Setting goals for the summer

Summer is like New Year’s for academics: a time of reflection and goal-setting, both in work and in personal life.

2016–2017 was rewarding—I finished my dissertation and landed a tenure-track job—but intensely difficult. Neither of the New Year’s resolutions I made really worked out long-term.

I lost sight of writing 5 days a week while I was in the depths of interviewing and landing a job, although I got better about it when it came time to pushing to the finish line.

I meditated pretty consistently for a month or two, until interviewing and getting a job became extremely difficult and intense for me. This is when you need to meditate the most, or so the wisdom goes, but the last thing I wanted to do was sit around with my thoughts. Meditation is harder than it sounds.

Forgiveness being crucial, I want to try again, and set out some new Big Changes for myself before I get lost in the hubbub of the 2017–2018 schoolyear. Really committing to all of these would be impossible, so this is more of a brainstorming session. I will feel accomplished if I manage just one or two of these big changes.

Continue reading “Setting goals for the summer”


What happens in the writing center

Instead of teaching college classes, for the fifth year of my fellowship, my assignment is to work in a college writing center. I have long told my students to take their papers to the writing center for help, without having actually gone myself. Now, I help students with their class essays in any subject, or sometimes I help them with graduate school application materials.

Working at the writing center gives me a new window into students’ perspectives on writing. Students tend to vent or otherwise open up to writing tutors—they feel safe with us. Every day, I listen to students who are trying their very hardest to succeed in school, but they are stretched incredibly thin and pulled in many different directions. The students I tutor are, almost always, not just going to school; they are working, they have children, they are immigrants who travel back to their home countries regularly. Students are also often facing immense barriers to their success: they are suffering from illnesses; they are broke; they are being evicted. Their teacher wants them to write a paper, though, so they are at the writing center asking for help.

So when I am scrolling through Twitter to take a break between tutoring students, and I come across a tweet like this…

…it’s hard not to get immediately incensed, on a personal level.

Continue reading “What happens in the writing center”

What helps me survive writing my dissertation

For dozens of years in a row, I was a student that took classes every semester which were taught by a professor and culminated in a final project or exam. I didn’t really need long-term goals because they were largely articulated for me. I got pretty good at writing a 15-ish page paper every semester for every class.

Transitioning into the new full-time job of writing a long document (my dissertation) has been somewhat bizarre. I can’t rely on my old thought patterns anymore.  I’ve made number of changes to my working style that improve my mentality and attitude toward writing, which I hope could be helpful for someone else out there. (This seems to be a pretty common type of post for a PhD blogger!) I have six tips and recommendations to share.

Continue reading “What helps me survive writing my dissertation”

Blogging and the writing process

Writing a dissertation is an isolating endeavor. The majority of my work is done when I’m alone. I have stopped trying to write my dissertation in my apartment, where my two cats and the temptations of games, TV, chores, and snacking are too easy to fall for; I instead always go to the public library, the Graduate Center, or a cafe instead. But even when surrounded by other people in a public place, to do the work, I have to put in my headphones and tune out the rest of the world. Complicating this is the protectiveness that I feel about my research. My dissertation is not finished, so it’s not perfect, so I don’t want to share it for fear of people getting the wrong idea about my work. When people ask “what’s your dissertation about?”, I tend to give my elevator pitch but change the subject at the next organic opportunity; when people ask how the writing is going, I’ll say “it’s going!” or “fine!” without boring them with details.

This is sort of a confession of problems I have in the writing process—problems I hope to alleviate with this blog. I want to have a place to share my ideas in a more conversational tone, to ask questions and think “out loud”, to link to on my Twitter and get feedback from those who are interested. I am also looking forward to putting my writing process on display. For History of Theory class early in my Ph.D., I translated part of a treatise by  a 19th-century German, Johann Christian Lobe. He wrote “Even the greatest and most learned geniuses don’t have roasted doves flying into their mouths.” This isn’t a humble-brag or a name drop—this charming and ever-so-19th-century-German quote truly has stuck in my mind ever since I read it. The point is, of course, that everyone has rough drafts, revisions, and junk ideas. It’s not a new idea, but writing-as-a-process could always use more emphasis in academic life. I want to contribute to that with this blog. (It won’t hurt that I’ll also be getting my work on the internet, just a google away from curious eyes…)

I intend to share snippets of dissertation work, as well as passing thoughts on other musical or academic topics. Enjoy!