Category Archives: Grad School

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,


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?


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.

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!