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Semester Plan Template

“Every Semester Needs a Plan!” I believe this saying with my whole being. But you don’t have to put your faith in me to believe it. This is a saying that comes straight from the academic ‘you-can-be-productive-and-still-have-a-life’ GuRu, Kerry Ann Rockquemore‘s mouth. Something that she has since built her empire off of, and something that has changed thousands of lives. Seriously, if you have never heard of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity you are missing out. If you have never completed the Faculty Success Bootcamp Program you are really missing out. If your university isn’t an institutional member, y’all are all missing out.

It was in the bootcamp that I learned about semester and weekly planning and that helped me not lose my sh*t completely my first year on the tenure-track. Therefore, I don’t want to give away all the goods in this short post, but I do want to share a specific template of a semester plan that I have adopted/adapted and that has been really helpful for me. (I have asked for lots of sample templates and I know I probably didn’t come up with this myself – I think its an amalgam of samples. So if you shared with me, thank you!!!)

I tweeted about the template I used and lots of people asked for a copy so I figured this might be the easiest way to share. To recap:

I use one excel sheet to house all of my semester plans. Each semester is on a different tab. Within each tab, I include writing goals, teaching goals, service goals, and personal goals. Laying out all aspects of my professional and personal goals in one spot serves as a homebase; a place to return to check in, update progress, celebrate successes, and regroup when needed. While personal goals (like raising children) and teaching goals (like showing up for class) do have built in accountability, it is the writing goals that probably benefit the most from this sort of planning.

The excel document allows me to think about semester plans in a tabular form. The days become one axis and the things to do another. That way, each day correlates with something to do, all of which will help me reach my goals by the set deadline.

To set this up, the first column lists the weeks of the semester, the next the specific days, and the next is for special dates — dates that have events that will likely interfere with my typical daily schedule.

The next column is for my writing goals. At the top I list out the major writing I want to accomplish for the semester. This usually means the number of papers I want under view, or the number of chapters I need to have drafted, etc. At the start of the semester I fill in writing goals for each week that, if accomplished, would allow me to complete all of my writing goals.

The teaching and service columns also start with major goals (often with the number of things I want to limit). I then list out major dates, like when exams are given or when papers need to be returned for teaching, or speakers and committee deadlines for service. Finally, in the personal column I list out a pretty consistent set of goals that just remind me to pay attention to my whole self.

On my template, I also have a column for “time” next to each of the major goal columns. For those interested in tracking how much time a task takes (either to help figure out what a doable plan is, or to limit the amount of time you take on a task), adding this column can make that tracking easy.

The biggest thing to remember is that this is a template of a semester plan. If adopted, it should be adapted to fit your needs. It is also a “living document” that you will hopefully add clarity to each week – during your Sunday weekly planning meeting where you fill in specifics – and one that you will likely revise as needed throughout the semester.

If you want to read more about how to set up your goals – please read my colleague, Tanya Golash-Boza’s post on her wonderful blog, Get a Life, Phd.

And now, here is a sample semester plan template of mine. I have just filled in lose parts to help give an idea of what this might look like. I’d love to see your plans!


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The Childcare-Conference Conundrum

I was really looking forward to the annual meetings for the American Sociological Association (ASA) and the Association of Black Sociologists (ABS). They are taking place in a city I have never been, and the conference themes are #lit: Feeling Race and The New Black Sociologists. I am not on the job market and not attempting to sell my book idea to publishers, so I don’t have to deal with that extra anxiety. It seemed like it was going to be a fun, productive, and powerful conference season.

And then I checked the daycare and back-to-school schedule… and the frustration set in. 😩 Once again, the university daycare my youngest son, Myles, attends was closing for the same three days that I would be in Philly. The conference scheduling also coincides with the dead week in summer (a.k.a. the week before school starts so all summer camps are closed) and the start of the school year for my oldest, Jackson. My husband, an Assistant Principal at our local middle school was already scheduled to be back to work. These final days leading up to the new school are treated almost like black out days for administration, you do not miss. Extended family was also non-viable, as we live 2000+ miles away from our parents and siblings. In other words, I was stuck with no clear childcare plan for my 2 and 8 year old sons.

So here I am, once again, weighing all of the possible options on how to make this conference season work. Do I miss the conference? Do I fly the kids out with me? If so, do I find someone to fly out to watch them? If I don’t, who do I find to watch my kids?

This *Children-Conference Conundrum* is not new to me. As a mother of two, who had my first in graduate school and my second on the tenure-track, I have attempted to manage the children-conference conundrum in what feels like every different way imaginable. I know I am not only person stuck in this conundrum – this also affects most single parents, primary caregivers, and two academic households – so I decided I would write about this conundrum by outlining the benefits and drawbacks I have had to weigh when deciding how to manage a conference and childcare. I end with a short pitch for what I see as the best solution: institutional and financial support for conference attendance with dependents.

Option 1: Miss the conference.

Now, if your main goal is to attend the conference then of course this isn’t a viable option. But if this isn’t a crucial year and you don’t want to attend the conference, family commitments might be a great excuse for missing. I missed the conference cycle the year after my first was born and the year I was pregnant with my second. To make it work I declined any panels or roles requests for that year and encouraged them to reach out again in the future. Then I followed the Twitter hashtags with envy but also kicked up my feet with some adoration for a more relaxing start to the school year.

  • Pros: The obvious benefits include saving money and time.
  • Cons: The drawbacks include missing out on valuable networking, fun socializing, and opportunity for feedback on work-in-progress. This drawback is amplified, however, when you can’t attend for multiple years.
  • Tips: Enjoy the break. Think about a smaller local conference if you really need to add presentations to you CV.

Option 2: Attend the conference with kids (and arrange your own childcare)

I have only attended one conference with my child alone and when there was no on-site childcare. It was ABS in Memphis in 2016. Myles was under 2 so he could fly for free and it was on this trip I learned I had reached expert level in public nursing by feeding him squished in my middle seat on a small airplane. I was rooming with a close grad school friend, and she was (thankfully) excited to see the baby. She also had her car at the conference and offered to help provide transportation. My biggest concern was how I would present and lead the session I organized with a small baby so I decided I would try to find someone to watch Myles during this part of the day. To do so, I reached out to the local conference organizer and trusted wonder woman who I knew had small children and asked if she had any sitter recommendations. She responded by saying that my son could join hers at the home daycare she used consistently and ran by a cherished granny. The plan worked pretty great for that day. However, I didn’t have as much success when I tried to bring Myles to the sessions with me the following day. He was a little noisy and I was stressed that he was distracting presenters. So I darted in and out of sessions for a bit until I reclined to hanging out in the lobby.

  • Pros: This options allows you to attend the conference and be with children (added bonus when kids are still nursing).
  • Cons: One of the more significant drawbacks can be the added costs. We all know conferences are absurdly expensive (a recent facebook thread suggests we spend about $2k for ASAs). So, in addition to the exorbitant fees of conferences you will may have to add additional airfare fees for children over two, and then and money to feed the children. (For instance, if I took the kids with me to Philly, the flights would be an added $1100 alone). An additional important drawback is the pre-conference work to arrange the specialized childcare and stress that comes with that, having to manage presentation of self + children during conferences, and not being about to be wholly committed or present during sessions. For these reasons, this is my least favorite option.
  • Tips: Be creative and ask for help. I am super thankful to the conference organizer and my friend for helping out with rides and Myles.


(^ me, Myles, and grad school friends at ABS)


Option 3: Attend the conference with kids (and use onsite childcare)

I used it once and I was sold: the onsite childcare at ASAs is great! The staff was professional and friendly and my kids enjoyed hanging out with other kids. I was still breastfeeding, so I could pop in and nurse my son without any major interruptions to either of our schedules. I did this option when I attended ASAs in 2016 in Seattle. Since Seattle is on the West Coast, the flights were reasonable and my whole family attended, however my oldest and husband had to leave a day earlier to make it to the first day of school and the youngest stayed with me for an extra day.

  • Pros: Can attend conference and be with children in the evenings. Having an excuse to travel and expose your children to different places can be an added bonus in this case.
  • Cons: As with the drawbacks of Option 2, the costs can be the biggest deterrent. In addition to the extra flights and extra food, are the more significant childcare costs of onsite care (its $55 per child per day at ASAs). Another drawback is that the childcare closes at 6:30pm, which means you either have to miss out on receptions and dinners or take the kids with you.
  • Tips: Inquire about stipends to pay the ASA childcare fees.

Option 4: Attend the conference with kids (and bring along partner or other family)

I’ve seen this option done fairly frequently – a partner who has time off from work can attend the conference and hang with the kids. I think it is a great option for those who have the availability. I actually did this last week when my husband had a conference in San Diego. He went to the conference and I took the kids to the zoo one day and Legoland the next. Sometimes it’s a sister or grandparent that tags along. Sadly, the timing of ASAs makes this nearly impossible for my family.

  • Pros: The benefit here is that you get to spend time at the conference and with your family. This is really great when you can carve out time to explore the city as a family.
  • Cons: Consistent with Option 2 and 3, the cost is a major drawback. Another drawback I felt when I did this was the work-life tug. When I was at the conference I wanted to be with my partner and kids. When I took time away from the conference to hang with them, I felt a little bad that I wasn’t doing things I had planned to at the conference. And when I was the person in charge of the kids – I was exhausted from exploring a new city alone and wanted to crash by the time by partner was done. Despite the cons, this is still probably my favorite option.
  • Tips: Communicate with family about your schedule and make sure they are up to what it entails. Another great idea is to try to find a sitter so you and the partner/family member can get a little adult time together as well.

Option 5: Attend the conference without kids (and arrange childcare at home)  

This year my Mom planned a visit to California when I had a conference. I took the opportunity to go to New Orleans for Southerns with my partner while she watched the kids. This was wonderful and I wish we lived closer to family so this could happen more. For ASA and ABS this is not feasible and, as I mentioned above, I really struggled to figure out a plan. I was finally able to arrange childcare ‘swaps’ with other parents. For one family, I will watch their child today and they will watch my kids on Friday when I am gone, and for another family they will watch my kids on Monday, and I will watch theirs the Tuesday I return. This means the week before the conference I am home with Jackson all week and one of the days babysitting his friend, and then babysitting two other children the day I come back. It works, but is a lot of work. (And if you wondering about other sitter options, the student sitters I use are gone for the summer and watching two active children is hard high school students for full days – I tried it last year – so this is the “best” option).

  • Pros: Can attend conference and get uninterrupted sleep in a hotel room to yourself.
  • Cons: Figuring out childcare plans in a pitch is never fun (and, once again can be very costly). For me this includes additional work pre- and post- conference. If you are nursing and leave your children at home, it can present additional obstacles. I remember the one time I pumped in a public bathroom was at a conference in Chicago.
  • Tips: Plan ahead. And when you are gone try to enjoy the alone time.


No matter which option I choose, the work-family supposedly life balance tug-o-war is heightened when it comes to conferences. When I am away from my children, I miss them and often feel (undeserved) guilt for being away. This typically equates to me trying to attend the most minimal amount of days. When the children are with my at the conference the tug is also hard, as I worry about their temporary childcare plans or think of all the fun they are having without me. It’s hard to find the perfect balance, especially with the weak support system we currently have.


Many have begun talking about what we would like to see to improve support. One recent article in PNAS, authored by Rebecca M. Calisi and a Working Group of Mothers in Science, outlines their proposal for CARE and I want to amplify their proposal here. To me, this proposal hits nail right on the head for what caregivers really need:

  • Childcare – financial support for childcare, either onsite or at home. Some conference offer a grant for just this. I think ASA should be added to this list.
  • Accommodating families – this includes family friendly dates (i.e., NOT the start of the school year, and more conferences during the week) and conference scheduling (perhaps childcare in the evening).
  • Resources – this can include further financial incentives and also physical resources such as ample closed spaces for nursing and changing areas, and better accommodations for children with disabilities.
  • Establishing a conference-specific social network – this would provide more social support for parents and caregivers, where they can arrange child care swaps, schedule activities and provide support.  


Bringing more CARE into conferences can help solve the Childcare-Conference Conundrum and open the doors for more parents and caregivers to attend conferences while attending to their dependents. This is especially important for diversifying the academy, as it provides support for women who are most harmed by the baby penalty. I hope that sociological organizations – who are full of scholars who understand the ways institutions can either harm or help those attached to them – can take steps to ensure more support and equity in conferences soon.




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Honoring MLK Day through recognizing Black Women; Reclaiming a Seat At the Table

I was honored to be asked to keynote at my city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, one that they named “Moving the Dream Forward”. I am a new-ish transplant to the community and have been looking for ways to connect and give back, so I happily agreed. However, a few days after agreeing I was emailed and told that there had been a mix up amongst the organizers. Other organizers had asked another person to be keynote, a black male Reverend, and so now I was no longer to keynote the event, but to become the “Distinguished Guest.” I couldn’t deny that I felt a little slighted, but decided I would make the best of it. And since I was no longer the keynote, I felt more freedom to make the speech that I wanted to make. And I decided was not a speech about MLK, but about black women. Here is what I said:


Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s spirit of love and of fight for racial justice is one to be admired and celebrated and replicated. This day has always been meaningful to me. When I was in high school, in East Lansing, Michigan, we held a sit-in to demand that we observed MLK day and actually won. The next year we had the day off from school. We were able to change the policy in our school district. We were his legacy in action. I am honored to be here honoring him, especially on the 50th anniversary of his passing.

However, I am actually not going to talk too much about Dr. King today. Rather, I want to take a moment to talk about a sector of the movement that doesn’t often get the recognition it deserves. I am here to talk about black women, and will highlight three here today.

I am going to start with one incredible great. Her name is Diane Nash. She is a living legend. Diane was a Midwest-born, Chicago raised, witty and determined black girl. She took advantage of educational experiences allotted to her and ended up, at the age of 20, in Nashville Tennessee to attend the prestigious, historically black college of Fisk University. Diane was excited to be at Fisk, the place that taught W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells and other’s their critical lens.

But what did not jive with Diane was the overt and explicit segregation that plagued the South. When shortly after arriving in Tennessee she went to the state fair and was forced to use the “Colored” bathroom, she knew her move to Nashville had much more in store for her. She went back to Fisk with a mission to challenge segregation. Nash began attending nonviolent civil disobedience workshops led by James Lawson, and informed by Mahatma Gandhi. She committed herself to being the most studied and passionate student, and, at the ripe age of 22 she became the leader of the Nashville sit-in movement.

She trained students how to endure verbal and physical attacks when they tried to integrate segregated lunch counters. She led the resisters through her poise and strategic planning. She was unafraid to be on the front lines, and was assaulted and arrested numerous times during these protests. It was Nash that bravely confronted the mayor of Nashville and got him, on record, to reveal that as a person, he believed segregation was immoral. After this public acknowledgment the movement gained momentum and just three weeks later the lunch counters were serving blacks. The Nashville sit-ins spread to 69 cities across the United States, and were a huge success in the anti-segregation movement. She literally claimed a seat at the table for herself and others.

Daine Nash_Rosa Parks.jpg

<Pictured: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, James Bevel, Diane Nash :>

Nash would go on to serve many roles in the Civil Rights Movement, including leading the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, from 1961–1965 while under the direction of Martin Luther King. He, too, was impressed with Nash. In 1964 she received the Rosa Parks honor from Dr. King. When asked about herself in relation to King she later said: “I never considered Dr. King my leader. I always considered myself at his side and I considered him at my side.” This is not, in any way, a dig at Dr. King and his leadership. It was just a recognition of her own merits. Indeed, this self-assurance shaped her very understanding of what freedom means. According to Nash,Freedom, by definition, is people realizing that they are their own leader.” Nash exemplifies a leader, a freedom fighter, and a civil rights hero.

Nash, like King, taught us many lessons that we can implement today:

  1. Don’t allow others to define what is right. Segregation was the norm in the South and Nash could have accepted it. But she knew it was not, and followed her own conscious in decided she would fight against it.
  2. Become studied before you jump into action. Seek out others doing similar work, study various types of movement strategies, and practice the plan of attack so you can increase the successfulness and replication.
  3. If a space is not open to you, it may be up to you to change it, even with your presence. Claim a seat at the table.

I try to implement these lessons in my own life. So now I am going transition to covering the second black woman—I am going to talk about myself 😉 Nash is definitely a woman I personally relate to in many ways. I, too, was also a Midwest born and raised, witty, brown girl, who ventured to Nashville in my early twenties in seek of my own freedom. You see, I grew up pretty poor and we lacked a lot of resources. My single mother worked hard to provide and support me and my three siblings but I often felt trapped by what we didn’t have. Where we couldn’t go, what we couldn’t eat, and what thoughts we couldn’t put into words. However, unlike Nash, at this point in my life I was deathly shy and rarely ventured outside of the box. I knew what injustice looked like, I witnessed and experienced it, but I wasn’t vocal enough to speak up, even if I wanted to.

But education – that is one thing that helped free me. I first learn to escape through books. I read a lot. I first engaged with autobiographies of people I admired, like Diana Ross and then shifted to others like Malcom X and Assata Shakur and Barak Obama. During my education, I, like Dr. King, decided to major in Sociology. I soon learned about injustice and interwoven systems of oppression. This freeing of my mind was powerful.

But education freed me in other ways. I was able to earn a full tuition scholarship for my Bachelors. I was able to study abroad, and see things I would have never imagined, like Volcanos in Nicaragua or Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. Those experiences also allowed me to see what poverty and inequality looked like at a global scale. Most importantly, these experiences gave me the vocal skills to put curiosity and critiques of the world to words.

I decided that the skills and knowledge I was gaining had to be used in a way that mattered. This is something that was central to Dr. King’s teaching. In his speech titled, “A Time to Break the Silence” he powerful instructed, “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

You see, unlike how some would like to remember him, King was radical. This idea, of speaking truth to power and disrupting the hostile world, led me into various roles, On example being a founding member of a group we called, Act on Racism, in college. Our group went into classrooms filled with our- primarily white peers – and staged plays in order to showcase the racism we had experienced there. I knew at that point that it was no longer ok for me to be silent.

The freeing nature of education then pushed me to pursue my doctoral degree, which is why I, myself, landed in Nashville at 21 – to attend Vanderbilt University. And it is also why I am here today.

Well, where am I today? First, honored to be standing here with all of you in this theater. But as my bio describes, I am an Assistant Professor of Sociology at that new school down the road – the University of California, Merced. I didn’t know this before I arrived, but I was hired as the first black women in the School of Social Science, Humanities and Arts at this newest research university in the United States. I now have a seat at that table.

Now I am not on the freedom fighter level of Diane Nash – that is only something I aspire to be – but I would like to think I am at least a freedom agitator. That I can take those lessons Nash and King taught us to heart—that I can use my voice, my presence, and my skills to help free the minds of those I come across, and use my work to help dismantle oppressive structures as well. But it remains central to my being to lift as a climb, and leave a trail of seats in my wake.

The final woman I will, just briefly, talk about today is Solange Knowles. You have now heard me say, “a seat at the table” a few times and it is no coincidence that A Seat at the Table is the title of Solange’s Grammy winning album. Solange recently revealed why she went back to New Iberia, Louisiana to make this amazing album. Her maternal grandparents lived in Louisiana, but were run out of town because of tense race relations after that came to a head after her they left her grandfather for dead in a mining explosion. Solange chose to return there to produce the album to pay homage to her roots. As she explained in her NPR interview with Ari Shapiro, she wanted to “reclaim that space,” she went on to say: “I wanted to be able to go back as a descendant of my grandparents and stake my claim and create work that honored them.” That is likely where these powerful lyrics come from in her song Rise:

“Walk in your ways, so you won’t crumble

Walk in your ways, so you can sleep at night

Walk in your ways, so you will wake up and rise”

That is my message to you all here, and especially black women. Reclaim space. Make a seat at the table. Follow in the footsteps of Solange. Diane. Coretta. Ida. Rosa. Sojourner. Assata. Angela. Michelle. Follow the words of Maxine Water “I strong black women. I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined.”  We must reclaim our space and reclaim our time and rise.

This is a message Diane made clear when she herself gave a speech last year at Yale University for Martin Luther King Jr. day. She said:

“Martin was not the leader. He was the spokesperson.…It was not Martin’s movement, it was the people’s movement. And that is an important for you to understand, because when we see things that have to be done today, if you think it was Martin’s movement, you might say: ‘I wish we had a great leader like Martin.’ … But if you understand that it is the people’s movement, you would say, ‘What can I do.?’”

Please ask yourself that: “What can I do?” Think about the lessons that Diane taught us with her service: to decide for ourselves what is to be fought for; to create a plan of action; and to make space with our presence. This is how I believe we can move the movement forward, by doing this, but also by recognizing that MLK’s movement will not move forward without black women.


^me trying channel some Diane Nash vibes




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We are Paid

In, my most rant-like post yet, I would just like to begin by saying: We are paid.

This rant stems from my utter despise for when people academics say: “I don’t get paid to do that.”1

There are, of course, plenty of reasons why academics should not take on tasks or responsibilities we are not paid to do. Those prone to answer “yes”- like myself- should definitely feel the freedom and authority of saying “no” when approached with some ‘thing’ that is “not in my job description”. But the phase, “I don’t get paid to do that” really grinds my gears.

I’m sure history plays a role in my level of irritation with the phrase. Because, historically there has always been, and there continues to be, an underclass of folks who get paid absolutely nothing for the work they do. Who? Well, the enslaved Africans that build this nation serve as an archetypal example. Women and children trapped in the global sex trade today stand as another stark example. But we don’t even have to go *there*. Those who become family caregivers because of obligation or will (mothers, fathers, children of the elderly, etc.) are examples that I am sure everyone can empathize with. And then, on top of that, there are the whole host of fields that are underpaid for the work they do – work that is often not in their job description – but is expected or demanded. For instance, health care aides who have to manage both patients’ emotions and random requests, social workers who spend more time writing summary reports than interacting with clients, or fast food workers who are definitely not paid to smile when taking irate costumers’ orders.

So when tenure-track academics2, who make decent salaries and have high personal authority of their jobs, throw out the phrase, “I don’t get paid to do that” it kind of pisses me off.

Think about this, the median salary for U.S. workers is just under $52k. This means half of all U.S. workers make less than 52 thousand and the other half makes more. Growing up, my family fell into the bottom half (or bottom quarter really). So looking up from the other side, I can unequivocally say, we are paid well. While our many years of schooling and extra credentials makes us believe we should be highly compensated, the facts suggest that the majority of us earn a salary that starts out between five and fifteen thousand dollars more than the median wage, and to me, that is not too shabby.

Of course, this post is not about our pay. I’d likely support initiatives for us to make more, and I am definitely a proponent of increasing pay equity in the academy across race, gender, and discipline. I, however, did not get into this profession solely for pay. In fact, very few academics I know would rate pay as the motivating factor in their choice of career. More often than not, the motivation stems from some transformative moment we had as a student that sparked something in us – a pressing question we wanted to find the answer to or a topic we were so drawn to that we couldn’t phantom boring from studying it. Some of us even felt a deep motivation to change the world.

We tiptoe into the job and before long we are knee deep. We begin to learn that we can do interesting work, and teach others about our work. We can watch as our students have their own light bulb moments. And we can build even deeper relationships with some students, those who become our mentees and we can celebrate as they grow and advance to independent scholars. And we can learn from these students. We can work with smart people and collaborate on even larger projects. We can also travel to share our work in all parts of the globe. Pros of our chosen career also include job security (post-tenure), job autonomy, flexible hours and the opportunity to reinvent ourselves often. Most of us decide that academia is far from perfect, but that it comes with many perks. Some of us savor these jobs.

Pirtle_Whitney_candid teach

(^Me, in a candid moment, caught smiling while teaching stats)


However, once we become an academic we are often confronted with the realization that there are a lot of parts of the job that do not align with our motivation to take the job. These tasks can be viewed as tangential, unimportant, menial, or even “beneath us”. Hence, the phrase: “I don’t get paid to do that.” The problem isn’t pay, on the other hand, it’s that once we get into our positions we almost forget about the reasons that brought us here and focus instead on pay and/or the tasks that seem beneath our pay.

Rather than focusing on the particulars of some dreaded tasks, I think many of us would be much happier with our job as a whole if we approach those ‘things’ that “are not in our job description” as a part of a bigger picture.

Here are some examples of the ways we might reframe these menial or frustrating tasks that we think we are not paid for:

  • We are not paid to make copies, but we are paid to provide resources, material and otherwise, to students to help them learn
  • We are not paid to counsel students, but we are paid to mentor and advise them, which might include moments of consolation or emotional support
  • We are not paid to sit through seemingly unimportant departmental or university meetings, but we are paid to provide service to our university, and can give valuable insight that might even better its organizational structure
  • We are not paid to deal with unfriendly colleagues and administration, but we are paid to work together as faculty and staff to help the university run and provide a welcoming atmosphere for our students


I believe we have a lot to give as academics and want us to be appropriately compensated for our work, but I also believe it is helpful to remember that it is a privilege to be paid well, doing a job that we mostly enjoy.




1Disclosure: I am one of those academics who does, in fact, enjoy her job.

2I think contingent faculty are part of the underpaid and have every right to mutter “I don’t get paid to do this.” I also believe TT academics should help alleviate extra tasks that burden contingent faculty.




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It happened – an attack on my campus

Today was the day it happened to me. There was a violent attack on *my* campus and it ended with at least four wounded and one dead. I was not on campus when it happened, I am still unsure whether any of my students were involved. At this point I am not sure what to say or do.

The mother in me wants to give every single student a hug and tell them its ok to cry. To take deep breaths. To encourage them to talk about their feelings. To grieve the hurt of their classmates and campus staff, and the loss of a young life. To take inventory of what they are thankful for and to stay open.

The professor in me wants to call an open campus forum. To allow for a safe space for students to come together to share their concerns. To get the facts. To disseminate resources. To discuss factors that have been linked to mass violence on school campuses, like mental health issues, social isolation, masculinity, etc.

The activist in me wants to disagree that this is “not the time to make things political.” To confront the ignorance I see on social media. To recognize how much more tragic this could have been if we were an open carry campus. To make the point that the only death came at the hands of those carrying guns… and badges.

For now I will commend those who took action today. I will uplift the UCM community and remained inspired by everyone’s unity and goodwill in the aftermath. I will thank God it wasn’t worse. And I will continue to indulge in chocolate.



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My Stats Story + Strategies for Survival and Success

Prepping for the first day of my Graduate Statistics II class triggered a whole host of memories. I was thinking about the new semester and reflecting on my own relationship with statistics—my very own ‘stats story’. So I thought in this post I would share my story and conclude with some tips/strategies for those interested.

 Story time:

My college roommate/best friend and I both majored in the social sciences. And when we could, we took classes together, including one semester of statistics. We were fine students and did well in the course. In fact, since we studied together and worked on assignments together, we received comparable grades (though mine might have been just slightly higher, and Danielle went to office hours a few times when I didn’t). In any case, on paper, we were pretty much the same student. One ‘marked’ difference between us though, was that she is white and I am black. Neither of us thought that would matter in a stats class.


 However, one day, the professor decided to hand out white envelopes to a few select students in class. Danielle received one and I didn’t. We opened it up to see that Danielle had been invited to join the stats club. We were both a bit confused. Why did she get an invitation and I didn’t, even though it was clear we both were dedicated students who could do statistics? Heck, I was that type of student who would’ve actually joined a club like that! 

I was very bothered by that incident but never said anything to the professor. I did, however, go on to take another unrequired stats class in undergrad, receive high grades in my graduate stats courses, become my department’s graduate stats TA, and now teach an advanced stats class to graduate students at my research university (hmmmn… maybe I should *let him know*).

It’s frustrating that my undergrad professor would have never guessed that I would be teaching my own stats class in less than 10 years time (in fact it reveals a lot about racial bias and the shortcomings of our educational system). The professor’s decision to ignore my potential fed into my own insecurities when it came to my academic abilities. At this point I was convinced I was not a “math-person”. I guess to be honest, if you would have told the 20-year old version of me I would be teaching my own stats class, I wouldn’t have believed it either.

I most definitely didn’t think highly of my skills once I got to graduate school. I completely fed into the well-embedded climate of fear that surrounded the stats courses at my graduate institution. During the time I was a student the current trend was that about a 1/3 of every cohort would have to repeat at least one stats course. With that in mind, I made it my goal to just get through the class – just to merely pass. I did end up passing, but not without damage. I struggled through stats with everyone else. I cursed the stats assignments in the computer lab, I pulled all-nighters to finish assignments, and I even cried after my first stats exam.

Stepping away from the university during break was probably the best thing for me at that point. I realized that something needed to change or else I wouldn’t survive in that space; I needed a more positive semester. I decided to start with stats. I not only made it a goal to get an ‘A’ that next semester, but I shifted my goal to learning statistics, rather than getting through it.

What do you know; I ended up earning an A. And then I was asked to be the statistics teaching assistant the following year. I accepted, keeping secret my personal goal of helping *every* student pass the course by trying to help alter their approach to statistics. I rejected the notion that fear and pressure were necessary for success.

During that year I was also able to hone my skills – teaching is indeed the best learning tool. Perhaps my experience makes me a good stats teacher. As someone who had to overcome the doubt and had to go above and beyond to understand the concepts, I can relate to the majority of students. Now that I have had a little time under my belt, I have had time to organize some strategies for learning and mastering statistics that I wanted to share.

For those currently enrolled in a stats course, here are some tips on how to do well:

Above the norm

  • Do all of the assigned readings before lecture, then read them again afterwards
  • Work on your own, but consult with others when needed
  • Tell someone (preferably the professor or TA) what you know, ask questions when you don’t know
  • Work on statistics a little every (working) day (and take breaks from it when you need to)
  • Recognize that all statistical concepts are related, if you don’t grasp something in the beginning learning will become more difficult as you go on
  • Don’t let fear, anxiety or dislike impede your work

To the latter point, here are my strategies for changing your approach to statistics:

  • Know that understanding and doing statistics is a skill, which means it can be acquired over time with practice and dedication
  • Recognize that having sound statistical skills is necessary for academic success – even if you aren’t a quant person, you will need to know the basic skills to remain competitive in this field
  • Take time to have fun with statistics – I mean, who hasn’t lost an hour or two making a fancy graph? At the very least, welcome it as break from other writing and reading tasks
  • Statistics are important. To this point, my mentor used to like to quote Jay-Z: “men lie, women lie, numbers don’t lie.” And while that might not really be the case, arguments are often strengthened when you have sound statistics to back them, regardless of the type of research you are doing
  • Oh, and don’t let any uninformed/racist/sexist/whatever-ist steal your joy 😉

Anyone else have tips or stories to share?

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Black Fear, Black Rage, and how Black Lives Matter in My Work

On August 9th, 2014, Officer Darren Wilson killed unarmed black teen, Micheal Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s body laid in the street for 4.5 hours while witnesses and family members grieved behind the yellow tape. Feelings of anger, hurt, fear, rage, sadness spread throughout the neighborhood, and soon a wave of protests began in the city. The police use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protestors, coupled with the none-arrest of Wilson, caught the attention of the nation. We waited for more than 100 days to hear whether or not Wilson would go to trial. And on Nov 24th Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, after 30 minutes of what resembled closing arguments, revealed the St. Louis grand jury ruled there would be no indictment. In other words, they decided there was not enough evidence to even support a criminal trial.

We watched as Brown’s mother sobbed in the middle of the street and as his step-dad raged. We watched as parts of Ferguson burned. We watched as hundreds of demonstrators passionately (and outwardly peacefully) took to the streets all over the U.S. to protest systemic police brutality and seemingly unjust justice systems. The protests made one thing very clear: people are mad, and angered, and hurt, and fearful, and sad, and tired, and ready to work.

**And now I’m editing this post after another long night of protests. The protests share the same level of passion, and protest against the same systems of oppression, but this set of protests were actually ignited under a different name – protests that sought to honor the stolen life of Eric Garner. Garner was murdered (yes, murdered as it was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner) by a white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, after Pantaleo used the banned choke hold method in an attempt to arrest Garner. Yesterday, on Dec 3rd, a Staten Island grand jury again decided there would be no indictment. Even despite the fact that the whole ordeal was caught on camera. And now the world is left with Garner’s haunting last words: I can’t breathe.**

So again, we are seeing that people are mad, and angered, and hurt, and fearful, and sad, and tired, and ready to work.

But it seems like not everyone gets the fear and the rage, so I thought it would be helpful to share some background statistics regarding these issues (perhaps better labeled inequalities or injustices), because as my mentor said, numbers don’t lie:

People are mad, and angered, and hurt, and fearful, and sad, and tired. These feelings are real. They are justified.

The facts and numbers above tell a story, but ask any black person in America, and they will have a personal story (or many stories) to share as well. Both my husband and I have had very problematic and life-changing interactions with the police. More recently, I had another encounter with an individual, one that pales in comparison to others, but one that continues to keep me up at night. The story:

When we first moved into our new home in our somewhat diverse but non-black neighborhood, our Boston Terrier was small enough to escape under the fence. One of the holes was in the shared part of the fence with our neighbor’s house. One night I wanted to fix our trap and paused and thought “what if the neighbor thinks I’m a burglar?” but then I tried to reassure myself “…this is my house, its fine.” So I went ahead and mended the fence. A few days later, during the day, I decided to try to fix it again as my son played in the front yard.

I was bent down by the fence when I heard hurried footsteps from behind me and someone yell: “Hey! What do you think you are doing?!”  I stood up slowly, turned toward the voice, then silently tried to calm my son as he watched this older white man yell at me.  All I could muster was “I live here.”

The red drained from his face as he spoke, “Oh I just saw a shadow and then saw a boy and I didn’t know…. I’m sorry. I just thought… I didn’t know”

When black people tell you they live in fear, it is true. I fear for myself, my husband, my brothers, my sisters, and my son, who at age 4, was still seen as a threat. Perhaps why this smaller incident hit home was because it again reminded me, that this (this fear of blackness, this devaluing of blackness, this attack on blackness) is something I will continue to encounter. Being a college professor can’t save me. Being a woman can’t save me. Being a mother can’t save me. Having a white mother can’t save me. And when the fear subsides, rage can seep in.

Ok, so what does this post (and black fear and black rage) have to do with ‘the sociology phd and me’? As others have noted, it has everything to do with it. I signed up for this job because being an educator, teacher, mentor, and researcher is my passion. Surviving in this world as a black woman is a necessity. Those two things can’t be divided. Black lives matter, which means I as a black woman matter. I as black sociology professor matter. My being at this university matters.

UC Merced has the highest percentage of black students of all the UCs. I can open my doors to all students so that they know they matter. I can attend their student meetings when invited so they know they have an ally. In my sociology classes I can discuss histories and systems of oppression so students can learn the roots of racial discrimination and mass incarceration. Using sociology, I can teach all students that black lives matter.

As a researcher I will continue to study topics where black lives matter. I will continue to study race and racism in the US and aboard to help uncover the intricacies of the various white supremacist structures that nations were built upon. I will continue to research the causes of racial disparities in health, and those mechanism that help racial minorities achieve mental well-being in the face of heightened stress. 

For me, my protest within the professoriate is clear. It is also personally powerful because it helps me overcome my fear and rage: Black Lives Matter in My Work

I haven’t blogged in a while, mainly because I told myself I wouldn’t blog until I finished my dissertation. But I just so happened to get married, finish the dissertation, move across the country, and start a new job within a six months… so time got away. I have so many blog ideas in the works but I found myself sitting at my computer unable to do any work until I got my thoughts out on this, because black lives matter which means my well-being matters.

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