Thanking You

What with finals around the corner and the end of the semester only kind of in sight, it can be tough for us grads to really enjoy what’s supposed to be a day off to reflect about all the things that make our lives pretty great.

While I can’t promise that I’ll refrain from opening a book until Campus opens again on Monday (our break is Wednesday – Sunday), I can honestly say that I’m going to take at least a moment to honor the spirit of the holiday.

To make sure I do, the following is a partial list of some of the things I am thankful for this year:

  • My incredible advisor who is a super hero, rock star, and academic pit bull all in one. Seriously, this lady is unbelievable. The fact that she does all of the things she does (president of this professional organization, top of that research field, leading expert in all kinds of things, teacher, mentor, philosopher…) is a feat of its own, but on top of everything she makes herself so available to her students. She has done more for me this year than I think I can possibly relate in words, and I am thankful every day for her guidance and wisdom.
  • For that matter; all of my mentors (past, present, and future). They let me ask potentially embarrassing questions without judging me (or at least without telling me that they’re judging me, which is really what counts), they even give me valuable answers despite their own packed research and travel schedules. Every day in dealing with my own students, I only hope to be as awesome to them students as my mentors have been to me.
  • The well-stocked school library with ILL privileges that will get me anything I need from anywhere in the world in a reasonable enough time. With a slight bit of forethought, I can have any book that I might want to put my hands on delivered to me so that I can read and love it. Hooray.
  • A supportive partner who knows when he needs to leave me alone so that I can deal with some red pen problems, when he needs to ask me questions about my work so that I can talk my way out of a funk, and when he just needs to let me cry at him about Edwin Booth.
  • Good smart friends and colleagues with sympathetic ears, appetites for good beer, and heads full of giant brains. As a note: should this year be the year of the inevitable zombie apocalypse, this item of gratitude to the universe would be written no differently. Brains.
  • Lots of tea. And espresso. Oh my espresso machine. And really anything that makes liquid caffeine. As a note: the rest of the world should also be thankful for this and the effect that it has on me. Nobody wants to deal with an uncaffeinated Dani. Trust me.
  •  All of the wonderful theatre companies who continue to include me in their creative plans. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a great many incredible theatre-makers this year, and I look forward to continued opportunities to come.

Alright folks, that’s that. Go eat some turkey and be thankful that you’re not on line at the grocery store. Unless you are in which case you might want to consider how planning impacts your life, stress, and happiness.

Have a great holiday!

You’re into the Time Slip

Time is a weird thing in academia.

The semester starts and things get nuts because you’re trying to fit in all the meetings that you couldn’t have while nobody was on campus over the “break”. You’re getting a feel for your classes, you’re trying to learn names, you’re working through your schedule.

Midterms happen before you know it and you wonder how it could possible be the middle

Pretty library I found recently!

Pretty library I found recently!

of the semester already. Also, you wonder why you assigned so bloody much writing because clearly you are a masochist and wanted to punish yourself with ALL THE GRADING!

Between midterms and finals, you wonder if you’ll ever see the end of the semester. You don’t have much time to wonder this though because, before you know it, you’re chasing down the last loose ends of the semester and looking forward to the much-needed break.

You collapse for a few days right after the semester is over only to realize that whatever “break” you’re on isn’t really a break and that you have a ton of projects to take care of that you were just pushing off until the end of the semester.

The worst part is that nobody in your real life understands why you tend to live cyclically like this. It’s like an eternal butterfly; going around and around its life cycle never truly getting the chance to fly as free as it wants to (….I guess until you wind up taking a sabbatical but that’s a dream that lives evermore in the distant future for me). You wind up having to explain and re-explain that no, you’re not really on a break. All this means is that you don’t have to show up on campus a couple times a week (though you will anyway to make copies, print documents, and rotate your library books). No, friends and family, that’s not the same thing as having “all this free time” to visit or goof off like normal people get to do on their “vacation”. What is “vacation” anyway? A state of mind? A state of being? Some Zen-like state achieved with yoga and too much caffeine?

The end of the semester is so close that I can taste it, but really all that means is an increased stress as deadlines pant their hot vapors down my neck. My plans this semester have had to be loose and flowing due to the inevitable red tape which comes with academic pursuit, and the summer is proving to be no different. There’s almost nothing relaxing about the prospect of what’s to come in the next few weeks.

Rows of green say Spring might JUST be here.... finally.

Rows of green say Spring might JUST be here…. finally.

This is (probably) punctuated by the fact that I’m planning a move to some undisclosed location in the general vicinity (undisclosed, mostly, because it’s so secret that even I don’t know where it is yet… ah the beauties of apartment hunting). It doesn’t matter how you slice it; moving simply sucks.

So if I seem more frantic than usual, it’s probably because I’m trying to contemplate fitting my life into boxes and re-acclimating to a new office space with the most nominal possible break in my standard operating procedures. Oh and because summer isn’t summer anymore; it’s just “work and try not to melt while maintaining your own schedule because your meetings all happen on skype now rather than in person”.

An Observation

Here’s a problem I write about pretty frequently which seems newly pertinent today: when you’re a good academic, you never stop working.

I can’t tell you the last time I spent a whole weekend without answering a work-related e-mail, cracking a work-related book, doing a library run, doing work-related writing, discussing my research, sitting at my desk, contemplating a draft, going to rehearsal, doing research, or just flat-out tagging an extra two days onto my work week.

In any other field, this would be called “workaholism”. The constant drive to continue doing whatever it is that earns you a paycheck without a regular break is widely regarded as an unhealthy work habit.

And yet, somehow, in academia it is encouraged.

Oh sure they tell you “take time off” or “walk away from your desk at the end of the day”, but really, do we? In the age of smart phones, is it even possible to leave your work at work? And what does that mean since the ivory tower is such a theoretical construct? It would be impossible for me to function if having healthy work habits meant that I could only work when on campus.

I’ve had to find ways to delineate the boundaries between my work and my life (for example, unless it’s the middle of summer and a scorcher day and thereby I need to seek refuge in air conditioning somewhere, I only work at my desk and will not bring reading to my couch or my bed no matter how tempting). But even I, with a keen eye on this issue, find that work creeps into every aspect of my life.

While out having an amazing time this weekend, I couldn’t avoid the fact that I was receiving e-mails related to my class, or my exams, or my upcoming conferences. I couldn’t stop blathering about the research I was doing and the new things I’ve realized about American actor training. My head so far into this game, it’s not really possible (I think) to leave this by the wayside.

It may just be that I’m at a particularly taxing point of the PhD process (well… I definitely am), but I can’t help but feel that this is an under-attended issue.

That being said, I have nominal suggestions for how to fix it. Thought patterns being what

....spectacular adventures like this one.  I rode an elephant!

….spectacular adventures like this one. I rode an elephant!

they are, the best work is going to come from immersion. My plan this semester was to dive in head first and take a nice long break when I popped up on the other side (so… in December sometimes). Meanwhile, I’ve been content with having a few spectacular adventures during the in-between times.

And now… back to the grind.


I’m at a truly odd point of my PhD process.  That is: the in-between place.

Right now, I’m not quite a “Student” not quite a “Candidate”.  I’ve passed 2/3 of my exams, but I still have 1/3 to go before I can say that I’ve completed them and, thereby, moved into the next stage of my PhD.

Explaining this to folks who are outside of the academy has been an interesting process.  There are many terms and definitions that are commonplace to us denizens of the ivory tower but sound mostly the same to folks on the outside.  As such, I’ve found myself having the same conversation over and over again (which I don’t begrudge; it’s wonderful that

...bringing this one back because it's quite possibly my favorite pic I've ever posted on the blog.  I am, in fact, a Shakespeare Paladin.

…bringing this one back because it’s quite possibly my favorite pic I’ve ever posted on the blog. I am, in fact, a Shakespeare Paladin.

folks in my life care enough about me to ask questions about this process).  However, since I’ve found that it is a common communication issue, I also think it would be useful to have an easy-access reference guide for those less-than-familiar with this process.

So, in case you have a struggling Graduate Student in your life, here’s some good vocabulary for you to know:

A.B.D.: Stands for “All But Dissertation”.  This is a colloquial term that we use to refer to someone who has passed all of her degree requirements except writing the book.  It’s also a way to refer to someone who is a….

Doctoral Candidate: Someone who has passed all degree requirements except the dissertation (generally means that the dissertation is in process).  This is not to be confused with…

Doctoral Student: (Yes, this is a different thing, only in academia….)  A Doctoral Student is someone who is in progress with the early parts of the degree (coursework, exams, etc.).  Alternately, someone who has been accepted into a program but hasn’t started that program yet.  As an aside: mixing up these two terms can be… awkward.  You are either giving someone credit for work they did not already do and thereby devaluing that work, or taking away a hard-earned benchmark.  I have, over the years, been called by well-meaning onlookers a “Doctoral Candidate” and even “Dr. Rosvally” before needing to quickly correct this.  In an industry that functions almost exclusively on the importance of words, it is not considered supportive to devalue those words by using them outside of their accepted meanings.  In short: try to use the appropriate title for someone in the process of his PhD.  Don’t worry; you have the rest of his lives to call him “Dr.”.

Comprehensive Exams: Or “Comps” (yes, if you’ve been following this blog at all over the last few months, you already know what this means).  The exhaustive, stressful exam generally administered at the end of coursework (sometimes administered in steps over the course of coursework) that proves a student is a competent generalist in her field and, thereby, is qualified to move on to the next step.

Orals: Sometimes, the comps include an oral examination as well as a written examination (this is the case in my department).

Dissertation: The large piece of writing you produce as one of the final steps in your PhD process.  This is an exhaustive, original piece of scholarship and (presumable) a PhD’s first long-term project.  It is sometimes colloquially shortened to “diss”.  It is not to be confused with a…

Thesis: This generally refers to the culminating project of a Master’s degree.  It is shorter than a dissertation and with less expectations of originality.  The big difference between a Master’s degree and a doctoral degree is that a Master’s degree shows that you have mastered a given field while a doctoral degree shows that you have added something to the field.  The capstone writing projects for each degree exhibit this difference; the thesis is based upon work that has already been done and the dissertation is something completely new.

Home Institution: The place where a scholar calls “home”.  This implies that the scholar is somehow in residence at the institution, either as a student, candidate, or professor.

 Committee: An assembled group of scholars (who, ideally, have some expertise in the field which the candidate is writing about) who evaluate the dissertation for its worthiness

alternately, you could find a partner to go dance in a bookstore with.  No word of a lie, this is a past time of mine.

alternately, you could find a partner to go dance in a bookstore with. No word of a lie, this is a past time of mine.

as an original piece of scholarship.  Generally, this group consists mostly of scholars from the candidate’s home institution with one outside reader for consistency/fairness/representation of the field at large.

So now that you’re able to use the lingo, your academic street cred just went up by at least 10%.  Seriously.  Go have a latte and stand on the steps of the library chatting about your most recent re-read of a major canonical work and see if I’m wrong.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Year One: In the Books

As if 08:30 hours this Sunday morning past, I have done the inevitable, the wonderful, what I thought for some time was the highly improbable; I have finished year one.

Yes, ladies and gents, with one click of a button, that final final was sliding on home to the comfy cozy inbox of my professor and thus closing the book on half of my coursework (…though actually more than half because this year consisted of six classes and next year will consist of four, but let’s not quibble over the small bits, shall we?)

I would like to say that I sent the e-mail then promptly took my pants off, got cozy on the couch, and didn’t move for several days, but in reality I sent the e-mail, ran around my house for a while, drove for two hours, and worked a sixteen-hour day followed by a night of sleeping like the dead then went to a dramaturgy session where I spent two and a half hours sifting through Measure for Measure line by line and explicating every fine detail for my director… when I came home from that THEN I took my pants off, got cozy on the couch, and didn’t move for several hours.  Unfortunately, today can’t be as carefree as yesterday as I still have two professional deadlines nipping at my heels in addition to several personal projects which require my attention…

But I did buy myself ice cream last night.  And I do feel a certain sense of levity.  And I do feel utterly and completely accomplished.  Summer just tastes different – like watermelon and strawberries.  And, having finished my last final, I can safely say that it tastes like summer.

But before I get too far ahead of myself, let me take a moment to revel in what I actually just did.  Over the course of the past year I have: survived the initial shock of PhD work, thrived in the Tufts environment, learned more than I can possibly describe (and learned about a whole host of other things that I now need to learn), kept up with a rigorous course load, not driven myself crazy, met the demands and expectations of my wonderfully demanding professors, kept myself on track professionally and hit all the professional development goals I had realistically set for myself, maintained contact with the outside world (some sections of it more than others and at some moments more contact than others), not made an abject fool of myself in class (and if I did, I don’t know about it because ignorance on this front is bliss), come to grips with my job as a professional academic, stepped out into the wider world of academia at two large conferences with my shiny Tufts byline…

And blogged faithfully twice a week to prove it all!

I cannot even describe how grateful I am to everyone this year for the support, the love, and the cheering section.  I’ve said it before, but I don’t think I could have known what I was getting into even if someone had attempted to tell me.  This year has been rough.  You, dear readers, have definitely made things more bearable and for that I am so thankful.  

Some Statistics for this Semester…

Total library books taken out this semester: 77
Total minutes of in-class presentation given: 85
Total turned-in pages at end of semester: 70
Total pages of drafts written: 337
Total performances attended: 13

So, Dani, you just finished the first year of your PhD, what are you going to do now?  Well, I do have one class over the summer.  I’m taking a German for Reading course in hopes that it will help me pass an exam to fulfill my second language requirement.  I’ve never studied German before and it’s been a while since I’ve done any kind of learning other than “read and discuss”, so this should be very interesting.

In addition, I have a few papers I’ll be taking some time to polish and submit.  It’s time to publish lest I perish, and being a model ABD ain’t just a pipe-dream for a kid with a hope and a dollar.  I will also be making as big a dent on the comps list as I can in my copious amounts of free time.

To further impinge upon that free time, I’m serving as Dramaturge for Tufts’ 2012 production of Measure for Measure.  We don’t start rehearsing until deep fall, but the summer is when we’re getting our acting edition together.  This means that I’ll be spending my days working with the director to get the script into the shape we want it (much more exciting and difficult than it sounds – don’t worry, I’m sure that this will be blog fodder all summer long).

This year, I have been pushed to the outer walls of my limits.  I have accomplished things which I, at points, didn’t think possible.  And, I’ve done it with panache and style!  Here’s the good news for all you faithful readers (and perhaps the bad news for me): the worst is not over by a long shot.  I’ve been fastidiously advised by my senior peers as I was crossing the finish line this semester that coursework is the easiest part of this entire process.

Well, darn it.  I guess I should spend another year in easy land and truly brace for what’s to come.  Because if this is easy, then I’m not sure how I’m going to handle the hard stuff…

But for now, I am hopeful.  It’s a beautiful day, I have a paper to revise, and my red pen is itching for some action.  After that I’m going to lounge on my couch for a while before a rock-climbing date with my favorite traveling companion.

Today: the rock gym.  Tomorrow: the world.

And for now: I will take a much deserved bow.