Thursday, August 31, 2006

Busy Week; Classes Going Well

There is so much to write about but so little time to write. This has been a great week.

Today I interviewed seven students to be account executives in the advertising campaigns class. All seven were excellent, and it was very difficult to choose just four. I hope this is a sign that it will be a great class. We have a great client, the Lubbock Cotton Kings.

My mass communications research methods class continues to swell. There were 57 students last Friday, but there are 80 today!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Back to School Circa 2006

Today's research methods class ran from 9 a.m. to 9:50 a.m., and it went extremely well.

Every other sense of the day was a classic Monday, and the day should be taken out behind the barn and shot. Horrific traffic mixed with a broken copier and heavy rain can drive one to drinking.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Academic Year Poised to Begin

It's time for a great year at Texas Tech University.

Classes begin Monday, and I am excited to be teaching Mass Communications Research Methods and Advertising Campaigns. They are both new "preps" for me, but they will be fun classes.

The ugly part is that the research class is at 9 a.m. Ugh.

But it's going to be a fun year. It's great to be back on the semester system, and I am excited about the quality of students at Tech. We learned some of the culture of the place when the cheerleading squad made a presentation to us at a Bar-B-Q dinner with the university president and his wife.

Raider Red was even there, although he terrified my youngest daughter.

All around, it is an exciting time.

If you want a degree in advertising, I honestly believe we now have the best faculty in the country. Person for person, I will put up our advertising faculty against any in the nation.

If you want an experimental psychology based Ph.D. in mass communications, I honestly believe that we have the best program in the country. There are some programs that are just as good (my alma mater, Indiana), but I do not believe that there are any better.

How could I not be excited?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

All Right ... I Am Oriented Already

Day three of meetings. Lifeblood nearly sapped.

All day tomorrow at new faculty orientation. Starting at 8 a.m.

I am a lucky boy.

Then there are two more meetings on Friday.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Limited Resources Only Limit on Potential

Anything worth having is scarce. It's a law of nature or something. What would a diamond be worth if you could grow them in your yard?

Today was the faculty retreat for the College of Mass Communications at Texas Tech University. I was dreading the day. But I was wrong. I actually had a really good day.

We broke up into groups twice today. The first group was to work on the strategic plan (download PDF). That sounds like horrid work. I was on a strategic planning committee as an undergraduate. I thought that I might die. But today was great.

My group worked on Goal #2, Academic Excellence. I actually enjoyed looking into our goals, evaluating our benchmarks for achieving our goals, and making suggestions for changes. I suppose that strategic planning is not all that bad when you really care about what is being planned.

After lunch we split into departments. The advertising faculty broke off and discussed assessment, or how we are going to figure out whether our students are learning what we want them to learn.

Although assessment is a rather dull topic, I really like our advertising faculty. We talked about what is offered in our courses, what needs to be improved, and what else we can do to offer more to our students.

I love talking about new classes. I get so excited about the possibilities. But then the reality sets in. There were 7 of us sitting around that table. With various course reductions, we will make an effort just to cover the core classes. If only we had more faculty. If only we had more money.

Advertising is the largest major in the college, and with our talented and student-friendly faculty, I expect that our majors will continue to grow. I look forward to the challenge, and I look forward to finding a way to teach captivating electives in addition to our core classes.

It's a challenge to do it correctly. We cannot sacrifice quality. We cannot overburden our graduate students with too many sections. It's difficult. Budgets are difficult. Resources are always scarce. Those in charge of budgets have my admiration.

We could always use more money, but it sure is an exciting time to be at Tech. A few minutes ago I looked at the clock, and I caught myself wishing that I could hurry up and go to sleep so that it would be morning, and I could go to work. Yeah, it's twisted. But it's a heck of a feeling to feel that way about your job.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Semester Start Brings Excitement

Summer's over.

As a faculty member, this is always a sad time. And not because summer "vacation" is over. Instead, it's when the research productivity greatly decelerates.

Today marked two years away from the Indiana telecom meet in greet in the studios on the first floor studios of the R/TV building. Seems strange to have been gone that long.

However, with endings come new beginnings. Today was the real start of my career at Texas Tech, and it was a good day. We got to meet some of the new graduate students, and I got to begin mapping out the semester with my research assistant, Wendy Maxian.

I also got to meet a new master's student who will be assisting with my research methods class. It's a pleasure to talk with someone just embarking on a graduate career. As I have so many times mentioned here, I try to use such opportunities to pay forward.

I was fortunate to have had great advice from Bob Meeds and Tom Grimes as a master's student at K-State. It's a tricky time for someone starting that long journey toward a Ph.D. When you begin the first semester of your master's program, the whole world is foreign. You are enrolled in "research" and "theory" classes, but you don't really know what to expect. You know you're supposed to have a research focus, but you usually do not.

It's nice to be able to offer some words of experience to someone walking a path you once walked. I hope my advice was helpful.

The excitement will be tempered tomorrow, however, when we head off campus for an all-day faculty "retreat." This is a retreat in the sense that convicted felons get a 7 to 10 year "retreat."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

More Thoughts on Peer Review

Updated 9:22 p.m. August 20, 2006

It seems that academic peer review is my favorite rant on this Weblog.

  • On June 10, 2006, I said that Numbers Chasing Sullies Science in reference to many insecure scholars in my discipline who prefer to publish several heaps of garbage rather than a single original idea.
  • On May 7, 2006, I said that the Academic Publishing Model Is Broken in reference to how libraries were being pillaged by journals.
  • On December 3, 2005, I said that the System Is Fundamentally Broken after I had a good paper rejected because too many good papers were submitted.
  • And on November 24, 2005, I said that Some Days You Just Want to Know because I was spending more time anticipating reviewer complaints than concentrating on good science.

My favorite pet peeve made it back to the forefront Saturday when a review came back negatively. I can handle negative reviews; they're part of the process. But this one was extremely wrong minded.

In any given field, there are only a handful of journals that matter. And when a poorly trained editor rotates into the top spot, it is a painful few years.

Poor scientific training shows itself in an editor. You can mask poor training as a researcher. But as an editor, you are exposed. If you miss the point of being a scientist, you cannot be an editor. You will make bad decisions. You will let in finely polished bad ideas and fail to recognize good ideas when they fail to conform to some standard.

My career is far from perfect, but the best decision I ever made was to head to Bloomington, Indiana. Thanks to Annie Lang, I feel that I was well trained as a scientist. I care passionately about what it means to do science. I care about the process. And I respect the process.

And I hate ... HATE ... when the trappings of science get confused with science. Are the data good? Is the idea meaningful? This is the key. Yet too many poorly trained scientists -- and editor X -- seem to not understand. They appear to have gotten their Ph.D.s as the "walks like a duck" university.

Well science that walks like a duck can still be -- and often is --bad science. Polish is confused for quality, and good ideas can be lost if they do not fit into the square hole, as the square peg should. It takes good training to know the difference ... or to care enough to look for the difference.

When I received my first journal article to review, I asked Annie for advice. As always, she came through in the clutch. She said to separate the data from the idea. Are they good? Is it good science no matter how poorly written? Can the science be saved? And ever since, I have reviewed every article with this metric. Science deserves no less.

I wish that my coauthor and I had received the same treatment. Instead I spent today using the handful of good ideas in the review to improve the paper (there's some merit to the system), which will go out to a better journal tomorrow. And rest assured, this piece will find a home. The idea is good, even if the polish was a bit smudged.

In the meantime, we wait for another right-minded editor to rotate onto another journal.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Events Combine to Make Great Academic Day

Today is one of those days that you want to cut out and save in a scrapbook. Some days it sucks to be a professor. However, today was one of those awesome, awesome days to be an academic.

I started the day back at the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center. This morning's session was on active learning, and it was awesome! I learned several things that I will use in my classes this semester.

Then it was off campus to meet with my client for the advertising campaigns class. I will keep the client under wraps for a bit longer, but this is a great client. The marketing director is a former professor, and they are totally on board with the campaigns class. Very cool. And the students are going to love it. We already have a field trip planned.

Back at the office, it was talking shop with colleague Coy Callison and working on two journal articles, both of which will go out the door tomorrow. As a scholar, two-article days are rare and savory.

Then shortly before 6 p.m., it was time to head home ... where my parents were waiting! They're a big reason why we moved to Texas, and it is great to see them. This is the fifth time we will have seen them in 2006, and I am pretty sure that is more times that we've seen them in any one year since we left New Mexico in 1999.

So, yup. It's a banner day. If only I hadn't had to wake up at 6:15 a.m., it would have been perfect.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

PowerPoint Tip Makes Day Worthwhile

Much of the day today was spent on teaching enhancement, as Texas Tech's Teaching, Learning, and Technology Center put on several seminars to help faculty get a "jumpstart" on the new semester.

The first session today centered around not letting PowerPoint ruin your lectures, and I got a lot of great tips. However, the best tip of all was a seemingly minor point. When you are in the middle of a PowerPoint presentation, just press the period button (i.e., "."), and the screen goes black until you press it or the space bar again.

How cool is that? If you want to use the chalk board -- or an overhead -- no more having to quit the program, etc.

Yeah, yeah, I know this could be filed under, "You know you're a nerd when ...," but the cool (or is it sad) part is that two of my college of mass communications colleagues were equally excited about the black screen.

"I know. I circled that!" an anonymous colleague said with a huge smile.

And given the readership of this Weblog, I know that an equal number of people will find this cool as those as mock my nerdliness. So think of this post as a public service.

Happy blank screening!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Skip the Sex in Ads; Add Some Porn

I spend a lot of time talking about how we pour sex and violence into media messages to keep your eyes on the screen. Sure, you may decry it. But you watch.

The problem is one of habituation. What is sexy today is boring tomorrow. So you need to turn it up a notch. So ads get sexier and sexier. And beer models get more scantily clad.

A story in the Los Angeles Times outlines just how far one marketer will go to get your attention. French fashion company Shai Clothing said, basically, "Sex, you're just too boring for us. What we need is some pornography."

So they did just that. They hired some French pornography actors and actresses and shot some films. Then they posted them on the Internet. This is way better than television because there are no restrictions on content and you do not have a media budget. Just your server. And people e-mail their friends and blog about it (like me, what a jerk!). And other people go check it out. And word of mouth spreads the darned thing at very little expense to the marketer.

Talk about a viral video! (Sorry. Couldn't resist).

And lest you think I am exaggerating, please be aware that this is full on X rated stuff. And it's really popular. It took me 6 hours to download one of the "catalogs."

This is a new company, so the porn will probably help get the name out. Heck, I know their name now and did not yesterday. The Times article mentioned something about $100 T shirts. I don't think I'll be buying any of those.

If you have 6 hours to kill, download the .mov files and be amazed at the ever-changing boundaries. Just not in front of the kiddies. Or at work. Or in the state of Oklahoma.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Fire That Burns Within

Columbus, Ohio, must have been an amazing place from 1960 to 1962. On any given day, one might have run into either Ohio State basketball player Robert Montgomery Knight or football coach Wayne Woodrow Hayes. Those two men have helped define what it means to be great in the world of sport and leadership, and they were once at the same place at the same time.

As usual, I was too late. Four and a half decades too late in this case.

I've been reading What it Means to be a Buckeye, a gift from OSU master's student Tim Laubacher. And I am captivated by Woody Hayes. I would have loved to have met him, and I would have loved to have learned from him. I never met him, but I am pretty sure that I would have gone to war for Woody Hayes.

Hayes was far from a saint. He had a ferocious temper -- a temper that gave him a heart attack and later ended his coaching career when he hit a Clemson player during the 1978 Gator Bowl.

The story of Hayes' firing reminds me all too much of coach Knight's downfall at Indiana. It's a bit of twisted irony that these two sons of Ohio walked the sidewalks of the same campus, achieved greatness of an unsurpassed level, and fell victim to violent tempers.

The thing is that these events are not merely unhappy coincidences. The greatness and the temper each come from the fire that burns within like some molten lava pushing you onward. You see, greatness does not come easily. It must be tortured away from mediocrity with work, and sweat, and determination, and an unending passion to never accept second best no matter the consequences. (See a previous post of mine on this topic).

When you're fighting for something that other people want, and every last bit of you wants to quit, it takes a white hot fire to keep fighting. When you achieve something no human being ever has, there's a reason that it has never been done: it's damn near impossible, and everyone else in the history of the human species has quit before they got to that point.

Coach Knight will win his 880th NCAA basketball game this season, making him the winningest coach in the history of the game. That record does not fall without a lifetime of painful sacrifice. It comes from outworking the other guy year after year -- decade after decade. It comes from a fire that burns within that drives you onward when everyone else gives in. It is an amazing thing to behold.

However, fires that burn with the heat of a nuclear reactor cannot easily be harnessed. They cannot simply be tossed in you pocket when the time is right. No, they burn. And they burn at the wrong times. And they burn the wrong people. And many people will argue that such fires have no place in collegiate athletics.

Yet, as I read the first-hand accounts of former Buckeyes, they have a love for Woody Hayes that is so deep that the reader is moved almost to tears. Coach Hayes was not a ruthless tyrant. He was one of the most giving, caring men in the history of sport. But he hated to lose. He hated to lose more than most people can imagine hating anything. And that kind of hatred cannot be taught. And it cannot be switched off. It just festers, and burns, and pushes you onward every day of your life.

I often wonder why some people have this fire and some do not. Driving through Lubbock the other day, I saw the sign, "Good is the enemy of great." It became my motto for the month. When I teach college students to write ads, I try to warn them of falling in love with a "pretty good" idea because most "pretty good" ideas will never be more than that.

And I preach this in the classroom. But it is a rare student who can spend hours on a "pretty good" ad, look at it, crumple it up, toss it toward the wastebin, and start anew. So many people just seem to lack that fire within. And it's not about writing silly ads for a silly professor. It's about the ability to cowboy up when the situation demands.

I am perhaps fascinated by men such as Hayes and Knight because I battle with my own fire within. Any modest success that I ever enjoy in the lifetime will come because I simply cannot stand the thought of looking up at that scoreboard of life and coming in second. So I am driven.

That drive is too often counterproductive. I can remember having a major fight with my wife more than a decade ago because I kept losing a stupid card game called Skip-Bo. You have to really hate losing to carry a grudge over a game of chance. And the funny thing is that people tell you to stop it as if it's some sort of choice.

"Oh, OK. I'll stop being hyper competitive." Just like that. I know it's bad for my heart. I know it's bad for my lifespan. And many days I wish that I could turn it off. But it's not that simple. The fire, that is.

You cannot have a safe nuclear reactor. The atom has a lot of power, but with that power comes risk. The two cannot be separated, power and risk. They were joined at birth.

Coach Hayes left OSU for hitting a player. Coach Knight left Indiana for grabbing (the ferocity of the grab is debated) the shoulder of a disrespectful student. Most people simply shake their heads. Not me. Sadly, I get it. I got ejected from a "D" league softball game in 1989 for clotheslining a third baseman. It was a double-header. I was ejected from the next game, too.

If the fire itself is rare, then precious is the person who can tame the fire. Former Kansas Jayhawks coach Roy Williams comes to mind. He can outwork anyone, but he bans swearing from practice. Coach Williams cries after tough losses. Coach Hayes tore up sideline markers. Coach Knight threw a chair.

Each of the latter two are hated by countless strangers whom they never met. Both believed passionately in education. Both cared about history. Both have military in their histories. More importantly, however, both are loved like fathers by so many of the people whose lives they have touched. And in the end, it seems more important to affect those whom you meet than those you never will.

Anniversary Goes Unnoticed

Oops. The one-year anniversary of the Communication & Cognition Weblog came and went on August 10 without me noticing.

Where did that year go to?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Congrats to Dr. Sparks

Every day seems to mark a new degree this week. Today congratulations go out to my friend, Dr. Johnny V. Sparks, who passed his dissertation defense at Indiana University.

I seem to be more excited about Dr. Sparks than I was about Dr. Bradley.

I can clearly remember recruiting Johnny to IU. I remember standing around the conference table in room 326 of the Radio/TV building extolling the virtues of all things Hoosier to Johnny and his charming wife, Tammy. A couple of months later, they resided in Bloomington.

Now, more than three years later, he's a doctor of philosophy. Along the way, there were days we surely wanted to beat one another. Instead we have become close friends. We worked out together, wrote papers together, and argued over the cleanliness of a comforter in Amarillo.

It's friends such as Johnny that make the human experience what it is.

Congratulations, Dr. Sparks. You will be a credit to the state of Alabama. If the humidity ever gets to you, we'd love to have you here on the South Plains.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Congratulations to Tim Laubacher

In a banner week for my graduate students, Timothy Laubacher has passed his master's thesis defense today. Tim did a great job.

I have extolled Tim's virtues here before, so I shall not wax too poetic today. However, Tim will be a credit to his new agency as an account planner, and he will be sorely missed in the Communication & Cognition lab.

Well done, Tim.

Special thanks go out to Dr. Prabu David, who served as official advisor for the teleconference and made many suggestions to improve the quality of the document.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Congratulations to David Hutchinson

A "job well done" goes out to Ohio State University student David Hutchinson, who successfully passed his master's thesis defense today. David is the first "lab" graduate student to finish, and he set the bar especially high.

David has written an excellent thesis, titled, "Graphic Television News and Memory in the U. S. War Against Terrorism." Throughout the process, David has been a quick learner and an excellent student. It was a joy to work with him.

David is moving to the east coast, where his wife has accepted a tenure track position. David will be looking for Ph.D. programs in the area, and I know that he will be an excellent doctoral student and professor.

Special thanks go out to Dr. Gerald Kosicki, who stepped in as David's advisor of record when we learned that the graduate school would not allow the advisor to participate via videoconference. Thanks also go out to committee member Dr. Daniel McDonald, who also put up with the videoconference annoyance. Finally, I offer profound gratitude to Dr. Edward T. Palazzolo, whose videoconference expertise and equipment made today possible.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Student Presentations Cap Great Week

We know that students learn better when they are engaged with the material. However, the business of higher education sometimes makes that difficult.

During the past year, I taught two sections of principles of strategic communication (COMM 431) at The Ohio State University. This class is a mix of advertising and public relations, and I taught it from an integrated marketing communications perspective. I had 211 students in the fall and 151 in the spring.

This summer I taught principles of advertising (ADV 3310) at Texas Tech University. This time I had only 29 students. Finally! I had some freedom to incorporate some hands-on learning.

I recalled that the Duncan principles book suggested a semester-long advertising campaign assignment. It was too late to switch to Duncan (I had used one chapter in a McGraw-Hill custom text at OSU), but I incorporated the idea into my class.

The students formed agencies, measured perceptions about their clients, analyzed target markets, wrote a creative brief, and checked for possible legal and ethical problems with their campaigns.

I usually am not able to introduce some of this work until late in the copywriting class, which is taken after principles.

Friday the projects came to an end. It was my turn to sit in the back row and watch their presentations. And they really impressed me. I was amazed at the depth of their "advertising thoughts." They really took this material to heart.

My students went above and beyond, and I was really delighted. There is no question in my mind that they will remember things from their campaigns that would have never have made an impression from readings and lectures alone.

Across the board, this was a great work. And my students' work only put an exclamation point on the week. Many people say that if you expect more of your students, they will rise to the challenge. Count me as a believer.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Agency Tour Highlights Day

Today was marked by a fun field trip to the Price Group Inc., a Lubbock area advertising agency. I was impressed with the place, and I especially thank Barbie Chambers for an excellent visit.

It was nice to be in an agency again, especially since this one is about the same size as my parents' former agency, Bradmark Inc.

I like being around agencies. I know nothing about interior design, but I can usually tell when I am in an agency. Their design has a certain artistic quirkiness to it.

Ironically the tour came about an hour after a student asked me why I decided not to work in advertising. It's a long -- and unfortunately unhappy -- story, but it's just not right for me today.

Consulting will be a much better venue, and I look forward to that part of my career when the "tenure" hurdle is a little closer to the rear-view mirror. For today, however, I will have to rely upon the occasional field trip to satisfy my "real world" itch.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lab Alumnus Joins Agency Ranks

Congratulations go out today to soon-to-be lab alumnus Tim Laubacher, who has been hired as an account planner for a Columbus-area advertising agency.

Tim has the distinction of being my first-ever graduate student, and he will defend his master's thesis next week. Since I was unable to make it physically to Columbus for the defense, I had to officially abdicate my title as advisor, but I will not give up credit for such a talented graduate student that easily.

Mr. Laubacher will do well in the ad game, but I'm still holding out hope that I will be able to lure him to the Hub City for a Ph.D. in a few years. Tim, you're just too darned smart not to be Dr. Laubacher.

Tim has been an excellent student, a solid teaching assistant, a valued lab member, and a good friend. Congratulations, Tim. Indeed, you are a real man of genius.