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Month: February 2008

Yes, I Went to School For This. And No, It’s Not Easy

I was in the midst of walking a student through a complex research question early this week, and we were making decent progress, if slow, when we happened upon an excellent article for his topic. “Oh goody!” I said (yes… I said “goody,” I’m sorry), “Now we can take this and find more like it, and we can even find out if people have cited this one.” I headed toward the Web of Science and it’s glorious Cited Reference Search when the student looked at me and asked, “Wow. Did you have to take a class in this or something to learn all this stuff?”

Why yes. Yes I did. Several classes, in fact.

So the questions that keep running circles in my head are these: Is it wrong that I’m glad that I looked competent enough that the student figured I must have received special training? Shouldn’t I be worried that this looked so complicated that special training became evident? Or does it serve students well to learn that this is hard and requires a set of skills beyond plunking phrases into Google? Why do I simultaneously enjoy the complexity and feel bad for enjoying it? If research were easy, would that shake the foundations of academia? But if the tools for research were easier, wouldn’t that free up mental energies for actually learning from the research and doing something with it? But if it were too easy, would we ever find anything by accident that changed our topic ideas or challenged us to take on new views? So is it wrong of me to kind of enjoy not being able zero in on the 5 perfect sources within a space of seconds?

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I Love Catalogers

I just spent 20 minutes with a student hunting down the album number of a particular jazz album that was released last year. Lord’s Jazz Discography didn’t have it (the album is too recent to be included), Amazon didn’t have it (preferring to list only their own unique identifier, the ASIN number), the artist’s site didn’t list it (preferring to link to Amazon for all album information… For Circular Reference, see Reference, Circular; For Reference, Circular, see Circular Reference), and the recording label didn’t list it in their catalog either.

Then, just as we were deciding between giving up, going out to a music store and just looking at the album itself, or emailing the artist (who’s young and new and would probably do anything for a student who mentions studying the artist’s work in college), I remembered catalogers and the wonderfully meticulous work they do. Surely somebody has this album in their collection, and surely some cataloger has already done this hunting for us.

A quick WorldCat search brought up the album, and sure enough, there it was! Not only the album number, but also the recording and release dates… just sitting there waiting for us. O Frabjous Day! Catalogers ROCK!!

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Mourning My Do Nothing Day

This week was pretty incredibly stressful, the kind of week that makes me set my sights on the weekend and promise myself that I’ll be able to spend most of one whole day just curled up on the couch Continuous Partial Attentioning myself through movies, a book, and my friend the internet.

In fact, nearly every Saturday I try to take the day to recharge my spent batteries. I don’t have to talk to anyone if I don’t want to, and I don’t have to do anything if I don’t want to. It’s a Do Nothing day. If I’m to be a happy and productive member of society, I need these Do Nothing days, and I need them every single weekend.

But alas, just because I need them doesn’t make them possible. It was a sad day when I agreed to direct the campus handbell choir because they rehearse on Saturdays, but usually a 2-hour interruption of nothingness won’t kill the effects of the rest of the nothingness. And fairly frequently I’ll work on projects that I just can’t get done while I’m at work, but that don’t take a whole lot of brain power. But I try to think of these as minor interruptions of the Do Nothing day. The day still exists, it’s just spiced up a little.

Unfortunately for me, today I’ll be squeezing all the important weekend tasks into my Do Nothing day (handbell rehearsal, dishes, meal planning for next week, grocery shopping, laundry, paying bills, … you know the kinds of things) because tomorrow will be full of choir rehearsal and choir performance from 7am to 11, and Sunday reference from 1 to 10pm. I could almost cry.

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Comps Day

Seniors here have to complete a Comprehensive Exercise (a senior thesis or similar project) commonly referred to as “comps.” Each major has it’s own rules and deadlines, but today was Comps Day for Econ majors. It was so fun to see them going up to the printer to collect their impressively long papers with impressively long titles and just glowing!

Most of these kids haven’t slept in about 3 weeks, they’ve been stressed to the hilt producing a paper that’s several times longer than anything they’ve ever produced before, and their graduations hang in the balance over this one project. But today they’re bursting with so much joy and so much pride that they just spontaneously come up the desk, show me their papers, and say, in wonder, “This is my comps!”

So between finding information about Korean assimilation into Japanese corporate culture, sussing out good starting points for a paper on the effects of globalization on education in inner-city Chicago high schools, and a whole bunch of citation questions for one class that has a project due tomorrow, I got to congratulate a steady stream of dazedly ecstatic Econ seniors and promise them that yes, they’ll be even happier tomorrow after they’ve eaten something and slept a little.

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