No Fancy Name
Friday, September 23, 2005
things i've learned in graduate school
I have been so damn busy the last few weeks that I've neglected to write a "school has started and I really dig it" post. So:

School has started!

I really dig it!

Somehow I don't think I'll get away with writing just that...

We're four weeks into the semester and I've already outlasted my first go-round in grad school. At this point in the semester in Fall 1992 I was bagging groceries at a Winn-Dixie in Lexington, Kentucky and trying to figure out what the hell just happened (what just happened was that I quit school). I quit because it was painfully obvious (to me, at least) that I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I thought I had no scholarly training and had no business being in grad school. That, and it hit me while sitting in class one day that I couldn't reconcile sitting around discussing the importance of the color of some fictional character's socks (or the fact that the character was or was not wearing socks) with the real world and so I went off to find my fortune. Or something like that.

In the last month, I've come to realize that my perceived lack of preparation for grad school way back when wasn't out of the ordinary if I use the students here as a comparison. Some people are really...unprepared. I guess it's just how fast you ramp up on your own, or if you even really want to, that makes the difference. Way back when, I certainly didn't want to ramp up on my own—not [entirely] because I felt I didn't have to, but because I truly just did not want to. Flash forward thirteen years later and I do want to, and I'm glad that I'm a place where I can do so without a great amount of stress.

Although I've only had contact with five or six faculty members, I've found each of them to be accomodating, available, patient, and very much concerned with ensuring that we learn something rather than simply getting up in front of the class and "teaching." That last part might not make sense; my brain tends to make weird distinctions between things. But my point is that while this fair-to-middlin' state school has an MA program, the vast majority of people are here to get an MA in order for the corresponding pay raise as secondary teachers, and only a handful of people each year (if that) go on to PhD programs. I believe this causes a wide range in the expectations faculty have of the students, and when a student shows that they want to learn how to do good, scholarly work, the profs do jump at the chance for to have those "teaching moments" but don't automatically hold all students to a high standard because of this variety of backgrounds and what not. It's definitely a make-of-it-what-you-will kind of program, which is perfect for me at this point. This is the minor leagues as far as I'm concerned, before I make a run at The Show some other year. So, I plan to make something good out of it, and that means working with the faculty members I've determined I already like quite a bit. I'm glad they're available.

My seminars are all very cool, even Materials & Methods because I dig the materials, and I dig the methods. I think I'm the only one. That's ok, though. Three students from that seminar are in my Theory seminar right afterwards, and two more people are also in my AmLit seminar the following day; there are also a few other people from Theory who are in AmLit. You get the picture—a nice, cozy bunch. Except, of course, I don't particularly like many of them. There are some folks who are really smart and really nice, and they like me too (!!). That's cool. The people I don't particularly like, it's because they act really dumb. Note I said "act" which leaves room for them not to be dumb and for me to change my opinion of them, but...they act really dumb.

Some examples:
* "what exactly do you mean by a secondary source?"[no, I'm not kidding]

* It took a good half hour out of two consecutive class periods for everyone to understand the assignments in my Theory course. First assignment: select a target text and write four 6-8pp essays over the course of the semester, each essay being a critical analysis of the piece using theory T (where T is one of four specific ones). Instead of handing in a fourth distinct essay, roll the previous three together with the fourth and edit so as to create a cohesive paper. [how is that hard to follow??] Additionally, prof will randomly assign to each of us a critical essay and a book of criticism to read, which we will then discuss in a 10-min oral report with a supplemental 1-page handout. [I'm going to write a whole post about this one!]

* Four weeks into the semester and one woman still thinks that our scholarly book review in Materials & Methods is simply a book report on some novel she gets to choose.

* In the Theory course, one of our target texts is The Tempest, meaning that each week we read critical essays as examples of T theory (where T is one of eight specific theories) as applied to The Tempest. Ok. So. Someone made a comment about what one of the authors said about Caliban. Loud, annoying, dumb woman (same woman as the point above, actually) says "oh yes, I was just going to mention Osama bin Laden!"


I couldn't stand it, so I turned to her and very clearly said "CAL-i-ban," leaving out the "dumbass" at the end that my wee brain really wanted to slip in there. No, I don't have the foggiest idea how anything we were talking about could have prompted her to want to say something about Osama bin Laden. I didn't stop to think about it, either, for fear my head would explode.

I have a personal goal of winning some sort of prize from the department for each of the next two years. I'm a little less concerned about the competition. I know, I'm going to hell/going to lose karma points for saying that, but whatever.

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