Back-to-school checklist

Although the weather continues to be hot here in Washington D.C., summer has come to an end for the students and workers of Howard University. I attended the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting just as school was beginning. This conference is spectacularly ill-timed to take place right before or during many schools’ first week of classes every year. I cancelled  my first day of classes and taught two days later after getting off a red-eye from the West Coast at 6am.

Regardless of  how you spend the last few days of summer, you may feel overwhelmed by the administrative details associated with resuming classes and committee work each fall. Because I think there are few life-problems that a good list can’t help address, I created a Back to School Checklist this year to help me remember some of the details that need to get taken care of for a smooth start. Feel free to adapt it for your own purposes as you like, I know I’ll be adding things as I remember them. And if you’re really list-crazy, take a look at the fun ones available at Knock-Knock (I find their “Pack This!” list particularly helpful). Or check out Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto – if nothing else, it’ll make you glad you don’t have to worry about whether you left a pair of scissors inside the last person you did surgery on before sewing them up.

 

Back to School Checklist

Classes

  • Confirm class time and space
  • Check audio-visual supplies: screen, projector, speakers
  • Finalize Syllabus
    • Update readings
    • Add new dates for each class meeting that correspond to this calendar year
    • Look at campus academic calendar and add dates to syllabus as needed (campus closed, last day to drop, etc)
    • Update assignments
    • Schedule guest-speakers
    • Schedule office-hours
  • Create course website (Blackboard, etc)
    • Make sure that enrolled students are in the system
    • Add syllabus
    • Upload readings
    • Set up places for students to turn in work for each assignment
    • Set up gradebook
    • “Publish” site so it is visible to students
  • Create attendance sheet
  • Create sign-up sheets (for example, if students will each facilitate a day of classroom discussion)
  • Order required books at campus bookstore
  • Put required books on reserve at campus library
  • Add chalk, eraser, or whiteboard pens to teaching bag as needed
  • Add paper and pens for big nametags on desk as needed
  • Prepare lesson plan and slides for first day of class. Make time to:
    • Do names and/or ice-breaker
    • Introduce self
    • Introduce class – with hook!
    • Review syllabus – use screenshots of book covers when possible
    • Sign up for assignments that are date-specific
    • Take attendance
    • Collect information of students hoping to get in to class

 

Research Assistants

  • Get students signed up for independent study classes as appropriate
  • Create proxy library accounts that let students check out books to my library account
  • Schedule first team meeting with students
  • Reserve room for team meeting
  • Prepare for first meeting
    • Review and organize prior student work
    • Prepare list of projects and tasks to be divvied up amongst group. Decide how many people are needed for each project
    • Create agenda
    • Create sharable to-do lists and timesheets
    • Update IRB “how to” document that details what students need to give me in order to be approved by the IRB as research assistants
    • Update all other “how-to” documents as needed to support student tasks
    • Select and upload introductory readings to help frame research tasks
    • Add students to Google Drive folder that houses group files
  • At first meeting
    • Introductions
    • Background on research projects and descriptions of tasks
    • Divide up tasks
    • Describe optional events happening this semester that students can participate in as part of their weekly hours to supplement their learning
    • Share contact information
    • Assign background reading
    • Give overview of the IRB and the describe the documents students need to provide to be approved by IRB as research assistants
    • Get familiar with the documents in the shared folder on Google Drive
    • Review project communications and tracking (to-do list, hours sheet)
    • Schedule training for students with librarian on how to find scholarly articles
    • Pick weekly meeting time
    • Schedule meeting between each project group and myself to provide training about how to get started with their task

 

Other

  • Add campus calendar dates to personal calendar (due dates for grades, last day of classes, etc)
  • Add dates on department calendar to personal calendar (faculty meetings, report due dates, etc)
  • Make work plan for year/semester
  • Post office hours on door
  • Return or renew library books
  • Clean office!

 

 

Overcoming Corporate Threats to Academic & Community Research on Industrial Animal Production

I chaired a panel discussion on “Overcoming Corporate Threats to Academic and Community Research on Industrial Animal Production” earlier this month at the annual meeting of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences. The panel was organized by Zoe Ackerman at the the Rachel Carson Council. It focused on the experiences of people whose health is impacted by the North Carolina hog industry. More specifically, panelists discussed industry intimidation and legal tactics designed to suppress research on the health impacts of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) on their nearby human neighbors. Steve Wing, the leading scholar on this topic, was part of the panel design, but in the end was unable to join. However, the following panelists gave a great overview of the issue and how it relates to broader threats to research in the public interest.

Keep an eye out for more work to come on this subject coordinated by the Rachel Carson Council. Also look out for announcements about the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network’s annual summit. In the meantime, the video below provides a short overview of our conversation. See also the following pinterest board where I collected articles I used to inform my framing remarks, which are not included in the video. I linked Steve Wing to Ignacio Chapela, William Cronon, Tyrone Hayes, and Anita Sarkeesian, who have all experienced serious push-back from the industries and social groups threatened by their research. Like many of the other panelists, I emphasized how industry relation against scholars has a chilling effect on the kinds of questions that we ask.

 

The view from faculty seating – HU Commencement with President Obama

Last Saturday Howard University hosted its 148th graduation ceremony. I donned my (borrowed) academic robes to celebrate our graduates and hear President Obama, our commencement speaker. I’ve shared my snapshots below to convey what it was like to attend and participate. They show: workers setting up for graduation during the last week of the semester, getting through security and onto campus on the day of the ceremony, faculty waiting for the event to begin and then processing into the the yard together, President Obama being “hooded” while he receives his honorary Ph.D., and the commencement ceremony. The last photo is of Sociology graduate Diamond Crumby showing off her awesome cap. Congratulations Diamond and the Howard class of 2016!

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For the full text of President Obama’s commencement address, click here. For video, click here. And for summary and analysis, try the following:

Classes are over now, but next year I plan to show the President’s commencement speech toward the end of my Introduction to Sociology class. I’ll ask the students to analyze it according to sociological concepts we’ve been learning (structure, agency, social stratification, intersectionality, theories of change, American individualism, etc.). Then I’ll have them chew on a few of the wide array of responses to his speech listed above. I like doing these sorts of activities to underscore how the concepts we are learning in the classroom get used in the political world, even if they are not always referenced by the same names. If any of you do something similar with the speech, let me know how it goes. I won’t be teaching Intro to Sociology again until next spring, so there’s plenty of time to build on your experience.

Film Screening and Discussion

This Thursday I’m hosting a screening of Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek at Howard University. The event is open to the community so please join us if you live in the area!

Here’s the film description:  “Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek  follows the painful but inspiring journey of Derrick Evans, a Boston teacher who moves home to coastal Mississippi when the graves of his ancestors are bulldozed to make way for the sprawling city of Gulfport. Over the course of a decade, Derrick and his neighbors stand up to powerful corporate interests and politicians and face Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster in their struggle for self-determination and environmental justice.”

After the screening, the following speakers will help us discuss the film:

  • Leslie Fields: Director of the Environmental Justice Program, Sierra Club
  • Brentin Mock: Staff writer, The City Lab
  • Terri Adams-Fuller: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences, Associate Dean of College of Arts and Sciences, Howard University.

The screening is timed to honor Earth Day (the next day), and also to promote Howard’s new Environmental Studies undergraduate major, which begins in the fall of 2016. Please join us!

When: Thursday April 21st, 6-8pm

Where: Screening Room West, CB Powell Building, School of Communications, Howard University

Co-sponsors: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences, School of Communications, Environmental Studies Program

 

Goodbye, UC Santa Cruz. Hello, Howard University!

This summer I graduated with my Ph.D. from UC Santa Cruz, packed up my home, and drove across the country to Washington DC. Since August 16th I have been working as an Assistant Professor at Howard University‘s Department of Sociology and Anthropology. The department is in developing an area of expertise in environmental justice scholarship, and next year the campus will launch a major in environmental studies. So, it’s an exciting time to join Howard’s faculty. I’m also looking forward to helping to bridge the new emphasis on environmental justice with the department’s existing expertise in medical sociology through research on environmental health. I hope to continue to collaborate with environmental justice/health scholars and activists in California and also make new connections here in Washington D.C.

When I left UC Santa Cruz, the campus was in the final stages of becoming a federally designated “Hispanic Serving Institution.” In the Sociology department, about 65% of the undergraduate majors were part of the first generation to go to college in their family. I enjoyed working with first-generation college students and the campus’s growing population of undocumented students, and am proud to now work at a historically black university also committed to populations underserved by higher education.

This year I am teaching “Introduction to Sociology” and “Environmental Inequality.” Over the next few years I plan to develop new courses in “Sociology of Environmental Health” and “Sociology of Food and Agriculture.” We are in our second week of classes already and the students have been great. But, I’ll miss being able to say that my school mascot is a banana slug!

If you are in the area, drop me a line to say hello!

My new professional home - Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall.

My new professional home – Frederick Douglass Memorial Hall.

Academic Job Market Timeline

Later today I’m participating in a professionalization panel in my department about academic planning. My contribution will be to walk through the timeline of applying for academic jobs. I’ll break the tasks down as follows, according to my experience in the field of Sociology.

Spring of the year before you go on the market

  1. Communicate with committee members. Make sure they are supportive of you going on the market in the fall. This includes having a conversation about the likelihood of you being ready to finish your dissertation within the next year. It also means asking how much of your writing needs to be completed before they will be willing to write letters of recommendation on your behalf.
  2. Communicate with other potential letter writers not serving on your dissertation committee, and confirm whether or not they are willing to write you letters, and what their availability will be for the following year. For example, will they be on sabbatical and unable or unwilling to write letters during that time?
  3. Ask your advisors and other academic colleagues about regularly offered postdocs and think about which ones might be a good fit for you. Many postdocs require you to already be in conversation with a member of the faculty at the hosting institution when you apply. That can take the form of a requirement for a faculty member to officially sponsor you, to write you a letter of recommendation, or to work with you on a collaboratively developed research proposal. Use your academic networks to get introduced to appropriate faculty members at the host institutions. The earlier you do this, the better. However, if you don’t get to this task in the spring, keep trying in the summer and fall.

Summer

  1. Ask to see the job documents submitted by any friends who have gotten academic jobs in the last few years.
  2. Prepare the following documents for use in your applications. Not all applications will ask for every one of these documents, but if you do a large search, you will need to use all of them at some point. You may also need to prepare a Diversity Statement, though only a small minority of applications require this document.
    1. CV
    2. Cover letter
    3. Research statement
    4. Teaching Statement
    5. Evidence of Teaching Excellence
    6. Research Proposal (for postdoc applications)
    7. Transcripts
    8. References
    9. PDFs of your publications and/or writing samples
  3. Tell friends in your academic networks that you are going on the market this year, and ask them to send you job announcements that they think might be a fit for you.
  4. Sign up for job announcements. Ask your advisors and other colleagues what listserves and job banks frequently post jobs in your area, and sign up for them. I looked for job announcements in the various professional listserves that I belong to, one of which I joined specifically for their job postings. I also used the following job banks:
    1. American Sociological Association Job Bank
    2. California State University job bank
    3. Vitae
  5. Create a system for tracking jobs that you plan to apply for, or have already applied for. Here’s a copy of my JobSearchTemplate.
  6. Get access to software with which you can edit pdfs. Many of your job applications will ask for multiple documents to be put together in a single pdf, so you will need to be able to combine and divide pdfs for different purposes.
  7. Shop for interview clothes, but keep in mind you might not get any campus visit requests in which to wear them in your first year on the job market.
  8. Consider signing up for the Employment Service interview program at the August meetings of the American Sociological Association. In most cases, if you can still apply for the same jobs even if you do not do these 20 minute interviews, but it can be a good place to practice your interview skills and learn more about the positions in question. Even though these mini-interviews typically won’t require you to turn in your job documents, the more work you’ve done on all of your job documents by this time, the better prepared you will be to present yourself in an interview setting.

Fall and Winter (Sept-March)

  • Watch for new jobs to apply for, and continually add them to your centralized spreedsheet.
  • Apply for the jobs you as their due dates approach. For each application, tailor your job documents accordingly. This process will be the equivalent to taking on a part time job on top of your existing obligations, so lean on your friends and support structures for help dealing with the stress. My first job application was due (unusually early) on August 4. Application deadlines start in earnest by September 1st, and are in full swing by September 15. Postdoc applications tend to be due a bit later than tenure-track faculty applications.
  • If you get any phone or Skype interview requests, set time aside to prepare as needed.  This involves coming up with a list of questions you may be asked, preparing answers for them, and asking friends to run you through several practice interviews.
  • If you get any campus-interview requests, set aside time to prepare for them as well. You will also likely need to prepare a job-talk based on your research, and perhaps also a teaching demonstration.
  • Keep applying for jobs! I am grateful to a friend who told me to stick it out and just keep applying when my energy was starting to flag. You never know which job might end up working out.

Spring

  • By March and April, most of the tenure-track job application deadlines will have finished, but lingering postdoc opportunities will continue. At this time there will also likely be an upswing of non-tenure-track job opportunities. Calls for lecturers, adjuncts, and visiting assistant professors will continue through the spring and in some cases the summer, before the job market starts all over again the following year.

Resources

  • For guidance on how to create the job documents listed above, see Karen Kelsky’s blog The Professor is In, which covers all of them in great detail. She also covers phone interviews, Skype interviews, and campus visits. Her advice covers applicants applying to tenure-track jobs in all academic settings except for community colleges.
  • With the increased workload of the jobmarket and the increased uncertainties about your immediate future comes increased stress. Plan as much self-care as you can to help get through it. If you have access to the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, take a look at their webinar on “Strategies for Dealing with Stress and Rejection.”
  • Read the job-market advice at The Professor is In, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Vitae. It is invaluable. However, these sources of insight and advice can also be demoralizing, so tread carefully. The trick is to learn how to present yourself as best as possible on the job-market, but not to get so overwhelmed and demoralized by the process that you stop applying for jobs or throw away your career plans. Unless, of course, you decide that the academic life is not for you, in which case Karen Kelsky and others also have advice about how to transition into an “Alt-Ac”  or “Post-Ac” job – a job outside of academia.

Teaching low-wage work with playspent.org

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 8.24.40 AMOne of the activities that went particularly well in my “Women and Work” class last winter used the website playspent.org. This website is an online “game” that challenges users to make it through the month with one of three low-wage jobs without going broke. The premise is that you are one of the many Americans who have just lost your job and your home and are down to your last $1,000 in savings. Users first select a job, then choose how far away from that job to live. At each decision-point, the consequences are made clear through short pop-up text boxes and interactive features. For example, if they choose to live farther away from their job in order to reduce rent costs, their gas expenses for commuting to the job go up. After several set-up choices are made, the month begins. Users are faced with a series of real-life scenarios to respond to as the month progresses. For example,

“Your child wants to join an after-school sports team, which requires a physical and a uniform. What do you do? Say yes ($50). Say no.”

or

“Two bills are due today. What do you want to do? Pay gas bill ($100). Pay electric bill ($125). Pay them both ($225). Borrow money from a friend.”

At other moments users have to select what items to purchase at the grocery store, get paid, get strikes on their record for taking time off from work to contest a speeding ticket in court or stay home sick. At each decision point, short pop-up text puts the decision into a national context, and the amount of money they have left to get through the rest of the month changes accordingly.

I had my students “play” the game in class on one of the days dedicated to wages. I had a regular classroom, not a computer lab, so this required students to bring their own laptops. The day before I asked for a show of hands of how many people had laptops that they could conveniently bring to our next class, and enough hands went up to proceed. On the appointed day there were enough laptops in the room for students to break into groups of two to four to play the game together. Each group played the game on their own. Many went through it several times to see how they fared while making different decisions. The discussion questions below were displayed on the overhead projector while they played. I floated around the room to see how people were progressing while they played. Students got very involved with the activity, as indicated by the difficulty I had getting them to stop and the amount of noise they made!

After I called a halt to the game and got everyone to close their laptops, we discussed the experience with the questions below. (I adapted these questions from similar ones provided by Brooke Kelley on the Sociologists for Women in Society list-serve. Thanks Brooke!)

  • How many of you made it through the month without running out of money?
  • If you made it through the month without running out of money, how much longer do you think you could have made it under the conditions of the exercise?
  • What surprised you about this exercise?
  • What parallels did you see between this exercise and the Ehrenreich reading?
  • Did you make any decisions that seemed wise at the time but which you later regretted?
  • This game isn’t gender-specific. How does it relate to our class theme of Women and Work?

The students had lots to say. Those that grew up in more financially stable households found the experience of trying on low-wage work eye-opening. Students that grew up facing similar financial difficulties seemed to find the experience validating, and shared further examples with the rest of the class. All in all, this is an activity I would do again.

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This activity was paired with the following readings:

Kessler-Harris, Alice. 1990. A Woman’s Wage: Historical Meanings and Social Consequences. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky.

  • “The Wage Conceived”

Sacks, N. E. and C. Marrone. 2004. Gender and Work in Today’s World: A Reader. Cambridge: Westview Press.

  • Ehrenreich: “Nickel and Dimed: Selling in Minnesota”