Continuing a conversation

Z and I have both been thinking about how we teach our graduate students.  Here are the beginnings of a reading/discussion assignment I will try out.  I don’t yet know what essay I’ll use, but I want to ask these questions:

Learning to approach a critical essay

As you read, use a different color to highlight each of the following:
argument (logical inferences, grounds, warrants, examples)
new information
theoretical concepts

What signals help you to identify these different threads of an essay?

How does the author deploy new information?

Are there places where you could disagree with the argument?  On what grounds?

What theoretical concepts does the author assume you understand?   How could you find out more about them?  List some resources you might use.

How does the author use theoretical concepts?

How do argument, information, and theory work together and influence each other?

Conferences, priorities, and Octopods

This spring, a couple of academic bloggers I read were excited about being invited to give a paper at a conference.  I don’t mean invitations to give a keynote address, just to contribute a regular paper to a themed session or a conference on a particular theme.

I had enough self-restraint not to rain on their parades in the comments, but being a cynical old bat, I wondered whether it’s worth getting excited.  OK, it’s true that even getting the invitation may mean that your work has drawn someone’s attention, that you are known for working in a particular area, and that may be a good thing.

The yeah-buttal: the session or conference organizer may have asked you because there haven’t been enough submissions (I have been in this position, on both sides).  The organizer may have asked friends or other people on the program if they can recommend someone who can give a paper on a particular topic; so, sure, you’ve drawn someone’s attention, but whose?  It’s also possible that the organizer is trying to skew a session in a particular direction.  I myself have been asked to give a manuscript-y paper for a session sponsored by a society when the session organizer felt that the society’s interests were getting too theoretical, and was not getting support for this view in the society’s planning meeting.  As it happened, I did have something to offer, and the conference paper led to a publication, so the session organizer and I could be useful to each other.  But I was aware that I was asked for a reason that was not simply that I am awesome.

For annual review, at most schools, conference papers don’t mean squat.  What counts is what’s in print.  So if you need a deadline to get something written, if you know what your process is for developing a conference paper into an article, then sure, give a paper.  If there’s a conference you’re dying to go to, in order to meet people (new important people or your old friends), and you need to give a paper to get funding for it, and you can’t afford to go otherwise, then, sure, give a paper (but make certain that it’s an idea you can do something with, afterwards).

Think carefully, though, about your priorities.  Is this idea something that you want to be working on for the next however-long?  Is it something you’re working on anyway?  Can you cut down an article-in-progress, or excerpt a finished one that hasn’t yet appeared in print?  Or will this paper take time away from your book, your series of articles, whatever your plans were before you got the flattering invitation?  People who invite you to give a conference paper usually don’t know what your plans are.  They’re thinking about their own priorities: getting good (or controversial) papers on their panels, making sure they have enough people at a conference for it to be interesting and to make whatever quota their institution has to make a gathering cost-effective.

Of course it’s flattering to be asked.  Last week I got such a request myself.  And although my first response, given the time and place of the conference, was “Oh hell no,” my second was “but I do have this idea I haven’t managed to work on for awhile because of the MMP Octopus.”  My third thought was “That project needs to wait its turn; I am not putting down the swyving Octopus now that I’m the one who’s winning.”  I haven’t worked on the topic of Other Project in awhile; I was a little surprised even to be invited to this conference, and thought about replying that I don’t really work in that area any longer, until I remembered the Other Project.  But my priorities are the MMP Octopus and then a book project.  And I work better when I focus on one thing until it’s done; otherwise, I muddy the waters flitting from one thing to another, never really finishing anything, confusing myself by working on too many things, and subject to thrashing when I can’t decide what to do first.

And mainly, my priority now is publication.  It’s true that I don’t need to meet people so I can put them on a list of outside reviewers for my tenure application.  That’s really the only unassailable reason I can think of to go to conferences in the humanities.  (The sciences are a completely different ball of wax.)  I’m not saying don’t go.  I am saying to think about whether a conference is part of your masterplan, and what your CV will look like if you add another paper rather than another publication.  If you don’t like the answer, then Just Say No to conference invitations.  Sweetly, gratefully, enthusiastically, and/or regretfully, as called for.  I’m delighted you thought of me, but I’ll be wrestling an Octopus for the next few months.

Maygust 2013 writing group, week 4

We’re three weeks in, and starting a new calendar month—that may give you a jolt of energy, whether you’re working on the transition to a summer schedule, just getting free of other commitments, or arriving in a new place.

A thought for the week is that things take time.  Writing takes time, paying bills takes time, working out takes time.  Maybe it would be better to think about “spending time” than “taking time”; you can be more generous with time, offering your favorite pastimes its largesse like a medieval lord giving gifts to his liege men.  We live in a world that valorizes multi-tasking, efficiency, energy, 24/7 availability, despite research showing that multi-tasking makes you less efficient, as does lack of sleep, as does lack of leisure.  But we can question and resist the emphasis on hurry-rush-now.

This is why I suggest keeping track of how long things take.  I now know, for instance, that I can rough-translate 100 lines in 30-45 minutes, and that on average I can “groom” a translation at half that rate.  Working at this pace on my project for this writing group means I can also get other work done.  None of it is instantaneous.  If I’m working on one thing, I’m not doing anything else.  But at least I can give myself to that one thing.

What will you do for your one thing, this week?

Allan Wilson (formerly known as kiwi2)
write and submit Cox 1
polish dissertation for September defense
write review article
Contingent Cassandra
submit Article J
Dame Eleanor Hull
complete rough translation of all my assigned chunks of Translation Project
Dr. Virago
finish draft of Slow Perk article
Elizabeth Anne Mitchell
finish Article B
finish MCA
Heu Mihi
research, plan, and outline the first chapter of Projected Book
finish MS for Revised Book Project (RBP)
hypatia cade
complete Grant Article
finish Article RT
John Spence
edit, introduce, translate short medieval text and submit it for review.
submit Article H
combine two conference papers into one article
revise article draft for publication
contain the Many-headed Monster: about 20pp more of Head 4, ~15 pages introduction, groom the hair on Heads 1, 2, and 3.
clone Small Paper from Big Paper and submit both
write Conference Paper B
finish/polish draft of Cutting Edge Research Book (CERB)
finish Book Spinoff article
Pym Fan
turn WGS Project into finished essay
4 chapters of Reincarnation Book (fiction)
Revise and resubmit Floyd
revise paper for submission as article
complete draft of Methods Paper
What Now?
Finish one chapter of book project
Design Fancyproject; write up grant application for Fancyproject
finish article for Big Name Journal
Paper on the darker side of mestizaje
produce a detailed plan for Book Two