This blog experiment

Now that I’ve been blogging for several weeks, I’m starting to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.  I can sum up what I’ve learned so far in just a few points:

Blogs have to be about something.  So far, mine is about nothing in particular.  I thought when I started that I would be able to “ramble” about whatever struck my fancy, and I did.  But the feeling is unsatisfying, as though I’m just wasting bandwidth and time.

It takes work to build readership.  With all those blogs out there, it’s hard to be found.  Posting on other blogs is a necessity.  My readership spiked when I posted to the Top 5 contest over at Problogger, because of the links.  I suppose I’d comment on other blogs if I felt I had something worthwhile to say.

It takes more time than I thought.  A good post is like writing a good college-level paper.  It takes research, outlining, writing and rewriting.  The post might be three or four paragraphs long, but unless it has worthwhile information, it won’t make interesting reading.  And without interesting reading, why would readers come back?

I’ll probably continue to ramble for awhile, but I’ll also be looking for a topic to build this blog around.  I would like to make a success of it, and am not ready yet to throw in the towel.

Top 5 reasons to leave academia–and to stay

 (Thanks to Darren Rowse’s Top 5 Group Writing Project for inspiring this post.)

Today I had to say goodbye to a valued colleague. She has taught at my university for two years, as an adjunct professor (that’s a year-to-year contract), so she’s been on uncertain ground since day one. We were conducting searches for two tenure-track professors in her field, but were able to hire only one. The administration put off asking my friend to come back in the fall until just last week–a thoughtless act. My friend said she’d think about it, but yesterday told our chief that she would not be back.

She feels ill-treated to have been left to twist in the wind for so long, when it was unnecessary. It’s not like she has no life of her own, and has nothing to plan for. So although she has no job to go to for the time being, she is certain one will come along, and she’ll freelance until it does.

This experience makes me again reassess my position. I’m on tenure track, just got a decent raise for the next year, and seem to get my share of perks in the department. But academia can be so screwy sometimes. Here are my Top five Reasons to Leave Academia:

5. Adminstrators who hide behind the concept of “shared governance,” and as a result, get nothing done

4. Job searches that bear no relation to real world needs

3. Academic collegaues who have never held a job in business, and have no idea of how to work efficiently and productively

2. Career advancement based not on the real world duty of teaching, but on the ethereal world requirement to produce research–whether relevant or not

1. Students who are in college to get a degree so they can get a job–and not to get an education so they can get a life

It occurs to me after reading the list that I come across as a misanthropic curmudgeon–which may be so, sometimes, but isn’t the aura I try to project. So let’s re-examine my assessment. There are also five good reasons to stay right where I am.

5. University and department are moving forward–growing in numbers of students and faculty. Standards are higher than they were just a few years ago.

4. Travel budgets to present original research have grown. It’s easy to be funded for two trips a year now.

3. The department chief is genuinely interested in the well being and advancement prospects of the faculty.

2. I’ve moved into a new, larger office–that actually has a window.

1. The students. Most of them are interested in learning the material, interesting to get to know–and they keep me young.

For the time being, I’ll stay where I am. I wish my friend well, but her decision has no bearing on my situation. For me, life is good.

Year-end trauma

I’m giving my two final exams tomorrow, and in the four days since I was last on campus, I’ve been getting hit with desperate e-mails from students. Some of it is justified. I e-mailed my classes with their grades to date, without the final exam, and muffed a few of the grades. It seems I had received papers from some students, graded and returned them, but neglected to enter the grade for the paper. That’s an easily remedied glitch.

Other students tell me they turned in their papers, but I didn’t enter a grade. If their papers are in my files, again that’s an easily remedied situation. But several students seem to be trying to pass the class (with A’s) without attending. At the beginning of the class period, I return any papers that I still have from previous assignments. The same people are never there to get their papers back. I have six out of eight papers from one student, who has not come to class to get them. This same student sent an e-mail asking if I intended to post a final exam review online. Sorry, Charlie, but I gave a final exam review in class last week. It was in your semester calendar. If you decided not to show up that day to get the review, I don’t see why I should post the review. While poor attendance does not carry any grade penalties, it does indicate an attitude about classwork on the part of the student. You’ve made the decision to try to pass without coming. It’s a risky decision. Here’s where your risk can backfire on you.

The chutzpah award goes to the student who didn’t turn in four of the written assignments. He missed the deadline to drop the class. I would have given him a W, and he would not have an F in his transcript. But he didn’t, and now he wants to know what he can do to save his grade in the class. He can’t. It’s a mathematical impossibility. See you in the fall.

My #$^*&%# yard!

Classes at the university wrapped up this week, and I don’t give finals until Monday.  I caught up on my grading yesterday, and supervised some projects that are still being completed (I gave extensions to several groups).

Today, I treated myself by staying home and playing golf.  I’m pleased to report that I raised the level of my game  from  horrible to mediocre.  It’s been awhile since I played merely mediocre golf.

Tomorrow, though, I have to get back to work.  Not at school–in the yard.  The lawn looks pretty good.  We’ve had lots of rain recently, and it’s greened up nicely.  I edged last weekend, and it needs it again already.  That probably won’t get done.  But I’ve got to get out the bush trimmer and tackle the ground cover we have around our trees.  Since we live on a corner lot, we have more trees than most of the neighbors’ houses.  The previous owner of our house surrounded all the trees with low stone walls, and planted leafy ground cover inside the walls.  It looks great, but it needs constant attention.  I also have to pull out the fishline trimmer to trim the spots I missed last weekend.  The trimmer works great–it’s a Black & Decker Grass Hog, which I find far superior to the Weedeater it replaced.  The problem it has is a tendency to go through the  fishing line really fast.  I reload the spool with line at least three times every time I use it.  I’m also pulling out some garden beds left by the previous owner, since neither my wife nor I have any inclination to garden.  Except that my wife got some packets of wildflower seeds as a gift, and I’ll be planting them tomorrow.  That will involve pulling out some bushes which are out of control, spading the planting area in front of the house, adding new soil–and I’ve got to get the oil changed in my car.  The bright spot in all this is that medical types say yardwork is as good a form of exercise as anything else.  I’m worn out just thinking about it.

The bike ride

The 50-mile bike ride is history, and it was a big success.  My wife finished at around 2:30 p.m., well ahead of the 4 p.m. cutoff time set by the ride organizers.

Her sister drove down to be at the finish, and the two of us drove out to the park where the riders would come in.  On a narrow county road just before the park, there she was–her red biking jersey really stood out.  But she was walking her bike, not riding.  We pulled up alongside, and she told us she had fallen at a water crossing a few hundred yards back.  She couldn’t disengage her pedal cleat fast enough as she approached the water, and went down.  Injuries were minor–a few bruises and some “road rash,” and as we pulled our car into the parking area, we could see her get back up on her bike for the finish.  We parked the car, grabbed the camera, and hurried to the finish line, but by the time we got there, she was already in the finishing chute with a big smile on her face.

The ride was undoubtedly the most athletic thing this middle-aged woman had ever done in her life, and it left her with a great sense of accomplishment.  Today, it also left her with a collection of bruises on her legs.

But she’s ready to ride again, and is wondering how to stay motivated to bring the bike out after work for her 11-miler. Way to go, girl!

On the eve of the long bike ride

My wife has been training for a 50-mile bike ride for the last several months.  She’s always preferred biking to most other kinds of exercise, except yoga, and as she geared up for this ride she continually surprised me.  The six-miles rides that left her huffing, puffing, and exhausted are now short quick after-work pick-me-ups.  For the past few weekends, she’s biked 25, 28 and 28 miles.

Tomorrow is the payoff.  It’s a charity ride, and she’s been soliciting donations to cover the $500 she is expected to raise.  Most of the money is in now.  The ride begins at 8 a.m., so I expect her to finish between 1 and 2 p.m.

Her sister is driving in from another city to be there for the finish.  We’ll head out in time to watch her cross the finish line, and take lots of pictures.  I’ll let you know how it comes out.

The year winds down

As an academic, my year runs from late August to mid May.  We’re in the last full week of classes, and Monday will be our last day.  The students have been disconnected from serious academics since Spring Break.  But with just a few days left, semester projects are due in many classes, and an undercurrent of tension, anxiety, and impatience fills the air.

One of my classes has its project due Monday.  It’s a team project, with teams of two students working on a single project.  During lab session where the bulk of the work is being done, the prevailing attitude seems to be, “Let’s just finish.”  One student complained today that his team was finished, but his partner wanted to make some changes that would delay turning it in until Monday.

He’ll probably come out ahead.  The three projects turned in early had all the earmarks of rush jobs.  Despite my advice about how to structure the project, they put it together their own way.  The results were generally mediocre, and downright poor in one case.

Because the class is using software that’s new to most of them, I told them I would impose no penalties if they turned the projects in after the Monday due date–as long as they’re in sometime during next week.  I want to have them all graded before the final exam a week from Monday.

Watch this space in about 10 days to see what kind of reaction I get to the project grades.

Hiring professors ain’t easy

I mentioned in an earlier post that I work at a university.  I am an assistant professor on tenure track.  That means I have a six-year window to meet the requirements the university sets, and then, theoretically, I am granted tenure. I am just wrapping up my second year on tenure track.  Tenure is essentially a job for life.  Once you’ve got it, it’s almost impossible to lose it.

Sometimes, academic departments have particular openings that are filled by people who receive tenure as part of their employment package.  This often happens if someone is hired as a department chair.  Sometimes it happens if the candidate is perceived to elevate the prestige of the department, by adding a nationally-known name to the faculty, or bringing a slew of books and refereed publications that would raise the research dimension of the department.

My department has two openings in the same academic sequence.  We brought four finalists to campus for interviews.  The top candidate was very impressive, but there was a wrinkle.  His wife was also one of the finalists.  But the faculty was unimpressed with the wife.  In order to get him, they actually considered hiring her.  But then he demanded that they both come aboard with tenure.  While the faculty would have been willing to grant it to him, there was no way she would get it.  The couple withdrew from consideration.  Now, we’re faced with bringing back two adjuncts for the coming year, which will again hinder our efforts to raise the profile of that sequence.

What’s on my iPod

I got a new  Video iPod for my birthday last month, a joint gift from my wife and son.  I’m not enamored of the tiny screen, and have loaded only one video into it.  But I’m working hard to get all my albums copied over.

Actually, that’s not 100% true.  The beauty of the iPod is that I can skip songs I don’t care for, which means from four to six songs on every album don’t make the cut.

The ones that do are a pretty eclectic mix, I’m happy to say.  Here are the top 10 artists on my iPod, with the names of their albums:

The Beatles                    Please Please Me, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, A Hard Day’s Night, 1

Billie Holiday                Ken Burns Jazz, Original Decca Masters

Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops         Gaite Parisienne & Gayne Suite

Glenn Miller                 The Big Band Legends

Aretha Franklin          The Very Best Of…

Philip Jones Brass Ensemble     Weekend Brass Trumpet Voluntary

Frank Sinatra             The Very Good Years

Professor Longhair   Rock ‘n Roll Gumbo

Roy Orbison               The All-Time Greatest Hits

Janis Joplin                Greatest Hits, Cheap Thrills

I realize that a post like this dates me somewhat.  My father got me interested in classical music, because it was what he enjoyed listening to.  The Beatles coincided with my high school years.  I like good singers who can interpret lyrics.  I think music must have a melody.  I seem to prefer listening to female singers over male, at least based on the number of songs by women in my collection, but I think it’s fair to say that I like all kinds of music.  What’s the biggest surprise on this list?

Golf–yech

Don’t get me wrong. I actually love golf. But sometimes I hate it. I’ve had a handicap as low as 12, and now it’s back up to about 17. And based on my play yesterday, it’ll go higher before it goes lower.

I played in a threesome with two guys I’ve played with before. One is quite good, the other at about my level, although lately he’s pulled his handicap down to a 14. I was THIS close to keeping up with them for the first several holes, but one shot would go wrong each time, and lead to me getting the highest score of the group. On a par 4, if the good golfer parred and the medium golfer bogeyed, I could be counted on to dump a ball in the sand, land the sand shot too far from the hole to recover, and wind up with a double bogey.

I wound up shooting my worst round of the year: 101. It was the first time I’d failed to break 100 since early last fall (Usually I shoot in the low 90s).

So right now, yes, I grimace when I think about golf. Luckily, I have some free time coming up next month, and I’ll be able to get to the course for practice only. In the past, my scores have come down when I’ve been able to practice, and I’m hoping that will be the case again. Golf–yech.

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