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The Best Time in an Academic Career to Have Children

Yeah, there's no right time. Anyway, I was impressed by Sara's post a short while back -- she has done it both ways: one child during graduate school and one while on the tenure track. She says graduate school is a better time, which seems to be the consensus when I've read threads on the topic on places like the Chronicle forums, Mama PhD, etc.

I only know it one way: I've had both of mine on the tenure track. It has its stresses, but sometimes while doing child care I'll look at Jonathan and say, "Wouldn't it have sucked to do this in grad school?" He agrees. I've never been able to put my finger on why, exactly. After all, you aren't expected to spend much time on campus while in graduate school. But for me, after graduate school, there was this feeling of out-from-under that has, I believe, made me a happier and better parent than I would have been before. This post about a mock interview experience, written by a person I'm looking forward to getting to know better (on-blog, that is), captures the "under" feeling very well. I'm sure that a lot of people experience "under" while on the tenure track too, which is a probationary period, after all, but having kids during these years was best for us.

Am I an Expressivist?

I've always thought that no, I'm really not an expressivist. I'm much more interested in assigning research-based argument writing in my classes than I am in assigning personal narratives or personal essays. That being said, it isn't as though those genres are mutually exclusive, obviously. Here's where I stand now:

  • In my own experience having written a whole lot of different texts for academic audiences, the response to what I write is overwhelmingly more positive when I make it personal and accessible -- chatty, even -- than when I write a paper that more closely resembles the IMRAD tone and structure. I've also noticed that for academic lectures, not just ones I've given but ones I've attended, audience response is much more positive when a speaker tells stories along with presenting information and argument.

    Everybody wants edutainment. They may deny it, but that is, in fact, exactly what they want, I used to think, with a bit of annoyance. But now I've come to the more charitable view that everybody wants to be delighted while they are instructed.

    I believe that expressive touches (anecdotes, first person, reflective personal response to the subject matter) usually enrich the experience of both writing and reading academic discourse.

  • For teaching, then, that means I want students to feel personally invested in the subject matter of their essays, even though I am requiring them to write arguments supported by evidence from scholarly or high-popular sources in which they must also engage with opposing arguments. I encourage stories of personal encounters with the topic, in the introduction or wherever the student deems appropriate. Conclusions can be reflections on the process of reading a variety of perspectives on the topic and of writing the paper.

So, am I an expressivist?

Inscriptions on Desks

I've been doing a lot of class observations lately in fulfillment of my role as Director of First-Year Writing. As I sit in the back of the classroom for these observations, I decided to collect the epigrammatic statements that students write on the backs of desk chairs (line breaks in original):

  • I hate school
  • Gun Town
  • Ballin'

  • is the
  • Fuck


I think people who teach literature courses should do more of it. Jonathan is teaching Jesus' Son in his sophomore literature survey course, and I mentioned to him that maybe I should come and do a short guest appearance in his class, just to get up in front of the students and say, "OMG YOU GUYS, this book is SOOOO GOOOOOOD" and the like. I know he won't do it. The professors I had in college never gushed either. It was always just "okay, for Thursday, read 'Among School Children' and 'The Second Coming.'"

How is it that so many people come to read the Twilight or Harry Potter books? People they know gush about them, and their enthusiasm motivates. Do you teach literature? Do you make a point of showing strong enthusiasm about the works you teach?

The Semester Begins

Almost a month without a post...that may be a record. I will try not to make a habit of it.

Classes start Monday. I didn't get as much done this summer as I had hoped, but there's nothing I can do about that now. This semester I am teaching one graduate course (a composition pedagogy practicum) and, for the first time in two years, a first-year writing course. I finally feel like a credible composition scholar again. I know many may take offense to that; sorry. Of course it's not as if you're only as credible as the recentness of the last time you taught first-year writing. Many people have taught basic writing and first-year writing for decades, but haven't taught it in five or ten years, for example. It's just a personal point of view I have; I will have more confidence in my scholarship about pedagogy if I teach first-year writing regularly. I'm class-testing They Say, I Say and am interested to see how that will go.

In other news, Henry will be sixteen months old tomorrow!

Two Academic Reality Show Ideas

1. Top Poet: Like Top Chef, Project Runway, and similar shows, Top Poet would take a group of talented young poets and give them challenges (take a story from mythology and write a poem about it; write in a certain form or style; write a poem using the following "ingredients," which could be words, genres, etc.). The winner would be decided by a panel of expert judges.

2. So You Think You Can Teach: Talented teachers are assigned a lesson topic, sometimes in their content areas, sometimes not. They are given access to any technology they want to use. Teaching demonstrations are limited to about five minutes, and teachers can lecture or lead discussions with small groups of randomly selected members of the studio audience. America votes to decide the winner.


Enculturation and The Writing Instructor, two journals that had gone a few years without publishing, are back online. I'm happy to see them.

Market, Schmarket

I am thrilled to be NOT on the job market this year, and I hope I never have to do that again. I do have to chair a search committee (again, sigh), this time for a Writing Center director. Please don't hesitate to apply if you have some interest in this area and Writing Center experience.

Also, I've been asked to help circulate these two ads -- I'm happy to do my part. One for the University of Texas:

The Department of Rhetoric & Writing (DRW) at The University of Texas at Austin is accepting applications for an assistant professor position in emerging communication technologies and digital media, including video and gaming, and with emphasis on production.

DRW faculty members have the opportunity to teach a wide array of courses designed to contribute to the undergraduate major in Rhetoric and Writing and the graduate concentration in Digital Literacies and Literatures -- all with the support of our nationally renowned Computer Writing and Research Lab (CWRL), which operates state-of-the-art computer classrooms. As a member of the DRW faculty, the selected candidate will be expected to teach at all levels of our curriculum, to direct dissertations, MA reports, and honors theses, to publish actively, and to offer service to the Department, the College, and the University.

The successful candidate will demonstrate both a scholarly and a pedagogical commitment to the intersections of rhetoric and technology studies and should have completed a PhD in rhetoric and writing or a related field prior to start date.

The DRW boasts a dynamic, collegial, nationally and internationally recognized faculty with interests in the history, theory, and criticism of rhetoric, composition theory and pedagogy, technologies of writing, visual rhetoric, empirical research, writing in the disciplines and professions, rhetoric and poetics, and language and literacy studies. Sub-units of the DRW include the Undergraduate Writing Center, the Computer Writing and Research Lab, and the College of Liberal Arts Writing Across the Curriculum Initiative. Teaching load is 2/2; salary is competitive.

Application deadline is October 31, 2008.

Email a letter of application, curriculum vita, dissertation abstract, and statement of teaching philosophy (no longer than one page) to Search Committee Chair Clay Spinuzzi at

Also submit three letters of recommendation via U.S. Mail to:

Clay Spinuzzi, Search Committee Chair

Department of Rhetoric & Writing
1 University Station B5500
The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX 78712-0200

Position funding is pending budgetary approval. A background check will be conducted on successful candidate. The University of Texas at Austin is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

And one for the University of Minnesota:

The Department of Writing Studies in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota invites applications for a full-time, nine-month faculty position beginning fall semester 2009 (August 31, 2009). Appointment will be made at the rank of professor with tenure or associate professor with tenure, depending on qualifications and experience and consistent with collegiate and University policy.

Required Qualifications: Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition, English, Technical Communication, or a related field, and at least six years experience in an academic position; record of scholarship and teaching that meets the criteria for tenure and appointment as professor or associate professor at the University of Minnesota; established reputation as scholar and teacher with significant and innovative research agenda and experience

Preferred Qualifications: Familiarity with and enthusiasm for providing scholarly leadership for writing studies as an emerging academic field; demonstrated ability to bring visibility to the department and its programs through a nationally recognized and ongoing research agenda; ability to contribute to the department's existing and developing undergraduate and graduate programs; demonstrated successful teaching at several levels; success in or potential for mentoring and advising graduate students

We seek the strongest candidate in writing studies regardless of sub-field; however, we have interest in the following areas: visual communication; digital literacies; technical communication; rhetoric and composition; medical or health writing. We will favor candidates whose dossiers demonstrate scholarly distinction and on-going record of publication.

Candidates will be evaluated according to the overall quality of their academic preparation and scholarly/research profile, evidence of commitment to teaching and skills as a teacher, and strength of recommendations. We are most strongly interested in a full professor but would consider an advanced associate professor whose record demonstrates the ability to be promoted to full professor within the year.

For more information about the position and the department, please visit the job posting web site at

(scroll down to Writing Studies and click on the link)

or contact Professor Mary Lay Schuster, search committee chair, at
or Professor Laura Gurak, department chair, at

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