Monday, October 31, 2011

2 Amazing Series!

Constructing the Academy is very pleased to announce two exciting series of guest posts that will each appear weekly(ish) over the course of the next month or two!

At the beginning of each week (beginning tomorrow!) you'll find a post from Will Duffy, assistant professor of English at Francis Marion University. Duffy's posts examine helpful strategies for conceptualizing the ph.d. dissertation before, during, and after writing it.

At the end of each week (beginning this Friday!) you'll find a post from Kristen Pond, assistant professor of English at Baylor University. Pond's posts tackle the seemingly impossible transition from seeing yourself as a graduate student to seeing yourself as a faculty member.

Each of this week's posts by Will and Kristen is meant as an introduction to their respective series. Having known both of these intelligent and generous people for better than four years, what I am most excited about upon reading these introductory posts is the unique and invigorating change of pace they will bring to the posts here.

I hope these series will encourage healthy conversation among those of us out there in academic professionalization world, and I want to encourage all readers and followers to make use of the comments streams to ask questions, make connections, and offer suggestions for future posts/series. If that's not your style, I hope you'll take the insights shared and questions raised back to your own cohort of friends and colleagues and talk about why we do what we do!

A special thanks to Will and Kristen as we look forward to an exciting end to 2011!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Quick Job Market Tips & Upcoming Guest Posts

Quick Job Market Tips
(I'm indebted to Jen Feather and Risa Applegarth for the more cogent tips below i.e. 5 & 6)

1. Just use (trust me! I'm not in any way officially connected or being compensated)

2. Create some type of spreadsheet to keep all your jobs, deadlines, means of applying, required documents, etc. straight or you'll lose track of them in your head

3. Get multiple sets of eyes on all your documents

4. Apply for jobs that are truly a good fit for you

5. Don't undersell yourself

6. Use active language, always follow abstract ideas with concrete examples, be sure to articulate a clear payoff for all claims, whether they be about your research, teaching, service, whatever

Upcoming Guest Posts

I'm happy to announce an upcoming influx of guest posts by amazing people. Please stay tuned in the next couple weeks for these awesome posts:

At least one post on the monumental shift from graduate student to faculty member.

A minimum three-part series on conceptualizing the dissertation from the perspective of someone who's finished, and who will offer unique before, during, and after perspectives.

The fall semester is getting to the deadly point. I hope everyone's dug in out there and holding on tight for the ensuing final weeks!

Friday, October 21, 2011


The writing GOSPEL on Tanya's Blog.

I don't normally post such short entries/links here, but the message of Tanya's post today is the one that we all need to hear over and over again as burgeoning academics. Writing everyday is the lowest common denominator of academic professionalization advice.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's All Rhetorical

If you've ever applied to grad school, or for a grant, or for an academic job then you know the burdensome weight of developing uniquely difficult and generically insane documents such as cover letters, teaching statements, and etc. One of the toughest elements of this process is getting a sense of your prospective audience.

Case in point: I've spent the last five or six months working diligently on a host of documents for an academic job search. In the early stages I was just trying to come up with my own letters and statements based on samples given to me by friends and former grad students in my department. I struggled mightily! However, after a few drafts one of the amazing members on our professionalization committee suggested I look at job adds in my field from the previous year. This strategy proved immensely helpful, and once the actual jobs started posting for this year I was in a much better position to finish writing and tailoring my documents for specific jobs.

What was the big difference? When I looked at a specific ad from the previous year I had an instant audience in mind as I drafted my letter of interest. After developing a basic idea of what I would need to say to this audience, I was able to revise, refine, and edit that letter until the new jobs started showing up in mid-September, and then I wasn't starting from scratch. Instead, I had a solid document whose every word had been composed with an audience in mind, and I was then able to take the bones of that letter and redress them (I'm still in this process) with new audiences in mind.

The bottom line: Everything's rhetorical! When it comes to any kind of academic writing, what's important is finding a healthy balance between writer, reader, and subject matter, and then being able to compose whatever you're writing in such a way as to demonstrate that rhetorical savvy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Training Wheels

I should start this post by saying that everyone's writing process is different. We all have our own rituals, our own procedures, our own voices. However, for the audience of this blog, including myself, it's probably safe to say that one thing we share in common as writers is that our first attempts to articulate a complex idea in writing are usually not fit for anyone else to see (with the possible exception of our peers in the context of a writing group or workshop).

Much, much earlier in my graduate school career, I devoted a lot of time to thinking about, reading, and writing poetry. Although my academic work has taken an entirely different direction, I learned some incredibly useful things about thinking and writing from poets and from writing poetry.

Whenever I would write a poem and then workshop it with someone (usually Tom Lisk), I almost inevitably ended up cutting off the first stanza or two. That writing was usually bad, but it was how I wrote my way into the central idea, emotion, or image that would become the poem, and Tom would call these lines "umbilical." I still laugh thinking about umbilical poetry. I should gather all those umbilical lines together into one huge terrible poem!

The point here is that as academic writers we're more often than not engaging with complex ideas and problems and trying to articulate those problems in writing. Our purpose in doing so is twofold: 1) to clarify the problem in our own minds; 2) to share the problem and our solution with others who are interested. It stands to reason that our early attempts to tackle such complex ideas in our writing are usually pretty bad in terms of prose. So, to tweak Tom's metaphor ever so slightly, I suggest that we think of these first articulations as our training wheels.

I need to write a draft of my article, seminar paper, dissertation chapter, book chapter to come to a clear understanding of what I think about the subject at hand, but then once I have that draft, I have to rewrite the ideas themselves into better prose, removing the training wheels of the earlier draft.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Research and Writing

The classic advice on balancing the work of research with the work of writing is that the two are really alternate sides of the same coin, that research is part of writing just as writing is one of the most effect means of doing research.

I agree unequivocally. But when you're a jr. scholar standing before a mountain of work on someone like Rushdie (shout out Rose!), or heaven forbid, Shakespeare...what are you supposed to do? How can you ever begin to write if you must first slog through an untold number of articles, books, reviews? The most important thing, in my view, is to banish from your mind the paralyzing idea that you must read everything on "x" before you can write about it/her/him. Once you settle this score with yourself, you should try to get into a routine of writing a little and then reading a lot in consistent blocks of time until you're in the flow of whatever it is that feels too big!

I have a couple of strategies that I've found useful, although I should always say that others may disagree or provide alternative approaches to this problem, but here we go anyway.

The first strategy is a three-step method:

1. I try to find work on whatever topic/person I'm researching that's been written recently by a scholar that I find especially important for some reason (she's super-readable, his work resonates with me, etc.) So, if there's a scholar you truly admire or find helpful, see what she/he has to say about whatever you're tackling.

2. From there, I take the classic bibliographic approach by raiding the references of my rockstar scholar. If you want to learn about "x," read your favorite scholar's article on "x" and then see what major works she/he cites and go to those.

3. chase down a few of these references in reverse-chronological order to see which works "everyone" is citing.

This method allows you to cover the main channel of "x" criticism without getting bogged down in a 300-entry result list in your database of choice.

The next strategy is pretty simple:

1. Ask your committee chair/advanced scholar in the field where she would start

2. Ask a jr. faculty member where she/he would start

3. Ask a fellow grad student who works in that area where she would start

In short, ask as many people from as many different levels of your field about the subject and pay attention to what names, books, essays seem relevant or important across the board. This method is certainly not as intensive as the previous method, but it might also save you some valuable time by allowing you to start a more thorough search with a better idea of what's relevant and what's not.

The last strategy is also simple:

1. Find the most current book on your topic and read the introduction.

Usually, the introduction of any monograph or collection in the humanities will provide some sense of the most important books/scholars in the conversation you're pursuing. And the fact that this book is the most recent will hopefully mean that it's been written with the larger body of criticism in mind, giving you the most coverage possible.

BUT PLEASE: any of you more experienced scholars out there!! Jump in here using the comments stream and give us some effect strategies!