I know that I’m probably the world’s worst blogger, but I keep coming back and I keep trying. That’s worth something, right? And today I wanted to share with you my November goals using my 2017 Powersheets. You can snag your 2018 set here if you want to keep up with me in the year to come! I actually bought 2 sets for 2018: one for personal goals and one for work goals.
Technically this section was supposed to be filled out in September at the start of “Fall,” but I waited until October to do it. And then I didn’t blog my October Goals. So here we are! I love these “refresh” sections, though. I find that I constantly need to pull myself back and redirect my perspective. And I love what Lara has to say here:
In fall, our crops bear fruit and bounty to share. We reap the harvest, uprooting our fields and clearing out life before the stillness of winter arrives once again. Fall is the season of savoring what matters and cultivating gratitude.
I have been in a perpetual state of frantic motion lately. But I want to slow down and savor my life. So I’ve narrowed down 5 key things I want to savor this season:
Time with Kyle & my puppies
Coffee dates w/friends & my advisees
Trips with my department
Being grateful for this life I’ve been given
In order to make that happen this season, I’m making my months full of friends & family, giving back, love, & purpose. So I’m saying NO to additional (unnecessary) requests of my time and a busy calendar (easier said than done). And I’m saying YES slowness, growth, personal reflection, and time with loved ones. Another thing I’m trying to do is find myself spiritually, hoping to ground myself in something bigger than myself. So my “word” for the next few months is prayer. And I’m making a promise to myself: to focus on my book!
Fall Goal Refresh: November Style
I found that I didn’t make as much progress on many of my goals this year as I intended. And I think part of it came down to being realistic and dedicated. So here’s my refresh in the final months of the year. Many of these goals will carry over to 2018, don’t worry!
And would you look at that? I’m working on my personal blog 😉 I think these goals are pretty self-explanatory. But I’m really looking forwards to trying to take a winter trip with Kyle. I want this to be an annual thing for us! Someday we’ll own our very own cabin in the Shenandoah Valley <3
Things to Look Forward To
Why yes, I did do my prep work in all stickers. And I loved it. Instead of focusing on all the calendar stuff and “important to-do’s” in a list-type fashion, I wanted to think about how to make these things memorable.
On My November Calendar:
There’s only one major item on my calendar that I’m really focused on for this month: giving an invited talk about my research at Bryn Mawr College!
Important To Do’s
Give Thanks (gratitude is everything)
Stay off my phone!
Social Media Free Weekends (Lord, help me!)
Make it Happen!
Things I’m Excited For
Reading (for knowledge AND pleasure!)
Fall leaves & colors
Boots/booties and thick socks
And this month I really want to work on simplifying my life and my tasks. I want to kickstart 2018 with the right mindset and tools.
Things I Need to Let Go
Yeah, I have Frozen’s “Let it Go” stuck in my head each time I fill this out!
Tending List: November 2017
So in the spirit of simplifying my life and my goals this month, I tried to limit the number of goals I set for myself in each category.
Finish the draft of my book introduction
Post at least one blog post
Finish my proposal for The History Press (book #2)
Finish the living room renovations/changes
Grade my student’s Reading Exam #2
Call friends/family each week
Date night once-a-week with Kyle
Improve my oral health (daily water flossing!)
Get back into my “Daily Bible” plan
What about you? What goals do you have this month or this season? Is there anything about Fall that you’re most looking forward to?
Can you guys believe it’s already November!? Is Autumn really here? [To be fair, it hasn’t really started to feel like fall just yet…but the leaves are turning!] I feel like the semester just started and I’m already like…where the hell has it gone??? I, like nearly every academic I know, have so much on my agenda this year that I can’t seem to slow down. Between class prep, emails, announcements, grading, writing (two) books, committees, student meetings, advising….I could go on, but you get it…..I feel overwhelmed. Boy, that’s an understatement.
P.S. I started this post in September. *oops*
Aside from feeling the weight of being junior academic, I’ve noticed that I still have that “grad school” feeling hanging over my head. I recently came across a blog post from one my favorite PhD bloggers, Dr. Nicole Cranley, and it was like bingo! Her 7 tips for making the transition from student to professional are so simple but I definitely needed to read them. So I have some soul-searching and prioritizing to do in the coming months. And it got me thinking (even more) about my pedagogy.
Autumn (Fall) 2017 Semester
This semester I’m teaching our department’s Intro to Public Historycourse. It’s my first time really teaching it and I knew that I wanted to implement a “scaffolded” assignment the way I did in our Research and Writing in History course last year. In the spirit of collegiality (and garnering possible external feedback), I wanted to share with you the assignment!
Group Public History Portfolio (Autumn 2017)
This is an opportunity for you to engage with several different roles within the field of public history. I have broken the project up into four smaller components to reduce the concern with respect to the grade percentage and I will construct the groups to mimic what it’s like being in the field. Two of these components will be due in Week 4 and Week 8 respectively. The final two components will be due during the Final Exam Date, during which time each group will present their fully completed portfolio in a 20-30 minute “pitch.” This presentation should include visuals.
Before the final submission, students will have an opportunity to “revise” their initial proposal and grant app to include with the full portfolio. Assignment sheets, rubrics, & examples will be posted to Blackboard and details will be further discussed in class. Each member of the group is expected to contribute. Any issues within the groups should be brought to the instructor’s attention immediately.
Part I: Initial Proposal
During this phase, you will work with your group to conceive of the perfect new museum/historic site/organization/etc. for the local community. You will name your site, identify the appropriate audience, craft a mission statement, determine whether you should file for non-profit status, and propose a fundraising plan.
Below is the assignment sheet the students used. And here’s a link to the Google Doc for easier viewing.
Part II: Grant Application
You will choose one major granting agency that fits your initial proposal and complete the agency’s grant application to the best of your ability. We will discuss examples in class. Don’t worry: you will not be expected to submit this to the actual granting agency, just to the instructor as part of the portfolio. A list of suggested granting agencies is posted to Blackboard.
It seems that all 4 groups primarily used the Maryland Historical Trust: Historic Preservation Loan Program for Capital Projects found here.
Part II: Exhibition Design
Groups will get to determine whether to plan a physical or digital exhibition. During this phase, you will work together to determine a particular part of history relevant to your organization. You will then plan a curated exhibit based on this subject. While you will not actually be creating the exhibit itself, your plan should convey who will be involved. It should also discuss costs for construction/hosting and audience & potential controversies. Don’t forget objects/images to use, publicity, and should include sample “labels” or “text.”
Part IV: Community Event OR Educational Activity Plan
In this portion of the assignment, your group will get to choose (based on the mission of your organization) whether to propose a community-wide event or a particular educational activity.
Option A (Community Event): The event should have a catchy title, a targeted audience, and a purpose. Is your event educational? An opportunity for activism? Is it a fundraiser? These are just a few options. You will need to outline who will be involved, whether the event is free/open to the public or has a ticket/is for members only, and what the overhead costs for the event will be. Do you need to rent space? Do you need to provide food?
Option B (Educational Activity): The educational activity should also have a catchy title, a targeted audience, and a purpose. Who are you trying to educate (K-12; General Audience; Ages 50+)? Why? How do you plan to do so (hands-on activity; documentary viewing and discussion; conference)? What are the overhead costs? We will discuss both options further in class and an assignment sheet will be provided for each option.
Part V: Final Presentation
During the Final Exam period, each group will give a 20-30 minute “pitch.” You will need to dress professionally and prepare your pitch as if you were presenting to a diverse audience. The audience could include local businesses (who might invest), the community, and politicians/civil servants (governor, mayor, police, etc.). Each presentation should include the four key pieces of your Project Portfolio. It should also engage the audience via visuals (graphs, image mock-ups, etc. in the form of a PowerPoint—or similar—presentation).
Be prepared to answer questions about your proposal from the audience. Remember that your presentation/writing should be able to engage people from different educational levels, cultural/ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. Your classmates, other university instructors and administrators, and possibly the outside public will make up the audience.
Where we Are Presently (Autumn 2017)
Students have only completed 2 of 5 parts to-date. Once students submit the full portfolio assignment in December, I’ll post a reflection piece. I’ll also share with you the (anonymous) student feedback on the assignment. I’m excited to see the students flex their creative muscles. Stay tuned!
Hello, June! When did you get here? How many of you looked at your calendar today and thought:
Oh crap…June is already halfway over!
I certainly did. As you can see from my lack of posts lately, May got the best of me. Between moving my husband in, getting through the end of the semester and finals, and preparing to venture out-of-the-country for a major conference, I got lost. But as Lara says:
There’s nothing magical about January 1st!
So I decided to practice grace, not perfection, and chalk May up to a recovery period. So today, I’ll reflect a bit on the progress I made on my April goals, talk about some new things coming my way, and explain why my June goals aren’t perfect. But I did do something that I didn’t add to my June list and I’m super proud! Even if I don’t think they’re getting enough sun (and I may need to replace them soon).
Monthly Goals Met
Actually, the only monthly goals I met from April was to put some money into savings and mail out cards. I fell behind on my blog posts. Researching the JITP took a back seat in favor of new publication opportunities. My grant application is still in-progress. And home repairs will have to wait until Kyle has more time to help. [Or I can try to bribe some friends!]
Weekly Goals Met
Here, I was slightly more successful. I did attend writing group as I could. I took a couple of social-media free weekends. And I did get back into yoga (although not quite 3x a week). But I didn’t live up to my goal of calling people often. The French lessons also took a back seat (but are a major part of my June goals!).
Daily Goals Met
Although I didn’t do very well with the water goal, I managed to meet every other daily goal almost every. single. day. And it made me feel much better about not making progress elsewhere. Little-by-little. It adds up.
Positive Reflections: April and May
Kyle and I celebrated 6 years of marriage (and we got to celebrate it together for only like the 2nd or 3rd time)! We toured the monuments of D.C. one weekend. We had a wonderful dinner. And he got me my long awaited Coach bag!
Many cool field trips with my Public History students!
I got to go to Tobago for the first time for a conference. I made some great new friends there and won a travel award. And I might be getting a publication out of it!
I got to see Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness in Philly!
For the PowerSheets that I use, June is a 3-month refresh month. This gives me a chance to reflect upon my yearly goals to see the progress I’ve made. It also gives me a chance to set new goals or re-define my current goals.
I want the next three months to be filled with joy and exploration. This summer is going to be about learning, living purposefully, loving, and thriving.
My goals from the year are still relatively the same. I have made a few adjustments to accomodate the progress and changes over the last 3 months. Kyle and I joined a gym. I’ve made conscious food decisions for a healthier lifestyle. And all of my goals seem to be progressing, little-by-little. June is going to be a big month of planning and achieving!
I am most excited about planning a vacation for July! It will be my first, proper vacation!
Preparing for June
June is all about mindfulness. The month may be halfway over, but it’s not too late for me to be more mindful. I’ve removed the Facebook app from my phone to limit my time on the application. I wasn’t nearly as mindful in setting my goals for June, but I have the opportunity to work on that for July & August!
June Goals: Letting Go
The “Let it Go” page of my PowerSheets is always one of my favorite things. I had a lot of issues with my Bipolar II depression this month. Reading through Cheyenne’s post reflecting on her 10 years of marriage really resonated with me. Not because my marriage is in trouble (thankfully), but because I worry about reaching that point. Her vulnerability and honesty is endearing. With my Bipolar II depression, I think I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself and, inadvertently, on Kyle. I always worry about everything. Most of it is not only out of my control, but nothing I should be worrying about. Recently, I’ve struggled a lot with imposter syndrome, feeling insecure about my appearance, and feeling like a failure.
June Goals: 2017
These goals aren’t perfect. Not all of them move me closer to the larger goals I’ve set. Some of them are too vague. But it’s a starting point. And each day I can make new choices.
Submit proposal to LSU Press: I was approached last month by an acquisitions editor interested in seeing my dissertation transformed into a monograph. I’m mostly done with this goal, actually, aside from revising 2 sample chapters to include with the full proposal.
And just like that, it’s April! Last month I made progress on some goals. On others…not so much. But as Lara Casey says: progress happens little-by-little. So I’m going to celebrate my little wins and ring in Spring with exuberance! The Spring edition of The Magnolia Journal has a quote that’s just too good not to share! (So much so that one of my favorite bloggers, Cheyenne Schultz, had the same idea to share it with you all as I did!)
“Welcome Spring. Make room for what matters. Breath Deeply. Tidy Up. Learn Something New. Choose Simplicity. Keep Growing.”
March was such a roller coaster for me in terms of managing my Bipolar II disorder. Some days I was just with it and some days I didn’t even want to get out of bed. But I feel pretty good about reaching some of my goals and making progress on others.
Monthly Goals Met
Taxes filed (I can thank the hard work of my husband for that one–although I did nag him and offer helpful info!)
Blog posts submitted (even though one of them was quite late, I’ve made huge strides on my blogging in a short amount of time)
Although I didn’t “meet” some of my goals, I did make progress. In particular, I worked on being kinder to myself. I also added some money to our savings account and am getting into the habit of creating a daily schedule. I’m shifting my grant application to April!
Weekly Goals Met
This is where I struggled the most, quite honestly! I didn’t meet any of my weekly goals in March. Spring Break really wrecked some of my weekly goals, especially writing group and exercising. But I’m going to utilize The Balanced Life‘s motto: grace over guilt. I’ll simply shift many of these over to April and continue to cultivate growth in these areas.
Daily Goals Met
Took my vitamins daily (with rare exception)
Bed by 10pm (almost every day)
Active 6 of 11 hours (improvement here!)
Dish-free sink (easy peasy)
Two areas of improvement for my day-to-day: drinking enough water and limiting my spending! One day at a time.
Positive Reflections: March Edition
Despite some setbacks and difficulties, I had a lot to be thankful for in March.
My PHist Freshmen; they call me Momma G and take time to foster a meaningful relationship with me
Kyle; he truly is a rock when I need to feel stable
Spring Break; I got to spend time with Kyle in Alabama and meet my friend Melissa’s not-so-newborn!
Had an opportunity to cultivate one of my friendships in the face of personal tragedy
Supported one of our students when he presented at the 2017 B’More Proud Leadership Summit
What’s ahead for the month of April
As it’s April, our semester is quickly coming to an end. That means it’s going to be a very busy month (even if my calendar doesn’t quite reflect that). Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I had to (quite sadly) cancel my trip to Boone to comment/chair at one of my favorite conferences: the Appalachian Spring Annual Conference in World History and Economics. But it did open up the opportunity for me to attend the 13th annual Privateer Festival in Fell’s Point!
This month I added my Outlook calendar to my organizing system. I think it will become my single-digital calendar platform for next year (once I sync it properly with my Google Calendar). I have a lot of grading in my future (projects, papers, blog posts, etc.) and many meetings to go. But one thing I’m REALLY looking forward to is heading to Philly on Friday for the Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness tour (with special guests Atlas Genius and Night Riots!) Another thing that’s really special is mine and Kyle’s 6 year anniversary. How has it already been 6 years!? I wish time would slow down. But now that it’s official I think it’s safe to share with you all: Kyle will be moving to the area very soon! No more traveling between Maryland and Alabama!!!!
For the month of April, I chose the word “Engage” as my word for the month. I know that it’s going to be so jam packed with deadlines and meetings and obligations that I wanted to remind myself to be present. I need to work hard to actively engage with my friends, my students, my family, and my colleagues. It’s a challenge I face daily. And I’m cultivating engagement one day at a time.
April Goals: 2017
I have lots of goals for the month of April. Some of them (especially my weekly goals) carried over from March. I want to continue to cultivate good habits daily, but some of them I don’t need reminders for anymore. And I decided to add one that wasn’t part of my personal health, but will help me with engagement.
Blog Posts: I want to keep up with these! I think they’re really helping me to focus and to work on my writing overall.
Grant Application(s): My friend Amanda just won two amazing grants (and she totally deserved them!). To see her struggle with the process (despite being absolutely brilliant!) made me feel even more motivated to knock this out this month. I was rejected from a fellowship I applied for, which initially had me re-thinking this goal. But the only way to win a grant is to apply. And keep applying!
Add $$$ to savings: A continuation for each month! One of my goals for 2017 was to learn to manage our finances better. Another goal for 2017 was to go on at least 1 vacation with Kyle. By paying attention to saving money, it will force me to think more critically about my spending.
Research JITP (Journal for Interactive Technology and Pedagogy) to possibly publish in: This will push me out of my straight academic work and help me to think critically about my place in Public History. I think this will make me a better educator, better researcher, and will knock out one of my 2017 goals!
Mail Cards: This is part of my engagement goal. I used to be amazing at sending out cards and notes, whether for birthdays, congratulations, or just because (ask my husband!). So I want to get back into that. Part of that is staying organized!
These last 3 goals I chose because with Kyle up here, they seem more attainable!
Organize Office (Home): I need to be able to work from home in a more organized way. Working in the living room/dining area is just not cutting it! I have an office at home, so I need to utilize it. But right now, it’s sort of a catch-all!
Paint Bedroom (Master): Our master bedroom is a DIY-gone wrong. Whoever owned the home before had some…interesting decorative choices. Right now it’s an odd shade of green with a “texturizing” overlay attempt, which makes it look like some really dated wallpaper. Time for a lovely shade of light blue!
Replace Foyer Flooring: Right now it’s an old, dark brown parquet style laminate that looks dated and too dark. I want to brighten the foyer up with something light, but still easily cleanable! Keeping my options open right now!
Many of these will look very familiar!
Attend Writing Group(s): I’ve been slack about attending the Stevenson Writing Group on Fridays due to conflicts with student meetings and deadlines. But no excuses! I also managed to go to this month’s Baltimore History Writer’s group, which reminded me of how important it is to read the work of other’s and get back into a history research mindset!
French Lessons (1 hour): I keep saying “I’ll get to it.” And I haven’t. So this will be the month. It will happen! And if I can do it at least one hour a week, then this summer hopefully I can up it to two!
Yoga/Exercise (3x a week): I still want to cultivate this and make it a habit.
Call someone just to catch up: I am an awful friend when it comes to keeping in contact via the phone. Social media makes it too easy, I think, to reduce our engagement in other ways. So this month, I’m going to make a more concerted effort to check in with friends. There are so many exciting things happening in their lives and if I’m not careful, I won’t be part of them any more!
Social Media Free Weekend: This is going to be tricky. Social media is the one way I can connect with all the loved ones I have who are so far away from me. But if I can do this at least once this month, I’ll feel really accomplished. Clearly the first weekend was a bust (because of the Privateer Festival). But moving forward, I’ll simply save my weekend adventures to share on Mondays! The goal: 7pm Friday nights until 7am on Monday mornings.
Water (64+ oz. a day): Coming down with food poisoning yesterday helped kickstart me on this goal for the month. Now if I can just keep up with it!
Use Waterpik: I bought a Waterpik Aquarius Flosser late last month at the stern suggestion of my new dentist. He said that since my teeth are so tightly compacted in my tiny mouth (yeah, my mom will get a kick out of that!), regular flossing just isn’t cutting it. I can already tell a huge difference in just a couple weeks, so I need to keep it up. Less bleeding from my gums, minimal tooth/gum sensitivity compared to before, and a really great check up when I got my recent fillings (the result of bad flossing).
Vitamins: I’ve done fairly well with this and could probably remove it, but for now, I’ll continue to grow in this area!
Active 6 of 11: I’ve done better with this than I imagined. But I still need to be more active on days that I’m not teaching all day!
Compliment Someone: This is new! As a way of engaging not only with people I already talk to and care about, I want to use this opportunity to compliment strangers. One small way to brighten someone’s day with a sincere compliment!
We must let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. –Joseph Campbell
I find myself saying “as soon as” way too often. “As soon as” summer is here, I’ll be more productive. “As soon as” I have free time from teaching, I’ll exercise more. So this month, I will engage with the present. I will work to be here, in the now, and stop saying “as soon as” quite so often. My life is happening now. And I need to stop
My life is happening now. And I need to stop expecting it to look like something other than what it is, unless I actively change it.
Recently I reviewed Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution for the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC). It was my first opportunity to do a digital humanities exhibition review. Normally I’m tasked with doing traditional book reviews. I encourage anyone interested to check out HASTAC and offer to review a digital exhibition!
What is HASTAC?
According to their website, HASTAC is an “interdisciplinary community of humanists, artists, social scientists, scientists, and technologists that are changing the way we teach and learn.” They have over 13,000 members from over 400 different affiliations. Founded in 2002, HASTAC shares “news, tools, research, insights, pedagogy, methods, and projects–including Digital Humanities and other born-digital scholarship–and collaborate on various HASTAC initiatives.” HASTAC is a free and open access community. And they have a number of exciting current initiatives under way!
I’m unsure if I have the right to share the full review on my page. So I’m linking you directly to the review on HASTAC’s website. It can be found here. In the meantime, here’s the introduction in the hopes that it will lure you to the full review!
“Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution derives its clever name from two unique understandings of the word “click:” one being a 1970s term referring to the moment when a woman awakened to the powerful ideas of contemporary feminism, and the other referencing the click of a computer mouse connecting individuals to powerful ideas on the Internet. The objective of the site is to explore the power and complexity of gender consciousness in American life throughout history from the 1940s to present. In this capacity, the digital exhibition succeeds brilliantly and appears to be current with modern scholarship on the many subjects covered—no easy task.”
This post about my TEDx experience originally appeared on my guest blog for the British Naval History website.
A few months ago a call came across our university Portal asking for TEDx speakers. For those unfamiliar, TEDx is a way for local, independent organizers to host TED style events. The students, faculty, and staff who organized the TEDx: Stevenson University event chose “Embracing Change” as the theme. Initially, I was hesitant to submit a talk proposal. Sure, I’d given countless conference talks over the last decade. But this was different. The only guidance was the theme. We could talk about ANYTHING that could be construed as “embracing change.” What could I possibly say that would be of any relevance? But I also couldn’t pass up the opportunity. So I decided to throw my proverbial hat into the ring. What follows is a mix of information from my talk and a reflection of my experiences.
When people learn what I do, they assume that I’ve always wanted to be an educator. But the reality is a little more complicated and, I think, important to the development of my own pedagogical methods. The idea of “embracing change” seems to be something like a mantra for my entire life. I grew up in an extremely lower “middle class” blue-collar family. Neither of my parents had the opportunity to attend college. In fact, my father had to drop out of high school before graduating in order to help care for his mother and later went back for a GED while in the Navy. We settled in the piedmont region of North Carolina when I was about 8 years old and from that point forward I attended relatively small public schools for K-12.
Although many in my high school had plans for college, it was in no-way a foregone conclusion that all of us would go to college. Knowing my parents’ dire financial situation, college seemed impossible. But my mom managed to squirrel away $50 for me to send in one college application. So it was all or nothing for me. Just a few short months later I was accepted to Appalachian State University in the mountains of North Carolina: requiring a $300 deposit to secure my spot to be paid within 2 weeks.
Would I make it to College?
I sat in my AP English class during the lunch break and cried. My mom had barely been able to scrape together the $50 to apply. How could we possibly come up with $300 in just 2 weeks? My AP English teacher happened to find me mid-tears and asked me to fill him in on the details. Three days later, I received confirmation that my deposit had been paid. It came with information on summer orientation sessions and dorm assignments. I asked my mom how she did it and she simply said “I didn’t.”
Now, I don’t know if I’ve altered this memory in some way. But in my mind, I am confident my AP English teacher found a way to cover my deposit. Or my mom lied so I wouldn’t feel bad. Either way, it was to be the first time in my now-adult life that I would be forced to embrace change: I would soon become a first generation college student.
Me: The College Years
Now, if you’re thinking that I immediately decided to be a teacher in that moment due the actions of my AP English teacher, I’m sorry to disappoint. I had no idea what I wanted to do. My dreams of becoming a medical doctor had been thwarted by an unkind counselor and I didn’t know what my passion was. College was a new experience. I was no longer necessarily the “smartest” kid in class. I had to learn how to study and manage my time. And I had to do it all myself. There didn’t seem to be many obvious & readily available resources for someone like me. Someone who didn’t come from a background of family members who went to college.
First, I earned my B.A. in Archaeology. But 3 herniated discs in my back during the required dig made it clear I had no future in the laborious field of Archaeology.
My next step was to earn an M.A. in Public History, which I thought would marry my love of archaeology and history with a field that was less physically demanding. But after a snoozefest of an 8 week internship, I realized that, too, wasn’t my calling. So as I talked out my frustrations with one of my professors, she asked me what my favorite thing about working on my M.A. was.
On to the PhD!
It was in this moment, nearly 5 years after that fateful day in high school that it clicked: my favorite part had been working as a T.A., developing assignments, and helping the undergraduate students. So with the advice of several other professors and roughly 8 rejections later, I found myself on my way to The Ohio State University. This would be another major chance for embracing change. I’d never lived anywhere but the East Coast before. And no one I knew (aside from my professors) had ever earned a PhD. Somehow I had managed to navigate the difficult world of the B.A. and the M.A. But the PhD was filled with acronyms and phrases and language I had never heard before.
Changes in Academia
It was during my time at OSU that I learned a lot about the changing field of higher education. This was most often in the form of laments about what was wrong with those changes. So I began to develop an evolving pedagogy that, in my mind, would embrace those changes. All through the PhD process I heard about how I’d never land an academic job because there simply weren’t any. I was told that online education was bunk. Many told me that technology was ruining the classroom and that students just didn’t care about education anymore. And for a long time I bought into those grievances because they came from scholars and mentors whose opinions I respected.
And who was I, a lowly PhD student, to question them? Their lamentations and fears seemed supported by the latest musings. Stuart Butler of the Brookings Institute, a highly respected thinktank, argued in 2013 that traditional college models should give way to “contractor models,” in which the “core business function of the contractor-college would be assembly and quality control rather than running an institution and hiring faculty or holding classes.” Basically, the college would customize a package of courses and educational experiences from many suppliers.
Similarly, Dr. Alex Hope suggested that “the ‘academic’ of the future will not be tied to an institution, but be a thought leader, communicator, and teacher undertaking a range of activities on a freelance/contract basis-and that the world would be a better place for it…” Many colleges have taken advantage of the model Dr. Hope recommended, leading to our current adjunct crisis. And as far as pedagogy, several colleges, like George Washington University and the College of William & Mary, and countless professors took to banning technology from their classrooms arguing that laptops and phones have become powerful distractions, calling students “tech addicts.”
My Current Pedagogy: Digitally-based Assignments
Rather than focus on what is or isn’t changing, I used the TEDx talk to offer just one example of a way that we can “embrace change” in the classroom pedagogically: digital assignments & literacy. This is not to say embracing change for the sake of change. Rather I tried to demonstrate how we might marry traditional modes—like exams and lectures—with innovative course/assignment designs that take advantage of tech in the classroom.
Most recently, Cathy N. Davidson, distinguished professor and founding director of the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, argued that we must recognize that educational structures should meet the needs of the time, to “train active learners who don’t just fit into the status quo, they challenge it.” Although my examples represent my field—history/humanities—I firmly believe that those in other fields can implement assignments in their own way.
My pedagogy has been, and is, shaped by both my own background, educational experiences, and the ever-evolving backgrounds/needs of the student population. My educational philosophy is grounded in four important principles that I believe create an active and involved classroom environment: passion, creativity, independence, and clarity. I’ve been able to create digitally-based assignments and incorporate digital/visual elements—such as music videos, historical reenactments, or comedic sketches—into my classrooms to help foster those principles. I’ve found that it has helped students understand that A. history doesn’t have to be a boring, rote memorization of names, dates, and places and B. that they can incorporate many of the skills they learn in my classroom—digital or not—into their daily lives and future careers.
Digitally-Based Assignments: A Learning Process
I think one of the ways that digitally-based assignments have not always been as successful and impactful as they could be is the result of the “digital native” myth, which Stevenson English Professor, Dr. Amanda Licastro, discusses in her recent open-access publication on the problem of multimodality. Assuming that students have certain digital literacy skills due to growing up with this technology at their fingertips undermines students’ ability to successfully complete many digitally-based assignments. Even I’ve had to learn the digital world. One example Dr. Licastro discusses in her case studies is the use of multimedia, folksonomic elements—or tags/categories—and commenting in digital writing, such as blog posts, Learning Management System (LMS) assignments, Tweets, etc.
By scaffolding “digital literacy practices into assignments with careful attention to the rhetoric they use and intentional instruction” and developing these skills in the academic environment suggests Dr. Licastro, instructors may cultivate active digital citizens and more successful digitally-based assignments. This is still a learning process for myself and I’ve learned that I have to be specific and teach the students how to use the elements I want them to use. I just wanted to share a few of digital assignment examples from my recent classes that help harness students’ dependence on social media in a way that can be not only academically productive, but develop digital skills that employers desire from recent graduates.
Digitally-Based Assignments: Some Examples from my Classroom
These examples demonstrate how, despite being digitally-aware, students demonstrated varying proficiency with the Twitter platform. The only directive I gave starting out was to create a handle specific to their “persona” and to use a hashtag I created for use with that specific class. As you can see, some students were better about incorporating other folksonomic and multimedia elements than others. I’ve learned that I have to begin creating more “rules” for the assignment and teach them how to use the platform, rather than assume they know how to do so; especially how to make a succinct point in 140 characters or less.
By allowing my students a bit of creativity and flexibility, I was turned on to a new tech platform that is great for my field: Tripline. Students are able to create digital “roadtrips” showcasing important historical landmarks along the way. It allows me to incorporate basic map-usage, digital writing, and multimedia skills into a single assignment. It also forces the student to think constructively about the point they are trying to get across.
PowerPoint is not a new tool, but I’ve found that students often have very minimal skills when using the software. Aside from choosing a pre-made layout, students often incorporate too much text, too few visuals, and little-to-no animations. This is a demonstrable way for me to marry the traditional PowerPoint with new modes of thinking. In my assignment, I require them to design their slides as if they were Museum Exhibit panels. It forces them to think more specifically about the layout, text-to-visual ratios, and “visitor” attention spans.
Blogging is another tool that isn’t as “new” as others, but offers another way to teach digital literacy in the classroom. I’ve found that students often have difficulty navigating new platforms (ex. WordPress vs. Tumblr). They also use tags, categories, and multimedia elements with varying proficiency. It’s another assignment that I’ve had to be more explicit in my expectations. This helps students to understand how and why to use folksonomic and multimedia elements. They seem to understand “tags” in a loose sense for things like Instagram (as a way to drive traffic). But students aren’t always able to transfer that skill to other modes of digital writing.
Tiki-Toki: Interactive Timelines
Timelines are a pretty traditional and standard way of laying out information across time/space. Tiki-Toki and similar platforms allow students to translate the traditional skill of linear-thinking with critical thinking, examining not just when, but why, events have occurred. Not only do students lay events out on a timeline, but they provide categories for those events in a variety of ways (in this example: sources vs. structural elements) and incorporate multimedia elements to support their historical research.
I was the last person to speak during the day-long event. But I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who stuck around to hear me talk. The variety of topics within the theme of “Embracing Change” made for a wonderful experience. And there was a great mix of students, faculty, and staff who gave presentations. Each one was unique. Many were deeply personal and heartwrenching. Although mine was pedagogically focused, I hope many found it useful. As far as conclusions about my digitally-based assignments, it’s a learning process.
Don’t assume tech is useless or too complicated. Much like any other skill, students will have varying proficiency. Think about scaffolding assignments. This allows you to incorporate specific skills you want students to achieve or specific target goals (like X number of multimedia elements). Routinely incorporate digital technologies into the classroom/syllabus so that it becomes a natural extension of your pedagogy. Harness students’ reliance on digital devices and social media usage. Let digitally-based assignments serve as teachable moments regarding digital presence.
The Live-Stream Video
Below is the live-stream video from the second half of the event. I start at 1:25:25, but please feel free to listen to the other speakers!
This post originally appeared on our class blog for Hist 209: Research and Writing in History. I pondered for a long time how best to model a blog post to my Hist 209 01 students. I decided that demonstrating what some of my research was like in my early PhD years could be useful. It would also offer them just one example of how public AND academic historians can utilize blogging. There are no shortage of amazing public/history related blogs out there. Great examples include the National Council on Public History (NCPH) blog, “History@Work,” the Junto Blog of early American history, and Pamela Toler’s blog “History in the Margins.”
As digital skills are increasingly necessary in many of today’s fields, our public history students need to understand the fundamentals of digital public history. This includes blogging. Posts need to be readable. They need to be engaging. And they need to contain a multitude of elements, like subheadings, multimedia, links, and folksonomic elements (i.e. tagging). According to Thomas Cauvin in Public History: A Textbook of Practice, “digital tools are transforming the work of historians…” (pg. 174) Not only are being digitized, but scholars can reach wider audiences through digital publication. And public history venues can exhibit vastly more than physical displays can hold.
Blogging, in particular, can be a great way to crowdsource and engage the public with various projects. For example, MarineLives.org has crowdsourced the transcription and translation of many archival documents like UK High Court of Admiralty records and Probate records. This makes such documents easily accessible to the public. This is not only for those who cannot visit the archives physically, but also for those who have difficulty deciphering the handwriting. And the Preserve the Baltimore Uprising Archival Project enables the community to contribute and shape the narrative of protest and unrest in Baltimore. What follows, then, is an example for my students about how they can blog effectively to engage their audience.
I learned a lot of valuable information during each of these trips. Some of it was related to my work, some of it was learning about how to be a better research. There is no better method to becoming a better researcher than to physically enter an archive and get your hands on the records. During my first major research trip, in England, one valuable lesson I learned was to double-check the archive’s operating hours before making the mile-long walk in frigid January temperatures. I woke up bright and early that Monday morning, excited to dive head-first into my research. Turns out that the National Archives in Kew are closed on Mondays.
I also learned that you should make sure your camera is fully-charged. And that you remembered to buy/bring a memory card. There are few feelings worse than showing up ready to get through some volumes only to realize you have a dead camera on your hands. Needless to say, I’m glad I had 8 weeks in England because I made a ton of mistakes in the first 2 weeks. And I still have a lot to learn when it comes to being a good researcher.
Research is a Process
Below is a list of just a few tips and tricks you might utilize as you venture into the world of research: [This list is my own, with tips adapted from William Cronon and Richard Marius]
ask good questions
identify your audience
imagine your ideal sources
determine what sources you can realistically access
keep an open mind (don’t limit your searches to narrow keywords or phrases)
question your sources
take notes (and make them thorough so you can refer back without forgetting why you made that note)
avoid confirmation bias
mine bibliographies to check out their sources
don’t rely solely on digitally available sources (there might be transcription/translation errors, for example)
ask for help
develop new questions based on your sources
seek scholarly secondary sources (i.e. monographs via reputable publishers and peer-reviewed journal articles; general websites, encyclopedias, etc. are not usually considered “scholarly”)
Examples from the Archives
What follows are some examples from my time in the archives researching piracy, smuggling, and illicit trade in the early modern Caribbean-Atlantic. Some of the documents I found were relevant to my research. But many were not. And some of them were downright amusing. Whether the sources were relevant to my work or not, each document contributed to my overall experience. You’ll see that I don’t have the volumes listed below. That’s because these were taken with my cell phone. I photographed all of my true archival work with a Nikon point-and-shoot camera and noted in a research journal. Again, many rookie mistakes.
Initially I thought that this document would be immensely helpful. It listed a number of prizes brought into the local admiralty. While it was useful, several pages were missing, which made it difficult to properly contextualize.
Although relatively difficult to read, this is some of the better handwriting I encountered. According to this deposition in 1719, “…and after all the said Pirates were all gon[sic] out of the said River, he the Informant understood that the Inhabitants on Shoar had received several parcels of goods from the said Pirates…”
Sometimes prize vessels just weren’t worth it… In 1796 a treasury record states that “…the Yellow Fever was brought to Bermudas in a Prize vessel by which upwards of two hundred of the Inhabitants had fallen victims…”
These were the best records to come across. I got an idea of what went unrecorded in illicit activities by seeing what was recovered.
Some repercussions of the American Revolution. #SorryFrance
I found this 1614 admiralty deposition while in the Netherlands. My Dutch reading skills were not up to par for that trip, BUT, I did find some useful items.
Being governor of Virginia in the mid-17th century must have been quite a chore. Here, a deposition says that Berkeley was “abused and Called Pittiful, ffollow Puppy, and Sonn of a Whore...” Nothing worse than being called a follow puppy I suppose.
This came from my time in the Bermuda Archives. 3000 pounds sterling for “scandall and defamation.” Ouch.
Some men finding themselves unemployed and in distress; but they “helped themselves by unsavoury bitches…”
In 1796, a resident of Bermuda reportedly “…had lately spoken very disrespectfully of me in the Billiard Room…he has said that the Governor was a ‘damned Republican Rascal’...” A warrant was issued and he was punished.
A 1775 map detail of the Mississippi River by Nathaniel Lindegreen.
An 18th century coded document I found in the State Papers volumes. I didn’t have time to find the cypher to decode the letter.
Apparently in 1660s Jamaica, Governor Edward D’Oyley banned people from carrying a “stick of fire” or a “pipe of tobacco lighted” through a field of canes in Jamaica.
Can you believe it’s March already!? It seems like just yesterday I was ringing in the new year and planning my yearly goals. When I reflect on the last couple of months, I’m not nearly where I’d hoped I’d be. But I’ve made progress and I think that’s really the important point. Last year I bought Lara Casey’s PowerSheets, hoping that the sheets would help me more clearly define my goals and organize myself. Let’s just say….I wasn’t very good at completing them last year. This w as not the fault of the PowerSheets or of Lara’s message. I just wasn’t ready.
But I entered 2017 with renewed hope and motivation, excited to use the newly streamlined version of the PowerSheets. I bought the 12 month dated version again in the hopes that it would prevent me from skipping sections. If I bought the undated, I worried I’d tell myself “Oh, just come back to it later.” Confession: I almost never “come back to it later.” I am the worst about multitasking, procrastinating, and down right forgetting. So I thought that as I share my goals each month (lets hold each other accountable, y’all!), I’d share my PowerSheets pages as well.
So you’ll see that I was really successful with some goals and totally bombed others. But as Emily Ley says: Grace, not perfection. I just got back into blogging this year thanks to my friend and colleague, Sam, who runs the British Naval History website. And doing so encouraged me to make better use of my personal website. I’ve long admired the blogs of Lara, Emily, Cheyenne Schultz, and the Cultivate What Matters team. They’re truly inspiring in their own ways. So I’m hoping my blog can be an inspiration to someone. And that it will help me achieve my personal, professional, and academic goals in new ways. I was thrilled when I marked that off my “monthly goals” last month, especially since I only made minor progress on my other monthly goals.
Rather than reflect on how badly I did with some of my goals, you’ll see I simply shifted many of them to this month. In particular:
creating a daily schedule
researching/writing each week
working on my French lessons each week
drinking more water
Positive Reflections on February
A lot of fun and exciting things happened in February. All too often, I bury the positives under the “daily drudgery” and forget to be thankful for those moments. So here are just a few of the highlights from February:
had an unexpected visit from Kyle (along with some pretty positive news that we’ll hopefully be able to share soon!)
attended the opening night premier of The Nether put on by my university’s Theater and Media Performance department with my friend Amanda
had a belated “Galentine’s Day” celebration with Amanda, Kerry, Lily, and Zina
got to give a (well-received) Tedx talk at the university
a couple of colleagues and I took several of our Public History students on a trip to Oregon Ridge Nature Center for a maple syrup/sugar event
I’m really happy that the Cultivate What Matters team moved the”Spring Refresh” between February & March this year instead of placing it between March & April. Yes, I know that Spring doesn’t technically start until March 20th this year. So it might seem odd to do the Spring Refresh at the beginning of March, but it was actually much needed for me. I love the idea of different types of “clutter” in our lives. Categorizing things in this way is helping me to make purposeful decisions about what to “clear out” of my life. In particular, I’ve found I’ve spent way too much time on social media. Part of that has to do with the fact that my loved ones are all quite far, physically, from me. So social media makes it much easier to stay in touch. But between the “highlight reel” of peoples lives (especially baby announcements and academic progress) and today’s political climate, I’m overwhelmed. One goal for Spring, then, is to limit my time during the week. And to try for “Social Media Free” weekends. You’ll see further below that I’ve tried to add that to my “Monthly Goals” for March.
Yes and No for Goal Reaching
My FMEC (Faculty Mentoring and Evaluation Committee) has encouraged me to learn to say “no” to things that are not going to move me forward in reaching my goals. As Lara Casey often says, “Remember: saying NO to one thing means you are saying YES to something potentially better.” I’ve found, in my second year of full-time teaching, that I’ve said “yes” to far too many commitments. I’m on 5 (maybe 6?) university committees. I’ve joined 2 writing groups (one meets monthly, one meets weekly). I teach 4 classes a semester. I’m editing an article for someone. I’ve aimed to attend yoga at least 3 times a week. Any time I’m invited to something (university event, field trips, etc), I almost always say yes. And don’t get me wrong, I love being so involved and feeling like such an integral part of my university.
But I’m finding that maybe I’ve stretched myself too thin. I was inspired by Lara’s reflection:
What does “having it together” mean anyway? Define the lie and the truth. The lie: I have to have the perfect plan and perfect results or I’m a failure. False. The truth: To me, having it “together” means I don’t have to do it all.
For too long I’ve thought that not only do I have to “do it all,” but that I have to do it well. And the truth is: I can’t. So my focus word for the next three months is FAITH. Faith that I can so no to things that drain me. Faith that I can say yes to things that motivate me. And faith that I can let go of my self-doubt, excuses, and worry. I want to fill the next three months with love & learning, purpose, rest & rejuvenation, and most importantly: friends & family.
What’s Ahead for the Month of March
One of the things that I’m considering next year is buying 2 sets of PowerSheets: one for personal goals and one for work/academic goals. Because I noticed in each section of the PowerSheets prep, I was struggling to narrow things down in a meaningful way. But for now, you’ll see the two sets of goals are intertwined. I chose Self-Care as my word for the month of March because my word for 2017 is Balance. And I think self-care is an important component of seeking and finding balance in our lives. I have a lot of things on my calendar for this month, but I kept my PowerSheets list pretty short. All of my to-dos are already spread across my Google Calendar, my physical day-planner, and my large office wall calendar. Maybe that’s another thing for next year: a single-calendar system.
Yeah….ignore the fact that I tried to make Spring Break a week later than it actually is. But of all the things I have coming up this month, it is the one thing I think I’m the most excited about. Even if I will be grading midterm exams during that time. I’ve loved using the Cultivate What Matters sticker book to help make everything seem more fun. If anyone wants to send stickers my way, I’m happy to take them off your hands! But it’s become increasingly clearer that I need to focus on organization and clarity in the coming months. I think it will make achieving my goals in March much easier (hopefully) and will make me feel more productive.
March 2017 Goals
Drum roll please…..
Here are my March 2017 Goals. You’ll see that many of them are carried over from February, but that’s ok. My daily goals, in particular, are goals that I aim to make habits. So they’ll likely be part of my daily goals every month.
Create a daily “schedule”: I hope that this will prevent me from spending too much time on certain tasks and not enough on others. And hopefully it will help me more easily meet my weekly goals.
Add $$$ to our savings account: One of my goals for 2017 was to learn to manage our finances better. Another goal for 2017 was to go on at least 1 vacation with Kyle. By paying attention to saving money, it will force me to think more critically about my spending.
Write one grant application: Here’s a confession for you: I am awful at writing grant applications. I routinely ask for less money than I need. I feel completely incapable of “selling myself” to the funding agencies. Why is my work worthy? And why should they give me money over someone else?
Be kinder to myself: I am notoriously hard on myself. I never feel like I’m enough (smart enough, productive enough, fit enough, available enough…enough, enough, enough). So this month I want to work on finding ways to be kinder to myself.
Blog posts: Well look at that? I’m already part way through this goal for the month! I’ve set a goal to blog on my personal page once or twice a month. This is an addition to completing my blog posts for the British Naval History website. If you guys have ideas about what you want to read about (for either site), let me know! I’m happy for suggestions!
Taxes $$$: I have always hated doing our taxes. Last year, Kyle took on the responsibility of filing and he’s much better at it than I am. But I can’t let that stop me from being involved. So I’m going to be helping Kyle with the taxes this year.
Exercise (at least) 3x a week: I want to continue doing yoga at least 3 times a week (if not more). But I’m adding to the goal this time by adding at least 1-2 days of strength training into the mix. I’ve never really put my health at the top of my priority list. And that has to change. I want to be healthy for myself. I want to be healthy for my family. If I’m not healthy then I will not meet most of the goals I’ve set for myself. Baby steps. I’m a work-in-progress.
French Lessons (1 hour per week): I didn’t even touch this goal last month. So this month I intend to set aside 1 hour each week (whether that’s broken up into short increments or all at once). And from there, I can increase the amount of time I spend as needed. I think creating that “daily schedule” will help in achieving this goal.
Research/write (1 hour per week): Last month I had the goal of setting aside 2-3 hours per week for my research/writing related to my academic work. I think I was a bit overly ambitious.
Attend Writing Group: I placed this under “weekly” goals because I ended up having a lot of excuses last month. No more. This goal is directly attached to my research/writing goal. 2 birds, 1 stone.
Take my vitamins: I’ve found taking my daily vitamins also helps me to remember to take my heart medication and to brush/floss/rinse. Win-Win.
Drink 64+ oz. water: I am the worst about drinking enough water. Although I limit my coffee intake, it often means not drinking anything else during the day.
In bed by 10pm: Establishing a defined sleep routine will hopefully help prevent me from feeling tired all. the. time.
No frivolous spending $$$: Step one towards reducing debt and increasing savings.
Be active (defined by my Fitbit) for 6 of 11 hours: Having a fairly “sedentary” job leads me to large periods of inactivity. Being more active will hopefully make exercising weekly easier.
Leave a “dish-free” sink each night: I think I might have read about this in Emily Ley’s book, Grace Not Perfection, but I honestly can’t remember. But it’s something that I’ve found makes my morning routines easier. Instead of having to wash my coffee-making accoutrements before making coffee, everything is ready to go first thing in the morning.
These are just some of the things I have planned for the coming month. Some things are ongoing: like working on a Lowcountry Digital History Initiative project with some of our students. And building a digital humanities collaboration between our department and the English department alongside my friend Amanda. But I’m motivated and ready to make progress on my goals. I have to constantly remind myself: progress over perfection.
What are you goals for the month? For spring? For 2017!?
The original version of this post appeared on BritishNavalHistory.com and can be found here.
I thought long and hard about whether or not to write this post. Certainly others have already written about the subject far more eloquently than I ever could [See here, here, and here]. And there are no shortage of news articles about the “rising mental health crisis” in academia, which you can read here, here, or here. Furthermore, I’m no expert in the field of medicine or psychology. But I realized as I was talking with my students the other day that there is still a major stigma against mental health in the world at-large, especially in academia. Those in academia, whether students or faculty, often feel that if they suffer from some sort of mental health related issue—whether temporary or a permanent part of their life—that it means they’re weak or “not cut out” for the demands of academia or that they’ll never “make it.” So I’m not going to wax philosophical about large-scale solutions or attempt to “fix” the issue in this post. But I want to contribute to the conversation as we seek solutions by offering my own personal experiences and maybe suggest some starting points.
Often when we talk about mental health, we do so as if it is entirely separate from our physical health [further stigmatizing it in many ways]. But the reality is, our mental health is intricately tied to our physical health—whether our mental health impacts our physical health or vice versa. Just yesterday, a student of mine developed sudden onset chest pain and collapsed before being rushed to the emergency room. Knowing this student as I do and based upon our many conversations regarding school, work, and life responsibilities, I have no doubt that this was a physical response to an often hidden, internal war we rage with ourselves. I know it because I suffer from that internal battle myself.
My First Diagnosis
I have always been something of a perfectionist. I’m notorious for editing my papers as I write them (which, I’ve been told, is absolutely terrible for productivity), for reading over emails ten times before I send them or having legitimate mini-panic attacks if I find an error, and for berating myself for never being productive enough. Mental health issues run in my family: ranging from severe clinical depression to anger management issues to opioid dependency to general anxiety disorder. So it wasn’t a surprise to my mom when, at the tender age of 13, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and general anxiety disorder. I was treated with a barrage of medications as doctors sought one, or any combination, that would “even out” my hormones, serotonin levels, or mood/emotion neurotransmitters. I tried Prozac (which increased my suicidal thoughts), Wellbutrin (which caused my 105 lb frame to lose nearly 15 lbs in less than a month), Lexapro, Zoloft, Celexa, Cymbalta (which worked for a short time), and Effexor, just to name a few. Nothing seemed to “work.” In spite of this, by all accounts I appeared “normal.” I was an active kid who played on the soccer team and was a (albeit “nerdy” and “unpopular”) cheerleader and played softball. I had friends and I took AP classes and was in honors programs. But I suffered from severely low self-esteem and took to self-harm in the form of cutting from the age of 15 until 20. When my mom found out, I just found new ways to hide it. Cutting was the only thing in my life I felt like I had control over.
When I went to college, I decided to quit trying new antidepressants and did my best to manage my mental health issues on my own. That really meant that I tried to suppress them as I took course overloads nearly every semester of 18-21 credits while working part time and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life. I suffered from frequent headaches (sometimes to the point of migraines), neck pain, back spasms and pain, dehydration, irregular sleeping patterns, anemia, and poor eating habits (affecting my energy, which often felt non-existent). I was ALWAYS tired. Even though I tried working out or being active to help counter some of these issues, every time I was the least bit active, it felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest. I generally attributed those feelings to the asthma I had been diagnosed with as a child, but my inhaler was no longer effective in treating the symptoms. So I became less active, which freed up time for my academic work, but did nothing to improve my physical (or mental) well-being. I wanted to be the woman who did it all. I wanted the 4.0 GPA and stellar recommendations and perfect hair and a fit physique and beautiful handwriting and to be artistic and adventurous and travel and publish, etc.
My friends in college were supportive and we helped each other through those struggles. Having that safety net, I think, was one of the major contributors to my sanity during those years. So when I graduated a year early and had the choice of staying at the same college for grad school or going to another local college nearly 3 hours away, I stayed so that I could stay with my friends while they finished their degrees. I couldn’t bring myself to leave that sense of security. And while in grad school, I made new friends in that program who filled the void when my undergraduate friends all graduated and left. I coped with my mental health issues in my Master’s program by consuming copious amounts of coffee (I’m talking, quite literally, 12-18 cups a day), binge drinking, and developing unhealthy attachments to my significant others at the time. Looking back on those days, I appeared like a disaster waiting to happen. I clearly couldn’t “do it all” and I clearly wasn’t actually addressing my mental health issues. A total breakdown seemed inevitable. I am fortunate that such a breakdown never came to pass and I’m still not quite sure how I avoided that scenario as I headed into the PhD program.
While in my PhD program, I really had to come to terms with the fact that I hadn’t been successfully coping with my mental health problems at all and that if I didn’t make some sort of change, I would be bound for collapse. Unlike the MA program, which allowed a high level of sociability, I found the PhD program to be much more isolating. Not only had I moved a solid 8 hours away from my friends and family in North Carolina, but this time I had no roommate, no significant other, and no real connection to the area. I made friends in the program, to be sure, but it wasn’t the same. I think part of that is because we knew that as colleagues at this level, we were—in many ways—in competition with each other. Competing for fellowships and research grants and travel awards and conference slots and the best classes to teach as part of our assistantships and publishing opportunities. And I’ve found that academia—especially the humanities—can be an isolating place. Unlike some fields, collaboration still feels fairly taboo and viewed with skepticism within the field of history. Even outside of graduate school, the competition for ever-dwindling resources causes many to keep their peers at arm’s length. And bringing up any perceivable “weakness” like mental health problems felt like putting a target on your chest. The same things I’d struggled with earlier carried over to the PhD program: headaches, general body pain, nerve sensitivity, poor sleep, lack of energy, frequent illness, etc.
It was while I was in the PhD program, though, that I met my husband. He wasn’t in academia and he provided me with an outside perspective and clarity that forced me to really reflect on what I’d been doing to myself for the last several years. He recognized that I was running myself into the ground and that it was affecting me physically. My husband encouraged me to take frequent breaks, would remind me to eat and to drink water and to reduce my coffee intake, and tried to keep me from staying up to all hours of the night working. I wish I could say that I managed to turn everything around immediately; that marriage was my cure. But the fact is, that’s not how this works. I’m still a work-in-progress. But in meeting him, I’ve made some important discoveries about my mental and physical health that may help me learn how to more effectively manage my own issues and maybe help my students find ways to address their own. Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
The first major breakthrough was the fact that some of my physical issues were the result—not of asthma—but of an undiagnosed heart condition (that took 2 years, countless stress tests, 3 echocardiograms, a Holter Monitor, 1 transesophageal echocardiogram, and 4 cardiologists to discover) called Ventricular Septal Defect. Knowing the issue and finding treatments to address the symptoms has helped me to regain some activity in my life. I know, now, that I have to limit my cardio exercise (so I save it for hiking) and can focus on things like strength training and yoga in my general day-to-day. Additionally, I can no longer have the excessive amount of caffeine I once consumed in my younger years. I’m sure that my 12-18 cups of coffee a day in grad school really took a toll on my heart health and I potentially put myself in a very dangerous position without realizing it at the time. Finding the energy to be active is still difficult and I often use my lack of “free” time as an excuse to not be physically active. But yoga is having some small therapeutic effects on my mental health.
The second major breakthrough was when my current physician diagnosed me not as having clinical depression with general anxiety disorder, but as having Biopolar II disorder. The treatment process is different for Bipolar II and there are new options for me to consider in consultation with my physician. The tricky part is recognizing when I’ve slipped from my personal “normal” into a hypomanic episode or a state of depression. My husband can clearly tell when I’m in a hypomanic episode because I exude confidence, express a more positive outlook, and often have difficulty focusing because I jump from task-to-task much like someone with an attention deficit disorder. Those episodes are easier to recognize and often last for a very short amount of time. The more difficult to ascertain is when I’ve slipped into a state of depression, because it tends to resemble my personal “normal” initially. But I begin to realize when I’m in one of these states because my thoughts become more negative, my self-esteem drops, I lack the desire to do basic tasks (like showering, putting makeup on, brushing my teeth, or even moving my body at all), and I become even more tired than usual. When I thought I suffered simply from clinical depression, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just always feel as good as I did in what I now know was a hypomanic episode. I would beat myself up for not being able to maintain those positive emotions and outlook.
Whenever I meet my students for the first time each semester, I always include these 2 facts in my “introduction.” Several people have expressed to me that they think this is a bad idea because it makes me vulnerable, whether to attacks or manipulations from students or to repercussions from the administration where I work. I’m aware of the risks associated with being open and honest about my diagnoses. That it’s too personal. Certainly my personal life and details are still mine and I don’t “overshare” with my students. They don’t need to know that I cried in the shower for 45 minutes last night for no real reason. But I find that most of my students develop a new sense of respect for me as a result of my honesty about my general diagnoses because so many of them are struggling with their own mental and physical health issues. And when you know you aren’t alone, or that there’s someone who has managed to achieve success in various aspects of life, it provides a sense of hope that they can do it too. It has led to several students feeling comfortable enough to share with me their own struggles and I can point them in the direction of local or campus resources that can help them. Because too often they are either unaware of or afraid to seek out those resources. But with support, they’re more likely to take advantage of what’s available to them. And hopefully this means they’ll be less likely to suffer physical/mental breakdowns, fail classes, or drop out entirely.
There are still things that I struggle with in terms of finding “balance,” in my work and life, especially when I’m feeling particularly isolated in my new location and job. I still have trouble sleeping (but my two loveable Boxers try to help with the best puppy cuddles ever). I don’t eat as well as I should (Repeat after me: cheese is not a food group). And sometimes I forget to eat entirely or I overeat. I often have to force myself to be active (paying for a yoga membership helps) and schedule time to call friends and family (a huge shout out to those friends and family that stick with me, even when I feel like the world’s worst at keeping in touch). Although I try to stick to a sleep schedule, I end up working 16+ hour days and sleep too long in the mornings. I feel immense guilt if I don’t finish something right away or if I don’t spend ALL day working. I tend to answer my email immediately and at any time if I’m awake, even on weekends. And I overextend myself with commitments to committees and volunteer opportunities and conferences and projects. But I’m taking baby steps. And hopefully I’ll get better at saying “no” to things that matter less so I can start saying “yes” to things that matter most. Some of the things I’m trying to implement (some more successfully than others):
Drinking enough water
Not answering emails after 8pm during the week unless it’s an emergency
Limiting my answering of emails on weekends
Attempting social media-free weekends
Doing yoga at least 3 times a week
Creating a schedule to set time specifically for class-related work, research, and committee responsibilities to prevent too much emphasis in one area
Reducing my commitments
Allowing myself some down time each evening without guilt
Hopefully in time these will become habits, not just attempts. In the world of academia where I feel a constant sense of competition, grapple with imposter syndrome, and have an overwhelming schedule, it’s even more important for me to recognize the limits of my mental and physical well-being and to not overextend myself. And I want to encourage my colleagues and my students to develop self-awareness and set their own limits. Until we can talk more openly about our struggles without fear of repercussion or admonishment or shame, I worry more of my students and colleagues will find themselves on the verge of mental and physical breakdowns.
Enjoy this picture of my dogs and one of my attempt at sociability with colleagues for a belated Galentine’s Night:
Wow, where has the time gone!? Obviously, I’ve let everything (reading, editing, writing, work, etc) get in the way of maintaining this blog and website. I admit it: I’m a bad blogger. But rather than virtually flog myself for this shortcoming, I’m going to just jump back on the proverbial bicycle and start 2015 with renewed vigor. Here are my goals for February!
–Try not to let job rejections get me down. Yesterday I received three new rejections, each stating something along the lines of how I was “a competitive candidate” but that they chose to go with someone “better suited” to the position. My friends and colleagues have reminded me not to take it as a personal attack on my experience or abilities, but to see it as the Universe telling me that that was not the right job for me. I hope they’re right. And maybe I’ll be able to enter the academic market in the Fall.
–Continue to apply to any and all jobs matching my skills, interests, and abilities. I can’t let the rejections stop me from applying. And I need to learn to market my education and experiences in a way that show that while I’ve been in school non-stop, it doesn’t mean I don’t have applicable experience. This may require a serious CV/Resume overhaul and I desperately need to seek professional help.
–Try to get one of my dissertation chapters published. I’m nearly done with the suggested edits to one of my chapters and I need to try to get that submitted somewhere ASAP. The worst they can do? Reject me. I have nothing to lose.
–Finish the edits to the three completed chapters. In this way, I’ll be all set to write the last two chapters, as well as an intro/conclusion, and be able to submit the entire manuscript to my advisor for the full edit. I strongly believe that if I can just keep my chin up and my motivation high, I can finish the dissertation in time for a Summer 2015 graduation. It’s ambitious, but doable. There’s honestly no reason I shouldn’t be done already. But I’ve let issues with my advisor and my own personal fear get in my way. No more. It’s time to buckle down and get it done.
–Make sure I’m keeping tabs on my students and emails. I want to make sure that this, what may be my last semester teaching a class, is the BEST semester EVER! This weekend, I need to make sure that I’ve made my video introduction and have checked on their discussion posts.
–Get the dogs caught up on their vaccinations. With moving twice in the last 6 months, my poor pups are about a month overdue for their updated Bordotella shot. Also, we need to get them their annual heartworm test and set back up on Trifexis. Now that we’re more settled, I have the time to research vet offices more thoroughly (the last couple of experiences in the area have not been great) and find them their new, sole veterinarian office.
–Date Kyle. My husband and I have been trying to save money and eat healthier, so it’s rare to find the time to go on a date that is both inexpensive and doesn’t involve a restaurant. I’m hoping to set something up, like a drive out of town to go hiking or a trip to Savannah, just the two of us. No phones, no distractions, no stress.
–Finish Make it Happen by Lara Casey. This book, and Lara’s story, is incredibly inspirational. But it forces you to face your fears, acknowledge your mistakes, and challenges you to stop chasing perfect. At times, I shy away from this difficult task, but I make it my goal to finish this book this month.
–Keep up with going to the gym. I’m paying for the gym membership, I better use it. I’ve done really well in the last couple of weeks, but this week, I really lost track. Tomorrow, I’m going to kick butt and get back into that gym. No excuses. It’s all about making a schedule and sticking to it, not letting my irrationality get in the way.
–Same goes for meal prep. Again, I was doing really well cooking up all our meals on Sunday so they were ready to go. Since I had to wait, though, this week to buy chicken on Tuesday, it threw my schedule off and I failed to meal prep this week. I’ll be going to the grocery store on Sunday and making sure I have everything ready for meal prep (including lunches) this week. I’ll also make all of Kyle’s lunches on Sunday so he doesn’t have to go out for lunch.
–Make time for phone calls. I’ve gotten better about maintaining more contact with friends and family via text/Facebook, but now it’s time to take it a step further. I need to make it a point to spend at least 15 minutes in a voice conversation with my loved ones. It doesn’t have to be every week, but it needs to be more than once a month.
Here’s hoping that I can manage everything while maintaining my sanity and a smile on my face!