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2015 Advice For Your 856-Year-Old Ph.D.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

(or, What’s New About Getting an Old Degree?)

I’m delighted to be teaching an intro seminar for all the new Ph.D. students in my department’s graduate program. One of my goals is to give these students a place to talk about the environment of graduate school itself. How does getting a Ph.D. work? What do you need to know?

This task has made me reflective. At first I thought I should pass along readings that had been inspirational for me during grad school. That sure didn’t work. Here is the advice I apparently once loved:

Once you have identified some [thesis] topics you are interested in, you can research them rapidly by spending a few hours on the telephone calling up experts in the field and pumping them for information…although it may cost you a few dollars in long-distance bills…  —Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or Ph.D., p. 182


I wrote the paper with which this book begins on a microcomputer. Though this first experience with one frightened me a little at first, writing soon seemed so much less work that I wondered how I had managed before. —Writing for Social Scientists, p. 151


Having surveyed the basics…it’s time to consider the role that electronic communication can play. The most important thing is to employ electronic media consciously and deliberately as part of a larger strategy for your career. —Networking on the Network: A Guide to Professional Skills for PhD Students


Fortunately, these days every legitimate library has a copy machine, and each copy costs about a dime. —How to Write a Thesis, p. 86

The process of getting a Ph.D. is very old. Wikipedia claims the first Ph.D. was awarded in Paris in 1150. I thought Ph.D. advice would be more likely to stand the test of time.

These days you’ll find better dissertation advice on Tumblr. Or at least you’ll find some comic relief from Tumblrs like When in Academia

when someone asks you how the diss is going

(That’s some great tagging.)

The upshot is that it looks like a fair amount of the advice about how to get a Ph.D. has to do with the available communication technology of the time.  Both the stuff that’s in everyday use, and also the scholarly communication infrastructure (which I’ve also blogged about recently).

Has anyone reading this ever attended a conference paper sale? (No, that’s not about buying pre-written term papers.) Or have you ever received an academic journal article “preprint request postcard?” Here’s an image of one:


Source: Google Scholar Blog.

So far I’ve come up with a list of things that seem to still be helpful. Caveats: I’m aiming to help the social science and humanities students interested in communication and information. Our first year students won’t be teaching yet, so I am not focusing on teaching with this list.

Hopefully there are some readers who will find this list useful too.

How to Get a Ph.D. — The Draft Reading List

Agre, P. (2002). Networking on the Network: A Guide to Professional Skills for PhD Students  I’ll excerpt the following sections:

  • Building a Professional Identity
    • Socializing at Conferences
    • Publication and Credit
    • Recognizing Difference
  • Your Dissertation
  • Academic Language

anonymous. (ed.) (2015). “When in Academia.”

Becker, H. S. (2007). Writing for Social Scientists. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. — Don’t let the title of this book fool you, it is equally applicable to graduate students in the humanities and professional programs. I’m excerpting the following sections:

  • Freshman English for Graduate Students
  • Persona and Authority
  • Learning to Write as a Professional
  • Risk
  • Terrorized by the Literature

Cham, J. (2013, January 21). “Your Conference Presentation.” (image.) PhD Comics.

Edwards, P. N. (2014). “How to Give an Academic Talk.” (13 pp.)

Germano, W. (2013) From Dissertation to Book. (2nd ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press. — Note: “Passive Is Spoken Here” is a great section heading. I’ll excerpt the chapter:

  • Making Prose Speak

Sterne, J. (2014). How to Peer Review Something You Hate. ICA Newsletter. (2 pp.)

Shore, B. M. (2014). The Graduate Advisor Handbook. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. I’ll excerpt:

  • Mutual Expectations for Research Advising (pp. 143-146)

Strunk, W., Jr. & White, E. B. (2000). The Elements of Style. (4th ed.) New York: Longman. (Important: You must avoid any “Original Edition” or public domain reprint that does not include E. B. White as a co-author. The version without E. B. White is a different book.)

@yourpapersucks (ed.) (2015). “Shit My Reviewers Say.”


I see that it’s a list woefully lacking in anything like “social media savvy for Ph.D. students” or “How new forms of scholarly communication are changing the dissertation.” I’m sure there are other newish domains I’ve left out, too. What am I missing? Can anyone help me out?  Please add a comment or e-mail me.

Yours in futurity.




(this blog post was cross-posted to The Social Media Collective.)

What Came Before Social Media?

Friday, February 7th, 2014

(or, Social Media circa 1994)

(or, Happy 20th Birthday, My Home Page!)

Thanks to the rigorous use of backups, I’ve just noticed that it is the twentieth anniversary of my personal home page. In the spirit of commemoration, I’ve uploaded the original version (c. 1994). For reasons I don’t remember now, I named it “booger.html.” A screenshot:

booger.html screenshot

I stumbled upon this file while looking through my backups for something else. I also found all kinds of other interesting stuff. For example, I found my personal list of “hotlinks” (as we called them then).

It’s very hard to reconstruct what the Web was like then. The Internet Archive had not begun operation yet. All of my old links to things are now dead, but it’s still interesting to try to remember how we were social with computers. Yes, there were “social media.” I’ll explain:

  • Apparently I was in a Webring.
  • I found my PGP Public Key. (No idea where the private key is.) I made my PGP public key available so people could send me a PGP encrypted message at any time. However, in ten years no one ever sent me a PGP encrypted message. But I was ready. (Take that NSA.) As long as I could find my PGP private key and remember the password from ten years ago, that is.
  • My preferred search engine was Web Crawler.
  • Later in the year I was very excited about Hot Wired, the first commercial magazine on the Web (an online version of Wired Magazine). It had its own URL then, which still works:  Everything was prefaced with “hot” back then. That is a hotlink to HotWired.
  • I spent a lot of time doing ytalk with my friends. Screenshot (found on the Internet — not mine):


  • I exhorted people to look me up on whois and to “finger me.” I regularly updated my .plan and .project files, which were status updates. Yes, Mark Zuckerberg basically ripped off the finger protocol from 1971, then added a facility to help Harvard men look at Harvard women (the “Facebook”) and “poke” them. Great job. Here’s an example finger query (not mine, found on the Web):

finger protocol

A lot of being on the Web in 1994 seems to be about just being on the Web at all. For instance:

  • I used the HotDog Web Editor for my HTML. Apparently because the logo was so cool. (I don’t think I used it for my first Web page — booger.html though because the HTML is terrible.)


  • I appear to have been on an obsessive search for new “icons.” I bookmarked a bunch of icon sharing sites, all now defunct.
  • I was very interested in how to interlace GIFs.
  • Does anyone else remember Carlos’s Forms Tutorial at NCSA? I spent a huge amount of time there and looking at the CGI documentation on a server named hoohoo (the link is a capture from 1996). I spent so much time on it that I memorized the URL, and we didn’t believe in short URLs then. UIUC loomed large in my imagination purely because of its Web stuff. Little did I know I would go on to work there and genuflect at the monument to the Web Browser every single day.

The ephemera above remind me that the Web was so exciting that a friend went to the DMV and got the California personalized license plate “IDOWWW“. I thought this might be the coolest thing anyone had ever done. In fact, I still think it is.

It’s hard to believe twenty years have passed since booger.html. I want to keep the nostalgia going. Does anyone else remember anything about social media in 1994?

Spot the Differences

Monday, October 29th, 2012

(or, Some Progress is Being Made)

Just a quick update about the ongoing museum renovation project. It is a struggle, and there are steps forward and steps back, but progress is being made.  Almost no sign of vermin of any kind for a few weeks now, so I thought I’d share this puzzle.

Here are two photos showing a view from a bedroom window across our yard, looking toward a neighbor’s house.

Can you spot the differences between these two photos?

Here’s the first photo, taken when we moved in about seven weeks ago:

Here is the second photo, taken today:

Scroll down for the differences I can find.










Here are the differences I can find:

1. The window glass has been replaced with genuine antique window glass taken from salvage.

2. The roof has been replaced with an asphalt roof.

3. The roof vent (which was smashed, but you can’t tell really in this photo) has been replaced.

4. The roof is not covered with garbage.

5. The rain gutters have been replaced (they are not smashed).

6. There is a new apple tree.

7. There is a new white oak.

8. There is a new locust tree.

9. The seasons have changed (deciduous trees are now bare). We did not change the seasons. We take no credit for the changing of the seasons.

10. The lawn is not dead. We take no credit for watering the lawn, as we didn’t. See #9.




Of course, as I look at this, I’m thinking: “That crappy protruding PVC sewer line vent still needs to be cut.  Grrrrr.”

The Betting Pool is Open

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

(or, Wildlife in the City)

This series seems endless. This is Part 5. (See also Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.)

Updates from prior episodes: Groundhog #1 (“Thomasson”), Groundhog #2 (“Wide Load”), and Groundhog #3 (“Baby”) are now living fulfilling lives in the county park, along with Opossum #1 (“Dignified Opossum”) and Opossum #2 (“Young Opossum Doesn’t Like It”).

Mr. Nonchalant Raccoon, trapped twice and featured in my last post, continues his carefree life. Here he has shown himself during the day standing on my neighbor’s decorative bench to indicate that he is not afraid of us in any way.

Chickaree has not been seen lately. Perhaps he will return in a future episode.

Episode 36. At twilight, two deer stop by to eat our bushes. Here is a dim picture of one of them.

Episode 36-a. Does this seem like a lot of wildlife to you? A colleague who has been reading this blog (you know who you are) said that they thought we lived out in the country.

Let me state for the record that we live in the center of town. We are on Washtenaw Avenue, certainly one of the busiest streets in Ann Arbor. It is a 20 minute walk to the campus (medical center side). The problem is not that we are out in the country, the problem is that our house is infested with groundhogs.

Episode 37. We are re-doing our roof and the Critter Control guy advises me of the delightful news that squirrels have probably been nesting in our old roof vents. I have a discussion with the roofer about roofing materials that hinges on whether different roofing materials are easily eaten or not. 

Episode 37-a. What a strange conversation that was. I never thought I would have this kind of conversation with anyone.

Episode 38. After we return from a week away we bait the traps with fresh apples and re-set them. Within just a few hours, there’s a ruckus at trap #1. It turns out to be our new friend, Aggro Groundhog.

Aggro Groundhog is difficult to photograph because if you approach the cage he strikes at your face. He is always moving. All of my pictures are at least slightly blurred. He mostly looks like this:

Episode 39. In case you’ve lost count, this makes Groundhog #4. How many can there possibly be? This is ridiculous. I have decided to open an office pool. $1 per entry. The bet shall be: How many groundhogs in total will we capture in this 30-day period? (That’s the term of the Critter Control contract.) No house take or vig! Let me know if you want in.


Mr. Nonchalant Raccoon

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

(or, Labor Day is No Holiday for Trappers)

This is Part 4 of a series. See also Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.

Here we go again, dear readers. Whew, this series of posts is even longer than my exhausting blog series on Comcast and number portability regulations. And there are more cute wildlife pictures.

Episode 32. Mr. Nonchalant Raccoon (from Part 3) was released from Trap #2 and immediately walked around the building to be caught by Trap #1.  We signed a contract with Critter Control promising not to touch their traps (we have two traps, they own two traps) so he’s in there overnight at least until the guy comes around again. And Raccoon ate the apple.

Check it out — he doesn’t even care that he’s locked up.

Here he is reclining on his back and staring boldly at me.

(Sorry about those vertical lines — this is the best photo I could get through the bars.)

Episode 32-a. I put it to you that this raccoon has been institutionalized. This raccoon has a prison mentality. According to Bartol & Bartol’s “Psychology and Law” (or at least these random notes from it that I found on the Internet when I searched for “prison mentality”), this raccoon has entered the stage of institutionalization syndrome where he “loses interest in the outside world.” He exists only within the confines of his incarceration. He lives only for our apples. Maybe.

Episode 33. Indeed, we release Mr. Nonchalant Raccoon and he doesn’t exactly try to go back in the cage, but he does saunter slowly around the house, even coming toward us at some points.

Sorry this is blurry but you see what I mean.

Finally Mr. Nonchalant Raccoon walks (slowly and deliberately) to a nearby grove of trees.

According to Bartol & Bartol, this raccoon may be “longing for jail.” He may miss structure. He may be considering ways to re-offend so he can “get back inside.” Stay tuned.

Raccoon sits in the bushes and stares at us. It feels like a “If you’re going to watch me, I’m going to watch you too” thing. Specifically, he watches us catch another groundhog. Raccoon is learning the system.

Episode 34. Yes, just as soon as Trap #2 was vacated by Mr. Nonchalant Raccoon, it caught another groundhog. This is groundhog #3 and he is a young little groundhog.

The Critter Control guy says he estimates this groundhog at less than 1 year old. This little guy is quite cowed by the experience and mostly just pauses to consider the apple.

Episode 35. I am becoming somewhat tired of writing about this but the opportunities to take my own close-range animal pictures are exceptional and that keeps me going. Also the groundhog trapping seems to be getting us some pretty nice goodwill with our neighbors.  The super fat one from a few posts ago was apparently public enemy #1 on our block. He was widely known for his habit of sunning himself lazily on his back while eating your each of your ripe tomatoes, one at a time, using only one paw. His departure has been widely celebrated.

Continue to Part 5 of this series.

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