Options?

I don’t talk a whole lot about the “tears” part of my blog name, except in posts having to do with grieving. I guess it’s because I don’t want to sound like a pessimistic whiny-baby, and besides — I get enough of the “I don’t see how you do it” type of comments as it is, and I don’t want to swallow my pride to admit publicly that sometimes my day flat-out stinks. Sometimes, whole weeks stink. Sometimes, I just want to make it to the next month. Get my drift?

Perhaps I’m fooling myself, but being overly emotional is not typically how I would categorize my personality. I can be emotional, of course, and I feel passionate about certain issues, but I’m also pretty logical — to the fault of over-analyzing things, at times. So, when tears well up in my eyes out of the blue — like driving to work one morning, it makes me pause and think about just how stressed out I am trying to pretend not to be.

I know the Bible verses like Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 3:6 & 16:3 … verses to remind me that God isn’t going to leave me hanging out to dry, that he has a purpose for my life, etc., etc. I get it. I know it. But sometimes, I don’t feel it, and it’s hard to cling to it.

I don’t talk a lot about money, because a career isn’t just about money, but truth be told, I am actually making less in my current job than I made 10 years ago when I first moved here. I have a master’s degree and am thiiiiiis close to finishing my doctorate, yet my kids qualify for the Reduced Lunch Program. Granted, we’re not destitute, and I am immensely thankful that all the bills get paid each month — even the ridiculous $450 electric bill that arrived in December after a heat pump fried. I’m thankful for the Social Security survivor benefits that have helped bridge the gap since my brother died. Each month comes and goes, and I still manage to make ends meet with some slack left over.

I’m thankful for all of that.

And yet, when I think about the hard work that I’ve invested to improve myself professionally, sometimes it feels like I’m spinning my wheels. I don’t dislike my current job, necessarily, but it isn’t what I set out to do with my career, on the whole. I love teaching (college) and research, but I don’t know what options exist for me anymore. Since the fall, I have applied for 16 faculty positions around the country. One of them — ironically, the lowest position of all (just a lecturer) — was right here in my own university. As each week goes by with no communication from the search committee, it appears that I’ve been passed over from consideration, which stings my pride like plucking my eyebrows. More than one faculty friend has advised that sometimes you have to go away for a few years and then come back to a university before they’ll take you seriously, especially since I did my master’s degree here. Most places don’t often hire their own, apparently.

The other positions aren’t shots in the dark, either; they are professor-type jobs for which I am well qualified. I don’t relish the idea of moving, but what is left for me to do here? There’s a chance that a position will open up next year at the community college where I’m currently teaching part-time, but it wouldn’t provide four years’ worth of tuition remission benefits for the boys like working at a university could. Do I stay in an underpaid staff position (or pursue a different staff role) for 13 more years until the last of my kids graduates from college, even though I’m qualified to be a tenure-track assistant professor somewhere else? Even if that were a feasible option, the odds of being seriously considered for a faculty position after spending so many years away from “academia” are slim to none, and Slim is out of town.

“If God is in it, then it’ll work out.” Right. I totally agree, but I also believed (and still do) that “God was in it” when I decided to move to China in the mid-90s, and that went over like a lead balloon with most of my family. How much more so now, since I have the bulk of the grandchildren on either side of the family?! I run the risk of hurting feelings and sounding unappreciative just by venting about this.

I feel like I’m trapped between a rock and a hard place, for lack of a more creative analogy. If I stay, I give up something significant — my dream of teaching full-time, the chance to pursue my research ideas, perhaps more income. If I move, I also give up something significant — my support network.

Dear Morning Me:

Dear Ang in the morning:

You are smart, capable, and nearly finished with this tremendous feat that you have worked so hard to complete over four-plus years. Criticism is supposed to be constructive, so build from it and don’t let it crush you. (I realize you find that difficult to do; I’ve known you your whole life, but trust me.) Right now, you are too tired and too sensitive.

Your dissertation committee is supposed to challenge you, because they want you to conduct & write the best research project possible. It just feels crappy right now because you feel like they are picking on you. I don’t think they are, so don’t take it personally.

Get some sleep and then hug the kids good morning, one by one. Then, go and enjoy a cup of coffee at your weekly ladies’ Breakfast Bunch life group in the morning and appreciate a new day.

Love,

Sleepy & Cranky Ang

What else to study

I learned recently that our local technical college offers enology & viticulture certificates (as well as associates degrees, but that’s kinda beside the point, at this stage). Enology is the study of the winemaking industry, in general, and viticulture is specific to grape-growing. How interesting would that be?? I may be at risk of becoming a professional student, but either of those programs sounds like a much more fun way to spend my post-doc “free time” than catching up on four years’ worth of tv shows. ๐Ÿ™‚

2014-01-23 19.30.32-3

Dissertation notes & a few minutes of quiet time while practicing my vinter skills ๐Ÿ˜‰

Besides, I could consider it an investment in my retirement years … one of these days! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Ah, just imagine: a quiet home in the country with acres of grapevines, winemaking equipment, and my own cellar to host friends and enjoy the fruits of my labor. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Alas, I’m no where near retiring yet. I still need to finish my dissertation, and then I hope that I’m on the cusp of a new direction in my career — meaning that I’ll be able to move into a faculty position in the not-too-distant future (hopefully by the fall semester).

As for the dissertation, I’m making progress on Ch. 4, and I intend to have a pretty solid draft before the end of the month. I’ve already got an outline of Ch. 5 in the works, so I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll be able to defend in mid-March as I have been hoping to. Cheers to that!

Make Me New Again (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 29, 2013)

Whether you make annual New Year resolutions or not, thereโ€™s something about another January rolling around that causes us to think about changes. My eldest asked the other day if I had any resolutions this year, and I simply said, โ€œGraduate.โ€ Iโ€™ve been working toward this goal for the past four years, although it feels like decades when Iโ€™m stumped on part of my research. Graduation is a tangible result โ€“ a date, a ceremony, a fancy robe and a piece of paper to prove what Iโ€™ve accomplished.

Not all goals are so concrete, though. Some goals we strive toward our whole lives and never quite see the end result. Take your spiritual journey, for example. I reckon if you asked any champion of faith if they have reached the ultimate goal of their Christian walk, they would probably say no. In Philippians 3, the apostle Paul (definitely a big name in church history!) wrote that he was still striving for the finish line.

I love the repeating stanza that the songwriter wrote in Psalm 80 (NIRV): โ€œGod, make us new again. Let your face smile on us with favor.ย Then we will be saved.โ€ Is there anything greater that we could achieve than to experience the Lordโ€™s favor? Everything else seems to pale in comparison.

Our faith journey is not like graduation, where you receive a diploma and call it done. Again and again, we need to be renewed. Over and over, we need to refuel our efforts. As Paul stated in Philippians 3:20, we are citizens of heaven, and until the Lord returns to stamp our eternal passports, we have work yet to do. Letโ€™s make the most of it in the coming year.

Stealthy reading

I have a confession to make: I’m the “random selector” for an annual Christmas lunch and book exchange with some old colleague friends, and I gave myself someone because I wanted to read one on that list. Done & wrapped! Didn’t even curl the edges. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

(In related news, I need to get back to my dissertation revisions, but the brain-break was nice for a few days.)

Huge day tomorrow

I’ve been working toward this for nearly four years, and I haven’t been very nervous about my proposal defense tomorrow … until this afternoon, when it hit me. One of my committee members who promised to provide some feedback before the defense has not yet corresponded with me, so my PowerPoint presentation is not quite finished, and I started feeling anxious.

It’s easy to start second-guessing yourself in those moments, but I remembered what a dear friend said to me a couple of years ago … back when this moment still seemed eons away! He said that by the time I get to this point, I’ll be the expert on my topic. That seemed like crazy talk back then, but by golly, I think he was right. I do have some knowledge that even my committee members don’t have. My ideas are interesting and worth exploring. My research matters. I can do this!

I’m so thankful for friends at work who sent me emails & stopped by my office out of the blue this afternoon, just to wish me the best and give me a hug before tomorrow. They didn’t even know that I was wigging out! One colleague shared with me a little-known fact that getting through the proposal defense can be harder than doing the full-blown defense later, since this is where the rubber meets the road. I can see where she’s coming from, because hopefully by the time I’m ready for the full defense, my committee and I will have vetted several drafts of my work, and there will not be any looming questions about what the heck I’m doing. ๐Ÿ™‚

At any rate, tomorrow is a huge day. Once I get through the presentation, I’ll be clear to continue my work and begin collecting and analyzing data. That’s when the fun begins! ๐Ÿ™‚

If I happen to pop into your mind tomorrow morning, I would appreciate your prayers at 11:00 am (CST).

Proposal Defense Scheduled!

Thursday, Dec. 5 is going to be a nerve-wracking day, but hopefully in the exciting & fun way, and not the queasy stomach way. ๐Ÿ™‚ย  My proposal defense is scheduled for noon (EST). Since I am four states away from my university, I will connect via a web conferencing tool, but those on site at the university will gather in a meeting room on campus. I feel so honored; one of my classmates who lives there emailed me today and said that she would attend! That degree of moral support is so encouraging.

So, what’s a proposal defense, you ask? (Well, even if you didn’t ask, I’ll explain it anyway.) ๐Ÿ™‚ Chapters 1-3 of the dissertation make up the proposal. At this point, everything is worded in future tense. You talk about the “proposed study” and what it will do or seeks to do. Chapter 1 is the introduction, which gives an overview of your idea and why you want to study it. Chapter 2 is called the literature review, and you discuss what other scholars have to say about your topic. Chapter 3 is the methodology, and that’s where you explain the theory(ies) and statistics that you’ll be using. You describe how you plan to gather the data and how you are going to examine it.

Chapters 4-5 describe the study, your findings and recommendations. You can’t move on to Ch. 4 until you’ve defended the proposed study, to begin with.ย  That’s why this step is so important. In the case of an experimental study, you can’t start the experiment until you’ve defended your proposal. In my case, I’m not doing an experimental study, but I still can’t proceed until I get the green light for Chs. 1-3. That’s what I’ll be doing on Dec. 5: I’ll give a PowerPoint presentation to provide an overview of the first three chapters, and then open the floor to questions. My committee members may have (will have!!) questions — hopefully ones that I can answer, LOL. Others in attendance (such as the department chair, other faculty or curious people who are sitting in the discussion for fun) can also raise concerns or ask questions. I’ll have to think on my feet and know my stuff.

I’m looking forward to it, because it’s such an important step, but of course, I’m a little nervous. My committee may send suggestions between now and then, which I’ll be working on as we go along, but they may just save their questions until that day.

Once the presentation is finished, then I should receive approval to proceed with the rest of the study. That’s the fun part! I will collect my data and analyze it over the Christmas & New Year holiday. I am hoping to have a pretty solid draft of Chs. 4 & 5 by early January. If all goes well, then I should be ready to do my final defense sometime around Spring Break. For that one, I’ll have to go to Georgia and face the firing squad, er, I mean, my committee, in person. ๐Ÿ™‚ After that, I’ll be Dr.!!!!

Goals & Dreams

I’ve been pretty quiet here lately, since I’m up to my eyeballs in my research proposal. I have several edits to make to Ch. 2 (literature review), and I need to finish writing Ch. 3 (methodology). There may still be some minor revisions to Ch. 1 (introduction) down the road, but I’m focusing on the other two chapters right now. I am hoping to defend my research proposal by the first week of December, to get it out of the way before the semester’s end. That would keep me well on track to finish the whole kit & caboodle in the spring.

I received some unfortunate news the other day — not about school, per se, but it involves my research. You may recall that I applied for a Fulbright appointment to Northern Ireland. I found out that I was not accepted for next fall. It would have been challenging to pull off the adventure, logistically, simply with the kids’ school schedule and related activities, but I think it would have been doable. The good news is that I received a very kind note from the director at the research institute where I would have been assigned, and she encouraged me to try again next year or just come visit, anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚ (She was not a decision-maker in my application process; in fact, she wrote a letter of invitation for me to go.) At any rate, it’s not going to happen next year. Someday, perhaps!

It seems like at least twice a week, some well-meaning person asks me, “What are you going to do with your doctorate?” as if I alone control my next steps. I wish I had an answer, but I usually just shrug and say, “No idea.”

I really enjoy teaching. I think I’m good at it, and my students like me. I do think that I could be an even better teacher if I had more time to devote to preparation and creative lesson-planning. I don’t know if I’m “meant to be” a teacher full-time, or if it’s just another idea that Ang thinks would be fun to pursue. I used to think that God had a path laid out for us that we needed to somehow identify & navigate, but over the past decade, and especially the past five years, I’ve begun to think that God gives us leeway to follow our hearts (and our common sense), within reason. I don’t know which (if either) idea is really correct, but he hasn’t written instructions on the wall for me, so I’ll just keep pressing on with what I think are good choices to make.

Being an adjunct instructor has been a blessing, and the part-time income has been a relief. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not all about money, but the extra income helps. I grew up not having much, and I believe there’s tremendous value in not being able to get everything you want. (My kids may disagree with that sentiment right now, but I trust that they’ll clue in later.) I am blessed beyond measure. I live in a house that I could not have afforded, were it not for a miraculous situation that brought down the cost significantly. I drive a car that I actually bought from a dealer and might not have been able to make payments on, if our other car hadn’t been gifted to us with a clear title. I am well aware of how fortunate we are, and I try not to take those blessings for granted.

It’s funny how things work out. The job that I left under less than ideal circumstances and remained vacant for several months is now occupied by an individual I know and like, someone capable, enthusiastic, and likely better suited for the role than I ever was. Sometimes I wonder if God orchestrated that chain of events because he knew that I’d land on my feet, and it would give this other person a chance to spread his wings. Who knows, but it makes me happy to observe, from this vantage point.

I don’t know if there’s a point to this post, other than to say that I’m still here ๐Ÿ™‚ and hope to post more often, once I get to a stopping point on Ch. 3.

Preparing a Thanksgiving dissertation

Writing a dissertation feels a lot like preparing Thanksgiving dinner. You can’t do much of anything until the turkey thaws out, and at the risk of insulting anyone by comparing them to frozen poultry, that step reminds me of selecting committee members. It doesn’t make much sense to start the green bean casserole or sweet potatoes at the same time as the turkey, but those are still important elements that can’t be overlooked later on. It helps to jot down a menu or shopping list, just like it helps to record brainstorming ideas and potential source materials for future reference.

While the turkey is smoking (or in the oven, if you prefer), you need to tend to it now and then, even while you are working on other dishes. That’s the step that I feel like I’m at, right now. Over the weekend, I received feedback on Ch. 1 from my committee chair AND feedback on Ch. 2 from my advisor. I’m also working on my first draft of Ch. 3. What all this means is that I need to send revisions on Ch. 1 back to my chair for her approval before sending it to the rest of my committee, as well as send my initial edits on Ch. 2 to her for review. When I’m at a stopping point on Ch. 3, I will send it to my advisor for the first green light (and second-draft revision suggestions) before sending it to my chair for further review. My chair will send feedback on Ch. 2 probably around the time that my advisor responds to Ch. 3.

It very much feels like I have food in the smoker, oven, stovetop and microwave, all at the same time. Here’s hoping that nothing burns or boils over! ๐Ÿ™‚

Countdown …

I needed to look up some dates in the academic calendar, and as I jotted things down, I realized:

  • Graduation is 33 weeks away!!
    • That’s less than 8 months … or 234 days, but counting by weeks sounds quicker. ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Just as exciting, I will have my defense completed within 25 weeks!!
    • That’s when you can officially be called “Dr.” Woohoo!
    • That’s only 6 months from now! Squeeeee!

Things here are trucking along. I’m about 14 pages into my literature review (chapter 2) and hope to have a good draft to send to my chair by next week. There is a really fantastic Firefox add-in tool called Zotero that I am falling in love with, though I’m still learning how to use it. It’s kind of like a digital filing cabinet for your references, and you can drag & drop citations into various categories to keep them organized. Better yet, you don’t even have to write down the citation. Zotero recognizes it from the web page (say, an article that you are reading through the e-library) and imports the pertinent information into your citation.

Then, as you are writing the paper, you can click and add references directly into the paper, and it will format them according to the style you’ve selected. The only downside is that the style my department uses (APSA) is not one of the choices. Zotero does have Chicago style, though, and that’s pretty similar. The even better part is that you can change the style whenever you want, and it’ll adjust the whole paper. So, when I have to submit the final version after my defense to the Graduate School (which requires a different style, of course), it won’t be such a huge endeavor to make the changes.

I’m still wrapping my head around the six-month realization. I am so excited!!!!