Weird hobbies add balance to grad school

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.

Dead Music Capital Band - photo by Book of Honk

Dead Music Capital Band – photo by Book of Honk

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Loss and community

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.


Honk 2014 Austiner Klezmer Bund

Honk 2014 Austiner Klezmer Bund

Research stay in Bielefeld

This summer, I’m studying abroad with funding from the German Academic Exchange Service and the Texas Language Center. (Thank you! We spent all our money on building a house.) For my dissertation, I needed to put together a workshop on drama-based instruction for doctoral students who teach German. I have some great people in my committee for both German and for drama-based pedagogy, but no one combines the two. Elmar got summer funding to put together an online course, which he could do from anywhere thanks to the wonders of technology. So here we are in OWL.

Human foosball at the Uni Bielefeld

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Back in Old Germany

Before Elmar and I left for our summer in Germany, a lot of our friends in Texas wished us well on our “European Adventure”. I haven’t been here since 2011, yet it feels too familiar to be an “adventure”. Many Americans see Europe as a luxury destination, but I see it as “home 2.0”.

Elmar checks out the real estate market in Oerlinghausen

Now that our house in Austin is done, Elmar checks out the real estate market in Oerlinghausen

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Hard work is bearing fruit

In the past 24 hours, I have learned that I will officially teach German again next year at UT, I received a DAAD German Studies Research Grant for research this summer in Germany, and I had presentation proposals accepted to the POD Conference for educational developers and the ACTFL Conference for foreign language instructors.

We’re also really close to passing the final house inspection for the certificate of occupancy. We’ve been living there since Februrary (shh! don’t tell!), and it just gets better every day.

On winning and losing in academia

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
― Grantland Rice

When playing roller derby, my feelings of success are often not directly tied to the final score. If I played well with my team, if we communicated and implemented strategy, I feel great even when we lose. Conversely, if I couldn’t put my body where it needed to be on the track, or if I couldn’t get through the pack as a jammer, I feel like rubbish even if my team won.

Weirdly, I experienced both of these scenarios recently in my academic life.

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Evolution of a home office

Here are some photos of my home study space over the course of the last 3-4 weeks. On Wednesday, I finally completed a space that has both a (camping) table and chair AND a bookshelf where I’ve organized resources relevant to my doctoral exams. Before that, I was moving around between the office and guest bedroom, depending on where Elmar was installing carpet. I even used the bathroom to house my bookshelf!


2/25/15 – office with unfinished floor


3/1/15 bookshelf in bathroom


3/4/15 – working in guest bedroom with unfinished floor


3/11/15 – carpeted office with camping table and bookshelf


Euphoric or delirious? Exams next week!

I’m actually excited to take my doctoral exams. No really. I have been absolutely geeking out about aspects of my topics with committee members, other faculty and other grad students.



To some extent, I’ve been doing the things I set out to do to prepare for my exams. I still need to pump up steps 1 and 2, but I’m in a good place. It’s weird, I feel like I could study for another 8 months and still not have everything down, but that’s not the point.

The point is to socialize me into my field, to accelerate the process of exploring diverse bodies of literature and synthesizing them, and to formally assess my ability to articulate this synthesis in writing and orally. And in the process, I’ll be teaching my committee members, who are all experts in something, but not everything with regards to my interdisciplinary topic.