, OK, I should do that." Others make me think, "They're wrong about X, but I'm pretty sure that I was unclear. Time to rewrite." Some I disagree with and am willing to take the risk that others will agree with me when I submit elsewhere. Others are more complex or thought-provoking.

But then there is the occasional comments that makes you wonder if they were actually reading your paper at all.

I had one reviewer write, "This proposal is quite problematic for me. First, it appear to be too long and, thus, I do not believe that it is compliant with the baseline requirements for proposal submissions to Division J." The call for proposals says, "Provide a summary of 2,000 words or fewer (excluding references) for use in judging the merits of the proposed paper." Division J does not provide a different word count. My proposal clocks in at 1986.

Honestly, this makes me angry. It's rare you can say that a reviewer is clearly and unequivocally wrong. While it doesn't matter (this paper would have been rejected in any case), it is frustrating to see the one thing you know you did right criticized.

Friday, November 9, 2007

ASHE 2007

It's day 2 of ASHE. So far, we learned that Louisville is on Eastern time (which I should have known, since I've driven up and down I-65 enough times). I have a few pictures from the Vanderbilt reception, which I will post as soon as I get around to downloading them. For now, I have to go meet my editor. (Doesn't that make me sound fancy? In truth, she's the editor of the book I'm third author on. So it's not inaccurate to call her my editor, just misleading.)

I guess I have to start saying things like that, though. Apparently between being a second and a third year student a transformation occurred. As a second year, I was one of a large mass of mostly indistinguishable graduate students that were treated politely but with no special interest. Apparently now I am close enough to being on the job market - even though I'm not looking this year, I have started on that magical process that ends in "dissertation" - that I'm now quasi-scrutinized by many of the people I meet, but most particularly by other students on the market or soon to be. It's all friendly enough, but it's a weird feeling.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Academic conferencing

Tomorrow morning I head off to ASHE, where higher ed academics present research and have a general hootenany. This year it is in Louisville, so we're driving. Depending on the internet situation, I may or may not be posting. Wish me luck in my presentations on Saturday.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Various education notes

"Del Mar College’s interim president has come under fire for proposed policy changes affecting faculty life – most notably one decoupling promotion from tenure." Without getting into the issues of tenure and promotion, what I wonder is, what the heck is an interim president doing making policy changes? Interims are hired with the understanding they are temporary placeholders, cardboard cutouts to stand in for a permanent president, if you will. They keep things going the way they were before they started. Occasionally, a major scandal will erupt under an interim's watch, and then, of course, the interim must act. But other under circumstances, interims with big ideas are supposed to sit back and apply for the presidential job like everyone else.

MIT is suing Frank Gehry for its ineptly designed and constructed building. UC Irvine tore its Gehry down; my own alma mater has had ongoing issues with its Gehry. (In addition to the ice mentioned in the link, they've had the same flooding problems that MIT has.) I do have one soft spot for CWRU's Gehry, though - its labrynthian architecture played a sizable role (along with the shooter's ineptness) in stopping our own school shooting from being an even bigger tragedy than it was.

I saw a college billboard the other day that seemed a little different. Most college billboards are either touting their degree programs or their sports. Among the latter, you see "Catch the [team] spirit!" and "Get your season tickets!" Those that tout degree programs take one of two strategies. One is focused on you - "Get your degree, get your promotion" or "It's time to fulfill your dream." When you think about it, these don't actually tell you that the college being advertised is the best place to do it. Others advertise the advantages of their particular program - get your degree online, part-time, or more quickly. The billboard for Bethel College was clearly among the last type. It said, "Learn more, finish faster." But I've never seen a college billboard before that actually said anything about learning. A degree is always treated as a certification or credential, one can you can take pride in, but then you can take pride in lots of kinds of hard work that do not necessarily increase your knowledge.

Last, but not least, Vanderbilt has announced what it wants in a chancellor.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Kickball results

I was reminded that I did not post the results of the Peabody kickball tournament. For the second year in a row, our department won. It was a close thing; one game we won in overtime, one we won by forfeit, and we actually tied our final game. But since each of the other teams had lost a game, our record was still the best.

Better ideas

So I was being a bit of a smart aleck about that diagram. Actually, it was a good idea. I was finishing up my grant proposal and was very dissatisfied with the theoretical framework. Dr. McLendon had told me to elaborate on it, and I had, but it felt disjointed. There was some of theory A and some of theory B but I didn't feel like it tied together.

Then I decided to draw a model of what I thought was actually happening, and suddenly the framework made a lot more sense. I had to rearrange and write some more, but it was no longer random piles of theory. I thought - for just a moment - great, I would figure this out at the last minute. Then I realized, better the last minute than the next day, after I've turned the proposal in. Hooray for just-in-time production!

Whenever I have a breakthrough that seems sudden like that, I never know if it is really a new flash of insight, or if it's just stuff that's been simmering finally coming together.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Stop me before I apply to Owen

Ack, I just found myself drawing a diagram, complete with arrows. What am I, an Owen School of Business student? Help!

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Tonight I am finishing up a proposal for a dissertation grant. Only 6% of applicants are awarded the grant - but of course, all 100% of non-applicants are turned down.
At the very least, it is forcing me to put into words and think through issues. You know how something seems perfectly clear in your head, but you try to explain it to someone else or to formulate it explicitly, and you realize you were glossing over some bits of it? Yeah, I'm going through that. I'm also chasing down citations and beefing up my theory section. I tend to absorb theories and then report them back telegraphically:
org theory stop resource dependency stop stakeholders with different levels of salience stop
I need to slow down and explain these things, not only because that's better academic writing, but because in this case the readers could be in a totally different area of education - say, they study interventions for autistic pre-schoolers.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bitter because I can't

There is an article over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed that is driving me crazy. (I don't think you need a subscription to see it.) Basically, the author says, she finds writing very difficult. When other people don't, first she doesn't really believe them, then she gets mad. She wishes they would all just shut their traps.

What is this, pre-school? "My mommy said I'm special so NO ONE can do ANYTHING better than me! So just shut up!"

You know, this is embarrassing, but I've never gotten the hang of using the Stairmaster. I just can't get the rhythm right. Everyone who looks at me funny when I say this, or says I just need to try agin, because Stairmasters are great - just stop showing off, alright?

I also have no ability to carry a tune. I wouldn't know an in-tune note if it wore a nametag. So next time someone talks about the joy of singing, or how everybody should just be able to have a nice sing-along, I'm going to tell them to can it. Don't make me have low singing self-esteem. As if singing could really be fun for anyone!

Then - and these are the ones that REALLY frost my cupcakes - there are the people who talk about how much they love running. Inevitably, they try to evangelize (maybe not to people in wheelchairs, but to reasonably mobile-looking types) that they ought to take it up. Endorphins, blah blah, great way to keep in shape ... whatever, I say running is hard. That's why I just sit and smirk when they start talking about injuries.

Alright, civilization, new rule: From no on, no one is allowed to talk about enjoying anything else that might possibly make anyone feel inferior. We don't want to know if you can bake a mean cupcake, get a weird thrill from vacuuming, are adept at curling, or can do really nice calligraphy. Because some of us can't, okay? Expressing a positive opinion is the same as rubbing the rest of our noses in it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ahoy, boots ho!

This morning it was finally chilly enough to wear my new winter coat. (Note to those in chillier climes: No doubt you'd call this a fall coat. But winter will never get that cold here.) I was very excited about this.

Now, if only I could find some nice boots. I don't want a plain pair where the top part has some stretch, although those are easy enough to find. I want something with a buckle or two. But some don't fit, just like with any shoes, and the rest are all too baggy in the calf. I don't have particularly slender calves relative to the rest of me, so this seems odd. I could just give up and get pirate boots or something made to be baggy.

Shiver me timbers, it's the dissertatin' pirate girl!

No, that won't work. I don't even have a pirate shirt.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Synonyms for what I'm doing today

Editing, revising, polishing, refining, revamping, correcting, amending, strengthening, bolstering, improving, lengthening ...

... manuscripts, documents, papers, research, precis, proposals, findings, results, write-ups, synopses, articles, statements ...


... grants, proposals, conferences, committees, sessions, foundations, discussants, researchers, audiences, experts.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Living the life

The other day I wrote about grad students can always see a glass as half-empty. I've been thinking about that and wish to emend my statement. First of all, it should be specific to doctoral students. Masters students are usually pretty perky, at least until the end when they get antsy to find a job. Second, they just don't find the glass to be half-empty.

No, the glass is half-empty, and the water is dirty, but they don't want water anyway, and half a glass isn't enough, and the glass looks like it might have a crack in it, and why is there no lemon, and it's lukewarm, and they would rather have it poured by someone else.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


This paper I'm trying to finish up uses an enormous dataset. I can't run more than 5% of it on my laptop, so I have to come into school and use the library computers, which have more memory. I still only run 25% of it there. The computers may be able to handle more, but I have to stay with the computer, more or less - no letting it go overnight.

I have a credit card.

The Apple store down the road has desktops.

I could just go buy a desktop.

No, no, bad Turducken. Wait until you are a faculty member and get startup money.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Oh yeah, that was voluntary, wasn't it

Ugh. I'm feeling stressed out, and for the first time since starting the program, I'm having a serious case of imposter syndrome. None of the details are remotely interesting, so I won't bore you with them. Instead, I'm going to complain about all the stupid stuff that is secondarily annoying me.
  • My hair isn't growing fast enough.
  • I haven't yet found the right shoes for my Halloween costume.
  • The Indians lost the series to the Red Sox.
  • It's raining, way too late to help agriculture.
See, that wasn't interesting either, but it was better than me whining because whaaa, I had papers accepted at a conference and now I have to present them, and I have to do homework because I'm in grad school which I wasn't press-ganged into, and I said I'd do X so now I have to do it, GEEZ. There's nobody like a grad student to look narcissisticly into a half-full glass and pronouce it empty, empty, empty.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Long trail at Edgar Evins State Park

Center Hill Lake
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I've reached the conclusion that the hiking trails at most state parks based around dammed lakes aren't great bets. The trails are built because they provide more recreation options for park users, not necessarily because there is something worth hiking to. They're worth doing if you're there anyway, but not worth driving for.

Since this is fall break, I had hoped to get as much done early in the weekend as I could, so that I could maybe camp out somewhere Monday night. But the weather report was almost guaranteeing rain for Monday and Tuesday, so I recalibrated. I decided to hike the eight-mile Jack C. Clayborn Millennium Trail at Edgar Evins State Park, about one hour east of here.

I slept in, though, and got a late start. I didn't start hiking until noon. Actually, I stopped at the visitor's center first. In the middle of the center is a tower, and the top of the tower provides a great view of the dam. That's better than any of the views along the hike.

I ended up not doing the entire hike, since I had started late and have been slacking since Mt. St. Helens. I skipped the 2.6 mile loop at the end. I don't think it's very different from most of what I saw. You get occasional glimpses of the lake (perhaps better in winter), but mostly you're in forest. The biggest reason to search out this hike would be if you were really into old stone walls, since they are abundant. The trail itself has suffered from a lack of trail maintenance, probably compounded by a lack of visitation. Today there were only three parties out, and the other two covered less of the trail than I did. In many places downed trees and undergrowth make the trail hard to sort out or rough underfoot. However, the park's Friends group does seem to be starting some active reclaimation, so hopefully this will improve.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Baseball season

So the Indians have come back from their trouncing in game 1 to look pretty good at this point in the American League series. Naturally, this is fertile ground for sports writers.

I saw an article that referred to their opponents as the "BoSox." That sounds like something society wives inject into their foreheads. I should ask the Bostonians I know if anyone actually calls the team that. Or is this just a part of the "Bennifer"-ication of proper names?

And I'm tired of seeing news stories about how if the World Series is Cleveland-Denver, no one will care. Guess what, sports writers in New York and Boston? The rest of world doesn't actually think the world revolves around the East Coast. Do they realize that no one outside of New York City cares about a subway series? People care when it's their team, or if they're just so into baseball they care no matter who is playing.

However, I do totally approve of the Fox Sports News constant online updates. If you can't watch the game, the next best thing is to have a status update every thirty seconds with who's batting, who's pitching, who's on base, and all the usual stats. It's still not as good as watching the game in HDTV, though. That's pretty awesome. Ever more awesome is, of course, being there, but we can't have it all.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Committee of Extra-Ordinary Gentlemen

In late 2007, rumors began to circulate on the street that Turducken had assembled a crack team of researchers. While never a solo operative, in the past she had tended to form a series of partnerships rather than entire teams, so the rumors were greeted with some skepticism. Details slowly emerged, however, revealing that she did indeed have an elite group of gentlemen-scholars at her disposal, consisting of the following experts:

Code Name: "The Chair"
Expertise: Mixed-method case studies, state policy, garbage-can theory, diffusion
Secret Weapon: Tenure

Code Name: "Mentor"
Expertise: Fundraising, development, institutional advancement, public relations, winning
Secret Weapon: Bow tie

Code Name: "Beta"
Expertise: Quantitative analysis, education policy, event history analysis
Secret Weapon: R

Code Name: "Georgia"
Expertise: Sociology of education, organization, finance, relocation
Secret Weapon: He has no secrets ... or does he?

... Which is just to say, I now have a dissertation committee.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Wednedsay was my last day of my org theory class. I really enjoyed the class, but part of me is glad it's over, since it was a lot of reading. In addition, my sociology class is canceled for the upcoming week. The upshot is that I feel like I can catch up a bit this weekend instead of frantically treading water. Today I did all of my reading for next week, and I intend to spend most of the next two days working on a dissertation grant application and perhaps a paper for ASHE. Papers are due in less than two weeks, and I still have so much to do.

While I don't consider myself a connisseur of the comic strip "Cathy," I am this close to shrieking "ACK!" about now.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rough times ahead

I've been lucky. My advisor and I have always gotten along, and our differences (for example, I don't wear a bow tie) have never been a problem. Unfortunately, all that is about to change.

You see, I am a Cleveland Indians fan, and he is a Boston fan.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

We all need a little good news

In November, word on AERA proposals is supposed to go out. However, we discovered last year that about a month before official notices come out, we could log in to the online submission system and see acceptances as they are decided. While the status line may say "awaiting final decision," if a paper has been assigned a session, it's in. If it doesn't give a session, it may have been rejected, or the decision may not have been made yet.

So I'm excited to say that at least one of my papers has been accepted. The paper Mr. Kindhearted and I submitted will be featured in a session on "External influences on institutional expenditures, revenue, and organization in higher education." We're going to New York City!

In honor of my research partner, then, I will fulfill a request he made a few weeks back. "I only check on your blog occasionally," he said. "You never put anything controversial in it. You should."

Alright, here goes. A professor recently told our class, "The only necessary requirement for OLS regression is that the independent variables and error terms be uncorrelated. The rest of the 'requirements' are nonsense." Discuss.

If you need to brush up on the theory behind OLS, click here. If you aren't sure what OLS stands for, weigh in anyway. That's what makes the internet great!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Back to Monday

For some reason, all the rare social bits of my social life decided to activate themselves Friday night. First was the opening night of the Peabody kickball tournament, in which our department won both of its two games - the second one just barely, because Teaching & Learning is very evenly matched with us. After that I ran off to a talk by Stanley Fish. The talk wasn't sufficiently advertised on campus, and I suspect the turnout was disappointing. It was part of a two-day conference that cost money to attend, so most students didn't even look into it; I only found out the day before that students could attend for free. Then, finally, I went to a wine and cheese party one of the first years was having. It was a good time, but I had to leave before it was over, as I was teaching the next morning.

So I taught and spent the rest of the weekend doing homework. For some reason, though, I was dead tired Saturday night. I was a little short on sleep the previous night, but not enough to justify sleeping for 13 hours, and that's what I did. My body must be hoarding sleep for some reason. Maybe it's the colds that are going around now - which seem out of place, since the weather is still hitting 90, but it technically is fall.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

In other news

In research news: Today we offically finished going through dissertations for Project Snowball. We should have cracked open the champagne or something. Woot.

In sports news: Indians > Yankees.

In art news: Soviet poster blog.

In health news: "Not a morning person? These Ayurvedic rituals will turn you into an early riser and change how you face the day," said the email. Well, I guess I can't argue - if I do all these, I'm going to have to start getting up earlier.

In world news: The prof coming to CWRU whose visa was stuck has had her visa issues resolved.

In business news: Stupid office morale games.

In intellectual news: An interesting approach to morality.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Staying organized

I have a new favorite piece of software called Check Off. It's nothing fancy, but it's dead useful. I am an inveterate list maker, and for some time now I've been using Stickies to post virtual to-do lists on my Mac. However, this is unsatisfying to me because I can't cross off a finished item. I can delete it, but then I don't get the satisfaction of seeing all my completed items. Check Off lets you, guess what, check off what you have done, so I just check off things and at the end of the day delete the finished tasks. You can also create folders for sets of tasks. This makes it easy to focus on "stuff to finish this weekend" or "dissertation tasks."

You can download Check Off here (if you have a Mac).

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Some photos

The first photo is from the Natchez Trace trail; the second is of the bridge that will connect the Shelby Bottoms and Stones River greenways.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Big Man on campus

Theoretically, one of the things I love about being at a university is all the great minds that appear for a semester or an evening. In reality, I make it to far fewer events and speakers than I intend do. Very often these things are scheduled at the same time as a class or somebody's wedding or something else immovable. Other times I just miss them. So when I heard Salman Rushdie was speaking, I was determined to go.

Alas, by the time I went to pick up a ticket, they were out. (It is parents' weekend - normally there are no tickets or sellouts.) Fortunately someone had a ticket they weren't using, so I was able to attend after all.

Of course it was a good talk, and well received.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


One umlaut. If found, return to Lazorw├╝lf.

Education in the news

The Democratic candidates are finally getting their education plans out, and Edwards plans to create a corps of quality teachers. According to his website, "He will also create a National Teacher University – a West Point for teachers – to recruit 1,000 top college students a year, train them to be excellent teachers, and encourage them to teach where they are needed the most." (From; seen first at Inside Higher Ed.)

What puzzles me about this plan is, In what way is this like West Point, other than that it is national? Is it going to include a rigorous physical program, uniforms, and a military atmosphere? I doubt it. Perhaps admission will require nomination by a senator or other such personage; will this aura of selectivity really draw the best and brightest into teaching? Perhaps the academic program will be challenging and rigorous - but if that's the only shared quality with West Point, we might as well compare this proposed academy to MIT instead. But, I know, you need to package this as a Big Vision.

I wonder, though, what the chances of this revolutionizing teaching are. What is the likelihood these graduates act like members of Teach For America - they teach a year or two before doing something else, because they are bright, the job is depressing, and almost anything else pays better?

In other news, here is one of those clever ideas economists come up with: a better way to measure graduation rates.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Slow brain food

My org theory class is great, but some of the reading is slow. That's because we are assigned a lot of literature reviews and meta-analyses. Now I'm all in favor of this kind of work - after all, Boyer canonized it as one of the four domains of faculty research. It's the best way to get a handle on a field that's new to you. And yet, reading it is always slow. Instead of each sentence building a story, as in most articles, each sentence stands alone loaded with its own discrete information. Sometimes each clause even stands alone. It's like reading the really dull parts of the Old Testament.

Don't believe me?

Meta-analysisOld Testament
Recent reviews (Azejn 2001, Albarracin et al. 2005, Haddock & Zanna 1999, Olson & Maio 2003, Perloff 2003, Wood 2000) provide useful snapshots of the field, and distinctive subareas have attracted considerable attention. These subareas include the study of attitude functions (Maio & Olson 2000), attribute importance (van der Pligt et al. 2000), group norms (Terry & Hogg 2000), consensus and social influence (Prislin & Wood 2005), attitude representations (Lord & Pepper 1999), dual-pricess theories (Chaiken & Trope 1999), applied social influence (Butera & Mugny 2001b), media and persuasion (Bryant & Zillman 2002, Crano & Burgoon 2002), measurement and interpretation of implicit attitudes (Bassili & Brown 2005, Fazio & Olson 2003, Greenwald et al. 2002, Grenwald & Nozek 2001), and a long-overdue reconsideration of resistance (Knowles & Linn 2004). Crano & Prislin 2005Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood. The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations. And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan. And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtechah: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan. And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. Genesis 10:1-8

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another day, another victory for research

Today we found a nice instrumental variable, "we" being me and my co-conspirator on the research project for last year's practicum. Yes, this is really the most exciting thing that happened to me all day. I also went to class, printed some stuff, did some things here and there, and didn't go to the gym. That's the thrilling life of a graduate student.

(For non-technical readers, an instrumental variable is when you replace some of the data with a bassoon. No, not really. But you don't really want to know.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Living dead girl

I felt snowed in by all the work I had to do this weekend, and I didn't even manage to accomplish it all by Monday. I had reading for four classes, the usual memo to write for econ, a presentation to prepare for org theory, an econ article to read for our study group, a manuscript review, and an extra dose of soc reading in order to prepare for a presentation next week. (That extra dose included all 400 pages of Suicide, which is long but makes up for it by generating all kinds of smart-ass remarks.) Plus, to be perfectly frank, I wasn't at my best due to last week's findings. Despite getting enough sleep, I've been about as perky as a zombie the last few days, which doubtless affects my productivity.

But I think I've finally shoveled my way out of the snowbank. This weekend may be perfectly ordinary.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A big day for transportation

Today, for no obvious reason, there was a hot air balloon tethered on the Magnolia Lawn. (It sported a Vanderbilt Sports Medicine logo, so maybe it was promoting your local orthopedic doctor?) They were offering rides to all comers, and some of my fellow students planned to go down there this evening, while I was in class.

But as I left class, the balloon was still going, so I got my turn. It was a very short excursion, straight up and then down, and the balloon remained tethered, but still, it was a balloon ride. I'd never had one before, and at the age of 10 I would have killed for the experience. At my advanced age, of course, my reflexes are much too slow for killing.

I do think ballooning should be a more common mode of transportation. Think how much more tolerable your morning commute would be if you gently drifted in to work. What pleasant cross-country excursions you might have! You might even encounter difficulties while circumnavigating the globe and land on Krakatoa, where you would encounter a hidden civilization with all sorts of ingenious mechanical contrivances.

Of course, I'm also still awaiting the renaissance of the zeppelin, so my opinion is not exactly making taste. Either that or I'm so far ahead of the curve I've almost lapped the crowd.

Voulez-vous the bus

Today I had a little adventure: I rode the bus in Nashville.

I've ridden buses all over Seattle and Cleveland, so I'm not anti-public transport - not like the woman who wrote in to one of the Seattle papers saying that quality people didn't ride the bus. But Nashville's route system, frankly, sucks. Pretty much every route has an endpoint in downtown. That means that to get to the airport from the east side, I have to ride west to downtown, and then east to the airport. To get to school from my place would take more than twice as long as driving (and cost more). So, being a good citizen and using public transport was pretty low on my to-do list.

But not today! I had taken my car in to the dealership, where I go if I think the problem is under warranty. Turned out it wasn't - it just needed a new battery. Come time to pick it up, people had better things to do than drive me to Antioch, so I took the bus.

It wasn't a bad experience at all, although I had a longish wait at the downtown transit station. Going through downtown wasn't out of the way. The buses themselves were not crowded and the drivers were pleasant. So, one thumb up, anyway.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Shelby Bottoms photos

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I took some photos today at Shelby Bottoms of manmade things. (Well, mostly - if you look at the set, you'll see a snail in there, too. But, uh, it's on asphalt!) This picture is of one of the many bridges on the greenway.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ask an American

This discourse analysis book is driving me nuts. On one page, the (British) author tells us that in postwar America, "ideology" and "totalitarianism" are often used as synonyms. Nonsense! I've never heard anyone do such a thing. Then on the next page he tells us that there is no word for "the groove between the nose and the upper lip." Nonsense again! It's called a the "philtrum." I could understand being confused about what goes on across the ocean, but not knowing about things right under one's own nose?

After I get over this, I have to read four chapters of Giddens, all of Suicide, eight articles for org theory, and six articles for econ; write a memo for econ, a manuscript review for org theory, and a set of questions for org theory; and prepare for an econ study session. That's all for next week, never mind the long-term stuff. Or the medium-range stuff.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

And you lose some

Last night I found out that I didn't pass the econ section (part of the core section) of comps.

I'm telling myself, hey, you passed everything else, and you didn't get any low passes, and you aren't the only one who didn't pass. All of that is true, but it doesn't change the fact that I have to retake the economics portion.

The faculty decided that rather than treating the core section as a unitary whole, we could pass or fail individual parts, which means I only have to retake the econ question. (Conceptually, too, it means the premise of the exam having three parts, one being core, is really inaccurate - the test has five parts.) It looks like retakes will be at the end of the semester.

I tell you this so when you see me walking the halls of Peabody mumbling "supply and demand!" and "the gini coefficient is the area between the straight line and the Lorenz curve divided by the area under the straight line," you won't think I'm utterly insane.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007

Go Commodores!

Since this is my third year here, I should have gone to a football game by now. I was going to go once last year, to the Vandy-TSU game, but it ended up pouring down rain. Then I was going to go last week, but I wasn't feeling well. Third time's the charm! (Plus my tickets are courtesy of my advisor - he is teaching during the game - so the seats should be good!)

Otherwise my weekend is mostly work. I don't have much more classwork than I typically would at this point in the semester, but it feels as if I have more research stuff going on. I have to revise my event history paper for ASHE, send out the rejected journal article again, and last but hardly least, work on the precis my dissertation chair is asking for. I've been postponing on that last item while comps still hang over us, but since results don't appear to be forthcoming anytime soon, I need to get over that mental block. Project Snowball and Project Trial Balloon are still ongoing as well; the former is not yet something I can do on weekends, and the latter has to simmer on the back burner since other things are more pressing. Oh, and our practicum project from last year is still rattling around. And there's a book lurking somewhere in the future as well. I swear I need scheduling software to show critical paths and flows just to keep track of things - a paper planner just doesn't cut it any longer.

That list makes it sound as if I'm hot stuff, but Snowball, the book, and practicum are co-authored; event history, Trial Balloon, rejected article, and practicum all came out of classes; and doing a dissertation isn't really optional. Projects just seem to accumulate the longer we're in grad school.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Things that have caught my eye

It's art, made of food. It's not so much for eating.

I so want one of these.

A list of reasons not to like academe.

I'm glad to see someone doubt the story of the Great Intergenerational Transfer of Wealth.

Friday, August 31, 2007

I now own stuff

Yay, I went shopping today. I was shocked that I was able to find some dresses, because I can never get any to fit me, but it seems that some of the looser retro cuts that are in make it easier. Also, I have some other new stuff. (Not that you'll necessarily be able to tell - who will notice a new pair of simple black pants?) The only piece I'm not sure about is this sweater. It's cute on me, but I got it in navy, and most of my stuff is black. So yeah, I could wear it with a gray skirt, but it needs a shirt under it, and shoes. No way I'll find navy to match, right? Would it be OK with jeans? Or I could exchange it for black - they didn't have my size in black at the Target I was at, and the other colors were no good.

Life is hard.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Getting into the semester

I've now been to three of my classes - the final one doesn't meet until Tuesday. Two of the classes seem fantastic, and the third one seems like it will be good, although it was harder to get a read on.

Tomorrow is payday, and I'm going shopping. Mostly, I'm buying clothes, but I also have to stop by campus and get a few books from the bookstore. I tried ordering them from Amazon last night. While they had advertisements all over the place for two-day shipping if you bought enough texts - and I would have paid for it anyway, since it's still cheaper than the bookstore - they apparently didn't really mean it. The earliest possible shipping date shown at checkout was Sept. 10 - for books that were in-stock. Of course, I can't wait two weeks when reading is assigned for next week. I don't know what Amazon's problem is, but clearly they are having fulfillment problems at the moment. It seems like every few years Amazon will go through a glitchy phase before returning to their usual prompt customer service. Grr.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

You never forget your first

Today I got my first journal rejection.

I had expected to be rejected (what are the chances of me gettiing it right out of the gate?) and to feel bad about it. After all, I felt down after receiving my first conference rejection, and I haven't developed a completely tough hide of academic armor yet.

The manuscript was rejected, though, for being outside of the journal's scope. I found that I didn't feel bad after all, probably since it wasn't being evaluated on its own merits.

Perhaps I ought to feel goofy for sending it to the "wrong" place, but in my defense this is a little outside of my usual area. I submitted it to this journal on the advice of a faculty member, and I did read up on back issues. So, OK, now I know. And now that I have a rejection, I have nowhere to go but up.

Well, unless I submit the article to The Journal of Rocket Science or Polymer Chain Monthly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It begins again

Classes start tomorrow. It's going to feel odd this semester to not be in in classes with some of my cohort. Some are all done with classes, and others are electing different classes than I am. Unless their offices are in my building, I could go weeks without seeing them.

My schedule includes a higher ed seminar, classical sociological theory, organization theory (just one credit), and discourse analysis. The only one that's actually in my department is the higher ed seminar.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

No mercy

That's it. I couldn't take it any more. My wardrobe had devolved into an ungodly mess and had to be stopped. So I stopped it.

I went through and and pulled out the clothes that had to go to Goodwill; the t-shirts that were being demoted to gymwear; and the stuff that had hit bottom and was going out with the trash. Then I set aside the clothes that weren't appropriate for school (fancy dresses, suits, cute halter tops, etc.) and the stuff that will expire come Labor Day. Also, sadly, I set aside the stuff that is too small. What did that leave me?

Well, for one thing, two pair of pants. One of which is bright red, so it's not like I can wear them that often, and the other of which I've owned since dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Clearly, a strategic plan is needed here. Expect to see me in quite a bit of white this week, as I bid adieu to these items for the season. Next Friday, though, is a very special day for me - I get paid. Forget rent, I'm going shopping. (Just joking, landlord! I've already written the check.)

It's time for back-to-school shopping.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A hodgepodge of things to read

Lesboprof offers job-hunting tips. (Note: She mentions conference interviews, but we don't really do those in my field.)

Summer jobs are going the way of the dodo bird - at least for the upper half of the income distribution.

The plastic bags will kill us all.

Apparently, if I dig a hole in my backyard, I won't end up in China. Instead, I'll end up in the Indian Ocean, far offshore from Western Australia. That's a scenario never considered in children's literature.

Another new way to rank grad programs.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Long range planning

In education, you can do one of three things with your dissertation after finishing:
  1. Nothing. This is what most grads do, especially if they aren't aiming for jobs in research or academia.
  2. Turn it in to an article, or perhaps more than one article. Most students going into academia do this.
  3. Turn it into a book. This depends on your specialty; historians and sociologists of education are more likely to produce books than economists and political scientists.

I'm thinking of going down the book road, so I'm reading From Dissertation to Book. You could argue it's a little early to be worrying about that, but I think knowing the final destination makes the journey easier. If I'm hiking the Appalachian Trail, I want to know that Katahdin, Maine is the endpoint and that I have 2200 miles to go before I get there. It's much better than knowing I'll reach New Jersey at some point and then have decide what to do next. (Then again, I am almost freakish about planning.) Seeing the road ahead helps me break it down into little journeys.

Personality test

My personalDNA Report

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I am running out of shelf space. While I acquire new pleasure reading from time to time, I also tend to weed through that stuff, so it's not my fiction that's out of control. It's all the books we have to buy for school. This semester I have to purchase 12 books, plus my classes will generate a few three-ring binders of notes. Repeat this four more times, and you have one bookcase that is crammed to the gills.

Now this problem will hopefully solve itself in two years, when I get a nice faculty office somewhere, and I can put all of those books in there to give me a head start on looking smart. In the meantime, though, I figured I'd have to buy another bookcase. Unfortunately, it looks like Ikea doesn't sell my bookcases any more - at least they're not on the website. (Hey, does anyone in Nashville randomly wish to get rid of a blue with birch trim Robin bookcase?) It also doesn't sell the wall shelf that matches it. Sigh. I can't put up one random case that doesn't match the rest. I guess I could get a wall-mount shelf to put over my desk - as long as it is birch (laminate), it would look alright. But I don't know much about how to install one so that it can hold any amount of weight.


The record heat and drought in Tennessee continue. We're now 13 inches behind our annual rainfall. This week, some trees started losing their leaves. It's very strange to have autumn crunching underfoot when it's 106 degrees out. Apparently we're waiting for a hurricane to send us rain, never mind the poor folks who have to have the hurricane. I wonder how much can be salvaged agriculturally at this point, between the spring freeze and the drought.


I think I have wasps nesting around my front door.


When I woke up this morning, I was thinking of all the things I should have put in the comprehensive exam essay for politics of education. I quickly shut that thought train down. It's a big relief to have the exams behind me, but I can't really relax until I hear that I passed.


Comps finished today, so afterwards my cohort went out for lunch. And as a reward for surviving, I spent the afternoon finishing Against the Day. It was completely awesome - everything the Baroque Cycle tried to be but failed. (And that makes Pynchon's book a bargain - it clocks in at 1085 pages, but that's nothing to Stephenson's 2700.) Then this evening I went to a goodbye gathering for a student who is following his advisor to another institution.

So it's been a long day, and now I'm going to bed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The state policy ragtime

Oh why do states do the - things that they do
(when they do)
Is it entrepreneurs - making things diffuse
(what they do)
That make some leaders - and one the caboose!
(why they do)
Traditionalist - or moralist
(when they do)
Elitist - or pluralist
(what they do)
Check with a - policy analyst
(why they do)
Just not a - systems theorist!

Oh they do they do they do
Punc - tu - a - ted
(oh they do they do they do)
Streams and windows and
An agenda!
(oh they do they do they do)
Is your legislature - professionalized?
Is your governor - empowerized?
No matter, your state will do
The thing all states do -
when they do they things they dooooo
(when they do them!)

(Why, yes, I have been reading Pynchon lately. Why do you ask?)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Seen on the Stones River Greenway a little bit east of here.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

High anxiety

Technically I am present and accounted for, but in reality I'm in hiding right now. Comprehensive exams start Wednesday, so I'm holed up studying. My big indulgence for the weekend is going to the gym. This isn't really an indulgence so much as a necessity in order to keep from turning into a rutabega. (I like rutabegas but don't consider them aspirational peers.) I even skipped the Tomato Art Festival, which was today, despite being very sorry I was out of town for it last year. Maybe next year will be the big year.

Meanwhile, my head feels like it is filled with a floating collection of trivia. Qualities of good estimators? They're unbiased, consistent, efficient, and asymptotically normal. Who called political systems traditionalist, moralist, or individualist? Elazar. What are Boyer's four domains of scholarship? Discovery, integration, engagement/application, and teaching. Somehow, these fragments have to be reassembled into coherent wholes for the exam - or at least most of it; the methods section is a series of questions rather than one big essay.

So if you've sent me an email and I haven't gotten back to you, I promise, I will, but you might have to wait until after the knowledge regurgitation is over.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

More travel

My parents picked me up in Trout Lake after the hike and we spent a little time in the Hood River area. We spent a good chunk of one day looking first for a bird sanctuary (which we couldn't find) and then a wildlife preserve (which we couldn't find the viewing area at). About the only wildlife we did see were squirrels. Not to pick on squirrels, but I can see dozens of fine specimans on campus every day. Well, most days. I think they're hiding from the heat now: it was 100 degrees when I arrived in Nashville - at 7 p.m. Anyway, we did see some lovely scenery; this picture is a little south of Klickitat in Washington.

Then we headed north to Sequim to visit my aunt and uncle. One of the things we did was take a very short hike up at Deer Park, which is part of Olympic National Park. It's no doubt a very lovely view when the weather is sunny. However, despite being in the "rain shadow" (and on the "Rainshadow Trail," even), it was foggy. Supposedly, if you look north you can see the ocean and Vancouver Island; if you look south, you can see a variety of Olympic peaks. In this photo, you can see our car.

I feel as though I should have some Hood River or Sequim pics (at least someone kite boarding), but the only urban pic I have is this one from a downtown basement window in Hood River. Hm ... is this the bird sanctuary?

On top of a mountain

I'm back! After being away for 10 days, I'm ready to buckle down and study for comps, which start in (eek!) a week.

The vacation started with friends in the Seattle area. We spent a day bumming around, and the next day we drove down to Mount Saint Helens. We drove in via the road that heads east to the north side of the mountain. When the volcano erupted in 1980, everything flowed down the north side, so from the observatory we stopped at there was a good view inside the volcano. Then we headed around to the south side of the mountain to camp out at Climber's Bivouac. This primitive campsite is right at the base of the typical route up Mount Saint Helens.

On Thursday we set out to climb the mountain. The first two miles are easy, through gentle forest, but after that you hit a boulder field. Eventually, the boulder field ends - about the time the oxygen gets thinner. But you start to wish the field was back because what's next is a loose slope of ash. Once you reach the top, though, and look down into the caldera, it's pretty cool.

After Mount Saint Helens, my parents picked me up and we spent a brief time in the vicinity of Hood River. Then we headed up to Sequim to visit my aunt and uncle. I'll post more about this in the next couple of days, in between trying to staying focused on comps.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Better living the Turducken way

Greetings from Seattle! Well, Federal Way, if you want to get technical. Here are some links that have nothing at all to do with Seattle or vacation.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hiking Fiery Gizzard

Today we went for a classic Tennessee hike to Fiery Gizzard. It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful hikes the state. I've seen many pretty hikes in Tennessee, but few that I would describe as breath-taking or beautiful. But this hike lived up to all the hype. Well, it did at first, anyway, and I'm sure the second half is nice when it's not pouring down rain.

The hike is close to 10 miles. It starts by following the Grundy Day Loop for .7 miles. As the day loop reaches a tangent with Fiery Gizzard Creek, we turned off onto the Fiery Gizzard Trail. The trail then follows the creek, which is at the bottom of a gorge. Now it was an incredibly humid day, and we were soaked quickly; the weather and the scenery were reminiscent of the Olympic Peninsula, except hotter. But the hemlock trees and the creek, which is just lousy with waterfalls, made up for the weather.

Eventually we began to ascend out of the creek, and at that point it rained briefly. Luckily it stopped again while we were making the arduous hike out - the first 4.4 miles of trail lose and gain 1800 feet. We finally reached Raven Point and rested for a while. Just as we left, it started raining again. It never really stopped the rest of the hike. It was hot enough that any kind of rain gear left you as wet as the rain would have made you, except with sweat. Luckily this meant no one was in danger of being chilled. From Raven Point, we turned around to return on the Dog Hole trail. (Fiery Gizzard keeps going for a total of 13 miles.) Dog Hole follows the rim of the gorge and is probably at its best in winter when the view is not obscured by leaves. As it was, it was mostly just wet. Eventually Dog Hole rejoins Fiery Gizzard for .8 miles, and we retraced our steps on the loop. Even I, with my completeness fetish, didn't argue for finishing the loop, which would be 1.3 miles instead of .7. We did stop at the last waterfall for one of us to take a dip, but I didn't really want to be any wetter. The hike ended with a whimper as we changed into dry clothes, only to feel just as wet as ever from all the humidity.

Fiery Gizzard is definitely a hike that would be worth doing again, perhaps in different seasons, or doing end-to-end with a shuttle.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What goes on

Although classes don't start for another month, the new PhD students are beginning to arrive. I ran into one the other day at the cafe outside the library; she was on campus to meet with the faculty members she will be working with. Other new students and faculty members are in various states of here-ness - some are in Nashville but not on campus, others have moved but are on vacation, and others are here but in other buildings where I am unlikely to run into them.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking down to our comprehensive exams - they begin August 15 at 9 a.m. and last for three days. At this point I just want to have the exams behind me instead of circling overhead like an albatross. I'm also working on an AERA proposal, getting a journal submission out, and post-PPI tasks. This isn't the most exciting stuff to read about, I'm sure.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Nice day for a sendoff

LPO & Ying's parents
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken

Our friend Y, who defended a few months ago, is leaving town this week for a great job in institutional research. We had a send-off for her today at the Shutes Branch recreation area on Old Hickory Lake. The weather was perfect - not too humid and with a nice breeze. The only hitch was that 440 got backed up, and quite a few guests arrived much later than they intended.

Afterwards, I scrapped my plan of going to the gym since it was so nice out. Instead, I looked at the map and decided that since the Percy Priest dam was nearby, I'd go take a look at it.

I've been to several of the recreation areas created around the lake but never seen the dam itself. I discovered that the Stones River Greenway starts at the dam. The other end of the greenway will connect to the Shelby Bottoms Greenway after the connecting bridge is finished.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


This week I've been getting back into a research groove again - I have to in order for this project to be proposal-ready by the end of the month. I'm missing sharing an office with other PhD students, now. I find it helpful to bounce ideas off of other people in order to think them through. Of course, this is only helpful for me and not dreadful for them if they are doing similar things themselves; my current officemates are terrific, no question, but they don't do research. I miss being able to shout over the wall, "Hey, what do you think about differences-in-differences?" These days I have to walk over to another building to do that. It's likely that in the fall some of these folks won't even be on campus at all, what with not having desks at school.

And I'm not showing up at people's houses to discuss regression.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Big news at Vanderbilt

Aw gee!

I find the comments here especially interesting. While you could hardly describe me as an insider to Gee administration, simply being here means I know that some of the comments are far off base. In any case, whoever is next will have some large shoes to fill, and the students around here are going to miss Chancellor Gee a lot.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

And the envelope please ...

Yesterday ASHE members received an email saying that proposal accentances and rejections were being sent out this week. ASHE has online submission for conference proposals, but the website doesn't allow for notification. You can't log in and see all the results; instead, you have to wait as they arrive one at a time in your email inbox.

I had four proposals in: one solo, two co-authored with my advisor, and one as third author with another faculty member and a colleague from another insitution. I figured my best shot for an acceptance was in the last proposal, so it was disheartening to receive an email this morning saying it was not accepted. Then a little bit later another email arrived saying one of the proposals with my advisor had been rejected as well.

Things were starting to look grim, but they improved when I got an email at lunch that said my solo proposal had been accepted. We were anxiously awaiting word on our final proposal, which finally came late in the afternoon - it had been accepted as well. There was much rejoicing.

I was especially relieved because this is my third year, and I'm not funded to attend unless I'm presenting. And I need to go, to make myself visible - it's my last ASHE before I go on the job market. Also, this year my big push has to be getting publications out, which generally starts with conference presentations.

As for the poor rejected proposals, I think both will be submitted elsewhere; for one there is a perfect opportunity that was just announced yesterday.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Classic moments in dissertating

So I have a dissertation chair now. The reason I went ahead with this, even though I don't plan to do a proposal until spring, was that I had a topic that I really liked but that was going to be very hard to get data for. The collective advice of various faculty members, who were enthused about my idea (it was original, interesting, never been done, likely to get attention, important, yada yada), was to get a committee formed so I could explore data sources.

And now almost the exact same work has been released by someone else.

A very tentative conversation with my chair had him saying thinking this helped prove the case that my work is important and I should go ahead. But I'm afraid that whatever I do now in this line will be seen as derivative, as a response to what this person did. (In some ways that is true, because it would be bad research not to take that work into account - but I don't get credit for coming up with x independently. It's like being close in horseshoes.) Morever, this person is an economist, which is probably one reason why the folks I talked to weren't aware it was being done. However, I'm kind of afraid of economists. It seems like education research by economists goes like this: Economist A releases a groundbreaking report on, say, the effectiveness of charter schools. Economist B then releases a report saying, ah, but if you include this variable, the effects disappear; A did not specify the model correctly. Economist A then releases a report saying that what B put in doesn't belong, is an effect and not a cause, and before you know it the whole thing become a pissing match about whether Ariano-Bond indicators ought to be used with Heckman selection. (Or something. The argument goes from something you can explain to Mom to something technical that Dale Ballou ends up using in one of his quant seminars where even the other faculty have their heads on the table in despair.)

Even with our heavily quantitative training, I'm afraid I'm not in that league, nor is it what I really want to do. Now I'm torn between really digging in and looking to see if I can salvage this or just putting it off until after comps. Because I really should be focusing on comps and some research that needs to be farther along before I can submit it to a conference, and the deadline for that is the end of the month. I'd rather be thinking about the diss than studying (which is a whole other post), but preferences and good strategy may not be interesecting here, let alone forming a union.

Also, this situation is just about the most stereotypical PhD story ever.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

New camera

I took my new camera to Shelby Park this morning to play with it. None of the photos are of exciting things, but the camera takes good pictures. And it has a 12x zoom!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

What makes you ready to start a dissertation?

I'm reading a book called "Writing the Doctoral Dissertation" by Gordon Davis and Clyde Parker. The advice given seems to be for a PhD program that is structured entirely differently than ours. Their model student (they provide a "Goofus and Gallant") plans his research design in his research methods course. On the subject of picking a dissertation topic, they write, "Rarely does a student have a well-defined topic in the beginning. Generally, the initial topic is poorly defined, too general, and too large in scope."

Our methods course occurs in our very first semester. The proposals we created in that class were certainly poorly defined, general, and large. As we refined them over the semester, they improved, but many revealed themselves to have fatal flaws or to be embarrassingly naive. I don't know that anyone came out of there with a workable proposal; by the time we had learned to design an excellent piece of research, it was too late for that particular project. But several semesters later, we are now readying ourselves to choose dissertation topics and defend proposals. Our faculty expect that we are able to propose good research. If a member of my cohort went to them with a topic that was "poorly defined, too general, and too large in scope," I think they would be disappointed.

That doesn't mean the faculty don't have suggestions for improvement; we still only have two years of experience, and they have many more. But we all have what the book supposes only a lucky few will have a minimum of - experience in coming up with research proposals and in working on large research projects.

This book isn't very useful for me, I've decided. It's written for someone with a different personality - someone who takes a lot of convincing that planning is worthwhile. It's also apparently written for someone clueless - someone who needs to be told that when doing a literature review, one should use online databases and dissertation indices.