Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Know When to Fold 'Em

I'm in an unusual place of complete detachment from most everything with a sense of some crossroad approaching.  

I am not good at accepting convention or authority..."authority."  I have partially recognized these two personal characteristics for quite some time, but I have very recently come to a full understanding regarding just how much I struggle against them both.  As a result, I've realized and accepted that doctoral level education is not necessarily an especially good fit for me.  I ask too many questions, I'm too obstinate in my belief that there should be equity, justice, and accountability from students and faculty, and my drive to effect change in those areas is leaving me burnt.  Also, it is difficult to be invested in yourself when you are insignificant in the eyes of an institution and the faculty.

I started a project last fall that involved asking people why they were in graduate school or why they went to graduate school.  I asked specifically why they were going through/went through the journey that is graduate education given the notorious reputation it has.  In general, the answers varied between, "I want to be a professor" and "I like to learn."  There were some like, "A PhD equals flexibility" and "I wanted a challenge" but mostly the responses were fairly homogeneous and staid.  Closer to the end of the semester, I asked a few people if their reason had changed.  For some it had changed considerably, others less so.  I noticed that when a change had taken place, it was typically not in a positive way.  I suppose it could be argued that it was in a more realistic direction, but they often involved a sense of disillusionment and sadness.  When I asked what prompted the shift, it was always some combination of institutional bureaucracy paired with a lack of support or disregard from faculty/programs.  For students further along in their programs, there was a sense of draining hopelessness.

There is something truly repellent about the doctoral level of higher education.  I assume that there are many factors that could make one's experience less horrid, unfortunately, the system I am currently navigating seems bereft of the large majority of them.  I think I have also exhausted the modicum of resiliency in myself and my internal/external resources for bolstering it.  People joke about how terrible grad school is, and there are some humorous takes on it, but in a way that makes it all the more tragic.  There is absolutely no defensible reason it has to be anything less than challenging and supportive.  I think the worst convention plaguing higher education is the notion that things are supposed to be miserable, and it is acceptable to maintain that perspective while doing nothing to improve it or advance.  The second worst convention is that "weeding out" of students is necessary and important.  If anything, what a ridiculous waste of time and money on the institution's part!  It would be fascinating to see a program that is focused on supporting students from beginning to end versus establishing arbitrary and inefficient hoops for jumping through in order to pare them down.  Instead of creating new rules and forcing students into precarious funding and academic situations etc., maybe helping them get what they need right away would be more efficient, effective, and economically responsible?

I am at a loss to understand how it is acceptable to maintain mediocrity based on outdated and apathetic attitudes from educators and institutions. Currently, I am hard-pressed to think of a worse defense for higher education than "it's always been done this way" or "creating a policy will fix everything." This is especially true given the mad push for research and maintaining a razor's edge on knowledge.  I am sick of the unresponsive, uninvolved, screw everyone except me (or my program) attitude that pervades academics. And I'm just really sick of caring.  It isn't even worth working from a place of not caring but continuing anyway.    

Undoubtedly, many people have experienced similar concerns and issues.  It would be absurd to think there is a uniqueness in such experience.  Despite that, it's still demoralizing, yet I am not the type of person who gives up easily, or ever.  I only fold to stay in the game for a better hand and higher stakes. Sometimes, I just wish I could call their bluff.      


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Schadenfreude: Written Prelims

In honor of my Monday and Tuesday, a comic dedicated to my cohortmates and profession:
I always make sure to ask if they can special order one.  Maybe I should check Lowe's....

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Steak Hypothesis

My little sister made an astute observation about our father and the way he handles us when we are in distress.  She noted that anytime one of is us upset about something, our father suggests we have a steak.  She further posited that steak does in fact improve any situation by approximately 30-40%.  I decided to test this hypothesis.   

The world looks like this outside.

Inside, this is what studying for a written prelim looks like. 

This is my effort at a 40% improvement in my circumstances this evening.

Ideally it would be paired with this, alas, the bottle was empty.  Oh, churl, drunk all and left no friendly drop to help me after...Reduced Shakespeare Company = Brilliant

 So, in the end I am left with this...

   ... ~55% improvement.