I’m trying to study for my viva, and by ‘try’, I mostly mean freak out and create post-apocalyptic scenarios that involve the examiners trying to eat my puny brains whilst my books gather a layer of dust not unlike that of Miss Havisham’s wedding cake.
I’ve reread my thesis and wrote one page summaries of each chapter. Rereading that shit was a very odd experience- one minute, I felt proud and kind of impressed with myself, then just when my head was in danger of getting too big, I’d flip the page and read something so embarrassing that I just wanted to crawl into bed forever like one of Charlie Bucket’s grandparents (not Grandpa Joe, obviously).
But since I don’t have any badass matching pajamas or a minion to bring me nourishing bowls of stew and crusty bread, I’ve avoided the comfort of my shitty ikea mattress. Instead, I’ve read the first few google pages resulting in ‘commonly asked viva questions’ and come up with what I hope are passable answers. Thank Zeus I am a trained academic with all of these skills at my disposal!!1
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this link, where a fellow blogger has written much more eloquently about this sadistic process:
I remember talking to a friend who had submitted hir phd a few months ahead of me and after all of the congratulations and buying of drinks, I asked how they felt.
“Eh, just the same as before,” my friend replied.
“WTF dawg?” I definitely did not say. “Don’t you feel relieved????”
“Not really. The whole thing is kind of anticlimactic,” said my friend.
I seriously could not understand this. But now that I’ve finally submitted my own thesis, my own catatonic state seems to reflect my friend’s experience.
I don’t really feel relief. I don’t really feel excited or proud. I do feel vaguely guilty that I’m not working on it anymore. Crazy, right? I think this lack of relief comes from the fact that I know I’ll have to defend the damn thing in several weeks time and then I may or may not have to make a few months worth of ridiculous changes. So this feels like more of a temporary reprieve than anything else.
I also feel guilty because the ‘finished’ version still had 87 holes that I know are there. A few things I couldn’t find for my bibliography, a few bits were I probably cited something wrong or didn’t elaborate when I should have. A friend who had been through this many years ago told me that everyone’s thesis has shit like this in it, and that nobody but me will be aware of ‘a few bricks missing from the cathedral.’ What a great mental image that is, no? I hope my friend is right. You get to a point where you can’t fucking work on the damn thing anymore, and it has to be over.
Hopefully the examiners agree.
It’s funny, because the disparity between the ‘oh the phd is a research exercise’ attitude schools officially espouse and the not on the university website attitude of ‘everything you’ve ever written sucks, gtfo of my office’ reality of advisement fuck with your head until you internalize your own shitty mediocrity.
Maybe that’s the real point of the phd?
Anyways hope all of you out there in blogland have a happy new year.
My life and mind are a completely disordered mess right now, so I will leave you with this tiny analogy.
My thesis will be submitted any minute now. As a result of continuous radio silence from my adviser, I am making some changes on my own before I cram this fucker into a bottle and throw it out to sea, hoping for one of this miraculous stories you hear on the news. Like my shitty bottle washes up at Bruce Springsteen’s shore house, so he randomly decides to give me 1 million Cashmoneys even though I hate his music.
As I try and fix this complete clusterfuck, I feel that kind of panic you might get a few minutes before you have to leave for an international flight. You haven’t packed your bags yet, you have no list of what you need to bring and you’re not 100% sure if you know where your passport or plane ticket is. So you’re just chucking random stuff into a duffle bag and hoping for the best, but pretty sure you are leaving out what is both obvious and essential.
I’ll update once I’ve boarded the flight.
Other job titles that I do not call my own:
1. Camp counselor
2.Cruise ship director
3. Airline customer service representative who will refund you 10% your ticket price because a sky waitress did not offer you a diet pepsi on your last journey
4. Asswiper for people who are, sadly, missing arms
There must be some cognitive dissonance going on somewhere though, because I feel like other people (ie my students and the Professional Student Enablers like Dr. University of Phoenix Online) think that I am being paid a pitiful wage to perform the aforementioned tasks.
It was brought to my attention recently that several “complaints” have been lodged against me. What was the numero uno complaint, you ask?
(wait for it. it’s good.)
I AM NOT FUN.
I can’t say it better than Capt. Daniels. First of all, like I mentioned earlier, it is not my fucking job to entertain you. Although on some level this comment does hurt me, because I try my hardest to make my class relevant and entertaining. But at some point, we are going to have to do some fucking work. When it comes time to do that work, I tell the students EXACTLY what I am looking for. I give out rubrics. I have examples of what an “A” paper looks like. I then repeat my instructions until I feel like a dried up old sitcom actor relegated to the dinner theater circuit, because half the class has arrived 30 minutes late and wants to know if they missed anything ‘important.’ And certainly I am not asking a lot from them. You could ask the same from a 6th grader and they’d do it with less drama. But when my instructions are ignored and they turn in something that was clearly done 10 minutes before class and, as a result, get a failing grade.. well yeah it’s not exactly a day at the fairground.
Also. not everything in life is fucking fun. I remember my own undergraduate experience being challenging and rewarding, and yes good times were had, but most of the ‘fun’ I remember involved underage drinking. Classes with my favorite undergraduate professor were difficult and exhilarating and fucking awesome. But ‘fun’ is something you have watching stupid youtube clips of people jumping off roofs onto trampolines.
This conversation with Dr. UofP Online was so infuriating. I am a fucking professional! I am a hair’s width from having my phd (sob). I do my work with integrity, and trust me, I take into account the limitations of my particular student population. Nevertheless, I was told that I need to ‘remember where I am.’
It’s impossible to fucking forget where I am.
I don’t see any cobblestones or marble or other building materials that imply ancient tradition or scholarly rigor. But I am still at an accredited college and I don’t see how a 10 page reading assignment and the expectation that people have their heads up and eyes open is asking too much.
“Not fun” is synonymous for having standards besides the ability to fog a mirror. So because I have some standards and don’t take shit from lazy fuckers, they think they can lodge complaints about me all the live long day. And they are right, because they can, and assholes like Dr. UofP online take their complaints seriously.
In many places, this is the reality of ‘higher ed.’
And I feel trapped, because why the hell else did I get a phd if not to dig in this mine?
Yesterday I rediscovered an old mix
tape cd from my undergraduate days. These songs were the background noise for a really exciting time in my life. I was getting ready to graduate, giving my passport a good workout every few months, and crizazy in love. I felt so fucking happy and hopeful about the future.
Hearing those songs again after such a long time really jolted me. I had forgotten what it felt like to be 21 and uncrushed by the world. That electric feeling, like you’re going to go out and grab the universe by the balls and do all of this cool shit, just gradually faded away until I forgot it ever existed. Then you wake up and it’s 10 years later and you feel trapped by the mundane nature of your daily routine and all the shitty things you don’t really want to do but you’ve convinced yourself that you have to. It’s easy to forget that you have a choice.
And this is fucking tragic. I know that I whine and complain a lot on this blog, and I’m grateful to have it as an outlet, but just because academia is stupid and my adviser is stupid and my job is stupid, so what?
SO FUCKING WHAT?
I have a place to sleep at night, food to eat, and someone to love. I am fucking rich yo! And as long as I’m alive, anything can happen! I can do the things I was excited to do before I willingly let academia fit me for cement shoes. I can change my job. I can change who I associate with and try to think more positively. Once I submit my thesis and finish teaching this semester, I can walk away from those things and try to find meaningful work that doesn’t give me restless leg syndrome. Or maybe I won’t find meaningful work. Then I can find something that I don’t mind and seek fulfillment elsewhere.
I AM ALIVE! And if you’re reading this, you probably are too! This just gets better and better!
I’ll leave you with two of the songs that, 10 years later, still make me feel very fucking lucky that we are here and capable of making such beautiful things.
It has been a rough few weeks.
Midterms have come and gone; despite a still absentee-landlord adviser, my phd will be submitted SOON; and my students are shocking me daily as to the astoundingly tragic levels of collegiate apathy it is possible to attain.
Based on my recent experiences, here are the 3 most fucking annoying kinds of students I’ve had the displeasure of dealing with. In reverse order, cause that’s how those shitty late night tv dudes do it and I am basically copying them minus fame, a studio audience, and lucrative endorsement deals.
3- The Student Who Ignores Everything You Say.
Probably 2/3rds of my students fall under the mildewed 1970s paisley print umbrella of this category.
For example: after I’ve spent 10 minutes explaining the assignment, and indeed, it’s written on the fucking board next to me, they call out, “What’s the question?”
2- The Genuinely Fucking Clueless
I handed back a multiple choice test and told the students that if I had made any errors in tallying their scores to see me after class. So this kid came up to me and said, ‘you marked all of these answers wrong and they’re right.’ So I looked at the test and was really fucking confused. The student’s name and incorrect answers were in black ink. Where ze had a wrong answer (yeah it was most of them), I had made an X next to the question and circled the correct answer in red ink. After a few minutes of ridiculous ‘who’s on first’ banter, it emerged that the student thought that ZE HAD CIRCLED THE RIGHT ANSWERS IN RED PEN. I was like, ‘then who circled all the wrong answers in black? Those are my markings– see, your score at the top is in red ink too.’ And ze was like, ‘oh.’ and walked out. The hilarious thing is that I really don’t believe the kid was trying to fucking con me. Ze legit thought ze had all the right answers, even though ze clearly did not study and couldn’t explain why any of those answers would have been right in the first place.
1- The Fucking Leader of the Pack
The other two types of annoying students are, well, annoying, but otherwise harmless. Pesky mosquitoes of the non malaria spreading variety. I’ve only been unfortunate enough to deal with The Fucking Leader of the Pack (TM) 3-4 times over my long and illustrious teaching career, but they are exhausting and infuriating, and they make it really hard to leave disturbing school shit at the door. Identifying characteristics include: attempts to monopolize class conversations, tries to ‘school’ other students in why they are wrong, and basically is a douche and tries to undermine the instructor’s authority. I’ve had a student in one of my classes who I long suspected was a FLotP and, recently, shit got a bit cray.
This gem of a student disagreed with me, and while I am normally cool with that, ze was really rude and belligerent about it. So I said something to the effect of, I see where you’re coming from, but I stand by my answer in this case. So ze starts telling me that I’m wrong, and launches into a monologue about why they are right. I tried to cut hir off but the little fucker kept talking over me, using the kind of tone you might reserve for a toddler who is insisting he be given ice cream right this minute despite the fact that it is 9am.
It was mortifying. I got flustered. I hate that. I really really fucking hate that. I could feel my face getting red and I’m sure they could smell the reek of terrified woodland creature that my fucking pheromones were suddenly emitting. I am all for dissenting opinions, you know? I am not Saddam fucking Hussein. But this person had the floor, they explained themselves, and that wasn’t enough- they had to be disrespectful and talk to me like I was an asshole in my own classroom.
I didn’t yell or throw fucking chairs. But after a certain point, I cut hir off and said that they had already expressed their opinion and now they had to let someone else speak. It was awkward as fuck and even now I am clearly still bothered by it.
That’s probably the worst bit. I know that most people face interactions like this in a variety of other jobs, but in teaching it feels extra weird because if you let someone tear away that flimsy facade of authority you have over an overcrowded room of 18-20 year olds, there will be anarchy. Whereas if you’re behind the counter at the DMV and someone is a cock, you can, I dunno, call security or move them to the back of the line? You can step away from the counter and get a supervisor?
I don’t know. It just feels terrible when you spend all this time prepping material (ugh and lets not even consider the 87 years of grad school hell you endure to get to this point) just to have an 18 year old metaphorically piss all over you. Nice rant, bro. I guess you don’t want to hear all about my phd and why I am a little fucking more qualified than you on this particular topic.
Someone remind me, why do I need a phd for this job again?
I’m trying to write my conclusion right now. I’m looking over my notes from my last meeting with my adviser, which occurred sometime during the paleolithic era.
It’s funny, but going into that meeting, i felt so confident about my thoughts. I kind of finally felt like I knew what I was talking about and was happy with my ideas. But I wasn’t that surprised when adviser went, ‘yeah but……..’ and then did a 5 minute rant that appeared to say the opposite of everything I just said, but using way fancier language (which is probably obvious from my own use of phrases like ‘way fancier’). So I wrote down everything ze said and yes sir’ed it up.
But something felt different this time. Instead of feeling disparaged and slightly humiliated, sweaty and sick with the knowledge that I
could never produce this kind of genius on my own, I felt like I just saw Toto part the emerald curtain. And now I truly know that my adviser isn’t the Great and Powerful Oz, a big floating face full of flames and a voice that should bring me to my knees in a sadistic combination of fear and reverence. Ze is a person who is phoning. It. In. And using the aforementioned props to keep me submissive and off hir back. This time, I knew my ideas were good. It was just clear that my adviser had to contradict what I said because I came up with it.
The really interesting part (to me, anyways) was that I could finally employ that internal critic to deconstruct everything my adviser said. Instead of simply cursing how stupid I am and wishing I came up with this stuff on my own, I heard my Adviser’s own fucking voice in my mind pointing out all of the obvious flaws that ze would have said if these were my ideas. And lo, the Great and Powerful Oz was just a short fat guy with a handlebar mustache in an ill-fitting suit.
Also, as I sit here now, having cooled off a bit from the meeting, I’m realizing that most of the “yeah but” rant is not that different from what I originally said. So why frame the conversation in a way that makes me appear like I am still just a dumb apprentice who can only be trusted to make tea, and even then I’m probably Doing it Wrong?
This brings me to the point I’d like to discuss today: the paradox of scholarship. We are constantly told that academia is a apprenticeship scheme, like the middle ages or renaissance fairs, where you’re attached to a cobbler or blacksmith or roaster of ye olde turkey drumsticks, and you shadow, study, and observe your chosen craft until one day you too learn the secret handshake and can set out as a master yeoman or whatever. And while the Master Executioners say they want you to develop your skills until you are comfortable to operate a guillotine on your lonesome, in some cases, this is just disingenuous lip service. They don’t want you to make it. They don’t want you to be out on the road fixing shoes and training horses. These meaningless platitudes escape one side of their face, and on the other side, they tear down everything you say in a disparaging manner. And, ok at the beginning of your studies, i kind of get it. Like I’ve said previously, I think there’s a more civil way to engage in this kind of criticism than outright hazing, but I do understand that learning how to think differently is part of the process. But when submission is just around the corner and you are trying to get this shit over with? What’s the purpose of it then?
I’m not saying that my adviser feels threatened by me– in fact, I’m sure ze doesn’t. To misquote Lena Dunham, I know I’m not the voice of my generation. But ze certainly doesn’t give enough of a flying fuck to ‘train’ me properly in the art of preparing Offal Stew for 300 people. I’m a nuisance, an unwanted interruption from hir important fucking schedule of reading and writing books on other more important shit. And since we already know that phd programs are Ponzi schemes designed to allow departments to run 20,303 sections of undergraduate classes, I guess that’s my answer. I never was part of an apprenticeship scheme. There are no jobs and my adviser has no interest in my future or what the fuck happens to me after the school stops profiting from my existence. So why take the responsibility of turning me into a ‘scholar’ seriously?
When your adviser is phoning it in and they can’t be bothered to actually read your shit and make helpful suggestions so that you’re ready for submission, it’s easier to use their crizazy vocabulary, confidence, and position of power to tear you down and dismiss you. Send you scurrying away to your garret to Write and Think and burn your previous diplomas to keep warm. And maybe by the time you come back, either your thesis will be so improved that they really won’t have to comment on it anyways, or else maybe they’ll have more time/feel like reading it then (but not.)
Crooked advisers say they want you to function on your own, and they really do because then you wouldn’t be bothering them anymore, but if you need some actual concrete help to get to that point (like I do because I am not Galileo or Steve Jobs or Russel Brand), they continue to tear you down in a non constructive manner until you quit, die, or just submit the damn thing without telling them.