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I’ve been impressed with Gerald Graff before (see here and here). His 2008 Presidential Address to the MLA also contains some interesting food for thought (PMLA Volume 124, # 3, May 2009 pgs. 727-743).

Graff says that we professors “still think of teaching in ways that are narrowly private and individualistic, as something we do in isolated classrooms while knowing little about what our colleagues are doing in the next classroom or the next building.” I know that feeling of isolation well. I can teach exactly what I think is appropriate, but I have no way of knowing how well the class is jiving with the students’ other courses.

Graff argues that “there is reason to think that the quality of education students receive is determined as much by the curriculum’s shape as by its content.” Intuitively, this seems true to me, because the best part of my college education was a well-shaped humanities, social science, and physical science curriculum called Core. The Core professors designed the program in dialogue with one another. The lectures were given by about a dozen different faculty members and guest lecturers per semester, and all the professors of the program attended the lectures. They decided as a group which texts to include on the syllabi. Students were encouraged to connect the material of one course to that of another.

When a student complains to me about the different expectations of different teachers, I see the student’s complaint as a lack of ability to think critically, and occasionally grumble about Texas public high schools. However, as Graff points out, the students who can’t understand how to handle conflicting ideas taught in different courses need to be educated the most; they are also the students most harmed by the isolationist approach to teaching.

It’s Labor Day! Celebrate!

Concentrate on following Natalie Dee’s advice instead of writing this weekend. Celebrate one of the precious few working holidays we have in America.


Female Science Professor strikes again!Her post “Years-to-Degree” made me happy. I privately determined that I would graduate in six years when I began graduate school, and I saw no reason why I wouldn’t be able to. Even though at orientation they told us that hardly anyone graduated in six years, I figured I was quicker and better than most people and I would be able to do it. As FSP points out, there’s many many factors that determine years to degree. Among the ones she listed that slowed me down: “extent of research experience prior to starting the graduate program” (almost none), significant events (a wedding in my case), and nature of funding (teaching-based funding).

But here’s my favorite part:

3. When a colleague and I looked at the dataset and applied our qualitative and totally subjective evaluations as to which students were our most ‘successful’ (as in smart and hard-working, got awards/fellowships in grad school, published, got jobs after graduation etc.), we saw no trend in years-to-degree. Some ‘successful’ students zipped through the PhD program, finishing in 3-4 years; others took significantly longer.

Change the University!

Sunday, Doctor Mark Taylor published an op-ed about changing the university as we know it.

And here’s Female Science Professor’s response.

I like many of Doctor Taylor’s ideas, particularly 7-year contracts instead of tenure and an increasingly interdisciplinary approach to research, but mainly I like the idea of radically changing the academy.

It’s kind of like imagining how the Catholic church is going to change . . . one knows it’s not going to happen fast, but it’s fun to imagine the improvements that might be made someday.

My First Speaking Engagement as Becoming Doctor Jones!

Mark your calendars: The Pedagogy Group presents a talk on creating and maintaining a successful academic blog. Tues, 4/7, University of Texas, Flawn Academic Center (FAC) Room 9 @ 4pm.

In this competitive job market environment, blogs are becoming an increasingly important means of representing our work and networking with others in our field. If you have thought about setting up your own blog, or want tips on how to expand one you already have, then join the CWRL Pedagogy Group in FAC 9, on Tuesday, 4/7 for a workshop that will cover much of what you need to know.

Pedagogy Group member Liz Jones-Dilworth will discuss how she maintains her own blog, Becoming Dr Jones. Specifically, she will talk about the genesis of her blog, what it has done for her professionally, and how she fashions a topic to make it relevant for her particular audience.

We are also delighted to welcome Josh Jones-Dilworth, of the international PR firm, Porter Novelli. Josh works with high-tech firms across the US, and he will be sharing valuable tips on how to start, maintain and develop a professional blog. Topics covered will include the visual layout of a successful blog, which blogging service to use, the basics of effective blog writing, networking, and how to sustain and expand your readership.

Cookies and beverages will be available, as usual. So, save the date: FAC 9, 4/7 @ 4pm.

Excerpt from “The Growing Life” blog

Everyone has moments in graduate school when they think they should be elsewhere. Early in my first school year at UT, I heard some classmates discussing how “most people don’t think.” They reasoned that being in graduate school allowed them to have a more contemplative, mentally engaged life.

Here’s the opposite perspective on that idea:

The Paradox of Intelligence

More intelligent people tend to have jobs that require very high levels of mental engagement (not to mention, longer work weeks). If you’re a doctor, lawyer, accountant, consultant, teacher, etc., then chances are your thoughts are consumed by work-related activities (and that you have less-than-average amounts of free time).

Highly intelligent people are more likely to exchange their brainpower for money, and less likely to retain much of said brainpower for themselves. They’re more likely to enroll in mentally demanding graduate programs and accept mentally demanding jobs. (In the western world we’re taught that if we have the capacity to be a doctor then it’s somehow a “waste” to work retail, make smoothies for a living, or become a farmer — even though a retailer worker, smoothie maker, or farmer get to own more of their thoughts).

Hence, the paradox of intelligence (POI) says that in general, the more intelligent you are, the less brainpower you’re likely to keep for yourself. The POI says that the smarter you are, the less you keep your mind for yourself. It says that the more intelligent you are, the greater the probability that an employer owns too much of your brainpower.

As a result of this paradox, intelligent people are losing the battle for their minds. They simply have less mental energy at the end of the day to ask the bigger questions. They have less mental energy and time needed to gain perspective.