a stack of hardback books about graduate school

So that book I'm writing! (Read the book announcement!)

Currently, I have over 80,000 draft words and notes (including the sample chapters I submitted with the proposal). This is a milestone because the manuscript goal is 80,000 words.

However, these 80,000 words are first draft words, not submission-ready words. They are only loosely lumped into chapters, not fully organized or structured. They are my reading notes, my thoughts and ideas, paragraphs that don't flow together yet, comments about statistics I need to look up, facts I need to verify, and references I need to track down. In short, it's all the raw content that will be able to be shaped into a book.

For those curious about mechanics, I have logged the majority of these words from my phone (I mostly use voice typing). I sit at the kitchen table taking notes while the kids eat breakfast. I add a few words from the floor in our playroom while the kids build with Legos. A couple hundred words a day adds up fast.

In my research for the book, I've read existing books on getting through graduate school, such as:

  • Jennifer Calarco: A Field Guide to Graduate School
  • Amanda I. Seligman: Is Graduate School Really For You?
  • Peter J Feibelman: A PhD Is Not Enough! A Guide to Survival in Science

I'm reading books about non-academic career paths, including:

  • Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius: So What Are You Going to Do with That? Finding Careers Outside Academia
  • Christopher L. Caterine: Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide

I'm reading books about issues in graduate education, such as:

  • Julie R. Posselt: Inside Graduate Admissions
  • Leonard Cassuto: The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It
  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick: Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University

I've also been reading nonfiction books that aren't specifically about graduate school, but are nonetheless highly relevant to thriving and making the most of your education and your life, such as:

  • Daniel H. Pink: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  • Bill Burnett and Dave Evans: Designing Your Life: How To Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life (Read my review!)
  • Adam Grant: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

I have more to read and research, of course—there's always more to read and research.

But as another student in graduate school told me once, at some point, you have to stop reading and start creating. You have to turn everything you know into something.

That's the point I'm at now. And honestly? Revision is the fun part.

Revision is where the magic happens. Revision is when I make the words flow. It's when ideas become coherent. It's when I hunt down that quote from that book I read two years ago that would be perfect to mention in this section, add references, rearrange content, and generally improve the coherency and structure of my words.

Revision is not a one-time process. It's not write, revise, done. It's write, rewrite, reword, rearrange, revise, repeat. Revision is what I'll be doing on the book for the next six months.

Unfortunately, revision is harder to do on my phone. I need more office time with a proper keyboard and monitor. So I've switched from having a daily book word count to having a daily book time count. This will be easier and easier to schedule as the weather warms up—I'll send everyone else outside while I get my quiet writing time in!

Making progress. I'll keep you updated!

* This post first appeared on The Deliberate Owl.


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silhouette of a person with arms outstretched on wintery day, in front of bare-limbed trees and a dim sunset sky

Some personal news: I have a book deal!

I'm writing a pragmatic, up-to-date guide to thriving in graduate school while keeping a healthy personal life, filled with sensible suggestions, concrete exercises, and detailed resource lists.

Tentatively titled #PhDone: How to Get Through Grad School Without Leaving the Rest of Your Life Behind, it'll be published by Columbia University Press in spring 2023 (tentatively—titles and dates will be finalized later!). I'm represented by Joe Perry.

From my proposal:

Every year, more than 500,000 people start graduate programs. Although more than half of these students are women, there's no book out there explaining how to balance breastfeeding with benchwork, or childcare with conference travel. Grad students today are on average 33 years old ... so why aren't we talking about managing marriage and a thesis, saving for retirement, or the fact that nearly 57% of students are also employed outside of school? Not only that, but of the 50,000 students who complete PhDs each year, a shrinking number collect coveted tenure-track positions ... even though everyone's still being trained as if they're all professors-to-be.

There's a serious mismatch between the advice about grad school that's currently available and our present reality. It's time to fix that.

I'm excited about this book. It's the book I wish I'd been able to read when I started grad school.

A long game

This project is years in the making. I spent months crafting a book proposal. I submitted to agents for a year before landing on the right fit. Then it took us over a year to find the right publisher.

Many people would have become discouraged even part of the way through this process. Some may have given up entirely. Others may have switched to self-publishing, thinking the speed of getting their work out and the upfront costs would be worth it—and for some, it would be.

But I went in knowing that publishing is a long game. Getting your writing out into the world takes time: to submit, resubmit, get reviews, revise, revise again. I don't want to be my own publisher; I want to write and have a team working with me on editing, publishing, marketing, etc.

Next steps for the book

Now that the book's been picked up by Columbia University Press, I have a deadline—which is exciting! I like knowing when my deadline is. That way, I can plan backwards and ensure I'm working enough up front, incrementally, so that I never run into crunch time. And yes, I've already made a spreadsheet to track my progress and keep tabs on book-related tasks.

While the full book timeline is approximate at this stage, the next steps are:

  • I write the book. I have a couple chapters drafted already, with outlines and notes for the rest. That's an interesting thing about nonfiction books—they're generally sold on proposal and not from a finished manuscript.
  • My editor at CUP reads it. I revise as needed.
  • Once the manuscript is finished, time to print is less than a year. In that time, the publishing team works their magic: formatting, cover design, cover copy, production, sales and distribution work, etc. We ramp up marketing for the book.
  • Then you can buy it!

I'll post updates along the way!

* This post first appeared on The Deliberate Owl.


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pink clouds spread across a pastel sky, smoke rising below from masaya volcano, lit from the last sunlight of the day

Three thoughts for today.

One:

"The Rationalist Press Association, in its Prospectus, defines Rationalism 'as the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a system of philosophy and ethics verifiable by experience and independent of all arbitrary assumptions or authority.'"

--- Charles Watts, essay "The Meaning of Rationalism", 1905, (in An Anthology of Atheism & Rationalism, Gordon Stein, pg 22)

Two:

"We have outgrown the old mode of propaganda, and we recognize more than ever the influences of our environment. We are, in this particular, like trees: we expand and grow from within, but often the iron band of circumstances that surrounds us prevents our free growth and expansion. We, therefore, adopt the rational plan of imparting a knowledge of the facts of existence as revealed by science and philosophy, believing that, in proportion as truth is recognised and accepted, error will disappear. Rationalism is bound by no ancient creeds, hampered by no alleged sacred books, nor marred by dread of punishment in some other world for entertaining unpopular opinions in this. Our desire, as Rationalists, is to urge a sound motive for conduct, which is that "the welfare of the people is the supreme law," to obtain freedom for all in matters of opinion, to promote ethical culture irrespective of theological teachings, and to foster friendly co-operation in spite of divergency of thought."

--- Charles Watts, essay "The Meaning of Rationalism", 1905, (in An Anthology of Atheism & Rationalism, Gordon Stein, pg 25)

Three:

"...Truth, is a thing to be shouted from the housetops, not to be whispered over the walnuts and wine after the ladies have left; for only by plain and honest speech on this matter can liberty of thought be won. Each who speaks out makes easier speech for others, and none, however insignificant, has right of silence here. Nor is it unfair, I think that a minority should be challenged on its dissidency, and should be expected to state clearly and definitely the grounds of its disagreement with the majority."

--- Annie Besant, essay "Why I Do Not Believe In God" , 1887 (in An Anthology of Atheism & Rationalism, Gordon Stein, pg 30)


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human male asleep in a chair, in the sunshine

Are we out of context?

In the book Evolutionary Medicine and Health: New Perspectives (2008), edited by Wenda Trevathan, E.O. Smith, and James KcKenna, there's a chapter by Carol Worthman titled After Dark: The Evolutionary Ecology of Human Sleep.

Worthman takes a look at how well people's current sleep patterns match up with our ecological and evolutionary history -- the context in which human sleep evolved. Any species with a long history is affected by the long-term development of the species over time in particular environments. When the environment changes dramatically in a relatively short period of time, there's a lag as the species' development catches up, so to speak, adapting to the change in environment. For a while, there's a mismatch between the species' current state and its current context.

The motivating question of Worthman's chapter is are we out of context?

Human sleep

No one actually knows exactly why organisms sleep. Researchers have shown it's essential; they've determined that sleep disruption and deprivation often has negative effects; they've mapped out stages of sleep as characterized by patterns of physiological, behavioral, and cognitive activities. Sleep habits are fairly plastic. We have the capacity to have "sleep debts" and make that up later -- but if sleep is so important, asks Worthman, why is that possible? What kinds of situations provoke sleep restriction? What roles do stress and stress physiology play in disrupted sleep? And, most importantly, how have our sleep habits and the conditions under which we sleep changed in modern times from the context in which we evolved?

Factors that Worthman addresses include:

  • housing, beds, climate control
  • co-sleeping practices
  • material, social, and psychological contexts
  • macrosocial factors such as technology, labor, social structure

How and when a person sleeps is regulated by demands for wakefulness from the circadian system, and demands for rest and slumber. Worthman talks about the evolutionary roots and elements of human sleep ecology. She discusses how sleep settings have tended to be social across societies, even before longhouses and one-room log cabins. We didn't evolve in an environment where we put oursleves in a room to "lie down and die" for the night. Rather, humans tended to live in groups and sleep in groups, with all manner of activity occurring throughout the night -- were fires, noise, other people, conversations, nighttime pests, and more. These were, ecologically speaking, signs of safety and security -- signs that it was okay to sleep and let our own vigilance mechanisms relax.

black cat curled up in a ball, asleep, on top of a patchwork quilt

Now think about insomnia for a moment. In some instances, difficulties getting sleep in our current society may be related to how and where we now sleep. If we close ourselves off from noise, fire, other people (essentially, take ourselves out of an environment in which some of the vigilance is taken care of for us), our vigilance mechanisms go off, so to speak, and attention is focused on the kinds of things about which we should be vigilant.

In these kinds of group settings and active-nightlife contexts, was sleep interrupted? Sure. But rather than just losing sleep, people stayed awake for good reasons -- useful activities, time and energy demands, threats to physical survival, and social challenges. People have adapted to defer sleep to these kinds of activities. An interesting point -- one can recover from lost sleep in far less time than the original deficit. An example Worthman gives is that ten days sleep deprivation can be recovered in one or three eight-hour nights.

A question Worthman asks is just how atypical our sleep patterns are, and whether these patterns are giving us problems we wouldn't otherwise have.

How much do you sleep?

The biggest thing I got out of her article was this: Bedtimes are fluid. In the US, we seem to have the idea that to sleep properly, we have to be dead to the world for a solid chuck of eight hours. But sleep's more fluid than that, and sleep isn't just the time during which you're dead to the world. We probably underestimate the time that we actually spend sleeping, and we probably make a bigger deal than is actually necessary about getting the recommended eight hours.

Take a look at other cultures -- in some, people sleep for five or six hours and night, and maybe have a two-hour nap in the afternoon. Sleep doesn't have to just be in one chunk. Punctuated sleep is fine. Napping is fine. Some college students seem to have figured this one out already.

Essentially, Worthman argues, we should worry about our sleep a little bit less.

Interested in more of the details?

Worthman's chapter is definitely worth a read. Pun intended.


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flat, wide creek water leading to a cliff edge; framed by tall trees; puffy bright sky

Is belief in God unjustified?

As a part of my recent philosophical wanderings, I'm reading Kai Nielsen's 1985 book Philosophy & Atheism. He wants to show that belief in God is unjustified.

This is the fifth and final post in the series. I encourage you to read Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV if you haven't yet.

Loose ends

The remaining chapters of Nielsen's book take a broad look at some of the common concerns and objections people have to atheism, including religious ethics versus humanistic ethics, and religion and rationality.

I'm not going to summarize these chapters in depth. Nielsen (and others) have written entire -- and more recent -- books on these topics, which at some point perhaps you'll see me read and discuss here.

Instead, I've collected up miscellaneous notes on some of Nielsen's smaller but still interesting points -- his thoughts on agnosticism, discussions of science and religion, anthropomorphic deities. Let's start with...

Against agnosticism

Nielsen spends one chapter discussing whether agnosticism is a reasonable alternative to either theism or atheism. He proposes, paraphrasing T. H. Huxley, that "we ought never to assert that we know a proposition to be true or indeed even to assent to that proposition unless we have adequate evidence to support it" (p. 56). Are we justified in asserting the truth of propositions about God's existence or non-existence? He argues that we are, and that to take an agnostic stance is to accept the possibility that 'God' has a coherently specifiable referent -- which he argues is not the case.

Science and religion

Also in the chapter on agnosticism is a discussion of how, even with a sophisticated analysis of religion and the assumption that religions are making truth-claims about the state of things, there exist numerous conflicts between science and religion. E.g., many Christians take "as central to their religion that Christ rose from the dead and that there is a life after the death of our earthly bodies" (p.64); these claims don't generally line up with our scientific understanding of the world.

Widely accepted now is the view of the Bible and Bible stories as mythical and poetical; the stories, such as those about demons and Jonah in the whale's belly, should not all be taken literally. But how far, asks Nielsen, should we extend this?

"Are we to extend it to such central Christian claims as 'Christ rose from the Dead,' 'Man shall survive the death of his earthly body,' 'God is in Christ'? If we do, it becomes completely unclear as to what it could mean to speak of either the truth or falsity of the Christian religion. If we do not, then it would see that some central Christian truth-claims do clash with scientific claims" (pp. 64-65).

Nielsen suggests that atheists and agnosticists generally answer this by saying either (a) these religious utterances do not function as truth-claims at all, or (b) science and religion clash. In the case of (b), scientific knowledge is to be preferred as a method of fixing belief because it is more reliable. If there is good scientific reason to suggest that people cannot be resurrected when they die, then we have a strong reason to reject the Christian claim that "Christ rose from the Dead." We could, alternatively, reject the scientific beliefs in favor of the religious ones, but more often is it the case, suggests Nielsen, that scientific understanding drives people toward atheism or agnosticism.

Nielsen discusses several counters to this argument, such as beliefs in miracles, which he defines as events of divine significance that are exceptions to at least one law of nature, noting that scientific laws are falsified only by classes of experimentally repeatable events.

The cool thing about anthropomorphic deities

Nielsen notes that the "anthropomorphic deities of the various cultures are tailor-made projectively to meet the anxieties and emotional needs of their members" (p. 116) Two of his examples: Eskimos see Sedena, a female god who lives in the sea and controls storms, weather, and sea mammals. Israelites see Yahweh, a ferocious male god of the desert who protects the Israelites from alien peoples. Cultural preoccupations are projected onto the universe, and stories are created about the deifications.

He spent a while early on dicussing why one ought not believe in anthropomorphic deities.

Philosophy's role in theology

Nielsen takes some time to question whether or not philosophy has any business at all criticizing, refuting, constructing, or justifying theological systems. The claim is that philosophy is a conceptual inquiry and can evaluate the logic of theological arguments but not their truth.

You're not going to be surprised at what Nielsen argues -- after all, he's a philosopher who has just written an entire philosophy book about theology. Philosophy does have a role to play, he says, and that role is not as a neutral bystander. Rather, philosophy is at the heart of theology. It is the basis on which fundamental religious concepts, claims, revelations, and so on are developed; philosophical criteria such as validity, intelligibility, and truth must be referenced in determining what portions of theology are genuine.

I agree with Nielsen here.

So my question for you is this: Which arguments and philosophies should I read next?


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