Friday, April 27, 2007

What am I doing?

As the end of coursework draws ever nearer (hallelujah) and I suffer through the grinding and darn near worthless course taught by a LooseGoose in a subject that's supposed to be at or near the core of my whole phd existence, and I attempt to pull together readings that make sense on my diss topic and play 'find a theory' -- I wonder .... WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING????!!!!!

"Gee, that's news!" NOT

I know, I know --- I've said it all before. But I sense as the coursework part winds down, the pressure on the dissertation work ramps up, the details and little nudges of our damn funding continue to make odd, sometimes idiosyncratic requests of us, and the future of near ABD status looms --- that things are only going to get harder. Or worse. Or worse and harder.
I'm not making as quick and steady and definitive a progress in my 'find a theory' and related reading work as I thought, or as my friends Astro and Mambo seem to be. I keep going off on little tangents, or just reading whatever comes from the last set of readings and playing the 'citation chain gang game'. Not that that's bad. It's not, it's good. It's just not what I thought I was going to be doing exactly, or more, what I think I'm supposed to be doing. And I have no idea whether I'm really making progress or not.

And I worry that I'm not worried enough about this. I worry that I don't know what I'm doing anymore, or right now, and that I'm losing my spark for this. Not good news heading into the end of coursework, the summer, and the long fall and more of ABD-land or ABD-dom.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Note to self

Do NOT ... I repeat NOT, take more than 2 grad school, PhD-y classes atthe same time, and certainly not 3, with one being at a different university, on a different academic topic, on a different academic calendar.

Unless of course you WANT to lose your sanity and precious sleep when terms start overlapping and the ramp-up reading for one course coincides with the finals, presentations and whopping papers of another course.

I'm nuts .... just plain freaking nuts. And I seriously question what on earth I was thinking or what I've gotten out of this little exercise?!!

I think, no I really hope, that as I finish the bloody paper for this off-campus 'extra' course that I figure out how it fits in and really moves me forward. Especially since it was my bloody idea to take the bloody thing in the first place!! Nuts I tell you, nuts.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Singed ... but not burnt

Ok ... in the last post, among many ramblings, was some frustration and upset over how my annual 'review' thingie seemed to have gone and how I felt that my committee didn't feel I was on the right path, that I was in some ways 'unqualified' to be going after my stated topics.

And how I didn't necessarily disagree!

But I was clearly frustrated, panicked, bewildered, hurt, annoyed .... . Anyway, I waited a few hours... I think ... and then sent a polite, gently inquiring message to Advocate asking for a 'check-in' on how she thought things went.

Well .... I feel slightly better now... at least because Advocate is in my corner and not overly concerned.

Yes, the committee did have some concerns, particularly regarding the education and potential school library focus of my research and that my background didn't quite support this, or give me the grounding and/or experience necessary to teach in this area when I was done. Hello??!!! This is not news ! I believe I've said the same damn things myself!

Hmmmmmm .... or maybe I've only been saying them to myself... and the incredibly small number of people worldwide who might read this blog. I swear I've voiced this concern to Advocate before! Haven't I?? Damn! The stress of grad school is f---ing up my memory! No really, I know I've talked with Advocate about this, but the rest of the committee, probably not.

Still... no need to rip my already tattered ego to further shreds.

But Advocate provides a needed reality, and confidence, boost. She says not to worry, I'm on a good path, and so I don't worry, because I believe in her and her experience fully.

So I got a little singed and seared in the review ... but contrary to my last thoughts, not burned to a little crisp.

Yet ....

Sunday, March 18, 2007

From the frying pan into the fire...

Let's see, another original post about how busy and stressed I am...

Well, c'mon! I'm a grad student in a PhD program dammit...isn't being stressed and uncertain written into the acceptance letter or something?

But still, it does seem like this term has been more stressful than most, if not for shear workload and feeling the grad school equivalent of some "biological clock" ticking away...hmmm, more like the "Doomsday clock" perhaps? Right at the point where you think you know what your resesarch is about, and you think you know how you're going to tackle it, you see exactly how much or really how little, time there is to achieve it and get moving before the inertia and sheer force of 'grad-dom' overtakes you and you never wind up finishing.
I think that's where I am now.

Add to that, our annual reviews of our progress in the progrem and tightening of the screws on our research interests and 'efforts at making progress toward an achievable' dissertation. You walk around feeling like everything is quicksand. Or in the case of Metro, where everything is um, 'challenging', there are more hoops to jump through. No, wait... ... Flaming hoops. Yes, flaming hoops, and my ass keeps getting singed on the way through.

For instance after my annual review, and discussions with Advocate and others of my faculty committee, there seem to be concerns about the direction I want to take my dissertation. Concern that I'm trying to study an area that I have no prior first-hand experience in, no working experience in, and therefore it's unlikely I'll be able to teach in it when I'm done (I'm in a very practically based discipline-- prior experience is key). No, unlike many other fields where doing the dissertation research is precisely what sets you up as uniquely qualified to teach what you've just spent a few years researching, living and breathing -- in mine, that's not enough.

No, I'm not even really whining here-- I understand that point and that necessity very well. I'm one of the first to agree that a professor in my field needs real life experience to go along with the research work in order to teach. Hell, I know that's my shortcoming here. Of course, so did Metro when they accepted me into a special program with a stipulation to teach in that field when I was done. But yeah, it's my biggest fear that I'll never have enough cred to get a teaching job when I'm done because of the lack of 'real' work in that area. It's what gives me 'hives' practically, and has me lie awake at night. It's what I've confessed to my shrink (when I had one), to my BF and to Astro, Mambo and the rest. That all this studying, all the research, everything will be for naught because in the end 'how can I teach something I never actually did'?!?

And because my research wants to look at this subset of my field, as a part, there is concern from my committee that it doesn't make sense.

Hell, if we all only did research on what we comfortably know, nothing innovative would ever happen! And if I only did research on what I did in my past, I'm not sure I'd be in grad school at all -- my past was just that, the PAST! And not terribly connected to where I am now-- sure, tangentially, and sure, it all builds like Legos. But it's not a direct-connect, and it's not something I will research.

So do I change my topic? Do I start over and look for new research questions? Do I try and make something out of my work for this 'new' web initiative that Metro has taken over from another college in my field? Are there real research questions there -- because all the ones that have come to my head just seem like marketing issues for this web thing. Do I ditch the topic revolving around history merely because I was never a historian, or a history teacher? Does that really mean I can't possibly understand the importance of new media and new resources in teaching this subject? Or in the power of inquiry-based learning, constructing new learner-centered knowledge from the powerful primary sources we have available? Do I put that all aside because I wasn't an elementary or secondary ed teacher, or a school librarian, or anything else that interacts with kids and education on a daily basis?

Where is the role of passion? of interest? of seeing a research gap? of wanting to fill that gap? of wanting to bring a new voice to the research? of wanting to represent the teacher, the student, the user of history? Is there no place for any of those roles in the research path they think I should tread? I understand their concern, I understand their caution. Really, I do. I want to believe in my heart that they said what they have because they care, because they want me to succeed.

But I'm left shaken, and uncertain. Standing on wobbly knees. Seeking answers from a computer screen, sending furtive emails, awaiting some gentle reassurance... which may not come.

I thought I saw a light at the end of the tunnel...
... but it turns out it was a damn train.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Cool diss related links

Ahhh, it's nice to have such helpful friends.
Since we're so close and talk about our research, what we're working on, directions exploring, headaches, etc it always seems like we're sending each other tidbits and info and links that might help.

Got a few lately I wanted to put in one place here to remember lately... hopefully. Many thanks to Mambo for several of these.

From a group of teachers in Rhode Island working on integrating digital and archival primary source materials into the history curriculum [aha! soooo topical!], here's something called the Tirocchi Dressmaker's Project. Nice curriculum guide, intro on 'constructing history', links to educational standards and more. A good example of showing how to use digitized historical materials, rather than just throwing them out there on the web. "Here's some photos, here's a diary, oh look, here's a newspaper front page". NO... that's not gonna work folks. Demonstrate how to use the materials effectively. Sheesh...
[I'm joking a bit there... teachers work very hard to integrate what they find into the curriculum and don't just show items to kids and say 'here, learn'. But too often the people putting the materials online don't help the teachers out any. Let's work together here people!]

IMLS Digital Cultural Heritage Community Project -- digitization of materials from Illinois for integration into social science curriculum. IMLS support made wide collaboration possible and they built materials to support stated standards. Article and research are not new, from 2001 in First Monday -- but still very worth reading, and looking for other work that might cite this project, or similar ones. Here's a link to part of the project.

An article whose reference I found buried in my email folder-- apparently a link I mailed myself months ago from a search done in a database (why I didn't print it, or save it to my computer I have no f--n idea!! aargh!).
"Using technology to teach historical understanding" Robert P Stephens, Jane L Lehr, Daniel B Thorp, E Thomas Ewing, David Hicks. Social Education. Arlington:Apr 2005. Vol. 69, Iss. 3, p. 151-154 ; mentions the 'Digital History Reader'

History, Digitized (and Abridged) -- a recent article from the NY Times. Talks about how some museums, archives and libraries aren't/can't/won't move to more of their items to the digital realm and wondering whether these important items and artifacts are being left behind in a way-- that parts of our cultural history are very vulnerable. This is especially true as more and more people prefer to do all their information seeking through electronic means-- ignoring anything non-digital (even if it might be the best resource to answer a particular need).

This is part of the more widely written about issue of the perception that 'everything is online', or 'if it's worth knowing it must be available online'. Ummm, no...sorry, just not true. Not now, maybe not ever. Sure there are fantastic efforts underway in many disciplines to make information available electronically, and to help users transform that data and information into real knowledge-- but not even Google's vaunted efforts (among many) can not, and will not, make it "all" available online.

Based on some other research I'm doing right now, things I'm reading, I may be writing more aboutarchives, digital libraries, history, digital preservation and this potential loss of our historical, cultural and intellectual output. The NY Times article is a nice summary piece-- some good stats here too.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Tech news, media and hints of censorship-- a short round-up

Wired News: Adobe Tackles Photo Forgeries

"A suite of photo-authentication tools under development by Adobe Systems could make it possible to match a digital photo to the camera that shot it, and to detect some improper manipulation of images ... But the advent of Photoshop and its variety of tools has made it easier for photographers to tinker with images after they're captured. By the same token, the internet has allowed skeptical bloggers around the world to analyze photos in depth, and expose chicanery. ... hopes to develop a plug-in that will detect if a photo has been changed at all since it was taken."

Fascinating stuff!! Great tech explanations here and about why this is so important now, gives a few examples of recent episodes of questionable photos. And while we're on the subject of photos, here's a link to recent news that Microsoft is aiming to take on JPEG as the photo file standard. Is there any area Microsoft doesn't want to own??!! H/T to Slashdot for this one.

"Microsoft Corp. will soon submit to an international standards organization a new photo format that offers higher-quality images with better compression, the company said today.The format, HD Photo -- recently renamed from Windows Media Photo -- is taking aim at the JPEG format, a 15-year-old technology widely used in digital cameras and image applications."

While I'm not necessarily a big fan of the SI 'swimsuit issue', I am a huge fan of fairness, equality and saying no to censorhip in all its forms. With that said, here's a link to a story that SI is refusing to send its biggest selling issue to libraries that hold subscriptions. Not cool. Here's more commentary on that from the library community.
"In an unannounced policy change that already has librarians fuming, Sports Illustrated (SI) decided this year to withhold copies of its risque annual swimsuit issue from classrooms and libraries."

For anyone out there who thinks that the whole digital book, or Google scanning project (or ones similar) thing are in any way a sexy, techie endeavour... I've got news for's not. It's lonely, probably boring, definitely dark, and not very intellectual or high-skill. Perhaps necessary, but not thrilling in any way. Check out the links from the great folks at Resource Shelf in the Comments section. Gary Price is a guru of the highest order.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Time flies...

"...when you're having fun", or so the quote goes.
I'm not sure that's at all apt here. Since when is grad school "fun"??!!

But time sure flies anyway. One minute it's a Friday, I'm having a good chat with Blue about a research project and I swear the next minute it's nearly two weeks later and I haven't gotten done half of what I wanted to, or planned to, on that research project or half of my other crap. Damn. I've been so busy I haven't gotten anything done.

And now by the time I get around to actually posting this 'post' an entire month will have elapsed since I had this particualr angst, and yet it all still rings so true! I'm further along in the project with Blue, but we're not quite where we wanted to be, and are having some techie issues trying to share data collection and make sure we both know what the other is doing.

In the meantime though I don't know whether I'm coming or going. I have no idea where this term has gone. I have not a clue how I will get finsihed all that still needs to be done, and yet I've been super productive through most of the winter. So much so that at times I seem like I never get any sleep, or have time to sit and think about reserch or projects, or hell, just to breathe!

It seems like every deadline I could possibly have, for what seems like the whole damn year, all hit in the same 3 week or so period. Conferences, workshops, doc student consortia, internal paper deadlines, annual reviews, personal stuff-- you name it, it's all been due the past month. And naturally that's also when my immune system gave up and of course I wound up with the flu. Not the 24-48 hour kind like all my friends and relatives.... oh nooooo... I get the strain that lingers for a week, leaves you feeling like you got run over by a Mack truck and then lets crap linger in your head and chest for weeks. Oh joy.

So there, that's why my pathetic self hasn't been blogging in forever. Yes, the outlet would've been good for me, get some of the stress out. Gawd knows there's been enough of that lately. So maybe better late than never.