Category Archives: UTK

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 Well-Deserved Update

I realize it has been a long time since I posted any kind of update to the blog. My apologies.

With that apology comes the roll-out of a new blog template! I thought it was high time that my dark and drastic website design change to a brighter, cheerier, and easier to read look. Voila! Feels better already.

In case you haven’t been informed, my dear five readers, this semester has been one of substantial change for me, academically and professionally. I switched to working with Dr. Derek Alderman, Geography Department Head at UT Knoxville and all-around outstanding scholar in the fields of geographies of race and memory and the U.S South. In the process, I temporarily lost my funding at UT (but I will be back teaching Geography 101 in the Spring – yay!), started looking for jobs, completely changed up my dissertation ideas, and started working as a server at Puléo’s Grille at the Strawberry Plains Pike exit on I-40.

I plan to use my blog/website better, more frequently, and more professionally in the future, after being inspired by my new colleague Tyler Sonnichsen. But we all know I’ve made similar claims before!

Rainy-ville on the Hill

I love a good rain. Just not when I’m in it. (Isn’t that true for a lot of life? All good urban and economic geographers are aware of the powerful NIMBY: “Sure we need a new subway line, nuclear power plant, and shelter for the homeless, but Not In MY Back Yard!”)

I somehow managed to avoid the rain today while going from Burchfiel (my proper geographic home away from home on UTK’s campus) to South Stadium Hall (under part of Neyland Stadium) where I have my Anthropology of Genocide class. After class, I was even more fortunate: the sun came out and surprised me, given the bleakness that had previously filled the sky. The heavens opened up during my evening class tonight, and I peaked out the window from the fourth floor of my safe haven in the Burchfiel conference/seminar room and watched other less fortunate students without umbrellas get out of class only to find themselves immobilized by the rain. There were some who dared it, and others who were prepared to face the downpour with their umbrellas held high.

But for those who forgot, or ignored the prevalent warning signs swirling in the atmosphere above them today – they found their space suddenly limited, their comfortable space narrowed to the underside of a pedestrian bridge between our hallowed halls on the hill.


I do appreciate those of you who slugged your way through my feeble attempt to write at the end of the day. Thursday are an inimitable pain. I can’t complain too loudly, as I brought this academic hardship upon myself and, indeed, I do enjoy all of my classes thus far, it just so happens that the lineup of Thursday classes pushes my brain to the boundaries on a day when I usually could use an extra nap.

I have had an excellent first few weeks here at UTK. That’s mostly an understatement, for it fails to do justice to the situation. Despite being constantly overwhelmed with my school workload (mostly reading for the Geographic Thought seminar), I am really enjoying the camaraderie of fellow grad students who are as enthusiastic about geography as I am and having a wide range of professors who don’t mind you picking their brains on occasion. This is no way a slight to my undergrad experience at UTM – the program does an excellent job with the resources it has, and I think undergrads get a much more personal education than they would here, simply because of the sheer number of students here compared to at UTM. Both are high quality programs, and both provide a service for their universities – there is just a difference of scale. At the graduate level, however, we are known. Professors know our names and our research interests, considering us colleagues in training.

Perhaps the best part, though, is simply interaction with fellow grad students. There is almost a sense of “finally!” that can be added after that sentence, because a person like myself longs, at times, for intellectual interaction on that level with peers who are as completely engrossed by the subject as well. My advice to any potential grad school applicant (whether any of my readers fit into that category, I do not know…) is to make sure that the schools you apply to are schools that have that interaction and camaraderie among grad students. Yes, it requires more work than simply surfing a departmental website, but it is worth it.

While I’m spitting out mostly unrelated items to blog about, a sad product of not blogging often enough, I’ll just briefly say that Karen and I are enjoying Knoxville apart from campus as well. We’ve gotten to know some of our neighbors recently, through a Labor Day/Boomsday get-together (yes, we call it Boomsday here, for the magnificent 20-minute fireworks show that the city spends millions on each year). We’ve also decided to join Church Street United Methodist Church, a very exciting church in the heart of Knoxville, perfectly situated between downtown and campus. And on an related note (however selfish it may sound), CSUMC has stone floors, a pipe organ, a choir that can tackle complicated classical choral music, and handbells. We’ve also auditioned and been accepted into both the Knoxville Choral Society and its smaller chamber ensemble, the Knoxville Chamber Chorale.

Well, it has been raining on and off as I’ve written this, and my brain, despite being frazzled to begin with, is starting to clear with the writing, so I’m saying goodnight before I wake up any more and miss my chance to fall asleep to drip drops on the window panes.

Excitement and Sadness

Today was an amazing day.

For starters, I taught Sunday School at FBC Martin for the last time. Ever, I suppose, unless by some miracle Karen ever agrees to move back here! But I’ve learned some important things along the way. This isn’t a “Bible Blog” (so to speak) so I won’t go into detail about the spiritual lessons I’ve learned over the course of the year, but suffice it to say that they have been numerous!

I’ve also learned some valuable lessons applicable to life as a teacher and professor along the way this year. For example, I’m learning just how much time needs to be devoted to prepare for lessons, and Sunday School lessons are usually delivered in about half the time it takes for a normal college lecture (25-30 minutes as opposed to 50-75 minutes). It can be pretty time consuming if you want to be prepared and deliver the message in a coherent way. The time that I personally thought was the “worst” time I taught, I had a busy week and didn’t put in the full time that I should have to prepare. Lesson learned, trust me. Of course there were other lessons along the way as well.

So in a lot of ways, today was bittersweet. For the first time in the whole process of getting ready to start grad school I really stopped to think about what I would miss here. Maybe it was because I’ve been very focused on making sure that I accepted at the absolutely RIGHT school for me, or maybe it’s just because it only recently started to sink in that I’ll be in Knoxville beginning this summer, but I just never stopped to think about what I give up by going. There’s the fact that I’ve lived in Martin for 21 years of my life. I’m not by any means sheltered, of course, and there have been times when I traveled about as far away from home as I could be throughout those 21 years, but I’ve still always considered Martin to be that place in my life. A huge part of me is ready to move on, and I am eagerly anticipating moving on with my education at UTK. But there’s still a little tug of sadness leaving home.

I’m reminded of the Michael Bublé song “Home,” in which Bublé longs to be home with his love while out on the road (presumably touring in his case). In my own version of Home, the ones I will miss are numerous. Fortunately, Karen is ready to undertake this adventure and life experience with me, so that’s not a concern! Yet there are still family, and friends, and coworkers, and professors, and church families… You will all be missed, but it’s not goodbye forever! (And I promise I’ll do a better job of blogging about the adventures so you, my loyal readership, can keep track of us.)

That’s all there is to say about that.

However, the overwhelming feeling that I have had today, and for the last few weeks, is excitement! Yes, grad school will be hard, but I plan to make it as challenging as I can to get the most out of it that I can. Let’s face it, I need a good challenge after a year off from school (at least one that doesn’t involve puppy training or Crohn’s Disease!)

Off to Knoxville

It has certainly been an interesting few weeks. I’ve gone from not knowing anything about where I was going to grad school (other than having been accepted at University of Kentucky, Virginia Tech, and UT Knoxville) to now having a much clearer picture of where I will be for the next two years.

The first detail that fell into place was that I was offered a Teaching Assistantship at Knoxville that carries full tuition remission, a stipend for the 20-hour work week I’ll be putting in, an insurance package and a separate scholarship awarded by the Athletic Department. Yeah, I know. Me? Athletic? What?! My thoughts exactly. But it turns out that I don’t have to tutor athletes, and they’re not that desperate for new track team members. The athletic programs just make so much money from televised games and other things that they award small graduate fellowships across campus to support the academics. Now that’s an athletic program that I can get behind. So, in essence, Go Vols!

But anyway, I was still in the middle of the process of deciding on a school, waiting to hear from Virginia Tech and UK. Virginia Tech ended up offering me a loans package and would have offered me a 10-hour a week TA position but I went ahead and turned them down. I was down to UTK vs. UK. So I waited. And waited. And the week of my deadline to let Knoxville know if I was coming, I finally started emailing UK’s graduate director. But by this point it was mostly an effort in futility because I knew that I was supposed to go to Knoxville. It was obviously the right choice. So on Wednesday of that week when I heard from UK’s graduate director that they wouldn’t be able to let me know until Friday (the deadline day at UTK) I knew that it was the final sign.

So what did I do? I waited some more. Probably didn’t need to, but I thought seriously about holding out until Friday morning to see what UK’s offer would be. On Thursday afternoon, though, out of the blue this thought came to my mind: “You need to accept at Knoxville now.” So after I printed some pages out, signed, emailed, etc., I was officially a Master’s Degree student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

At some point in the next few weeks, either at the end of May or first week of June, Karen and I will be trekking to K-ville to get an apartment and to get to know our way around. Should be fun! I’m already learning plenty of things about Knoxville’s site characteristics/geography from looking for apartments. Google maps and I have become quite good friends. We’ll be moving in July, so we’re in the process of getting plans set in stone.

In the mean time, look for (hopefully) more blogging on my part to accompany my unabating Twittering. I’m also still working on uploading photos from 2009 to Flickr…so stay with me!