Hello, Goodbye!

Somehow, with the end of my first year of my doctoral program, a wedding, family, graduation parties, a month slipped by!  And now I’m off to Uganda for six weeks on a research project.

My hope is to resume more regular posting to post photos from my trip, to talk about doing field research and packing for international travel, and as always, to discuss graduate life in general.  See you soon!


Bike Commuting

BikeMapAside from the (what can feel like an eternally) long winter, Minneapolis is a great city for biking.  Currently, I live about five miles from campus and so when it’s warm enough, I often commute to and from school by bike.  Not only is it practically free (aside from replacing the occasional tire and general bike maintenance), it’s easy to park and is great exercise.  During the fall semester I was able to bike for most of August through October and really enjoyed it.  I’m looking forward to commuting by bike again now that it’s finally warmed up!

Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about what works well and what doesn’t.  So, in celebration of a late spring that has finally arrived, warmer days ahead, and plenty of opportunities to bike, here are my nine bike essentials:BikingToSchool

  1. A bike.  Okay, this is pretty obvious.  Recently I’ve been riding an old (free for me) Trek 720, but really any bike will do.  I will say, after trying a few different bikes, I prefer to sit closer to upright when I’m commuting so I try to avoid more “serious” road or mountain bikes.  Usually, though, you can find a great bike for less than $300 on Craigslist or at a local bike shop.
  2. A Timbuk2 bag.  The brand isn’t so important, although I do like my Timbuk2 tote quite a bit, but the easy-to-open top zipper allows me to access my books without taking apart my entire bike basket.  I regularly carry my computer, power cord, 1-2 books, a notebook, a file folder, snacks, and water (among other things) and have never had a problem.
  3. Sunglasses.  I like to bring sunglasses for two reasons.  One, it can be sunny, but also, sometimes when riding on the road cars can kick up dirt and other things, so I like to have some eye protection.
  4. REI Flip-Top Vacuum Tumbler.  This is one case where I feel pretty brand loyal.  After trying several different coffee travel mugs, this is by far my favorite.  First, it has a great seal and so when it’s closed you can turn the mug over and shake it and nothing will spill.  Seriously, I’ve tried.  Second, it keeps things warm for hours.  I’ve burned my tongue on hot tea 4+ hours after making it.
  5. Water bottle.  It’s important to stay hydrated in general, but especially when bike commuting.  I prefer glass water bottles mostly because I don’t like the way that plastic bottles taste after a while.  In any case, find a water bottle you like and fill it up!
  6. Plastic crate.  When my husband and I first started school and were feeling especially poor (after moving half-way across the U.S.) I decided that instead of buying a fancy bike basket, that I would attach a plastic crate we had on hand with some zip ties.  Several months later, I’ve never had a problem.  There is plenty of space for my bag, books if I stop at the library, etc.  Eventually, I might get a better bike basket, but for now, my bright teal crate does its job well.
  7. Comfortable pants.  On a whim I tried the J.Crew Minnie pants and loved them.  Not only do they look professional, but they are ankle length, have some stretch, and are durable.  I find them to be excellent for biking to school, then hopping off for a meeting or class without having to change.  (As a side note, they are technically dry clean only, but I’ve had good luck washing them on a delicate cycle with cold water and hanging them to dry.)
  8. Rain coat.  In the morning it can be quite cool here, so having a raincoat that doubles as a wind breaker can be nice.
  9. Helmet.  Don’t forget the most important part!  I got a fairly inexpensive helmet at REI and it works well.  (And, ladies, if you’re worried about your hair, I found a great tutorial here).

Do you ever commute by bike?  If so, what do you find to be “essential”?

A Collective Notion of Childhood?

MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry’s statement about childhood in the United States has inspired a flurry of op-ed writers and political commentators to weigh in (see Slate, The New York Times, and Salon.com).  Her comment?

We have never invested as much in public education as we should have. We haven’t had a very collective notion of, these are our children. We have to break through our private idea that children belong to their parents, or children belong to their families, and recognize that children belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s, we start making better investments.

Conservative pundits have decried Harris-Perry’s attack on the nuclear family.  Rush Limbaugh responded: “This is Marx, Mengele, communist manifesto, the nuclear family has always been under attack by communists, leftists. The nuclear family, just like religion, must be destroyed, and in its place the community, the collective.”  Liberal pundits have responded, arguing that as a society, it essential that work together for the general good, which, in this case, means supporting children to become educated members of society.  As KJ Dell’Antonia, writer for The New York Times blog Motherlode, argues:

Most Americans, most politicians, most pundits would surely agree that if America is going to invest in anything, it should be our children and their future. Few would suggest that children aren’t a part of our communities, or don’t merit our support. It’s how to provide that support and investment that we disagree on, and that disagreement needs airing and discussion for there to be any change.

But when even the suggestion that we could make better collective investments in our youth can become a flashpoint for the rhetoric of division, the conversation about how we can better support families and care for our children becomes one we’re even less likely to have.

And, in a spirit of full disclosure, I agree with Dell’Antonia, for the most part.  Children are an integral part of our community and deserve care and respect.  Too often, children’s issues are deemed family issues, which are, in turn, classified as personal or individual issues, and then are either side-stepped or ignored.  Or children’s issues (and notions of childhood) become so mired in debate that change is almost impossible.

However, there is one question, which I think has been neglected, that should be part of the conversation.  Namely: whose collective notion of childhood?

Certainly all of us would agree that children’s well-being is important.  Children should have access to adequate nutrition, healthcare, and education.  But what about issues of faith?  Or ethics?  Or culture?  What would a collective ‘American’ notion of childhood look like (see also James & Prout, 1997Lareau, 2011; Tobin, et al., 1991)?  I don’t have an answer to these questions.  But I do think that they are ones that should be asked.  Moreover, we must be especially careful not to abandon our collective responsibility as a society because we cannot agree.

Update: Beatrice from “The Poland Passage” wrote a great piece on communal responsibility and childhood in Poland.  It makes an interesting counterpoint to some of the media surrounding collective notions of childhood in the U.S.

2 Min. Thesis Competition

PhDComicsMovieYou’ve experienced this, right?  Someone asks you about your research.  You start to respond.  And before you get to the really interesting part their eyes glaze over (bad) or someone interrupts and starts a new conversation topic (worse).  Now this doesn’t always happen, of course (although when someone actually expresses real interest I tend to talk their ear off)… but it does happen.

Anyway, Ph.D. Comics has an annual competition where people submit a two minute explanation of their research.  Then, the winners are animated.  It’s pretty fascinating to see the tremendous diversity in what people research for their dissertation/thesis.  It’s also a nice challenge.  Can you describe your research in a way that would be understandable (and interesting) to the average person and only takes two minutes?  Ready… Set… Go!

Prized Posessions

Sorry for the long break!  After attending the annual Comparative and International Education Society conference, I was on Spring Break, and then desperately trying to catch up.  Ah, the ebb and flow of graduate school work.  Anyway, I should be able to return to regular posts soon.

In the meantime, have you come across the work of Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti?  Galimberti explores childhood through photos of children with their more prized possessions: their favorite toys.


Alessia – Italy

Although Galimberti’s work speaks to experiences shared by children around the world, he also notes some differences in how children interacted with their toys:

The richest children were more possessive.  At the beginning, they wouldn’t want me to touch their toys, and I would need more time before they would let me play with them.  In poor countries, it was much easier.  Even if they only had two or three toys, they didn’t really care.  In Africa, the kids would mostly play with their friends outside.

Here are two other photographs from the series:


Norden – Morocco


Tyra – Sweden

What were your favorite toys as a child?  How many “prized possessions” did you have?  Did you have to share your toys?  Or were they wholly yours?

(Photos via)