Category Archives: Busyness

Annual Post: A visit to yesteryear

Since it appears, I only ever have time to write on my blog about once every year, I've decided to call this my "Annual Post." Who knows if that will stick around...

It’s been a crazy summer. A two-week choir tour with EMU to Germany, Austria, and Poland, followed by a stay over in Poland to visit Katowice and Auschwitz. Then after getting back to the US, after only a couple days turnaround, I taught our annual Historic Preservation field school course at Cranbrook Educational Community. (Both of these “main events” were absolutely wonderful, by the way). So that was pretty much my May.

Then came June, which started with my first time experiencing the College Board’s Advanced Placement Human Geography exam reading, aka “Nerd Camp” aka “simultaneously the best week and the worst week of your life.” I’d say it was better than my expectations, given that they were so low, but it’s a balance staying in a swanky downtown hotel and hanging out with friends every night in Cincinnati with utterly terrible convention center food and reading high schoolers’ best attempts to butcher your love of your chosen discipline or at least make you rethink your life. (Okay, there might have been some hope for humanity among the the most ridiculous misunderstandings about geography put into words, but it was sparse.) The rest of June was a mad scramble, trying to complete two projects with near-simultaneously deadlines: teaching an online section of GEOG 110 World Regions (first time online; moving the content over was more time consuming than I thought it might be) and finishing revisions on a journal article that might see the light of day by the end of 2019…maybe! (It’s actually based on a chapter from my dissertation, still not published after three years, four or five rounds of revisions, and now at its third journal. Academic publishing isn’t exactly pretty, folks!)

Anyway, since those two major hurdles have wrapped up in the past week, I’ve taken it a little easier yesterday evening and today to have a mental reset. There’s still a lot to be done as far as my academic “put off ’til summer” list, the “I finally have time to take care of myself and see doctors/dentist/optometrist” list, and my other summer hopes and dreams (like relax and read for fun? What’s that?)—and all of that is exacerbated by Karen’s success in landing travel gigs this summer, leaving me in charge of dog/house/and baby chick sitting.

In the process of letting myself live a little yesterday and today, while filing away some of the handwritten notes I’d scribbled about this latest round of article revisions, I rediscovered a classic gem of yesteryear: a “That’s so Matt Cook” professional development journal from my first year or so in grad school. I don’t remember writing much of this at all, and honestly, the first few months of grad school seem like another lifetime ago…Fall 2010! That’s nearly a decade! But the “wisdom” I was so hastily scribbling down back then…wow: 1) I was super naive, like, painfully so! 2) So much of the advice I jotted down then is still 100 percent relevant today and to academia in general. Below, I copy over some of the best reminders and sage bits of wisdom I found in this blast from the past. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did! My editorial comments from me in the present are [in brackets.]


Professional Development Ideas I

A Journal-resembling MindDump

Matt Cook
Sept. 02, 2010


Sept. 2, 2010

So here I am a grad student in geography. Trying to figure out what the heck it means to be a geographer, after all this time I thought I knew what I was doing. Grappling with things like ontology, epistemology, and methodology. My three new friends. Plus, of course, the paradigms. It’s a pretty hectic time.
Today in GEOG 504 (Professor Show & Tell) Micheline van Riemsdijk offered up some tidbits of wisdom, and then followed the ‘beloved’ 599 [the dreaded Geographic Thought course] in which we also talk about a few key points of professional development wisdom. The first point from Dr. v.R. [back when I was still young and naive and hadn’t pick up from her email signatures that it was okay to call her Micheline…she had to tell me in person after a couple months!] is to journal daily. And so here you go. +1 for me. As she herself admitted, though, it is not always easy to stick to this ingenious method of tracking thoughts (brilliant or otherwise) and trends in professional development. [I still don’t usually do this unless I’m super stressed and need to visualize the way-too-many things I’ve said yes to doing…]
The second point came from a discussion between Dr. Rehder and Dr. v.R. and that is to focus on your individual research and write daily. [Also easier said than done…believe me, I’ve tried. And failed. More times than I can count.] Rehder [may he rest in peace] said his goal was 2 hours a day [what the….how does anyone except people at R1s have time for that??? Granted, UTK is an R1…]; v.R. suggested a more modest “at least 15 minutes.”
And I would tend to agree with this assessment/charge/necessity, though (again) it doesn’t always happen. [If only you knew back then what you know now…] However, my thesis work has largely been relegated to the weekends so far in grad school, so this must change. [Ahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…ugh]
The third piece of advice came out of a question from 599: How do you keep up all the literature (primarily journal articles) in your field(s) of specialization? Dr. Josh Inwood [also back when I called him Dr.] recommended the strategy of reading one new article every day during the week. 5 per week x 15 weeks a semester = 75. 150 per year, 300 in the course of master’s degree. And then so forth throughout your entire career. So that, too, am I resolving to do. I think I will first set out a course of action of what to read, but then I plan to jump in. My final thought for this entry comes not from classes today, but from Jeff Rogers [my main human geography mentor, advisor, and department head at UT Martin]: always be thinking five years down the road and know what goals will get you there. So with that, I have some goals. Some short, some long. All relevant.

[And shed a little tear here, y’all, because I only checked one box while I was still thinking about and using this journal…but how far I’ve come since then!]

  Learn and fully grasp ontology, epistemology, methodology, and their various forms in Geography. Timeframe: soon. [I teach this now; good thing I checked this one off at least!]
__ Write/research daily on thesis work. [Daily didn’t really happen, but I finished it!]
__ Get ahead in at least 1 class. [Does this ever happen?! I still can’t do it, and I’m the teacher now!]
__ Earn Master’s Degree. Timeframe: 2 yrs [Yay! Retroactively checking that one off!]
__ Earn Ph.D. Timeframe: 5-6 years. [Even more yay! Not only did I finish—I did it in 4!]
__ Find funding opps + start applying, for fieldwork this summer Timeframe: 2-3 weeks [Done and done. That fieldwork for my thesis—a month in Berlin—was unbelievably influential and those memories have largely stuck with me.]

That’s enough for tonight. Again, I’m amazed at how relevant so much of this is to my life today and to academia in general. Part of me wishes that I’d followed through a bit better on some of these ideas…no idea where I’d be now (probably at an R1 complaining about the tenure process—ha!) but I think that now with the benefit of 9 years of added perspective, I can say that I did what needed to be done, kept my sanity/finished grad school without any mental health issues, and didn’t pick up too many new bad habits! 😉 Perhaps I’ll return to some other other entries in this slim little journal for future blog posts.

A Tender Tennessee Christmas

Well, it’s not quite Christmas Eve yet, but the vast majority of the week-and-a-half Christmas music festivities are drawing nigh to a close. With the Celtic-themed Clayton Christmas Concerts behind us after the matinee this afternoon, I’ve had quite enough bagpipes for a little while. You would not BELIEVE how loud those instruments can be in person! I’ve been amazed at how smoothly and easily these concerts have gone this year. Maybe the level of difficulty just wasn’t quite at its usual intensity, but regardless, I heard several comments that audience members were thrilled with the performance and loved the Celtic theme.

I, for one, am pretty much sung out. I feel like I earned the accomplished “sung out” feeling, though. Here’s the litany of the marathon that made up my schedule this week.

  • Rehearsal and all-afternoon caroling last Saturday
  • Two special music services at Church Street last Sunday
  • Two-hour rehearsals on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (at three different locations, no less!)
  • Clayton concerts on Friday, Saturday (twice), and today
  • Finally, singing special music—including the Handel tenor recitative/aria combo of “Comfort Ye” and “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted”—at Trinity UMC in Lenoir City today

That doesn’t include working three shifts at Puleo’s either. As we sang in the Hanukkah Fantasy piece for the Clayton Concerts, OY!

I feel two things upon writing out this list. No, make that three. First, I’m proud to say I did it, and with the exception of missing a half note in “Every Valley” and throwing off the string players accompanying me, the whole week went extremely well. Second, I feel like I might be a little be crazy for going through all of this. I’m mean, really? I didn’t write out the list to brag, despite what my sister is probably thinking right now. I wrote it to remind myself that this is a crazy way to end the year, but I wouldn’t trade it away. The third thing I feel is tired, which must be true because I’ve already forgotten what my original third thought was. Ha!

I bid you all a happy, musical Christmas and New Year—and just for something different, I decided to completely change gears from this week’s musical selections and present to you Amy Grant’s Tender Tennessee Christmas. It must be a testament to my childhood. Growing up, Christmas almost always saw our family driving two hours to one set of grandparents or the other (or both), and those trips were filled with the same musical selections on (gasp!) cassette tape recordings from the radio and who knows where else. The testament to my childhood here is that Tender Tennessee is about the only country~pop~ish song to which I can actually stand listening. Enjoy!

Note to Self

Me sleeping on a bus in Deutschland

Dear Self,

When we stay up until 3:30 am reading for the whole PhD thing – I don’t know if you noticed – but I personally would like to be able to sleep later than 9 am. I’m not sure what your problem was; maybe you’re too excited to “tackle the day ahead,” Carpe Diem and all that.

But no. Just no.

If I am yawning and sucking down coffee all day just to help you keep up with me later, remember this is your fault.

We didn’t have to be anywhere until 2:30. PM. Yeah, that’s right.

Sincerely yours,

-Me

Squaring Things Away

So tell me this: Is “Squaring things away” really a saying, or did I make it up?

According to my friendly neighborhood (Internet) dictionary, square has a lot of definitions! (12 adjective definitions alone.) And I liked this particular Internet dictionary entry because it even contained a section for verbal phrases! So, square away is actually a nautical concept, originating from the work of squaring the yards of a sailing vessel.

USS Yorktown
USS Yorktown, Patriot's Point – Charleston, SC

Wait, not that kind of ship!

Pride (schooner) – Charleston, SC
The Pride – Charleston, SC

That’s better! (The yards of a schooner or other sailboat like this are the masts and spars from which the sails hang, in case you did not know.)

Anyway, the other definition of square that really caught my attention was transitive verb form #6: “To bring into balance; settle.”

Now, doesn’t that just sound delightful?

I’ve been doing a lot of “squaring away” lately. I finished my Master’s of Science in Geography this spring, and I even went to graduation.

Me graduating!
Me graduating!

Karen and I moved into a cute little house, and we even save on the rent. Unfortunately, this also means I’ve had lots of smaller projects to square away added to my never-ending to do list. In the last two weeks, I made a guest bedroom (sort of) out of a junk room, cleaned for my parents to visit, and worked on Karen’s garden seemingly non-stop. Yesterday we had the beds tilled by a friend, and we have them completely covered in (free!) fertilizer.

Then there’s the little detail of planning a PhD program and dissertation. I’ve only gotten 7 of my required 9 hours of course work for the fall squared away at this point, but I’m thinking a Directed Readings course may fill the last two.

I am also making (very slow) progress on a dissertation idea, but I’m spending way more time trying to figure out what fieldwork will entail when I get to Oslo – only two more weeks until I’m gone for a month! The dissertation idea, at this point, is to somehow compare the skilled migration experiences and place-making processes of IT workers in Oslo with those in Berlin. Given all that Berlin has been up to lately regarding the Blue Card, at least this work is timely if nothing else.

So I’ve squared away a few yards, only to have the sails open on me elsewhere.

Sail. Sail thy best. Ship of Democracy.

Dissertation thoughts

Today was the day that I faced the demon known as comps. That’s comprehensive exams, for those who may be wondering. To be entirely honest, they were not as brutal as I thought they may be. I don’t think my committee members took it easy on me (I did write almost 4,500 words today), so maybe I was just well prepared. For that I have to thank my advisor Micheline van Riemsdijk for doing her job of, well, giving me good, sound advice.

So what do I want to do with the rest of my Friday? Well keep writing of course! I did tease everyone a week or two ago that I would divulge some details about my potential dissertation topic, so I was thinking of writing about that. Then I started thinking that academia is rather hyper-competitive these days, so I decided not to share. But then I figured that happiness lies in the middle, so I’ll divulge a little but not enough details that in the event that someone other than my closest friends and family actually reads this, and that individual happens to need a dissertation topic, and furthermore that individuals happens to be a geographer… Well, then they won’t be able to replicate my ideas and take all the academic glory (is there such a thing?) for themselves. In the interests of time, I will copy/paste some sections from what I’m currently working for class papers and Ph.D. applications for your perusal. Feel free to ask me questions in the comments section below.

Continue reading Dissertation thoughts

Nearing the end of the semester

And all is well! Well… sort of.

The last two weeks have REALLY ramped up the busyness, and I am constantly reminded of how far behind I am on everything.

Joseph is not amused.
Joseph is not amused.

Despite all of that, I gave a well-received paper at the MTSU Holocaust Conference last week discussing Germans’ responses to the Stolpersteine. The conference has helped rekindle my interest in the project, which has been needed to help get this thing “put to bed” as we say in the newspaper business (not that I’m in the newspaper business anymore, but you get the idea.)

Also creeping up on my to-do list is the very, very, very scary decision of where to go for my Ph.D. program. I narrowed it down to four schools, but today I added one more for a nice, round five. Applying to five worked well for Master’s programs, so I will stick with the trend. The programs (in no particular order) are:

  • UTK (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right?)
  • University of Kentucky
  • University of Georgia
  • UNC Chapel Hill
  • The Maxwell School of Syracuse University

Not a bad collection, if I must say so. All of the schools have upper-mid-range Geography programs if you go by the most recent NRC rankings. History has taught me not to put much stock into getting accepted at top schools (cf. my experiences with Wisconsin and Minnesota), but none of these schools should be (too far) out of reach. Going by the rankings actually reveals some surprises:

  • Kentucky ranks as high as 9
  • Georgia ranks as high as 14
  • Syracuse at 16
  • UNC Chapel Hill at 20
  • UTK at 27

You really have to read the link about about the NRC’s research and ranking methods to understand the whole “as high as ##” statement, but suffice to say that the NRC does not give an outright ranking of programs anymore but rather a range based on multiple surveys and calculations.

Regardless of the rankings, I am excited at the possibility to work with the faculty I’ve picked out at any of these universities. To name drop, for the geographers in the audience, these include: Jamie Winders and Don Mitchell (Syracuse), Andy Herod (UGA), Altha Cravey and Nina Martin (UNC), Richard Schein, Patricia Ehrkamp, and Michael Samers (UK), and last but not least the most excellent Micheline van Riemsdijk, Josh Inwood, and Ron Kalafsky (the UT with the CORRECT shade of orange). Now I just have to start emailing all of these brilliant people to get the conversation rolling… Not a small task!

I know this post is just whetting your appetite for more, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to post some of my initial dissertation topic thoughts in the near future. They are still a work in progress, so we’ll see!

Revisiting Resolutions

I got curious today about what my New Year’s Resolutions were from back in January. I remembered that I publicly declared those resolutions on this very blog, so I thought today would be a great time to revisit them! Some are accomplished, some are going poorly. Such is life. At least there’s still 5/12’s of the year left to accomplish them, right?

(Note: I’m going to copy/paste the resolutions straight from the January post in italics, before updating them in a red font.)

• Lose 30 pounds. Sure, why not? This time… I think I won’t rely on Crohn’s Disease to, ahem, assist me, so perhaps they will stay off a little longer this time? I haven’t gained it all back, but if this trend continues I should be able to be a contestant on the Biggest Loser by 2013.

This one is not going well at all. Thanks to the wonders (and stress) of grad school, combined with the Geography building being right across from the University Center, I’m currently +8.6 pounds for the year. I told you I was on my way to being a Biggest Loser Contestant! In somewhat more encouraging news, though, I am down a couple pounds since May. This is probably closely correlated with Resolution #2…

• Train for and run a race of some variety. 5k, etc. Preferably more than one, but that will all depend on how more time I can devote to training. The good news is that Karen has agreed to do it with me this time. The bad news? We’re both really good at wimping out after a few weeks.

The training began in January…and ended in January! Trying to start running again in the cold and at the beginning of the semester was a good way to set myself up for failure. So there’s the bad news. The good news is that I started again this summer, and although Karen wimped out on me after a few weeks, I’ve kept to the Nike+ Beginning Running program without her for several weeks now. I’m not quite up the “Running Obsessed” level, but I am at least on track to run a 5k before the year ends. The biggest challenge ahead will be maintaining my running schedule once the semester begins.

• Travel the world. (As a geographer, this is pretty much always a goal, not really a resolution. And since I’m planning on going to Berlin and other parts of Germany for thesis research this summer, this one should’t be too hard!)

Mission Accomplished. This one was completed with my summer fieldwork in Berlin and our mini-vacation in Paris. I can now check France off of the list of countries to visit, though I wouldn’t mind returning in the future to visit some French locales not named Paris!

• Read something other than the literature for my Master’s research and/or class. This one might actually be sort of hard! I’m thinking of reading the Lord of the Rings, but I seriously doubt I’ll find time for it this year, so I may stick to a few Star Wars novels I’ve been saving. Wouldn’t hurt to read some of the photography books I’ve amassed over the last 2-3 years either!

Believe it or not, this one can actually be checked off the list as well. I made it a part of my summer plan to get some leisure reading in and it worked. I only got around to reading D.H. Lawrence’s The Prussian Officer and Tina Fey’s autobiography Bossypants, but it was a start! I’ll definitely have to save LotR and Star Wars for another day/month/year.

• Play my trumpet. Regularly. I’ve decided to break it back out from hiding/storage. Cleaned it up nicely last year but never played it much. The first step, however, is to get Story used to it so she doesn’t freak out and bark every time she even sees it.

This one is a work in progress. Story is a little less scared of the trumpet now, but I’ve only played it twice all year. I did, however, start to teach myself piano from Karen’s beginning piano books, so at least I’m making some musical progress!

• Become more fluent in German. The two German courses I’m auditing this semester should help with that, but I’m still slightly terrified that I won’t be able to interview people in German this summer!

This one never really reached fruition, because I found a way around being terrified to interview in German during my fieldwork: First, speak English, and Second, find a translator. I may have gotten a little better with the help of the my two audited German courses, but I ended up dropping one midway through the semester because of the busyness. Which leads me to the last bullet point…

• Somehow, find a way to not “overdo it” this year. I came close to overdoing it this semester, but I was able to stay on top of all my various projects, papers, performances, etc. by the skin of my teeth. I’d like to take a step further back from the edge, but I know in all likelihood that I may actually be inching my way closer to a plunge, given my course load and responsibilities this semester alone. I know Summer and Fall won’t be as bad, but there’s still field work and comps and thesis writing death to think about then.

I miraculously pulled this off, and finished the spring semester with flying colors, all A’s, and new-found responsibilities of being entrusted to teach a section of Geography 101 for the department this upcoming year. How did I do it? Mostly, I saved my sanity with a combination of Sbarro’s in the aforementioned university center and Eric Whitacre’s latest CD, Light and Gold. I was also greatly blessed to receive three scholarships/grants from various sources at UT to fund my fieldwork, so part of my stress (rushing about to meet various deadlines!) paid off.

Now this resolution has to be extended to this fall semester. I’ve already blogged about how busy I have been just getting ready for the fall, but it will definitely pick up the pace in a few weeks.