Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Ben & Jerry’s Human Development Index

When I travel I love to visit grocery stores.  I think this is an excellent way of determining the cost of living, the local tastes and it’s an interesting opportunity for people watching and seeing how people interact with one another and the level of customer service.

In Africa, the grocery stores were a bit unusual.  If you found something you liked you bought it immediately because you never knew if you would see it again.  I saw lots of unusual products, like eland, kudu and warthog.  And it was always fun to try and explain a product you desired and have the salesperson give up and offer you a condom.

In Italy I remember seeing baby food made from horsemeat.  In India, we drank Thumbs Up! soda.  And in China I tried durian, which kind of looks like a spiky watermelon and smells like feet.  But in the end, after trying whatever exotic and strange food (zebra testicles anyone?) is available I navigate myself towards the ice cream selection.

Each year the United Nations publishes the Human Development Index.  Using three statistical indices: life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling, and per capita income, the UN rates each country in terms of “development.”  Some countries, such as North Korea and Somalia are not rated due to the lack of information.  All other countries are rated from low to medium to high to very high development.  Most western countries (Australia, the US, Germany, etc.) are considered very high, while most of Africa is lowBotswana, South Africa and Namibia are medium.

While the UN Human Development Index is all well and good, I prefer my method of measuring human development: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  Obviously, in countries where Ben & Jerry’s is absent, there is low (or maybe medium) development.  Countries which sell Ben & Jerry’s are naturally high or very highly developed.

However, I take my analysis one step further.  I like to examine the price point of Ben & Jerry’s to determine the cost of living.  In the U.S. the price of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s is roughly $4.  Four years ago, when I took my students to Switzerland, a pint was €11.90, which is about US$13.
Here in Australia, we are looking at AUD$12.50, which is equivalent to US$9.15:
In conclusion, according to the Ben & Jerry’s Human Development Index, the U.S., Australia and Switzerland are all very highly developed since they all sell Ben & Jerry’s.  However, it is evident that the cost of living is higher in Australia, and still higher in Switzerland, than the U.S. as demonstrated by Ben & Jerry’s being more than twice as expensive in Australia and more than three times as expensive in Switzerland than in the U.S.

My academic superhero is Hans Rosling, a Swedish academic who conducts research on human development statistics.  I am going to tell him about my Ben & Jerry’s Human Development Index and see what he thinks.  Maybe my 1,000 citations are right around the corner!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Big Book of Baby Names

I’ve decided not to buy a car here in Brisbane.  Public transportation is good, parking and petrol are expensive, and I can’t imagine I would really need a car that often.  I figure if I need to make a trip in a car I will just rent one for the weekend.

But I’ve ridden in cars as a passenger a few times since my arrival.  There are a few things I’ve noticed during these outings:

1. Everyone has a GPS.  And the GPS isn’t always that useful.  There is a giant river running through Brisbane, there are only a few bridges open to vehicles, and most of the streets are either one way, or two lanes, one running in each direction.  So one wrong turn, or getting stuck behind an accident can easily delay your commute for an hour.
2. I often feel as if we are driving too close to the medians and that we are about to jump a curb.  Throughout most of my time in Africa I lived in countries where they drove on the left.  In fact, I even took driving lessons and got my Botswana driver’s license.  But there are lots of very tight roundabouts and traffic calming measures which often make me feel like we are about to crash at any moment, and
3. Everyone names their cars. In fact, some people not only name their cars, they also name their portable GPS.  In the last few days I have met Pearl (a beautiful Subaru BRZ sports car), Sheryl (a portable GPS who got us lost downtown in the middle of Friday night rush hour), and Belinda (which it seems is not only a very popular car name, but the most common female name here).

Funny enough, I was just noticing the car/GPS naming prevalence, and then last night on the news they were talking about the most popular car names in Australia.  Approximately half of all Australians name their cars and if the names aren’t related to the car make, model or colour (Suzy- for a Suzuki or Getzy- for the Hyundai Getz), then movie characters seem to be popular.  Some of the top choices were Kermit and Bumblebee (from Transformers).

The number 1 car name?  That’s right. Dory.

But my favourite part of the news story was the comparison the newscasters made between car names in Australia and baby names in the U.S.: “Dory and Kermit may be a little cartoonish, but they are more practical than what Hollywood celebrities name their kids: Summer Rain? Buzz Michelangelo? North West?  Is this a kid or a compass?”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Call Me Maybe, But Probably Not: The Sim Card Blues

A couple years ago my father and I went to see the movie Jack Reacher.  Tom Cruise was in the movie and there were lots of explosions.  But the take-away for me was that Tom Cruise’s character lived “off the grid.”  He didn’t have a phone or a credit card.  And the government agencies weren’t exactly sure who he was because he didn’t have a driver’s license or any legal photo identification to match his name.  Until this week I didn’t believe it was possible to live like Jack Reacher, that is, until I realized I don’t really exist in Australia.

Most people cannot survive a day without their smartphone.  For me, I gave up my iPhone when I went to Africa and haven’t had one since.  When I got to Australia, UQ bought me a new iPhone; however, it’s my responsibility to get a sim card and pay the bill.  The good thing is, phone plans are super cheap here compared to in the U.S. The bad news is that it’s practically impossible to get a phone plan if you aren’t a natural born Australian.  For a week now I’ve been trying to obtain service and am no closer to success.

Several days ago I tried to order a sim card online through one of the major phone companies.  I was having trouble with the ordering itself because I didn’t have a lot of the information, so I used the “chat with customer service” feature.  Talking to a real person? Good.  Getting the real person to understand I’m new to Australia and don’t have basic, everyday things like most others?  Not so easy.  I won’t recount the full hour long (actually, almost 90 minute) conversation, but here are the highlights:

Phone company rep: What’s your address?
Kelly: I don’t have an address yet.  I don’t move into my permanent home for two weeks.
PCR:  Ok, well, what’s your last address?
Kelly: The U.S., so I don’t think that really helps.
PCR: Hmmm… well I need to run a credit check. 
Kelly: I don’t have an Australian credit card. 
PCR:  Ok, well, if you don’t have an address or an Australian credit card, give me your phone number and I can use that to run your credit check.
Kelly: I don’t have a phone number.  That’s why I’m contacting you to get a sim card and phone number.
PCR: Do you have a utility bill that shows your address?
Kelly: No, I don’t.  I don’t have a utility bill yet because I don’t have a house to live in yet.

If this conversation reminds you of another blog post I wrote about African efficiency you are correct!  I'm pretty sure the people I dealt with in Africa when I was trying to get a UB ID card and extend my residence permit may be related to the phone company people here in Australia.

I can’t be sure exactly what happened, but after 90 minutes of back and forth, sending them copies of my permanent residency visa, giving them my employment information, and a whole bunch of other information, I was approved for a phone number and sim card.

Fast forward to today.  Since I don’t have a permanent address where I live yet they couldn’t send the sim card to me directly.  Instead they sent the card to the post office and told me where to pick it up.  I went to the post office and we played the same game:

Post Office Clerk: Ok, I’ll need a passport and two other forms of ID.
Kelly: Here’s my passport, my U.S. license and my permanent residency visa.  Will that work?
POC: No, I’m afraid not.  The passport is good, but the other two aren’t.  Ok, do you have a medicare card yet?
Kelly: No.
POC: Utility bill?
Kelly: No, I haven’t moved into my house yet so I don’t have a utility bill. That’s why I’m picking this up at the post office.
POC:  Ok, what’s your phone number?
Kelly: I don’t have one.  That’s why I’m buying a sim card.
POC:  So, I guess that means you don’t have a copy of a phone bill to give me?

That’s right.  I started to cry!  And the post office clerk began to panic.

I’m typically not much of a crier.  Most of my students reading this are probably laughing because I am normally the person who MAKES OTHER PEOPLE CRY!  It’s not a hobby for me; I don’t go out of my way to make others cry.  But it definitely happens.  And it is normally related to grades.

But as I was saying, I cried because I didn’t have enough identifying information to get my mail, so I could get my sim card, so I could use my phone to talk to friends that I don’t even have!  Ridiculous, I know.  But, sometimes, when you move abroad it’s the little things that make you want to tear your hair out.  You know that song, “Call Me Maybe?”  Well, if I ever get a sim card to put in my fancy new phone, that’s going to be my ringtone.  Or perhaps I will record my own version, “Call Me Maybe, But Probably Not.”

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Citation Nation

As an undergrad, I didn’t fully understand what professors did.  I would like to say that now that I am a professor I comprehend this better, but I still can’t be sure.

At Hopkins, where I did my undergrad, to a certain extent the professors had a poor reputation amongst the undergrads.  That’s not entirely true.  We loved them.  But at times we also loved to hate them.  I remember having a conversation with some peers which equated to, “What does that guy do anyway?  He teaches one class a semester.  He lectures two hours a week, his TAs do all his grading, and he’s never on campus.  How do they justify paying him six figures?”

You know what obnoxious undergrads who say those nasty things become when they grow up?  That’s right.  They become THAT GUY!  And so, almost twenty years later I am THAT GUY.

If you aren’t an academic, or closely related to one, chances are you don’t fully understand what professors do. Let me give you a quick overview.  In theory we teach, but not really.  If a professor works at a community college, liberal arts college or “teaching” university, chances are they teach four classes a semester and don’t get paid particularly well for the massive amount of work they do.  When a professor is employed by a research-focused university, they teach less (perhaps only one or two classes a semester) and are expected to publish.  The more research intensive a university is, such as Johns Hopkins, the less they teach and the more they research.

The University of Queensland, where I recently began working, is one of Australia’s “Group of 8” universities.  Basically, it’s an Australian Ivy League school.  It is also ranked among the top 50 universities in the world. Suffice to say, they expect us to do a lot of research here.  I’m excited for the challenge of being a faculty member in a very research intensive university.  However, with that challenge comes a new set of expectations.

Those higher expectations affect our long-term careers in terms of promotions and tenure. Tenure is when an institution grants a faculty member job security for life for attaining a certain level of achievement.  Tenure at each university is a little different.  For instance, at a teaching institution, tenure is based primarily upon teaching scores.  At research institutions, your publication record is more heavily weighted.

I received tenure at my previous (U.S.) institution a few years ago.  When I chose to leave and come to Australia my tenure was not honoured (which is pretty typical), particularly because I was moving up to a more highly ranked and competitive university.  I don’t start from scratch, but I have a few more boxes to tick before I get tenure here.

At my previous institution (1st U), tenure was straightforward.  We had to have about 10 journal articles published within five years of our start date.  We could publish in any good journal we wanted related to hospitality and tourism.  There are roughly 100 decent hospitality and tourism journals.

Last year when I was doing interviews, I was at university X (a research university) where I was told to publish in their list of required journals.  If I published outside university X’s list (which consisted of about 18 journals) then my articles wouldn’t count toward tenure.  I was also told half of my publications needed to be in SSCI rated journals.  There are 11 SSCI journals in my field.  In case you are curious, I was offered the job at university X but elected to come to UQ instead.

Now that I’m in Australia, I’m expected to publish in journals ranked by the Australian Business Dean’s College (ABDC).  Ideally, I should be publishing in A and A* ranked ABDC journals.  Incidentally, there are about eight ABDC A and A* journals (which are also SSCI journals).  Do you see how this field has shrunk from 100 journals to fewer than a dozen?

However, now there is an additional hoop to jump through: citations.

A few years ago a grad student asked me how important I thought citations were.  I told him I had never heard anyone mention them as being important.  1st U didn’t care about citations.  University X never said anything about citations; they were focused on their own list and SSCI journals.  It now appears that citations are what separates the men from the boys.

Citations are when someone writes a journal article and they refer (cite, reference) to an article which I wrote earlier.  The point is, you can’t just do research and publish it anywhere.  You have to publish in good journals.  And now, you can’t just publish in good journals.  Now you have to publish in good journals AND get people to talk about your work in their articles.

And now for the burning question:

How many citations do you need for tenure Kelly?

Excellent question.  Drum roll please…. ONE THOUSAND!

Oh wow.  Kelly, that’s a lot.  How many do you have?

Not that many!

I basically have to increase my current number of citations five-fold.

So, to all those aspiring future professors out there, may I offer you a piece of advice?  Pay attention to your citations.  Every year the job market becomes more competitive and the requirements for tenure become more rigorous.  I can’t possibly imagine what the next benchmark will be for tenure and promotion, but chances are they will be even greater.  Since Ron Burgandy (Anchorman) makes everything better:

Thursday, July 16, 2015


That’s right, NeighbOUrs.  We are in Australia now.  We have to spell like them, even if we- the royal “we” that is- don’t talk like them, yet.

Neighbours is the longest running soap opera in Australia.  It’s like General Hospital Down Under.  The main difference is that Neighbours is actually believable.  No one ever got in a car accident, was in a coma for 10 years, then woke up, had amnesia, was mauled by a bear, then decapitated, had his body frozen and was cloned and is now his own brother in Neighbours.  I’m not sure if that exact plot line was used in General Hospital, but I believe bits and pieces were in there.  Then again, I don’t watch American soap operas, so I am basing this off of what Joey talked about as a soap opera star when Friends was still on the air.

Of course, this blog post has nothing to do with Neighbours or any other soap opera.  This has to do with MY neighbours.  Want to see my neighbours?

The other day I was walking through the park and there were three kangaroos just hanging out.  Literately, they just laid there. They were not nearly as exciting as I hoped they would be.  After waiting around for a good 20 minutes for them to do something interesting I got bored and walked off.  Here they are just chillin’:
Later on I saw a wombat.  Wombats are marsupials, and like the kangaroo, are native to Australia.  Marsupials are mammals which carry their offspring in a pouch.  Koalas, possums and the Tasmanian devil are also marsupials:

Unlike my other neighbours, the Laughing Kookaburra and Koel, the wombat and kangaroos were quiet as could be.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The National Passport Center: "No Hope for the Desperate”

At my previous university, I had a reputation for being particularly tough on my students.  In fact, I was once told I was “heartless.”  Many of my undergrads fondly recall the day when I kicked one of their peers out of class for texting.  Of course, my graduate students would probably argue you haven’t felt pain until you’ve experienced the “Mighty Red Pen of Phelan”.  Then again, I tend to receive emails from them after graduation telling me how they miss the “Mighty Red Pen;” perhaps they are all masochists.

Nevertheless, I’ve never been known for being particularly…. I’m not sure.  How should I say this?....Warm and fuzzy?  I’ve never seen a semester go by without a student- a grown man student that is- coming into the office and telling me I’m intimidating and then grovelling for something.  Given my alleged lack of compassion, bargaining for grades, “rounding up” (ha! Insert eye-roll here), and offering extra credit or make-up assignments are of no interest to me.  I’m told none of those things occur here at UQ, but stay tuned as I will let you know when I find out if this is true.

While I don’t believe in extra credit, I used to offer my students “extra effort” opportunities.  There was never a specific number of points they could earn to boost their grades, but I told them they could present a relevant current event article which related to the class in which they were enrolled.  Last semester, one of the girls in my Tourism class told us that the U.S. government was going to stop allowing people to add extra pages to their passports.  This was the most useful extra effort presentation I’ve ever seen… because it related directly to me.

For most people, extra passport pages are a non-issue issue.  For me, they are a big issue.  When you get your passport you have about 50 pages.  If you fill up all those pages you can send in your passport to the State Department and add another 50 pages.  If you fill those up, you can go through the same process a second time.  My passport was issued in 2011.  Before I went to Africa I had pages added.  After Africa I had four blank pages, which I knew would never last me until my passport expires in six years.  Given my move to Australia, and after finding out after December of this year new pages can no longer be added, I decided to apply for new pages now.  (After December 2015 if you run out of pages before your passport expires you have to get a whole new passport.  This is a bigger deal for me since I’m living outside the U.S. and my Australian visa is tied to my current passport number.)

I came out to Australia to visit the first week of May.  The day after I arrived back in the U.S. I sent in my passport so I could get my new pages.  According to the State Department website, it takes 4-6 weeks to process a passport.  At 5 ½ weeks I hadn’t received the passport and the online tracking site was “down” and directed me to call the National Passport Center.

It took six attempts before my call finally went through.  During the first five calls I was either disconnected while going through the automatic messaging system or the call never connected in the first place.  On the sixth attempt I was put into the queue and forced to listen to the same dreadful music continuously for 49 minutes.

At minute 49 Evelyn picked up and told me she couldn’t give me any information at all, aside from saying the passport had been received.  I did find out however that more than 500 people work at the National Passport Center answering the phones (apparently none of them are able to answer your questions about your passport either, so don’t bother asking), the passports are indeed processed in the United States, not outsourced to India or Mexico, and even if you call at the start of the business day Evelyn does not have a sense of humour (I would hate to call at 4pm, eh!).  That led me to ask for her supervisor.

Twenty-six minutes later Nathan answered.  My first question to him was, “What is the name of that song I’ve been listening to for the last hour?  Oh? You don’t know?  I’m pretty sure I know the name.  I believe it is ‘No Hope for the Desperate’.”  Nathan thought that was hilarious by the way.  He must be the token person at NPC with a sense of humour.  While I enjoyed my conversation with Nathan (we have the same birthdate by the way) the conversation ended with, “Well, you can pay an extra $60 to have the passport rushed, but to be honest, they won’t guarantee it will be processed within two weeks (when I needed to depart for OZ).”

In the end I received my passport in time.  In fact, “rushing” works!  I actually had the passport in three days. Not too bad.  Here is my advice for you:
1.      If you travel a lot, don’t have many empty passport pages, and your passport doesn’t expire for a while, get your extra pages now.  After December you won’t have this option.
2.      If you need to renew your passport (or get extra pages) give yourself at least two months between when you send in your passport and your next trip.
3.      If you can’t comfortably be without your passport for two months, pay the rush fee up front so you don’t have to worry about it.
4.      If you have a question about your passport, don’t bother calling NPC.
5.      If you refuse to listen to #4 and insist on calling NPC and Evelyn answers tell her I said hi.  Then immediately ask to talk to Nathan.  When Nathan answers ask him the name of the song played while you were waiting.  If he doesn’t know the name, tell him you believe it is called, ‘No Hope for the Desperate.”  Then tell Nathan I said ‘Hi.’”

In case you were curious what an extra-large passport looks like here you go.  On the left is my passport which now nears the size of a phone book, and on the right is an original passport without any extra pages added.:

Happy Travelling!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Welcome to Jurassic Oz!

About a week before I departed for Australia I went to the movies with my family to see the new “Jurassic World” movie.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I don’t want to ruin it for you.  But I will say that in one scene dozens of giant, flying dinosaurs escape their cage and attack visitors to the theme park.  (Side note: If you have ever worked, or even visited, a Disney park you will undoubtedly recognize that Jurassic World looks eerily similar. Throughout the entire movie I kept reminiscing about my time working at Disney and thinking, “Wow, that job was interesting, but nothing THIS dramatic ever happened.”)

As I was saying, in the movie, giant, flying dinosaurs attack the theme park guests. During this scene, the flying dinos were making a lot of noise; something between the roar of the t-rex (courtesy of Hollywood imagineers) and the squawk of an oversized bird of some sort.

At 5am every morning I wake up in Brisbane, believing I am about to be carried off by a flock of loud, airborne monsters.  Welcome to Jurassic Oz!

One of my favourite things about living in Africa was the animals.  Of course, now I’m exposed to a whole host of different animals, which is exciting.  The difference is, for the most part, the animals in Africa were pretty quiet.  Here, they never shut up.  I was actually in a meeting the other day and the Koels were so loud we could barely hear one another.  Here are the two birds which have made the most significant impression on me thus far:

Here’s the Laughing Kookaburra.  It is actually a very pretty bird, but as you hear, it laughs constantly:

And then here is the Koel.  Keep in mind, in Brisbane these are the most common bird, so you never see just one, you normally see big groups of them (50+):

That’s today’s news for you from Down Under.  I’ll write about some of our other wildlife soon, you know, the kind that can kill you- sharks, jellyfish, spiders, etc.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Moving Day!

In all honesty, I’m already in Australia; I arrived a week ago. Moving day actually occurred back in mid-April, however, many people have asked me, “How’s the move going?,” so I thought it best to take a step back and record those details.  Also, during my last few weeks on campus in Texas, a few colleagues approached me to say they were thinking, “Moving abroad sounds like fun! I think I’ll do it too.  Tell me what I need to know.”  Well, you asked and I have answered.  May this (and the next few posts) be your guide.

The first thing to know about moving abroad is: Moving abroad SUCKS!  If your first major move is a move overseas I highly advise against this.  You need to start small and build up your tolerance to frustration, irritation, impatience and disappointment.  First you need to (1) move across town, then (2) move somewhere else in your state, if you can stomach that (3) move to another state, then (4) move cross country, and finally (5) do a “test” international move by doing a one-year sabbatical overseas, such as a Fulbright.  There is actually more information related to step #5, but I’ll get to that in a future post.

Once you’ve completed steps 1-5 and you’re confident you want to go all in and “permanently” move overseas, there are a few things you need to do.  First you need to get a job, a sponsorship, and a visa of some sort. Then you have to decide what you want to do with all your stuff.  This is where living a minimalist lifestyle is helpful.  The funny thing is, a few years ago there was a flood in my house, and all the furniture was destroyed along with plenty of other personal belongings.  I never replaced those things because I knew I was going to be in Africa for over a year.  And then I still didn’t replace them when I returned to the U.S., so in all reality, I don’t really have much to my name.  Nevertheless, I still culled a large portion of my belongings for this move.

Whether you are a minimalist or not you have to find a company to ship your things.  This is where the headache really begins. UQ required me to obtain three official quotes.  The problem was no one wanted to do a “small” international move, so it took over a month of emails to more than two dozen companies to finally find three which would actually give me quotes.  In general, companies want you to do a full container shipment for an overseas move, which costs approximately $30,000 (to Australia).  Half container shipments are also possible, but less preferred.  A full container (see below) can pretty much fit all the contents of a normal four bedroom-house. If you can’t fill a full (or half) container you can in ship smaller cartons called lift vans.
The contract you sign with the moving company is only the beginning.  After you do that you have to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) through the IRS.  An EIN classifies you as a business entity, which of course you don’t need.  But it is the only way you are allowed you to export things overseas.

You also have to fill out an Unaccompanied Personal Effects Statement.  This is an inventory of everything being shipped.  You also have to sign all kinds of statements swearing you haven’t sent prohibited items.  Some items prohibited from being shipped to Australia include: drugs of any kind (Ok, that doesn’t seem so bad), weapons including martial arts equipment (What if I’m a pro MMA fighter?), articles manufactured from wildlife (What about my cheetah skin rug?  Apparently that is a no.), and “material which may be cause offence to a reasonable adult” (which includes a VERY long list of things ranging from child porn to bestiality.  Yes, those were all listed on the form.).

Other fun forms you have to fill out include your power of attorney, client contact form, transit protection application, and proof of insurance.  In case you weren’t keeping track that’s nine different documents before the movers have even set the appointment to come to your house to pick up your stuff.

I will give myself a little pat on the back because apparently I am a “master mover” as claimed by both my friends who stopped by on moving day for emotional support and the movers themselves.  Oh!  One more thing… when moving abroad, you can’t pack your belongings yourself.  I’m not 100% sure I understand the logic of that rule, but that is the policy.  Despite knowing this I did pack my things before moving day and then the movers promptly took everything out of my boxes and repacked them in their boxes.  But, because I was already organized my moving day took… drum roll please… two hours and 43 minutes.  That’s right folks!  Record time.  It may have been due to this:

Blue signs with red tape which meant “Do NOT move!”:
Pink signs grouped like items together (books on left, clothes on right) to be moved:
Here’s some of the professional packing in progress:

One full lift van on the right and one lift van being loaded on the left:

Almost done:
And… boarding up the second lift van:

At the end of moving day I breathed a sigh of relief thinking I had one major hurdle toward immigration checked off.  Little did I know it would not be that easy.  Of course, the mishap that was to follow will have to be saved for another post.

I do hope this little vignette has been helpful if you are considering an international move.  Of course, you might want to wait for Moving-Part 2 before booking your own adventure!