Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Back to school, but not really....

The holidays are technically over for me. The university opened up yesterday, and classes started today. I'm not in classes, though, and I really have nothing to do on campus besides using the library and occasionally popping in to the department to check my mailbox or meet with my supervisor. But it's still "back to school" time, which seems to confuse anyone who isn't familiar with the humanities PhD life.

When I was doing my MA, everyone assumed I was writing a thesis. I'd do my best to clear that misconception up ("no, it's a course-based program. I take graduate seminars and write long essays for each class. No, they're not as long as science/history/insert-other-subject papers. Because that's just the way English papers work. Right. Get it? No? [pokes own eye out]"). After the MA, I got a job teaching at my former uni, and then everyone asked me how my courses were -- only they didn't mean the courses I was teaching, because apparently what I'd explained the year before had only just sunk in, so they thought I was TAKING courses. It didn't get much better when I did start taking courses again in the first year of the PhD -- suddenly people were confused as to why I was taking courses, since I had already taken courses for my MA. Wasn't I done courses yet? ("No, the PhD still requires a year of coursework. No, not as much as the MA. I don't know why. Yes, I know they don't do coursework in England. Yay for England. Yay yay yay. [pokes other eye out]").

Explaining the second year -- reading hundreds of books and writing candidacy exams -- was pretty much pointless. Even older profs in my department didn't understand how the system works. I've ranted about it before, but the quick recap of second year is read too much-write pithy essays that are supposed to make it look like I read 300 books and can quote from memory even though I can't and it's all a giant artificial illusion-get marked by profs who still insist on pretending I should be producing amazing work in 3 hours even though they probably haven't written 3 essays in 3 hours on 300 books since they were PhD students and they probably sucked too but would never admit it-feel like shit after getting feedback but rejoice because I passed everything and then want to poke my eyes out once I realize my project has changed completely but have no eyes left to poke out because I lost them earlier in my schooling.

I'm starting the second semester of my third year now, and people have started asking me again how my courses are. I'm not sure what to say now. Maybe I should just smile, grit my teeth and say "Great!" and leave it at that. Or maybe I should make up little business cards that detail each year of the PhD and put a little sticker that says "I AM HERE" at the appropriate stage in the degree. Sort of a road map for the grad school uninitiated.

I have no idea what I'll say next year, when I'll be pretty much done writing but still in the throes and revision while I teach classes and apply for "real" jobs despite not having a degree yet. I foresee much confusion and eye-poking in the future.

On a more productive note, I'm off to write a page of my dissertation now. It's nearly 11pm, and I'm pumped. Go me!
doctor T 10:31 p.m.

3 Comments: are those classes going?


Just Kidding.
I have the same problem with my school stuff. People assume that I'm taking courses, which I've already finished. I just have a horrendous project to get through, and it's already been dragging for 1.5 years. I don't bother trying to explain exactly what I'm doing or exactly what the frustrations that I'm facing, because I'd just give them this really long speech of which they may understand 20% of it.

What I usually fall back on: "It's complicated. Don't ask cause I will start getting stressed out. And you don't want to stress me out any more than I am now".

Hah, I like the idea of the road map business card. Clarica!

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