How to use out-of-school time, the power of pen pals, and new research in South Africa

I have three recent posts over on World Bank blogs. Check them out!

 

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Walking in the world with a visible hurt — Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

“The story of my body is not a story of triumph.” So begins the second chapter of Roxane Gay’s haunting, mesmerizing memoir. Gay has been, as she describes it, “super morbidly obese,” reaching 577 pounds. (“I am still very fat, but I weigh about 150 pounds less than that.”) This is the story of the horrible sexual violence that began Gay’s quest to hide in her size. This is the story of a thousand daily indignities faced by overweight people in a “fat-phobic world.”

This is a story of contradictions, of being a “victim” and a “survivor” and many other things, all at once. This is a story of feeling like efforts to change are “futile.” This is a story of sharing a trauma experience and fearing the reaction, almost any reaction: “I don’t want to be defined by the worst thing that has happened to me. I don’t want my personality to be consumed in that way. … If I must share my story, I want to do so on my terms, without the attention that inevitably follows. I do not want pity or appreciation or advice.” This is a story of reality television and visits to the doctor’s office and embarrassing interactions with flight attendants and families that both love and judge us.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Gay. Her prose is beautiful. Her story is powerful. I couldn’t stop listening.

Here are a few other reviews…

POSITIVE
Kate Kellaway, The Guardian: “Fat is more than a feminist issue – as this extraordinary memoir by novelist and essayist Roxane Gay reveals.”

Carina Chocano, New York Times: At its simplest, it’s a memoir about being fat — Gay’s preferred term — in a hostile, fat-phobic world. At its most symphonic, it’s an intellectually rigorous and deeply moving exploration of the ways in which trauma, stories, desire, language and metaphor shape our experiences and construct our reality.”

Lucy Scholes, The Independent: “The tender beauty of this memoir – testament to her bravery and resilience – has much to teach us about kindness and compassion.”

Cathleen Schine, The New York Review of Books: “Is Hunger an angry polemic? Is it an apologia? Is it a confession? It is social commentary? TV criticism? A collection of magazine pieces? Self-help musings? A tell-all by a literary celebrity? A memoir of sexual abuse? Hunger is none of those things and a little bit of all of those things, but mostly it is true.”

MIXED
Clifford Thompson, The Los Angeles Times: “The great strength of Hunger is in Gay’s unflinching look at herself and her life. … The great weakness of Hunger is that what might have made a knockout 40-page essay is instead a 307-page book.”

Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker: “There are a few moments when Gay gives us a glimpse of the deeper account that “Hunger” might have been—one in which she pursues, rather than merely dispatches with, the contradictions that have so painfully defined her life.”

Should I intersperse tables throughout my paper or put them at the end?

Some years ago, I was a graduate student in economics, and one of my advisors taught me that well-done tables, all at the end, will allow a reader to capture the entire narrative of your paper quickly.

On the other hand, if I’m actually reading the paper from start to finish, tables at the end mean constant flipping back and forth.

On the other other hand, when I’m going back to papers later, it’s much easier to find the results I’m looking for if the tables and figures are together in the back.

When I review economics papers (with tables at the back), I end up keeping two PDF files of the paper open at once, one open at the text and the other open at the tables and figures.

Last week Chris Blattman — a well-known development economist — posed the question to Twitter.

As you can see, the vast majority of respondents prefer tables interspersed throughout the paper. Now, it’s clear from responses to the tweet that not all respondents were economists. I suspect that most respondents were people who read economics papers, so if your goal is communicating with readers, this may be a useful metric. If your goal is to impress academic economists on hiring committees, who may or may not be well represented on Twitter (I don’t have a strong prior), then it may not be so helpful.

Discussants to the tweet highlighted the points I make above, that reading on a device is easier with tables interspersed, and that tables at the back make for easier skimming.

But I’d note that if you’re going to do tables at the back, do them right: Provide clear titles and notes such that the tables really can stand alone. As one economist noted, “Tables at the end are okay with decent notes, horrible without.”

If you have a website, a few people suggested having two versions, which is an interesting idea (and more work than I will credibly do).

So, writers, pick your poison. You’re likely to annoy at least a few readers either way!

Identifying great teachers and communicating with policymakers

I wrote a couple of items this week around the blogosphere:

Looking for a shortcut to identifying great teachers? You may be out of luck. On new evidence about the relationship between teacher performance on tests and student learning.

“The right data at the right time”: How to effectively communicate research to policy makers. A policymaker from Jamaica’s Ministry of Education shares insights on how to communicate your research.

Does it matter which co-author submits my co-authored paper to a journal?

I’ve wondered about this, so this week I posed the question to the twitterverse. Lots of people, including several journal editors, weighed in. (When I say editors, I include co-editors and associate editors.)

Here’s my take away: It doesn’t matter very much — and maybe not at all, depending on the editor. It’s certainly second (or third or fourth) order relative to the actual quality and relevance of your paper. But there may sometimes be a return to having the most well-known or senior author submit, so if it’s low-cost, then go for it.

Here are the details: I posed the question, “Do you believe it matters WHICH AUTHOR submits your co-authored paper to the journal?”

170 Twitter users weighed in, as follows:

Of course, we don’t know who those 170 voters are or how much weight we should put on their opinions. (No offense to all you fine voters; I appreciate and value you!)

A few editors weighed in directly. One wrote: “Offering my *personal* perspective on this as editor. When better known submits it signals (to editor) their commitment to the paper.” She then clarified, “To be clear, not saying there’s a lot of info. I’m being honest that I do take epsilon more notice when a recognizable name submits.”

Another editor wrote (and a couple of others “liked”), “I’d say, don’t sweat the small stuff.” That’s in line with the first editor, who added, “Those mental cycles better spent on fine tuning the abstract, title and intro.”

Another editor wrote, “I don’t pay attention to which author submits. But now that I have the floor: I do remember super late or non-responsive referees.”

An academic weighed in, “For me, ‘lead’ author submits. When I lead, I submit. If my student leads the work, they should submit (this is how they learn).” This jives with what one of the editors wrote: “Ultimately, I think authors should take turns and let resources influence who submits. And I practice that.”

So there you go! I’ve left attributions off this post, but you can read the original discussion here.

What books to read on Rwanda?

rwanda booksRwanda is an exciting country with a tragic history. Before a recent work trip there, I asked the Twitterverse for book recommendations about the land of a thousand hills. Here is what I heard back, along with a few of my own. (Asterisks are on the ones I’ve actually read.)

On Rwanda today

On the genocide

Many thanks to Adolfo Avalos-Lozano, Sarah Baird, Danielle Beswick, Erika Edwards Decaster, Alice EvansAndrew Gerard, Seva Gunitsky, Mike Holmes, Robert MartenJonathan Mazumdar, Gaby Saade, for Elisabeth Turner for suggestions.

[Updated 8/23/2017 at 2:30pm]