So You Wanna PhD

You don’t care that higher education is hemorrhaging jobs. You don’t care that you may end up living in a van down by the river. You’re determined to get a Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology or Sociology. But you’re in need of a dissertation topic.

I’m here to help.

Wikipedia describes Nextdoor this way:

“Nextdoor is a social networking service for neighborhoods. Based in San Francisco, California, the company was founded in 2008 and launched in the United States in October 2011, and is currently available in 11 countries. Users of Nextdoor submit their real names and addresses to the website. Posts made to the website are available only to other Nextdoor members living in the same neighborhood.”

I’ve been a member for a few years and have concluded it’s a solid source for analyzing human nature and theorizing about it. For example, a recent post in my Nextdoor feed began thusly:

“To the fool driving the grey Lexus mini SUV today, tailgating me down Boston Harbor Rd. Can’t you see clearly that the roads are TREACHEROUS and icy today!?? Melting snow, causing severe ice, on roads that clearly have not been treated. You may have all wheel drive and feel safe. . . ”

The author, whose intro reads “I’ve been working in the Creative arts, music, video and ministry related field the past 18 years”, and lists “Westwood Baptist Director” as one of his titles, goes on to say he hopes the tailgater totals his car.

Leading to quite the kerfuffle. Keyboard warriors rushing into battle, angrily slinging words like arrows in The Game of Thrones.

A doctoral candidate in the social sciences could use textual analysis on Nextdoor messages to theorize about our modern state of affairs.

One would most likely draw an overarching conclusion from such an analysis. People do not know how to get along with one another. Interpersonal conflict is the new normal. People who enjoy harmonious relationships with others are outliers.

Invective, defined as “insulting, abusive, or highly critical language,” is the defining feature of Nextdoor communications. So much so, the only reason I’m still a member is I have a fear of missing out on the next “your horse is loose in our yard” or “your pig just ran into our barn” message that my urban self finds endlessly entertaining.

I’m not going to write the title for you, but here’s some words and phrases to help you get started.

  • An Examination of A Social Networking Site For Neighborhoods
  • Discord
  • Interpersonal Conflict As The New Normal
  • Dissonance

You’re welcome.

 

 

Rich Beyond Measure

That’s a wrap. The semester is over. Grades are (mostly) in. Back at it January 7th for one month-long course. Then my academic year will be a wrap since I’m a half-timer. Don’t hate me because you ain’t me.

It felt kinda weird returning to work in early September after such a long sabbatical. Pre-sabbatical, I handed off my administrative duties, so I was teaching full-time for the first time in a long time. And while I was gone, even more colleagues who I enjoyed had moved on. By “kinda weird” I guess I mean somewhat disconnected.

After all these years, I sometimes feel as if I should’ve assumed more administrative responsibilities somewhere along the line. I mean what kind of sad sack is back exactly where he started 22 years earlier?

And yet, as I read final papers, and email messages, and hand written notes of appreciation, I feel like finally, I might be getting this teaching thing down. Of course, putting that in writing means my “J-term” course will probably be a disaster, you know, pride coming before the fall and all.

Every educator is different, but for me at least, the “secret” to teaching well is the same as living well, the more selfless, the better. Maybe it was having no administrative responsibilities that enabled me to see and hear my students more clearly this fall. More specifically, maybe it was not being in a hurry, maybe it was taking the time to listen to them and to read their words even more closely. And then to respond to those words.

The more authentic and present I am in the classroom, the more my students appreciate my teaching. They also appreciate the thought put into our more accessible, shorter, more thought provoking than average reading list.

My students’ end-of-semester gestures of appreciation make me think I’m still doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time. Consider one student among many, a physically imposing, politically conservative, first year footballer whose domineering dad tolerated no negative emotions.

“When I found out I had to be in a mandatory writing seminar as part of the ‘First Year Experience Program’ (FYEP) titled ‘The Art of Living’, I dreaded it. I despised writing, especially that of a personal nature. All of the essays and discussions I would have to participate in would be about my life, inner thoughts, and feelings. I figured it was just another stroke of bad luck. My goal for the semester was just to survive, and hopefully improve on my personal writing ability after a few failed attempts. However, I found out very quickly that this was just the class I needed. It turns out that my destiny was not to have an unfortunate event take advantage of me, but was to have an unbelievable stroke of luck being placed in the Art of Living writing seminar.”

Further in:

“This unexpected change of heart provided me with energy and enthusiasm. Writing my fourth essay became something I enjoyed, not something I dreaded. I wrote about my stance on modern love and the concept of soulmates, which was the strongest stance in any essay I had written. I wrote about my own experiences with love, and how in my eyes the person I want to marry will be able to fill my heart with love. I wrote about how that love would allow me to experience the six varieties described in Krznaric’s writing: eros, pragma, ludus, agape, philuatia, and philia. . . . I had ended up doing the exact opposite of what I had initially thought I would: I wrote about my definition of love, my love life, and I loved doing it. By writing from the heart and being vulnerable with my audience, I was able to capture their attention and provide details that I otherwise might have excluded. My paper connected better with my readers, and it was relatable. Over the course of this semester I had not only grown as a writer, but I opened my mind and grew as a person.”

Watching this young man blossom into a superb, sensitive discussant was a joy:

“One of the most influential changes to my (writing) process was in-class discussions. They allowed me to deepen my understanding of the prompts while listening to others’ thoughts and feelings. I could formulate my own stances in response. It allowed me to consider outside opinions and beliefs and flush out my ideas. They made my essays even more thorough because I gained not only different pieces of textual evidence but I learned about different experiences my peers could connect to the readings. Being able to have personal, open conversations in class also made the texts more applicable to daily life. The discussions helped shape not only my essays, but the way I looked at the world as a whole. I could consider expanding my varieties of love as Kznaric wrote, or I could consider the lifestyle of Stoicism written in William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life. These discussions opened my heart and mind to the different ideas we discussed in class, and allowed me to incorporate those into my essays. This class broadened my life views and expanded my horizons.”

Because I’m half-time and I get paid over 12 months, and I max my retirement contributions, and I add family dental insurance and a Health Saving Account in for good measure, my take home pay for November was $34.37. But I feel rich beyond measure.

Weekend Assorted Links

1. Radical Survival Strategies for Struggling Colleges.

“Moody’s projects that the pace of closings will soon reach 15 per year.”

Sobering. How will my employer, Pacific Lutheran University fare? If it was a stock, I would not buy it because of the larger context, but I am cautiously optimistic about our future because our brand new president is as smart an entrepreneur as I’ve known. He’s quickly learned about the never ending peculiarities of academic culture and faculty-based governance. But the Warriors may not have much success this year even with Steve Kerr as coach.

2. Payne Stewart’s daughter writes him a letter twenty years after his tragic death.

“People say time heals all wounds, but I don’t believe that. Sure, as the years have gone by, I’ve learned how to manage my sadness in losing you. But the pain never really goes away. I think about you every day, miss you every day.”

3. It turns out there are (really) bad questions.

4. How to Travel Like a Local. Thorough.

5. Why Don’t Rich People Just Stop Working?

“Are the wealthy addicted to money, competition, or just feeling important? Yes.”

6. Song of the week. So effortless.

Some Things I’m Learning About College Students’ Mental Health

  • Many are super stressed by their parents’ financial sacrifices.
  • Some parents from developing countries “don’t believe” in mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, so they discount its importance. They believe their young adult children can “will themselves” to feel better.
  • College is not as easy a time and place to make friends as is commonly thought. Loneliness is real.

Setting customary anxiety about academic performance aside, imagine worrying incessantly about your family’s finances and not having many friends to confide in. And then, not being able to talk to your parents about anything of substance.

 

The Deleterious Health Effects of Sedentary Work Cultures

One aspect of my privilege is my education which has enabled me to make a living without sacrificing my body. Roofers, welders, plumbers, farmers, house painters, construction workers, tree cutters, often aren’t as fortunate.

But I’ve noticed a pattern even among my fellow white collar egghead professors. A majority routinely sacrifice their health for the sake of their work because of a deep-seated intellectual bias that prioritizes the mind at the expense of the body. 

Simply put, most of my colleagues have been sedentary for decades. On top of that, generous people take turns providing unhealthy office snacks*. Most professors don’t make time to walk, hike, run, play tennis, swim, cycle, or lift weights because there’s always another lecture to plan, or syllabus or grant to write, or set of papers to mark, or conference presentation to prepare, or faculty workshop to attend.

I like my work and my university, but not nearly enough to sacrifice my health for it. One colleague of mine retired in May and died in July. I didn’t know him so I don’t even want to pretend his lifestyle played any part, but I fear too many of my colleagues will not get to enjoy as many post work years if they do not prioritize their health more than is the norm.

Today marks the end of the world’s longest academic sabbatical, mine. I normally work summers, but I took the summers of 18 and 19 off, the book-ends to my 2018-2019 academic year sabbatical. 15 months, huzzah! Someone call the Guinness Book of World Records**. I won’t be telling any of my colleagues what I’m going to tell you in the next paragraph because the sedentary nature of faculty life is so pervasive my athletic self lives deep in the closet***.

Besides the traditional, publishing a couple of articles, reading a bunch, and updating my syllabi, I also turned the knob up a bit on my regular swimming, cycling, and running volume. Por exemplar, I joined a Masters swim team and so far this year have already swam about the same distance as last calendar year. And SO WHAT if I did stretch and chill in the jacuzzi after some practices! Also, I’m on pace to cycle 5,000 miles this year and maintain my 1,000 mile a year running streak. I was fit when I began my record breaking sabbatical, today I’m a little more fit****.

Am I overcompensating? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I’m under no illusions that my active lifestyle will guarantee any kind of post-work longevity because life is fragile. That driver on their cell phone could wipe me out on tomorrow’s ride.

But as long as I work as an egghead professor, I will dare to be different by making time to swim, cycle, and run. In particular, I will not sacrifice the quality of my life to the pervasive work culture of which I’m apart. Please, just don’t out me to any of my colleagues.

*Decent chance I have my first donut in a long time today. #glazed

**Could an educator-reader please tell me if teaching is like riding a bike, I’m afraid I may have forgotten how. Any tips?

***Except for one colleague-friend who follows my workouts on Strava. I should probably get him to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

****No, I haven’t just opted to not write about racing triathlons, I have in fact sold my time trial bike and stopped competing for reasons I’m not entirely sure. As I age, given the attrition of my peers, and my consistent training, I would do quite well. But when I envision best case scenarios, like winning races, I’m still not sufficiently motivated to toe the line. Is there a sports psychologist in the house?

bike

 

Paragraph to Ponder

“Fifty years ago, 90% of black postsecondary students attended historically black schools. In 1990, it was close to 17%. Today, around 9% do.”

From “Historically black colleges, including Bennett in Greensboro, locked in fight for survival”.

Why does it matter? Because nationwide, black students tend to do better overall at historically black colleges. They are more likely to graduate within six years than black students at predominantly white institutions. Also, black students at HBCUs are more likely to go on to graduate school than those who attend other schools.

In recent years, historically black colleges and universities have seen enrollments plummet and endowments decrease. The students in this article highlight the primary challenge the HBCU’s face, initially very enthusiastic about their choice, the students bail as soon as their college’s or university’s accreditation is threatened.

Sadly, apart from 8 figure donations, enlightened financial leadership, and continuing accreditation, I don’t know how the HBCU’s stem the race for the exits.