Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Originally uploaded by TheTurducken.

Here is most of the Vandy group at dinner at the conference Monday night.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Grad student types.

I know obsessers and slackers, but not any how-does-he-do-its, at least not in my cohort. I'm not sure where I fit ... doing yoga is a hallmark of I-wanna-be-like-thats, but I don't speak at cool conferences, alas. (Somehow, I don't think doing yoga is the most important characteristic in the description!)

It's been interesting over the past two years watching my fellow students try to live up to the expectations and ideals of graduate life. The Perfect Grad Student would write every paper with her dissertation in mind, begin presenting at the main conference in her field no later than her second year, and have co-authored papers at least under review if not accepted (with revisions) at a decent journal by now. I am not there, for sure. Perhaps this is an excuse, but I'm just not that linear and sequential, or that obsessive about one topic. I feel as if for the past two years I have been soaking up a lot of things, learning like one rides a bike - there are some failures involved where one falls down. That is, I try an approach for a paper that doesn't work; it gets me a fine grade, but it doesn't have a life beyond that. Only now am I beginning to feel like, hey, I've marinated enough, so let's do some cooking.

(Sorry about the horrible mixed metaphors today!)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The incredible shrinking PhD

Our faculty recently decided to change the curriculum, reducing it from 84 to 72 hours. The specific courses don't change much, except that practicum is cut from two years to one. The big change is simply fewer electives or cognate courses. However, rather than making the new curriculum only apply to incoming students, it also applies to those of us already here.

So students are confronting new plans for the next few semesters. Of course, we can't go back in time and un-take one year of practicum. (We have to finish this year of it out, they decided.) A 12-hour reduction is substantial, since we take 9 hours most semesters. Quite a few students are now are much closer to the end of their coursework than anticipated - and in some cases, their courses may not be allocated quite the way they would have been had they planned it. Originally, only Ms. Prepared was intending to finish coursework this year.

What does this do to us? Faculty attitudes vary. One student said his advisor was pleased, because finishing earlier is always better, as you get a job and make decent money sooner. On the other hand, one's vita might improve in an extra year, and one might thus get a better job by waiting. My advisor and I negotiated down to three years of coursework, dropping a 6-hour semester that would have been tacked on at the end. One benefit to this is that I can, if I try, get far enough along to go on the market in my fourth year, but if the market sucks I can reasonably stretch it out another year.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tick tock

The semester is close to the halfway mark. Next week is a conference in Baltimore, and the week after that is spring break. I don't have any big plans - I may go camping for a couple of days, weather permitting.

Wait, that is, no big plans except for working on class projects, of course.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Love and the single PhD student

One topic that came up briefly this weekend was the large number of married people in our department. Of course, in one sense it doesn't matter if they are married or not, since intra-department dating among PhD students is mostly verboten. That is to say, my advisor would kill me if I tried it, but I wouldn't anyway. After it goes sour, that's bad karma in a small space. Imagine farting in an elevator, except you're stuck on the elevator for four years. ... In another sense, though, the high married rate means fewer single person sort of events where one is likely to meet potential dates. And since my world is somewhat confined to Vanderbilt, my dating life is somewhat cramped. (I can't, of course, date any professors I meet, since they are likely to be grading me; seriously dating any PhD student is likely to lead to a complicated two-body problem. If you don't know what that is, rest assured that it makes string theory look simple.) By "somewhat cramped," let's just say that I haven't been on a date in a very long time, and on a remotely successful one in even longer. It's gotten so that ocularly noticing two attractive men in a week, as I did this past weekend, is noteworthy.

I can only think of one person at Peabody who has had an active dating life since starting the PhD, and she has a network of non-academic friends eager to help out. The rest of us, male and female, seem to be stuck in whatever situation we were in when we arrived. A few have converted significant others to joint filers, but no one has met and sustained any kind of new relationship.

But who needs a date when you have Max Weber to keep you warm at night? That's not an entirely cynical remark. There is something so all-consuming, so monastic, about the PhD, that any time spent dating would probably induce guilt. I should be thinking of a dissertation topic right now instead of making out! Not, mind you, that I've tested that proposition.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Let it snow

For the second year in a row, it snowed on PhD recruitment weekend.

It snowed this morning, but it didn't stick. I had no trouble driving to yoga, although our teacher couldn't make it in, so I ended up driving to another studio for a different class. It warmed up above freezing but then started snowing again after lunch. I had to go to campus for a recruitment dinner. I decided to go in early and get some work done, before the snow started sticking, and the roads were fine. It didn't really start to stick until after dinner when the temperature dropped. On my way home after (a friend and I had planned to see a movie but we decided not to), the roads were fine until I got to the Shelby Street bridge - remember, you have to go over the river ("and through the hood" the bumper sticker says) to get to East Nashville. The bridge was slick in places, which you might expect, and then on the other side most of the roads were slippery too. I'm not sure why - maybe less traffic? I saw a few cars swerving a bit. I was glad I was going home earlier than expected.

For a Yankee, I'm nervous about driving in snow. I can talk a good game, but the fact is I moved out of snow country well before I learned how to drive. The one thing I do know is go slow - but if I ever end up in real snow country, I'll be in trouble.

By the way, the potential students were all great. I love doing recruitment weekend and talking up Vanderbilt and meeting the people who (hopefully) will be our new classmates. But I was disappointed that none of our faculty threatened to crush their souls this year.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Circle of life

This weekend is PhD visit weekend, in which potential students come out to Vanderbilt for a visit. We entertain and edify them and hope it doesn't snow like it did last year.

And when start next fall, I'll be a third year student, and I probably won't even have classes with most of them. Man.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

That's why they're the professors

My cold will not go away, and so I have resorted to desperate measures such as drinking orange juice. Since the world keeps on revolving without me, though, it's off to classes and whatnot I go.

A couple of professors in our department have a quantitative seminar every week or so in which they grapple with a technically difficult article. They invite students but don't recommend you come until at least your second year. They're currently on an instrumental variable kick - the topics tend to be driven by the work they're doing at the moment. I went today for the first time. The articles are supposed to be challenging, and I would have found this one plenty difficult even without the IQ point loss a cold occasions. As it was, all I could do was hang on for dear life to follow what was going on.

Monday, February 12, 2007


I have a cold that can't quite make up its mind how bad to be. Physically, there's a minor sore throat, mildly itchy ears, and some snot, but not enough to be totally disgusting. Mentally, though, I'm addicted to sleep and have a slightly woolly brain. I managed to propel myself through reading Weber and Parsons for sociology of higher ed, but I can't bring the readings together enough to write about them. The cold is probably still contagious, so I'm staying home - although the only person I'd be likely to see much of is my officemate, who is responsible for it in the first place. But at home I can wear my pajamas and take a nap if need be. Tomorrow afternoon we have class, so I'd best rest up while I can.

Unfortunately, the taks still facing me to do today/in the next few days are all more mentally taxing than reading (putting together a mock IRB proposal, for example). Most of my mental power at the moment is being used up in wishing the dogs next door would STOP BARKING.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Chancellor's Ball

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken.

Last night was the Chancellor's Ball. This is most of the contingent from LPO (which includes the chancellor's wife, by the way).

Saturday, February 10, 2007


I've spent most of today (and a good chunk of yesterday) slogging through Weber's Theory of Social and Economic Organization. The part of real relevance to me is the final hundred pages or so, where he talks about traditional, charismatic, and bureaucratic authority. Unfortunately, I assigned myself the entire book when I made up my directed reading syllabus, so first I have to wade through 250 pages that I'm tempted to call economic taxonomy. On the list of Things Turducken Does Not Enjoy, reading about bimetallism is right up near the top. But I just now reached the good part, "good" being relative, of course.

In other achievements, this morning in yoga I did a headstand without using the wall for the first time. (If you follow that link - be warned that the picture is of a guy in a Speedo with very hairy legs.) I've been going to yoga three times a week lately, which also means I am sleeping a lot more. Two of the classes are pretty vigorous, and one is Ashtanga primary series, which leaves me pretty wiped. Really, it's a miracle I only almost fell asleep reading Weber after class today.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Ode to the cubicle

In our department, almost all PhD students, plus a handful of EdD and masters students, have assigned desks. Some are in one of two grad students offices in our building, and a few are in a separate building that hosts an outpost of our department. We have a few students who rarely use their assigned spaces, but the majority of us are there several days a week. Most of us can do our work at home, at least 80% of the time. So why do we bother to come in? We come in because of the social networking that occurs.

Some of my friends and closer colleagues are people who sit in my pod. Some of them I wouldn't know as well - if at all - if it weren't for the proximity. Without it, I probably wouldn't be working on a project with Mr. Kindhearted this semester, and I wouldn't know some of the masters students at all. I'm even closer to students in the bullpen (our other office in my building) than I am to those in the other building simply because we see each other in the halls. Several professors come in to our office regularly, and they crack jokes, share news, or just check in. It's a rare week when Dr. Braxton doesn't have a new pun, or Dr. Crowson doesn't ask, "So what have you done for American education lately?" This shared physical space has done a great deal for building collegiality and camaraderie in a way that our program's attempt to create a cohort effect has not.

Without this interaction, my PhD experience would be much poorer, and I'd feel more out of touch with the happenings in our department. It was especially important early on in the program when many of us felt panicky with work and might have holed up in our own private bunkers otherwise. The casual interaction that occurs at our desks and in the hallways has built a shared experience much more than the formal interaction of the classroom. Much academic work is solitary, of course; at times all of us will have our headphones on, not to listen to music per se but to concentrate. But, as someone who is mostly an extrovert, I suspect I'd be much less productive in the vacuum of my own apartment.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Busy bee worky worky!

While my weekend was partially filled with amusements such as bowling and the big game, the week is back to work. Mostly. Tonight I went to a Vanderbilt reception held in conjunction with the Case III conference here in Nashville. Most of the day, though, was spent in meetings, readings, updating summer institute materials, and other such productive tasks. Hey, every day can't be exciting.