Self defense and feeling safe in the world.

I have taken a long leave of absence from this site because I’ve been on the job market and have been traipsing all over creation to interview. No news or updates on that front, but stay tuned for an update, hopefully soon. When my schedule calms down I will start blogging again with more regularity, but in the meantime I want to make a quick post about safety and self defense. I will come back to this again in the future, because it is a huge topic and is something I think about regularly, but for now I’ll say the bare minimum:

Sometimes there are dangerous people in the world, and I wish that every single one of my students would sign up for, take, and internalize the lessons from a self defense course.

I want this for both my male and the female students, because knowing some self defense skills can help you walk through the world with more confidence. I especially want it for my female students, though, because the statistics about sexual assault on college campuses are grim and they also tell us that females are more often the victims than males.

I have never been assaulted, for which I am deeply grateful. (Bone-deep; soul-deep.)

I have friends and loved ones who cannot say the same thing.

I keep the contact information for on-campus support services, counselors, and victim advocates on hand because I have had more than one student come to me in crisis. (By the way: the Clery Act outlines the responsibilities of those who serve as an “official of an institution who has significant responsibility for student and campus activities” with regards to the reporting of crimes. My understanding is that if I hear about something, I *must* report it. Anyone who knows more about this topic is welcome to chime in in the comments.)

Oftentimes people who have come to me in crisis feel that they would have had a different outcome if they had been prepared, in any way, for what happened to them. For good or for bad, though, many of us walk through the world unprepared for a situation in which someone else compromises our physical autonomy.

We simply haven’t thought about what to do in a scary or threatening situation. Truly, many of us haven’t even spent five minutes considering questions like:

  • What if someone approaches me in what feels like a threatening manner, but might not be? Do I trust my instincts? (YES, ALWAYS.)
  • Do I make a fuss when I might be mistaken about someone’s intentions? (YES, ALWAYS. Better to make an unnecessary fuss than to be abducted.)
  • What if someone grabs me? (More complicated, and here training will REALLY help, but even if you have no other training you can still YELL. Don’t scream; YELL. Yell NO, repeatedly and with as huge a voice as you can muster. Screaming can be interpreted as playful; someone repeatedly yelling NO is not playful.)
  • What parts of my body can I use as a weapon?
  • What parts of an attacker’s body are really vulnerable?

Et cetera, et cetera.

I’ve thought about these things because of krav maga. Krav is an Israeli hand-to-hand combat technique, and it is billed as being an excellent form of self defense.  I am a novice, with a lot to learn, but I took krav for perhaps 12 months and I feel both stronger and safer in the world because of it. (I’m not taking classes now, but will again when I am in a place where I can find a dojo that I like. I miss it–it’s just not feasible here in B-town.)

What I can attest to is that I have never been stronger, safer, or more fit than when I was doing krav. (Bonus: I was drowning in graduate work when I started krav. Turns out kicking things and throwing elbows is an excellent stress reliever!) I find the following video sort of mortifying, and anyone with real knowledge will be able to see how sloppy my technique is, how winded I get, etc., but I’m going to share this anyway because it does give a sense of some of what I learned when I studied krav (click here to see the video on youtube).

I recommend Krav to anyone and everyone, and if you have young or college-aged daughters then it is DEFINITELY something you should check out.

I would love to see my students take years and years of krav maga (or any other martial art): I would love for them to develop so much physical training that they could simply respond, if thrust suddenly into a dangerous situation.

I hope they never need it, but the reality is that shit happens. I don’t know what the future holds, and I hope I never have to deploy what I learned in krav or in any other self defense course. Certainly bad things could happen, and what I learned might not be enough to stop them. But knowing that I have spent time *thinking* about it: knowing that I have developed some muscle memory that makes me snap into a fighting stance if threatened: knowing that my body  knows how to react if someone grabs me from behind: all of these things increase my odds if I ever do end up in trouble.

More than that, though, they make me walk taller. I feel safe in the world. That counts for a lot.

This gets back to mental preparation: the truth is that we do not know what the future holds, but I am mentally prepared in a way that I wasn’t before. Unlike some people, I have thought about what I will do if someone tries to compromise my physical autonomy. I have given myself the benefit of some training–not enough, but some.

To that end, I encourage anyone who wants a little bit of training but cannot (or does not want to) enroll in regular martial arts training to consider a RAD course. RAD stands for Rape Aggression Defense. The basic self defense course is just 12 hours, usually taught over 4 days (3 hrs each on a Tues/Thurs of 2 consecutive weeks, for instance.) The course is an excellent blend of mental and physical preparation, and participants learn some very basic but very effective self defense techniques. Check out the RAD homepage here, and the site for the basic self defense course for women here.

Check it out. Learn some things. Investigate krav for yourself, your daughters, your sisters.

Be safe in the world.

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Etiquette Tips for Undergrads Part 1: In-Class Behavior

There are a lot of ways in which I am not terribly hung up on etiquette. In most instances, particularly in smaller classes, I encourage my students to call me “Kelly” instead of “Dr. Berkson”. (Is it because I’m a New Englander that I feel “Dr.” should really be reserved for medical doctors?) In general I try to cultivate a pretty warm and friendly classroom environment. I encourage open dialogue. I don’t stand on ceremony.

That said, I have expectations about basic politeness that my undergrads do not seem to share. This is a problem, because it leads to misperceptions and misunderstandings.

When a student does something that I perceive as rude or thoughtless, it alters the extent to which I am willing to go out of my way to help them.

One of my aunts once used the phrase “Rules of Engagement” to refer to the basic beliefs people have about the kind of behavior that is expected and appropriate in a given situation. Sometimes, conflict arises not because of any fundamental differences in perspectives, but because people have different ideas about the appropriate Rules of Engagement. This is certainly the case with me and some–though not all–of my students: we have very different ideas about appropriateness.

Again, the standard disclaimer which happens to be profoundly true: by and large, my students are fantastic. They are bright, they are hard-working, they have good attitudes. In short, they are not rude – or not intentionally. They often appear to be rude, however, because for whatever reason they do not know the Rules of Engagement.  So here, for what it’s worth, are some of the things that I want my students to know. Today’s post will focus on In-Class Etiquette. Coming up next: Communication and Email Etiquette, Assignment/Exam Etiquette, and Miscellaneous.

In-class Etiquette

    1. Come to class.
      • Everyone misses class sometimes, but if you miss class more often than you attend, I notice it. (Valid issues like chronic illness and family emergencies are exempt from this blanket statement, and will be addressed in a subsequent post.)
      • I take chronic skipping to mean that you do not care about the class, and are not putting effort into it. This is fine: it’s your prerogative to make that choice. But you should know that I sometimes get 40 or 50 emails PER DAY from students who either need things or want things from me. Like everyone else, I am gifted with only 24 hours per day, and so I have to make decisions about who gets my time and energy.
      • If you have shown me that you do not care about my class by skipping regularly, and then write to me with some sort of request, I’m going to factor your behavior into my decisions. If it comes down to a choice between helping you and helping a student who has invested in my class, you’re going to lose the coin toss.
    2. Do not use your computer in class unless you have cleared it with me.
      • Even if you have cleared computer usage with me, do not even think about getting on facebook, buzzfeed, or any other such sites while we are in class. You should be using your computer exclusively for the purpose of taking notes. Anything else is rude, but worse than that it is distracting for your fellow students.
      • You are a member of the classroom community for the time that we are in class. You are obligated by the bounds of common decency to conduct yourself in a way that does NOT interfere with your classmates’ ability to learn. I don’t care if you’re bored or checked out – really, I don’t. It doesn’t offend me. Stare off into space and daydream. Do what you have to do. But do NOT engage in any activity that distracts your neighbors.
    3. Listen actively, not passively.
      • Lecture classes can be hard. I know that. But even in a lecture-based course, you should conduct yourself like an active participant. Think about your perception of listening. What are your beliefs about this verb? Think about how it differs from hear. You don’t have to try to hear – if you’re sitting in your dorm room and someone drops a bottle in the hallway outside, you will hear the sound of that bottle hitting the floor. You weren’t listening for it: it happened, and you received the sound waves triggered by the event. Having heard it, though, you may perk up and begin to listen…why did the bottle fall? Did it break? Was someone just being clumsy, or was it the prelude to some sort of incident?
      • That feeling – the pricked ears, pulse-slightly-elevated feeling that you get when you start listening intently: that’s what you want to think about when you think about listening as an activity. Don’t be passive. Do be engaged.
      • You should be thinking about what the teacher is saying. You should react, with facial expressions and a head-nod now and then if nothing else – not for your teacher’s benefit, but because this helps you to keep yourself physically and mentally present in the room.
      • You should do every single practice exercise that the teacher presents.
      • If the teacher asks questions, try to formulate an answer. Even if you are someone who does not like to talk in class, you should still formulate the answer in your head, and then see if you were right. If you weren’t, try to figure out why. Make a note if you have questions that you want to ask the teacher after class.
    4. Take notes.
      • This is a part of being physically and mentally present in the classroom. Taking notes helps you to engage with the material.
      • Has anyone taught you how to take notes? Do you know why doing so benefits you? If not, consider checking out this page from Dartmouth College. It contains a number of resources that will help you understand why note-taking is important and how to get better at it.
      • If I see you taking notes, I am going to take you seriously. When you ask me a question, I am going to work really hard to answer it thoroughly. Fair or not,  I interpret note-taking as an indication that you are a serious student who is invested in the class and is willing to put effort into learning the material.
    5. Don’t eat if you can avoid it.
      • Clearly, if you are going to go into shock or faint from hunger, then you should eat.
      • Even in those instances, though, don’t eat chips or pretzels or nuts or anything else that crunches maddeningly.
    6. On the same note, don’t make any sort of incessant noise – don’t rustle a newspaper, don’t jog your foot up and down incessantly, don’t tap your pencil on the desk over and over and over again until we all want to steal the pencil and stomp it into a million pieces on the floor. For God’s sake, don’t blow constant bubbles with your chewing gum, or crack your knuckles endlessly.
    7. Come to class prepared.
      • If the class has required reading, make sure you have done it.
      • If there was an at-home exercise, make sure you have done it.
      • Whatever it is that you need to do outside of class in order to ensure that you can take the maximum amount of learning away from class, do it. Just do it.
      • You should do these things not for my benefit, but for purely selfish reasons: it will help you. The better prepared you are for class, the more you will get out of it.

Ultimately, the key message here is that you should behave like an adult. You may not be a full-fledged adult yet, but you are on your way. Act like it.

Think about the rules of etiquette that would be observed in a business meeting: you show respect for whoever’s running the meeting, you come to the meeting prepared, you don’t mess around on facebook while your boss is talking, you do pay attention to the information that is being delivered, etc. We are not running a business, and there are of course differences between the classroom and a business office. Nonetheless, you should absolutely treat this like it is your job. Take your education seriously: be the captain of your own ship. No one else can do that for you.

Let me repeat that: Take responsibility for your own educational journey. It is not enough to simply show up to lecture and assume that that is enough for you to learn the material and succeed in the class. You must take outside initiative. You must do your reading. You must turn in the homework assignments.

More than this, you must stop thinking about the classroom like it is an extension of your dorm room. It is not.

Most of what I’ve just said really isn’t that special: if you had to navigate just about any formal setting in the world, you would do all of these things. They’re not complicated.

The bottom line here: don’t be rude. Be cognizant of your own behavior. Treat others with respect.

More tomorrow.

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Academic Job-Hunting, Part 1: Finding Jobs to Apply for

I’m prepping to help with a professionalization workshop at the end of the week – and I also happen to be on the job market – so I’ve got job-hunting on the brain. Here, in no order of importance and with no pretense of being comprehensive, are a few of the things that I consider to be important when job-hunting in academia.

Today I’ll talk about how to learn about – and then keep up-to-date about – job possibilities. Topics like cover letters, etiquette, and being sane will come later.

  1. Do all the no-brainer stuff. 
    • Join whatever the important professional organizations are in your field. Jobs will be posted there.  For linguists, this means minimally that you should belong to:
    • Check the job-listings posted on those sites regularly: get the Linguist List Daily email Digest, and read it.
  2. Join a job listing site like and set it up so that you receive alerts when new jobs are posted.
    • I get three different simplyhired alert digests emailed to me each day.
      • One is for the keywords “professor + linguistics” – this one includes all of the job ads that have the words professor and linguistics in them. I get a lot of repeats on here, and most of the jobs also appear on another one of the sites I watch – The Linguist List, really, is the premiere linguistics job listing site in the world, as far as I know. Every now and then something new shows up, however, so I keep on reading this.
      • A second alert is for all job ads containing the search terms “postdoctoral + fellowship”, and this one often contains things I would not have known about otherwise. I worry that a lot of people who are just finishing school, or just barely out of school, don’t search for post docs, and I think that is a mistake. Most of us are going to end up in post docs right out of school. If you end up in a tenure track position right away, good on ya – it’s not the norm, though, so don’t forget to look for postdocs. 
      • The third is for ads containing the terms “Boston + linguist”, because hey: a girl can dream.
    • The point here is that it never hurts to get a little creative: whatever it is you think you want to do right out of school may or may not work out, so you want to find a way to tap into as many job ads as possible. That’s not to say that you should apply for every single thing that comes across your screen – you don’t want to go crazy, after all. But if you are looking for a job in academia, then you have either just completed or are about to complete a research degree. Put those research skills to work in job-hunting, and look for possibilities. 
  3. Bookmark the relevant wikia site(s), and check it/them with just the right amount of regularity.
    • The 2013-14 Linguistics wikia is here.
    • This is an amazing resource…even if you’re not on the job market this year, you can check it and previous years out to see what kind of jobs are up, how things change from year to year, when deadlines tend to be, when interviews tend to happen, et cetera.
    • There are wikia pages for all kinds of academic jobs out there, so if you’re not in linguistics then just look for the relevant page.
    • Don’t forget the Dissertation Fellowships wikia – again, even if you’re not dissertating next year, it’s not too early to check out the wikia and see what kind of opportunities you might want to try for in the future.
    • While we’re at it, you should also check out the 2013-14 Humanities and Social Sciences post docs wikia.
    • The most important thing I can say about the wikia pages might be this: Don’t be a lunatic. Sure, you’re anxious about whether anyone has heard anything from College X. Sure, we all understand that you might want to check the wikia every 37 seconds, just in case anyone has posted something. But please, don’t let yourself do it. You have to maintain a little bit of distance. Use these things as resources, but don’t get obsessive about checking them. 
  4.  Talk to people. Make sure that people know that you are on the market.
    • Don’t be creepy, but do be pro-active. Go to conferences; present your research; make and nurture connections.
  5. AND – critically – keep an organized, running list somewhere.
    • I create a document each year called something like “Jobs to Apply for 2014”. It’s  organized by month and by application due-date, and contains what I consider to be the relevant info.
    • When I find a job that seems like a reasonable possibility, I add it to the document right away. I may not end up applying for every single thing that goes into the document, but if I keep all relevant information nicely organized in the same place then I know I can always come back to it later.
    • Each entry looks something like this (although this is a mock-up that I made to post on here):

Screen shot 2013-12-02 at 10.18.56 PM

So, with regards to finding jobs to apply for, the above points do a pretty good job of covering the bases. I’m sure there are things that I don’t do that would be helpful, so feel free to chime in if you have more suggestions. 

I will say, I think it’s important to approach this seriously, and to be prepared to put time into seeking. Searching for jobs to apply for may seem like a really small part of the process: after all, simply browsing through job ads is easy. Writing the statements, figuring out how to present yourself: those are the hard things. Right?

But searching is the first step in the process, and it’s something that will go better for you if you have a little bit of an agenda. So develop a habit: put 10 minutes of your morning coffee-and-internet time into job-hunting. Do it every day, or every weekday, if you’re on the market now. Do it once a week if you’re a year or 18 months out, or once a month if you’re still years from finishing. Do make it a part of your routine, though. Scan things. Keep an eye out. It will help you to be more aware of the trends in your field, and it will mean that you’re better prepared when the time comes to actually hunt.

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