The Art of Recommendation

I’ve just finished writing college letters of recommendation for former students of mine, and that got me thinking of the mechanics of writing these letters. Recommendation letters are a writing genre unto themselves. Just like with any good piece of writing, there’s a convention or formula people tend to use, but the very best pieces flout the convention successfully (the very worst flout it poorly, but that’s another post).

Writing a stellar letter is important to me. I want a letter that conveys exactly what I mean, to someone I may never meet. Studies have shown that letters that are more personal and show how well the recommender knows the student tend to hold more weight. Anyone can compose a generic letter, but I want to write the letter that best shows off just how hard the student has worked in my class, and how much they deserve a chance to make something of themselves.

So I do think about all those things that make a good recommendation: understanding a student’s goals, personality match, traits that will serve them well in a university setting, examples, things from personal life that give weight, specific language, evidence of growth and potential for further growth, etc.

Then I approach it the way I would when writing history: It’s all about the story. Continue reading “The Art of Recommendation”

Facing the Fake

6641427981_6296af68e1

In the last six months, I’ve had frequent flashbacks to my early college years. Those were the days when the university still had computer labs all over campus (including mini-labs on every other floor of my dorm building), and almost no one brought a computer with them to school. In my freshman year, I practically lived in the computer lab on my floor, often hunkering down with a Subway sandwich in hand and a bottle of soda. I spent hours online and refreshing my inbox in those days before social media. Who could forget all those hilarious email forwards that went around before we could simply link to something funny or interesting in our Facebook feeds?

In the last 19 years, I’ve managed to forget the content of most of those forwards, except for certain ones that had to do with the Profound Meaning of certain words. I thought such emails were long dead, replaced by online memes and 140 characters on Twitter.

I thought wrong.

Continue reading “Facing the Fake”

From PhD to Here: Towards a Life outside of Academia

This May will mark my second #withaphd anniversary, and with it, the second year since I began to move away from academia and towards some kind of postac life with a PhD that has nothing to do with teaching or academic research. While I still currently work as an adjunct instructor, much as changed since the day I crossed the stage to pick up that diploma.

For one, I am no longer in that immobilizing period that is often called post-dissertation slump or post-dissertation blues. I am at home with myself in the space I am now, and I am comfortable talking about why I am leaving academia. Moreover, behind the scenes, I have been working on a business that (fingers crossed) I hope to launch this spring (when I get there, I promise to write about it).

In this blog post, I want to share some tips and tools that have helped me over the past couple years as I have transitioned from uncertainty towards a spirit of exploration and potential. I learned many of these tips from others that came before me, and I write in spirit of helping all those who might where I was a couple years ago. Continue reading “From PhD to Here: Towards a Life outside of Academia”

A New Goal Emerges: Writing and Resistance in 2017

This morning, I drew a tarot card to give my day some shape, and it was Death.

It was the card I’ve needed to see for a while. This post is about scaling back your goals and killing off that which does not serve, in light of new priorities.

Instead of resolutions for the new year, I spend each December crafting my writing goals for the following year. I write them and pin them above my computer so that I have to stare at them every day, and so that every day I take a step toward them. And this works. I’ve had a really productive and prolific run these past few years- I landed a literary agent with a killer book proposal, I made headway on my first academic manuscript, and I wrote a few novels. This is in addition to the writing and publishing (academic articles, press releases, etc.) that I do for my jobs. I’ve been riding that cloud of smugness for years now, with no real empathy for the people who have to bleed all over the page just to get a few sentences down.

And then disaster struck.

It’s no secret that the new administration hell-bent on running our country into the ground has got me raging. Anyone even on the peripheries of my life has heard it from me, several times. Their misbegotten and selfish decisions already affect me, and most of the people I love, in countless little ways. It’s as if the administration wants to kill us with the death of a thousand cuts: someone’s health insurance here, someone’s livelihood there, someone’s ability to own property, to plan their family, to live the American dream.

And that has real-life consequences.

Suddenly, writing feels less important. Continue reading “A New Goal Emerges: Writing and Resistance in 2017”

Endings|Beginnings

Last month, we were all a little obsessed with beginnings. New year, new presidency – it’s all been a little crazy. It still is. Here in my little corner of the universe, though, I have an ending in sight: my sophomore history course ends in 9 days.

This year, I’ve had a total blast teaching two sections of Accelerated 20th Century World History, a course I’d only taught once before. 20th Century World History is one of my favorite topics, and it’s one I’ve taught nearly every year since I started my job. The content is a blast, and one of the things I love about it is that it’s pretty much all still relevant. If you want students to understand how the past continues to be present, then take a look at 20th Century World History.

All of my 20th Century World courses have been fun over the years, but this year was something special for me. It’s been a fabulous run, and I’m sad that the course is already coming to an end. A month ago, it felt like we were just getting started: we’d finally moved past the basics and were starting to apply our knowledge to trying to understand more recent events, such as the Syrian conflict.

Right now, I’m sort of stuck in this moment. It feels like limbo; I’m eager to see my students produce their culminating projects (documentaries with oral history interviews), and I’m looking forward to these final class sessions. At the same time, I wish we could just keep going, and I’m sad that two weeks from Tuesday we’ll start our third term of the year and everything will be different. I know it will be good, in its own way, but I’m going to miss this.

I’m trying to remind myself that this must be the mark of a successful course: that when you reach the end of something and feel sad that it’s ending, it must mean it was good, right?

Mother: Well.

Tateh: You say that often, ‘well’.

Mother: It’s because I don’t know what else to say.

Ragtime the Musical

Right now, I really don’t. I’ve spent the past month alternately overwhelmed by non-stop grading and non-stop political news and non-stop personal life changes. I’ve written about my class today because it’s something that’s on my mind that is neither political nor writing related – two things I either don’t want to write about right now, or can’t (since I’ve done no writing in weeks).

But this is where I am. A few weeks into the new year, I’m nostalgic for a class that I’m about to leave behind, and feeling not quite ready for the new adventures that lay ahead.

I will be. And you’ll hear about them soon.

Well.

 

Some thoughts on Joy, Resilience, and Practicing Gratitude

A few weeks ago in early January, I was having a conversation on twitter with fellow PhD Lisa Munro and others about the importance of practicing joy in 2017.  Yes, joy. Yes, now, of all times. Lisa wrote an excellent blog post on this subject, where she discusses establishing joy as part of her New Years intention, and the quiet power of practicing joy “in the middle of such terrible things.”

Here’s a gem from the post about practicing joy – but don’t stop here. Go and read the post for yourself:

“Joy requires being present. Like, really present. There’s no way to find joy while distractedly scrolling through Facebook while reading tabloid headlines in the grocery store and secretly wishing ill on the person in the express lane with 32 items. Joy requires our full attention.

Joy requires great vulnerability. It doesn’t seem possible to be worried about looking cool and experiencing joy at the same time. JOY requires letting go of what we want people to see in favor of experiencing something genuine and being real about it.”

I have also been thinking a lot about joy this year. Like Lisa, I usually choose words instead of specific resolutions to start every new year. And like Lisa, joy was one of my words. However, until reading her post and talking to her about joy as a practice, I hadn’t developed any useful tools to help me focus on this theme for this particular year. After several of us shared our tips in our twitter conversation, I decided I needed to start a gratitude journal. I have been using it every single day since. Continue reading “Some thoughts on Joy, Resilience, and Practicing Gratitude”