25 November 2009

Searching for info on the postdoc experience

Now that I am heading into a postdoc I thought it might be wise to do some research on what I should expect.  Ha!  Like everything else I've done for grad school, it seems that I should have been working on this 2 years ago.  Never fear, the internet is here! 

There isn't a whole lot out there specifically relevant to social science postdocs - unless you are looking for one.  When I broadened my search, to postdocs and postdoc blogs (just trying to get a feel for others' experiences) I got a couple of hits from bloggers in biological and physical sciences.  Reading their stuff was rather depressing, and maybe I've been super-protected at UGA but the professors in the anthropology department here don't treat other people so poorly - colleagues, grad students, or the occasional postdoc.  I also did a search for women postdocs since I fit into that special category too.  Again, more depressing stuff.  I'm hoping that the nasty stuff I've read applies to the biological and physical sciences, and that social scientists have their shit together for the most part.  I get the sense that my new mentor and department do have their act together, but I may run make friends in other departments and it would be helpful to understand a bit where they might be coming from.  As my mom tells me, forewarned is forearmed.

A couple of the postdoc blogs from my search:

Dent Cartoons: NIH Post-doc Life


I also looked for books and came up with a couple of good reads.

Gray, Paul and David Drew.  2008.  What they didn't teach you in graduate school: 199 helpful hints for success in your academic career.  Stylus: Sterling, VA.
This book was not only funny, but useful in terms of looking at the entire academic career arc (not just the postdoc).

COSEPUP.  2000.  Enhancing the postdoctoral experience for scientists and engineers: a guide for postdoctoral scholars, advisers, institutions, funding organizations and disciplinary societies. National Academy of Sciences.  National Academies Press.
This entire text is available free on the National Academies Press website (linked above).  You do have to create an account, but it is free and gives you access to other free book pdfs.

Other articles and links:

The National Postdoctoral Association

Best Places to Postdoc in 2006 (most up-to-date stats I found)

The 3 Worst Places to be a Postdoc

Penn State also has their own Postdoctoral Office and Postdoc Society.

Given all the resources out there on the web (despite the under-representation by social scientists, or maybe I'm not looking where I should), it is interesting that most of the information is about finding a postdoc, rather than the day-to-day experience of a postdoc.  Perhaps this is a byproduct of the amount of work postdocs are expected to do - I hope it is the work and not something else.

If anyone finds this and wants to leave a message about their experience - particularly if you did a social science postdoc, I'd love to hear about it.

23 November 2009

So... what are you going to do next?

Abandoned boots in a southwestern Irish fog

Since I finished my defense, a lot of people have been asking me "So... what are you going to do next?" I'm not sure what they expect me to answer. Disneyland? More travel? Work? *GASP* Another PhD?

To be fair, no one who has completed a PhD has asked me this question. But I suppose it is a valid question.  It feels like I have just run an ultramarathon though, so give me a second to catch my breath please.  :)  

To tell the truth, I really just want to travel for fun. Take pictures and talk to folks because I'm having an adventure, not because I need data. Go for a really long walk. Meditate on the meaning of life. Chill out.

I actually do have some idea of at least the immediate future. After I graduate on 18 December (YAY!), I will be heading to France on the 21st for a two week stay with my good friend Anne.

Anne is an anthropologist who works in Paris. She was a postdoc in the Coweeta LTER lab (I have office space in the lab), but before that I toured her field site in southern France as part of a historical ecology field school. I will be going with her to Brittany (where her family lives) for Christmas and then we will be in Paris for New Year's. Other than hanging out with Anne, and maybe seeing the catacombs in Paris, I am leaving this trip up to the Adventure Fairy. Hopefully, I will have internet access at some point and can post pictures.

This trip is the culmination of a grand conspiracy by Anne and my other good friend John. John is an archaeologist who manages the Coweeta Lab in Baldwin and does all the tech stuff for Coweeta LTER. He might do other stuff, but I'm not sure. Anyway, he has connections with Delta and hooked me up with a cheap ticket to Paris. Both John and Anne are recent PhDs, and remembering their experience didn't want me to get into a funk. They also wanted to make sure I got a break before starting my new job (although they didn't know I would have a job when they started planning). John and Anne are two really amazing friends. THANKS!!!!

That's right. I have a postdoc fellowship starting in January at Penn State. I will be working in the Geography Department on a climate change project. Actually, the exact title is Climate Change Adaptation: Complex Challenges for Resilience under Climatic Uncertainties. Part of this project involves working with farmers, aid agencies, cooperative extension agents, universities in-country, etc. as a facilitator for iterative social learning so that folks can make their own decisions and come up with plans to adapt to climate change. It means that I will be going back to Africa as well - Ghana and Tanzania (possibly, I hope, Mozambique).

The position advertisement appeared on the EANTH listserve and then was sent to me directly by two of my committee members. I applied, kept working on my dissertation, and was contacted for an interview. My committee was contacted for reference letters. Dr. T interviewed me via Skype and 2 days later emailed me to offer the position.

Did I mention that the morning of the interview, my new postdoc adviser emailed me to ask for my CV? I was so nervous I forgot to include it in the original email application. I don't recommend this. I got incredibly lucky and must have had really good recommendation letters. Hard work and showing up does pay off in the end.

09 November 2009

Dr. With Revisions

One of my friends teasingly called me Dr. With Revisions the other day when I explained the behind closed door department. He was taking notes since it is his first year of grad school and giving me a "rough" time since I'm almost done and won't be around for teasing much in the future.

Despite the public and behind closed door defense, I still have quite a bit of work left on my dissertation. My committee requested that I rewrite my conclusions to better highlight the value of my research. And I have to basically rewrite my 3rd chapter on cultural adaptations to the savanna-forest environment in the southern Mozambique region.

My major adviser sent me his full comments last night and I am meeting with another committee member in about an hour. The chapter isn't completely unsalvageable but it will be ugly. I suspect further data analysis too. I have less than a month as my final version of the whole shebang is due to the UGA Graduate School on 7 December.

I have a ton of writing and editing to accomplish this week. Rewriting chapter 3 and getting a mock-up final copy to the grad school for the initial format check. It has to look pretty much done for the format check or you DO NOT GRADUATE. Seriously, at this point my graduation could be hampered by people with rulers checking my margins. You would think it would be easy with a word processing program, but then there are 2 set of required page numbering systems (i-iii in the front matter, 1-200 in the back), smashing together multiple pdfs, etc. One last bullshit hoop.

As I was writing my dissertation, I used to fantasize that the dissertation fairy would wave her magic wand and the entire draft would appear on my flash drive. I wish there was a writing fairy - I guess that's me. My wand sucks - keyboards just aren't as flashy as a ncanhu wand with a lightning bird feather inside.

06 November 2009

Great Ideas: Fridays in an African Classroom

I read other blogs to get ideas. One of my favorite Science Fiction blogs, Topless Robot, likes to post really bad fanfic on Fridays (be wary, this stuff will make you really worry about the future of humanity). Now, I'm not going to do that here. However, the idea of regularly posting on the same theme one day a week I thought was a great idea. Since I am an anthropologist who works in Africa I thought perhaps maybe posts about Africa, Africans, and African culture - materials that could be used in the classroom - might be a good theme for Friday blog posts. And as a secondary factor, it helps me save material in one spot that I might use in the future to teach about Africa, Africans, and African culture (which is not some monolithic country BTW, there are some people that think this sadly).

Today I start with one of my favorite videos - Binta y la Gran Idea (Binta and the Great Idea). I used it spring term 2009 in my Introductory Anthropology class as it speaks to rural life in contemporary Senegal. Themes of gender roles, education, modernization, sustainability, love, kin, and what it means to be human are explored through the eyes of a little girl named Binta. The great idea, referred to in the title, comes from her father.

The 31 minute long movie is dubbed, as the actors speak French and Diola. Spanish director Javier Fesser shot this movie in cooperation with UNICEF and the Senegalese in 2004. The film is boxed with 12 other short films and 100% of the profits from the sales go to UNICEF in perpetuity. I have linked to the video and trailer below - both with English and Spanish subtitles. More information about the film and the numerous awards it has won are on the Short Film Central database.

Two stories interweave in Binta's narrative. The first story is that of her cousin Soda. Soda desperately wants to attend school, but her father believes girls don't need an education. Binta and her classmates produce a play for the entire community that shows the benefits of education for both boys and girls. I don't want to give away what happens, but this story does end happily.

The second story follows Binta's father, a fisherman. The movie opens with him talking to a friend about European fishing and efficiency. Binta's father is alarmed at the loss of community and their unsustainable resource use practices. He develops an idea that takes him from the local district government all the way to the governor's office. Again, I don't want to give away the ending, however, it is a surprising twist on the normal cultural exchange between industrialized and non-industrialized cultures. Let's just say that Binta's father proposes a wonderful way to school children from industrialized countries so that they can grow up to be good people. :) My intro anthropology students loved it.

Here is a link to the wiki on Binta y la Gran Idea if you want to know the ending.

English Subtitles:

Spanish Subtitles:
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Trailer (Spanish subtitles only):

05 November 2009

A Scholarly Rite of Passage

It has been a long time since I've posted regularly to my blog (barring today's earlier post). I have been writing, analyzing, scrutinizing, and banging my head against the keyboard in general. But now it is done.

Writing, the last stage of the doctoral journey, is probably the loneliest part. At least while I was doing field research I was surrounded by people and outdoors. Writing up my results put me indoors day after day after day, tied to a computer screen. Ugh! Actually double ugh, since writing about Mozambique made me long to be there AND I have an awful time sitting still for extended periods.

The short of it, is that on Monday at 12:30ish, my committee congratulated me on becoming a doctor in the philosophy of anthropology. But there is a bit of back story, there is always a story.

I gave the public part of my defense on Thursday, 29 October. At 9am that morning I received an email from a committee member letting me know he was really ill and asking to see if we could set up a speaker phone. UGA has rules, of course, about attendance of committee members at doctoral defenses. They've been a little relaxed this Fall term because of swine flu. We did get the speaker phone set up but there was an hour or so of panic.

My friends from the department showed up - a lot of them - as well as a number of professors that aren't even on my committee. I was soooo nervous to present. Not hyperventilating nervous, but I swallowed a jar of butterflies and crawly beetles nervous. It is way easier to present someone else's work (teaching class) or to a group of strangers or teens.

The presentation went off without a hitch. I calmed down as the presentation wore on. People asked interesting questions at the end. I got to talk about rain ceremonies, fire, historic ethnography, etc. One of the professors, a good friend, suggested that elephants be enlisted to put out wildfires since the folks in Madjadjane and Gala lack a fire department. He got to laughing and it was really difficult for me to keep a straight face as I answered other questions.

My committee and the listening public

Then it was over. The committee members in physical attendance seemed happy. But I still had the dreaded "closed door" defense. This was postponed until Monday, 2 November. UGA had a furlough day on Friday, so yes, I had to wait an entire weekend to know the final outcome. To be fair, the folks in my department and my major adviser are not the type of people who would let me defend without a good chance that I would pass. But there is always that off chance.

On Monday, my entire committee promptly began the final interrogation at 11am. I was asked to leave briefly at the beginning so that they could discuss procedures with the newest faculty member (this was his first defense as a faculty member). Then I was brought in for the grilling. It wasn't bad. Basically we discussed my dissertation - the theoretical bits and some other loose nuts and bolts that needed tightening. Everyone was really helpful. However, I was so anxious that my mind went completely blank. I recognized they were speaking English and I understood each word individually, but I could not comprehend what they were asking. It was like when I meet someone I know and I don't remember their name. My mind is dark and foggy. Same in this instance but worse. I must have said something acceptable.

At the end, they asked me to leave for about 15 minutes. When I entered, they congratulated me and then we discussed in detail the revisions I need to make before the final submission of my dissertation to the graduate school.

I'm still stunned and kind of out of it. I'm not really sure what to do next. I mean I am applying for jobs and postdocs, but in the great grand scheme of things... now what?

More adventures.

Making the Rounds

So this song is making the rounds amongst anthropologists and their blogs. I've tried to avoid it, mainly because it just seemed so silly in concept. But really, it's pretty cool at explaining what I and other anthropologists do.

I give you The Anthropology Song by Dai Cooper. Bravo!