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Racial Tensions and the American Dream

While I realize this post will not be popular among many people, I believe it is important to discuss issues of race, privilege, and what really makes America great.  While this post has nothing to do with editing and proofreading, my background in education and cultural research leads me to write this post.  Moreover, as a Christian, I believe that God is appalled at some of the ideas of racism and exclusion being espoused by some of his alleged followers.

As everyone should be aware, there was an atrocity carried out in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend that threatens to widen the divide and increase violence in our nation.  I find it lamentable that there are people who believe the white population is being persecuted.  As a white person, none of my rights have ever been infringed upon, but I have witnessed many people of different races, beliefs, and cultures treated abhorrently.  While I worked very hard to earn my PhD and get to where I am today, I had benefits and privileges that many others may not have had access to.  In fact, I believe that where I grew up and the opportunities that I had were / are not available to many people in the US, especially those in minority groups.  I grew up in a small town that was nearly 100% white.  I came from a farming family that was not wealthy and struggled at times.  However, they improved their lot in life and helped me in many times of need.  I could have been homeless a few times if not for the help of my family and friends.  Additionally, I went to a small school where the student to teacher ratio was quite low and we had access to quality learning materials.  This is not the case in many places and for many people in the country.  Many inner-city schools are overcrowded and lack funding and materials to properly educate children.  It is no coincidence that most of these schools’ populations are poor minority students.  The segregation of schools in the country is still very much a reality and many predominantly minority schools are underfunded and experience horrible conditions.  If I had grown up in that environment, I seriously doubt I could have attained the things I have. Many other white people may not agree with me, but I strongly believe that it is easier for white people in the US than it is for any other group.  I do not have to worry about any other person singling me out for my skin color, ever.  I cannot even imagine what that would be like.  No one looks at me suspiciously or treats me differently because of my race.  White privilege does exist and when white people accept this, we may begin to heal as a nation.

There is no room in this nation for hate groups that parade around as an alternative right wing movement.  No matter the name they claim, they are all deplorable.  While I do not think the American Dream is dead, I do believe that it is exclusionary to many people today, as it was in the past.  Anyone that fights to keep the confederate flag and statues of confederate warriors is painfully disillusioned at best and radically racist at worst.  Furthermore, criticism of the President’s initial statement concerning Charlottesville is warranted.  There is a significant difference between punching a person and trying to mass murder people with an automobile.

It amazes me how members of both major political parties forget things that happened in the past.  When former President Barack Obama would not identify terrorist acts as being radical Islam, many lambasted him to no end. People spoke continually about the issue, but forget this ever happened.  Now many of these same people are offended because others are questioning Trump’s comments that place all protest groups in the same category.  Although certain members of BLM and other groups have been violent at times, they have been fighting for equal rights. However, the alt-right, the KKK, Neo-Nazi’s etc. are not fighting for equality, but to infringe upon the rights of others.  In many cases their infringement includes the promotion of the death of those who are different.  I do not understand how anyone can place these groups in the same category.  BLM and other similar groups have been driven by a desire for equal human rights.  However, the white nationalist movement is driven by hatred and the desire to destroy the rights of other people.  There is no room for this in the US.  If we continue this path, the outcome will be more violent and bloody, and will result in the loss of life for far too many of our fellow citizens.

Finally, these two statements are what make America great:

  1. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…
  2. …Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

How can we read these excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and Emma Lazarus’ poem without denouncing racism, hatred, and the exclusion of others who are different?  It is time to heal the nation by promoting the equality of all people and destroying those things that demean those who are different.

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Common Writing Errors – Part I

While this website is in the business of offering editing and proofreading services to any and all who would like to improve their papers, I also want to offer free tips and advice to help students and scholars improve their overall writing skills.  Major projects like dissertations and journal articles may need my services, but smaller pieces of writing offer students a chance to hone their skills without such high stakes.  These smaller writing assignments are more conducive to the advice offered in my blog posts and may not warrant professional proofing and editing.  Therefore, I want to share some of the most common writing errors I have seen as well as a few mistakes that are often made by those whose first language is not English. I also want to share something that I often see in both formal writing and on social media that really annoys me and seems to trip up more people than I ever thought possible.

General Errors:

  1. Incorrect word:  Some English words may sound the same, but have different spellings and different meanings.  These words are referred to as homophones and can cause confusion when used improperly.  For instance, the underlined word in the sentence Seeing a familiar face in a faraway land can elicit feelings of joy and comfort for many is often written as illicit.  This spelling actually means forbidden by law, rules, or custom and would not make sense in the sentence above.  For commonly confused homophones please refer to: http://www.scholastic.com/parents/blogs/scholastic-parents-raise-reader/top-20-most-commonly-confused-homophones.
  2. Sentence fragments and run-on sentences:  This is a very common error and it detracts greatly from one’s writing.  All sentences should always have a subject and a verb.  Also, multiple sentences should not be run together.  While one can have compound sentences that are separated by a conjunction and a common, one cannot run multiple ideas together into a literary Frankenstein’s monster.
  3. Random errors that arise from not proofreading one’s writing:  Many writers fail to actually read what they have written, which often leads to numerous mistakes not visible to computer programs.  Errors such as missing or duplicated words result from writers not reading their own paper thoroughly.  Too many people rely on their software’s spellcheck and grammar check and fail to find many errors.  It takes some extra time, but it is well worth the effort as it speaks to one’s inattention to detail when these errors are seen by a professor or peer reviewer.

English Language Specific (Although some of these are still made by many native English speakers):

  1. Incorrect use of adverbs and adjectives:  Many will write I want to do good at the track meet when the word that should be used is well.  A good resource to help in this area can be found at:  http://www.grammarbook.com/grammar/adjAdv.asp
  2. Wrong word order:  Due to the differences in language many students write something like Is fixed the car that broke down?  This shows that a writer is thinking in their native language, but writing in English.  One fix for this is to have a native English speaker read the paper or manuscript in order to identify some of these issues.
  3. Incorrect plural nouns:  These can include words like childrens and mooses.  Again, this can often be fixed by having a native English speaker look at your paper before submission.

I will be writing about more of the most common errors in writing in the next few weeks, especially those that can be most helpful to non-native English speakers. However, I want to leave you with one final error that I have seen so many times. It makes me cringe every time I see it.  It is more common this time of year with thunderstorms and people writing about the weather.  This error is that of lightning vs. lightening.  I see almost everyone refer to the major storm that hit and they discuss the lightening that took place.  The discharge of electrical energy from the atmosphere is spelled lightning.  The word lightening (notice the extra e) means to make light or lighter, illuminate, or brighten.  It is only a difference of a single letter, but it is a distinction that I must share with my readers.

Priceless

I completed two interviews approximately 1 month ago.  One was a campus visit and the other was a phone / Skype interview that the committee indicated was the final, official interview for the position.  30 days later and I have yet to hear anything.  While I assume this means that I did not get the job, there is a small glimmer of hope.  However, each passing day sees that glimmer die a little more.  Where there was once a blazing inferno of ambition and excitement, now lies a smoldering, small ember.  Sometimes it seems to nearly reignite, but it is often just a passing flare.  As we swiftly approach the fall semester, I am left to wonder if I will remain unemployed for the upcoming academic year.  As I sat mulling this situation the other day, I recalled the MasterCard commercials that noted the prices of certain things and one item that was priceless.  If you have not seen any of these ads, you can see many of them on YouTube.  Here is the address for one I particularly liked:

.

Therefore, I turned my job search into my own priceless parody:

Priceless

Sometimes a bit of humor is the only thing that prevents one from succumbing to the stress.  I know I am not alone in this situation as I am sure there are many others out there still waiting for their first position or a new one.  I wish I could offer some tips or tricks to handle this situation, but I haven’t really found anything that helps too much.  I started driving for Uber, but it is relatively new in my area and I am averaging about $3 an hour.  I guess that is not much different than getting paid as a graduate assistant :). I continue to look for positions and wait for the phone to ring telling me that I have been chosen from the pool of candidates.  However, I realize that call may not come for me and for many others.  I thought I had done enough in grad school to get hired (5 journal pubs, 3 conferences, and a book chapter), but it just does not seem to be enough at this point.  For those of you who may be in a similar situation, I feel your pain and wish you the best of luck (unless, of course, you are competing for a position I applied for!) For those who have secured their positions for next year, congratulations and make the most of your opportunity.

Waiting and a Special Message to International Students

I am at a point in my academic career where it seems as if everything is about waiting. Waiting on job prospects, for dissertation feedback, journal submissions, and a bevy of other things.  It sometimes seems as half of grad school is spent in limbo.  I have coped by writing and working on new manuscripts and perusing new job listings.  However, the time of year is coming when many faculty positions are being filled and it makes one wonder if they will be in limbo for yet another year.  If you are in a similar position you know how it can feel to be waiting on everyone else.  I write this blog post to share my experiences so others understand that it is a normal part of the process.  We live in a society that worships the immediate and so few have learned delayed gratification.  The longer I wait for job offers and journal decisions, the more I understand how great it will be to finally hear good news.  Yet, I also feel powerless since there is not much I can do, but wait.  I am eager and optimistic for the future, but time seems to drag on.  If you are struggling with waiting for a faculty position, article, or committee response, realize that you are not alone.  If you have done the work and put in the effort, good things will come.

As a side note, I send my thoughts and encouragement to all of those international students who are struggling with waiting while also dealing with the issues presented by changes in immigration.  While it may seem that the US hates you because of the things the President is doing, rest assured there are some people in the country that welcome your presence and want to see you succeed.  While it is easy to think that all Americans are alike, this is not the case and not everyone is a xenophobe.  Good luck with your dissertation, research, and writing.  Stay strong and keep your eye on the goal you have set for yourself.  Sometimes that is all we can do.

Dealing with Professional Rejection

A major part of academic writing and publishing is learning how to handle rejection.  I have had five publications so far and two more under review.  I am also working on three other articles at this time, but handling rejection is still difficult.  Today, I received a call from a university where I interviewed a few weeks ago.  The dean was very complimentary, but the sting of being turned down did not hurt any less.  I have spent 20 years of my life in school and the last 3 working on my PhD.  Each article I write is tackled with enthusiasm and hope and my interview was no different.  I felt like I performed very well and I was very confident that I would get the job.  Unfortunately, someone else did better and accepted the position. It was heartbreaking and it will take me a few days to get back to a place of normalcy, but the one thing that has always helped me to succeed is an attitude of never giving up.  In fact, I may not be the best scholar, teacher, etc., but I always seem to persevere.  However, this would not be possible without a good support system.  My wife, family, and friends have been very supportive today and throughout the process.  If it were not for them, I may not have the strength to forge ahead.  Therefore, I cannot tell you that rejection gets easier, but I can tell you to build a support system that believes in you even when self-doubt begins to creep in.  We will all deal with the dreaded impostor syndrome, but we can surround ourselves with people that will believe in us when we cannot believe in ourselves.  While today’s rejection will hurt for some time, hope still exists and my family and friends have helped to stoke that hope.  When you deal with rejection, whether it is from a journal, conference, or employer, remember that you did not toil toward a PhD or other terminal degree just to give up.  I write this for my readers as much as for myself and I wish you all good writing.

Getting it Done

Good afternoon.  I am sitting here in my office taking a break from dissertation revisions and thinking about the varying pieces of advice about when to write, how much, etc.  I know people that write in the morning, but refuse to right at night and vice versa. I have also been given many other ideas and tried a few.  Whether it was writing in short blocks, using the 5×50 method of productivity, or writing for an entire day each week, I found each to have pros and cons.  No system has been perfect for me, but I am currently using the self Journal from https://bestself.co/ to manage and boost my productivity.  I really love their approach and it is working for me.  However, I have tried some of the other ideas out there and did not like them as much.  Therefore, my advice is two-fold: 1.  Write everyday, even if it is a small amount, 2. Find a system that works for you.  It may take some time to find something that works for you, but as long as you are writing each day, you will get things done until you can find a system that truly works for you.  If a professor or colleague suggests working and breaking in 15 minute blocks and that interests you, then give it a shot.  But, if you find yourself working for 15 minutes, taking a Facebook break for 15 minutes, binge watching Netflix for 3 hours, and then writing for 15 more minutes, you may want to look at other options. When you find something that works for you, stick with it, but remember that writing is not always easy, requires perseverance, and it may take some time before you become your most productive self.  And now, back to my dissertation revisions.

Blog

This blog will include short articles or even videos discussing the publication process, writing and editing, and myriad other items that readers may find helpful. There are many things in the process of writing and publication that can be challenging and frustrating, but it is my hope to use my experiences to help you navigate your journey through grad school and academia.