the grid

the grid

Saturday 30 May 2020

Summer Session Week 4

Hello everyone!
So we’re going to try to get all the new posts up late Friday pm (or Saturday am in European time zones) so that it works for everyone – if you like checking in over the weekend they should be there and if you prefer to wait you can check in later. Thanks for all the great comments this past week, I really enjoyed reading them and seeing the follow-up comments.

I had a conversation with a close colleague and a university recruiting person about a university recruiting event this week, and one of the things we had to do for it was articulate a few messages about a program we developed and run together. We had to come up with the usual recruitment ideas of what’s different about our program, what we think students get out of it, the sort of thing that gets worked into standard recruiting-type messages.  The person we were working with from recruitment said something along the lines of she really enjoyed working with us because she could see how proud we were of the program and of the students in it.

That made me think about how we very rarely do that kind of thinking about our research work in a genuine and personal way… Yes, we all have to articulate “impact” and “relevance” and whatever other buzzwordy kinds of aspects of our work when we apply for grants and promotions and get reviewed, but those things to me are more about external judgement and “selling” ones work to a critical audience. How often do we stop and think of what we’re truly proud of on a personal level in our research work? For me I can say “very rarely” and I bet it is similar for many of us…

So this week spend a bit of time thinking about your research/academic super power. Think of the things you do really well and the aspects of your work you are most proud of, especially the personal aspects that don’t get put on a grant application or REF or whatever external judgey thing you last had to fill out… It might be something about the actual work, it might be something about how you approach your work, it might be something about how you work with others. If it feels odd to think about “you” this way then reframe it to think of the things your co-authors or co-workers would miss about you and your work if you were not around… As always, share if you feel like it, and more importantly, give yourself a big congratulations for whatever thing you come up with!
Have a great week!


  1. Last week's goals/how I did:
    3 x 2 hours academic work. 2 x 2 hours.
    Order fall books; finish taking notes on an ILL book; 15 min/day dead language. NO, YES (yay!), NO.
    Life stuff: med forms, lists, packing, take some stuff to campus office so I know where it is. FOUND the forms (a good start), SOME lists & packing, YES took stuff to office.

    New goals:
    Establish a routine for work/house/exercise.
    Sleep: aim for both more and earlier.
    3 x 2 hours work; notes on another ILL book, an assessment thing from last year, some dead language study.

    The research fairy is indeed tough, and, it appears, given to stress-shedding glitter as well as buzzing around my head whining "Fifteen minutes! Just give me fifteen minutes! Help me glue the spangles back on! Can we stop in the next town so I can get some moisturizer? And more sequins? It won't take long! Come on, do you think all this fabulousness is natural? It takes work, darling! Give me a hand, here!" I'm going to swat his prancing little butt into the middle of next week, or the middle of the mammoth paddock, whichever.

    1. Oh, and among the goals, I really have to order books for fall classes.

    2. I spewed my tea at the research fairy's whining, which sounded like my daughters at mid-teenage, especially the moisturizer!

    3. I like that your research fairy is a he... I don't think I have a research fairy. Cats and petrads (which are small scrabbly things a bit like trilobites that live in and are stone in my Fantasy University; the older buildings like the libraries are infested with them but as they don't eat paper and do sometimes eat naked flames, and the younger library cats enjoy chasing them sometimes, no-one there cares much. The practicum building has more of an issue with them since they seem rather fond of mineralogical samples. They pop up and disappear into the wall without any human-comprehensible rhyme or reason, and sometimes they leave cryptic objects (mineral) on desks or in cubbies, and therefore they are pretty apt for the way my research thinking tends to work....

    4. I love the attitude and persistence of your fairy! He has the potential to be a pretty badass helper! Yay for staying out of mammoth range, every little bit helps...

      And JaneB, one day we all want to read your fantasy magic university universe story! It sounds amazing and so much fun!

  2. Last week:
    1. Read the 4 essays for Journal -Done
    2. Read up to 12 others (2 for Nunnery, the remaining 9 chapters of Theoryish Book, and 1 very long chapter of Big Honking Book) - 9 altogether (didn’t quite finish Theoryish, which is irritating me a little bit, as Theoryish things sometimes do, I’m afraid)
    3. Track down evasive advisee - Unsuccessful so far
    4. Write a paragraph about why I am qualified to write my current project - Not yet. Ugh. One paragraph!!
    5. Bucket o' bishop - 2 of them
    6. One of my Good Things daily - x6?

    This week's goals:
    1. Reading: Finish Theoryish book; read 2 Nunnery essays; read 100 pp. of Big Honking Book
    2. Writing: Minimum of one freaking paragraph, come on, seriously
    3. Students: Try calling advisee; follow up on students with incompletes; read at least 1/2 of a diss chapter; one full day of advising (no choice about this one, I'm afraid)
    4. Fun: Start reading a novel; knit
    5. Yard: Bucket o' bishop, plus some other yard work
    6. Good Thing daily

    My magic research power? I'm really proud of my close reading work. That's definitely the skill and approach that brings all of my work together. I've had some insecurity around that, since it doesn't feel as "legitimate" to me as, say, High Theory (which I kind of hate), or paleography (which I kind of love), or having a really good mind for synthesizing others' research, but I can close-read the hell out of a paragraph. I credit my amazing high school English teachers for this.

    1. Like you, I was taught close reading, and do reasonably well; I think most medievalists my age were trained that way (I suspect I am more the age of your high school teachers). Your comment about "legitimate" struck me. The entire medievalist cohort with me in graduate school {about 10 of us in CompLit alone} hit the wall with all the late-twentieth-century "-isms": we just read the texts and brought our close reading training to bear. One acquaintance insisted that was “new historicism,” but I don't think so, and that term has always felt reductive to me.
      I love paleography!

    2. Close reading is indeed a super-power.

    3. You did a lot of reading!! That's definitely a win for the week!
      I have one of those evasive advisees too... And in my experience the evasive ones are the ones who most need the interaction. Once they get that they are fabulous but tracking them down is a lot of angst and a lot of work. On one hand I don't want to overwhelm them, but on the other I know they need the direction.... I have not found the happy medium yet...

  3. Topic: My research superpower? It smacks of bragging, but I’m pretty good at synthesizing and finding the explorable and fruitful cracks in earlier research. The rest of my bragging is more research-adjacent. I am a good editor, and I can usually get the members of a team project to do their part of the research. Also, I have never met a Romance language that wasn’t an immediate friend.

    Last week’s goals:
    Follow the schedule for bibliography, footnotes and glossary. Yes, I actually did follow it--there are miracles in this world!
    If the above works well, add proofreading the edition to the schedule. Added, and done!
    Post two of the presentations. Nope--technical difficulties. Scheduling another time.
    Update the third presentation with what I scrawled the night before the talk. No, so back on next week’s goals it goes.
    Send a birthday card to my sister. Written but not sent.
    Be kind, reach out. Getting better at not being grouchy.

    Analysis: My week, although I did accomplish some things, was partially eaten up by tha fallout from the university-wide announcement (with Q&A from the faculty) about the fall semester. The announcement was short on realities, and long on possibilities, which increased the angst level for a lot of people; the Q&A session merely increased the gnashing of teeth, because all the answers were full of caveats and unknowns. Long story short, we are planning to be back on campus for small classes, starting sooner, and ending at Thanksgiving. We will have virtual classes for the big gen-ed classes.

    The rest of the week was being taught things via Zoom that I was scheduled to learn the week after we shut down. So, there were lots of downloaded programs, and very patient colleagues troubleshooting. I am pretty tech-savvy, and managed to fix some things afterwards (I have a reputation to uphold, after all), but it was just difficult and exhausting.

    Next week’s goals:
    Update the third presentation with what I scrawled the night before the talk.
    Schedule time to post the presentations.
    Finish annual Faculty Activity Report.
    Mail the birthday card.

    I hope June is kind to us all. Float like mist, everyone.

    1. The fuzzy angst... we were told we're planning for three different scenarios - 1. pre-COVID normal [Not happening] 2. students on campus, hybrid w/ 20% F2F teaching [most likely] 3. Campus remains entirely closed.
      They wonder why there's anxiety?

    2. We are doing three scenarios too, on top of exam marking etc. - we're doing lectures online everything else in person, lectures and some seminars/practicals on line limited in person (probably with students in 'bubbles' which is much less fun than it sounds), or fully online. And we just consulted on 11 different models of rearranging the academic year (e.g. instead of teaching a module with labs in one semester, teach the module in semester one remotely and the labs on campus in semester two. Worrying aobut it all is reducing my productivity further...


    3. That's a lot of success! Congratulations on sticking with the schedule!
      I'm soooo grateful my institution pulled the cord and just committed to online. It will still suck, but at least we have time to prepare for certain and we are not left to make individual decisions when the only sensible one is collective.
      Sorry about the uncertainly, that is definitely the scariest part of the run-up to Fall.

  4. A pretty good week for goals, and it was really nice to see my student defend and do a great job. I ran out of steam by Thursday though, too many online meetings for one week! Injury rehab was going really well until I went out for a test run and promptly stepped in a hole and sprained an ankle… Now rehab is two for the price of one, fortunately everything for both injuries work together and need similar work. So I’ve set up a 30 day strengthening/stretching/rehab plan with exercises and a table to be checked off each day. Will be able to track progress I hope. But no more running for at least a week which is a bit sad.

    Last week’s goals
    1) Finish editing awesome paper for main co-author so he can submit it! ALMOST DONE
    2) Make three new figures for neglected paper NOTHING but did do figures for a totally different paper which counts for something I guess
    3) Daily stretching and injury rehab DONE AND ONGOING
    4) Write late report for internal grant DONE
    5) This week’s fun thing for kid: bring home surprise ice cream from favourite shop DONE
    6) This week’s fun thing for me: student’s Masters defense and virtual champagne for that! DONE

    This week’s goals
    1) Finish editing awesome paper for main co-author so he can submit it!
    2) Make three new figures for neglected paper
    3) Write plan for new paper on local area
    4) Process data for co-authors on cross-Atlantic project
    5) 30 Day Challenge - stretching , stretching and rehab
    6) Fun thing for me: bike to coffee shop when they have surprise pop-up hours
    7) Fun thing for child: let her bake a cake with buttercream frosting, her idea...

    I think my research superpower is being able to work with a huge variety of people and be able to bring together lots of different styles/approaches/contributions into one coherent product. I’m also really proud of my research community that I’ve built in my geographic area, and in my field of study. There are lots of very diverse projects with students and other researchers that would be worse off if I wasn’t involved, so that makes me very happy.

    1. Bringing people together is a great superpower!

    2. I agree, this is a great super power. Sometimes I feel like managing interdisciplinary teams, each individual with their own views on publishing, timelines, etc. is like herding cats.

    3. Definitely a great superpower to have!

  5. What a great question. My research superpower is the ability to put different conversations in dialogue with each other. It's what consistently makes my work interesting. It means I have contributed to a bunch of *very* different scholarly conversations, and have lots of respect not only among historians in my field, but adjacent lit folks.

    Goals from last week:
    1. Really finish the chapter YES!!!!
    2. Get book orders in NO
    3. Keep walking (it will be have to be early the next few days, as we're above 100 this week) YES
    4. Read for fun SOME
    5. Pick up knitting NO
    6. Go to be early so I get enough sleep. 5 out of 7?

    Analysis: The world is difficult right now, so... I'm struggling. I finished the chapter, with notes on what I might add when I can get books from ILL. The week got a bit messed up when my A/C failed on the first day it was 105; fortunately the guy came the next day, added refrigerant and it's all under warranty. Phew!
    I keep putzing on the book orders, but it's partly about how I structure the class as a remote class. I've now printed out the calendar, and will sit down in the morning to figure this out.

    I did do other things, like spend a morning dealing with a minor question on The Essay that Will Not Die, and reading a whole bunch of journals, so it was not a complete wash. If I can keep doing this I will have the space to reimagine my desk without a bookcase on it. I'm about to order from Ikea, and will pay for delivery. It gives me a target.

    Goals for the week ahead:
    1. Start next chapter - write 1500 words
    2. Get book orders in
    3. 8 more journal issues
    4. Do a bit of clearing in old office
    5. Keep walking
    6. Go to bed at a normal time and get sleep
    7. Try not to get sucked into twitter and the disaster that is the US right now.

    1. Connecting conversations is an important and rare superpower, especially in the intersection of history and literature. Congrats on finishing the chapter, especially given your difficulties last week. I also like your way of clearing the desk, with its added bonus of reading the journal articles.

      Your last goal resonates with me. I wish I could think of something constructive to do.

    2. I felt better about avoiding news after aiming for something constructive by taking a couple of days to rage-donate to a bunch of local anti-racism organizations (more than my usual since I'm not eating out or shopping!), write to a bunch of local elected officials and a couple of national parties, and write to the students in my program about some actions we are starting within that program. I also switched around a few books I'm requiring for an interdisciplinary science seminar I'm teaching to shift the emphasis to anti-racism in our general field. I know the students are going to be super uncomfortable and push back with "what does this have to do with science" and I unashamedly don't care because the answer to that question is literally "EVERYTHING"...

  6. I think I figured out my research superpower today after presenting at the online conference. I seem to have a good knack for finding interesting projects that are intriguing to others. I was happily surprised that the panel chair and audience found the project intriguing and encouraged me to pursue it further. It’s been awhile since I’ve presented research, so this was a fulfilling experience.

    Last week:
    1 write and submit two book reviews: one of two done
    2 submit one more essay peer review: no
    3 write and submit conference abstract: decided against
    4 write presentation for online conference next week: yes

    I have bunches of book reviews and essay reviews this summer, so they will keep returning to my list, even though I am completing other ones. And although I chose not to submit to the September conference (saving that project for next year’s in-person conference), there’s a different conference I’m planning this week.

    This week:
    1 write and submit two book reviews
    2 submit one more essay peer review
    3 write and submit conference abstract
    4 write 1000 words for Tiny Project

    1. That is a wonderful superpower, indeed. I love it when a presentation goes well, and the audience is receptive and supportive. Enjoy that, and pursue!

    2. Congrats on the rewarding presentation! That is definitely a win and excellent encouragement. Good luck with all the reviews!

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  8. Wonderful question. I think my research super power is balancing the use of empirical data with the exploration of social questions. It means that in theory-laden contexts I seem "sciency" and that in sciency laden contexts I feel "theoretical". That can be a funny balance to manage at times.

    I had a hard week. I am having some ongoing covid complications that mimic other medical conditions (heart attack) so its been a bit scary. This meant a trip to the emergency room late Friday night. I am doing my best trying to manage my anxiety but its hard in the world we live in. Gardening and exercise helps, although I have to monitor how much to do both as they exacerbate my ongoing chest pain. Ugh.

    1. So sorry to hear of your trip to the emergency room. Those are not fun, and I would think the whole covid atmosphere would make it worse. I hope you feel better soon!

    2. What a great superpower -- but I know as someone who walks between groups it means you never quite know where home is...

      I'm so sorry about the complications of COVID. I tell people here who are blase about it ("few cases here") that no one I know has been better in less than 3 weeks, and often there are ongoing issues. The world we live in is not easy these days.

    3. ugh, that sounds scary - I know several people who are having a really hard time with it, but around here some of the local shops the assistants aren't wearing masks because of the abuse they were getting from customers. Thank you, insane politicians who appear to be actively hunting for ways to look/act/be more insane. Ugh.

  9. How I Did
    1. Number crunch for section of Ch 7 and write 1,000 words: a bit of both
    2. Meet with three research students via ZOOM about summer research, meet with postdoc Yes
    3. Exercise x 3 Yes
    4. Aunt's taxes Yes
    5. Look for Tahitian teacher A bit
    This week:
    1. Reread CH 6, outline rest of CH 7
    2. Copy edits/additions to co-authored ms.
    3. Exercise x 2, walk x 4
    4. Bunch of medical appts
    5. Paperwork to get aunt on state system (I am her POA)
    6. Begin to suss out what articles/books needed for fall classes

    1. That feels like a lot of success to me!

    2. Thanks for that Susan. I am falling into the blame game of: its summer- you should be making tons and tons of weekly progress on the book. Alas, I am making small writing progress. But I am making deep thinking progress which I tend to write off- I need to remember if I can't get the deep thinking done then whatever I write will, to put it bluntly, suck, so I need to give myself the time to read and just think things through... alas, this is part of the eternal struggle between me and book writing. I look forward to the day when article writing can be in my life once again; hence the need to finish this book!

    3. Summers always have that "must write all the things" guilt attached... I found that dividing my day into sections helps manage that feeling, if I do the morning on writing then I feel good about switching to other tasks for the afternoon, and the other way round too. If I try to "write" for a whole day my brain rebels and I end up doing very little... Thinking is so important, and allowing space for that pays off in spades!

    4. Summer is deceptive! I always get that same dream of open time and possibility that I had when I was a kid, and make summer lists with the shadow of that dream influencing me, then reality (and lots of administration and inconvenience etc. etc., not to mention all the time-eaters that come with being a vaguely responsible single middle-aged creaky human rather than a kid) and I end up disappointed. But of course that is the academic norm - there are more TRQ and TLQ things than fit into one sensibly realistic working life, and the stupid obsession with work and productivity of neo-liberal late stage capitalism and its competitiveness gives us constant pressure to not acknowledge that reality, or to "overcome" it at some other cost.

      I agree with Daisy that a smaller amount of quality time is the thing to aim for, but it's so hard to always keep that focus!

  10. A hard week and this one isn't much better, although it is different, and the weather is cooler today which is something.

    Research Superpower? I might say ideas, I can always come up with more ideas. However getting them actually funded is a different story, probably because my other superpower, the ability to face down a blank piece of paper and write stuff on it, is balanced by a Fatal Weakness of losing interest in anything in the last 10-20% of fiddle-arsing around, if you'll forgive me a useful British English expression, that often seems to be required to meet the exact parameters of applications. Also I cannot for the life of me testiculate convincingly or over-egg the significance of my work (I'm great at fabulising, but that's a very different skill).

    last week's goals:
    1) self care ish. I'm battling the drive to eat everything in sight constantly, but sometimes I resist, and I'm continuing to drink a reasonable amount of water each day and get recommended servings of fruit and vegetables and protein around the carbohydrates and so on, so there's that. I continue to have joint problems which are getting in the way of moving much, but I am persisting with at least a bit of dancing around the place in a rather grounded and unenthused way, and my morning stretches seem to have finally become an actual habit. I'm having issues with ankle and foot swelling on the leg with the worse varicose veins and skin damage, largely due to lack of ergonomics, hormones, and Being Fat, which is also depressing. I try so hard, and I just fail every time, and the wider world is so confident in its assessment that my weight is All My Fault and within my control.

    2) making more lists made some of the more lists. Used my pretty new pens which always helps.
    3) launching the community effort and sorting out followup done and nearly done (it's mostly on someone else's desk for now) and it's going OK. Just got to find some energy to act as if I care about it for a few emails every day now...
    4) completing all the marking of first year work which has been submitted and is super overdue.YES. Not by the time I hoped for, but they ARE now all done. Next wave arrives THursday...
    5) finish one small section of FlatProject1.NO. Again. No. Grrrrr....

    goals for next week (this week)
    1) self care whilst
    2) making more lists
    3) doing small things on the followup of community project
    4) ticking off at least 10 things from the list of small but necessary jobs (mostly around 15-45 minute jobs that keep getting copied from week to week...).
    5) finish one small section of FlatProject1.
    6) have a two day weekend!

    1. I was reading along, thinking how much I liked the expression "fiddle-arsing around", and then you used the word "testiculate" and I was DONE. It sounds so much fancier than my usual phrases. And there is SO MUCH testiculating going on right now.

      Anyway, it sounds to me as if you're doing pretty well, which is -- right now -- excellent.

    2. The battle to not eat everything is a real one in my house too! Hurrah for good water drinking and daily servings of furit and veg. And to dancing around in place (I love the visuals of this) and daily stretching. Daily stretching is becoming a more formalized part of my life too and it makes a difference

  11. That's a lot of success! And yay for stretching habit! It makes a difference to a lot of things... I was really surprised one morning after a good week of consistent stretching when I got up and nothing hurt! I thought the morning stiffness was just getting older but it got so much better so quickly that I'm now a pretty decent stretching convert...