This summer, I have the extraordinary privilege of being a Fellow with the GIFT program here at Tufts University. GIFT is a clever acronym for Graduate Institute For Teaching and it’s really an amazing program. Every summer, fellows are chosen from amongst Doctoral Candidates university-wide to participate in the institute. Seminars are held in various aspects of teaching and pedagogy and are conducted by top teachers from all of the disparate departments.

So far, the seminars have been delightful and extremely applicable to my job. I’m learning

A pano of my book fort that I took to show the other fellows what my workspace looks like

A pano of my book fort that I took to show the other fellows what my workspace looks like

a lot about teaching, and I’m learning a lot about being a graduate student.

You see, this is the first time that I’ve encountered other Tufts Doctoral Candidates in the wild. This is the first chance I’ve had to have close contact with a group of people so very like me, but also incredibly different. Lunchtime chats are dominated by discussing the similarities and differences in our fields, what Quals are like, what it means to work on a dissertation or culminating project, and what we expect to do when we grow up.

And the food. I have to say this about being a Fellow: in addition to being a really cool title (tee hee… I’m a “Fellow”), it also comes with certain expectations. You work hard, you make sure to represent your department in the best light that you can, and you try your hardest not to get fat. They’re feeding us really well at this program and it’s definitely been a source of mid-day delight and end-of-day regret.

In all seriousness, having somewhere to be every day first thing in the morning is a welcome change of pace. I wake up, I have coffee, I dress like I care what other people think of me. I’ve worn two blazers this week and four different pairs of shoes. The isolation of graduate study is a really crushing beast to deal with and my involvement with this program has been pivotal to understanding several concepts which, in theory, I knew but which, in practice, I had yet to truly uncover for myself. Impostor syndrome affects all of us. We all have trouble doing one thing or another and that doesn’t reflect our expertise as professional academics, just our growth as humans. There will always be a student who you don’t quite know how to reach, but with the right support system you can better enrich both her experience in the classroom and yours.

The program is a lot more intense than I was expecting it to be and I have found that I’m exhausted at the end of the day (and certainly now, at the end of the week, I’m dragging to get through the last tasks I need to accomplish before I can rest a bit this weekend). It has been so very worthwhile already, though, and I’m excited to see what the rest of the program has in store.

Also, you’ve never felt like you’re in an incredible discussion until you’ve been in a room full of budding experts in fields from Theatre History to Theoretical Physics. Just saying, we’re pretty smart.

Teaching: The Hidden Cost

While I hear it a lot less frequently now (mostly due to a work-imposed social exile that keeps me in my cave hunched over my books by candlelight most evenings), I’ve definitely heard it before.  It’s the bane of every teacher ever and something that, try as we might, we simply can’t escape.  “Oh, so, your semester ends soon which means that you’ll just be goofing off for a few months, right?”

This tune is a byproduct of a general lack of comprehension about a teacher’s job.  The idea that we are only working when standing in front of a classroom is completely deceptive.  Let me give you an idea of the hidden fees of teaching…

If I teach a class which meets twice a week for two hours each meeting (not uncommon; right now my class meets twice a week for 2 hours and fifteen minutes each session), I am in the classroom for that time certainly.  But how about the time it takes me to prepare the class?  If the class is a course I’ve taught before, it might take me between ten minutes and a half hour to prep my lesson plan and materials for the day.  Not a big deal.  If the class is a class that I have not taught before, or a session that I’m adding to a previously taught course, I might spend upwards of one to two hours preparing a lecture (depending on how familiar I am with the material, how much visual material I need to prepare, and how many handouts I need).

But wait, there’s more.

my classroom for stage combat this spring; not your typical, but definitely my style

my classroom for stage combat this spring; not your typical, but definitely my style

I also assign written work at least once every other week.  Grading these pieces will take me approximately fifteen minutes per piece of written work (unless it’s a longer paper, in which case we’re looking at at least a half hour per).  Multiply this by eighteen (for the number of students I have in a typical class) and that’s 4.5 hours of grading (at minimum) every other week.

But wait, there’s still more.

I’m required to hold office hours at every institution where I teach.  I tend to do mine by appointment, but generally I’ll have at least one hour per week on average over the course of the semester devoted to my students completely outside of the classroom.

Oh, and the administrative duties I take care of (like my roster, class participation grades, and sundry e-mails).  Depending on how much support my class needs, I can spend several hours a week doing this; let’s say a combined total of two hours on average per week.

Add all this up and you’re looking at thirteen hours a week minimum for one class.  A teaching load for a contracted professor might be 2/3 (two classes one semester, three another), but adjunct life is not so kind.  It’s not unusual for us to take on between four and five classes in a semester if we can get them.  That’s a sixty-five hour week just devoted to getting your classes taught (this does not include commute time, which can be substantial for adjuncts who need to move around in order to acquire the coarse load that makes a sustainable pay-check).

According to the Adjunct Project, an invaluable source of information about these things, the average pay for an adjunct is $2,987 per three-credit course.  Multiply that times the proverbial ten classes that creates the proverbial sixty-five hour week to determine the average salary of such an individual: $29,870 per year… with no health benefits or job security.

Oh, and, this doesn’t take into account the dissertation (which for most people is a second full-time job; that is, if you want to finish it in a socially appropriate time).

I don’t mean to sound like a negative Nancy or come off complaining about my lot; I actually love my various jobs and it’s a joy to work them.  But I want to make extremely clear the kinds of sacrifices that someone in my position (not necessarily me) makes just to teach a good class, live a sustainable lifestyle, and achieve her long/short terms goals.  Let me tell you how many family gatherings I’ve missed just this year because of my job.  If I choose to take a few days off in the middle of the week or (gasp!) over the summer, those are hard-earned days that I fought uphill to get.

So please; before you cast aspersions about “summer holidays”, think twice.  And think twice about the education you/your children have received/are receiving then say a little “thank you” to the adjuncts out there who labored to give it to you/them.  Adjunct kind will thank you for this.

Reduce, Reuse, Revise

I’m deep in the thralls of writing my prospectus, which essentially means dealing with a great deal of feedback on a regular basis.  This feedback is all constructive and extremely useful, and I’m learning a lot about so many different aspects of the academic process.  That said, I’d be lying if I told you that this was anything but overwhelming at times.  Because, let’s face it, if you’re a writer there is nothing more nerve-wracking than getting feedback on your work.

Here’s the big problem: you wouldn’t be showing your work to someone if you thought it was horrible.  Yes, of course you know that there will always be little kinks and things that you need to sort out, and every piece of writing is a work in progress (how often have I had to go re-jigger something I’ve published on this blog because someone caught a spelling or grammar error that I simply didn’t?).  Despite this, you wouldn’t be doing your work if you didn’t think it was important and/or worthwhile, so allowing someone a window into

This is a bookstore; not my apartment; but I kinda wish I lived here.

This is a bookstore; not my apartment; but I kinda wish I lived here.

your world before the work is complete is extremely anxiety provoking.  What might they say?  You know it isn’t done, but how done is “done” and can this be done enough that it makes sense to someone outside of your brain?  Will they judge you as a horrible writer, person, teacher because your draft wasn’t pristine?  IT COULD BE THE END OF THE WORLD AS YOU KNOW IT!

Feedback is an important part of the writing process.  I always tell my students to write with enough time to ask for peer and/or mentor input.  What makes sense inside your head will almost always make sense to you on paper but it’s the other person that this all has to coalesce for.  Having someone else take a look at your work is a vital counter-check to ensuring logic, sensibility, relevance, and efficacy in communicating your thought process.

This is especially true if you’re experimenting with a style of writing that you don’t normally utilize.  The first time you write a cover letter, or CV, or (in my case) a prospectus, you’re bound to do a few things wrong.  After all, if you knew how to do everything, why aren’t you making a million dollars running the world at the top of you own evil empire?  Remembering that feedback is a constructive part of the process can sometimes be difficult; again, if you’re like me, you put your heart into your work.  You sweat, you cry, you bust your proverbial bum to make certain that there’s something special and worthwhile in every piece you turn out.

So cut yourself some slack when you let someone else in.  It’s okay to feel disappointed that you didn’t “DO IT RIGHT” the first time.  Us perfectionists are always going to put pressure on ourselves, but doing so also means that we need to develop a keen ability to let it go (this is still in progress for me, I’m not great at the whole “let it go” part… despite Idina Menzel’s insistence otherwise).  Getting back on the horse, back at your desk, and back in the fray is what’s going to keep you working (and sane) in the long run.

I like to think of the revision process as forging a paper (much like forging a blade).  You put the unmolded lump through fire and hammer it until it looks more like what it’s supposed to.  Then you cool it off in ice.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Each iteration lends strength to the finished product and, with perfunctory repetition, you don’t turn out something with integrity.  Maybe you’ve made an object that looks pretty, but it lacks the strength to do what it was meant to.  Under the pressure of battle, it will fall apart and be useless.  The only thing that will give the finished product the strength it needs is constant and vigilant reshaping.

Besides, the process of ripping something apart can be extremely cathartic once you get through the preliminary tearing.  The longer you sit with those red-penned drafts, the longer you have to get worked up over the feedback.  So face your fears; conquer the red pen; let us go boldly forth today comrades, and revise.  ONWARD!  INTO THE NIGHT!


Books Don’t Keep you Warm

Here is your obligatory complaining about the weather post: on Tuesday it was warm enough for a run outside.  Today I’m going to have to shovel my driveway before I leave for class.  Because I live in New England.

I’ve spent the week looking yearningly out of windows and hoping that the words “Spring Break” would actually mean something to the weather gods.  Unfortunately for me, the weather gods are tricksy jerks and care not for a university schedule, or even the pleas of a desperate doctoral candidate looking for some small way to salvage what’s left of her sanity.

On that note, I don’t know why I’m continually surprised at the revivifying quality that exercise has on my mind.  No matter how many times I prove it to be true, I am consistently astounded by the fact that if I go for some kind of physical activity right at the point when my eyes get bloobity and I can’t really read/comprehend what’s on the page in front of me, an hour later I’m raring to go again.  This re-realization only compounds my yearning for the warmer weather; convincing myself to go outside for an hour is so much easier when “outside” is a pleasant place to be.  I do break down and move my workouts indoors during inclement weather, but even walking from my door to the gym can sometimes be a fight when it’s bitter and leaky out there.

If anyone knows anyone who has a hookup with someone who can make spring come faster here in Massachusetts, I’d be ever so grateful.  I’m plumb tired of being cold.

Dissertation work is draining, and my book fort doesn’t seem to be moving one way or another.  This is mostly due to the fact that the minute I manage to reduce my “to read”

artistic desk shot.  This doesn't really expound the extent of the book fort, but it does look pretty.

artistic desk shot. This doesn’t really expound the extent of the book fort, but it does look pretty.

pile to workable number, I get another dose of ILL books from the library and stack them on top again.  Despite diligently hacking away at the pile on my desk (which at one point this week was tall enough to literally bury me), I’m still surrounded by things that need to be read.

I suppose I should look at the other end for any indication of real progress: it is true that my “have read” book fort is steadily growing larger.  It has, at this point, expanded to the point of walling me into my desk.  I have to traverse an obstacle course before I can actually sit down these days.  The scary part is that I haven’t even really begun to work on the bulk of the project; I’m still just picking at the edges.  I suppose that means I’ve chosen a topic ripe for exploration, but it does leave me a wee bit nervous about just how many library books I’m going to be held accountable for before this is all over.

And that’s not even to consider the archival work ahead of me.  I’ve identified piles upon piles of things that I’ll have to sort through; but at least those items won’t follow me home.  Well, they will, but in neatly sifted digitized form so that they won’t take up any room on my floor (just on my hard drive).

And on that note, it’s time to re-launch today’s attack upon Research Mountain.  Wish me luck!


Through Good Times and Bad

In case you haven’t been super-stalking my digital life, you may or may not know that I’ve just come off a grand adventure.  Three days; three plays; three reviews.  All have been posted to New England Theatre Geek (since in my copious free time I moonlight as a reviewer there), and you should check them out if you’re at all interested in the American Shakes-scene right now.

What this really means is that I’m exhausted.  I’ve been working so much that I’ve forgotten what “fun” is.  I demonstrated this fact the other day when I sat down to my desk, looked at the pile of books I set aside to read that day for my Prospectus prep, and thought unironically “THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST DAY!”  (… it was “THE BEST DAY”

Not my book fort, but some days it feels this way.  This is a used bookstore in Salem, MA.

Not my book fort, but some days it feels this way. This is a used bookstore in Salem, MA.

for maybe two hours before I realized that I had about 1,000 pages of reading to do before sundown, wasn’t getting through it as fast as I wanted to, and OH BY THE WAY also had a veritable pile of other work to do).  The stationary bicycle of PhD work has really got me down this week, and as a result I’m plugging along like the little engine that could (“I THINK I CAN I THINK I CAN”), or if you prefer, Dory the forgetful fish (“JUST KEEP SWIMMING! JUST KEEP SWIMMING!”).  That said, I have a hard time sitting down at my computer for more than twenty minutes without my eyes glazing over.  It’s just the way it is sometimes.

The problem is that it will always be like this on occasion.  There are days, no matter what you’re doing and how much you love doing it, that you simply don’t wanna.  Heck, there might even be whole weeks when you simply don’t wanna.  That doesn’t mean you don’t love your work, it just means that you’re a human being and not a research machine.

Understanding this and getting through it is a process.  Up until now, I’ve prided myself on the point that I can work through just about anything; extreme weather conditions (you laugh, but it’s actually a problem in deep summer when your apartment doesn’t have central air or deep winter when you’re freezing mid-day because you’re trying to keep your heating bills down), extreme emotional conditions (life happens and you still have to work), extreme stress (I swear I will never again be able to hear the words “exams” without a small spine-tingling shudder), extreme pain (I’ve undergone minor surgery and still had to work the same day), and extreme workload.  The fact that these extenuating factors take their toll is not something that I’ve cared to put much thought into, but we need to face reality.

Being a graduate student is hard.  Doing the work for a Ph.D. is REALLY hard.  There’s a

A gem from my stack of dissertation reading.

A gem from my stack of dissertation reading.

reason that not everyone gets one.  What we’re doing is extraordinary.  Period.  If, at any time, you feel tired, overwrought, or wrung out, it’s probably because you’re working your smart little elbow patches off.

This work is exhausting, life-consuming, and never-ending.

It’s also incredibly fulfilling, exciting, and the most enormous privilege.

To pretend otherwise is ridiculous.

There’s good and bad in everything and, when you’re doing something extraordinary, the extremes are pretty extreme.  Admitting this is not admitting defeat.  If you’ve hit a point where you’re just tired don’t let it stop you, but don’t assume that it makes you weak or lesser in some way.  Taking breaks is healthy and finding your break zen is important to productivity (I, for instance, need longer days to work at a slower pace.  I will take an hour and a half mid-day to fit a workout in, but I will work until 9 or 10 at night to get what needs doing done).

Really, though, if you’re going through a rough patch for whatever reason, be gentle with yourself.  It doesn’t make you a bad scholar, it doesn’t make you a bad teacher, and it certainly doesn’t make you a lesser person.  Just take a moment to accept that you’re a human being.  Remember your triumphs, and consider slowing your pace just a tad.  You’ll pick up the slack when you’re back in the saddle.  As long as less work doesn’t become a habit, it all evens out in the end.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go watch some trashy television and detox from my Academic Life for a while.  If you need me, I’ll be on my couch with my Netflix.



After a hard-fought uphill battle, I am EXTREMELY pleased to report that I have ascended to Candidacy (with distinction, even!).

I would like to say that this occurred with great pomp, ceremony, circumstance, a standing ovation, and an elephant parade.  In actuality, it occurred in an office, at an unremarkable hour on Friday with little ceremony other than a few hearty handshakes.  T.S. Eliot’s prediction about the world ending could very well apply to my ascendance (…while I could also use the word “advancement”, how often in life do you get to say that you “ascended” as applied to yourself?).

I didn’t then make a great clamor, but rather had a lovely lunch with a friend, went directly to rehearsal to choreograph the murder of Young Siward on the battlefield by a bloodthirsty Scottish King whose name shall remain unsaid (using broadswords even), then went out to dinner with my beloved.  Saturday we celebrated with a spectacular trip to an ice castle in the White Mountains (a gorgeous drive, even when

At night, lit up, the ice was just lovely.

At night, lit up, the ice was just lovely.

headed through a not-so-small snowstorm on your way home).

I’ve begun a two-week sabbatical from most things academic because I’ve been running on overdrive since May.  I can only stop doing “most things” because the semester has already begun and, therefore, my acting class is in session.  Luckily it’s a joy to teach and not as thinky as something like… say… Postmodern Theory.

While I would like to say that being ABD doesn’t feel any different from being a Ph.D. Student, right now it feels completely different.  For once, I get to think about my own projects and only my own projects.  I get to stop worrying about crazy exams and tests that measure my aptitude for things that I may or may not use (probably will, but who knows?) in the near future.  I get a chance to really stretch my wings and fly home to victory while dancing in the glory of my subject matter.  In other words: from here on in, it’s all-Shakespeare all-the-time.

Mostly.  Unless I pick up an intro class, or a history of theatre class, or a writing seminar, or any number of things that they might ask an adjust instructor with a degree in English to teach.  I might even teach (gasp!) novels!

But for the next two weeks, I’m catching up on e-mails, putting projects to bed that have been awake for far too long and are (thereby) cranky, running errands that have lain dormant far past their expirations dates, and on the whole preparing for the next step in this grand adventure that is doctorhood.

So for now, I sign of as (for the first time),

Danielle Rosvally


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!

Crossing a Finish Line

Alright folks,

I can tell you now, officially, with all certainty, that it’s over.

I’ve completed all coursework for my PhD.

I wish I could say that this momentous occasion feels as wonderful as it sounds, but truthfully I’m just exhausted.  I find that, without fail, the moment I stop running everything catches up with me.  All the stress, emotional turmoil, mental fatigue, physical challenges, everything I’ve been running from since mid-semester just slams right into me and belly-flops me into the ground.

It doesn’t help that coursework is widely regarded as the easiest portion of the PhD.  Which is not to say that it was easy.  If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you can attest to just a fraction of the politically-correct things I have to say about coursework.  Somehow, all that build-up of blood, sweat, and tears only makes this next step even more daunting.

So it does and doesn’t feel like an accomplishment to have survived this long.

I’m loving my couch hard core right now and I don’t have many deep thoughts to think.  I lieu of those, have a watch of the films that we made last weekend!

(The second film is a making-of documentary with a twist available here on Malarkey’s website.)

Happy summer, everyone!