The SMDS “Suggested Reading” List

I have to apologize to those of you who’ve joined the SMDS RSS feed over the past week or so, because your (much-appreciated) interest in my blog happens to coincide with my needing to step away. A dissertation deadline beckons, so I need to hoard all of my creative juices, gremlin style, until Tuesday, October 23.

Until then, dear reader, I thought I would pass along a “Suggested Reading” list for those of you who are new to the website. These are some of my favorite posts so far, and hopefully offer a little insight into what The Six Million Dollar Scholar is all about.

My grandmother being nutty as she was wont to do.

Nude Models, Pot Brownies, and Frankenfoot: A Tribute to My Grandmother

I wrote this post on what would have been my grandmother’s eighty first birthday. It’s my favorite post because it’s about one of my favorite people; you’ll enjoy it because it’s a reminder that sometimes we don’t need to look very far to find a hero. In my case, I realized I grew up with a brilliant, hardcore feminist in my basement, a woman whose improbable life deserves to be the stuff of books.

Vito Russo, about whom an entire post is coming very soon. Born July 11, 1946, died November 7, 1990. His is one of the many faces I can't get out of my head. Click image to see the website this image came from.

What I’m Learning from A Giant Stack of Obituaries

I came home from my most recent research trip with literally hundreds of obituaries, and no immediate use for them. I’ve since discovered that they may indeed have a home in my dissertation. Even if that turns out not to be the case, they were worth the money I spent printing them, because they taught me a lot about myself, about the research process, and about the fiction that is the personal/professional binary.

Dear Diary

This post has a special place in my heart, because it’s probably the single most effective life hack I’ve implemented since starting The Six Million Dollar Scholar. At the time I wrote the post, I’d only been journaling for six days, but today I can report that, for the first time in my life, I have a daily journaling practice. it’s now been almost two months, and I’m still going strong. It’s incredibly rewarding, and—for an historian, anyway—a great reminder that not all archives are brick and mortar.

Taken yesterday.

The Human Thundershirt

Quite possibly the strangest proof-of-concept blog post ever, I demonstrate that my newfound ability to calm the world’s most disturbed canine is a sign that the world needs more blogs like mine. Plus, there’s an abundance of pictures of a sweet baby puppy dog face girl.

When One Door Closes, Make Lemonade

My summer session course ended up being cancelled, a highly improbable scenario realized by a perfect storm of utter lameitude. When I wrote this post, I thought I’d done a pretty great job polishing a gnarly turd of a moment in my teaching career. In hindsight though, it’s nothing short of amazing how everything worked out. After all, while I didn’t anticipate being out of a teaching job, I neither did I anticipate running into medical problems this summer that would have made teaching a damned-near Herculean task. Maybe, just maybe, the universe was looking out for me?

That oughta keep you busy! See y’all again soon!

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

The Academic in Pain, or, Why I Want to Have Surgery

Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to be meeting with my surgeon to discuss the results of my MRA, and next steps. If said next step doesn’t involve surgery, I’ll be shocked… and not in a good way.

Nobody likes being cut up, but—in my world, anyway—it’s far preferable to managing symptoms. As any academic living with chronic pain will tell you, managing one’s work and one’s body takes a serious toll. I’d rather spend a few weeks out of the academic game now than working for years with a divided brain.

I’m not being literary when I use the term “divided brain.” When one lives with chronic pain, their brain is always partially occupied by processing that pain. Neurologists can explain the science of pain better than I can, but I’m intimately familiar with its results: fogginess, forgetfulness, and fatigue. It’s one of the world’s crappier alliterative triple threats.

My grandmother always used to say "If I had a brain I'd be dangerous." I concur.

My grandmother always used to say “If I had a brain I’d be dangerous.” I concur.

I lived with chronic pain through all four years of college. During my freshman year I was recovering from major surgery. Sophomore year was spent managing pain in an attempt to hold off yet another surgery. The first half of my junior year was spent walking with crutches, and the latter half on medical leave, recovering from the surgery I’d been trying to avoid. Senior year—circle of life style—was spent recovering from major surgery.

Did I do well at Bryn Mawr? Yes, I did exceedingly well. Could I have done better? Yes. Maybe not much better, but better. I also could have been happier. I missed out on everything from dance parties to studying abroad to trips into Philadelphia with friends, because pain made those experiences more upsetting than enjoyable. To quote one of my favorite 1950’s PSAs, “Perhaps a diagram will help!”

Now that I am again struggling with chronic pain, I’m finding myself operating much the same way I did in college:

  • I planned to get a good eight hours of sleep last night, but my body overruled me and I got twelve hours instead. And yes, I still laid down for an hour during the day. I’ll be in bed within the next hour, meaning that I’ll have spent more than half of the past day asleep.
  • My desk is littered with sticky notes to help keep me from forgetting all the things I’m supposed to be doing, and everything in my iPhone calendar has an alert attached to it. Everything.
  • I schedule my academic work around my pain medication,
  • Simple things like shopping and laundry require strategic planning to maximize efficiency and minimize the number of times I have to climb the forty stairs to my apartment.
  • Spending time with me means you’re coming to my apartment. I love all of the people in my life, but—as I put it to one friend—these days I’ll only leave the apartment for money, food, and medicine.

I’m pretty good at managing with a divided brain, but it’s not ideal. As we all know, college is one thing… graduate school and beyond is another thing entirely.

I’ve been lucky up to this point in my life, because I’ve always known that at some point I wouldn’t be working with a divided brain anymore. That’s a luxury that many people do not have, and one for which I have always been very grateful. It’s a huge part of the reason I decided to spend my life studying patient advocacy.

That’s why tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to have my fingers crossed for an aggressive, invasive, painful procedure. The sooner I can get back to thinking with my “whole” brain, the sooner I can get back to the business of making the academy a more accessible place for all of us.

Grading Hacks, Or, Unleashing Your Inner “Continental”

Christopher Walken has a famous recurring skit on SNL called “The Continental.” If you haven’t seen it, you need to take care of that right now.

GIANT DISCLAIMER: As somebody who studies gender and sexuality, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the very premise of the skit is indeed disturbing. Walken is, after all, portraying a physical manifestation of all things rapey. In 2012, “comedian” Daniel Tosh got in trouble for telling a “joke” about raping a woman who walked out in the middle of his show. His (utterly unacceptable) rape joke prompted a larger much larger conversation, centered around a difficult question: can you tell a funny rape joke? Personally, I think “The Continental” suggests that it is indeed possible to tell a funny rape joke. The comedy in this skit does not exploit the various women that The Continental attempts to victimize. Christopher Walken’s character—and his creepy, inappropriate behavior—IS the joke, and the joke is only funny because the women he tries to coerce always get away (humiliating him in the process).

Nothing better than a blog post that starts with a tangent… sorry folks.

Back to the subject at hand. I bring up “The Continental” because I feel like that skit captures my relationship with one of the most basic elements of my job as a teaching assistant and occasional course instructor: grading.

I hate grading with a passion. I love teaching, I love my students, and I even love reading their writing, but grading is awful. I almost always leave it to the last minute, which means hours of torture.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

I think I’ve finally found a hack for grading dread, and that hack is mood setting. When I sit down to grade these days, I hear Christopher Walken’s voice in my head saying his famous line from “The Continental”:

“Sit back. Relax. Champagne.”

Now, the fact that I have Christopher Walken’s voice in my head may be a problem, but it’s not one I plan on doing anything about any time soon, because over the course of the past year mood setting has helped become a more efficient AND a happier TA.

So how do you set the mood?

  1. Location, Location, Location. I’m going against conventional wisdom in several ways with this piece of advice, so bear with me. I am most comfortable in my bed, so I grade there, snuggled up in my comforter. We’ve all heard it said that you’ll sleep better if you make your bed a space reserved for sleep and sex; similarly, a lot of grad students feel it’s important to do all their work in their office, so that home is an exclusively personal space. These are both valid pieces of advice, but they don’t work for me. Sitting at a desk hunched over papers makes my back and neck ache. This makes me cranky. When I’m sitting in my bed, I have more support, and—as a result—fewer “physiological distractions” from the task at hand. 

    Okay, maybe cowbell isn't the best choice, but I wouldn't be me if I let the opportunity to include a Christopher Walken gif pass me by.

    Okay, maybe cowbell isn’t the best musical choice for grading, but I wouldn’t be me if I let the opportunity to include a Christopher Walken gif pass me by.

  2. Seductive tunes, baby. If I’m listening to classical music (or instrumental jazz, if I’m feeling crazy), whatever I’m doing becomes automatically classier. It borders on Pavlovian: as soon as I hear these genres of music, I know that I need to calm down and get to work. This only works, of course, because I don’t listen to classical music when I’m punking around on Facebook
  3. FIRE! I’m a bit of a pyromaniac, but this is actually a trick that I think will work for everybody. It’s common for meditative types to stare into a flame when meditating, because it calms you down. I heard about a study a million years ago (which I, naturally, can’t find now) that suggested that this is yet another reason why smokers sometimes find it hard to quit… the act of lighting a lighter is and of of itself calming. I light scented candles when I’m grading, and make a point of looking at them from time to time. Because I associate candles with calm and quiet, having them around is great for the moment when you stumble onto an essay or exam that’s truly rage inducing (it happens… trust me). Now that I know how to chill myself out, the red ink I spill all over my student’s work are consistently less destructive, and more constructive. I’ve never been a mean grader, but I’m sure adjusting my attitude impacts the tone of my comments.
  4. Timing, Part One: I am at my best grading in the evenings before bed, or right after I wake up in the morning. The rest of the time I’m more likely to lose focus, get annoyed, or spend an hour staring slack-jawed at the same two sentences over and over again. Find the time that works best for you and stick with it.
  5. Timing, Part Deux: Before I do any grading, I decide exactly how much time I’m going to spend on each exam/essay/assignment, and what kind of comments I’m going to provide. I then set a timer, and stick to it. For example, I’m currently grading a short essay assignment. I’m not supposed to grade on composition, so I decided in advance that I am not doing line edits. Accordingly, it makes more sense to type out substantive comments, print them, and attach them to the student’s paper. I wrote out a series of questions that I have to answer for each student (re: the quality of the thesis, evidence selection, etc.), and determined that—since I have that template pre-made, I should be able to give each student about ¾ page worth of typed comments on their assignment… in ten minutes. It’s cut my stress in half, and I think the student will be pretty happy to see the amount of feedback they’re receiving.

Walken2So there you have it. Find the mood that works for you, set it, and then unleash your inner Continental. Every time you feel like getting up and running away, lure yourself back to the task at hand. Be as creepy as you need to be. After all, the only person you’re coercing into grading… is you!

Sit back. Relax. Champagne.

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

Two Podcasts Humanities PhD Students Can Enjoy Despite Themselves

Brain

I rarely watch television anymore, so great is my love for all things audio. I especially enjoy listening to podcasts.

Podcasts are a great medium for graduate students, because our time is limited, and so is our brain space. Thinking for a living is hard, and by the time I get home (or disengage from my desk), the idea of having to listen, watch and understand anything seems like a chore.

Speaking of chores, since I’m not trying to focus on a screen, podcasts actually facilitate a lot of chore-doing in my house. From sorting my mail to doing the dishes to cataloging my sources, everything becomes a little less arduous when I have something else to focus on.

While (as I’ve made clear in previous posts) I love my history podcasts, I’ve also started branching out a bit. In so doing, I’ve re-discovered the beauty of thinking beyond one’s field.

Below are three of the blogs I’ve added to my “interdisciplinary audio” syllabus.


 

The Side Hustle Show

In the past couple of weeks I’ve learned something that, I have to confess, made me a little uncomfortable at first: grad students and entrepreneurs are a lot alike. At first this kind of freaked me out, because isn’t the ivory tower about escaping the drive to monetize this, leverage that, and optimize everything? Isn’t capitalism the enemy?

Well, yes and no.

Building a “side hustle”—a small business that generates supplemental income—requires a lot of the same skills that you need to build an academic career. You need to know what you’re good at, position yourself within an already thriving community, prove that you have something unique and valuable to offer that community, and—perhaps most important of all—you need to learn how to do it all with exactly zero time.

Full disclosure: I found “The Side Hustle Show with Nick Loper” because I am working on a new project to supplement my income. I didn’t just stumble upon it. That having been said, I now realize that at least some of the episodes would have been helpful to me long before I began trying to figure out how not to be poor. I especially recommend episodes like “How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half,” ”How Side Hustlers Can Get More Done in Less Time,” and “How to Live Rent Free.”

Fair warning though: getting the information you need out of this podcast will require that you leave your various and sundry prejudices against business folk at the door.

It’s embarrassing to admit one’s own prejudices in public, but the fact is I DO indeed identify the term “entrepreneurship” with bro culture, which I DO think of as a problem. I still squirm listening to “The Side Hustle Show’s” (intentionally) sales-pitchy introduction, and frequently find myself waiting for discussions of ethics and workplace structural inequalities that, shockingly, never seem to come up. I’ve heard terms like “ROI” and “SEO optimization” and “affiliate marketing” so many times it’s made my ears bleed, but I’m genuinely glad for it. If you can listen past your own culture shock, you too will find ways to make “The Side Hustle Show” work for you. You just have to do a little bit of cherry-picking.

And no… Nick Loper did not pay me to say any of this. I wish he had.

The Domestic CEO

When one hears the term “graduate student,” it conjures images of coffee stains, towering blue books, and day-old bed head. Here’s the thing: we aren’t all slovenly creatures. Some of us actually keep nice homes and organized workspaces. Still more of us aspire to!

The Domestic CEO is an awesome podcast for Martha Stewart and Pig Pen alike, but isn’t one I would suggest for “vertical listening.” While I really didn’t need to hear the “Laundry 101” episode, the “How to Keep Your Bathroom Clean Without Cleaning” episode may have just changed my life forever. I’m not kidding.

Whether you’re interested in keeping your car clean, saving time at the grocery store, the myriad ways one can use cream of tartar, or how to style a bookshelf, chances are you’ll find something worth listening to in the DCEO feed.

The benefits of listening to this show are practical yes, but they are also psychological. Graduate student’s often think of the place they live as a transitional space instead of a home, and manage it accordingly. This… is dumb. Your life is not on hold. Your home shouldn’t be either.

Give these podcasts a listen and let me know if you agree with me! Where do you go when you need inspiration outside academia? Have you found any grad school hacks in unconventional places? Share them with the rest of the class in the comments section!

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

 

The Benefits of Blogging in Graduate School

blog

I’ve been blogging for a little over two months now, so I think it’s about time I—and, by extension, so-inclined readers—take a step back and analyze this project.

When I started SDMS, my primary goal was to stimulate my scholarly writing. If for no other reason, this is the reason that this blog will live to see another month. And another, and another…

I honestly believe that most graduate students, but especially those graduate students who have a genuine passion for writing, should have a blog, even if they only post to it bi-monthly.

When I blog, my overall productivity goes up. Writing about something that isn’t AIDS or corpses puts me in a “work” headspace without also starting my day off in (let’s face it) the most depressing way possible.

Blogging takes time, but in its own curious way, it’s also a time saver. If I’ve been active on SMDS during the week I sit down to work on, say, an application essay, my sense of overwhelm around said essay diminishes.

The minute I feel dread setting in, all I have to say to myself is “Dude, it’s a two page essay… that’s, like, ONE blog post. I write those things every freaking day, and I do them in an hour. Chill.”

Now, does an application essay actually take me an hour to write? Not a chance. But that’s not the point. The point is that producing creative content on a daily basis is helping me get over the initial psychological barriers that I—that we all—face when justifying our work to others.

I’ll confess, I didn’t go into this little experiment entirely blind. I spent all four of my college years writing and running Bryn Mawr and Haverford College’s shared newspaper of record, The Bi-College News.

The website's changed a bit, and I don't know any of the writers anymore, but I'll always have a soft spot for "The Bi-College News."

The website’s changed a bit, and I don’t know any of the writers anymore, but I’ll always have a soft spot for “The Bi-College News.”

The Bi-Co News was a big commitment. Originally I’d only planned to write the occasional opinion piece, but by second semester of my sophomore year I the Managing Editor (read: second in command) of the whole enchilada. After a year and a half in that position, I did a brief stint as Editor in Chief, a run cut short in part by medical issues, and in part by my discovery that I really didn’t like being Editor in Chief. During my two year reign at the top of the totem poll I was putting anywhere from twenty to forty hours of every week (unpaid, mind you) into that newspaper.

Was I a walking, talking bucket of stress? Yes, yes I was. But I was also, much to my surprise, a better historian. No longer did I pride myself on being obtuse, or spending more time on an essay assignment than my friends had. The long hours spent working on The Bi-Co forced me to strip away at least some of the pretense, and make an argument, already. The clock was ticking. I had to learn how to think fast.

I took a five-year break from literary journalism (which I had come to think of as more self-indulgent than practical) to focus on becoming a fancy academic who produces fancy academic writing.

I now wonder how much better my academic prose—and my blogging—would be if I had budgeted the time to be a complete writer.

SMDS is essentially The Bi-College News 2.0, only with a much smaller staff, a non-existent budget, and self-imposed deadlines. Sometimes the little voice in my head tells me I’m being more self-indulgent than practical. The me that’s actually matured in the past five years knows, however, that the time I put into blogging is time I’m investing not only into my mental health and creative side, but also into the craft of writing history.

The medium itself might not work for everybody—I certainly know those for whom an epic Facebook post probably does what SMDS does for me—but I think we need to see more graduate students writing for public consumption on a regular basis. Now that I’m two months in, and non-academic writing has become a daily habit, I don’t know what I’d do without it.

If you love writing, you need to be writing… even if nobody’s reading.

Lucky for me, some of you ARE reading. I’m thrilled to have your support, and want to keep it!

Since SMDS isn’t going anywhere any time soon, I’d really like to hear from my readers. What kind of posts do you most enjoy? What could you do without? Are there any topics you wish I’d cover that I’ve not yet touched on? Hit up the comments section and let me know what you want, and I’ll do my best to provide it!

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.