Category Archives: Methodology

Professor Stereotypes and Fingernails on the Chalkboard

I have always found stereotypes about professors humorous on a good day-especially within movies and the media.  So much so, in fact, that I have even embraced some of them just for fun. Yes, I do love to wear sweater vests. I wish I did own or have a need for a corduroy jacket with elbow patches. Oh, and tweed. I wish I could justify any purchase of tweed.  Sadly, I live in a hot place and most of the time a shirt with a collar and dark denim with dress shoes or chuck taylors becomes my professional attire. I will however, be requesting a leather shoulder bag from Santa this year…or buying one as my reward for tenure. My other stereotype I would strive to fit, if I were able to ever afford it, would be to live in a Frank Llyod Wrightesque home with amazing landscaping. I mean who wouldn’t–and of course it would be located on a quaint little street that is just close enough to my campus for me to stroll or bike to work and town, but also far enough from away so that I have extreme privacy for my concentration.

There are also stereotypes I hate. A couple I will not even mention as to not perpetuate them. One biggie that is talked about quite a bit in the media and to my face is how little we work. It is assumed that we work only a few hours a week, make big bucks, and have a cushy life where we just sit at coffee shops all day engaging in various intellectual debates about impractical topics with fellow elite colleagues, coffee shoppers, and if lucky students–which by the way can be very productive in that it stimulates us to think, learn more about what we know and don’t know, and may motivate us to act. All of which leads to new ideas for teaching and research interests and goals. There is also the absent-minded professor stereotype, one of the most common, and also potentially true for me at times. It is still annoying that the assumptions begins with something I would associate as carelessness.  Okay, so I do get so obsessed with my research and the fact that I should be writing whenever I am not, that I do run into objects.  However, I have never fallen into a well or been in a bone-breaking accident. I do usually remember my work and personal commitments and I do keep up on my hygiene. Further, I do like to think that I think of others…or at least their research projects.  If I appear to be resilient to feelings, this is really in large part because I care so much. Sometimes too much for my own health. So, the notion that I only care about MY research and pay little attention to anything else–my students, family, etc. becomes extremely offensive.

This long lead up regarding general professor stereotypes is actually developed out of a recent article I read about how “Pop Culture has Turned Against the Liberal Arts.”  The article largely focuses on the students and stereotypes of liberal arts majors  and I think it’s dead-on.  While I have noticed a great deal more of bias against liberal arts in the past few years, I just assumed it was because I was in the thick of it. I also assume that during economic hard times, liberal arts is often taken for granted. However, the above article re-reminded me of the greater culture students are living.

Thinking back 15 years ago to when I was a wee undergrad, it was mentally harder for me to come-out as wanting to be a liberal arts major to my family, than to come out about my sexual orientation. Also, it seems to be common knowledge among my undergrads and even graduate students that, “it’s ok to major in Liberal Arts if you are going to go on to law school” otherwise you will probably be poor and end-up working for minimum wage. (Side note: law school really seems to be the big fad right now and while I do have some suspicion as to why, my own friends experiences in and with law school coupled with  articles like this really scare me as student after student come into my office inform this is their back-up plan if they can not get a job out of their BA/BS).

The claim to fame most widely boasted for a liberal arts major is that it creates and contributes to skills of critical thinking and analysis–skills that can be applied across settings and time. Yet, at the same time coursework is often conceptualized as less serious, or even worse “easy.” I also think the narrative is quite problematic…in part because there is not one.  My students largely site their parents and family as leading concerns with being a liberal arts major. In fact, I would be as bold to state that most majors at some point in time have been asked “what are you going to do with that?” I know my own family and personal friends outside of academia recognize that I am a professor…but as far as what I really do…  well it just all goes rt back into that big pot of stereotypes.  I will continue this idea in my next blog perhaps titled something like “What I do and Why Liberal Arts Rocks!”


Building Writing Skills from Day 1: Or How I Learned to Stop Assuming What Students Should Know

By J. Wheeldon*

September is the beginning of the school year and another chance for those of us who teach the next generation of scholars to think about what we might do differently this time around. As Profs finalize syllabi and update lectures, I want to suggest that the first few weeks of class is a good time to get a sense of how students understand the basic building blocks of writing. In my opinion these building blocks include: sources, structure, and citations.

Academic honesty has been much in the news of late. Whether it students at well-known schools or evidence of plagiarism by journalists and television personalities, a debate of sorts has emerged on the issue. Some see plagiarism as a function of technological advancements. Students today can copy and paste things from multiple sources, change a few words around (and the font!), and pass it off as their own. Others suggest stealing the work of others is hardly new. While technology may make it easier to cheat, the decision to cut corners amounts to a basic ethical lapse. For these commentators, it this moral question that must be confronted.

Based on a project I conducted while at George Mason University, this resource provides some more details on a step-by-step approach to assist students to plan, research, draft, and review academic papers. For now, I want to focus on the question of how to help students properly cite sources and integrate material into original work. In my experience teaching in multiple countries, states, and universities, one major issue is that students do not know what standard is expected of them. Should they use APA or MLA? Does the Prof want Chicago style or some other strange and/or personal approach to citation? The lack of clarity for students is a function of the lack of consensus among disciplines and the seemingly endless infighting that is a historic feature of the academy.

Punishing students for plagiarism requires first that Profs clearly articulate the standard required. This means including policies, tips, and techniques on syllabi and in lectures. It may include other approaches as well. For the last 4 years I have been using a citation quiz in the first week of all my classes. Students complete it, and we then talk about what the “best” answers might be and why.

The quiz is below and I encourage you to read through it and think about if and how it might be useful to your teaching. No doubt you will need to adapt it and I would love to see how you improve it. My biggest suggestion is this: Don’t assume. Yes, students should have learned this stuff in high school. Yes, their required writing course or some other departmental specific course should have prepared them. I assure you, however, most do not know as much as you think they should. A quiz is a good way to start a conversation about writing. In my experience, investing in this early in the term pays off later when the endless mountains of essays arrive to be graded.

Let’s help students learn about proper citation practices instead of blaming them for not knowing. Remember, once you build this into your coursework, no student can say they didn’t know how to properly cite sources, and/or that no one taught them. At least not in your class.

*Dr. Johannes Wheeldon (LL.M, Ph.D) holds degrees from Dalhousie University, the University of Durham, and Simon Fraser University. He worked at the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada between 2002-2005 and has since worked for the American Bar Association, George Mason University, and the Center for Justice Law and Development.

He is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Washington State University and teaches Philosophy to inmates at the Coyote Ridge Correctional Center. He can be reached at

You can also follow Dr. Wheeldon on Twitter @JusticeLawDev


Additional Resources

Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices is available here:


Self Administered Citation Quiz

Part 1 Source Selection (True or False)

1. ___ Academic sources include articles from peer-reviewed journals, articles from University web sites, non-fiction books or chapters from those books.

2. ___ Its ok to use non-academic web pages, TV shows or movies, and wikipedia as academic sources as long as you cite them.

3. Rank (1 – best, 5- worst) the following sources in terms of academic reliability:

___  Newspapers and magazines

___  Peer Reviewed Journals

___  Wikipedia

___  Non-Fiction Books

___  Government funded websites


Part 2 Citations (True or False)

4.  ___ Copying a sentence or two without crediting the source is not plagiarism.

5. ___ It is not plagiarism if you use information or ideas without crediting the source as long as the exact words are not used.

6. ___ Using specific terminology used by someone else, even a unique word or two, must be set off with “quotation marks.”

7. ___ The author and year of any source used must be included in cases when you summarize, paraphrase, or directly cite the work of another.

8. ___  Page numbers must be provided whenever you paraphrase or directly cite the work of another.


Part 3 Bibliographies (True or False)

9. ___ All sources used in an academic paper do not have to be listed in a bibliography.

10. ___ The information provided in a bibliography should allow a reader to find the source you have used.

Part 4 Read through the Writing Website

Go to:

  1. Based on the website what points on structure, citations, and style did you all ready know?
  2. What points did you not know?
  3. What aspect of the points raised will be the most challenging for you?


Too Much Fun?

Is it possible to have too much fun in or with a class?  I found myself thinking a little about this question over the past year.  I am extremely lucky to be in a department where they want me to teach courses I love to teach and it seems that lately I have had more and more students with similar interests as mine–all of which has really lead to a fun and thriving work environment. I do feel I am being productive as are the students, however, I cant help but to occasionally wonder are we having too much fun?  Of course, everyone enjoys occasional laughter in class but could there be too much? The idea of laughter seems to in many ways juxtapose the ideas of professionalism and seriousness associated with a stereotypically conducive learning environment. As a professor who looks young and wants to be taken seriously, I often worry about what laughter in class means, especially at the end of the day.  However, laughter can also be extremely useful.

As a student, laughter (or should I say jokes and fun stories that led to laughter) always helped me to remember lectures and concepts, and remain engaged throughout the duration of the class and the semester. In fact, my favorite courses, and often the courses I got the most from generally also included a quick-witted professor or a hillarious study group where we all had the same end goal of doing well in the class. I have not doubts that overall laughter largely contributed to my learning.

In my classroom it seems that laughter largely derives from a number of different places.  One place is a place of nervousness. Sometimes, I or the students will share humorous examples or stories to break tension. These moments are generally very short lived and can be quite awkward but they can really open the door to a greater discussion on the particular topic at hand. Even the idea that we are nervous about publicly discussing said topic can lay a foundation for the discussion or future discussions.  This is especially the case in my more controversial courses of methods, social statistics, and sexuality studies.  However, I also see a great deal of laughter from academic jokes and comments where students are relating or apply material in clever ways.  I greatly enjoy these moments when you can see the synthesis of material and the personality of the student.  I also really appreciate the bad jokes…the ones that don’t quite make it but were a valiant effort.  These moments say to me the students are engaged, trying, and comfortable in the environment.  I have done my job to set up the parameters of a safe and practical learning space.

Laughter effects my research too. Over the course of this summer I have spent a number of Wednesday nights at a colleague’s house taking part in a reading group on female masculinity. This past Wednesday was especially filled with laughter. I almost want to say we were down right giggly, however, that feels like a word that shouldn’t be positively associated with academic pedagogy. But why is that? I am certain that this group has contributed to a continued education for me, in addition to boosting my summer work morale and bonds with my colleague and student. The group has contributed to me reading and re-reading pages and articles I would probably in all honesty put-off until “I needed to.” I have thought about various passages and readings in ways that would apply to the group’s interests rather than just to my own. Further, it has been an amazing amount of fun having a free space in which to just think and talk about issues from the readings (and our lives–work and otherwise) at our leisure.  While I do have some direction with regards to what I want to get from the overall experience of a reading group, it is also nice to just read and allow your mind to be free from that tight task-orientated focus that it often acquires when you are working specifically to address a single question or issue.  On the whole, I think the group has spurred more questions, inspiration, and motivation for everyone involved.  I also think the laughter has largely contributed to the continuation of the group and its productivity.  So, in the words of a Daryle Singletary song:

“Too much fun? whats that mean?
Its like too much money theres no such thing
Its like [too much coffee] or too much class
Being too lucky or a car too fast
No matter what they say I’ve done
I aint never had to much fun”


Legal Recognition of Gay Families Could Improve Outcome for Children

Today the Houston Chronicle published my first op-ed.  Co-authored with Amanda Baumle, we wanted to speak to what I think is fast becoming an infamous article that was claiming to find difference between parents who have had same-sex relationships and those who have not. The article’s findings insinuated that parents who had had a same-sex relationship were less good compared to those that hadn’t.  This sparked a heated academic debate on the blogosphere and among my academic colleagues in large part due to its questionable methods and polar opposite findings from what the greater discipline at large has found in the past or would expect to be find–that based on sexual orientation LGBT/Queer parents do not significantly differ all that much form their heterosexual counterparts.

And to think that I almost didn’t write anything at all! I thought I was late to the party.  Most of my concerns with the article were being addressed, but then this article and its findings became sensational news and made it to the lay audience. I have been told, though I did not witness it first hand, that it was covered on various news channels in TX and picked up by the View and other national media sources. At this point, I really wanted to speak to the issue, especially within my home state where friends, family, colleagues, and the queer community has been so supportive of me and my work. Furthermore, the research partner and I knew we had something extra to contribute with our current work that qualitatively addresses structural constraints, especially as related to the law, on lgbt families.

I do not want to re-hash the article or its merits/lack of merits here…as I feel most of my concerns have been addressed. As such, I thought I would just link to our commentaries and my favorite commentaries from others for y’all to check out.

From my keyboard, you can check out the op-ed (linked above) and my co-authored post on Social (In)queery:  How Not to Study Families.

From others, I really like this piece from the Atlantic along with two posts from Philip N. Cohen’s Family Inequality blogBad Science on top of Stigma for lesbian and gay parents and Time Travel: Regnerus study timeline suggests superhuman abilities. These pieces really outline the overall story surrounding the article, my academic and methodological concerns, along with the structural issues at hand–sociologically and politically.

It has also been covered in the following:  The Washington Times (where I first heard about it), the New York Times, and Slate has a whole series of articles on the topics beginning here including responses from Regnerus.

J’aime l’été

I know it has been a while since I last posted for which I wont apologize. The last three months were filled with quite a bit of travel, lots of bureaucratic work, more bureaucratic work, and preparations for my summer research agenda. I have also signed on to a new venture in which I will be a contributor to the Social (In)Queery blog.  My first post for them is now up. It is partial movie review and partial tomboy review. Check out  J’adore les Tomboys! here. I expect to have many more posts and conversations on tomboys and female masculinities this summer, along with issues of queer spaces. Not only do I have a couple students who are extremely interested in such things, but their interests are dovetailing quite nicely into my own interests in addition to a couple other colleagues’ interests. I love to collaborate–assuming it is a true collaboration.  As such, we have started a couple reading groups and have plans to bust out some papers over the course of this next year.  I am eager to share some of my thoughts and our discussions on this blog.

Coming off of what I call “conference season” and the end of the semester push, Summer is a very exciting time for me as a researcher.  Something about it always makes it seem like the possibilities and opportunities are endless and I just might have the time to explore every idea that comes through my mind.  I know that is not actually the case…but now with blogging, tweeting, social networks, and online communities…I can at least enjoy in the many discussions surrounding my academic and nonacademic areas of interest. All of which enhance my micro-creativity and academic output. #justintimefortenure

Time To Get Back To Work

The first day back from any break is always the most freeing to me.  Seems odd, but breaks leave me feeling disruptive and out of “academic” shape so to speak.  However, the first day back is the day I clean-up, re-organize, and get back to work.  I really love this pic…I am not sure if it the tractor, the big tires, or what exactly, but I definitely want to thank my Facebook network for sharing this pic with me as it fits my mood for the day perfectly.

Mardi Gras Break, Making Choices, and Actually Writing

When I first learned of Mardi Gras break, I thought; “wow, great, more time to focus on writing and research.”  It will be like two spring breaks each year! However, ever since moving here it has been significantly more challenging than I expected.  The whole town seems to somewhat shut down, and of course friends and family always want to visit. What it essentially comes down to is a complete and total distraction. A distraction from my type A scheduling and a distraction from my writing habits.  I like to think that normally I am a pretty good sport, however this year the weather has also been bad and I have quite a few deadlines looming so it seems especially…in my way.  Sometimes you just have to fight it out no matter the distraction.

Always have two out…

In grad school we were taught to always have at least two papers out for review, at least two projects in the pipeline, and to be thinking about two new ideas for future work. I think in light of the tighter job market this has increased to five.  Personally, I can not really fathom having five papers out at once. My record is three I think, maybe four. However, this month I have managed to sign myself up for some serious writing deadlines.  Cross that with the fact that I have two conferences to attend and another to help organize next month.  I have to keep telling myself that it will get done…and it does, IF you sit down and do the work.

This actually brings up the main point of this particular post. You have to do the work. Over the past weekend, I feel like I lost my writing mojo. I have excuse after excuse for why I am not in the mood to write or why I can’t get to work. My schedule was disrupted, I don’t have access to that one thing I FEEL like I NEEDED to start, or the best is that an old friend is in town and I don’t know when I will get to see them next.  But thanks to an email from a very attentive grad student late yesterday evening, I realized that it was just that all excuses and at the end of the day (so to speak) you just have to sit down and start writing.  It is so easy to see when it is not you…of course the social psychologists know this, yet we still fall into the trap.  I am actually very grateful attentive grad student emailed me looking for tips since zi was “beginning zis work on the paper for [name of course] over the break.” I realized we were in the same boat. “Beginning to work” that was the red flag.

I am working, and actually writing…

For me getting started is the hardest part.  I am currently at a place where I am just “starting to” write about my latest work.  For the past few months, I have been editing, revising older work, and writing abstracts for paper and panel proposals but now I need to actually write for some of those deadlines. Enough of this starting and beginning…its time to actually write and get back in the habit of writing from nothing.  I decided to start with this blog piece. I could offer a few of my favorite tips for students and remind myself of how to find the mojo again.

Tip 1:  Know thyself

For me this means I have to set the mood.  I know where and when I feel the most productive.  I knew I would look forward to coming to my fav coffee shop on this first beautiful day after a series of gray days and that a hazelnut latte would really kick me into gear. I also need my earbuds in–whether music is on or not.  It’s all part of a writing tradition for me and a Pavlov’s response that gets me almost immediately focused.  (In fact a parade just went by and I am still writing…also I just took a moment to realize there are children playing within 5 feet of me and I only just now noticed).

Tip 2: Be prepared to be focused and actually write

This means having everything you need to do your writing. In addition to your research materials, outline, etc., and making some time to write, this also means a charged battery or power source for your computer, a full stomach, and an empty bladder.  Do not underestimate how distracting these things can be and what a damper they can put on your creativity and productivity.

Tip 3: Actually Write–Something, Anything…

Start by writing something, anything…  On the worst of days, I have even begun by writing my reference sections or title page.  Anything to get your fingers moving and your mind going.  I also prefer to write something that I want to write…whatever I am most interested in writing first.  Sometimes, if I am lucky, it is for that looming deadline, but other times it is for something bureaucratic or for fun (the mosquito that I have to kill before I can focus). And if none of these work for you, then just write a list and start with item one and go down from there (writing a list counts as writing too!).

Taming the wandering mind…

For me it is also helpful to not be so worried about the end product, not at this point just yet. That comes later.  Although, I do need a clear outline or focus to start writing–otherwise I am a wasteful writer, as I like to call it.  This means that I am likely to trash, delete, or heavily revise previously written words.  This is not a bad thing necessarily, but this is usually what is most frustrating for my students. For some reason, they do not like to “delete” what they have previously written.  However, if I have a clear focus, outline, or set intro I am able to be much more efficient and less wasteful of my time and productivity.  I can keep my eye on the ball so to speak.  With every piece we write there are so many interesting issues to discuss or avenues to explore it can become overwhelming.  I have since learned that, for me, part of being a producing writer is making choices, editing yourself (much like Tim Gunn would suggest with designing clothing), and completing projects. Furthermore, you can always explore and expand on those “less appropriate for this piece” nuances in future papers…so write those ideas down elsewhere, save for later, and keep your focus on your current project. Caution should always be used when taming the wandering mind because we definitely do not want to squash our enthusiasm or microcreativity.

Tip 4: Recognize and Reward Yourself!

It is always great to end on this positive note by recognizing what you did accomplish at the end of the day or writing period. Even if it is just a mental note.  I am always more excited to get back to work the next day if I have made note of what I accomplished in my last session once its over.  Sometimes I may be so proud (or glad to be finished) as to boast on Facebook or Twitter.  I also like to plan my next attack…this gives me a starting point for the next session which generally saves me a bit of time and keeps my focus on target.  Also, remember to reward yourself.  While I generally do this upon completion of a project, sometimes I also do it when I am having an especially hard time with a particular section or peice.  My favorite reward is a massage or taking myself to see a movie in the middle of a weekday afternoon.  I can be completely guilt-free even though I am not working. However, be careful when using rewards as it can be detrimental to attach them to every part, section, or thing…the real end reward should be the completed project.