Posts Tagged ‘grad school sucks’
This post is long overdue.
But every time I’ve sat down to write it, I come down with a terrible case of ennui. And boredom is so much worse when its french, no? The whole thing was so strange that a month later, I still don’t think I’ve been able to process my feelings about it.
So the viva, defense, simulated drowning, whatever you want to call it wasn’t actually that bad. I ‘studied’ for weeks, which mostly involved torturing myself by rereading my thesis several times and alternately praising my own genius (rare moments, let me tell ya) and mostly crying about how dumb I am and how the examiners are going to see right through the thin veneer of my ‘expertise’ which is in fact more narrow and insubstantial than the ‘wood’ part of an ikea dresser. Then I reread 5-10 of the books I relied on most heavily to do my research, and beat myself up even more about all of these good bits that I didn’t quote, or realized that I didn’t actually understand the author’s argument, and shit, what if they ask me about (insert random theory I could care less about here), because I will have nothing to say and look like a fool.
So basically, the month or so I took preparing for the viva was like the condensed soup version of the last 3 ish years. All of the emotions you experience during the course of your phd timesmushed one last panic bursty rush. And the worst bit is the knowledge that you can’t really really prepare for a viva. Rereading your thesis and being really familiar with your own work is really all you can do. I have a friend who went though her entire bibliography and wrote a paragraph sized summary of every single thing she read. (I was too lazy, too disorganized, and too disinterested to do that.) In the end, did they end up asking her about any of these fucking sources? No. Although you could get caught out by some dickhead examiner who will ask. So yeah. But anyways, the only bit of my manic preparations that helped was rereading my own thesis, but I do say that with the caveat that unfortunately this advice ended up working in my situation but might not in yours. YMMV and other internet acronyms. To anyone preparing for their viva, I’d suggest doing whatever level of prep will help alleviate your anxiety and not make you feel worse, whatever that is.
The viva itself was actually kind of fun. My examiners had both clearly read my thesis and were familiar with a number of the primary texts I used. They started off by telling me how much they enjoyed (?!?!!!?!) reading it and asked me a whole bunch of interesting questions that either asked me to clarify my position on something or asked my opinion on something else. There was only one part where I metaphorically shat myself- they asked about some obscure philosopher whose name I never fucking heard of in my life, but I was able to explain why it didn’t occur to me to go there, and they accepted that just fine. But for the like 5 minutes while ze went on and on about the works of this person, I was imagining that I was chained to a desk like Bartleby the Scrivener in some room made of algae covered stones with iron clamps around my legs, reading shitty books about this philosopher and writing yet MORE crap until I squeezed myself between the rusty window bars and jumped out the window to my doom.
But here I am still, so obviously it didn’t come to that.
I will say that the university’s impartial moderator (whose function was to fill out the paperwork and make sure nobody got stabbed?) was very fucking rude. Ze was texting the entire fucking time and after about an hour, started making throat clearing noises, because this was probably interfering with hir SimCity or feeding stray cats time or whatever the fuck they wanted to go home and do. Which ok, I get that this isn’t particularly fascinating for you and its one more shitty administrative duty you have to do for your shitty tenured job with amazing benefits and good pay, but seriously sit the fuck down because this is the only time in my life I will be in the same room as people who have read my thesis and want to fucking discuss it with me, bitch.
The final result is that I passed with minor corrections, so just a few typos to fix. I still can’t believe it. I do know how lucky I got with my examiners. Really fucking lucky that they 1. read the thesis 2. behaved like compassionate human beings 3. had totally reasonable expectations for a phd thesis and realize that I am not a 73 year old wizard guru with infinite knowledge. And thank Allah for that, because after all of the shitty experiences I’ve had with various advisers, I needed a fucking break.
My brain is still trying to process the mindfuck though. Because according to these people, my ideas were original and convincing and my writing was GOOD and INTERESTING and shit. And I’m not saying this to sound like I’m up my own ass, but to hopefully provide some reassurance for anyone out there that has heard nothing but how stupid they are for the last 3,4,5 years that it’s not fucking true. I was told up until the time I submitted (for the parts of my thesis that my adviser actually claimed to have read) that there were chapters where ze just ‘didn’t buy the argument.’ Guess which chapters the examiners liked best? And based on the very specific things said examiners referenced, I knew they took the time to actually read it. So after 3+ years of being told that my ideas weren’t deep enough, that I needed a writing tutor, and never getting any kind of positive feedback, these independent examiners evaluated my work in detail and felt that it was good enough for a phd.
Maybe I should feel vindicated? Run around with my spartan brushy helmet thing beating my gold plated breastplate, yelling incomprehensible testosterone fueled shit? I don’t know what to feel, besides relief. I’m so glad I don’t have to write anything else and that I can finally graduate and be done with it and that I’m free from that horrible sadistic relationship of submitting work and getting shat on for no reason. But I don’t feel proud or like I accomplished something. I just feel like I survived. Which is a start, right? But why did I put myself through this torture to begin with? Was it worth it? I honestly don’t know.
This is all made more complicated by the fact that I am now unemployed. You see, getting a phd really fucking impressed that shitty school I was working for. I want to say more about this but there’s some investigation thing going on surrounding my unceremonious discharge so I’m going to wait until that’s resolved to get into specifics.
I’m very very lucky in that I have a partner with a job and health insurance and a good support network. Thank god for that. I’m going to use the time between now and graduation to focus on getting my writing ‘business’ off the ground. More on that soon.
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.
After a few months where I’ve felt like cashing out my chuck e cheese tokens and taking a shitty neon bracelet instead of a phd, things are finally getting better. And there is one specific reason:
Specifically, friends in academia who have finished their own degrees and, seeing my own adviser-less situation, have generously offered to read my stuff and help me out. I resisted for MONTHS, because if reading my old entries have taught me anything, it’s that I’m stubborn and don’t always have the best decision making skills. If I was a cartoon animal, I’d be the coyote who repeatedly runs into the side of the mountain, even though bashing my face the first time should have been a clue that the tunnel was painted on.
I was afraid to send stuff to these well-meaning friends because they are smarter than me and better writers. Sounds perfect, right? Who else would you want to critique your academic bullshit? And even though these people are truly good friends and have never been judgmental in any other respect, I was convinced that they would think I was a complete moron and wonder how the hell I got into grad school in the first place.
But yeah. My sense of despair eventually overcame my vanity. And I only wish I’d gotten over myself sooner, because the feedback I’ve gotten (even though they have no particular expertise in my specific odd corner of academia) has been more thoughtful and considered than anything I’ve seen from my adviser in years.
Now my thesis is in better shape than ever. And all my adviser had to do was sit at the base of some tropical volcano and sip an alcoholic beverage out of a coconut.
So if you are toiling alone in the salt mines and you’re lucky enough to have met some genuine people in grad school, let them help you. You can pay it forward once you’re out in the beautiful fresh clean air.
I’ve started a half dozen entries over the last few weeks but don’t have the enthusiasm to finish writing anything.
My days currently look like this: wake up, eat string cheese, stare at thesis for 9 hrs, eat more string cheese.
The ‘staring at thesis’ bit involves changing a few words here and there, cleaning the kitchen sink, cursing my lack of foresight as a youth, and deleting loads of shit I thought was brilliant but in reality is horrible. I’ve also had a few of those weird trances where you start writing and it feels like looking at one of those magic eye posters from the 90s because you are slightly cross eyed and focusing at something just past the computer screen. Then, after you snap out of the daze, your word count has miraculously increased by 999999 and it’s time to stream an ABBA playlist on youtube because THIS IS PROBS THE BEST THING YOU EVER WROTE!!!!!!! but not.
My ass hurts from sitting all day. I feel like the dead professor from “A Grammarian’s Funeral” but without the genius. Just the atrophied muscle and lack of life.
Anyways, if anyone out there in phd land is suffering through this with me, I am throwing some virtual gang signs in solidarity.
Check this out on your next cheese stick break:
As I have written about before, luckily most of my colleagues are intelligent, kind, helpful people. (And I am very aware that this probably has
something to do with the fact that we are in the basement of the Ivory Tower.)
There is one fine gem of a person, whoever, who has tried to make my life hell in a very passive aggressive way. It all kicked off once upon a time when ze asked if I would switch courses with hir a few days before the new semester started. And since I had never taught that class before or read the book, I said that I didn’t feel comfortable taking on all that work at the last minute. Since then, this person has tried to make my professional life miserable.
I don’t know how this person decided that they have any professional oversight over me. I think it has something to do the fact that I am younger and have kind of an ‘innocent’ appearance. I have the ideal face for a Mormon Missionary. Probably 63% less people would slam their door in my face because I permanently look like my cat is stuck up a tree or I am about to cry, despite the fact that I am a karateman on the inside. Also, regardless of the crazy shit that goes on at Montyburns Inc, I still have a pretty good time most days, having interesting conversations from my other coworkers and learning cool shit from them. This person gets crotchety at the sounds of laughter and fun. Huffing, puffing, eye-rolling…ya know, the maturity as a cartoon wolf. And I think probably some of it is jealousy that I have some academic ‘credentials’, although us cool kids on the internet know what a load of shit this really is.
Anyways. The reason for this rant du jour is that Prof. Fun Hata emailed Monty Burns’ next in line, complaining that the reason so many of our students do poorly in the required lower-level liberal arts courses is because one of the other instructors (moi) isn’t teaching it the same way ze is. Because clearly there is only one way to teach this shit, and it’s with the least amount of imagination possible.
Also, this poor performance has nothing to do with the fact that our population of students are massively unprepared for college (especially the particular entry level classes I teach), and if they do submit “work” , it’s on a 4th grade level.
Dude is an asshole. I hate being around bad vibes like that, but the more I tried to get this person’s approval, the more they seemed to delight in hating me.
So I stopped trying to please hir. This person’s malice should be of no importance to me, though I admit that I am actually a warm blooded human being who likes to snuggle with puppies and watch Julie Andrews movies. And for delicate souls like myself, it doesn’t feel good when people don’t like you, even if they themselves are pricks. Probably Derrida has written some bullshit theory about this. I ignore this person now but will hold the door for them, as I don’t like to be a total asshole.
But emailing Dr. University of Phoenix Online to complain about me, when ze has never stepped foot inside my classroom to see what I actually do?
I’m having a tough time remaining dude-like about this.
It is with a heavy heart that I pen you this missive.
Winter has fallen; the children are hungry and Papa has been dismissed from the gruel factory. Henrik and I lodge with the sheep each night—they are our only reliable source of warmth since depleting our stores of firewood.
Each evening when I hear the sleighbells signalling the postman, my heart sings with hope—perhaps he has brought me one of your much-needed letters! But alas, I am to be forever disappointed! Why do you not respond to my pleas for help? Perhaps I was too needy in wishing for a reply at all?
Mayhap you did not care for the chocolates I sent you, or the half-cow I slaughtered for your ice-house?
Please respond to my letters. We are in desperate need of amnesty. Send oxen, dyptheria medication, warm furs, and 50 lbs potatoes.
Or, failing that, advice on how best to finish my dissertation.
It is my dearest wish to exit phd hell, and you are both my jailer and parole board.
University of Lies