Category Archives: Grad School

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.

30 by 30—Chicago (First item done!)

Okay, so this may technically be cheating, but one of the easiest items to check off of the 30 by 30 list was going to Chicago for the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers back in April. I say it’s cheating because the trip was planned long before I started coming up with ideas for the 30 by 30 list.

If you will recall, one of the six categories for the list was travel, a somewhat ideal category for geographers. The difficult part, however, was how to plan/envision/strategize getting in several trips  (1) in a limited time frame, and (2) on an extreme budget.

So I “cheated” and went primarily with trips that were going to happen no matter what, including a vacation, a couple choir tours, and two AAG meetings.

Update: That said, I guess I can give more spoilers to the 30 by 30 list. Still not giving them all away yet! Here are the travel “goals”: Chicago, San Francisco (AAG 2016 will be there), Quebec (CSUMC Youth Choir Tour going there in just a couple weeks!), Edisto Island/Charleston South Carolina (going here on family vacation in June), and France/Belgium (planned Knoxville Choral Society choir tour for June 2016).

Here are some highlights from the 2015 AAG Meeting;

  • Despite not seeing much of the city (in part because Karen wasn’t there to pull me away from conferencing and partly because of increased responsibilities for this meeting), I did get out and see a lot of Chicago’s beautiful architecture around the Magnificent Mile. More on this below.
  • The conferencing itself probably rates for me as the best annual meeting yet. I went to a number of highly relevant sessions, made a few introductions and caught up with several friends from previous meetings/former UTK students who are elsewhere now, presented a pretty good paper (in my humble opinion) for a somewhat small audience (the curse of the Friday 8 am session…), and organized both a landscape photo exhibit and a breakfast as part of my responsibilities on the Cultural Geography Specialty Group board. Whew.
  • I was elected, with my dear UT friends/colleagues Melanie and Janna, to be student board members of the American South Specialty Group.
  • I did make it almost out of the city (at least somewhere near the northern suburbs) with my other UT friend/colleague (and other officemate with Melanie and Janna, come to think of it…) Tyler Sonnichsen to see him perform stand-up comedy. It was fun!

Now then, to the photos… I posted some online earlier, but I haven’t gotten around to processing any of the other photos from my camera. Here’s what I took with my phone.

Trump Tower, Downtown Chicago
Trump Tower
The Bean!
The Bean!
The Chicago Tribune Tower
The Chicago Tribune Tower
Savannah and I went on a photo tour of downtown Chicago, mostly in the South Loop. As you can see, it was slow going!
Savannah and I went on a photo tour of downtown Chicago, mostly in the South Loop. As you can see, it was slow going!
The Chicago Public Library. Didn't have time to go inside.
The Chicago Public Library. Didn’t have time to go inside.

Hello 2013!

Well, it looks like a new year is upon us. Karen and I saw 2013 come in with Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve… but mostly for the NYC ball drop and the aerial shots of Times Square. Seriously, if Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift are the best “musicians” we can find (and I use that term loosely) then maybe America is not worth saving.

But now I’ve gone and started things on a negative tone, and that just won’t do! So sorry for that. Anyway, before Ryan Seacrest and Jenny McCarthy helped us rock in the new year, Karen and I had Christmas with my parents and we went out to eat at Don Pancho’s. Hey, don’t laugh if that’s not exciting enough for you! That’s more activity than we usually do! Then we followed that up with three hours of watching House from Netflix. Love it.

Anyway, I intended for this post to be more about my resolutions for 2013, as it has become something of a tradition around here to write them down for the world to see. (Behold, I give you 2011 and 2012.) 2012’s resolutions were, as you might imagine, a bit hit or miss. I played my trumpet some (thought not enough to be good at it), I did indeed run a couple of races earlier in the year (and then basically lost the time, or the will to make time, once the PhD started), I ended the year no healthier than when I began it (probably, at least weight-wise, because of the running trend!). I did travel quite a bit. That one I can really and truly say I accomplished. It’s funny to look back at the beginning of 2012 when I knew I’d be going to NYC for AAG and I thought I’d be moving for my PhD studies. Ha, good one! There’s no need to recap my travels here, but feel free to go back and look for my posts on New York City and Norway.

For 2013, I decided to simplify my resolutions into two broad categories, something that a lot of “resolution advice givers” (aka, “experts”) suggest is a bad idea. The thinking goes that if you make smaller, more achievable goals along the way then you will be more likely to achieve them. I tend to actually agree with this line of thinking, but my resolutions are really more like life mantras that I am adopting, and mantras are, most often, by their nature very broad.

So here you go. Matt’s Mantras for 2013. (Hmm… has a nice ring to it. Maybe I should market this.)

1. Be better to myself.

I think everyone can agree with this. It’s a not difficult, in theory, to see why being better to one’s self is a useful mantra to adopt. After all, who better to take care of yourself than you. Am I right? This concept takes into consideration a number of my previous resolutions, most obviously to live a healthier life. No one else should be responsible for making sure I make healthy decisions, with perhaps the exception of doctors who are paid to help in this quest! But being better to one’s self does not stop at the corporeal. There’s the mental, the emotional, the spiritual to consider. There’s even the financial. All of these, and plenty more I’m probably forgetting, are areas to consider improving. Consider being better to yourself as well this year – just don’t make the mistake of confusing being better to yourself with (selfishly) living only for yourself. The two are not mutually exclusive!

2. Create (or produce) more, consume less.

This mantra was inspired by a blog post I recently read from a creative-type (photographer/video/web content creation stuff) guy I follow on Twitter. The unfortunate thing is that after I read it, I didn’t email it to myself or bookmark it or anything…so now I can’t find the particular post AND I can’t remember which person on Twitter posted it. (One problem of following a lot of creative types on Twitter, I suppose). But the gist of the post was something along these lines: “The world we live in thrives on consumption. If you aren’t producing something worth consuming, then you are not much use to the world. Therefore, create more and improve your usefulness to the world.” That may be a little bit of a simplistic reduction, but that’s what I took away from it. From my studies of political economy and geography, it’s also pretty true. The world we live in (ESPECIALLY in the US) is so ridiculously full of consume-consume-consumers that it does seem to make sense that if you aren’t producing, then you are part of the problem. However, this particular blog post was specifically speaking to producers in the “creative economy” (or “knowledge economy,” if you prefer). But I think this mantra is applicable to so much more, just like Mantra #1.

Produce more food yourself (this fits right in with Karen’s goals of having an even better garden and eating even fewer processed foods) and consume less (which my waistline could use).

Create more content (whatever that may be – more blogging, more photos, more scholarly articles) and consume less junk. I already started applying that some this year (for example, it quickly became apparent this fall that 3-4 hours of my life each Saturday could be spent in some better fashion than watching UT football), but there is plenty of room for improvement. I only blogged 13 times last year, and I probably posted less than 200 photos of the thousand or so I took all year. Room for improvement? Definitely. But it’s not all bad, of course. I submitted my first peer-reviewed journal in 2012, and I will see it through to publication in 2013. I’m already planning the next couple of articles down the road, and I’d like to see a couple of those submitted and accepted this year as well.

Create more/consume less can take many forms, and you should join me in taking on this mantra for 2013.

In summary, I’ve already hit 1,000 words, and I’ve probably lost bored some of you to tears with a post this long. If you had the fortitude to make it through, I commend you. Happy New Year! Let’s make it a great one.

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

Oh my wow – fun with YouTube

The most brilliant thing just happened. I needed some background noise to help me concentrate while reading for class tomorrow, and I went to YouTube for some thunder/rain noise. I found this.

Then I read through some of the comments, and somebody recommended listening to one of my favorite composers, Arvo Pärt, at the same time.

Some music just sounds brilliant with rain and thunder in the background.

I think my life is forever changed.

Don’t believe me? If you want the same experience I just had, scrub through the rain video above to about 10:30, and the start playing the video below. Please let me know if you spontaneously burst into joy/elation/tears/whatevs. Amazing.

I’ll report back with other great music/rain combinations. Now I have to get back to that reading…

——————–

Another great choice: Chopin’s “Raindrop Prelude.” (Um. Duh.)

It’s been a long time, now I’m…coming back home.

Name the song for which this blog is titled.

If you said The Beatles’ “Wait” (from theRubber Soul album) then you are correct!

I don’t even know why I used that for a title; of all the Beatles’ songs out there, “Wait” has never been one of my particular favorites. In fact, it sometimes grates on my nerves. Part of is the nasally singing from Lennon and McCartney. Maybe also the incessant tambourine.

But enough of that. I’m actually writing a blog post for the first time in ages. I guess that’s really why I used the lyrics in my title – it has indeed been a long time since I could make time for this blog. This semester has been hectic, to say the least. It took a good month to really transition back into the swing of taking class, working as a research assistant, etc. but I’m glad to report that “the old Matt” is back, as Micheline likes to say.

So what have I been up to? Well, a number of things. My course work is primarily outside of Geography this semester, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading in political economy and political science. I’ve been finding really good connections between that and my geography reading and dissertation ideas, so political economy/theory/stuff will play a big role in my research over the next couple of years. Yeah, hard, to believe – but I’m on track to finish my PhD in a mere 2.5 more years. I metaphorically pinch myself sometimes at that thought, and it’s been a frequent one over the last few weeks because I’ve been planning my PhD “Program of Study,” as all first-year students have to do.

Other than the coursework, the dissertation planning is coming along. I don’t have a complete project, but I’m working on research questions and thinking about the short- and middle-term plans for accomplishing the research. The most obvious part of the planning is fieldwork. Karen and I will go with the “research team” to Oslo, Norway, again next summer. The plan at this point is to go a little earlier in the year, probably mid-May after UT’s finals. We may also go to some other Norwegian cities where the oil and gas sector is more active (Stavanger and Kongsberg are potential options.) The most important part is to get the plans nailed down early enough to get cheaper flights and find housing NOT at the last minute (like last year, when my fellow research assistant and I nearly caused Micheline to have a stress-induced stroke. Sorry about that, again!)

As for mid-term planning, I will apply for grants for more research funding starting next summer/fall to fund fieldwork in Berlin. I’m not sure how long fieldwork in Berlin would take (again, I don’t have a dissertation proposal complete yet), but I would like to spend the entire summer of 2014 over there, if not also part of that fall semester. Given how much time I know went into planning the Oslo fieldwork – at least two summers of fieldwork to plan, organize, establish contacts, etc. – I’m not ruling out any time period at this point. That is why I need to start securing funding so early.

Well, I’ve got to run. I hope you enjoyed my brief update, and as usual, I promise to try writing more often… but we all know how that goes.

Avoiding the New Year?

Story

So, it’s already the first Friday of the New Year, and I haven’t posted my New Year’s Resolutions. It’s not for lack of trying. At first, I made a very simple list of things for resolutions, and most of them were borrowed from last year. I even started to write about them, but then wasn’t exceedingly happy with my mediocre list, so I deleted the blog post.

Well’s here’s attempt #2. Sometimes it helps just to write them out for myself, if for no other reason than to sort things out for yourself. As my friend Melanie recently posted, “My advisor’s advice is that ‘you can edit crap, but you can’t edit nothing.'” That sounds relatively similar to advice I’ve gotten during grad school, too… My attempts at New Year’s Resolutions are as follows: (though perhaps not as well developed as last year!)

  • Play the trumpet more. (This was also a resolution last year, but I only played a few times. Doing better on it so far.)
  • Run more consistently. (And I had better. I’m running a 15k at the Biltmore in May, and my long-term goals are to run a half-marathon this year and a full marathon next year.)
  • Be healthier. (This was only a partial success last year. Lost some weight, gained it back, started losing it again… and ended the year up 9 pounds in all. Weight loss isn’t the entire story though, because Karen and I have also made it a goal to eat out less this year, eat fewer processed foods, and make/cook/bake/etc as many things as we can ourselves instead of buying them. Well…the last part is actually her goal, as I am mostly useless in the kitchen. But eating out less was my idea, after I calculated that we spent a small fortune on eating out last year. I’ll be intentionally vague, but suffice it to say it was a four-figure number, close to half of my pitiful salary. Embarassing to post, I assure you.)
  • Travel, as always. (Shouldn’t be a problem. Going to NYC for the first time in February for the AAG Conference, and there’s a good chance I’ll be moving out of state to pursue my Ph.D. Fun times!)

That’s all for now. Since I didn’t do as well at posting or developing these ideas this year, I’ll try to appease you with some music instead.