The Profession

A Bit of News!

Posted by Natalie Strobach on December 07, 2014
The Profession / No Comments

I’m pleased to announce two updates to my C.V.: I was recently appointed by the Executive Council to the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession. I’m very excited to get to talk more with  graduate students at the Graduate Student Lounge when we all travel to Vancouver this January!

I’m also excited to join the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis’ Education Planning Committee. Part of the discussions we will be undertaking will focus on the future of programs like the CORST program at the Chicago Institute which enables people such as myself (Ph.D. without prior clinical training, from a non-clinically based field) the opportunity to bridge their theoretical training in psychoanalysis with a clinical program that would enable them to become practicing analysts.

So much exciting work ahead!

 

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Teaching Philosophies, Debts, and Good Teachers

Posted by Natalie Strobach on January 30, 2014
Teaching, The Profession / No Comments

Fastnet ArchivingThis is actually more of a question than the  tutorial I thought it would be. Well, it’s actually more of a very long overdue thank-you note. Bear with me.

I started working on my teaching philosophy three years ago. I sent the drafts to professors I was working with at the time and I got some pretty solid feedback, but in the three years since I haven’t felt like it was a document I could put to rest. And in all that time, I’ve been able to scrounge up one tenure track faculty member’s teaching philosophy from a recent hire at UC Davis. I think most of the tenured faculty I’ve worked with just didn’t have to ever write one. I’ve been able to Google a few other snippets and samples, but they definitely fell short of the one sample I have.

The absence of samples actually reminds me a lot of writing a dissertation prospectus; evidently those are deleted the minute they are approved because getting people to share samples is like recovering burnt scrolls from the Library of Alexandria. I found some wonderful advice over at The Professor is In where she goes over the eight main pitfalls she sees in client drafts. You should read the post. For sure. She boils it all down to this:

teaching statement advice

 

I feel like my statement meets all of these marks–except for being “not emotional.” My teaching philosophy almost gets me choked up, for Pete’s sake! But what am I to do? I wish I could hear a bit more from faculty from low-income, first-generation, and under-represented backgrounds like myself. As the daughter of an immigrant, for whom a high school diploma was not even an option, teaching is a terribly emotional thing; I am a very real example of the result of great teachers. If anyone actually wants my teaching philosophy, the foundation of what I bring to the classroom, well, it’s a lot of heart; it’s emotional. I think it should be able to be such without feeling like I’m a hysterical job applicant. The statement I currently have does sell. It does highlight my two teaching awards (both student nominated). It does show and not tell an accurate depiction of a multimedia, well organized, and provocative classroom. But, it also makes the reader very much aware that I walk into that classroom knowing a class, any class, any day, could make or break a student’s education. It even does this all in the one recommended, single spaced, page. Is that wrong? 

If this is indeed still a new and unclear genre then might we be better off not letting it be so hollow? Is the eschewing of emotion the leading cause of them all looking the same – or as The Professor puts it:

 …do you understand that the search committee is reading something like 200 of these? And do you realize that of those 200, approximately 185 are going to say that the writer “cares passionately about teaching,”  “uses a variety of multimedia materials,” “promotes discussion” and “strives to educate students for the 21st century/information society”? Seriously, do you really think those sentiments are original at this point in time?They aren’t.

Of course, you’re dealing with a population of people smart enough to know what to say but in some cases not compassionate enough to actually act on it. Still, I am really glad teaching philosophies have become a thing. We need excellent teachers–not just people who understand the subject matter to the fullest extent, but people who understand their students–especially the future of the student body across the country. Universities are becoming more diverse and multicultural than ever. These students, like myself, will be faced with much adversity.

When I first enrolled as an undergraduate, I did not know about study abroad opportunities. I did not know how financial aid worked. I did not know what expectations were of a university student. I did exceedingly well in my studies because of the excellent faculty in my undergraduate institution, New Mexico State University, who put in the extra effort  to provide a syllabus that was clear and purposeful, give paper comments that were thorough and instructive (as opposed to thoroughly chastising), and make themselves available for walks across campus and office hours. I was at an enormous research university but I never felt lost amongst the crowds. That’s good teaching. A teacher took the time to hand out a McNair Scholars flier and say, “Hey, did you hear about this program? Check it out.” It took five seconds and it actually changed my entire life by giving me the tools and funding to pursue graduate studies. That’s good teaching.

I had an extraordinary French professor who I am still very close to today. She said “Hey, here is an application for a study abroad program. Fill it out. I’ll help check the materials are translated right and such. We can talk about funding.” I ended up spending over a year in Paris having one of the most extraordinary times of my life. I got to take a class with my beloved Cixous where Derrida guest lectured some of his last seminars before his death in 2004. I even spent a year teaching for a Parisian lycée and ended up going to graduate school with some pretty darn tight language skills. Not to mention, that French salary is all I had to live on. It gave me life. Plus, it gave me my first teaching experience—difficult, exhausting, but priceless. That’s the result of good teaching. My teaching philosophy is emotional because I have an enormous debt to the extraordinary teachers in my life. It’s also why I have an entire second career’s worth of experience in student outreach and advising. It’s because the extra does not go unnoticed.

Do you know I once had a professor singlehandedly end my battle with grammar? I had a Creative Writing class with the wonderfully talented Robert Boswell and he liked my story; he saw something in it despite its terrible grammar (grammar that went way beyond creative), and so he rewrote sentence after incorrect sentence. It was a 15-page short story and he gave me back over ten pages of his corrections. It was the first time in my life someone didn’t just write “syntax error” or something else that might as well be written in Klingon. I went home a little wounded but even more hopeful. That night I read Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English and Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. I handed in my next paper, clean as a whistle. That was good teaching (that was actually some pretty damn amazing teaching). It changed my life. It actually even changed my socio-economic development; it leveled the playing field, much like having a job in Paris did. It actually helped my family in ways that teacher could perhaps even never imagine because of the ways I have been able to write for others, to write for my father during his green card application and so on. Good teaching has legs.

So I guess in some ways, I just had my teaching philosophy out with you. However, I really truly want to know what your approach is to this wily teaching philosophy.

Do any of you (heroes, successful in the tenure track world) want to share yours on the site as a resource to others?

Do you agree that it ought not be emotional?

If you’re one of the fine folks doing the hiring, why do you want this document? What is your ideal teaching philosophy? How much weight do you even give it? Should we give it even more weight?

I know that my teaching success has very much mirrored my research success. Even in undergraduate courses I have been able to explore complex ideas for/from my dissertation and for my much dreamed about second book. I need students as much as they need me. So, what’s the best way to go at this in one page?

A big ol’ hug goes out to The Game Changers referenced above and the ones who I didn’t get to name: Professor Mary Wolf, Professor Brian Rourke, Professor Connie Voisine, Professor Elizabeth Schirmer, Professor Robert Boswell, and the late Professor Kay West. I’m sure there are many more… love you guys!

 

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Have a Happy Weekend!

Posted by Natalie Strobach on January 24, 2014
The Profession / No Comments

smile-its-friday

I was a bit removed from the blogosphere this week because I was doing some of the hardest reading of my life (says the specialist in critical theory). I am taking a seminar this quarter on Self Psychology and I will sum it up by saying that Lacan was not nearly the only Psychoanalist in love with diagrams. Honestly, it’s thrilling, but it is some rather dense business.

I did have some great news this week! My paper was accepted to the Derrida Today conference in NYC this spring. That conference is a few weeks after the ACLA’s annual convention which is at NYU this year and I’m already dividing up all of the sights and family visits to make the most of the trips. What are some of your favorite Manhattan spots? I have been wanting to go to up the Statue of Liberty forever, so I bought some tickets for that right away! I then made the mistake of watching videos of the climb to the crown and, well, I’m not sure I’m going to make it that high up. 354 steps. 19 inch wide staircase. And that staircase is spiral, so it’s an extra wonky 19 inches. We shall see…we shall see…

I also updated my C.V. some 12,000 odd times this week. I went to add that one conference and then poof, my whole afternoon disappeared. I referenced The Professor Is In’s blog and found her C.V. tips quite useful. Some of them contradicted some things advisors have had me add before, so it doesn’t follow her exact specifications. If you’re just starting out with your C.V. or in need of major revisions, I definitely recommend checking our her C.V. rules.

One thing that has always been so difficult for me C.V.-wise is dealing with teaching. I love teaching and for me it is the best part of our profession. I am also proud of the teaching I’ve done. At UC Davis I had the chance to teach for about five different programs and design dozens of my own courses, so when it comes to downplaying teaching on the C.V., I feel like I’m cutting myself off at the legs. I’ve resisted moving it down for years, but Dr. Karen made one distinction that really struck me:

Principle of Peer Review.  

The organizing principle of the CV is prioritizing peer review and competitiveness. Professional appointments are extremely competitive, and go first. Publications are highly competitive, and go second, with peer reviewed publications taking place of honor. Awards and honors reveal high levels of competition, as do fellowships and grants. Invited talks suggest a higher level of individual recognition and honor than a volunteered paper to a conference—this is reflected in the order. Teaching in this context, ie, as a list of courses taught, is not competitive, and thus is de-prioritized. Extra training you seek yourself, voluntarily, is fundamentally non-competitive. Etc. Etc.

So, with that I moved conferences, publications, and awards all above teaching. Sigh. Do you folks have any thoughts on this? What did you take into account when organizing your own C.V.? I’d love to hear your comments below!

 

 

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Honeymooning in the Humanities: Letters of Rec

Posted by Natalie Strobach on January 19, 2014
The Profession / No Comments

I want to preface this entire post by saying that…

Comp Lit Love

I’m fairly certain I’m the field’s biggest cheerleader. When I was 17 I declared that I would get a Ph.D. in Comp Lit. My undergraduate university didn’t even have comp lit as an option, so I combined English, French, Women’s Studies and Creative Writing, completing roughly one major per year so that I would graduate with my own private version of Comp. Lit.  All throughout my time teaching Comparative Literature at the University of California Davis, I have campaigned for the major. I know that the analytical, language, and writing skills we teach our undergrads leaves them well trained for several different professions. My program also puts a lot of time into TA training and maintains comfortable course sizes (often around 20 students, capped at 25), so students had the chance to be heard in the class in a way that other undergraduate majors could not provide in gigantic lecture halls. Students caught my love for comparative literature and year after year a few more trickled in to our department.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have several of those students take additional courses from me or stay in touch in other ways. And of course, a small batch of those students decided they wanted to go on to graduate studies. Like everyone else teaching in the humanities, I’ve written letters for a range of programs: med school, law school, environmental studies, and so on and so forth. I’ve also had a few students decide to go on to graduate work in Comp. Lit., which always made me absolutely joyous. Until now.

I have written two letters of recommendation in the past month. Both students had almost the exact same, near-perfect G.P.A.s and both had extensive extracurriculars from UC Davis, a Tier-1 research institution. They were both just magnificent students all around, students I would never shoot down for a letter of recommendation. The first student was applying to top law schools. Great! I was happy to write her a letter and thrilled to hear back as she was accepted to several high-profile institutions. I was confident that she had a great shot at success in her field, and hopeful that her Comp. Lit. training would add a humanistic edge to the way she practiced law, to everyone’s benefit. A teacher’s job well done, I could tell myself.

The other student caused me a bit more concern, for several reasons: she wanted letters for mediocre M.A. programs in Comparative Literature for which I could see no rhyme or reason other than locale. Having spent seven years supplementing my Comp. Lit. teaching load with work for UC Davis’ McNair Scholars Program, a federally-funded program designed to help students from underrepresented populations get into graduate school, my first two concerns were familiar: one, it’s a bad idea to limit your grad school search based on criteria like location; and two, a promising student with a great GPA should be shooting straight for doctoral programs, not an M.A. I realize that the role and value of the master’s degree varies by discipline, but certainly in literature, an unfunded M.A. is almost always an unnecessary added expense when a good doctoral program is a possibility.

But recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of people voicing an additional concern. Just look at this post from Justin Esarey, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rice and this one from Matthew Guterl, Chair of American Studies at Brown. And I’ve been hearing horror stories from friends who have been on the job market for years without finding something permanent. And now I’m starting to wonder: can I in good conscience recommend that my student pursue even a Ph.D. in  literature? After so many years of cheerleading the discipline, it was a worry I felt incredibly depressed about. Following all of the MLA debates this month, thinking about my own job options, I was nearly incapable of writing a a letter for the M.A. in Comp. Lit.

I wrote the letter, of course, with my full and utmost support. Then I took the time to write that student a separate letter. It was hard to write. I linked her to the articles on Slate and the Chronicle about the job market and about the adjunct crisis. I told her point blank what a bad idea I thought it was, economically, to apply to unfunded M.A.s, M.A.s that would leave her a step down from the level of institution from which she received her B.A. Now, this student is not a McNair scholar, so I’m not sure if she is okay with loans, has a trust fund, previously worked on Wall Street, or is married to a prince. Maybe it’s not an issue for her. G-d knows I’ve met enough Ph.D.s who were treating their doctoral tenure like the best alternative to boredom sitting home and watching Days of Our Lives, people who thought of doctoral work like a time for self-exploration more than a time for professionalization and building a career. But for those of us who intend the academy as a career, rather than a pastime, have we reached the point where encouraging a promising undergrad to enter a literature Ph.D. program is like encouraging the lead of your high-school musical to move to Hollywood and become a star?

As McNair scholar myself, I always thought getting a doctorate would entirely transform my life. As an undergraduate I knew the job market was always less than stellar, but that’s why I went to a fully funded program at a Tier 1. I definitely did not know it was bleak even at that level and I am perpetually saddened hearing of my colleagues’ job-search woes.  I’m honestly not even that jaded (though give me time, I suppose–as I’m just beginning my search for a full time position). I loved my program. I loved the coursework. I love my research. I love love love teaching and working with students. I love feeling like I am constantly contributing to the future in working with those students and I love constantly being awake with new ideas for research. And more than some of my peers, I’m very open to a variety of career opportunities in the academy: positions in administration and advising are, to me, still central to the academic community I love.

But not knowing where I myself will be in ten (or five, or two) years, how can I recommend this career path to a promising 22-year-old who could just as easily be pursuing a career in an easier or more lucrative field? And if I can’t, how do you continue to love a field that you shouldn’t share?