The Week In Review: September 21-26, 2015

Although during the first half of the week I was still playing catchup from dropping the ball over the weekend and recovering from a nasty cold, the second half of the week proved to be very productive and I felt much more my old, competent self! Here’s the roundup…..


Re-read John Gower’s “Albinus and Rosamund” taking copious notes for the current chapter on gender and violence at the feast

“Introduction” and “An Anthropological View of Western Women’s Prodigious Fasting” in Food and Gender: Identity and Power, eds. Carole Counihan and Steven Kaplan

Spent several hours browsing the PR1984.C63 section of the library stacks and read through the Gower-related titles in the online catalog to better familiarize myself with Gower studies in preparation for the literature review for this portion of the dissertation. Not having read any Gower up until this point beyond the “Constance” section of the Confessio Amantis, I really have been enjoying getting to know his work!

Total time spent research this week: about 12 hours.


2,500 words drafted in the Gower section of the dissertation; revisions to chapter one

Total time spent on (non job market related) writing this week: 5 hours


College Writing I: On Monday, they turned in the final drafts of their first essays, and completed a reflection exercise on the writing process they undertook to arrive at this draft and how they felt about their writing at this point. Wednesday, we conducted rhetorical summaries of the week’s reading, and on Friday we extended this work by performing a collaborative real-time Google Docs activity on the ways in which looking at a text with a specific theme in mind alters how you read the text. Working with several different essays (read outside of class prior to this activity), I broke them into groups of two, assigned each group a theme to focus on in the essay (for instance, reading “The Best-Kept Secret On Campus,” an essay about mentall illness in the university setting, I had different groups consider it through the lens of education, health and disability, psychology, or media), and had them compose a brief paragraph about how the essay they were working with related to that theme; then, they posted their paragraphs to the Google docs. I then grouped the paragraphs together by essay and we read through them. (During this part, I heard several students audibly express their surprise at the many layers of meaning that could be pulled from a text when you look at it from diffferent perspectives, which was gratifying!) To conclude the activity, I had them make lists (again, in the Google Doc) of other themes we might have considered as reading lenses, and they did a fantastic job with it. All of this is in preparation for their second essay in the course, which will be a rhetorical analysis of an essay from our textbook.

Literature and the Arts: Finished grading the critical examinations, which were on the whole extremely well-done. This week we considered “Robin Hood and the Potter” and “Robin Hood and the Monk.” Because this is a general ed. credit and these were the first texts of the term which I had them read in Middle English, I spent Monday having them take turns reading “Robin Hood and the Potter” out loud, stanza by stanza,  stopping after each stanza to sum up what was in it and discuss its importance to/connection with both the immediate story and the bigger-picture of the Robin Hood legendary. They did a very good job with this, and seemed to really enjoy it. It must have been effective, because when they came in for discussion on Friday most of them had clearly read and understood “Robin Hood and the Monk” despite the seeming language barrier. We watched clips from the various film versions during my lecture on Wednesday, comparing them and discussing the differences between them and the Arthurian films from a few weeks ago.

This class has consistently impressed me with the seriousness with which they approach the work and the amount of extra research they have done, which permits them to go into much more specialized discussions than we might expect from an intermediate, general-ed. course. During student-led discussions on Friday, one of them described how Robin Hood’s broken sword leads to his being imprisoned, and asked if they thought that was significant. They pounced on it, pointing out that Robin Hood is an Anglo-Saxon figure and that in the earlier Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf’s sword breaks and he dies. Then they started thinking through the texts we read earlier in the term, and how swords were presented and used, using the motif of the broken sword as a lens for examining the relationships between Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman cultures. They determined that in the Norse and Anglo-Saxon traditions, swords are usually unnamed, and are tools used by the man to construct his authority, but that his authority actually comes from what he does with the sword, whereas in the Norman tradition, swords are usually named and have their own stories, therefore are somewhat personified, and thus proffer authority to the man by aligning themselves with him. So, in the Norman tradition, the sword authenticates the man, and in the ON and A-S traditions, the man uses the sword to authenticate himself. Someone then brought up the fact that in Harry Potter, a broken wand signals that wizard’s demise, and wondered if that placed Harry Potter in the Anglo-Saxon tradition (I told them it would make an excellent conference paper if someone wanted to try it!) Whether or not these findings are truly accurate, the amount of critical thinking and the connections they are making–as well as the fact that they remember everything they have read and can pull things out and look at them on the fly in this fashion–is absolutely fantastic.

total time spent on teaching (including class prep, grading essays and office hours): 18


On Monday, I held my weekly GSA President’s office hours. Wednesday, I participated in a student meeting with the UNC-system’s Senior Vice-President for Academic Affairs, who wanted to speak with us about our concerns and questions as the system moves forward in this budget-cuts era. On Friday, I met with the other student group leaders for our bi-weekly session with the Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs.

Total time spent on service: 4 hours

Other Scholarly Activity

Conference activity: I worked with my junior editor for Hortulus to decide on which abstracts to accept for our sponsored session on gendered spaces for next spring’s International Congress of Medieval Studies. This was an extremely difficult choice, as we had an unusually large number of submissions. We ended up choosing four abstracts that spoke in interesting ways to one another–two that were history-focused, and two based in literature. I then sent the emails letting everyone know of our decision, and forwarded those abstracts we were not able to use to the Congress organizers for consideration for the general sessions. I also participated in the decision-making process for MEARCSTAPA’s joint-sponsored session with the Association for the Study of Irish Medieval Literature on female tricksters.

Editing work: I set the ball rolling on a social media initiative we are trotting out at Hortulus.

Job market: I wrote–and then rewrote about five times from the ground-up–an application letter for one of the three jobs I would really, REALLY like to have a shot at. According to the “total editing time” feature in Word, I have now officially spent more time writing, rewriting, and rewriting yet again my dissertation paragraph for job letters than I spent on any of my final papers for courses, including the one that became a published article, which was disconcerting. I have also run it by a number of professors for feedback. I can’t decide if it really did need that much work, or if I’m just obsessing and stressing and trying to control something and have settled on that paragraph as the Thing That Will Obey, but I suspect it is likely a combination of both.

I also made some changes to my dissertation abstract and teaching philosophy. Don’t fool yourself–you’re never finished with your job market materials. These become living documents, shifting every time you have a moment of insight or have thought a little more deeply about your project and your teaching. Once you have them written, you’ll tweak them constantly in an effort to make them even better, clearer, more stylistically appealng. It’s a rabbit hole….. !

Finally, I compiled a Teaching Effectiveness document for one position (faculty observation and student letters describing my teaching, summaries of course evaluations, and a few assignments and graded student products) and a Teaching Portfolio (Teaching Philosophy and methods, faculty observation and student letters describing my teaching, summaries of course evaluations, syllabi from the courses I’ve taught, sample syllabi of courses I’d like to develop, sample assignment sheets, and sample student work) for another position.

Total time spent on other academic activities: 15 hours

Nurturing My Self:

The first thing I did this week was to set some boundaries for myself. Adding up an estimated  number of hours I was spending on work for the past few weeks, I realized I was putting in 60+ hour weeks and getting very little return for the investment in terms of time for research and writing, mainly because I let my time be frittered away on non-essential things and spent far too much time analyzing in minute detail the ads for the jobs to which I am applying and researching the schools. This week, I consciously allocated when I was working on job materials, when I was working on service-to-the-profession items like my editing work, and when I was working on research, writing, and teaching. The result? This week I hit just 54 working hours, I got much more accomplished, and I ended the week feeling much better overall, both physically and mentally. And I wound up with a pretty great balance of hours devoted to each area–about 17 hours of research and writing, 18 hours of teaching, and 19 hours of service to the university and the profession.

Because I was consciously shaping how I used my time, I made it a point this week to do some non-work related things. During evenings, I watched an old favorite movie (“The Mirror Has Two Faces”), an episode each of Bones, Grimm, and Buffy, and the newest Dr. Who episode ((And I will be watching the newest Downton Abbey tonight). I also managed two workouts this week, and got much more sleep by making sure I didn’t stay up too late fiddling with job market materials. I baked a double-batch of my favorite pumpkin bread recipe on Monday so I could snack on it all week. And I masked each night, because my skin is not loving the stress of the past two months–which, fortunately, seems to be subsiding a bit.


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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2 Responses to The Week In Review: September 21-26, 2015

  1. crowsight says:

    Reading this is always so interesting, its like a new adventure every week. Hahaha, You give a whole new meaning to the idea of “getting work DONE” looking at all these hours is not jut baffling, but inspiring. Any advice on how to separate ones mind from putting things off/procrastinating, and being able to getting a strict regime of getting work done. I have a half-baked planner, and plenty of materials at my disposal, my problem is; excuses, distractions, and …. me thinking I 24/7 “me” time.

    • Melissa Ridley Elmes says:

      This is a great question. I think that for me, the twin motivators are first, that I am completely obsessed with my research and teaching and therefore, when I have down time that’s generally what I *want* to be doing as much as what I *need* to be doing; secondly, I was determined to complete the program in four years because the degree is just the credentials to allow me to research and publish in my field and to teach at the university level. Since I had been teaching for a while prior to going to graduate school, I had already built up my expertise and confidence in teaching a wide range of classes, and I already knew what I wanted to work on for my dissertation, so while taking five or six or evn seven years is perfectly reasonable for someone just coming out of undergrad and not quite sure of the direction she or he wants to take, or just developing a pedagogy and instructional style, taking longer to complete the degree didn’t make sense for me. There are definitely times when I don’t feel like doing anything–and more recently, I’ve been letting that happen here and there, with good results. So, I think you just look at what you have to do versus what you want to do, and think about when you are most effective and most able to get things done, and then plan your days around that. But it is a constant balancing act, especially when you have a lot on your plate!

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