Sunday, August 29, 2010

End of the week

Well, it was less "easing in" than I'd hoped. The processing and welcoming of new students (and bidding farewell to their parents) went off fine, but registering the new students teetered on the brink of disaster all week. Our online registration system is clunky and difficult at the best of times, and this time it kept refusing to recognize new students as first-years, which meant it wouldn't register them for their required first-year courses. Argh. It is not a good thing when your college's registrar has to send emails titled "Don't panic!" in the middle of registration. I had enough to do trying to keep track of my advisees' interests, AP credits, and the like, without also having to fight the software.

On the other hand, the prospect of starting class on Monday does indeed seem like a breeze, in contrast.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Easing in

Class doesn't start for me until next week, but I'm going to have to be on campus every day this week. Faculty at SLAC are expected to attend opening receptions and new student orientation activities--we all got recruited to either lead a discussion on the campus's common reading or give a mini-lecture that gives them a taste of teaching. As a new advisor, I have an advising workshop to go to, and then I need to meet with my crew of new advisees and get them registered for fall classes.

This is maybe more involvement with new-student stuff than faculty have at larger institutions, no? But this is part of the atmosphere SLAC sells itself on. I'm actually hopeful that it will be a good way to get myself more used to a structured routine. I have been spending the summer sleeping late and having very unstructured time, and I need to get used to getting up earlier and paying attention to what time it is.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Belfry house

My house does not have a belfry, but it is a big old house, and it does have bats, apparently.

Let me first say that I am a squeamish person, I don't like being around wildlife, and the bats make me panic quite enough as it is. When we first encountered bats in the house, I posted about it on facebook, at which point a good half dozen of my friends started posting panicky comments about rabies! and omg what if they bit you! So if you are squeamish and panicky about bats yourself, please do not read any further; I really don't need my own paranoia fed by yours. I am posting here because I need to vent a little, and my real-life friends mostly don't read here and so won't hassle me about the bats later. OK?

We found two bats in the house back in May. One was dead when we first saw it. The other I found alive, when I was at home alone; I wigged out, shut up the room it was in, and by the time my partner (henceforth, Batcatcher) came home (24 hours later) it was dead. Then we didn't see any for several weeks. In late July we found a couple more dead ones, all intact, lying on the floor. Our best guess is that one of our cats nabbed them (probably during the day, when they were sleepy and slow-moving) and abandoned them when they were no longer moving.

The exciting new wrinkle of the last few days is that we started finding them live. We went up to our TV room, which is in our finished attic, and as soon as we turned the lights on a bat started flying around. We have rigged a catching device out of a pillowcase and a wire coat hanger. Batcatcher nabs them in this improvised net, holds the pillowcase closed, takes them outside, and releases them. Three live bats in the last three nights. (we hope it isn't the same bat over and over again, sigh) It seems like time to call in professionals to see if they can figure out where the bats are getting in and stop them...

Friday, August 6, 2010

On being a hedgehog

This is written in response to Notorious, PhD's recent series on being a scholarly fox vs. hedgehog, at Notorious's suggestion, in fact. Those posts elicited numerous comments on the joys of fox-ness, and she thought perhaps I might be better placed to offer a defense, or praise, of the hedgehog. On reflection, I'm not sure if this adds up to either defense or praise, but I can talk about what being a hedgehog feels like to me.

My scholarly interests focus on certain key themes. I'm interested in women, religion, and community, and in a particular region, at that. That is, I'm interested in how religious women formed communities; how religious women engaged with the surrounding community; and how community norms shaped women's religious experiences. My research started with a particular cache of documents, all related to a single institution.

From that starting point, my research has pushed outward in different directions. I have looked at institutions of different religious orders and in different cities, and have looked at both vowed nuns and lay women. One paper took me into the heady specialty of liturgiology; I'm now attempting to explore the roles of lay servants at monasteries. In general, interesting sources have led me in these varying directions, and each has required me to get familiar with different scholarship and resources.

I still consider myself a hedgehog, however, because all the various papers and small projects I've pursued stem from the same coherent core of interests. I keep a running list of research questions I'd like to pursue at some point, which currently fills a whole page, single-spaced, and all fit into the same core interests of women, religion, and community (and for the most part, stick to the same region). I don't feel constrained or pressured to stay in my patch, as some of the fox commenters seem to; these are the questions that come to me naturally, and they could occupy me for years to come.

I think my job at a small liberal arts college suits my hedgehogging, in a couple of ways.

1) As I am the only medievalist, I must teach widely (in fact, I teach early modern history as well), so I get opportunities to exercise broader interests in my teaching. I taught a seminar involving persecution and the inquisition, for example, which I love to teach, but have no interest in researching.

2) My college has limited research expectations for tenure. Since our teaching load is intense, I call this sane, although I think some of my fellow young faculty see it as a failure of ambition. Perhaps, but to me it also indicates that I have freedom to work on what I like, without having to publish it in Sufficiently Impressive Venues.

As I said in a comment at Dr. N's, I am still early in my career. My first book is still a work in progress, and there may come a day when I wake up and decided I have nothing more to say about religious women and community. Perhaps on that day I will become a fox.

But I think my final note is that the fox-hedgehog binary, like so many others, is ultimately a matter of perspective. I commented to Notorious that I think of my advisor as a fox (er... in this scholarly-metaphorical sense), while she thinks of him as a hedgehog. I don't want to make too much of this perceived divide, therefore; surely the reality is a spectrum of interests and approaches which varies for each individual.


How did it get to be August? Where did the time go?

My summer goals have met with decidedly mixed success. I've made progress on preparing new courses and preparing for my fall review, but not so much with the writing. I may still be able to get some writing in before class starts...but that's only three weeks off... so we'll see how much I can accomplish.

I am not entirely happy with my lack of productivity this summer, but I think the reality is that I needed a break. To review, in the last year, I bought a house, moved halfway across the country, started a new tenure-track job, gave papers at two conferences, and experienced my father's death. This summer has been, if not productive, a valuable time for rest and renewal.