Primordial Soup

Primordial Soup*: On Being a Doc Student

I doubt not the spontaneous appearance of life
For some
But as for me,
I am marinating in the thick brown broth

What do I do here?

Shed the constraints of practitioner-only hat
Struggle with shiny words and primitive definitions
(I labor in love.)
Stabilize wobbly foundations; mimic scholars

Revisit familiar theoretical frameworks
Extrapolate to the unknown, the undefined
Shift paradigms
Observe the crackling arc of implications

The storm materializes
Lightning, long and lean, slices sky
Sparks revelation
[Origin of Idea]

*In a nod to the found poetry movement, I offer a near attempt. Many thanks to this Scientific American article where I gathered and gleaned 20 words for my poem.

Street Fight: A Gunslinger’s Ballad

I’ve been called out. The street is empty save a few curious bystanders, though some pretend not to look. Dust settles in languid heaps and the air is thick with heat. The creak of an ancient wagon ratchets past, drawing only peripheral attention. All of my focus narrows in on the nuances of language, two vying images.

A year ago, as I entered a program that pushes the boundaries, embraces new literacies, and melds the best practices of two worlds, I called myself a guinea pig. The words, vibrant with color and tinged with excitement, tumbled out, badges of courage and pride and humility. No disrespect meant.

It occurs to me, unfortunately too late, that the connotations associated with guinea pig (in an experimental world view) are decidedly negative and potentially offensive. My apologies for hasty speech.

A possible contender is “pioneer”, though there are associated connotations with that concept as well. No metaphor, it seems, “stands on all fours”, as the English teacher says. And yet, this term certainly offers familiar images: Journeying through an uncharted landscape, intent upon a destination yet unknown, re-purposing tools and technologies to accomplish ends they were not intended for. Even down to the negotiation of harsh conditions, various indigenous populations that are at turns nurturing, ambivalent, even hostile, and maps that provide general direction but none of the specificity desired for daily travel, the word offers images for contemplation.

“Bang, Bang!” A child darts into the street, firing off a wooden gun, breaking the oppressive silence. Tension fades. The guinea pig flashes an engaging smile and shrugs. Okay. Maybe not the time, maybe not the place. She turns and saunters off into the sunset.

The pioneer nods gravely. Yet, oddly, the situation seems far more serious, rife with greater risk, potentially deadly with the new metaphor. Donning a new lens through which to see the world clarifies some details while muddying others. Our intrepid hero cautiously ventures ahead.

Five Ways to Find and Maintain the Zen in Scholar-Practitioner

Time and Task Management often seem to be insurmountable twin peaks, shrouded in mystical mist, and the path to the tops circuitous and dangerous. The Scholar-Practitioner may be tempted to lament along with singer-songwriter, Marty Robbins, “Lord, You Gave Me a Mountain” but with a bit of focus and adherence to a few key states of being, the path becomes doable and the peaks achievable.

When skimming Professor Robert Boice’s book, The New Faculty Member: Supporting and Fostering Professional Development (1992), it occurred to me that many of the responsibilities of the average EPET doc student are similar to those of a new faculty member in the higher ed arena. Note the three major tasks that Moody (1997) delineate as typical: teaching, doing research and writing, and acting ‘collegial’ (the building of positive relationships, collaborating on projects, etc). If that doesn’t describe my life in a nutshell, I don’t know what does.

So, the goal is more than learning how to juggle it all without going crazy. The goal is to achieve balance and harmony, to do well those things you choose to do, to be both effective and efficient. Sounds good, right? But how?

Five Ways to Find and Maintain the Zen in Scholar-Practitioner

  1. Be balanced: create time for each function within each week and craft feasible task-lists. Dedicate the necessary time to organize your week, and then spend a set amount of time on each function.
  2. Be compact: write for no more than an hour at a time; limit time on task to quality time on task. Avoid the evenings and/or weekends for writing or reading.
  3. Be protective: guard personal time and space. Do not allow the professional to spill over into the personal, especially any feelings of negativity or desperation.
  4. Be a bridge: network with others, collaborate, reach out. Engage with peers who nourish your research and your soul.
  5. Be realistic. I really want to say “be kind to yourself” because the type of individual attracted to graduate school is often the over-achiever or the perfectionist. Striving for perfection destroys a sense of balance and too often results in burn-out. Instead, seek competency and effectiveness.

Probably the most important task to accomplish is to recognize the need to prioritize, the need to break each priority into manageable tasks, the need to carve out time for each task, and the need to limit time to chunks of 60 minutes or so.

Now, go forth and conquer your mountains. Bring a camera. The view from the top is exhilarating.

Moody, Joan. (1997). Visualizing yourself as a successful college teacher, writer, and colleague: pointers for graduate students, and college and university faculty. University of New Haven Press.

Nihil Nimus: Nothing in Excess

One of the myriad of temptations luring the budding scholar astray is the notion that writing must be put off until there are enough articles read, research gathered, and, of course, a large enough chunk of time accumulated in order to accomplish it all. After all, as so many of us have learned, writing is time intensive. It is arduous. It is, truth be told, even painful at times. Of course, giving in to this temptation results, most often, in a richness of research fodder but no productive behavior and no tangible text.

Epic fail.

In a story that is certainly applicable to the student-scholar as well, Boice (1987) regales us with research regarding effective vs ineffective faculty members (in terms of producing publications). The premise is simple: we are all given 24 hours in a day. How we use that time is up to us. Some of us make excuses. Some of us putter inefficiently from mundane task to mundane task, accomplishing little. And some of us are published every three months. (This stings a little, realizing that I am not in this particular category. But it’s a good sting, prompting me to 1) realize that it should be a goal, and 2) get my butt in gear!) It ultimately comes down to time management, he says. And, easy enough, it simply comes down to an embracing of daily chunks of time to write and an avoidance of “binge writing”, where we put off writing for a time then write for hours. This small tweak can result in measurable improvements.

This lesson in time management reminds me of the late Michael Crichton, famed author of Jurassic Park, Congo, and Timeline, among many other novels. Consider this: by the time he graduated in 1969 with an M.D. from Harvard Medical School, no less, he had penned and published seven fictional works, including The Andromeda Strain, the book that established him as a best-selling author.

So, medical school AND productive, best-selling author? Hmm. Sounds like we’re all given 24 hours in a day. How we choose to utilize the moments we’re given is up to us.

Boice (2000) prompts us that we should take up as a guiding philosophy the motto of nihil nimus, or nothing in excess.

Boice, R. 1987. Is released time an effective component of faculty development programs? Research in Higher Education 26(3), 311-326.

Boice, R. 2000. Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus. Allyn and Bacon. Needham Heights, MA.

Reminder: Apply for Second EPET Hybrid Doctoral Cohort

As I enter year two of my journey as a ph.d candidate at MSU in EPET’s hybrid program, I find myself thinking many reflective thoughts. Those shall be forth-coming.

But I want to take this opportunity to encourage you to consider applying for the second cohort that will be starting up in June of 2012. Applications are due December 1st, 2011, but I, personally, would encourage you to get your application in early.

More than ever, teachers are looking for ways to marry practice with theory, research with product. This ground-breaking program — from a Tier-1 research facility no less — meets this need, while still maintaining the rigor and richness that defines the nationally-ranked Educational Psychology and Educational Technology (EPET) doctoral program.

Long decried for their lack of “scholarly” basis, it is my belief that the teachers of the future will be the scholars, the leaders, the innovators. When I think of the future of education, I do not despair because I know how many fellow teachers are dedicating their lives to what is best for the classroom and their students.

The demand is there. Now the program is. Contact Dr. Robin Dickson, Coordinator, for more information or visit the program’s website. And, of course, feel free to email or chat with me if you’ve any questions about my experience.