i’m still around

29May08

I haven’t abandoned my blog; I’ve just been traveling for quite a while now.  I went to third world country in April where I had limited access to internet.  I got back in May, spent a week and a half crashing at a friend’s empty apartment, and then flew to London about a week ago.  I’m here for six months; at the moment, I’m in a bed and breakfast, trying to find a place to stay more permanently while still trekking out to the archives.  Since I tend to get wrapped up in my head in the midst of chaos, that accounts for the lack of posting.  I’m also woefully behind on reading my usual blogs so, again, if you get comments from me months or weeks after you posted on something, that’s why.

London’s good as always. The jet lag wasn’t fun and I’ve gotten back to some of my sluggish ways but hopefully once I’m in some place that I consider my home, I’ll get into a more productive work schedule.

In part, I’ve been stymied by my latest advisor problems. I’m not going to go into exhaustive detail because I don’t want to badmouth my advisor in a public forum; it’s just plain unprofessional particularly since an inquisitive person could possibly figure out who I am and who my advisor is. (I hope not but you can never be too sure.) But more importantly, I really don’t want to be that graduate student who focuses too much on advisor problems to the detriment of her own work. This isn’t a reference to any person or situation in particular; it’s more a comment about the tendencies I’ve noticed among graduate students I know who seem to be paralyzed by their focus on how difficult graduate school is.  Don’t get me wrong: graduate school’s difficult. Advisor relationships can be brutal. The work’s craziness.  However, my goal has to be getting out of here as quickly as I can (and before the money runs out) with a dissertation that can get me a job in a place I want to live. I can’t do that if I focus too much on how I’m being done wrong, even if that’s what has happened.  That being said, while I was away in global south country, it became crystal clear to me that my advisor and I are really not on the same page about my progress through the program and the serious gaps I have in my supposed areas of expertise not only continue to hamper my own scholarly progress; they also have affected how my advisor perceives me.

I’ve written about these gaps before and how they came about: through my own ignorance of where I needed to be intellectually as comprehensive exams approached and through an unfortunate combination of professors’ scheduled sabbaticals and the unexpected departures of professors who specialized in my regional focus.  I was virtually unsupervised my first year in the program, a dangerous position when exams come in the second year, particularly since I had no idea what it was I was supposed to be doing.  Adding to the problem was the fact that I had come to my current specialization late in college.  I’d taken no pertinent undergrad lecture courses. My senior thesis, itself a traumatic event, was supervised by a professor who specialized in something else. I don’t regret that; she was solidly in my corner and, given how things have turned out, I’m glad I had that kind of support from a few professors at least once in my intellectual career. But it meant that, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I really needed intensive work in the semesters before exams. The whole situation’s unfortunate because the coursework phase of a PhD program and exams are supposed to give you the basic foundation you need to move forward to the dissertation.  But for me, exams merely brought me to the point where I should have been before exams.

So I begin this six month trip here with too many things to do and too much to prove: I need to do intensive archival research, I need to network with scholars here, I need to start writing (I hope to write one chapter while I’m here and begin work on a second), and I need to read the secondary lit pertinent to my dissertation and to the chapters I’m working on.  But perhaps the most important goal and the thing that I need to prove the most is that I am familiar with and knowledgeable about the secondary lit pertinent to my two major fields. If I don’t do it now, I’ll never get it done and I can kiss any chances of having the career I want in academia goodbye. How I’m going to get all this done is unclear.  To start, I’ve decided to devote one day a week to be my writing day.  By writing day, I mean doing whatever needs to be done beyond archival research to process evidence.  Here, I’m following the advice I read in Paul Silva’s How to Write a Lot. This day also can be the day I have lunch with my professional friends here.

Today is my first writing day:  I’ve labeled some digital photographs I took on my last research trip and now I’m going to do some more serious intellectual work.  I don’t intend to use my writing day as my secondary literature reading day: that needs to be another time in the week.  When, I’m not sure.

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