Category Archives: Pearls of Wisdom

Writing a Dissertation: What They Don’t Teach You in Grad School

This blog post describes useful ideas and tools for those working on dissertations and other long writing projects. It is written from the vantage point of historical work, but has much to offer social and psychological science scholars, as well. — Edprof

Erstwhile: A History Blog

IMG_2542 copy.JPG Tools of the dissertation writer’s trade. (All photos author’s own.)

This week Erstwhile editor Sara Porterfield shares what she wished she’d known before starting her dissertation and what she’s learned from the writing process. 

Until it came time to write my dissertation, graduate school kept me on a schedule with measurable goals and milestones around which I could structure my days and schedule. Once I defended my dissertation prospectus, however, that structure disappeared. All of a sudden I found myself faced with what seemed like an almost insurmountable task—writing what is essentially a book—that my training hadn’t really prepared me for. Yes, I knew how to research in the archives; yes, I knew how to write a well-crafted and convincingly argued seminar paper. But I didn’t know how to put together an argument over 300 pages, or even what tools to use for researching and writing such a project.

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Formal-Operational vs. Post-Formal Thinking: Brains Grow Up

Here is a reblogged essay from the Classroom as Microcosm Blog written by irrepressible and indomitable college teacher, “Siobhan Curious.”   It explores one aspect of early adult development: the growth of postformal thought.

Formal-Operational vs. Post-Formal Thinking: Brains Grow Up « Classroom as Microcosm.

I have written about emerging adulthood (and academic versus authentic writing) in another post.  If you are looking for additional reading on this topic, scroll down to references at the end of my first “Diary of an Ed Prof” essay.   — Ed Prof

Journalists on the Edge of Truth –

In this re-blogged post (8/19/12), David Carr offers a number of interesting observations on pressures facing journalists.  I was especially struck by his observations on changes in the nature of professional socialization in journalism.  He notes a shift from how journalists who came up the ranks by working in old media (“legacy media”) to a new situation in which media stars rise to prominence without the requisite experiences necessary to foster conformity to conventionally understood professional ideals.   I wonder if there are not parallel problems in other fields as well?   — EdProf

Journalists on the Edge of Truth –

Caring (Against the Odds)

Ponderosa pine treeAs the end of the semester drew near, I fretted about a student or two who had done quite well for most of the semester, then drifted off course, and finally disappeared without a trace.  As I tried to work this problem — figure out how to get my lost students to talk to me, two people asked me (with unveiled cynicism):  “Why should you care more about students’ grades than they do?”

That’s a good question, though it is based on somewhat faulty premises.  Most students do care about the grades that they get, and they also care about what they have learned in a course — or so it seems to me.  When otherwise capable students disappear, there is usually some explanation.  For some reason, though, given the strains of early adulthood and the fact that many first-generation students do not know how the system works, students just “log off” instead of asking their professors for help.  They assume that nothing can be done and there are no options, and no one cares anyway, so (as one of my students put it) “I thought I might as well just take the F and deal with it later.”

As a professor, one of my responsibilities is to evaluate student performance. Disappearing students, by academic convention, get an “F” (failing) grade for the course.  Alternatively, though, they could receive a “W, WP, WF” (withdrawal) or in some cases, or an “I” (incomplete, with the option of completing work within an agreed-upon time period).  From my vantage point as a college teacher, getting an “F” might have long range consequences that should only be borne if the grade is really warranted and there are no other alternatives.  So, in answer to the question above, here is another question: Why let talented students “give up” and “take their punishment” without at least trying to persuade them otherwise?  Will students be “wrecked for life” because someone inside the Machine cared about their long-term best interests?  And from a public resource perspective, courses retaken must be paid for again, and society always pays part of the bill.  As high as they are, tuition fees cover only part of the cost of higher education.  This means that re-taking courses always requires expenditure of public resources we cannot afford to waste.   –EdProf

Diary of an Ed Prof (2)

Well, the semester is drawing to a close.  Last week of classes with final exams next week.  Last chance for professors to highlight key principles and ideas, address omissions, demystify our teaching strategies (perhaps), and offer an apologia for the inevitable gaps between teaching aspirations and learning outcomes.  In my experience, professors really do care about students and they share the hope that their students will benefit from their labors.

It seems to me that the credit for university courses that go really well must be shared, as this is always a product of group effort.  A “good” course is one that students choose to create by investing energy, preparing well, taking risks, sharing thoughts and life experiences with one another, going beyond the surface level of understanding.  Professors can try to create conditions that foster these desirable pedagogical ends, but it is always the students who make it happen!

A Postmodern Pearl

South Dakota Classroom

South Dakota Classroom

The Pedagodfathers: Lords of Education is a remarkable text — complex, multilayered and imaginative.  It captures the wonderful world of educational discourse through the voice of an “old hand” sharing his thoughts and observations with a young educator at the beginning of his career.  The book presents many keen insights and “pearls of wisdom.”  In the words below, the old hand (mentor) offers his best and final advice:  to treasure each moment, choose fresh beginnings and share the wine of life with others.   In the passage below, we are told to expect no more of ourselves than this.

“Eliot understood hell better than Sartre. Not that Sartre was completely wrong. He wasn’t. He was even right as far as he went. Hell is, at times, others. The pedagodfathers certainly torture all of us…But hell, as Eliot so beautifully conveys the ugly truth, is also oneself — our drives and choices, their consequences; our fears, failures, pretensions, delusions; our extended, unending solitude; our loss of dignity and self; and our imprisonment as strangers. He offers an exit, however, unlike Sartre: fresh beginning, each moment of the day if necessary. Fresh beginnings, however, are almost over for some of us; but, there are plenty left for people like you and Sophia. I hope you’ll take advantage of them. We need educators and attorneys, even administrators, who choose to enjoy a good life as they seek to build, protect and extend a just, free, good and caring society. Our hope — individually, professionally, institutionally — rests in each person’s treasuring each moment, choosing fresh beginnings and sharing the wine of life with others. No one can ask more from us, and we dare not expect more of ourselves” (Simpson, 1994, p. 157).

It is interesting to juxtapose this advice with the notion expressed earlier in this book about the nature of success (See  “On Doing What One Ought to Do“).  Captives of our culture, we (educators, human service professionals) are advised to live principled lives as well as good lives, while dedicating ourselves to creating and preserving “a just, good, free, and caring society.”  Two moral imperatives — to do what one ought (thereby redefining our conceptions of success), and to enjoy oneself while doing so!  This reminds me of Martha Wolfenstein’s fun morality construct — the mid-20th century notion that parenting should be fun and enjoyable, and if we find it otherwise, there must be a problem!  — EdProf

References and Photo Credit

Simpson, D. (1994). The Pedagodfathers: The Lords of Education. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Detselig.

Wolfenstein, Martha (1951).  The emergence of fun morality.  Journal of Social Issues 7 (4): 15-25. DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1951.tb02249.x

Photo Credit: Classroom, by Mike Kamrud of South Dakota.  Taken in 2010 and posted to Pics4Learning in 2011.