roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Posts Tagged ‘i hate grad school

What It Feels Like to Be This Close to Submitting Your PhD

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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.


Written by universityoflies

November 29, 2013 at 21:16

on hope.

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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?


I’m alive!

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.


The Things You Read in Graduate School

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In a quest to distract myself from end of semester madness, I am currently reading some wonderful and terrible things.

First, the wonderful:

In Week Four, Zipperstein assigned Umberto Eco’s The Role of the Reader.  It hadn’t done much for Madeleine.  She wasn’t all that interested, as a reader, in the reader.  She was still partial to that increasingly eclipsed entity: the writer.  Madeleine had a feeling that most semiotic theorists had been unpopular as children, often bullied or overlooked, and so had directed their lingering rage onto literature.  They wanted to demote the author.  They wanted a book, that hard-won transcendent thing, to be a text, contingent, indeterminate, and open for suggestions.  They wanted the reader to be the main thing.  Because they were the readers.

-Jeffery Eugenides, The Marriage Plot, p.42

Eugenides’ book (NOT text) takes place in/around the English department at Brown in the 1980s, when all of this bullshit became in vogue.  I am guessing that some of Madeleine’s views are autobiographical, as Eugenides was at Brown himself around the same time.  It’s a hilarious send up on some of the egos and viewpoints that continue to make the life of a grad student…difficult.  The whole thing is intelligent and delightfully fucking self-aware (meta, you might say) and the ending is as satisfying and clever.

Now let’s move on to the terrible:

Furthermore, the ‘age of metaphysics’ that Derrida demarcates becomes all the less propitious to the logocentric thesis in that those areas in which the question of writing was raised–general grammar, the Leibnizian project of the characteris universalis— exerted energies more accommodating to a nascent grammatology than metaphysical phonocentrism.

-Sean Burke, The Death and Return of the Author, I forget the page but you can’t pay me to open that book again.

First of all, spell check didn’t recognize half of those letter groupings to be actual words.  When have you last seen such pretentious garbley obfuscation ?  Earlier today I read it out loud to someone much older, smarter, and well read than me and ze had no idea what the hell Burke was talking about either.  I’m inclined to agree with Madeleine though.  How can the ‘author’ die?  Without the author, you only have blank pages, or maybe trees.  I am so sick and tired of having to take random philosophy and use it as a framework to interpret texts that have nothing to do with said framework.  I’m going to take the McDonald’s dollar menu and use that as a theoretical framework.  It would have about the same level of relevancy.

As I near the mythical day where my thesis is ‘finished’, I keep getting feedback around the bits where I have made (what I believe to be) some kind of new conclusion, my contribution to the ever expanding ‘field’.  And right next to these conclusions are comments telling me that this should really be the starting point of the discussion, and that I should use Spivak, Derrida, Kant, or Fergus McShitland to help me develop a framework upon which to hang this future discussion.

Except I feel like I am DONE.  I have nothing left to say.  And that statement is my fucking conclusion, because I have CONCLUDED.  The majority of the theory books I have read maybe have 2 interesting bits in 200 pages.  And because Burke or whoever did not want their TEXT to be an article but a book, they had to wax the fuck on for an additional 190 pages in order for it to be published.

I do not want to follow their lead.  So I guess I will continue to play by my rules and hope that I escape with those very fucking expensive three letters after my name.

Technology for the Classroom Can Suck Donkey Scrote

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Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon at heart.  But I don’t think technology has a huge place in the classroom.

Portable telephones, you say?  But where's your portable telegraph pole?

Portable telephones, you say? But where’s your portable telegraph pole?

Not when you are in the humanities, anyways.  Or if it does, the instructor should be the one controlling it.

Why do my students (and yours, fo sho) pay tens of thousands of dollars each semester for the privilege of sitting in a classroom, only to ignore every fucking thing that is happening around them?

Let me tell you a story, gentle reader.

I wasted spent my weekend coming up with lesson plans to introduce what my students would consider a difficult and inaccessible text.  I was pretty excited about it too, because I came up with a few gimmicky fun activities to ‘trick’ them into learning and ease them into the text.  And then some visuals to make the text come alive before we began the herculean feat of interpreting it all.

So how did it work out on the battlefield?  Well, the ‘fun’ stuff was fun.  There was attention and participation.  Better than I could have expected.  Then the idea was to show a few minutes of a related film, to give em a visual.

So picture it, Sicily 1937.  The movie is on, the lights are off. The film may or not feature artfully arranged facial hair and unintentionally hilarious accents.

I saw a student on their phone and told hir to put it away.  A minute later, I turned my eyes away from the film to do a lifeguard eye sweep of the room, and see another student smiling to hirself as hir heroin screen glowed under hir finger.  I realize typing this out that it shouldn’t seem like such a big fucking deal but I felt outraged like some shitty roman emperor realizing his subjects don’t really love him but just want protection from gangs of marauders.

So I shut the movie off and stared at them.  Asked again for what felt like the millionth time this semester, why the hell are you guys here if you are just going to stare at your phones?  And I gave them an assignment to do that, as I later realized, is really just a punishment for me since I’ll have to read the damn things.

So do I have to buy one of those stupid cell phone jammer things? (Or make one, MacGuyver style, since technology ain’t cheap?)

I guess the real problem is that what we do in my classroom isn’t important to my students.  If it was, they wouldn’t be on their fucking phones at all.

So how the hell do I deal with that?

Academic Coworkers with Horrible Attitudes: A Rant.

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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

My coworker does not like foamy lattes.

My coworker does not like foamy lattes.

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.

What are Fair Expectations for a PhD Adviser?

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So what exactly is “fair” in the realm of phd advisement?

Ugh,university of lies...Hogwarts is not big enough for both of us.

Ugh,university of lies…Hogwarts is not big enough for both of us.

Besides the obvious things, like answering your advisees emails, meeting with them every once in awhile, and not jumping into a dumpster, neverending story style if you should happen to pass your advisee on the street. (They probably can’t beat you up anyway.)

There’s such a wide range across the spectrum of phd advisers–you have individuals like my former adviser, who never read any of my material, period.  And then you have the other extreme– really industrious, kind souls who return your work a week or two after you write it and invite you over for dinner with their family on a routine basis.  I recognize that both of these examples are outliers, but it still leaves me feeling ill-equipped to determine if I am being ‘fucked with’ right now, or if I  have allowed myself to become so broken by the system that whatever sense of judgement I had is warped beyond belief.

Interweb friends, please help a muggle out here: what is a reasonable amount of time for a supervisor to respond to one of your emails? days?  weeks?

how many times do you need to contact your adviser before you get a response?  my magical number is more than one and less than 6.  and how long of a turnaround on a chapter is ‘ok’ in a ‘you are not being taken for a chump’ kind of way?

The next question is, is there anything in the fucking world I can do to speed this process up?

Written by universityoflies

March 4, 2013 at 15:39

I am the Rhianna to Higher Ed’s Chris Brown.

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I don’t think that title is too dramatic.rihanna-headshot-big

(legal disclaimer: ok, maybe a tad..)

The whole thing does reek, though.  I am still in phd limbo and  have no idea what the next step is with my own writing.  Academia, I can’t wait until I quit you.

But the mindset is so pervasive.  This morning I was fantasizing about how fucking free I will feel when the whole thing is submitted and defended and I get a dumb title on my snail mail.  And my next thought was how I should just submit the dissertation to publishers, because it will basically be a book already.  It’d be a waste to not have it published, right?  And the I realized that it would probably need to be edited to hell and back, and the idea of that fills me with refried bean vomit.  And also, why bother? Why put myself in a position where I am wasting precious months of life agonizing over a document that nobody will ever read when I have no interest in joining the ranks of the Stuffy Tweed Brigade, as I do not want to become an endangered species/mythical creature?  It’s just the fucking mindset is so hard to break.  Just one more paper.  One more year on the job search circuit.  It’s like crack but without the good feelings.  Ahem.

Teaching is also kind of a sado-maschocistic job.  Like being one of those people who get paid to spank balding men who work in management.  Or  like dating notorious jackass and woman hater, Chris Brown.  It’s easy to get addicted to the adrenaline rush of it all.  The performance aspect, the russian roulette feeling that despite your meticulously planned lesson, anything could happen.  Sometimes it goes better than you could have hoped, and your students get into a heated debate about killing a mammoth spider in the classroom because you’re reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and they’re using bits of the text to justify their position, and wow.  It feels like you won the fucking lottery or saved 10000 souls for jesus that day.

But when it’s bad, its bad.

Here are some things that regularly occur in the classroom that I hate:

1. When, upon trying to be Socratic and shit, you send a pretty basic question out there into the ether and either a. 50 blank faces stare back at you like you are a fucking asshole, or b. someone tries to answer your question with the most random shit ever, like an anecdote about their dad’s girlfriend or the word ‘twentington.

2. When you spend 5 minutes explaining what “deus ex machina” is, only to be asked immediately after, “What’s ‘deus ex machina’?”

now 3. is a new one and a favorite… I have a student who sleeps with hir eyes open for most of the session.  But ze must have a well-concealed wifi connected device, because they randomly volunteer equal parts  highfalutin and random shit.  So the other day, ze raised hir hand and goes, “The metaphysical aspect of praxis is demonstrated in lines 98-104 of the text.” So I asked for some clarification or a specific example, and just got, ‘uhhhhh.. i can’t find it now.’ BAM muthafucker!!!! I got you! Which means absolutely nothing, you probably still think you are 8 million times smarter than me and who knows, maybe you are right.

That last one is probably what bothers me the most.  That I get so wrapped up in trying to ‘defeat’ plagiarists or students who are trying to get one over on me and it really doesn’t matter.  I won’t get paid more if I ‘catch’ them.  It doesn’t mean I ‘win’.  I can’t change a person like that and all it accomplishes is making me less dude-like.

So I am making a promise to myself that this is my last semester teaching.  I am still kicking around my business idea and am going to be more serious about making it happen.  There’s got to be a more satisfying and less destructive way to make a buck.

Written by universityoflies

February 8, 2013 at 21:25