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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Ronald Hilton as PhD Advisor
Created by John Eipper on 09/03/20 3:17 AM

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Ronald Hilton as PhD Advisor (Richard Hancock, USA, 09/03/20 3:17 am)

I was much surprised to find an ad on Facebook offering the services for helping a student obtain a PhD proposed by a company, called optimumrearchconsulting.com, which gives students advice before the dissertation, dissertation research and additional support. I Googled the name and received 5 pages of client testimonials from PhDs expressing their gratitude for the good services that they had received from Optimum.

I think that all WAlSers would agree that the writing of a successful PhD dissertation is a difficult task.

I was extremely fortunate at Stanford to have the support of Ronald Hilton in writing my dissertation,"The Role of the Bracero in the Economic and Cultural Dynamics of Mexico: A Case Study of Chihuahua." Ronald Hilton was a brilliant, complex individual who had more information at his fingertips than any other person I have ever known. He had complete command of Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Russian. He had a master's degree from Oxford, and had studied at the Sorbonne in France, Heidelberg in Germany, Perugia in ltaly, and Salamanca in Spain. I believe that he could have taught any course offered at Stanford in the College of Humanities. He didn't have a PhD and I was amazed that some of his colleagues were critical pf him because of this.

Graduate study at New Mexico State University didn't prepare me for the pettiness and back-stabbing that goes on in the rarefied academic circle in big-name universities. lt seems to me that many professors have developed their critical faculties to such an extent that it is difficult for them to take a constructive approach to any matter. There were many anecdotes about PhD candidates failing to pass their oral examination because they got caught in the cross-fire of a debate between two antagonistic professors on their doctoral committee. I know that Hilton was almost paranoid about doctoral examinations.

My selection of the Bracero program as a dissertation was a wise choice. Had this not been so, I would have had to do at least six months of field work in the program. As it worked out, Nancy and I spent only the summer of 1957 in Chihuahua for me to weigh the impact of the bracero program on that state. Nancy also accomplished the necessary field work for her MA degree for which she did a study on La Pastorela, the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus which is common throughout Mexico and the US Southwest. We were able to collect the Chihuahua version on this story in the town of Janos.

We returned to Stanford where I spent 9 months writing my dissertation while Nancy worked as a secretary to Dr. Strothman, Director of Modern Languages. The writing of my thesis was the least stressful part of my Stanford education. I didn't have to write one or more term papers for courses each quarter and I didn't have the burden of writing monthly articles for the Hispanic American Report. Moreover, I had all the time that I needed to spend in the library.

Professor Hilton was very paranoid about doctoral examinations, and there are many stories of disastrous oral examinations. I remember Nancy and I talking to a graduate student in French who had simply frozen up during her examination and her committee told her that she needed to engage in further study before taking the examination again. She said, "l can't expose myself to this terror again," adding, "maybe you guys who have been in the war are immune to this level of fear, but I simply can't take it!"

I was not prepared for the feast of love that my oral examination turned out to be. My chairman, Dr. Haley, whom I had never met before, led off by saying that I was fortunate in choosing my topic it was interesting and constituted a valuable contribution to knowledge of the subject. At the time, he was the president of the American Association of Economics. After this introduction, no other member posed any difficult question in any way. The questions were asked in a spirit of seeking information rather than attempting to ascertain my qualifications. Professor Hilton was astonished that I had simply breezed through this examination, and so was l. My dissertation was published by Stanford Hispanic Studies in 1959.

JE comments:  Your reflections are not only personal history, Richard, they're WAIS history.  I'll cherish this.

It used to be that an oral defense of a PhD was just that, an antagonistic exercise.  The experts were there to dismantle your work.  In the US at least, the process has become basically a ceremony, in that you're not allowed to "defend" until your work is already up to snuff.  Do UK and European universities still follow the old adversarial model?  I've always assumed they do, but this may be changing.

Richard, I got lucky in my defense at the U of Michigan, because the air conditioning had conked out (it was June and hot), and nobody on my panel wanted to sit there longer than necessary.  Now, of course, we'll see more and more defenses taking place on Zoom or equivalent.

Prof. Hilton was a legendary polyglot, but I never knew he had Hebrew in his repertoire.  What more can you tell us, Richard?

Finally, I'll close with an image of your 1959 book.  This copy occupies an honored spot in the WAIS HQ library.  Note the map on the cover, with the Hoover Tower (came up on WAIS just yesterday) almost as big as Mexico!



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  • The Wisdom of Richard Hancock (Sasha Pack, USA 09/03/20 7:09 AM)
    WAIS postings often feature great turns of phrase, but Richard Hancock's remembrance of Ronald Hilton (September 3rd) contains one of the best in recent memory:

    "It seems to me that many professors have developed their critical faculties to such an extent that it is difficult for them to take a constructive approach to any matter."


    In his brutally direct yet somehow understated way, Richard has hit upon the biggest occupational hazard we professors face.


    JE comments:  Sasha, I nearly titled this post "Ever Been to a Faculty Meeting?"  But the inside joke would limit our audience.  Now that faculty meetings are done virtually, it's gotten worse, as you have two narratives going on in tandem:  the spoken discussions and the written "chats" in the right column.  If I could be a despot (I'd be an enlightened one), I'd forbid two expressions in faculty meetings:  "just one more thing" at adjournment time, and the redundant, ghastly adverbial, "going forward..."


    An inspiration to us all, Richard Hancock (90 years young) is one of the greatest of the Greatest Generation.  He's a WAIS treasure.

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    • Faculty Meetings, or When the Sum is Less than its Parts (Francisco Ramirez, USA 09/04/20 3:21 AM)
      Emile Durkheim wrote that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, giving rise to the idea that society was more than the sum of individuals therein. Some would say that this is a foundational idea in the discipline of sociology, though less so in the USA.

      Faculty meetings, on the other hand, show that the whole can be less than its parts. As Associate Dean, one of my tasks was to lead a faculty meeting of over forty luminaries. In this dubious capacity none of my achievements are displayed in my CV. I kept notes though on the organization of the School and the University and these notes have come to life in several published papers, including the legalization of the university.


      Going forward, look out David Lodge.


      JE comments:  Francisco, academics come in two flavors:  those who research and publish in teams (sciences and social sciences), and the lone wolves in the humanities.  From your front-line observations, do the team-researchers "play" more harmoniously in faculty meetings?  I haven't noticed this to be the case, but you've assembled a bigger sample group.


      You tempt us with your final sentence!  Going forward (argh), are you going to gift us a David Lodge-inspired tell-all novel on Stanford faculty life?  Thirty-five years later, Lodge's Small World still perfectly captures the byzantine, incestuous culture of the Modern Language Association.  We may be overdue for an update, though, due to the newest development in faculty interaction:  "virtual" meetings.  Does this mean we'll see Zoom-based adultery, back-stabbing, and pointless hair-splitting?


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  • My PhD Experience (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/05/20 10:59 AM)

    Richard Hancock's post on his PhD experience with Prof. Hilton (September 4th) inspired me to reminisce about my own marvelous American education. It was very intense, the cultural shock enormous.  


    Imagine a kid growing up in Brazil who perceived school as some sort of game.  I had two cousins a few years older than me who did extremely well in school and made me feel like a dummy in the eyes of the whole family.  What could I do?  Prove to myself that I was not a dummy by neglecting my schoolwork until the last few weeks of the course when the instructor had pretty much given up on me.  Then, going to him or her and asking what score I had to get in the final to pass the course.  Once the Mission Impossible deal was made, I would proceed to lock myself away from humanity and learn everything possible to impress the teacher enough that he or she was impressed enough to explicitly recognize me to my parents.   


    Today what amazes me the most about such silly games is that, after doing it a few times on different subjects, it taught me some critical things: It gave me incredible self-confidence in school and in life; it made it very exciting to learn something in depth enough to impress your own teachers. 


    What does that have to do with my PhD experience?  When I arrived in the US the importance and excitement of knowledge acquisition had already set in for a few years.  In Brazil, the last 2 years of High School (equivalent) allowed students to choose between two tracks, Scientific or Classic (languages, social sciences, humanities, etc.).  I did both tracks plus had my own educational program. 


    In America, even though my English was very poor when I started attending Pasadena City College, they had a wonderful program for foreign students.  I had to pay out-of-state tuition, but it was worth every penny.  What saved me was that many English words have Latin and Greek roots which allowed me to quickly develop a vocabulary in English.  Then, I earned my Bachelors in Business (Finance emphasis) and my MBA (Marketing emphasis) at Cal State LA.  These are different stories on many dimensions, for some other time. 


    My PhD was a series of bumping in the dark into things I had not the slightest understanding of. First, because I hated the smog in LA, the Dean one day jokingly told me "you complain about the smog, here is a place with a lot of very fresh air.  Get this job (in St. Cloud Minnesota) and freeze your ass."  So, I did.  Then, after a year as an Instructor, the Dean at SCSU much to my surprise told me, "you are doing a good job, but if you want to hang around you need to get a PhD."  That was a shock to me under the false impression that an MBA was a terminal degree.  Where should I go?  


    The University of Minnesota had the most (the first established) world-famous PhD program in MIS (Management Information Systems) that I never heard about.  I applied but was rejected because my degrees were from literally "a lesser university."  Oh, what an insult, the ghosts from early youth.  I asked for an interview with the Program Chairman, a great man named Thomas Hoffman.  I proposed to take a few courses, if I did well, they would take me in; if I was mediocre, I would willingly walk away.  The great man accepted my proposal.  And, after a year, like magic I was in.  But, like a fish out of water, competing with some of the sharpest minds in the world was scary, they were savvy and so well trained.   


    Meanwhile, I got married but as a student for the first time in years, I felt inadequate but slugged through all the strange courses.  My first written prelims were a disaster because I tried to answer all the questions with equal time so they all came out below par.  That was a serious setback, but thank God I clearly prevailed on the second try.  My answer to one of the questions impressed one of the major professors who agreed to become my thesis committee chairman: the great Thomas Hoffman.  By then I had become an expert on how to get a PhD thesis done.   It is a very political exercise akin to dancing with elephants.  One of them can crush you without even trying.


    Thus, the main success factor is committee selection.  First, find a great research question as interesting as possible to you and the main players.  I selected the two politically most powerful professors in my Major (Thomas Hoffman and Gordon Davis) who got along well.  That was the cornerstone, but because my research question called for heavy categorical data analysis, I recruited the strongest, most famous professor in that area at the UofM.  Then I asked a junior MIS professor who was interested in participating but would not possibly clash with the rest of the team. Finally, I asked a very personable senior professor in my Minor area (Marketing) who warned me he was not going to be very active on my dissertation.   


    The second major success factor is process management: selecting an important but doable research question, planning how to effectively answer the question, making sure you can collect the data, selecting the appropriate data analysis methods, start writing as soon as possible to get quick feedback from the committee members, and keep everyone engaged by showing well-anticipated progress.  It took six months from start to finish for my thesis to be approved, which was considered the shortest time at the University, even though I have not checked for many years. 


    JE comments:  Pardon the pun, Tor, but you Mastered the PhD.  The question of committee selection is crucial, in that you want everyone to get along both personally and methodologically.  To your criteria on selecting a topic, I'd add one more:  find something "popular" enough to lead to publications down the road, but not so popular that it's already been exhaustively mined.


    Your dean's "fresh air and freeze your ass" may be the best illustration I've seen of Coastal Hubris.  Smog and smug?  Tor, in your 1146 WAIS posts over the years, I don't think you ever described what the first Minnesota winter was like for a Brazilian out of Los Angeles.  Despite what one would think, the second and subsequent winters don't get any easier.

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    • Memories of My Education, Golf...and a Rolex (Enrique Torner, USA 09/06/20 3:51 AM)
      Tor Guimaraes and I have clashed on several occasions since I became a WAISer, but, reading about his PhD experience in the US made me realize that, at the personal and familiar level, we have had an amazingly similar life experience, so I really empathized with him and found his September 5th post very personable and endearing. I couldn't pass up this opportunity at getting closer to him, so I decided to follow up on his post.

      Tor did not mention anything about his father or about how he made it to the US, and I would like to know about that. In my case, as I already shared some time ago, my father was an overachiever: he was one of the best cardiologists in Spain, if not of the world, or so it seemed to me. As I said in the biography that WAIS graciously published, he even became the President of the Spanish Association of Cardiology and was an honorary member of many national cardiology associations. Therefore, when I was a kid, I always felt like I did not measure up to him. I had three older brothers: the two oldest ones were very smart and went through elementary, middle, and high school with flying colors, always bringing high grades home and making my father proud of them. The third one did not fare as well, and his grades were not as good as theirs, but he would later compensate for that by his interest in becoming a physician.


      I, however, from a very early age, was only interested in languages and literature, and my grades in the subjects of math, science, and even history were not good, which made me feel, in comparison to my two oldest brothers, just like Tor, like a "dummy." There is something universal about wanting your father (and family, but not as much) to be proud of you. I felt ashamed when I brought home bad grades.


      However, I was able to compensate (somewhat) that bad feeling about my bad grades by excelling at a sport that I shared with my Dad and my third older brother: golf. I started playing this sport when I was 7, and I turned out to be good enough to make my father feel proud of me. He and I share an experience that remained in our hearts for life. At the age of 13, playing in an adult Rolex golf tournament, I won the first place, getting the coveted expensive and showy (actually it was made of stainless steel) watch. Since I was only 13, I graciously gave it to my father as a present: that made him not only proud but thankful as well. It was 1974, and the watch had that date engraved on its back. Funny enough, I had gained such confidence in my golfing abilities that I thought I could win it again another year and keep one for myself!


      Next year, the popular Rolex tournament was on again. I played my hardest, but did not do as well, so, when I finished, I was not sure I was going to win it. I was among the last players to play the tournament because of my low handicap. My father had a higher handicap than me. After I showered and changed, I went to look at the board, and, to my amazement, I saw that my father had, not only beaten me, but had won the tournament as well! The tournament was won by a handicap. Even though my raw score had been lower than his, handicap being an equalizer, he had actually won the championship! I went and congratulated him on his achievement. A little later, when the ceremony of giving away the trophies took place, he graciously accepted the Rolex, and, turning around, he said: "I already have one because you gave it to me last year, and I can now proudly 'repay' you by giving you this one." I was flabbergasted. The crowd saw that and applauded; I think some actually cried out of emotion. I wore that watch for many years: on the back it had 1975 engraved, as a reminder of the year. The last letter I received from my dad before he passed away included that memory of exchanging Rolex watches. I am enclosing a picture of front and back. A historical fact about it: it was the first waterproof watch in the world when it came out in 1926.


      Anyway, continuing with the story of my life, ever since I remember I always wanted to devote my life to literature, so, when I reached my last year of high school, I finally had to brace myself and tell my father I wanted to get a college degree in Spanish Literature. I was afraid of doing that by myself, so I talked my literature teacher (who was very proud of me as well as very friendly towards me) into helping me break out the news to him. I did it at school at a parents' end-of-year gathering (coward!) so he couldn't explode in public. Well, we did it sort of aside. He took in stride there, not so well after we were home, where he still tried to convince me to study Law instead and become a lawyer, which would have been less "humiliating" to him. However, I persisted and he finally relented. After I received my Spanish literature degree with high grades (I even received a couple of "Matrícula de Honor" grades, which in Spain at that time earned you a free course the following year), I quickly got a job as a translator for a publishing company. After doing that for a couple of years, though I enjoyed it, I felt like I wanted more. My two oldest brothers, brilliant during high school as they were, had started working on degrees in architecture and medicine (which my father very proudly approved of), but neither one of them was able to finish it. What a shame! (I'm being sarcastic here.) I had beaten them at the college level, as had my third older brother, who excelled in his medical career and became a cardiologist like him.


      I thought that I would really like to "make it" and applied for a scholarship to study a Masters in Comparative Literature in the United States. This scholarship I applied for offered two spots: I won third place. If any of the two winners did not accept it, I still had a chance. I did not have that luck. Next year, I applied for a different scholarship and was in second place. They only offered one, but, if the winner didn't make it... no luck again, rats! The third year I applied to a highly coveted scholarship that offered 15 scholarships to the US and 15 to Europe. This time I did get it. I was in! My father was, again, very proud of me!


      And that's how I arrived at Indiana University in 1987. That scholarship was for one year, renewable for one more year. In two years I earned a double Masters in Comparative and Spanish Literatures, a very rare achievement, I was told. In my second year, I became a Spanish Teaching Assistant, earning extra money and allowing me to continue onto a PhD in Spanish at Indiana University. By the way, I had to write a Masters Thesis, which I wrote on a subject I had already worked on while I was in Spain, which sped up the process. When it was time for me to choose a dissertation topic, I chose to continue researching the same topic: a Spanish playwright of the turn of the 20th century named Ramón del Valle-Inclán. By then, like Tor, I was planning on marrying an American woman whom I had been dating. We wanted to get married in the summer of 1992, when the Olympic Games took place in Barcelona. I missed the event because I had to write my dissertation and get married. And fast! Like Tor, I wanted to write my dissertation in 6 months: during the spring semester and the summer of 1992, while, at the same time, becoming a naturalized US citizen and getting married.


      "Are you nuts?", my first choice for the dissertation committee chair said to me. "No way! It takes years to write a dissertation! There is no way I can chair your committee if you want to do it that fast! I can't correct your chapter drafts that fast, even if you are able to write them that fast!" This professor was the expert on my subject, and she was out. Talking to other possible options, I ended up choosing as chair a professor in Latin American Studies who, though not an expert, was familiar with my author, and, lucky me, he was going on sabbatical after the spring semester so he was going to have time to help me out. As it turned out, I didn't quite finish my dissertation in 6 months, but almost.


      However, as an AbD (All but Dissertation) and having already presented and published several papers as a graduate student, I applied for jobs and was offered a professorship position at the then Mankato State University, in Minnesota, where I started teaching in the fall of 1992. Were you at St. Cloud then, Tor? Upon arrival, I was told that, if I wanted to keep teaching there beyond my first year, I had to finish my dissertation that fall, while I was teaching. They graciously helped me achieve this by allowing me to teach only lower-level courses and offering me a couple of weeks off so I could devote myself wholly to the task. After the fall semester ended, my wife and I traveled back to IU, where I successfully defended my dissertation. Among my committee members was the expert who had told me there was no way I could write a dissertation that fast!


      Needless to say, my oldest brothers had by then become resentful of me for my success because all my father talked about was how successful I had become in America and how successful my third older brother had become in medicine, who had, while I was in the US, won also a scholarship that allowed him a residency in the Netherlands. So my two oldest brothers, of whom my father had been so proud while in school, were now on the "low side." Since I stayed in this country and created my own family while my brothers stayed home in Spain, my brothers would later on, out of resentment and desire for revenge, turn my father against me when he was in the last years of his life. What a shame!


      So, Tor, how did your cousins fare?


      JE comments:  Enrique, this is an impressive story of achievement, although I hope you've reconciled with your brothers.  Sibling conflict is the worst kind.  With my sister I've been absolutely blessed.  The last time we "fought" was as little kids in the early 1970s.


      Tell us more about your golf game--do you still play?  WAISdom's most outspoken golfer was our dearly departed friend Randy Black, who was a pro for several years.  Randy met all the golfing greats of his time.  Enrique, as a 13-year-old phenomenon, did you ever consider going professional?  And finally--beautiful Rolex!  Do you still wear it often, or is it too precious a trofeo for daily use?


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      • How I Came to the US (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/08/20 4:05 AM)
        First my congratulations to Rodolfo Neirotti for the honor received and my thanks to Enrique Torner (September 6th) for his kind words and his incisive questions about my father and how I made it to the US.

        My father followed in his father's footsteps. He adored his father who I never met. He must have been one hell of a character: He was riding his horse when he saw my much younger grandmother (a beautiful lady in body and soul), apparently fell in love and told her she would be his wife. He talked to her father and they got married with 11 children before he died. My father was a loving family man, but I imagine he acquired many bad traits from his dad. Since becoming a young man, while respectful I did not look up to him. He did not have anything to do with my first trip to the US except telling me when I was leaving, "Don't just go there and have fun, do some work." And I never forgot that with some resentment until my old age. My mother was my emotional guiding star, she was the generous giver to everyone. Even though they had money only sporadically.


        Enrique asked: "So, Tor, how did your cousins fare?" Very well, one was good banker and family man, the other a wheeler-dealer of some talent. But I am most proud that the whole family has always shown appreciation for my accomplishments.


        How I made it to the US is a longer story since I know the details. Once upon a time I met this very interesting young man (Antonio Toneto) who was crazy about all things related to the English language. He was an amazing person: smart, good-hearted, and particularly dedicated to helping any English-speaking person or group coming within his reach. His British English was impeccable, and he had good friends all over the US. God the Universe had sent him to me precisely when I was very keen to get out of Brazil. He wanted to go see America but was too shy to make a move, so I proposed a partnership. We needed passports, no problem. We needed US Visas, big problem because you had to show big money for traveling. The Mayor of our city was good friends with the US embassy, so he wrote a letter which got us the visas. For transportation we tried a few things like going to Varig airlines and proposed to go around the US showing 35mm slides of Brazil and promoting the company; they were not persuaded. The Brazilian Airforce has a DC3 traveling to the US for spare parts and we went to Rio de Janeiro to catch the flight arranged by a friendly Coronel only to be bumped off a few days before by another Coronel.


        These setbacks were too much for my partner. He wanted to go home from Rio, but our family and friends had already had a big goodbye party for us in Ribeirao Preto, and I would be ashamed to go back. I told my friend, we are not going back, we will walk north until we get there. He justifiably screamed that I was crazy. I saw his point so we decided to go around looking for other alternatives and we bumped into Avianca Airlines and spent our meager resources on the two cheapest tickets we could find. That meant, when we arrived in Miami, we each had $24 dollars and a few cents.


        When we landed in Miami for fueling it was wintertime but summer in Brazil. We quickly went to see the famous Miami Beach but it was extremely disappointing. There was nobody there, no pretty girls in bikinis, just old people walking around; and Tony had no friends there. So we continued our flight to its destination. In New York it was freezing and we realized we were in big trouble. The Brazilian Consulate couldn't help us, but a nice lady and her daughter liked us and invited to dinner (God bless her and her family). The husband was a barber in NY, a great old guy and we had a wonderful time at dinner. They even gave us some winter clothes (I got a long coat and looked just like a gangster in the movies). Next day we pawned a few things and took the train to Poughkeepsie to visit Tony's friends George, Aline Jorgenson, and family. We stayed for a few days and they arranged for us to show our 35mm slides around to Rotary, Lion's, and Kiwanis Club. The members passed the hat, and we got enough money to buy two round trip tickets for Greyhound's program of 99 days for 99 dollars anywhere if it was in a circle. The next few months were an adventurous blast of fun and hard menial work, ranging from laying kitchen tiles as a gift for a sweet old lady in Boston, shoveling snow in Buffalo, stripping paint in Chicago, hard farm work in Savage, Montana, and being hosted by the Mayor and City Manager in San Leandro, California. I was falling in love with America, and some Americans were falling in love with me.


        At the end of my bus trip we ended up in the LA area. Due to a series of coincidences Tony and I met Frederick (Bill) and Belva Hall, who became my American parents. One day my future mom took me to Caltech's library, and I went crazy trying to read everything. The Halls noticed my interest in education and offered to sponsor me. Tony got homesick and decided to return home. In Brazil I was more interested in science, perhaps Medicine since Ribeirao Preto has an excellent medical school. However, during my travels in the US I noticed that if one wanted to understand American culture, you have to study Business Administration since even Medicine was a business. That's how I started my career at Pasadena City College. While at PCC my Law professor, Mr. George Juett, noticed my performance in his class and asked if I wanted to go to USC which was already famous even to me. I jumped on it, had a brief meeting with the College of Business Dean who sent me to one of his assistants who opened the door to fame and fortune. The deal was all tuition expenses paid for, half grant and half loan. This is where I confess how stupid I can be: I told the lady I could not accept the loan part because I promised my grandmother that I would never borrow money.


        JE comments:  Tor, this is a jewel.  Your pluck and perseverance are the stuff of legend.  I've never told Aldona's immigration story, but she "beat" you in one sense:  she arrived at JFK with just $10 to her name.  At the time (1989, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall), the ten-spot was two months' salary for a Polish worker.  The closest I came to indigence in a foreign land was my semester in Mexico, 1984:  the final few days before returning home I was reduced to a diet of 5-cent bolillos.  On the flight back to the US, never did airplane food (remember that?) taste so good.


        Immigration stories are nothing less than American stories--grit, optimism, and (yes) hard work.  Tor never resolved to lie down to "cure" himself of the urge to trabalhar.


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    • On Selecting a PhD Topic; Winters in Minnesota (Tor Guimaraes, USA 09/11/20 6:48 AM)
      Geez, you WAISers are way too kind about adventures of crazy Tor, but John Eipper raised some interesting points.

      JE commented on my September 5th post, "The question of PhD committee selection is crucial, in that you want everyone to get along both personally and methodologically. To your criteria on selecting a topic, I'd add one more: find something 'popular' enough to lead to publications down the road, but not so popular that it's already been exhaustively mined."


      Yes, you definitely want to avoid even the potential for personality and professional clashes between the power players in your major. They together should be dominant in that area. But if your methodology guy is also famous, s(he) could clash with on this issue. The rest of the committee should be politically non-threatening.


      Regarding topic selection, you want yours to be important to your major committee members, and just get it done (highest priority). Of course, it would be great to end up with some publications straight from your thesis (killing two or more birds with one stone). "Popular" topics might be risky; you might want to avoid "flavor of the month" topics. Delivering results on an important topic is challenging enough in most cases.


      John also asked "Tor, in your 1146 WAIS posts over the years, I don't think you ever described what the first Minnesota winter was like for a Brazilian out of Los Angeles." This is hard to explain, but I loved the cold and snow from the beginning. After smog, cement, asphalt, and desert for about 8 years in LA, my job interview trip from the Twin Cities to St. Cloud was amazing: beautiful Elm, Oak trees, and deep green grass everywhere, generously sprinkled with deep blue lakes. I thought I was going to heaven. In the fall everything changed but that was also exciting.


      I lived in Minnesota back and forth for a total of 10 years and had a lot of fun, Winter just meant bring out different toys and things to do. I still miss my last house on the lake, I will never find another like it.


      JE comments:  These matters are discipline-specific, but picking a theoretical framework is just as important as selecting a topic.  In my field (literature), the "deconstructionist" fad was all the rage in the 1980s and '90s, but now it's hopelessly dated.  I'm not sure anyone ever understood it in the first place.


      Here from lakeside in Michigan (almost as cold and every bit as lacustrine as Minnesota), I couldn't agree more, Tor.  I do shudder when the watery view from my couch turns to solid ice, however.


      (In case you're curious, in 43,000 WAIS posts, this is the first-ever appearance of the adjective "lacustrine."  I couldn't resist.  Possibly I should have gone with my first choice here:  "lakey.")


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