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.