This semester, fall 2018, I’ve been growing and learning. A lot. It turns out taking a new faculty position and learning a new instrument are a lot like learning a new language.
The past few months have been intense.
But my dissertation baby has been birthed!
I’m getting there… after a rough patch of self-doubt and getting lost in my mounds of data, I spent November rereading the literature on qualitative research methods (specifically grounded theory) and working on connecting the major themes that were emerging during coding. The word “emerge” is so common in these methods books, making it seem like insights just float to the top while you’re immersed in the data. That’s super misleading. It takes hard work and lots of decision making to integrate these swirling ideas into a meaningful theory.
I probably drew and revised 10 diagrams that I discussed with multiple experts and study participants over the course of the month. I’m finally happy with two diagrams that depict a theoretical model of the central theme I pulled out: engagement. From there, I’ve described the diagrams in prose and will work through winter break to explain and exemplify each category with examples that show variety. So far, that’s been sort of fun?
It feels like I’ve reached the top of a huge hill on a mountain bike, and while there’s still work to do (i.e. ride back home over more smaller hills), I’ve accomplished the hardest part. It feels good.
I wrote this narrative 17 years ago for an undergrad class on communication writing, but it feels quite relevant today. There’s some #metoo and an appeal to normalize counseling. It’s also 22 years since three band friends died in a car accident.
As a scholar studying graduate student development, I have seen how others experience their doctoral work as a roller coaster of ups and downs. This knowledge doesn’t exempt me from the crazy, but at least I know I’m not alone and that any and all feelings about dissertating are valid. So the downs are less dark, and when the ups come, I know to milk them.
Also, welcome back! Our blog was hacked last year, and Elmar has recently rebuilt the website. Since my last post, we took a six-week road trip through the US Southwest and California, I mentored two undergraduates on social science research and five undergraduates on teaching German to 6th graders, I taught more lower-division German classes, we traveled to Seattle for the 10th Honk Fest West, I made progress on the dissertation and several academic publications, we went to Germany and spent time with family (including two young nephews), we camped in Corsica, and I experienced concussion symptoms after hitting my head on a metal pole (stupid bad luck involving my parked bike falling over and knocking me over into a metal pole).
So with all that, it’s no wonder I’m still plugging away at the dissertation. And that’s the important part: I’m still plugging away.
I just spent two and a half weeks in a dissertation bootcamp. We wrote individually, but within a community of practice in which we discussed strategies for sustained writing success. I’ve found that, despite all the challenges I’ve faced, as most grad students do, weird hobbies with a strong sense of community have helped keep me sane.
When Elmar and I decided to move from Germany to Texas, I wanted him to get to know bits of where and how I grew up. Some of our hobbies here have been the adult versions of activities I did as a kid: kickball, roller skating / roller derby, and music.
We played accordion and flute for a bit with the Austiner Klezmer Bund in 2014, Elmar went to a few Minor Mishap practices, and we most recently found a great fit playing tenor sax and cymbals with the Dead Music Capital Band. All of these ensembles perform at Honk festivals for community marching bands. We’ve become part of the vibrant Honk community.
On Memorial Day Monday, the Honk community lost someone in a tragic accident. We performed klezmer with her at Honk 2014. She always invited Elmar out after Mishap practices. Two weekends ago in an East Austin backyard, she sat in with DMC on a set-closing song. And now she’s gone.
While we weren’t super close with Leah, her enthusiasm and kindness will stick with us. To bring it full circle, Elmar will unfortunately experience a sad part of how I grew up. But I also know this: the community will heal each other. Be sad, hug each other, and play on.
Vorletztes Wochenende waren wir wieder in New Orleans; diesmal mit unserer Dead Music Capital Band zum Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras heißt in New Orleans das Karneval, was sich über einige Wochen hinzieht. Das größte Mardi-Gras-Wochende war letztes Wochende, wir waren allerdings das Wochenende davor da. Mardi Gras ist ein recht großes Stadtfest ähnlich zum Kölner Karneval, jedoch kleiner, aber mit mehr Marschkapellen. Wir sind mit dem Auto gefahren, eine Strecke 8 Stunden, 820 km. 1600 km hin und zurück für 40 Dollar. Endlich mal was, was hier billiger ist, als in Deutschland.
In letzter Zeit hatten wir so einige Konzerte mit unserer Band. Als Zombi-Band gibts für uns ja um Halloween viel zu tun. Mit Halloween fängt hier in USA auch schon fast die Weihnachtszeit an. Kurz danach kommen schon Thanksgiving, die amerikanische Variante vom Erntedankfest mit einigen Ferientagen, Black Friday, das Konsumfest mit angeblich Supersonderangeboten, und dann fangen schon fast die Weihnachtsferien an; zumindest für Uniangestellte. Ach ja, unsere Variante vom Weihnachtsfest ist die Krampusnacht (heißt auch so auf englisch).
Mein letzter Blog-Post ist ja nun schon ne Weile her. Wir waren für zweieinhalb Monate in Europa, hauptsächlich Deutschland, aber auch knapp drei Wochen Frankreich. Devon hatte ein Projekt an der Bielefelder Uni, was unserer Reiseplanung etwas eingeschräkt hat. Ich wär’ ja gerne etwas länger in Frankreich geblieben, also eher los, was wegen dem Bielefelder Uniprojekt nicht ging, und auch später wieder weg, was leider wegen unserer Uni hier in Austin und San Marcos nicht ging. Die Semesterferien sind ja leider wider vorbei.