Grad School is Your JOB

Grad School is Your Job {New Faculty}

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New grad students were treated to a rare sighting last week: the real me. I tend to be work new faculty at work, but last week…oh last week got me good.

We had a half day orientation for our new students and I gave a talk about all of the amazing technology resources this gigantic university has for students. In the midst of my “brain dump,” I said the following:

“grad school isn’t just school. grad school is your job. it will lead you to your next job. if you treat grad school like a job instead of like a frat party or school, you will be more successful.”

Way to ease them in….nothing like a little velvet hammer to rain down on them at 9 .m.

Why did I take out the tough love card? I’ve seen it done both ways now. I’ve seen students who treat grad school like the job before their next job and you know what?

They finish on time.
They’re more focused.
They spend less time wasting time.
They keep their eyes on the prize.
They don’t get mired in everyone else’s bull%*^!!.
They leave their peers in the dust cognitively.

It sounds cruel and believe me, I don’t mean to be cruel (like being mean to a kitten kind of cruel), but I do believe in being honest. We have a few stragglers in our department right now and we had at least one attrition out for a job offer. They all had their reasons but the NUMBER ONE REASON they didn’t persist: they didn’t treat it like a job. They waffled, they lagged, THEY PRODUCED NOTHING for themselves or the department in terms of scholarship. They forgot that grad school was their JOB, not their giant social pool or dating pool.

We guarantee our students three years of funding for phd’s and we have one who lived out their three years, was not done, and was forced to find their own funding elsewhere for their fourth (and hopefully final) year. Instead of being an adult, (cough, cough, this person is in their mid-30’s), they have done nothing but continue to whittle that chip on their shoulder, attend department functions, and COMPLAIN non-stop. It was so bad at the welcome back cookout/picnic, that new grad students said to me, “this student complained about how awful the department was for 20 minutes, do they know how bad that makes them look?”

No. No they don’t. I’d encourage that student to brush their shoulder off to remove the chip, but I don’t think it will work. In their self-righteous arrogance, they forgot why they were here: to get their next job. I watched them get mired in drama, openly admit they’d done nothing on their dissertation, but then put their hand out expecting to be given cart blanche permission to take another year of funding away from a student who was working on the same timeline but on time.

As your new academic year begins and you’re on one side of the desk of the other, please remind your students that grad school is a marathon, that it’s the long race to their next job. If you’re the student know that we’re rooting for you, we want you to succeed. Leave the drama and hit the books. And when things don’t go your way, don’t complain (at least not in front of the people who will dictate your future), call your mom, call your dad, call your granny, call your friends, but stop complaining about us in front of us. There’s a reason you didn’t finish on time and the reason will look back at you in a mirror. (not always but a lot)

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Professional Development: It Works!

Professional Development: It Works! {New Faculty}

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As I begin this post, I’m taking a break from a three day long professional development bootcamp that’s offered by my employer. It’s called “Course Design Institute” and is three solid days of nothing but working on your classes.

I’m big on three things:

  • time
  • space
  • permission

Why? This workshop gives me all of those things AND snacks! Professional development doesn’t have to be expensive or hard. Many young faculty think they don’t have time or it won’t be productive but take it from me: setting aside three days to work on my classes is a rare gift that I wouldn’t carve out for myself. I like being able to come to a location, listen to the facilitator, and then have blocks of time to do nothing but work. No one coming by my office. No interruptions of any kind, in fact, almost no one knows where I am. It’s such a great set up that coffee and snacks are provided and so is lunch each day if I want it. It has removed all distractions and given me every creature comfort I could possibly want so I can concentrate on my sole mission: SYLLABI

I planned ahead and even signed up for a Spanish course this fall. It’s once per week, over lunch, and is not going to be a time suck. My university and very generous employer offer this to the faculty on a first-come-first-serve basis and I was super excited to get into the class. It’s an hour I can spare. I’m investing in myself, it’s adding to my CV and it will be a beneficial skill to have.

As you begin a new academic year, take a few minutes and invest in yourself. Professionally speaking, some extra development can be useful to build your skill set, meet new colleagues, and doesn’t have to be expensive or painful.

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Reviewing & Reflecting on My Summer Writing Goals

Summer Writing Goals Revisited {New Faculty}

I set some lofty goals at the beginning of summer. I was diligent in my writing, but also managed to keep time set aside for some summer enjoyment: vacation, the great outdoors, and seeing friends near and far.

I joined a summer writing group in my department that another pre-tenure colleague graciously organized. This helped me get organized, put my thoughts and goals on paper, and then helped me stay accountable. I could reference my sheet anytime to refocus my attention. It was a worthy and successful endeavor.

How did my summer shape up? As I write this, one article has gone out and come back: rejected. Another out and come back: edit. The third: out for review. The fourth article: waiting to be sent due to some politics that were beyond my control (it’s finished, that’s what matters).

Not a bad summer and one I’m quite proud of. It would have been easy to falter, to take lazy afternoons, or to just ignore things altogether, but it really helped me to have it out on paper to see and to check in weekly with the writing group (whoever was available) to say “What did I do this week? What am I doing next week?” I didn’t realize how useful it would be to have to answer those two questions on a regular basis. I see how valuable they can be knowing that someone will be looking at you and asking those things.

The rejection was hard to swallow. It was my first since joining faculty in 2011. It had to happen sometime, but it’s always a bitter pill. I did a lot “right” on that paper but the data just wasn’t good enough. I’m ok with the outcome at this point and am working on the “positives” to keep working on the final manuscripts.

As I print out my syllabi and prepare for the upcoming semester that will bring back teaching, advising, meetings, and committees, I’m going to reign in my writing a bit. I won’t push for four manuscripts over the semester, that’s an unattainable goal at best. We collected some data at the end of July I’d like to get written up and sent out this fall. That seems much more manageable. I’ll also edit and resubmit the article that’s been accepted.

I hope to continue with a check-in group as well. It’s going to be a good challenge for me to see if I can continue with the good habit and see how I can grow it. I have colleagues and friends who are trying to set anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours aside each day for writing. I’d like to start that practice as well to see if it can become a habit. I’m worried that my time will get sucked in other places but will give it a good try. I may opt to stay home to try and write as well. While not as convenient, there’s no one here to bother me. I’ve been sprucing up my place as well, making it more attractive/livable/making use of the space I’m paying good money for. I don’t have an office because I refuse to buy anymore furniture, but I do have the luxury of a quiet space, plenty of coffee, and ambient noise.

Learning how to become a prolific writer is a process for any faculty member, young or old, fresh out of grad school or seasoned veteran. I’m proud for committing to it this summer, following my lofty goals through, and now am excited to make my calendar for fall to do it again.

Have a great first day of class!

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Vacation: A Hard Reboot

Vacation for This Academic {New Faculty}

I took (almost) two weeks for vacation this year. It was great. Seriously.

I went home for a full week. I even extended my stay after being bribed with a Friday night fish fry (duh, easy decision) and stayed another day. The pace of the farm is totally different than the pace of academia. The cows need to be fed, milked, and cared for. The garden needs to be picked, the corn needs to be checked. The hay needs to be mowed, tedded, and raked before being baled, and everything runs on the weather. If it’s going to rain, you work like hell. If it doesn’t rain, you still work like hell. If it’s actually raining, you work on other stuff like there’s no tomorrow. It’s all immediate during the summer. It’s never a waiting game (unless it’s raining).

The pace of the farm suits me. I like the immediate gratification, the constant pace, the feeling of happiness fed calves have, the quiet of the cows when they’re out to pasture and everyone is happy, healthy, and grazing.

I came back to my house and spent a solid day cleaning. Not just cleaning my house, but looking after tasks that have been neglected: cleaning out closets, sorting things, organizing things, and making runs to the local YMCA to rid myself of some of my physical clutter, which made my mental clutter also improve. I had things in piles, but the piles were becoming burdensome to look at. It forced me to look at “my stuff” for a few hours and realize: I have enough. More than enough. Like most Americans, I had more than I needed. I even spent a little time decorating my place. I’ve only lived here for four years and a friend gifted me some corner shelves when he moved. I had put nothing on them, I had not dusted them, they were simply sitting there. I puppysat my friend, Henry, and his puppy mom gave me some beautiful gifts as a “thank you” which went perfectly on them. It motivated me to pretend someone actually lives in this home for more than showers and TV time.

I have made a habit of having a “eat out of my cupboards” every few weeks. Instead of keeping an overstocked pantry of dry/canned goods, I would eat only out of them and not buy any other dry goods. I would allow myself to buy things like fresh eggs and milk because I do consume them every day and in larger quantities. I need to remind myself of the same for my “stuff” in life too: visiting what I do have. I purchased only one “thing” to decorate my shelves, a new flowerpot for some cuttings I brought back from NY, so it’s a useful purchase, not a frivolous one and the cuttings are in it on the shelf.

The same can be said for academia (getting to my long winded point now). I have a skill set. I have a really good one, but it’s often forgot because many of my colleagues share a similar skill set and some have had more years to work on it than I have. I like the gratification of helping, of serving, of observing good things happening. Sometimes, I get bogged down in the tedious waiting game of academia (I have NO patience people) but know it’s a necessary part of the game. The two weeks I spent on vacation satisfied so many levels of my psyche that I was actually sad to go back to work. I spent a whole day in my house not leaving for anything. I colored (you’ve got to get yourself a Johanna Basford coloring book stat), I watched endless things on my apple tv, I actually relaxed. It was a good counter day to the week of busy, the days of cleaning and organizing, and the lull was welcome because the next day, I was back at it. I left the house anyway :)

I could have gone with friends to their lake house during my second week of vacation, but it would not have been good for me. Great people, but 10 kids and six adults for a week would have over stimulated me into a frenzy. Not to mention the additional hours of driving (20+ over a week) were not what I was looking for. I “staycationed” like a boss. I needed the continual schedule disruption and it soothed my soul on many levels. I love the quiet but I covet some good social interactions. I needed a break, but I needed to clear my plate and my head.

I hope you took some time off this year too. I’ve printed my syllabi for fall to begin the process of updating them and grad students will be on campus beginning next week. Summer is OVER, time for the GRIND!

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REJECTED: Coping With a Manuscript Letdown

REJECTED: Manuscript Rejection

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It happened. I got rejected. Flat out, on my ass rejected. From a journal. With a resounding “hell no” from all three reviewers.

OUCH.

How to handle? Ice cream. Wine.

How to respond? Get back in the saddle and get writing.

It just so happened that when I forwarded the reviewer comments to my co-authors, one replied with the word “ouch” as well. It always hurts. Whether you’re a new faculty like me or a seasoned veteran (like one of my c0-authors), getting flat-out rejected is kind of like getting kick in the shin by a small child when you weren’t expecting it.

However, here’s the big idea: rejection happens in academia.

I’d been very lucky. I’d gone four years without a single manuscript rejection so I knew I was running on borrowed time. If I get anymore this year, my tiny ego might actually need some melted cheese, but I can handle anything else, even if it’s rejected but make edits and we’ll accept it. I’m not a perfect researcher, it’s an impossible goal, but I know I can always get better. That’s the goal, to get better.

So, while I’d like to give you some resounding nugget of advice here, the best I can do is tell you to try not to get too sensitive about it, read the comments, find the good things, and move forward.

My positive comments were about my APA citations, something I had been working on, and the tightness of my writing. Both things that I work hard at. The things they didn’t like can be fixed for future submissions. Maybe the data wasn’t appropriate for their scope, maybe I did do it all wrong, but I can’t keep crying over that spilled milk, especially when there’s two more manuscripts on my desk that need to go out before classes begin.

Cheer up! The old saying may be “publish or perish” but I haven’t died yet, just put one manuscript to bed. FOREVER!!

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How I Did It: My Summer Writing Schedule

My Summer Writing Schedule {New Faculty}

Everyone works differently. Everyone plans differently. Everyone’s brain is wired a little differently.

That’s my disclaimer on this post. If you read it and decide it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine.

The handy, dandy picture is the actual word doc I made myself when summer writing group began. I edited it this week to reflect some new deadlines and may have blacked out people’s names or identifiers if working with minors. IRB baby. Gotta keep those nice folks at IRB happy.

You can click on the graphic to get a better idea of how I paced myself and how I managed my time. I’d like to take a TV TIME OUT to note a few things:

1. Prioritizing travel first. If you have conferences coming up or you know there will be a commitment, mark it down at the beginning.

2. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll get “all this work done” while traveling. Seriously. Just tell yourself you’re going to enjoy yourself and anything you can get done is like earning bonus points on that game you love to play.

3. See that lovely word “vacation” in there? SEE IT NOW!!!!! I was very generous and gave myself TWO WHOLE WEEKS OFF this year. A landmark amount of vacation. I’ll be checking in on email but for the most part, I plan to do a whole lot of anything that’s “not work” for those two weeks. I plan to have two more manuscripts drafted and waiting for final edits/read throughs, and formatting for the journals they’ll be going to.

4. I had other things to do besides write. I wanted to streamline it for myself. If it gets too cluttered, it makes my eye twitch. So, I stuck with my writing goals on this document. Data analysis is also on there since it’s moving toward manuscript land.

5. Things to remember: I have not worked a weekend all summer. Let us all just say AMEN! I’ve worked to feel less guilty. It’s a slow process. S L O W……

6. Personal goals are always good reminders. I prioritize things like swimming and doing things I neglect. Seeing them every day is helpful.

7. I added the fourth manuscript only recently since I realized that I’ll have data to begin analyzing. The word “long” next to it means it’s a long term project and a manuscript will NOT be submitted by the time classes begin. That’s unrealistic and not happening, even in academic fantasy land.

Last, but not least, I hope that it can help you map out your own writing goals. The four of us who participated in writing group over the summer each plotted our course differently. Some used Excel, another used pen/paper, I used Word. There’s really no right or wrong way to do this, but holding yourself accountable is the most important thing. I color coded mine with highlighters, making each manuscript a different color to help organize myself. It helped me see which paper I was spending more or less time on.

This will begin to look very different when I work up something for the semester. It will not be this ambitious because I’m teaching two classes. That alone will handicap my writing in more ways than one. I will likely set a goal to finish data analysis and begin writing so I can finish and submit my next manuscript over the long break. It will also be submission season for conferences during fall, so that will consume my time as well.

May the odds be ever in your favor as you map  your goals. I know summer is winding down for us nerds but the new batch of freshman will be on campus before you know it!

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Saving Myself for Summer

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I’d like to be clear, getting out manuscripts is hard work. Some days, I wonder why I’m doing it. Someone asked me how I was going to get out 4-5 manuscripts over summer and it was a great question. She also asked me if I got out this many manuscripts every 3-4 months.

NO.

HELL NO.

I save it for summer. During the academic year, I’m collecting and analyzing, but rarely have a good system for sitting down and writing on manuscripts. I’ll often start piecing them together during the academic year and then table them until the students leave. I then have the gift of time on my side, setting aside days and weeks just to toil over manuscripts. It works right now, but I know I should trickle out manuscripts more evenly.

The other major difference from prior years to this year: I’m first author on all my manuscripts right now. While being first author is a major ego boost, it’s also a major load of extra work. In my prior appointment, I had not been the first author and that was just fine. As a brand new faculty, I was too overwhelmed to do it all and quite frankly: I was glad someone else wanted to do it.

Fast forward to present day and I know that I can be first author and I should be first author on a lot of things. So I am. It’s been a little bit of an overload for me, to put it mildly, and in the future, I’d like to spread the wealth a bit more. I have told grad students and colleagues that I’d like to collaborate, give the grad students experience, but few seem to be chomping at the bit to publish like I am accustomed too. This troubles me, but I also know that everyone has their own life motivation. You can only lead the horse to water.

So, in short: I’m not a manuscript producing machine. My goal for this next academic year, is to be more incremental and intentional about my writing and distribute my submissions more evenly. There’s only one major conference submission deadline for me during the summer, also leaving more time to write whereas the academic year is fraught with conference deadlines. I consider that writing, but on a tenure packet, a manuscript accepted is “worth more” than a conference presentation. Conferences are fun, but they’re not “worth” as much. Networking is invaluable, but it’s expensive and is also “worth” nothing in the short term. Balancing that from my last appointment was easy. I went to one conference during my time with that job because there was enough other faculty on the project but more importantly, our broader impacts were not rooted in conferences and travel, they were rooted in publications with impact factors.

I save it all for summer and I shouldn’t. This summer has been different. Gone are the summer camps and maker camps that I used to plan, the reality is days of writing to disseminate my new work.

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Summer Writing Season is HALF Over??

Mid-Summer Check In {New Faculty}

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Glancing at my trusty calendar last week, noting vacation, but then also taking stock of the month of July, I realized one thing:

SUMMER IS HALF OVER

My writing goals are on track. Seriously. On track. Even I didn’t expect that to happen. My goal of sending out four manuscripts is thankfully, on track. Two are out the door, one is being read/edited by another author and number four is currently about halfway done. My personal goal was to have all four drafted and ready to send before I go on vacation. I’ll return from vacation, read them, edit them one more time, and send them out. Giving them a week or two to marinate will help me pick out anything that’s still weird or hopefully inspire me to make any changes necessary. I have a fifth manuscript slated but a grad student is the first author, meaning it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy for them, they’ll have to take some initiative, I can only push so much.

Which brings me to my main point today.

I had a manuscript that I wrote a year ago. I hated it. Loathed it. Abhorred it. I didn’t like it from the get-go, but had been asked to craft it by someone on the team that I work with. It was too bulky, it was too clunky, and when I sent it to the requestor, they didn’t like it either. They removed it (rather hastily) from the plan of work and we all moved forward. Fast forward 10 months and I opened it again. I wanted to send it out, it was good work, but it wasn’t a true representation of the work I like to do.

SO I CUT A THIRD OF IT.

With some quick, fierce, and definitive strokes of my mouse, I cut a third of it. I moved some of the contents around. I put in better transitions.

I LIKE IT NOW!

Maybe it needed the 10 month break, maybe I procrastinated on it like a champ, but most of all: it needed to be cut.

Doing and writing what someone else thinks they want might not be the best thing. All things considered, when I did what they asked, they were unhappy. When I did what I knew was best for the research, it came together a lot more cleanly and tidy-like. While this isn’t supposed to be a “hater” post, the people “telling” me what to do aren’t always the best researchers and their poor guidance on this led to poor work. Shame on me for letting them have the upper hand.

I learned my lesson and when they asked me to do some more work this spring, I set the ground rules right out of the gate. I made the expectations clear and told them exactly what I would do but more importantly:

WHAT I WOULDN’T DO OR TOLERATE

I made clear the data analysis I would and could do. I made clear my methods, even after being questioned by someone who is NOT in research (which just pissed me off mostly), and I backed it up by providing documentation of my process grounded in theory and methods research. I never heard a word from that part of the team after I sent my methods over. They knew better. I was EXTREMELY firm with them, using my trusty “teacher voice,” some very negative body language, and above all: being a better researcher than they are.

Summer is half over and I’m grinding to some deserved vacation time. Don’t harsh on my vibe. I’m game on.

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On Keeping a Detailed Calendar

Keeping a Calendar {New Faculty}

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I’ve had to work hard to get into good habits with my calendar. On several occasions, I wanted to end our relationship and update my facebook status to “it’s complicated” but I persisted with a calendar during grad school and then it became a vital necessity once I got on faculty. I went a bit overboard for a while, even putting in “workout” time, but then realized I felt trapped by it. It felt too “full” for me and I got overwhelmed by it, thus returning to my love/hate relationship with it once again. Happy medium folks.

 

Today, my calendar and I are largely friends. We worked out our issues because I finally made peace with several things. I can chunk out my time more efficiently if I have a guide. After a week at a conference, I made a point to block time for the important tasks by putting them in 1-2 hour blocks. It helped me manage my time without burdening me. I do color code, but let’s face it, I don’t need my six month dentist cleaning to be blue or my academic meetings to be yellow to know that “I’m busy” or that blue means personal, yellow means professional. I’ve accepted that all of my work is generally intertwined at this point and that it’s all important or necessary.

Some other useful tidbits:

1. The office admin schedules my life if I don’t do it. Faculty meetings, grad student meetings, etc… she takes care of those and I’m thankful. If I don’t keep my calendar up to date (appointments or other things) she will assume that block of time is free and she will schedule me if she needs too. I guard my time and realize she’s doing her job, but it’s important for me to keep it up to date for her to help make both of our lives easier.

2. Year end reporting. Our university employs a year-end reporting system that’s “Ok” to use. I try and do the following things to keep my year end reporting as pain-free as possible: keep my CV updated, keep a running Evernote note of activities/service that I participate in AND my calendar. I will often reference my calendar from the prior year and skim through it. I block out conferences and other events in advance so I can always go back and reference it. Did I actually go to XYZ conference? No, but my students presented their research there. It then helps me track my citations, etc… that I need for reporting.

3. Guarding my time. Like a good watch dog, I’m still working on guarding my own time. Since it’s summer, I’m trying to work alone one morning a week at a coffee shop. I like the ambient distraction and I like not being at the office. I can do things like work on edits to manuscripts and go through data to pull what I need to answer my questions without issues or the distractions I get at work. Keeping a calendar will help me plan when I can sneak away without anyone missing me too much. I rarely put where I am since the goal is to steal away.

Keeping a decent calendar has helped me as a young faculty member. There’s balance to all of it, so find what works for you.

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All My Rowdy Friends Go Conferencing With Me

All My Rowdy Friends Go Conferencing With Me {New Faculty}

I knew it! All this time I’d been waiting….attending….observing….being creepy….and now it’s happened. My friends and academia are in a “relationship” and my friends are my conference buddies and vice versa. It was only a matter of time really. The longer you spend in a field, the more people you meet. The more people you meet, the more people you’re bound to run in over and over again until out of sheer force of introvert awkwardness, you start a conversation.

My good friend from undergrad and I took similar yet different paths through life and low and behold, she’s on faculty too. In her first year, her university sent her to the same conference that a lot of my colleagues and I are attending. Instead of riding in the collective van, she and I rode down together to have a fun and networking-laden conference. It was a great time, but let’s not forget, it’s still four solid days of socializing non-stop with each other and all of the folks at the conference. Being the good adults that we are, we made it clear it was ok to be quiet.

Overall, it’s been really  nice seeing and getting to know folks in my profession over the last year. Not only do I have a better handle on what’s going on in our profession, but I have a better idea of some of the players at the table. These things give me a better idea as to what kind of research folks are doing and what kind of research I want to be doing. I haven’t got my mind wrapped around all of the things yet, but as the two major conferences for my field are now wrapped up, it’s time to marinate on some of those things and begin to formulate a plan for my professional road.

Conferences are a great way to connect with old friends, meet new ones, share meals at amazing places you can’t find where you live, and network for days. It’s always cool to run into people from your old alma mater(s) and catch up about what’s happening in and outside of work time. It’s fun for me now to banter with grad students (especially the ones that thing they’re REALLY smart) and you can spot them a mile away, which is sort of adorable in an “aawwww, there’s a baby fawn” kind of way.

One of my undergraduate researchers attended to present her work as well, it was her last hurrah with me and she’s off to grad school in a few weeks. It was really nice to see her, spend some time with her, and stand back and have a “super proud” advising moment as she talked the talk with faculty  about her research. **sniff, sniff**

Conferences can be as good as you make them. The end. Attend the sessions, figure out what interests you, and go forth and conference!

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