Saturday, October 25, 2008

I'm moving!

Hey folks! I finally did it, I decided to move this blog here. There are some features that I really miss when I'm not using WordPress and I was tired of my current blogger template. Please update your bookmarks and let me know what you think about the new digs!


Gender, Gender, Everywhere

Does anyone else out there ever get tired of talking about gender? I'm experiencing feminist fatigue, it's sort of like chronic fatigue, only caused by having to explain basic concepts of how to treat women like people to someone over and over again.

Right now I have an especially bad case because our roommate, lets call him Viking Boy, is strangely obsessed with gender, as if women were some sort of strange aliens. He will regularly say things like "This is man food!" or "I don't want any of that girlie salad!" with little or no irony. So I feel the need to try to explain to him that everyday activities like eating or (last night) pumpkin carving are not particularly gendered.

I attended a pumpkin carving party last night and carved a very scary bat into my pumpkin. 

Then again, I feel obligated to point out to other men that gender might be affecting how people interact with them. For example, the professor and two other TAs I'm working with this quarter are all men. I get 6-12 people showing up for my office hour each week and they get 1-2. Now there might be other factors involved like the fact that I chose a time the middle of a Thursday afternoon or that I have emphasized repeatedly to my students that they should ask for help. But considering that I get some of their students too and that another grad student (also a woman) has been helping another female student from the class with her homework, I think there is a good chance that gender might be influencing who students ask for help.

So now I'm wondering if there might be a link between men who can't seem to notice when the dishes need doing and men who can't seem to notice how gender influences their lives?

Would it help if they read Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog?


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I love Katharine Hepburn!

Your result for The Classic Dames Test...

Katharine Hepburn

You scored 14% grit, 33% wit, 62% flair, and 7% class!

Anyone else want to take the quiz?


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Welfare for Grad Students?

Here's my basic question - Under what conditions would you (as a grad student) consider applying for welfare programs like low income housing or foodstamps?

Here's my situation. One of the main reasons that I decided to switch programs and go to Crunchy U. is that they offer the option to buy health insurance for your spouse and dependents. Ever since last summer when we were living in an attic filled with black mold Beorn has been developing unexplained health problems. He is always exhausted and his blood test show that he is anemic. He also has constant joint pain and a high "rheumatoid factor." We are having more tests done. Needless to say, having continuing health coverage for him is essential.

He feels fairly bad on a day to day basis and so may have trouble working full time unless we figure out what is wrong. In the mean-time, we are living on my stipend and student loans. Last night we discussed applying for disability for him and investigating the possibility of food stamps. I'm having some difficulty with this because if I dropped out of school with my master's degree I would likely be able to find a job that pays more than my TA stipend, so it seems somehow wrong to apply for assistance. On the other hand, I have no way of knowing what kind of work I might find or whether my new job would offer health insurance for Beorn. Most likely it would be difficult for me to support us on one salary and pay off my monumental student loans.

If I stay in school I know I have a job for the next three years at least and health insurance. Given the unstable state of the economy at the moment taking risks doesn't seem wise. Mainly, I want to stay in academia. I love my new department and love the privilege of teaching and researching topics that interest me. If I was to quit school I know I wouldn't find a job I love that would pay me what I need to be paid, at least not right away.

I know many people would never consider applying for welfare while in school, but apparently there is a long tradition of graduate students on welfare, judging by this thread on College Confidential. But here are a couple of vignettes from my week to fuel your thinking about why someone might consider it.

While riding the bus home this week I overheard a conversation between a couple of undergrads. They were discussing the stock market crash. One young guy was telling the other how bad it had gotten for his family. His dad had told him that he might have to get a part time job because his stocks had been so devalued. I sat there shocked that his dad wouldn't require him to a least work a few hours a week for spending money.

Later in the week I ran into one another woman in my cohort - a woman of "non-traditional student" age who had returned to school to earn a masters degree. She told me a little about her background -- how she started living on her own a week after her highschool graduation. She had dropped out of school because her parents hadn't been willing or able to help her pay for college. This attitude is common in working class families and yet there is no way for students under the age of 25 to prove that they aren't getting help from their families. So she dropped out of college and went to beauty school. She joked that she should have just got married or "knocked-up" because then at least she wouldn't be counted as her parents' dependent. After a number of years supporting herself doing manicure and pedicures she decided that she was really tired of massaging strangers' feet. Since she was now 26 she could qualify for financial aid as an independent. She went back to school, got her B.A. and a job she really enjoyed. Now she's supporting herself working as a research assistant in a lab while she gets her M.A.

I also know a number of international students who are in a financial pickle because their spouses don't have work visas. Back in 1998 in the Chronicle, David North from the Department of the Interior urged universities and graduate students to admit that grad students are the working poor.

It is interesting to compare two populations being supported by Uncle Sam: Buck privates in the Army and graduate students working as research assistants on federal grants. While the compensation packages for both groups are complex, unmarried first-year privates receive an average of $17,000 a year, and married ones about $1,000 more.

In comparison, the median stipend for the 41 unmarried graduate students whom I interviewed (in 1996-1997) was $14,000. Universities do not grant larger stipends for students with families; in fact, the median stipend for the 46 married students I interviewed was actually smaller -- only about $12,000.

Most graduate students have to live on their stipends; a few have help from their families or from a working spouse. Many, particularly U.S. citizens, go into debt.

He goes on to advocate that universities should counsel graduate students to use public assistance that they qualify for:

As a policy matter, I believe that universities should pay their graduate assistants at least as much as privates in the military earn -- a step that federal agencies could encourage by slight increases in their formulas for calculating research grants.

Failing that, graduate schools should accept the fact that their Ph.D. candidates are members of the working poor and help those students figure out how to use federal assistance programs. Perhaps graduate students in social work could be hired part-time to help the Ph.D. candidates apply for those programs. Why should the working poor among our graduate students continue to lose out on benefits that they are legally eligible to receive?

The issue of graduate students taking public aid has also been extensively debated on MetaFilter. More recently, an article on the US News site reports that the number of college students receiving food stamps in Florida is up 44% when compared to last year. Considering the current state of the economy, I wouldn't be surprised to see this trend continue. Given the number of low income and working class students that drop out of college should we really begrudge these students some extra help?


Monday, September 29, 2008

Getting Oriented

Had a not very satisfying orientation/assessment meeting with the departmental chair last week in which she told me that I needed to take a bunch of classes because I don't have the proper "breadth" classes in my field. This despite my master's degree. Apparently, if the courses don't have the correct three letter prefix, despite their content, they are of no use.

Luckily after that I met with my advisor, who maintained that no one would care one bit what courses I had taken during my job search, but rather what I will know and what I will have (is that the proper tense?) written. Thank the gods! He suggested that I avoid taking classes just to fulfill requirements, and came up with ideas for more interesting things I might take. He even offered to come up with a reading course for me tailored towards some of our joint interests. Yay!

Now I have to get to bed. Teaching a "lab" tomorrow morning at 8AM. Fun, fun, fun!


Thursday, September 25, 2008

PhD requirements

I am very grumpy after my "entry evaluation" with the faculty graduate adviser of my new program. Despite having something more than 72 credits of courses through my program at BA U, it looks like I will have to retake many classes. The problem is that most of my classes at BA U, weren't officially listed in "head studies". That's because there was no department of "head studies" so now they want me to take five out of seven breath requirement courses as well as the language requirement. Seriously, it's like my MA doesn't count at all. Arg. I thought I had researched this.

Problem #1: They might be right. My transcripts look horrible, they are filled with independent studies and group studies, courses that don't say anything on them. So it might be better for me to have a transcript that looked like I went through an actual program.

Problem #2: I will likely be very bored sitting through all these requirements and I don't tend to focus well when I'm bored.

Problem #3: This will slow down my time to degree and I have already spent waaaayyy too much time in grad school.



Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bloglines vs. Google Reader: How to Manage the Information Overload?

For the longest time, I used Bloglines to manage my RSS feeds. I'm not sure why I chose Bloglines, maybe Trillwing recommended it. I think I read some positive reviews.

Back in those olden days (2006) I started out manually adding other blogs to my blogroll. Then I discovered BlogRolling. BlogRolling makes it super easy to add blogs to your list and for a while I was happy. But soon, I discovered another problem...The blogs I was reading on Bloglines and those I was linking to on BlogRolling often didn't match. Periodically I would go through and match them up, but often I would forget to add some nice person's blog that I was enjoying.

I haven't research it, but I think different folk have different philosophies about their blogrolls. Who you include depends a lot on what you are trying to do with your blog. Are you trying to make money? Become popular with the "in-crowd"? I just wanted to write about my struggles in academia and hear about how other academics were doing. My graduate program was so without community that blogging about my troubles really helped me get through difficult times. (You guys, if anyone is still reading, helped me survive to get my M.A. and get into a better program! Yay!)

The point is, I wanted the blogs I read and the blogs in my blogroll to be the same. Now I could probably do some pruning, since I'm sure some folks I don't really read that often, but it was nice to just sort of keep up with the events in lots of folks' lives.

Then I discovered that I could create a blogroll using Bloglines and specifying only the blogs in my "academic blogs" folder. "Hooray!" I thought. This all Bloglines system lasted me for quite a while. But this summer I was tempted by Google Reader. Certain internet "experts" recommended Google Reader because it has a feature called "list view" which allows you to scan just the titles of the articles. "The Expert" claimed that this would save you hours each day and so I exported my subscriptions to Google Reader and tried it out. Unfortunately, I haven't been keeping up on my blog reading this summer and so I'm not sure how I like this new system. It seems that I'm back to my old problem- with Google Reader I have to maintain a separate list as a blogroll.

Then there is Bloglines Beta, which seems to have many of the same readability features a Google Reader. Now I'm just not sure what to do!