Review of Donald E. Hall’s The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual, Recommended for Graduate Students, Postdocs, and Junior Faculty

Hall, Donald E. The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2002. Print.

I picked up Donald E. Hall’s The Academic Self from the Georgia Tech Library after completing my teaching assignment for Spring 2013–eleven years after the book had been published. Specifically, I was looking for books and articles to help me grapple with the challenges of this stage of my professional life as a postdoctoral fellow: teaching a 3-3 load, performing service duties, researching, writing,  receiving rejections (and the far less often acceptance), and applying for permanent positions. In the following, I summarize Hall’s arguments, provide some commentary, and close with a contextualized recommendation.

Hall states in the introduction that the goal of The Academic Self is, “encourage its readership to engage critically their professional self-identities, processes, values, and definitions of success” (Hall xv). I found this book to be particularly useful for thinking through my professional self-identity. As I was taught by Brian Huot at Kent State University to be a reflective practitioner in my teaching and pedagogy, Hall argues for something akin to this in terms of Anthony Giddens’ “the reflexive construction of self-identity” (qtd. in Hall 3). Hall truncates this to be “self-reflexivity,” or the recognition that who we are is an unfolding and emergent project. I use this blog as part of my processes of self-reflection–thinking through my research and teaching while striving to improve both through conscious planning and effort.

However, unlike the past where the self was static and enforced by external forces, modernity (and postmodernity–a term Hall, like Giddens, disagrees with) has ushered in an era where the self is constructed by the individual reflectively. From his viewpoint, the self is a text that changes and can be changed by the individual with a greater deal of agency than perhaps possible in the past (he acknowledges his privileged position earlier in the book, but it bears repeating that this level of agency certainly is not equally distributed).

In the first chapter, titled “Self,” Hall writes, “Living in the late-modern age, in a social milieu already thoroughly pervaded by forms of self-reflexivity, and trained as critical readers, we academics in particular have the capacity and the professional skills to live with a critical (self-) consciousness, to reflect critically upon self-reflexivity, and to use always our professional talents to integrate our theories and our practices” (Hall 5). If we consider ourselves, the profession, and our institutions as texts to be read, we can apply our training to better understanding these texts and devise ways of making positive change to these texts.

He identifies what he sees as two extremes that “continue to plague academic existence: that of Casaubonic paralysis and Carlylean workaholism” (Hall 8). In the former, academics can be caught in a ignorant paranoia like Casaubon of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-1872), or in the latter, academics can follow Thomas Carlyle’s call to work and avoid the “symptom” of “self-contemplation” (qtd. in Hall 6).

In the chapter titled “Profession,” Hall calls for us to apply our training to reflective analysis and problem solving of our professional selves and our relationship to the ever changing state of the profession itself. He questions to what extent the work of professionalism (seminars, workshops, etc.) are descriptive or prescriptive. “The ideal of intellectual work” varies from person to person, but it is an important choice that we each must make in defining who we are within the profession.

He reminds us that, “much of the pleasure of planning, processing, and time management lies not in their end products–publication or project completion–it is derived from the nourishment –intellectual, communal, and professional–provided by the processes themselves” (Hall 46). He builds his approach to process on his personal experiences: “Unlike some, I know well when my work day is over. Part of the textuality of process is its beginning, middle, and most importantly, its end” (Hall 46).

His talking points on process are perhaps the most practical advice that he provides in the book. In planning, he advises:

  1. begin from the unmovable to the tentative in your scheduling, know yourself–plan according to your habits and work on those aspects of your planning that need adjustment, and stick to your well planned schedule to yield the personal time that you might be lacking now without such a plan
  2. break goals and deliverables into their constituent parts [or building blocks (my Lego analogy) or code (my programming analogy)]
  3. monitor your progress and see daily/smaller goals as ends in themselves rather than simply means to a greater end
  4. take ownership of your goals, schedule, and commitments to others [this is something that I carry forward from my Mindspring days: Core Values and Beliefs: Do not drop the ball.]
  5. deal with and learn from setbacks–life, bad reviews, rejections, etc. [this is easier said than done, and the external effects of bad reviews goes beyond its effect on the writer]
  6. let change happen to our goals and research as our workplace, interests, and circumstances change
  7. taking ownership of our work in these ways can help protect us from and strengthen us against burnout

Hall goes on to suggest ten steps for professional invigoration to help folks suffering from a stalled career or burnout. However, these ten pieces of advice are equally applicable to graduate students, postdocs, and beginning faculty: join your field’s national organization, read widely in your field, set precise goals, maintain a daily writing schedule [my most difficult challenge], present conference papers, write shorter artifacts to support your research [reviews or my case, this blog], know the process and timeline of manuscript publishing, foster relationships with publishers and editors, politely disengage from poor or dysfunctional professional relationship/praise and value positive relationships, and find support in your local networks.

The final chapter, “Collegiality, Community, and Change,” reminds us, “always t put and keep our own house in order” (Hall 70). He suggests strategies counter to what he calls “the destructive ethos of ‘free agency’ that seems to pervade the academy today–the mindset that institutional affiliations are always only temporary and that individuals owe little to their departments or institutions beyond the very short term” (Hall 70). On professional attitudes, he encourages a focus on the local (institution) before national (beyond the institution), the current job as potentially your last job–treat it with that respect, meet institutional expectations, collegial respect of others, and learning the history of our institution/school/department from everyone with whom we work.

Perhaps most notably, he writes, “If we measure our success through the articulation and meeting of our own goals, as I suggest throughout this book, we can achieve them without begrudging others their own successes. However, if we need to succeed primarily in comparison to others, then we are deciding to enter a dynamic of competition that has numerous pernicious consequences, personal and inter-personal” (Hall 74-75). As I have written about on Dynamic Subspace before, it was the overwhelming in-your-faceness of others’ successes on social media like Facebook that distracted me from my own work. Seeing so many diverse projects, publications, and other accomplishments made me question my own works-in-progress before they had time to properly incubate and grow. For all of social media’s useful and positive aspects for maintaining and growing networks of interpersonal relationships, I had the most trouble resisting the self-doubt that the Facebook News Feed generated for me.

Finally, he encourages dynamic and invested change in departments and institutions. However, as junior faculty, it is important to research and weigh the possible repercussions for working to make change. Hall is not arguing against change by those without tenure, but he is warning us to proceed cautiously and knowledgeably due to a number factors: potential sources of resistance, jeopardizing our jobs, etc.

Hall’s “Postscript” reinforces the overarching idea of ownership by calling on the reader to live with “intensity,” an idea that inspired Hall from Walter Pater’s 1868 The Renaissance: “burn always with [a] hard, gem-like flame” (qtd. in Hall 89). Hall’s intensity is one self-motivated, well-planned, dynamically agile, and passionately executed.

Hall’s The Academic Self is a very short read that is well worth the brief time that it will take to read. It offers some solid advice woven with the same theoretically infused self-reflexivity that he encourages. It practices what it preaches. The main thing to remember is that the book is eleven years old. When it was published, the field of English studies was experiencing an employment downturn (albeit one not as pronounced as in recent years). Michael Berube’s “Presidential Address 2013–How We Got Here” (PMLA 128.3 May 2013: 530-541), among many other places–this issue just arrived in the mail today, so I was reading it between chapters of Hall’s book, picks up some of the other challenges that graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty have to contend with in the larger spheres of the profession and society. The other advice that Hall provides on personal ownership and collegiality, I believe, remains useful and inspirational. In addition to reading Hall’s book, you should check out his bibliography for further important reading in this vein.

Play | Retrocomputing, Platform Studies, and Digital Archiving Session, THATCamp SE 2012 at Georgia Tech, Sunday at 9:30am

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This morning, Becky, Robyn, Aaron, Chris, and Colin joined me for the Play | Retrocomputing 9:30am session at THATCamp SE 2013 at Georgia Tech. Aaron recorded our lively and interesting conversation on the shared GoogleDoc available here (along with notes from all of the sessions).

Above, you can see pictures that I took while we were playing, working, and talking. Our conversation veered from materiality of experiencing old software on original computing hardware to archiving/preserving old computer and software artifacts.

The computers that I brought to kickstart our conversation were a Powerbook 145 and Powerbook 180c.

Other conversations from THATCamp SE 2013 are on Twitter with the #thatcampse13 hashtag.

Down and Dirty Guide to Literary Research with Digital Humanities Tools: Text Mining Basics

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Miao and Jason get things done with computers!

As part of the final Digital Pedagogy seminar of fall 2012, Margaret Konkol, Patrick McHenry, Olga Menagarishvili, and I will lead the discussion on “trends in the digital humanities.” You can find out more about our readings and other DH resources by reading our TECHStyle post here.

As part of my contribution to the seminar, I will give a demo titled, “Down and Dirty Guide to Literary Research with Digital Humanities Tools: Text Mining Basics.” In my presentation, I will show how traditional literary scholars can employ computers, cameras, and software to enhance their research.

To supplement my presentation, I created the following outline with links to useful resources.

Down and Dirty Guide to Literary Research with Digital Humanities Tools: Text Mining Basics

  1. Text Analysis and Text Mining
    1. My working definition of text mining: “Studying texts with computers and software to uncover new patterns, overlooked connections, and deeper meaning.”
    2. What is Text Analysis: Electronic Texts and Text Analysis by Geoffrey Rockwell and Ian Lancashire
    3. Text mining on Wikipedia
    4. Text Mining as a Research Tool by Ryan Shaw (an excellent resource with a presentation and links to more useful material on and offline)
  2. Advantages to Digital Research Materials
    1. Ask Interesting Questions That Would Otherwise Be Too Difficult or Time Consuming to Ask
    2. Efficiency
    3. Thoroughness
    4. Find New Patterns
    5. Develop Greater Insight
  3. Types of Digital Research Materials
    1. Your Notes
    2. eBooks
    3. eJournals
  4. Digitizing Your Own Research Materials
    1. What to Digitize
      1. Primary Sources
      2. Secondary Sources
    2. How to Digitize
      1. Acquire
        1. Camera > high resolution JPG
        2. Scanner > high resolution TIFF or JPG
      2. Collate as PDF
        1. Adobe Acrobat X Pro (now XI!)
        2. PDFCreator
        3. Mac OS X Preview
      3. Perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to generate machine readable/searchable plain text
        1. Adobe Acrobat X Pro
          1. Print PDF to a letter size PDF
          2. Tool > Recognize Text
        2. DevonThink
        3. Use Google
        4. Others?
      4. Save As/Export plain text > .txt files
      5. Engage the “Text” in New Ways
        1. New Ways of Seeing “Texts”
          1. Keyword Search
          2. Line Search
          3. Word Counts
          4. Concordance
          5. Patterns
        2. Tools to Help with Seeing “Texts”
          1. AntConc
          2. BBEdit (“It doesn’t suck” ®)
          3. MacOS X and Linux: cat, find, grep, and print (use “man cat” and “man grep” to learn more from the Terminal. More info herehere, here, here, and here.)
          4. DevonThink
          5. Notepad++
          6. Mac OS X Spotlight/Windows 7 Search
          7. TextEdit
          8. Others?
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Miao awaits digitization.

2011-2012 R. D. Mullen Fellowship Winners

Last week, Rob Latham of the University of California, Riverside announced the winners of the 2011-2012 R. D. Mullen Fellowship winners. I am one among the three recipients! This fellowship will provide each of us with funding to travel to California during the next school year to conduct research in the Eaton Science Fiction Collection at Riverside. I am very honored to have been selected as one of this year’s winners, and I congratulate the other recipients, Alexander and Jennifer, listed below from the original release:

I would like to announce the winners of the third annual R.D. Mullen Research Fellowship, which is funded by Science Fiction Studies in the name of our late founding editor to support archival research in the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature at UC-Riverside. The committee—chaired by me and consisting of Andrea Bell, Neil Easterbrook, Joan Gordon, and Brooks Landon—reviewed a number of excellent applications and settled on a slate of three winners for 2011-12:

JASON ELLIS is a PhD student in the English Department at Kent State University. His dissertation studies what he calls “neuronarratives,” sf texts that deal with the cognitive implications of artificial intelligence and human-machine interfaces. He is the coeditor of The Postnational Fantasy:  Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics, and Science Fiction (McFarland, 2011) and has published articles on H.G. Wells, on digital nomadism, and on World of Warcraft. He plans to visit UC-Riverside to do research towards the writing of a dissertation chapter on “the effects of brain trauma” in the work of Philip K. Dick.

ALEXANDER ISER is a PhD student in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. His dissertation focuses on how time-travel narratives draw out the links “between apocalyptic crises and societal conceptions of time.” He will be spending several weeks at UC-Riverside examining the Eaton’s extensive fanzine collection for evidence of how readers interpreted major time-travel stories as allegories of cultural crisis.

JENNIFER L. LIEBERMAN is a PhD student in the Department of English at the University of Illinois. Her dissertation, entitled Power Lines: Electric Networks and the American Literary Imagination, studies how “literature helped to shape American perceptions of electrical technologies between 1870 and 1952.” She has published essays on Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and on Gertrude Atherton’s Patience Sparhawk and Her Times. At the Eaton, she plans to explore dime novels, boys’ adventure stories, and other proto/early-sf materials in terms of their evocation of the engineer as “the new frontiersman of the twentieth century.”

I am very grateful to my committee for their work in vetting the applications, and my congratulations to the three winners, whom I hope to see soon here at UCR.

Karen Hellekson’s Call for the Humanities to Learn from the Sciences on Titles and Abstracts

Karen Hellekson, one of my dear SFRA friends and the editor of the first book that I had an article appear in, rallies the humanities troops in favor of useful and direct abstracts and titles. She begins her stirring call for more description and information in those tiny signposts that lead others to our work by writing:

A recent spate of research I’m conducting, which has included some data input into Zotero, has only reaffirmed my belief that the sciences can teach the humanities much. I’m not just talking about quick peer review turnaround times and wait times to publication that don’t stretch into years. I’m talking about something simple, something basic: abstracts and titles.

Admittedly I am coming at this from the point of view of an unaffiliated scholar. Getting access to texts is a huge chore. I can’t just magically obtain something and flip through it to see if it’s what I need. I have to research it first, then decide if I want it, and then decide if it rates being one of the five books I can request at one time. I can’t possibly be the only person who wishes that I could figure out what something was about without actually having to read it.

Heed my call, journals and scholars in the humanities! Abstracts and titles. Please, I beg you, make them count. Let’s follow the example of the sciences here.

Karen: I heed your call.

via Humanities, meet the sciences! « Karen Hellekson.

Doctoral degrees: The disposable academic | The Economist

I saw an Economist article about the systemic problems with PhDs in the humanities and sciences posted to the Academic Jobs Wiki, and I wanted to share it with my friends who may not follow the wiki or see it on The Economist’s website. This article raises many good points for the graduate humanist and scientist alike. I had a good discussion relating to this article on my post yesterday on cheating here (scroll down to the comments). Here’s an excerpt of The Economist article followed by a link to it:

Whining PhD students are nothing new, but there seem to be genuine problems with the system that produces research doctorates (the practical “professional doctorates” in fields such as law, business and medicine have a more obvious value). There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.

via Doctoral degrees: The disposable academic | The Economist.

Understanding the Human Brain Does Not Preclude Philosophical Considerations of Its Work

In the past, I was invited to consider the possibility that there are some domains of knowledge in the humanities that the sciences cannot scrutinize, because I admittedly sounded at the time like I had switched back from English and cultural studies to the sciences. It was in part my thinking about this that I wanted to post the link to the Feynman video yesterday about the pleasure of finding things out [here].

I believe that it can go both ways. The humanities, today perhaps more than ever, needs and relies on science and technology as the driving force behind the social and culture. Science, likewise, needs the social and culture to provide some of its research questions, its inspirations, and its debate regarding research and technological applications. I do also believe that science can peer into the workings of the humanities, the social, and the human animal just as the humanities can investigate the sciences, its methods, its meanings, and its implementations of power.

The humanities however is not specifically tasked with testing and modeling all domains of knowledge, but the sciences include everything, including the humanities, as worthy of inquiry. Science is supposed to figure things out, break things down, and provide reproducible findings. Nevertheless, I do not think that the sciences can erase the importance of the humanities and the work that we do. I found this quote today in Michael O’Shea’s The Brain: A Very Short Introduction that I think is extremely appropriate. He writes, “Some future scientist may proclaim that he or she has attained a complete understanding of the brain. But it seems improbably that the rest of the world then would simply stop regarding thinking, dreaming, poetry, and the beauty of a sunset as somewhat puzzling manifestations of the brain in action and the cause of some modest philosophical reflection” (O’Shea 123-124). It is important to know how the brain works for a variety of reasons including its importance to the work in the humanities, but simply knowing every facet of its operation and development will not take away from the questions and speculations that humanities professors, students, and everyone contemplates with their brains. Knowing the brain does not discount the things that we all use our brains for including humanities work. If anything, I believe that knowing the brain and using the humanities to better understand the brain will only expand our understanding and wonder about ourselves.

Arthur W. Hoppe’s Prophetic Warning on iPhones and PDAs: “Put Your Brains in Your Pocket”

I wanted to share this bit of research that I discovered today.

In his short essay, “Put Your Brains in Your Pocket,” Arthur W. Hoppe takes the development in Berkeley, California in the early 1970s to purchase calculators for young children. The idea was that the calculators would equalize the opportunities of students, because calculator technology enabled students good and poor at math to correctly answer basic mathematical problems. Hoppe extrapolates this with a fictitious and humorous account of a Dr. Wolfgang von Houlihan who developed a pocket-sized device that helped his son live as an intelligent and capable individual until his wife sent his trousers to the cleaners. Hoppe is concerned that “a pocket computer with a miniaturized memory bank capable of storing billions of facts and the ability not only to multiply but to analyze, deduce, and program solutions to every conceivable problem” (23-24), would result in people relying on such technology. This shift would not only be dangerous if something happened to one’s pocket-sized mind, but he worries that it would erode basic human emotions and the ability to communicate those emotions without the aid of our personal computing devices. It seems clear now that our technology changes us as we change our technology. As Mazlish argues, humanity and technology co-evolve. This is not something that we should necessarily fear or be concerned about, as long as we, today, consider and reflect on the changes that take place as a result of our rapidly accelerating technological advances. Shifts in technological advancement and integration into our daily lives seem inevitable, but there is no reason that we should accept these changes without care and deliberation. We should also remember that technologies address certain needs or wants by people. Technologies are tools that help us do the work (in a general sense) that we need and want to do. If iPhones, Wolfram Alpha, and Wikipedia help us do these things, then there is no reason to march them off a cliff with the Luddites.

Hoppe, Arthur W. “Put Your Brains in Your Pocket.” Computers, Computers, Computers: In Fiction and Verse. Ed. D. Van Tassel. New York: Thomas Nelson, 1977. 23-25. Print.