Tag Archives: Academia

Mom, A.B.D.

As of October 3, I attained A.B.D. status. For the uninitiated, it stands for “All But Dissertation,” meaning that my only barrier to the Ph.D. is the dissertation. It’s a big deal (not as big as the Ph.D., but I’m right on target for my program, and that’s a positive thing), and I frequently get asked how I did it with a kid.

First, let me say, I have the most agreeable child in the world. He is very good at entertaining himself so I can write or grade, and he is patient to go to school with me to run errands. This was a major factor in my success. In addition to that, I have a very supportive spouse, who wants me to finish the program almost as much as I want to be done. He creates an environment that allows for me to write everyday and do my research.

Second, I am lucky to live near both my parents and my in-laws, who stepped up with alarming frequency to provide me with both study time, time to teach, and date nights. My mother-in-law is a constant saving grace because she watched E almost every day that I went to school. I seldom had to ask for help, because those around me knew what was involved and stepped up.

Still, getting it all done to this point (with or without children) wasn’t easy, so here are some tips:

1. Get and Stay Organized: To me, this is the key to all success. I’m a huge fan of a good planner, a sturdy binder, and lots of lists. Use what works for you. I can talk for days about my Moleskin weekly planner and monthly planner and how I would be lost without them. But if your phone calendar works better, by all means, use that. If you have little hands around, keep this stuff out of their reach. Don’t risk it.

2. Do YOUR Best: It’s very easy to get competitive in graduate school. In my program, it’s not worth it because we are all studying diverse topics, and by and large, we don’t compete for resources. My friend’s dissertation about women of science is in no way competing with my dissertation on corporate media. So, I just had to concentrate on doing my best work, not THE best work. It resulted in success for me because I was confident in my ability to perform quality scholarship.

3. Just Get It Done: It’s easy to have flexibility in the timeline of a graduate program. Barring serious issues (illness, death, etc.), try to stick to the fastest timeline. The longer you take, the more money you lose, either in tuition or lost employment. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll just take one class this semester,” but if you can handle two, by all means, get it done.

4. Be Proactive: Have a back-up plan for everything. Save your work to Google Docs or a flash drive every day that you write. Have a babysitter on call or a way to take your kid to school with you if you are able. Don’t wait to register for classes, because if you can’t get the ones you need, you need to set up an independent study or readings course right away, which can be a challenge. Do not leave things to chance.

Now I’m continuing work on the dissertation, which is going well. I have numerous chapters in process, and I hope to be done in a year or so. I’ll try to take my own advice.

– The Lady Americanist

**This post is copied from my personal blog, but I felt it applied to both realms.

ASA 2014: Assymetrical Haircuts and Other Adventures

If you recall, I was very wishy-washy on ASA (American Studies Association) last year. The 2013 meeting was controversial, tense, and a little stuffy. The Student Association events were a bright spot, and when I found out that the award I won at EASA came with a spot on an ASA panel, I decided to give the conference a second chance. I’m glad I did, although I still don’t see myself making the ASA an annual pilgrimage.

My trip began with a quick drive to my grandparents’ house. I wanted a direct flight to Los Angeles, and Dulles was the best option. However, it is 2 hours away from my home, and my grandparents live half way. Just as I was preparing to leave (at 4am), the power went out. And they live in the hills, where it’s dark even when the power is on. I felt bad abandoning them in the dark, but I had to get going. It was pouring rain, and it made for a very stressful ride to Dulles. However, after that the flight out was uneventful. Easy time through security and such. I even discovered that Starbucks makes a peppermint mocha frap, which makes me both happy and a walking, talking stereotype. Oh well.

Grand Central Market in Downtown, L.A.
Grand Central Market in Downtown, L.A.


The advantage of flying west is that you get three hours back. THREE HOURS. It’s like the flight barely happened. I got settled at the hotel, registered at the conference, and started figuring out which panels to attend. The first panel I went to was a Student Association workshop on “perfecting your pitch,” in which we gave our short (3 minute) proposal on our dissertation / project and receive feedback from a professor who has never heard it before. I spoke with Prof. Libby Anker from George Washington. Her feedback was refreshing, and it was especially nice to hear from a female in the field. She told me to be less apologetic and to emphasize the scope of my project rather than apologize for it. She liked my project, which was validating because I was convinced it wouldn’t fit in at ASA. Thank you Dr. Anker.

My roommate and I attended a lot of student events, including the opening night mixer. The graduate students at ASA are really wonderful to interact with, and we really got effective feedback at all of the student events we attended.

L.A. Manhole Cover
Social conscious manhole cover, Downtown L.A.


A colleague from the Penn State Harrisburg American Studies program, who is now at William and Mary, presented on the first day, and he did a fantastic job talking about the intersection of country music and race. My first day was rounded out with the Regional ASA meeting, at which I represented the Eastern American Studies Association (EASA). Our real rep is in India, so I was happy to fill in. I was fascinated to listen to how other regional ASA’s deal with having conferences. We are lucky enough to have a condensed geographic area and a lot of passionate people on the board, and therefore EASA has an annual conference that fills up every year. SASA (Southern ASA) has a conference every other year, while the Rocky Mountain ASA (which encompasses 8 very large states) has difficulty finding a way to make a conference possible for all attendees.

L.A. Public Library
Los Angeles Public Library, Downtown


Los Angeles is a strange city, and it was difficult to sight-see without a car. My roommate is a lot more intrepid than me, and she pulled me out into the sunlight to see some very cool places just around our hotel, including the Grand Central Market. On the last day, we walked towards the Staples Center, but it was really just movie theatres and regular outdoor malls. I wish we could have seen Hollywood or Santa Monica. Next time.

The student award winner panel was one of the most amazing panels I have ever been placed on at a conference. The discussion was substantive, helpful, and lively. People really understood my research, and it was really an honor to be recognized along side the other winners. I left the conference as a whole ready to dive into writing my dissertation.

I also attended a panel called “Killing the Keyword,” which was a non-traditional event in which everyone put a word or concept that they feel is overused or used incorrectly into a bowl. The panelists then pulled each one out and discussed it at length. Most of the words were just discussed and clarified, but some were “killed.” Neoliberal(ism) was one of the killed words, primarily because people tend to use it as a crutch to sound smart, rather than applying it appropriately. I put that word in the bowl, as did about 40 other people, so it was nice to hear a real discussion about how accessible we are as writers.

My flight home was exhausting, but that’s what you get when you take the red-eye. I was thrilled that I could take that trip, and that it was eventful in all the right ways. I had never traveled alone like that, and so that was a nice change of pace. My roommates were very nice, especially Brittany, who became a fast friend. She’s doing really great work in the Appalachian region, and I think she is going to effect change for that area of the country.

Next week I go to EASA for the 7th time as a presenter. It will be much more relaxing than last year because I did not organize the conference! I’ll write more about that later.

– The Lady Americanist.

The Lady Americanist on Writing.

Things are ramping up here with the Lady Americanist. I finished comps, I defend in a few weeks, and I have to get a chapter of my dissertation ready for presentation at ASA in November. I’m trying to really get through my dissertation now that I’m not teaching, in hopes that I finish my degree either next fall or spring 2016. I refuse to putz.

My dissertation isn’t organized into regular chapters, but rather into “modules” that contain background information, two case studies, and analysis on a media corporation. Each case study will be about the length of an average chapter (20 pages), but the intro to the module will be about 10 pages and the analysis 25 – 30 pages. I figure as long as I draft about one item per month, and keep two others in the cycle, I’ll be done in about a year. I have one chapter near completion, another in rough draft form, and others that are either outlined or planned out. I think this is a doable goal, but we’ll see how research progresses.

When I write, my pieces go through distinct stages. First, I plan. What is my thesis statement? What are the main points of support? I write this on an index card and keep it with my research materials. This helps when I get lost in the research. Sometimes it’s very difficult to see the forest through the trees. My chair is helpful in this regard because he can easily set me back on course.

Next I outline. This is not necessarily a traditional outline with Roman numerals, but sometimes a chart with my points on one side and sources on the other. I used this to propose a chapter about the Pentagon Papers. It helped to show that I knew the important sources and where to find them. The outline is what I need it to be. A method that isn’t flexible isn’t terribly helpful in the long run. It has to adapt to the type of chapter you are writing.

Here is where I finally get into the writing stage. I write everything I already know or have source material for. This helps me see the gaps and get words on the page, which frankly is a major part of the battle. I try for between 10 and 13 pages in this stage.

Finally, I complete the draft, put it through some revisions (which I do almost exclusively on paper; I hate editing and revising on the computer), and create a final draft for my committee to evaluate. They have seen one chapter (well, most of them have…), and I’m hoping to give them another at the end of October. Our department is a little understaffed, so I need to keep myself busy while they work through all of the comps, drafts, defenses, and grading that they have to do (in addition to, you know, their lives).

I have a Pinterest board about dissertations that seems to be getting some followers, so it must make sense to someone. Please feel free to follow me!

– Lady Americanist.

The Lady Americanist & Comps.

No matter what each school calls it, every Ph.D. student has a hurdle overcome that amounts to a SUPERFINAL.  At Penn State, we call it comps, or comprehensive exam.  Basically, we have three hurdles before the Ph.D.

1: Candidacy — This establishes understanding of American studies theory and method, as well as computer literacy (technicality).  Over the course of three hours, you answer three essays of 1000 words or more, which reminded me a little of AP exams in high school.  After this, we can call ourselves “candidates,” and it takes place after certain coursework requirements are met, usually after the first year. Unlike comps, it’s closed book.

2: Comprehensive — After coursework is complete, one takes comprehensive exams.  This is a 96-hour take home exam that is made up of 6 essay questions concerning your subfields.  For example, I will have two questions on Theory and Method (standard on all comps), two questions on Popular Culture and Media (subfield #1), and two questions on Business History and Culture (subfield #2). To prepare, we are furnished with a customized reading list of about 90 books, 30 in each field.  This is where I am right now, hoping to take the exam in September.  It’s a lot of prep, but I feel confident in my knowledge and understanding in my fields.  I have been a student of American studies since I was a freshman in college, so I better understand theory and method!

3. Dissertation — Usually on the same day we defend our comps answers (about a week after we complete the exam), we also propose our dissertation.  I have worked closely with my committee since year one, so I’m not terribly concerned about proposing.  I hope to spend the next year and a half writing, defend in early 2016 and graduating in spring 2016.

So, this blog is about to become a comps blog, with book reviews and thoughts.  My friend Becky is doing the same thing, so I figured it can’t hurt.

– The Lady Americanist.


The Lady Americanist at EASA.

I have attended quite a few conferences, but I usually only do so with available funding.  However, I have made the pilgrimage to the Eastern American Studies Association conference annually since I was a Masters student. My undergraduate and graduate institutions are very heavily involved, and this past school year, I was proud to serve as the graduate student representative on the executive board, as well as being conference co-coordinator. Needless to say, it was a hectic weekend.

The conference was held at my alma mater, La Salle University, and although the weather could have been better (it was rainy and cool), the campus looked great and was a fantastic host.  I had lots of helpers in the form of undergraduate American studies students.  My presentation on the New York Times crossword puzzle as a pivotal text went well, and the same paper even won an award for best graduate student paper.  To win at my alma mater was a little emotional and very flattering.

EASA is a regional conference that is loosely affiliated with the national ASA, and our plenary session covered the future of the field in light of the boycott.  I was not able to see the entire panel, since I was needed elsewhere at the conference, and thus, I would direct you to the blog of my colleague, John Price (see “What Am I Reading?” tab).  He has a three part breakdown of the weekend, including posts dedicated to the plenary session and the roundtable on the gender binary (which I moderated, but I just made sure they ended on time).

Regional conferences like EASA are excellent ways for graduate students to effectively network, present research, and get some professional experience.  Our conference even features an undergraduate roundtable, where exceptional students from regional schools can present and compete for an award for the best undergraduate student paper.  I am always blown away by the maturity of research and scholarship among these students.

I will probably attend EASA until I get my doctorate, and hopefully, I’ll be able to serve on the board again afterwards.

– The Lady Americanist.