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Ross’s sample workday "blog" (web log): one week at North Dakota State University

Thursday, Jan. 23, 2003
While sorting through e-mail, got a call from a graduate student. Based on my comments, she’s rewriting the draft of her prospectus to better reflect what her master’s degree committee is looking for. She also wants to know if she can get credit for assisting in a design for print class taught by another graduate student, as I’m teaching an honors class instead this semester. The other graduate student is handicapped and can’t do demonstrations well. I said I’d ask the chair.

Reading suggested article on world politics for the class tonight. Assigned by my co-instructor, Tom Ambrosio.
Reading took a solid hour. Reviewed book on war and the media for readings to assign students for next week. Will photocopy and place in library.

Sorted through mail; evaluated application for master’s program. Good student from UM Morris, 3.6 gpa. No problems here. Glowing letters of rec.—although aren’t they always? E-mailed grad student instructor of design class to see if he really needed an assistant.

Braved 20 degrees below zero to get coffee at the student union “coffee cart.”

Begin review for World War I book, chapter 13, John J. Pershing. Discovered I needed to update master’s degree page on the department web site a bit.

Took material for reserve to the library; librarian described “electronic reserve” procedure, just began this semester. The library will scan your reserve materials so students can access on line. She demonstrated it in her office. Very slick. May be copyright problems placing material on the web, while in the past I could slip stuff by as reserve materials for non-commercial use. No one is sure about that yet.

Began to read background for the Pershing chapter. Snuck a quick look at an on-line stamp sale. Nothing appears in my price range.

Lunch: nothing looked really good, decided on “calzone.” It occurred to me this was the food service’s Scandinavian meal day. I’d forgotten to sign up ahead of time. Oh well, I’ve had lots of Swedish meatballs, lefse and rommegrot in my time.

On the way back to the office, spot a student wearing and entire animal on his head. White fox fur, I believe, the tail bobbing halfway down his back. You do not see this at either university across the river—and anywhere east of here. If you did, the student wouldn’t last long among his peers.

Back to work on the book chapter. Begin introduction on Pershing. Tragic story; his entire family save one son lost in a house fire. Still, he was quite the jerk with the press, but I have a little more sympathy for him.

Interrupted by two undergraduates: one needs special permission to take another class, because he’s on academic probation. I always give this; it’s their decision what they can handle, not mine. Another wants rec letters for law schools she’s applying to. I tell her to bring a resume for reference—this gives me something to go by, as I often don’t remember what they’ve done at NDSU, and also shows if they’re serious. Students sometimes ask for rec letters on a whim, so asking for something from them cuts out the non-serious ones, leaving me less to write.

While getting a drink of water I chatted with an English master’s degree student. She’s not sure if she wants to go directly to a Ph.D. program, or take a year off. I said I took seven years off between the two, thought it was well worth it, although it does make you older as a Ph.D. student. She wondered if people would look badly on her taking time off. I said they’d probably find it a good thing.

A student met me back at the office to see why he’d gotten a B in Research Methods. I totaled the points again, 88 percent, said it didn’t quite make it, but assured him that one B is not going to be critical in whether or not he’s accepted at a University of Wisconsin-Madison Ph.D. program.

My mother calls. Talk for 10 minutes. Back to work. Complete intro to the chapter, about 1,000 words.

Collect material for night class. Ask the chair about assisting the design teacher for one credit; he said it sounds like a good idea. E-mailed the student with the offer. Mailed a check to Whitworth College, Washington State, to cover AJHA newsletter.

Off to class, but first I’ll walk to the fine arts center to see if there’s a room more conducive to a seminar-style class. Night class at 5.

Friday, Jan. 24
Julie’s birthday! We’ll go out to dinner tonight. We’re going to try a new downtown restaurant, “Monte’s.”

Last night’s class was all right, although I think we have to try new strategies to get more conversation from the students. The room is a problem—banks of tables that can’t be moved. Doesn’t work well for conversation. I’m going to find another room for next week. I’ve found that the configuration of the room is critical to a successful class. Once I held an ethics class with 30-some students in a hall meant for about 100. We rattled around there and couldn’t build excitement at all. Way back in UND days, same thing with a design class. These were among my worst student evals.

This morning: chiropractor again. I’m rather skeptical of chiropractors, but I realize they’ve helped lots of people, so I’m willing to give it a shot. Coming to work, I checked my e-mail. Voice messages: from the international studies director, asking me for permission as grad director to allow an international student to enroll in fewer than the “full load” of nine credits. We consider “full load” at grad level to be six to nine, but grant and federal organizations may differ. Fine with me. Second, approval to the student who wanted to assist in the design class, one credit.

Sort through mail. How do I get on all these mailing lists?

Worked rest of the morning putting a series of photos of newspapers 1674-1974 on the web—both for my own history class, and for the web-based history class. I like the “Berkeley Barb” best—how many people can say they have hippie newspapers?

Student e-mailed saying she needs permit for the seminar class. She’ll stop by this afternoon. Now off to lunch.
Cup of lentil soup and bread for lunch; line at Taco Bell was too long.

Return to add a couple river-related photos to my web site to accompany a history of Red River flooding I wrote long ago, and posted on the web site to attract more (?) readers.

A graduating senior interrupted me to ask if the new web design courses would count for the mass comm. major professional specialization area. A quick talk with Paul, the chair, and decision to allow them to count. E-mailed Paul to clarify which classes.

I get back to work on the book manuscript, working on the Pershing chapter. Interrupted by student who needs signed slip for the seminar. She also needs last week’s readings. I don’t have any extras, so give her mine.

Walk to the student union for a break, bring back a doughnut. Call international office concerning student, promise to write letter to allow her to take fewer than nine credits. Checked e-bay for trench art while having the doughnut and reading the Spectrum.

Evaluated graduate student plan to study form—had to send it back to advisor, class missing. Finished the Pershing chapter.

Evaluated four application packets for the Ph.D. program: full, conditional, refuse, refuse. Our Ph.D. program is over-taxing our resources. We need to limit enrollment.

Quickly added an announcement to the “Blackboard” (proprietary name) site with announcements for the seminar next week, and also for the new on-line media history course.

Home for the weekend!

Monday, Jan. 27
Sift through e-mail before a meeting with the web minor committee, of which I am “coordinator.” Two students from the seminar say they can’t get the reserve reading on the new “electronic reserve” system in the library. Respond to say I’ll check it out this morning.

Three of five show up to committee meeting. We discuss the web minor web site, internship process, and enumerate some of the things you can do with a web minor, to be used on the web site as well as a flyer that the admissions office is preparing. I promise to write the blurb. The other “techie” committee members have a discussion on how the Linux operating system is threatening Microsoft.

I return to check out the electronic reserve system. Turns out it works fine, although I gave the students the wrong password (one, however, didn’t even get that far). I e-mail them with the right password, and put an announcement of the change on the “Blackboard” web-based class system.

Talk to admissions office about a high school student from Winnipeg coming Friday, wanting to meet a mass comm. professor. We settle on a time of 12:15. The majority of these students, I find, ether cancel these appointments or don’t show up. But I have to be here just in case. Fortunately, I’m always here anyway.

Wrote the new introductory material for the web minor, put it on the web minor intro material on the department’s web site, wrote minutes of web minor meeting, mailed the material to the committee.

An advisee stopped by to drop off a prospectus draft which I promised to respond to in the next couple days.

Wrote a memo as graduate director recommending a student from China be allowed to enroll in six credits instead of the minimum nine for full-time graduate status. Apparently the government is giving part-time international students a hard time.

Just got started with work on chapter 14 of the book when colleague Judy Pearson reminds me of the graduate studies committee meeting, agenda: choose from among applicants for next fall’s intake. After 45 minutes there, we took a break to interview a job candidate by telephone. I took the opportunity to catch up on a few things: took a look at a classroom more conducive, I decided, to the seminar. Went to the bathroom twice; always most attention to that in the after lunch, it seems! Back to a bit more work on the book chapter, then back to the meeting. We decided to reject those who clearly didn’t have the undergraduate gpa we require. Two from China will call to see if they can speak English well enough to be a TA. We also talked about faculty we’re hiring for next fall, note that three new faculty will really change the “culture” of the department. I’m not sure how, but then, it’s a different department from the way it was when I started nine years ago, too. I don’t know if my research productivity would cut it today.

A teacher in the web design program wonders about course substitutions for the computer science pre-requisite. I said I usually go ahead with the substitution, if the spirit of the course is about the same.

Break for a snack, then back to background reading for Chapter 13.

Tuesday, Jan. 28
Chiropractor on the way to work. Not doing much, but I’m trying to be patient.

Managed e-mail and “snail-mail.” Got a distressing letter from a legal firm handling Burnham Publishers in Chicago. Apparently they’ve filed for bankruptcy, and the firm is trying to find other publishers to farm out their contracts—such as mine. That’s just great. Who knows if this project will ever see light.

A couple questions concerning web site, one about the web minor web site, another about a new web site for a student speech group being launched here. I engineered answers to make sure I wouldn’t have to take on more work designing new web sites!

I started work on book chapter 14, but was interrupted by Paul Nelson, wanting me to talk to a prospective graduate student. After that I rushed off to noon Tae Kwon do practice.

Back from that, bagel for lunch, and responded to two e-mailed requests for grad information, on from Poland. Also, a graduate student whose committee I’m on left a message asking me to call her about meeting times. I don’t call those people back, generally, but e-mail them instead. Less time consuming.

Back to chapter 14, able to get about 1,000 words written on censorship in the war. Took time away to update the department web site’s description of the upcoming spring Red River Communication Conference with a downloadable PDF registration form.

Received a prospectus from a graduate student who wondered if it’s all right to have her prospectus meeting the morning of Monday, Feb. 10. I said not before 10 a.m. That’s three prospectuses I now have to read.

Wednesday, Jan. 29
Sorted through e-mail. Responded to a couple inquiries from prospective graduate students, including one from India, who has hounded me for a month with gratuitous questions. If he’s this needy now, how would he be as a student.

Copied Dorothy’s garden column and sent it to the Forum’s features editor as an e-mail. Boy, wouldn’t that system have made my freelance work easy back in the early 80s!

Send Dorothy’s column, began preparing for tomorrow night’s seminar. Topic this week: the press during war. I’ll be writing a short lecture on that, but as a seminar, we encourage research and discussion. Normally I spend considerably more time preparing for class, teaching and grading, but as I taught an “overload” of three classes last semester, I’m on the hook for only one this semester. A good thing, because not only do I have a looming deadline for the World War I book, I promised to do a journalism history historiography pamphlet for American Journalism Historians Association, and I’d like to submit a paper for this summer’s AEJMC convention in Kansas City. That deadline is April; don’t know if I’ll be able to make it.

Interrupted by an instructor asking about this summer’s guest scholar, Bernell Tripp. I had suggested she be asked to lecture to the Ph.D. students this summer, and actually persuaded the faculty to consider a historian. I hope enrollment is good, and she doesn’t end up being a dud.

During the lunch hour, a tiring “mandatory” presentation from the Institution Review Bullies (okay, “Board”) on what you must submit to them if you’re using “human subjects” in research. Development of IRBs began with good intentions, to avoid clearly unethical research. More recently, in many universities, the unchecked power afforded the boards have led to censorship and control over a researcher’s independent rights to set up a study as he or she sees fit. Some universities even included cases of journalism being denied approval as it “denied anonymous participation” by subjects. Another case of a person or group abusing unchecked power given to them.

Back at work to finish my lecture on war and the media for tomorrow.

Began work on a graduate student’s theses prospectus draft. Sigh. She still really doesn’t get how to put this together. And the grammar errors! So it’s going to take some time to go through it. I’m going to have to write samples of the kind of work she need to do, I guess.

Meanwhile, interrupted by Mark Meister, who stopped by with another prospective graduate student for me to talk to. That takes at least 20 minutes to a half hour, to go through the usual spiel.

Ran out for a break, Butterfinger bar from the student union. Actually, it seems lower fat than the ones I’ve been getting….

Back to work on the book chapter 14.

Thursday, January 30.
Finished the intro to chapter 14 late yesterday; this morning stopped for a beard trim on the way to work. Got to stay tidy….

Sifted through e-mail.

Updated the department’s web site to include the new web minor site link, and e-mailed the material to the admissions office for their flyer. Asked the web minor site designer to add names of web minor committee members.

Undergraduate student stops by to talk about turning her minor into a mass comm. major. Paul Nelson stops by for my opinion on allowing a Spectrum staff member to use his student newspaper class credits as mass comm. elective credits. I say he might as well.

Evaluate application to the master’s program. This one’s a problem, gpa 2.87, so I pass it around to the rest of the graduate committee for opinions.

Edited chapter 14 intro, then off to the library to check out books for the next chapter. One needs to be ordered from MSUM by inter-library loan—NDSU’s library is endless inadequate for historical research, made worse by the 1997 flood, which destroyed its collection of 19th century magazines.

Review notes for tonight’s class. Think about showing a videotape; check classroom to see if VCR happens to be there. Nope. Too late to request one from ITS.

Back to work on the book. Work out another 500 words or so.

Break, call my mother for an update.

Wrote two letters to prospective graduate students, one in West Virginia and one in Grand Forks.

Reviewed material for night class. Hope they’ll have more to say this week.

Copyright 2004 by Ross F. Collins <>