Category Archives: Professing

Working through #Orlando and The Symbolic Importance of Gay Bars











Yesterday, I woke up to the news “that someone had shot up a gay club in Orlando and there were many injured and killed.” I then went about my morning getting ready to go to a gay family picnic celebration. There would be snowballs, a jumping castle, and lots of games and fun stations set-up for kids to play.  The news hadn’t sunk in yet, and I didn’t look for details. There was some slight talk at the event and I had at least two interactions with folks that they were glad this celebration was taking place at a (and this is my description) “gated” park and reservation were previously made to attend. I like to think the reservations were so those organizing the event would know how many to plan for…but now I wonder. Dont get me wrong these reservations were made weeks ago…but here NOLA we still have closed family FB groups, and operate by rules some of y’all might think are from the days in which social tolerance was much lower.

My initial thoughts regarding Orlando were that this was some serious hate and I was sure it was planned and planned for Pride. The social psychologist in me guessed some perceived threat had likely led to this event. It was only after I had returned home that I started to learn the details and the death toll was rising.

There are so many angles and lessons to learn from this event, but for me I felt compelled to share my opinions on the symbolic importance of the gay bar to myself and the gay community to my FB friends and family. No doubt there would be a back lash coming that would judge the gay bar and blaming the victims–based on sexual orientation, lifestyle, and even just being at a bar.  The post lead to many responses to me personally via messages, texts, and also shares and from friends I haven’t spoken to in years. As such, I thought maybe I should share it here too with a few minor edits:

My post was spurred by these two tweets from Jeramey Kraatz:





I don’t usually write this sort of thing..esp on FB but…I feel compelled to comment today.

I tried to find a link to the gay night club mass shooting that wasn’t linked with terrorism but in any case, I really just wanted to make note of a couple sentiments that I think make this particularly impactful for the lgbt community including but not limited to the fact that this took place during Pride month and at a bar.

For many gay bars were and are, even though we love to make fun of them or dismiss them within the community or rarely go to them, the most accessible safe spaces for us. They have academically been compared to churches for the LGBT community–and just knowing they are there is powerful. Having access to safe spaces, and then not, or to now to be scared, because something has happened in your “house”…and during your holiday or time of celebration. I have gone years not really celebrating Pride, but on a day like this you realize why it is there and why we do it and why it is important.

Growing up a sexual minority means you were most likely raised by the majority script this means you likely weren’t taught the skills, or coping mechanisms to deal with your sexuality and most definitely homophobia while you were growing up or from your family. And, living in fear that those you love the most may not understand. Moreover, you go from one day being what you thought of as “typical” and having unrecognized privileges to coming out and in the next moments many of those things are wiped away. To then have to re-frame expectations for yourself and what you can do and what is…just because of a few words you said out loud. And, I am not even going to get into dealing with changes in relationships–friends, family, coworkers, whatever.

I had an amazing coming out and was so lucky that I didn’t lose those I cared about, but til this day I can say I also never came out to 2 people that I loved deeply because of that fear. Maybe I will tell my friend now since I am sure she knows as we are Facebook friends although we never speak of it. The other was my grandmother who is no longer with us…but I am pretty sure she knows.

Mural at Mary's


Some recommended reads and viewing:

The Long, Tragic History of Violence at LGBTQ Bars and Clubs in America

The Upstairs Lounge Fire: The Little Known Story of the Largest Killing of Gays in US History

Documentary: Small Town Gay Bar (2006)

Documentary: Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria (2005)

Documentary: Stonewall Upraising (2010)

A Feel Good Movie for Pride: Pride (2014)





Professor Pet Peeves and Water Cooler Talk

I recently shared a tweet about Sociological Images’ Professors’ Pet Peeves. The tweet got an unprecedented number of favorites and retweets. I found this quite amusing as it clearly illuminated my twitter audience and offered a moment of professional “in solidarity.” As the pet peeves listed were so true and (stereo)typical. Lisa Wade did a great job with this list.

keepcalmreadsyllabusThe pet peeves listed are very common and always incite commentary among my colleagues. I would even go as far to say that these pet peeves are commonly known and discussed by professors around the globe. However, upon closer consideration, I began to questions the frequency of these offenses in my semester. The one that occurs most often in my world is by far the “unprofessional correspondence” and followed closely by what I would refer to as “stuff that’s on the syllabus.” I realized in thinking about how much I interact with students and the sheer number of students, it is actually fairly rare that more than a couple of theses offenses occurs in any given semester. Meanwhile, my water cooler talk, Facebook, and Twitter do “blow-up” quite frequently with incidences every month. I guess when you have one or two instances a semester across a large group of people it does make the problem seem rampant.

In my case, these incidences may not happen very often but in most cases when they do it is memorable. I would also say that there has been a definite shift in the last few years related to student-professor interactions in which those interactions have felt more casual and students seem bolder. I say this as a mere observation and do not mean to suggest this is either good or bad. I do also have to admit I wonder quite frequently if its me—did I not explain something adequately? Is it a change in student culture, perhaps a cohort effect related to the Millennials?  Or could something else be going on?  At times, it feels very hard to grasp as I, as a student, would never have thought to tell a professor I wasn’t going to be in class or point out that I missed a day. I definitely would not own up to not having read the syllabus, and I rarely went to the professor directly for information outside of the substantive material covered in class.

Perhaps, we have been indoctrinated into an academic culture in such a way that these skills seem so innate to us and when someone doesn’t know them it almost seems like an issue of common sense or this at times is how it is talked about. We think students should know or find it disrespectful if it is ignored or time was not take to learn these skills. After all, most of us spend the entire first day on our expectations, the syllabus, and if you are like me our individual pet peeves, preferences, and so forth. Thus, the annoyance when offenses occur because it is as if we were not heard.

But what if we also consider that not all students get everything covered in every class. In fact, few do.  While I do largely agree that many students do fully utilize their syllabi, I would also suggest that current students come from a culture of available information at the tips of the fingers and they ask questions. Not only do they ask questions, and some even operate by going directly to the source with their questions and concerns—aka the professor. All things I would appreciate/commend if it were about content or substantive coursework material. So why is it so annoying to us when it is about the logistics of the course?

We know how much work we put into our courses and classrooms. We hear how often we say these things, perhaps the annoyance. I often have to explain p-values, for example, a number of times to various students and often times I know I have explained it multiple times to the same student and will likely explain it multiple times more. I rarely get frustrated or consider that the student is being disrespectful or not listening in those cases, merely that they have not grasped the concept yet. Maybe we are creating a hierarchy of what is consider to be easier or harder concepts to grasp. Logistics we may take for granted as concepts to be taught. Also, logistics vary greatly across courses and professors and maybe inconsistently enforced from setting to setting or professor to professor. Nevertheless, we expect to explain multiple times content to our students…shouldn’t we expect to explain the logistics too?

watercoolertalkI don’t have a solution to offer beyond patience and setting clear expectations from day one (and possibly being prepared to reiterate those expectations), but I will say that one great latent function that comes from all of this for the professor and academic culture is the water cooler talk and social bonding.

It’s OK to Slack on Blogging



Blogging is not very impactful toward making tenure…thus I occasionally slack on it.

and, that’s ok.

How I Used Twitter and Ended Up Learning to Write

With Kate Drabinski

We write all the time. We’re academics, so it’s sort of our job. And then there’s twitter. Why bother tweeting? It isn’t real writing, and it will never make it in our tenure or promotion files, so isn’t it a waste of time? Not at all, we say, and here’s why.

1. Twitter keeps us thinking and learning. Real time online conversations keep us moving and going and thinking and seeing others being productive. It is a place where academics can feed for ideas and spurs our micro-creativity. Compared to the traditional academic timeline in which feedback and interests can be months or even years—let’s be honest, Twitter real time conversations enables real time feedback. This feedback and interest in what we, and others, are thinking about inspires our writing.

2. Twitter keeps our offline writing projects moving. Because of those real-time conversations, we stay motivated to keep writing and thinking when we log off. It can also help us to make decisions we might otherwise stew over. Twitter keeps us productive and can jolt us out of those negative phases when we get blocked or discouraged. Sometimes it just takes a single tweet to help get out of bed. Also, a response or favorite from a follower can help us to not feel so alone when we are discouraged or moving slower—to recognize it all as part of the process.  “@drcompton @kdrabinski I feel this!”

3. Twitter forces us to think about audience, something academics are notoriously bad at doing well. We both tweet to multiple audiences–academics, sure, but also activists, students, personal friends, family members, Ashley Judd, Dr. Ruth, fellow bicyclists in the case of @kdrabinski, and fellow sneaker enthusiasts in the case of @drcompton. Tweets go out to all these followers, and part of tweeting well is remembering this and writing in clear ways that will resonate with these different audiences at different times, but never with everyone at all times. These are important skills to remember as we write offline for similarly diverse audiences, and twitter makes us practice on a daily basis.

4. That tiny character count makes us be precise in our writing, another thing academics are notoriously bad at. We’ll leave it at that, for precision’s sake.

5. Being precise means revising, deleting, rewriting, and revising again, the very most important parts of writing well, and the parts too often left for later until forgotten altogether. 140 characters isn’t a lot, and rarely is our thought fully formed the first time we try to force it into that tiny space. We must focus, focus, focus—focusing on what is really necessary and important. We find ourselves deleting, trying again, figuring out what can be saved for another tweet, and what our central point really is. Twitter forces us to revise on the spot, and real skills are developed that translate to our offline writing. After all, a first draft is simply writing to the starting line. The real work is in the revision, and twitter won’t let us forget that.


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!”


Your Professor has Moods, Deadlines, Bad Days, and Feelings too

It’s common for us to attribute doing well to ourselves and doing poorly to others and or the circumstances around us.  However, something it seems to me that students often fail to fully realize is that professors are people too. Which means we have feelings, moods, and just as many life disruptions as our students.

In college prep courses and tips online it seems to be common knowledge that students should let their professors know what is going on in their lives–when they are having a hard time, and so forth. This way the professor makes less assumptions and often times may have ideas that can help or contribute to easing a students negative emotional state.  In my view, if you are at a state where you are crying in a professor’s office, then there are bigger things going on…and those things really should be the central focus for the student over my class. This is one reason I offer a drop assignment, and for the big life events, we have Withdrawals, Drops, and Incompletes. I know to students these seem like the enemy and as bad things, but they really shouldn’t be viewed that way unless they are being abused. No one is perfect and everyone is affected by life at some point.

It is rarely talked about among academic circles and I would go as far as to suggest that it may even be faux pas for a professor to let students know about their issues.  While, I do let me students know when I will be traveling or have big deadlines, I generally try to distance any negativity going on in my personal world from my professional life and definitely from my students. I am sure my RAs can predict my moods and know when the best times are to approach me about various things…and when to not. Just off of the top of my head I know I can be “short” or what I consider to be task focused if Im on my way to the restroom/coffee, headed upstairs (which is equated with class or Deans and other faculty), or need to leave for an off campus appointment.

I know a professor (not at my school) who currently hates a particular day of the week because of a mandatory meeting s/her has to attend in the afternoons. It would be easy to imagine that this professor’s morning classes on this day are a different experience than on a different day of the week.  Likewise, this is why I strongly encourage making appointments for meetings even during office hours. If you want to have a 100% focus from your professor, it is good to let them know you are coming and what you are going to want to talk about. This way they can be prepared to fully help you out and schedule the appropriate time to interact with you.  I often have students show up in the last few minutes of my office hours, more so than at the beginning. I use to schedule my hours prior to my classes, but I found that I felt as if I had to rush the students.  Now, I put in a break, but this too is then often eaten into. I also worry about if it is a disservice to stay into “my time” for the student who now expects me to be accessible 24-7.  I know it is a disservice to my writing and family life.

This brings me to a conversation I overheard  at our student union this past week.  A group of caring students were extremely upset about a test they had just taken. They had prepared for the test studying notes, the book, etc. and from their perspective, very little of this was on the test.  These students, (students who worked and expected to make A’s) felt they had failed.  Additionally, they were very upset at the professor.  How could s/he do that to them?  So they were brainstorming their angry emails–which would surely have an accusatory tone.

For me it was clear there were a number of assumptions being made.  The first and most obvious was that they had failed.  I encouraged them to at least wait 48 hours and see if they felt the same after 2 days.  We can get a great deal of new information that really affect our feelings and understanding of situations if we can be patient for just 48 hours. Sometimes, issues can even be entirely resolved.

Or, to even give the professor a chance to return the exams and see what the situation really was–did they in fact fail? In my mind as a professor, there are a ton of things that could be going on or have gone wrong not at all related to the student. It brought to mind this one time when I accidently gave the wrong exam to a class–I had updated and changed a number of questions around specifically for their class and class discussions but then managed to print of the exam from the previous semester that had not been changed. I of course caught my mistake quite quickly and figured out an appropriate way to fix the scenario.  I am so thankful this test was on a Friday, it must have been on a Friday, because I was able to get out ahead of the issue before any students had emailed with concerns. Now, this was a rare case. However, I did make it right.

Often times space, time, and patience can answer questions and ease our concerns.  For me the most tragic assumption is that professors are out to get the student. I find this to be the most tragic, because I know this as a complete myth. Never have I witnessed or heard of this being the case.  I would believe in unicorns first.  I can reconcile that more easily over the above increasingly more common assumption. I have at least scene a goat at a circus that had one horn growing out of the center of his head or they may just be really good at hiding. But above all, believing in unicorns doesn’t put me on the defense, create more obstacles in my life, or waste my emotional energy.





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?


A million miles a minute…

This week I guest lectured in a colleague’s marriage and family course.  Assigned with the task of “discussing gay and lesbian families,” I wanted to cover gay/lgbt/queer families, issues of access to resources, social tolerance, methodologies, and of course you have to discuss the health and well-being of the children.  However, I only had on hour to build a rapport, to cover the foundational issues–why families are important social institutions, lgbt/queer terminologies, defining lgbt/queer families, and then get into the more substantive issues I wanted to cover. While I think I gave them some good information, especially foundational, I know I didn’t get to cover the things I most wanted to discuss like the ins and outs of the same-sex marriage debate, “families of choice,” heteronormativity, and more. Most of all, I think I left most unsettled because I failed to leave time for questions. My options were to speak a million miles a minute or trim…

Guest lecturing is a tricky thing. In many ways, it makes me think of job interviews except less formal.  Over the weekend, I worked on my lecture and spent a good deal of time thinking about what I wanted to wear. (Dress really affects my confidence in the classroom–and for a one time meeting/talk it is paramount that I feel good about what I’m wearing. I am not talking so much from a style point of view, rather a practical point of view in which I do need to look different from students, but more importantly I need to not be worried about if my zipper is down, tripping over chords–I’m a klutz–and how my shirt is hanging/tucked).

When guest lecturing, I always plan to have too much rather than too little to talk about. In fact, normally in this sort of situation I would have set up 2 half hour lectures. This way you can roll with the mood of the class and various levels of talkativeness. You can also taylor to their interests.

This past Monday, I forgot almost all these “tricks.”  To be honest, I think I was just eager to please and couldn’t wait to have some more in class interaction. It really kills me that we didnt get to have the Q&A at the end. I will never make that mistake again, even if it means setting the timer on my phone.

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”


Southern Sociological Society currently visiting NOLA

Have I mentioned how much I love conferences!  In fact, I get so excited about them (especially if I am getting reimbursed) that I am like little kid on the eve of their favorite holiday/birthday.  I even have trouble sleeping a night or two before because I get so excited.  And this year, “Southern’s” is in my city (that means it is cheap for me to attend).  Southern’s is one of my regularly attended conferences. I especially like it for when I am presenting on topics of social psychology and queer studies.  However, I do prefer my “home” conference of the Southwestern Social Science Association when presenting on topics of demography or to reunite with my grad school people.

This morning I went to a wonderful research incubator session where “older” (meaning more experienced, nothing related to age ) scholars chime in on the work of younger (less experienced, perhaps even new to the field) scholars.  The room was set up like a board room and I my heart beat for these two, yes only two graduate students who were presenting their work to some big names in the group process world. Luckily, for us, Group folk are very nice and really do want you to succeed.  Some of this session really took me back to when I was first presenting on my dissertation ideas and the way that presenting really further develops, not only one’s actual work, networking, etc., but also one’s confidence and demeanor within academia–you know the things our mentor’s tell us as to why its important and why we should do it.

Like most who are indoctrinated into academia, I have always thought that conference attendance and presenting at conferences was important and very practical, however as a graduate student and early professor I took for granted the many different more subtle ways your research and you as a researcher and teacher gain from conference participation.  Things we “know,” but only really realize after our nerves settle–usually because we have some presentations and publishings under our belts. For the last couple hours, I have not stopped thinking about these more subtle nuances.

First and foremost, I have been thinking about how it helps us to build our identities as academics. As young scholars when we critical of something we hear and are validated by other responses…this allows us to feel right and builds our confidence…the same thing as when we are understanding and agreeing with presenters.  My favorite is when you have the same question as a “big name.” This is the best because the question means something is unclear to you…but then when “big name” brings it up it just really seals that you may have had your eye on the ball and were hearing things in the same way.  This is always a confidence builder. Q&A time also allows you to see who thinks like you, who things differently, and who thought of something new to you, all of which in my opinion can really spur one’s micro-creativity. In fact, after attending just one session this morning I have a new paper idea–something that is always exciting.

None of this is not to say that presenting at conferences gets easier…rather presenting at conferences just gets different. I do miss the days when I was rather naive and did not recognize the faces in the crowd as “names.”  In many ways this was quite helpful. The good news is that for every name you recognize in the crowd, you probably also can see a “friendly” face too and that always helps. A “friendly” face may be a friend you have made from academia and your conference attendance, or it may also just be a friendly face.  In fact, one of the most friendly faces I have ever seen actually turned out to be the mom of one of my fellow panelists.  Throughout my entire talk, she held eye contact, was constantly nodding yes, and just sent such good positive energy my way. I didn’t know who this person was, but they loved my work and I was a more awesome presenter because of it. I have a friend who has similar story, however, her friendly face ended up being a big name in the field.  So you just never know.

Conference attendance also makes me a more efficient teacher and researcher.  I get to hear about and learn about a number of papers and topics that I, in all honesty, would probably not have known about or looked into.  It further allows me to remember the research(er) with out really trying.  A context is created for the researcher, their work, and that time period in our field and in my life that gives a much bigger insight into the research, field or even academia than merely reading the paper.  It also saves a great deal of time. I will see many more presentations in one day and hold on to that information, than I would if I read as many papers. Although I guess one could make the quantity vs quality argument where  you perhaps would not use all that you saw but would read papers that were more focused-in on specific topics of interest.  But in the case of conferences, I actual prefer former.

I prefer to attend sessions that are outside my areas of interest just to stay up on the field and what is going on.  I find this helpful especially for my teaching and for the students.  While I do try to peruse at least one of the main journals each month…that goal often goes unmet. And once again, being exposed to these different areas and their perspectives really does stimulate my own brain and research agenda.

It also helps with my colleagues. I like to go to their sessions to support them, this in turn creates a fuller understanding of them academically and a fuller understanding of what they do. This is  especially helpful in advising graduate students and also discovering new possibilities for collaboration. All while building closer ties with colleagues and boosting morale.