Undergrad Seminar: How long should this paper be?

Every student wants to know “How long should this paper be?” I think that’s a pretty reasonable question, but for some reason instructors sometimes treat this question like one of the deadly sins. Ironically, when your instructor is asked to present a paper, they are given the answer to that very question at the beginning!  Conferences state how long the abstract should be, how long the sessions are, how many participants and often how long they personally have to speak. Unfortunately, the smart-ass answer some people like to give to this reasonable student question is “when you feel it’s done.”  Indeed, may all those instructors be plagued with 50 page papers for the rest of their days. Again, this is a moment of strategy on the part of you the student. What you are really asking is “Based on the relative importance of this class to me when weighed against my core interests, the amount of effort required for my other classes, the GPA I hope to maintain across all my classes this year; what am I being judged on for my grade so I can compare that into my course load and understand when I want or have to put in more effort vs. minimal effort for the desired result.”  No one ones to hear about minimum effort, granted. Personally, I don’t want to hear about your minimal effort I only want results. If you are a bloody genius that can whip out a brilliant paper in two hours, hey more power to you. Undergrads take a lot of classes because they HAVE to, not out of interest and want to save their real effort for the classes that they have the most interest in. I am not going to ding you for that, but don’t be so dumb as to brag about it because the class is just that easy, unless you really just want more challenging work. Most instructors enjoy bright interested and gifted students, asking to be challenged will rarely go badly for you.

Part of your strategy is understanding that your instructor is also concerned with time management strategies. Every assignment given to a class means X number of papers to read and grade, questions to answer and whining students to deal with. This is on top of the need to publish, serve on committees and worse if the professor is coming up for tenure review. If a teacher has four full classes a semester and assigns nothing but papers to each class. Call it 4 classes X 30 students each X 4 papers per student X 10 pages each, that comes to 4,800 pages of work that have to be read and graded each semester. and that number is on the conservative side.

Knowing your instructor and their expectations is a big part making strategic choices. If you don’t know the needs of the client, then you really are shooting in the dark. Make it simple, GO TALK TO THEM. This is what office hours are for. Unsure if you are headed in the right direction on a paper? Why on earth wait until you turn it in to see if you guessed right? Go to them with an outline of the idea and your approach to the paper. When they offer “suggestions” as to a better approach, or more reasonable topic (more on reasonable topics later), take the suggestion without complaint or excuse. If they think it’s a bad idea, don’t take it personally. Move on to a different idea. Don’t expect your Prof to indulge your interest in science-fiction or fantasy literature in a class on medieval literature. If you really love renaissance festivals and spend all year long making your costume for it, they may not be interested in letting you claim that as a “class project.” Your idea may simply lack sufficient credibility for academic work. MOVE ON. More time is wasted by students stubbornly hanging on to some idea that their Prof as already said is simply a load of dingo’s kidneys. MOVE ON.

Undergrad Seminar: Why Incompletes Are So Dangerous

Here we are in the 2nd half of the academic year. If the 1st half got off to a rocky start, maybe this is a good time to talk about time management. Not the “The 7 habits of that smugly overambitious go-getter” variety. This is aimed more at the “How can I squeeze school into my hectic schedule of procrastination and binge drinking” style. In other words, for the rest of us. This is not to ignore what I think is the real value of the university experience: the freedom to explore, to question, to learn what you never expected. If you go though school without some kind of an “Ah ha” moment, then you have to ask if you really took advantage of the opportunity. Time management is making sure you have the ability to explore those Ah Ha moments.

What does time management mean? It is simply developing a strategy that helps you set reachable and realistic goals that treats school as something akin to a job. School is not the same as a job, I know that. In the US, heading off to college represents all kinds of milestones and transitions towards adulthood including making a lot of really stupid mistakes. Since stupid mistakes are part of life, you may as well factor this in and manage the parts you can. But if you can put yourself into the mindset that school IS your fulltime job, it might help with things like procrastination (my all time largest problem in school). That part-time job you have in the library, or as a teaching assistant or else-where are something you have to do to make ends meet, but school is your fulltime job. (This is referring to fulltime students. Part time students are often already fighting a massive time management battle).

In addition to getting those “Ah Ha” moments that we all love, there are some very basic tangible goals you want to hit: Graduate in 4 years, 5 at the outside with the GPA, experiences, training and recommendations you need to take you next step, no matter what that may be. School is about more than the GPA and getting out, but school is also expensive and your GPA at the end matters, so it is in your best interest to keep that in the back of your mind.

First rule: Incompletes are bad debt. Very Bad Debt. No matter what else you take away from here, learn that taking an Incomplete at the end of a class should be seen as a last option. You would be amazed at how often someone’s college career gets derailed due to piling up incompletes. No, your instructor will not take pity on you because its 5 days to graduation and that one incomplete is in your way. When you have an incomplete, you have very little room to negotiate. You don’t even have the option to take a lower grade if the instructor decides you have to finish that paper or project to complete the course. Never take an incomplete? Well, that’s strategy isn’t it? It’s much better than an F or D or maybe a C, but if it is a class outside your major and you really don’t want to spend more time on it, would you rather have the B or the bad debt of an incomplete that can become an F? I once knew someone that took an incomplete to get an A+ instead of an A, maybe I am a slacker, but that is insane given how much riskier the Incomplete is. Also instructors talk, if people find out you are taking several incompletes, they are going to stop giving you that option. Remember that taking the Incomplete is not your choice, it is your instructors. They have no obligation to give you one because its it bad debt for them as well! They have to give you a grade, chase you down before it becomes an F and listen to your excuse because you keep putting off that paper or project you owe them. If you are piling up incompletes, you may need to lay out a semester just to get them off the plate. Having an incomplete is mentally the same as carrying over that (or those) class(es) into your next course load.

Oh hell, you already have an incomplete? Weren’t you just reading all that… ok, ok, fine. I’ll calm down. Either you have screwed up badly or some legitimate misfortune befell you at the last part of the semester. All we can do now is move forward. That incomplete is a big pile of rotting food in your kitchen and you have GOT to clean that up before it gets into the rest of the food and really stinks up the whole house. To start with, there is no easy solution that will not increase you workload unless you have some miracle deal with the instructor. You cannot “borrow time” from your existing work load. If you take that attitude you are looking at a domino effect of incompletes. Is it starting to sink in why this Incomplete of yours is a big friggin deal?

There is only one way out of this: give up your free time to finish the job. That it, the only solution.

You can’t take the time from the work you already have to do, like the 500 pages of reading you were assigned over the weekend that you weren’t going to do anyway. I KNOW how hard this is, I am a terrible procrastinator and we are the worse kind of people to have incompletes because the deadline is often vaguely out there, but not quite real. The longer you take, the better the final product is expected to be! Maybe this is one of those “screw it, I will do a little worse work and take a B for the paper” moments on this particular project. But you have to turn in something or risk getting a failing grade. I am not going to even say you are going to feel better getting it off your plate. Having to finish this Incomplete is going to put you behind on your other work that you will have to double up on to prevent it from going incomplete. By the way, if we are talking about a 10 page double spaced paper please don’t write and tell me. I will run screaming from the room. This blog entry is nearly four pages double spaced using Arial 10 point font. 10 pages is really not that big a deal.

Make a plan, set a drop dead date and make your idea realistic: What is the minimum you have to do to get the grade you want. My apologies to my faculty friends, but this is triage and the crass reality of it. Your goal is not to win the undergraduate award for writing, it’s to get the incomplete off you plate. Scale back as much as you can: do you really need 40 sources or will 10 do? Is the instructor looking for regurgitation of their pet ideas or original thought on your part? Being that challenging student during the class is great. But now it’s an incomplete, a pain in the ass and not the time to get clever. Have you got a draft? Great, drop it off at the professors office. You might not get comments, but it shows a good faith effort on your part towards meeting your commitment. If they do comment, you might lucky and they say “hey, if you just add a paragraph about X, we are good to go.” And please dear Lord, don’t drop off an idea they already rejected and this is that same dumbass, irrelevant, unrealistic idea that you stubbornly hung on to and got you that incomplete in the first place. LET IT GO. I have watched people do that very thing. I don’t know what insanity overtakes them, but for the love of Pete, knock that crap off.

Do that incomplete: Do it this weekend, do it over two weekends if you have to. Unless that paper is huge, two hard weekends can cover it.

If you currently have an incomplete, leave a comment with the date you commit to having it finished. Did you just finish an incomplete? Let us know in the comments. Motivation is a big part of getting it done so motivate each other!

Blogging is soooooooooo 2006

This is the time of year when blogs talk about their top posts for the 2009, the most important issues in their area of interest and otherwise reflecting with great insight on the past year or decade. I promise this blog will continue its long held tradition to avoid insights at all costs.  So forward, forward I say.

But what to natter on about? I don’t have much interest in the debate about the military/cultural anthropology “conversation” any more. People have made their calls on a personal and professional level, and will go about their business as personal conscience leads them. The grassroots are wiser than the self-appointed protectors of the purity (read: ossification) of the field. It was fun to poke a stick at people for a while, but you can only make self-righteous people dance around and screech for so long before its boring again.  Now, if they screeched something different every time, that would keep my interest.  But, sadly it’s the same reason video games don’t keep my attention… not enough variety.  They are sort of like watching Glenn Beck, you don’t need more that a couple of minutes to get the gist of it.  Then it’s like watching Seinfeld.

I’ll still write about design and innovation from time to time.. I was in the field for 15 years as a design anthropologist and still enjoy it.  But what else?  I am not doing anything the looks like ethnography anymore and there is not much pissing me off these days, my life is pretty damn dull.  I do a lot of book research and some consulting.  I still have my “what am I issues.”  Am I an anthropologist, yes… am I doing anthropology these days… no.

Here is what I have been working on for the last few months, as a hobby not a job mind you: Learning and playing Texas Hold ‘em poker.  A totally fascinating, difficult, frustrating game filled with a combination of science, individual heuristics and folklore.  But that is what I do for fun in my spare time these days.  I play very low limit games (for example, what some would call penny ante and very low stakes tournaments).  I pour over my hand histories, read books on strategy and mostly gnash my teeth over my routinely poor play.  I am not getting any better, so we will see how long this lasts.  The Ordinary People Project lies fallow for the moment for no reason other than laziness.

But there are other bloggers here and they add their interests and we will be adding new bloggers soon.

What would you like to see more of?

Contemporary Ethnography Across the Disciplines Hui

This announcement showed up in my e-mail, nicely formatted too:

Contemporary Ethnography Across the Disciplines Hui

17 – 19 November 2010

University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand

Kia ora koutou (Greetings to everyone)!

New Zealand’s first international ethnography hui will give participants the opportunity to meet with like-minded researchers and experience the rich cultural tradition that is Aoteaoroa, New Zealand.  The hui, or conference gathering, will take place at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand from 17-19 November, 2010, with exciting pre-conference workshops scheduled for the afternoon of Monday 16 November 2010.  There is a stunning list of four cutting-edge keynote speakers—Norman K. Denzin, Linda Tuwihai Smith, Elspeth Probyn, and Neil Drew—who will challenge and invigorate delegates, and are looking forward to this exciting time together!

The hui has three key threads;

  • Emerging Methods: traditional, experimental, transgressive forms
  • Practice and Advocacy: doing ethnography on the ground
  • Social Justice and Transformation: theoretical ethnographic visions

This quadrennial conference welcomes all forms of engagement in ethnographic disciplinary practice, and aims to stimulate rich intellectual discourse.  Researchers and practitioners from across the disciplines of law, anthropology, education, health, management/business, psychology, sociology, cultural, and gender studies and – any other discipline where ethnography advances our understanding of the way groups and individuals interact and live their lives into being – are invited to submit papers. Contributors are invited to experiment with traditional ethnography, as well as new methodologies – and with new presentational formats such as drama, performance, poetry, autoethnography, and fiction.Presenters’ papers will be considered for a peer-reviewed compilation of four to five presentations per thread.

You are invited to submit your abstracts online.  Please browse through the conference website www.nzethnographyconference.com for more information:  about Hamilton, New Zealand; about the University of Waikato (and the School of Education), our primary sponsors; about the thematic threads offered during this meeting; and about how to submit your abstracts for sessions (this link is now live!); http://nzethnographyconference.com/Site/Ethnography_conference/Themes.aspx

Now Available for your Xmas giving, Chief Culture Officer by Grant McCracken!

chief culture officerI am pleased to let people know about a new book by fellow social science innovator, Grant McCracken.  Hi book ” Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities” was a major inspiration for me when I started my career in design anthropology and have have been reading his blog ever since.  (Grant, please..please go back to the old format!).  Below is the press release, and I will follow up after I give it a read.  I downloaded it to my Kindle and then realized I have left it at the office!

If you are interested in what anthropology has to offer business thinking and the practice of innovation, do your self a favor and pick up any of Grant’s books

In Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation (Basic Books; December 1, 2009) anthropologist and consultant Grant McCracken argues that products and ads succeed when corporations capitalize on culture.  Not corporate culture or “high culture,” but the world outside the company—the body of ideas, emotions and activities that make up the life of the consumer.  Major corporations like Apple, Nike, Virgin, and Volkswagen study and cater to their customers’ behaviors and values—they found a way to read their audience’s culture and then speak to it.  We can also see the costs of misreading culture: Coca-Cola missed out on the demand for a diverse selection of drinks to the tune of $1.4 billion; Best Buy purchased Musicland just as people began downloading music online; and Levi-Strauss missed out on the hip-hop trend.  In each case, executives failed to notice what was happening in world outside the corporation, and they paid dearly for it.

Not only do corporations live or die by their connection to culture, but too often, many are completely dependent on big-name “gurus”—Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Martha Stewart, Silvia Lagnado—for insight and guidance. Or worse, they outsource the task to marketing firms, consultants, branding experts, or the office intern.  McCracken has consulted with an array of major companies, including Campbell Soup, Coke, L’Oreal, IBM, and the Children’s Television Workshop, always with an eye on the value companies can derive from culture.  In CHIEF CULTURE OFFICER, McCracken argues that the American corporation needs a new officer in the C-Suite—a Chief Culture Officer, or CCO—who will harness the near-uncanny cultural insight exemplified by gurus like Jobs, and make it systematic and professional.  A company’s CCO would develop a deep understanding of culture—both its fast-moving trends and its deep, enduring waves—along with a strategy for applying this knowledge in a way that creates value.  With CHIEF CULTURE OFFICER, McCracken hopes to reach those inside the company who want to make their company more intelligent, strategic, and responsive, as well as those outside the company who want to turn their knowledge of culture into a career.

In an insightful overview of pop culture, CHIEF CULTURE OFFICER takes readers through major cultural movements of the past century—the hippies, the yuppies, the new avant-garde, the networked community—and examines the successful qualities of popular television shows and movies, analyzes the preppy culture of the 1980s, shows how teens today identify with not one but several groups, and describes how “cool” overtook status.  McCracken’s witty romps through culture demonstrate how successful brands listened to and interacted with their consumers, while other executives led their companies in the wrong direction, following “hunches” and intuition alone.  And with an aim to put culture in the C-Suite, CHIEF CULTURE OFFICER profiles a number of figures—from gurus like Jobs and Stewart to real-life “stealth CCOs” who are already acting the part—and reverse-engineers their skills and strategies.  Through these insightful character sketches, McCracken demonstrates that cultural knowledge involves not just keeping up with trends, but active participation, as well.  Only then can the CCO discover what their consumers truly value—and what makes them tick.

To those inside the corporation, CHIEF CULTURE OFFICER provides a bonus appendix with ten real-life candidates for the new CCO position—from a 17-year-old named Justin who loves military history, to Eric, who, while getting his physics degree at Stanford, also ran the alt.tv.buffy-v-slayer FAQ and played volleyball.  And for the aspiring first generation of CCOs, the second bonus appendix provides a toolkit for understanding both slow culture and fast culture—from what to read, watch, and attend, to who to lunch, what to outsource, and how to transform others in the company into active, thoughtful observers of culture.  With authority, wit, and keen insight, CHIEF CULTURE OFFICER provides the description—now it’s time for companies to post the job.