For me, getting to candidacy this year was challenging. Of course, in the end, all went well. I found reading for my qualifying exams rewarding, and having the dissertation prospectus approved was a joy beyond measure. Nevertheless, allowing myself a moment of honesty and vulnerability in this forum, despite the year’s successes I’m left with the feeling I broke with the strategies for success devised in part through blogging with the NGSC, and which were successfully implemented my first and second years. This year, I found myself reading and writing into deadlines–as opposed to allowing thought to open up and evolve over time. Accordingly, and inspired by Deven Parker’s similar post, I thought that composing a piece in the wake of the conclusion of Spring Quarter regarding resolutions for the upcoming academic year starting July 1 would be a positive step towards restoring a sense of balance in how I approach my work. My hope is that it will be helpful to caucus members who, like me, can craft solid work strategies, but may struggle from time to time to sustain the good academic habits carefully cultivated.
1. Goal Setting
Increasingly, I’ve recognized the salience of setting and revising goals as the basis of creating the headspace that not only makes good work possible, but enjoyable. To get back on track, in this respect, I celebrated the end of the academic year by reading Donald Hall’s fabulous book, The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual (2002). Hall’s germane insight is that our academic selves are constructed, and are therefore textual, and thus effectively subject to constant re-reading and transformation, through rigorous and sustained analysis of how you define your teaching, research, and writing, and go about pursuing it. The recommendation Hall makes is to engage consistently, through writing, with the question of you define your academic self-identity, not on the basis of a projection of what others expect of you, but what you expect of yourself. And to build goals from there.
Changes to implement: Journal frequently regarding definition and always evolving sense of academic self, reevaluate quarterly, set yearly and quarterly goals to strengthen processes of self-actualization.
2. Time Management
Careful and conscientious time management constituted the primary reason my first two years of Ph.D. work were balanced, and enjoyable. After taking each Saturday off, I’d list and schedule the next week’s tasks down to the hour. Then, each night of the week when I finished the day’s tasks, I’d create a “to do list” for the next. While I started studying for my exams this way, I eventually let myself become consumed with spending more and more of my time reading, and less and less time planning, as the fall went on. By winter, I had completely stopped. What was ironic about this what that when I originally committed myself to the weekly planning, my worry was that if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my goals at all. Ultimately, that wasn’t the case. The sense of satisfaction with passing my exams dissertation colloquium was there, though I felt like the potential enjoyment of the process each day could have been greater.
Changes to implement: Commit yourself to getting back to thoughtful time management on a weekly and daily basis. Write a blog about it so it’s real.
3. Self Care
Eat lots of good food, and exercise. While I got really into cycling when I was doing my masters in Oregon, starting the Ph.D., I took inspiration from Kelli Towers Jasper’s encouragement to take care of ones body to make the most of ones mind in grad school. As a result, my first year, I spent lots of time biking and ellipticalling–and in my second got really into running for the first time, which got me through my coldest winter yet while working through my qualifying paper. In exams year, though, with the blurring of goals and the decreased dedication to managing my time, this part of my life slipped, with the result that I definitely didn’t feel as energetic as my first two. I’ve also begun to recognize that part of self care for me is consistently reading the news and traveling regularly to read and write in new spaces and places–and epiphany that came when I traveled to Montréal for a Cinema and Media Studies Conference, in March.
Changes to implement: Make and protect time for self care, schedule conferences or visiting romanticist friends whenever possible, and read the newspaper daily.
4. Community Engagement
Prioritizing work with others I now recognize is key, not only for the success of the groups in which one participates, but for the enjoyment of one’s own work as well. To be sure, I only realized this when I traveled to Boulder in the middle of the spring quarter, and was able to work through some of my dissertation ideas with the Colorado Romanticism Collective (July post to come, time management being successful!). I’m now convinced that being able to work with the caucus has provided the foundation for much of my favorite parts of the projects, even when I didn’t know it. Community engagement must by necessity be emphasized when I’m goal setting and planning
Changes to implement: Spend more time reading blogs and blogging more frequently! By NASSR, have read all of the pieces from this year I’ve yet to read.
Conclusion: Accept the Varying Rhythms of Grad School
None of this is to suggest we should be too hard on ourselves. As long as the tasks get done successfully, that’s all that matters–and the ways that happens likely is going to be cyclical and vary. Nevertheless, I’ve become confident in the ways I sense the process underpinning my work as most rewarding. Hopefully, by externalizing my experience here, I can go into the dissertation with a stronger sense of the importance of setting goals, planning the time to realize them carefully, and create adequate space for self care and to take part in the communities that underpin the best of intellectual engagement.
To the new (academic) year!