succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Whoa. Just, whoa. (snagged from Sociological Images)

I've had The Paper Chase in my netflix queue pretty much forever, on the recommendation of my parents. But I'm afraid I've missed my window (see academia rant below). Dad says he remembers really liking it once upon a time, but that since his own graduate school experiences, he doesn't think he could sit through it without having a vicarious panic attack. Has anyone seen it? What's the verdict, is law school different enough that I can get some distance from the story and still enjoy it, or will it all be a little too close to home?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Things about which I've been meaning to blog

I think Atlanta is the first place that I've really felt ownership of, in that, 'hey, that's my town you're talking about!' kind of way. Sure, WV will always be Home, but I didn't have any sort of agency in the events that led to me being born there. And I hated Cleveland. I chose Atlanta, and I don't hate it, so I guess it's my place!

Last week, in particular, I was proud that it's my place, as the AJC ran some really lovely reminiscences about MLK's life and death. I was also impressed to learn that while many cities devolved into violence at the news of his assassination, Atlanta kept it together pretty well (at least, according to the history books).

Unrelated to MLK, but still under the ATL heading, how adorable is this? (for those too lazy to follow the link, someone tied a disposable camera to a bench in the Highlands with a note directing strangers to please take pictures)

More from The Impossible Will Take a Little While...
The Peace of Wild Things
Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

"That is America to me - not just the movement for civil rights but the endless struggle to respond with decency, dignity, and a sense of brotherhood to all the challenges that face us as a nation, as a whole." John Lewis (my Congressional representative!)

"Given the catastrophic failure here and abroad of the Kyoto global warming accords, given our newfound post 9-11 imperialist exuberance, given the sagging of the world's economy and the IMF-directed refusal to see any solutions beyond making poor people suffer even more than they always do in the hopes of reviving a market that only ever revives long enough to make the rich even richer, given the eagerness in Washington to explore new and tinier kinds of nuclear bombs, well, it's sort of optimistic to believe its a supernova that's going to get us. It's clear that what's much more likely to get us, if we are got, is our present condition of living in a world run by miscreants while the people of the world either have no access to power or have access but have forgotten how to get it and why it is important to have it." Tony Kushner

And best of all, the entirety of "Jesus and Alinsky" by Walter Wink. Seriously, go read it. I'll wait. "Whatever the source of the misunderstanding, it is neither Jesus nor his teaching, which, when given a fair hearing in its original social context, is arguably one of the most revolutionary political statements ever uttered." Now that's my guy. I think that's why I prefer my Jesus in musical theater and movies rather than enclosed in four walls. He always seems to get watered down, dumbed down, made lame and uninteresting when put in the hands of organized religion.

And this, though not from the book, it seems to fit here - walking back from something on the other side of campus, an Iraq war protester handed me a flier, which included the following:
During the Vietnam War, A.J. Muste stood each night holding a candle in silent protest outside of the White House. When asked by an incredulous reporter if he thoughts this would really change the policy in Vietnam, Muste replied: "Oh, I don't do this to change the country. I do this so the country won't change me."

One down, three to go
Or four down, three to go, if you count the exams - three qualifying exams, one written proposal handed in, one oral presentation of said proposal to go, the actual dissertation document to finish, and the defense of said document. There you have it. All the hoops I have to clear to call myself Dr. I handed in my proposal yesterday, and am alternating between basking in the glory of having expelled the contents of my brain onto 92 pages* and sheer disbelief that two weeks from today I'm supposed to speak authoritatively for 50-ish minutes in front of...well, in front of whomever decides to show up. I keep telling myself that people do it all the time, that I plan on having the sort of career wherein I do this type of thing all the time, but right now the notion just seems impossible. I also keep telling myself that those damn exams seemed impossible in the abstract too, but when the time came I just studied and did it. I can do this too, right?

*I celebrated by going to see Juno (as good as everyone says it is; I love how earnest and genuine Ellen Page is, and Allison Janney always rocks my world, and gets the best line of the movie - "Someone is going to get a sweet gift from Jesus in this garbage-dump of a situation,"), staying in to watch Enchanted (cute, but beyond my suspension of disbelief abilities), and treating myself to a shiny new short hairdo. Yay to having a male hair stylist with big, strong hands to rub all the tension out of your head and neck!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I hate graduate school

Ok, clearly, not really, or why would I be here? But it is what I was thinking while listening to my friend crying over the phone this morning. You see, academia is a mind fuck. Somehow, they (whomever they may be) convince you that every decision you make is monumental, and will determine what you will do for the rest of your life! They start early. Better get good grades and take honors and AP courses in high school, because that will determine whether or not you get in to a good college. Better wrap up those core courses in a hurry (seriously, what a drag, who needs to be a well-rounded student?) and declare a major, something good, because that's what you'll be for the rest of your life! Now get in to graduate school, latch on to some really well-respected professor and hope and pray that he or she will agree to be your advisor, because s/he will shape the rest of your life! Choose something ground-breaking and publishable as your dissertation topic, but you better love it, because it's what you'll get the pattern. And it's all bullshit. Granted, I am quite young (and arguably naive) but in my limited experience, very, very few things in life are permanent.

Poor friend from this morning is struggling with her research, and has become convinced that she is a FAILURE who will surely never get a job. Because, heaven forbid, one should still be learning and making mistakes. It's the academic culture* that does this to us - that has us comparing how many hours we worked against the hours logged by everyone else in the department, that has us convinced that we're just big fakes, about to be unmasked at any minute.

Which is why I feel the same way about academia as I do about gymnastics. Hang in there, I promise to bring it all back around. I don't regret any of my 14 years of gymnastics, but it was in many ways reflective of those negative stereotypes you see on nightly news programs. Parents of small children will sometimes ask me if I think they should enroll their daughter in the sport. I always say it depends on her personality - if she's tough and stubborn, she'll do just fine. Otherwise, better choose something else. Sure, gymnastics brought out and exacerbated some of my lesser qualities, but if it hadn't been gymnastics it would have been something else. And meanwhile, I was always a punk, driving my parents (Mom, mostly, after I threatened to un-invite her from all future competitions at the spry old age of 8) and coaches crazy, until at 14 I finally changed gyms and the new set of coaches essentially threw up their hands and let me coach myself.

But that advice applies to academia too - if you let it, it will crawl inside your brain and whisper how worthless you are in your ear every night. Yes, of course, some departments (fortunately, mine) are warmer and fuzzier than others, but that's also part of the rule about being tough and stubborn. I chose a friendlier department over a colder, but higher ranked one. Every single one of my undergraduate professors was convinced that I was making a huge mistake and would transfer within the year. Now that I'm in grad school everyone smiles knowingly and assumes either a) I'm going into academia (perhaps someday, certainly not right away) or b) Big Pharma (thanks, but no). It's not all that difficult logistically to pave your own career path in academia, but it's pretty scary emotionally. You are, after all, barely done being a kid, so how could your ideas about research and career carry more weight than the advice of your faculty? Hopefully you're lucky enough to find some well-intentioned faculty who will at least hear you out, if not fully agree with your positions. But it has the potential to be a lonely, challenging road if you want to both earn an advanced degree and do something even vaguely unconventional with it (read: not immediately jump into a tenure-track position).

I know, I sound bitter (not to mention defensive), and the more work I do** the more bitter I get. I love my field, and (most days) my department. And my field is, in reality, very applied and collaborative. But the academic version of my field is so screwed up that it makes you feel tremendously inadequate if you don't spend all your time in 'theta-land' (the name my friend made up for always doing theoretical work without ever actually testing your ideas out on, you know, data).

I'm just really, really tired of watching my friends get chewed up and spit out by The Institution.

(for another take on things that suck about academia, see AWB's posts here and here)

*yes, of course, academic culture offers lots of nice things too, like geeky comaraderie, debating tough ideas, expanding mental horizons, etc. etc. There are reasons we end up here.

**the good thing is I'm actually starting to feel genuinely good about my work, and as an added bonus, I'm starting to see through a lot of the inadequacy bullshit, but that just means it pisses me off more frequently