COVID-19 Blogging: Days 8, 9, & 10

Back to work! Well, at least that’s the goal. Honestly, it has been so difficult to concentrate lately. But this week, our remote learning experiment starts up and I still need to  make some academic progress on this dissertation, so work it is.

Dissertating

Given all of the changes that the pandemic has brought on, it seemed clearer now more than ever that a key function schools serve is as sites of care. My dissertation however focuses on them as sites of carcerality. So, I am going to frame things as this contradiction: care or carcerality? This framing also overlaps with what we know about the larger carceral state, in that part of its function has been, to some extent, substituting incarceration for care.

Remote Learning

Week 1 is a go. I have no idea what to expect. I am maintaining concern for my students. Just thinking about the recent announcement that the Fed expects an unemployment rate approaching 30%, I can’t help but think many of my students may be dealing with job loss (either theirs or their family/group), alongside potentially being ill, and dealing with the general anxiety of everything right now. I am holding an open Office Hours Chat via Zoom later this week and hope to hear from some of them. They are also going to watch Capitalism Hits the Fan, and I’m curious to see their thoughts.

Humaning  

Trying to maintain some normal with walks, runs, bike rides, tennis, Zoom chats/parties, and cooking. I also need to build a new bookshelf and plan to rearrange my office. Being addicted to watching the news all evening means not much bandwidth for movies or tv or books really.

COVID-19 Blogging Days 6 and 7

Teaching

Today I am setting up our first week on Moodle for remote learning. Not sure what to expect in terms of students’ capacities right now, but I am here for them.

Dissertating 

I am having quite a hard time with this. I must say, the Twitterverse is feeling a bit toxic on the moment- some folks are having a surge in productivity. As an economist, this situation means our work is desperately needed so that we can actually deal with the crisis at hand (the economic one). But, as someone trying to finishing this PhD, I feel overwhelmed with so many thoughts about the state of things at the moment and it’s getting in the way of my concentration. I was looking forward to concentrating on my research following the job market too.

Economisting 

Again, overwhelming. So much to think about. What is the best way out of this? How much? Will is happen? How do we organize? How do we create new institutions coming out of this rupture while keeping our distance? What is the strategy? Will there be academia next year? Too many questions.

I am hoping to see Center for Popular Economics begin thinking about planning our virtual Summer Institute as well as perhaps a reader or zine about the crisis that demystifies the various policy approaches and analyzes the root of the problem (material life organized by a capitalist mode of product, for profit not people).

Humaning 

This seems like the priority right now. The past two days included some lovely Zoom chats that really were cathartic. Keeping a distance outside while running and biking still, but it is nice to see my neighbors keeping well. I am looking into seeing if my local community is organizing any mutual aid, I worry quite a bit about some of my older neighbors and folks less equip to deal with this situation.

COVID-19 Blogging Days 4 and 5

Teaching

I set up my online remote learning plan for the remainder of the semester. Econ 197S Remote Learning Syllabus that is intended to still cover our content, but also be flexible given the situation. My students are sad and anxious, but also have many questions about processing the economy around them rupturing.

Dissertating 

Realizing that my dissertation timeline has been interrupted, I am coming to terms with the idea that this is okay and now is not a time to get upset about that. I unfortunately also realize that despite my IRB paperwork going through, actually getting access to the restricted use data I ordered and being able to use it on campus is highly unlikely. That said, this is why we all plan our back up essays! It looks like my dissertation will now include an essay questioning school discipline from a political economy perspective in the context of racial carceral capitalism, as well as an essay looking at the impact of the Texas practice of “ticketing” students and subsequent roll back of this policy (did it in fact reduce incarceration? in-school arrests? discipline overall?).

Economisting

I’m pretty overwhelmed with processing everything. Acutely, thinking about needing the following:

  • moratorium of rent and mortgage payments
  • student debt cancellation
  • medicare for all, nationalize all hospitals and healthcare
  • abolition of prisons and jails, not doing so is cruel and unusual
  • cash in people’s pockets yesterday
  • paid sick leave for all
  • more labor protections of all kinds
  • anything else to increase workers’ bargaining power
  • potentially grants to small (very small) local businesses
  • policies that do not retrench capitalist power dynamics, in general (this is where UBI is tricky)
  • while we’re out it, Green New Deal or Green Third Reconstruction, because without polluting humans milling about, the Earth is looking a lot happier these days

Long run, this moment of rupture is so unprecedented and we know that that means when we look back at human history: potential for equally unprecedented system and institutional change. Which we it goes is up to us,  but I think we are all realizing we are part of a global collective. Finally.

Humaning 

I am going to try out a Zoom virtual birthday party today ( a first for celebrating in general, nevermind during a pandemic). I have also been making sure to text each of my friends everyday (with no pressure to respond). I went for a nice long walk around town and campus yesterday. As long as it is safe, I will keep walking, long distance running, and biking each day, which I always do anyway. I will however deeply miss rock climbing. I hope to get into a routine enough where weekends and evenings can be “fun” reading, movies, games, and so on. Holding a lot of emotional space for everyone I know and don’t know and the world in general, so I am looking forward to trying  my first telehealth therapy appointment today.

Oh, and yesterday I baked some bread and made a tomato, farro, white bean, and spinach soup. Today I am going to bake a cake and maybe make some tofu, lentil, and spinach bao.

COVID-19 Blogging Day 3

Day 3 of our self-imposed quarantine was almost normal. Did some work, went for a run (is this okay or verboten?!), had a work phone call, started to put together the remote learning “syllabus”. I am thinking to just call it “learn-as-you-can/want” or something. If students want some structure, grades, feedback, and so on, I’ll do that, especially if it helps with their mental health. If not, well, that’s fine too.

Reading 

Planning to start The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

Watching

Doomsday Preppers *shrug emoji*

Writing/Researching

Still not quite back to this. I am hoping today to make a plan for going forward. I have a feeling I will not be able to access restricted-use data even though my IRB paperwork finally wrapped up, so I will make a plan for finishing my work with the data that I have.

 

Grad Student Beginner’s Guide to Restricted-Use Data

I decided to write down some steps for graduate students looking to work with restricted-use data, but not at a university or department offering dedicated secure data space or licenses to tack on to (because institutional memory is important!). My advisor was super helpful in walking me through the process, but this outline quick guide may be helpful to others, especially since this isn’t a topic you learn in any courses in graduate school.
There are two main steps to obtaining restricted-use data, which are:
1.) IRB approval at your university
2.) Restricted-use data application approval from the data source
The first step is to read about the IRB (Institutional Review Board) process and complete a CITI training, so that you understand the process and issues that arise in research (https://about.citiprogram.org/en/series/human-subjects-research-hsr/). As a researcher, you will renew this every three years. I actually found the history and ethical issues around Human Subjects Research in the training to be very interesting.
After that, some tips and steps:
1. Identify the research office on campus. Ask “Which office deals with Research Compliance and IRB approval?” Folks in this office can guide you to the necessary steps in getting your research approved and get rolling with your restricted-use data license.
2. Is your research human subjects research? If so, what category? To find this out, you will first file a Human Subjects Determination Form, or similar, with the research office (or equivalent).
3. After determining the category of your human subjects research, then you will begin the IRB approval process. This involves writing a protocol for your institution’s IRB that demonstrates why you need restricted-use data and how you will adhere to security protocols.
3. For your IRB protocol, collect all application materials from the data source and note the steps needed to complete them.
a. Do you need a computer security plan?
b. Do you need notarized signatures? Is a notary available in your department or on campus?
c. Does some portion of the application need to be completed by the Research office of your university?
4. Draft all of the relevant portions of your protocol for your records, and to be reviewed by your advisor. This includes:
a. Computer security plan
b. Outline of project and methods
c. Description of why restricted-use data is necessary for your project. Be clear and succinct in describing your research question, method, supporting literature, and why your project is a contribution in which analyzing the restricted-use data in necessary. This description is important, since reviewers from other fields may be reading your protocol, and you want to clearly communicate your project, especially to those less familiar with your specific research.
5. You will then submit your protocol for approval by the IRB. Once this is complete and approved, you will then complete the data license application from whichever restricted-use data source you are using (for example, the Institute of Education Sciences, Department of Labor, etc.) At this stage, the research office can assist with next steps if needed.
6. General advice: Ask around! Did your advisor or mentor previous use restricted-use data? Or another professor in your department, or another department? Ask for help about how the application process has gone for others.
7. More advice: When in doubt, just keep pestering and asking for help. In my experience, the bottleneck was finding physical space (i.e. a secure office space). But, asking and reminding proved very useful is finding a small, secure office space for using my data.
8. Helpful clarification: Many restricted-use data licenses require the applicant to hold a PhD, so you will need your advisor or professor to assist in your application. They will then specify you are a data user on the license agreement.
As a PhD student at a department without dedicated resources for secure data, it can feel like more “prestigious” programs have a leg up when it comes to accessing certain data. They do, but that should not deter you from a good research idea, and your advisors and professors are there to support you in pursuing that, especially if you are willing to put in the work of going through the license application process. I also look at it as a very good learning experience for when I apply for restricted-use data or similar research methods as an Assistant Professor, where I will once again have to learn the institutional processes and procedures.
Next steps after getting your data: PRINT THE USER MANUAL (if that feels feasible), find tutorials on your data, and look for replication code from others who have published with your data.

More writing about writing

I feel intrigued by this idea of “deep work” and limiting distractions, and the cognitive cost of those distractions. From experience in PhD world, it is certainly true that interruptions and distractions, including those tasks like email, can reduce work quality. But, I have also always found small “shallow work” to be important to start with as it builds momentum in the work process, sometimes. The tricky part though is to build that momentum and actually move into “deep work”: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/13/smarter-living/how-to-actually-truly-focus-on-what-youre-doing.html#

I found this blog post about writing peer reviewed research to be very useful. The idea of building “deep work” writing into your schedule everyday has been really transformative for me in this dissertation process, and greatly reduced my anxiety around writing. I definitely went from binge writer to everyday writer in the past few years, or as this post puts it binge vs. incremental writing. Some days are just 30 minutes of “low hanging fruit” tasks like citations, writing a summary of a useful paper, etc, while other days are many hours of planning, writing, formatting, or doing metrics work. A research log is crucial- it is where I plan out my work, reflect on my work, log what I have completed, and look ahead. I also really like the advice of one paragraph per subject. It’s easy to get lost in academic writing, and spend several paragraphs just trying to prove you know one small particular thing, but being succinct usually means you actually understand what you are writing and can convey it simply: http://phdtalk.blogspot.com/2018/02/lesson-learned-writing-peer-reviewed.html?m=1

 

Resources I’m reading on doing, presenting, and publishing research

How to publish applied economics papers

Take away points

  • Expect rejection, and rejection is okay!
  • Also expect to wait….
  • Know your journal, its aim and scope, who publishes and what is published
  • Craft not just good analysis, but also a good story
  • Place your research within the literature, filling a gap or expanding on an outstanding question
  • Sell your question, and answer
  • Write with style and flow
  • Dial in the elevator pitch, and turn this into your abstract and introduction
  • Don’t bury the question
  • Make tables and graphs readable, and meaningful
  • Focus on the question and the contribution
  • and look at the following……

The introduction formula

  • A good boiler plate model
  • Hook, question, antecedent, value-added, road-map

The conclusion formula 

  • Summary, limitations, relevance to policy, future research

How to give an applied micro talk 

  • Clear question
  • Preview the findings
  • THEN, go into detail, but spare the boring details about processing data
  • Present a clear and explicit model
  • …”no pauses unless you really want to stress something”
  • Use tables strategically
  • Practice!