In honor of completing my coursework, I’m taking the week off. That means no work. None. Including blogging. The closest thing I’m getting to work this week is seeing some theatre.
…and watching Smash. Hush.
In honor of completing my coursework, I’m taking the week off. That means no work. None. Including blogging. The closest thing I’m getting to work this week is seeing some theatre.
…and watching Smash. Hush.
Yesterday, I attended the last class of my PhD.
This isn’t to be confused with completing coursework (which won’t happen until my papers are all firmly nestled into the appropriate inboxes, a momentous occasion which will occur next Wednesday) and, really, knowing me I won’t be satisfied until the grades all pop up on my transcript affirming, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this is (in fact) real.
The class was a five-hour lecture wrapping up my ancient theatre course. This particular lecture covered Sturm und Drang, Weimar Classicism, and Romanticism. It also included a “presentation” I had prepped on Goethe’s relationship with Shakespeare (I put “presentation” in quotation marks because it wasn’t a “talk at the class for x amount of time” kinda deal but rather a “do a lot of reading and act as a pop-up video as we discuss the course reading” sort of thing). This class wasn’t a small deal at all.
But I survived. The class ended with the professor making a few profound remarks about
how far we had come and it took all my self-restraint not to stand up in my chair and yet “AMEN TO THAT!” For me, she wasn’t just talking about her course (though certainly we had come a long way there), but rather the progression of my graduate career at Tufts. Two academic years ago, I was sitting in a room, terrified, and waiting for someone to stand up, point at me, and shout “you don’t belong here!” before systematically evicting me from the premises never to return again. That feeling of being a fraud, not worthy of the opportunities allotted me in my career, has faded over time. I’ve learned so many things these past two years; some quantifiable, some not.
Among the other things I’m proud of, here’s a reasonably superficial list in terms of its breadth and depth, but it should at least give you some idea of the way I’ve changed as a scholar since my wide-eyed arrival at Tufts University:
I’ve learned how to gain access to (and dig through) an archive. I’ve learned how to cite the sources that I find there and use them in a paper that I may, someday, publish.
I’ve learned how to get on a plane to a city I’ve never been and be totally comfortable (if a little nervous the first time or two) spending two to four days networking my little Shakespearean heart out with people whom I have never met before, and may be Top Men in my field.
I’ve learned how to write better, how to read better, and how to think better.
I’ve learned about playwrights I’d never though I’d read, performances I’d never known existed, and theorists I’d never hoped to “meet”.
I’ve learned how to talk about my own work in a way that isn’t a snooze-fest (though this will depend upon the audience, of course. Even I can’t make the deep technical aspects of some of my research appeal to everyone).
I’ve learned to read and translate German (…though this is a skill that I’ll be cultivating for some time).
I’ve learned that when in doubt, just look. And when looking doesn’t help you, just ask. There are always people there to turn to.
I’ve learned that it’s amazing what people will do/reveal when you ask them questions. So many people are willing to be so generous with their time if you’re just nice to them.
I’ve learned that reference librarians are veritable deities and should be worshiped as such.
I’ve learned that it’s not enough to think, you must do. Touch the ground and your work will always have more depth and meaning. This means it’s not enough just to think about theatre; go see theatre. Make theatre. Get your hands dirty. If we forget why we fell in love with the field in the first place, there’s no way that we’re going to last in it (and there’s no way that we’re going to make our students love it).
I’ve learned that just because it’s obvious to you does not mean that it’s obvious to anyone else, or that it does not need to be said. And, moreover, if you don’t say it, someone else will. Jump on it, take credit for your ideas, and you’ll go much further than if you just simper and mull them to yourself.
…this list could continue ad infinitum but I’ve still got a paper to write. I hope that your finals are treating you well, you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and that you can take some time today to remember why it is (precisely) that you do this.
…or you could just watch this:
With Twelfth Night behind me, I’ve dived head first into an insane-o week.
The midterms for the course I’m TAing have come due and are in the process of being graded. This process is otherwise known as “Operation: dig yourself out of the avalanche of papers that just fell on you”. I’m making pretty good progress (and, without saying horribly much about it, the class is turning out some impressive work – good job, team!).
All of the projects which I had pushed off until after the show are suddenly looming before
me like the chimeras and dragons they are. This semester’s big projects consist of one paper (due ASAP), one paper (due in May), one more lecture for my TAship (in two weeks), my German qual exam (mid April), a conference paper that’s written but has yet to be conferencified (beginning of April), and a class presentation (end of April). Basically I’ve got a series of staggered deadlines for big projects that are all screaming at me simultaneously.
Luckily, next week is Spring break. If I can make it to next week, I can have the entire week to not be on campus and sit and work in my pajamas all day every day.
This doesn’t sound healthy.
…or it sounds extremely healthy.
One of the two, I’m not sure which.
I just finished translating Grimm’s Aschenputtel (Cinderella) yesterday which means I need to start in on a new piece. I try to spend an hour or so every day with my German. I’m thinking of going back to the German Goethe articles I had the library pull for me. I should also probably return to my grammar book. But translating fairy tales is so much more fun than learning grammar!
I have spent the last week steeping in Molière. I’m writing a seminar paper on him and there are a LOT of plays to get through. My professor loaned me some books so I’ve been trying to (with a moderate degree of success GO ME!) to get through them in a week so I can return them to her. This means over-saturation in French witticism. I’m continually surprised (to the point that it really shouldn’t surprise me anymore) about how much more pleasant it is to research something that’s enjoyable to read than to research something you couldn’t give a damn about (or is just torturous to get through). Though he many not be my man Will, Monsieur Molière is slippery, witty, and wonderful and I’m having fun getting to know him. I’d be grateful if you didn’t disclose this to Herr Shakespeare; he’s a jealous mistress (don’t believe me? Read the sonnets).
I’ve had some wonderful professional opportunities fall onto my plate this week (details to follow; I don’t want to give too much away before things are finalized). Suffice to say you may want to leave the evening of April 23 available (Shakespeare’s birthday) if you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Portsmouth, NH.
And on that note, I should return to the mountain to defeat the midterm dragons. They’re becoming rather insistent and I’d rather not walk away smelling of scorched hair.
I have come to the conclusion that time, much like age, is a state of mind.
As though to compound the Billy Pilgrim-like feelings that I expressed earlier this week, Tufts has decided that today (Thursday) is in fact Monday.
This is not an uncommon practice for universities. There are certain days which must be taken/given off, certain days during which campus must be closed, and in order to ensure that each class block is given ample time during the semester, often the flow of the Newtonian universe is manipulated in order to pay homage to the gods of academia.
This semester has been notoriously difficult to get in the saddle of. As soon as I had thought that I established a rhythm, a giant snowstorm named after a vengeful sea captain (or a clown fish, not too clear on that one) threw everything off. Campus was closed for several days, necessitating re-arrangements in the semester’s schedule and my reading/general life flow which completely threw off the very light, narrow groove that I had
somehow managed to attain.
What next? Cats and dogs living together? Mass hysteria? Cloudy with a chance of meatballs?
My conception of time is often amusing to me. When one lives and breathes academia, it’s extremely easy to lost track of the fact that the rest of the world does not. Simply because my years begin in September and end in May does not mean that the same is true for everyone else. I’m often stopped short because normal people don’t understand that I obviously can’t come out in the near future because it’s finals crunch and why would they even bother asking? (fact: because they don’t know/remember/care that it’s finals time and have no sense of what it means to live in a world where one lives and dies by paper deadlines).
These troubles are mirrored by certain misconceptions about my working hours. I know that I’ve often commiserated about this on here. One of the wonderful parts of my job is the ability to make my own hours and, thereby, the ability to work when I best function as opposed to conforming to some artificial schedule which a tyrannical boss (or tyrannical system) has imposed upon me. I tend to function best in the early afternoon to early evening; certainly not in the morning. I avoid late nights if I can, but I would prefer to work a late night than an early morning. As such, it’s a frequent occurrence that I sleep past the normal appointed time for “the working man” to be up and I’m often sitting at my desk wearing my pajamas when my roommate/local friends/house guests/partner in crime drop by after work. This doesn’t mean that I’m not working, it doesn’t mean that I’m lazy, it just means that I like to sleep until 8:30 (9 if I can manage it) and will work until 10 or 11 if I have to to get my work done. I would say that, during an average workweek, I clock at least 40 hours (sometimes as much as 80-100 if I’m working on projects and grinding out the end of the semester; I’ve meant to do an experiment and actually clock my working hours for a month just to clear up this little misunderstanding, but I haven’t yet remembered to do it).
Next week, we’re back to “normal” schedule for a block of several weeks. I’m very much hoping that this normalcy will restore some feeling of rhythm to my otherwise nutzoid life; or at the very least a small dose of consistency. Even theatre people need some consistency otherwise the world is just madness and chaos. Madness, I tell you!
This morning, despite the urgings of my ever-loving bed, I got up. I went and sat at my desk. I opened a book. I read assigned pages. I took notes on it. I thought about what I was reading.
When I was done with that, I saved the PDFs of this week’s reading assignment to my dropbox and opened that on my ipad. I read it. I took notes. I thought about it, in turn.
When I was done with that, I cracked my script. I reviewed some scenes, did some text work, highlighted and underlined some things, and took some marginalia notes on that.
When I was done with that, I sent a few e-mails and took care of some long-awaited administrative business that I really couldn’t start the semester without doing.
Now that I’m done with that, I think I’m going to go relax on the couch for a good long time. Break may be winding down but it’s not officially over until Wednesday.
Although I will say this: despite the fact that having absolutely nothing to do on a given day is a rare luxury (and one I don’t generally afford myself, even during breaktime), having something one must do on a given day certainly works to relieve my anxiety about things I can’t really do anything about in this moment anyway. Every time I so much as think the word “comps”, the bottom drops out of my stomach and I get an overwhelming feeling of
vertigo. Whenever I glance at my German (a necessary obstacle before I even get to my comps), I find a little demon sitting on my shoulder whispering to me “DU KANNST ES NICHT!” Somehow, hitting deadlines that are absolutely within my control and things that I know I am capable of doing alleviates this stress.
I will kill that demon. He’s not long for this world. I just need to work up some courage first. It’s probably going to come in liquid form; I’m deep in the torrid thralls of a love affair with the cappuccino machine my folks gifted me with for Christmas. Let me tell you, it’s done wonders to alter my outlook on life.
Hello, friends and readers!
I’ve returned from the holidays a little stronger, a little more tired, and ready to spend the rest of my break alternating between resting up/resetting my brain for the new semester and clearing my desk of those projects that have backlogged in my finals-induced ignoring of all things not papers.
At this time of year, it is really easy to be utterly and completely fooled into thinking that you’re in the middle of the deep, dark jungle with no light at the end of your tunnel. This is not really anywhere different than you were last year (because, well, last year you were also in a deep, dark jungle with little light to be seen). You’ve just put a bunch of projects to bed. A new semester is dawning. The cycle of stress and woe threatens to start all over again with little you can do about it.
So it’s important to take time to recognize where you have gone between this jungle and that jungle. In that light, it’s time for a recap. As I cast my mind over the last year, I realize that it’s been an extremely productive one for my professional life. I can only hope that I will do even better this year.
Things I did in 2012:
Created my first acting edition of a show (Measure for Measure) and began dramaturging my first project (I can’t say that I “dramaturged” it yet because the show doesn’t go up until February).
Began to learn to read German.
Completed a year of coursework for my PhD.
Wrote five academic papers (approx. 105 pages of writing).
Gave five in-class presentations ranging in time from twenty to forty five minutes on topics which spanned the breadth from Intellectual Property and the History of Magic to David Garrick, Patent Law, and eighteenth century editions of Shakespeare.
Attended and presented at three academic conferences, including my first ASTR.
Broke my retirement to play a dream role; one I never though I would have the chance to play.
Lost 26 pounds (maybe not a professional achievement, but darn it one that I’m going to put up here anyway).
TAed my first (and second) class… both in one semester.
Became Chair of the Web Committee for the American Society of Theatre Research’s Graduate Student Caucus.
Successfully got Offensive Shadows up and running and, thereby, am officially a co-host of my own podcast.
Published my first book review; my first piece of “real” academic publishing.
Taught myself to play the ukulele (extremely important for Professors-to-be…. I
alternate between shame and pride in saying, with utmost truth, that I taught myself to play while avoiding studying my German).
Didn’t move a single time (this is HUGE for me).
Read more books than I care to relate, saw more plays that I dreamed of seeing, and can honestly say that I put blood, sweat, and tears into my degree.
…pretty good for a single year if you ask me.
Here’s looking forward to a new year, more exciting projects, and the next step of the journey.
Happy New Years, faithful reader!
This is a drive-by. Things are nuts; For the past three weeks I’ve been doing nothing but work, go to the gym, and sleep. My brain is currently the approximate consistency of tapioca pudding. And not even the good kind of tapioca pudding, it’s the soggy from a plastic container and tin lid sort. And it’s likely been sitting on the shelf for too long so it’s just this side of “okay to eat”…
…this is not an invitation for zombies to come raid my apartment.
In that vein, I do not feel that I have anything intelligent, pertinent, or inspiring to say at the moment. I’ve been communicating with my roommate and partner-in-crime using grunts and clicks (I’m past even the capacity for charade-like hand motions), and I don’t trust my own judgment right now as to what would constitute “intelligent, pertinent, or inspired” anyway.
Sooo…. I will re-assert a few basic truths about this point of the finals process, and then dive back to the turmoil of the ever-present grindstone.
Thing One: Proofreading saves lives. Amongst the errors which, uncaught, would have proved outright embarrassing (mind you, in drafts that are far enough down the writing process that I even ventured to show one to my PiC the other day) are: several punctuation mishaps, misspellings of authors’ names, and (most embarrassing of all) several accounts of the correct Shakespeare quote attributed to the incorrect character in a play completely different from the one it was in in the first place. Apparently, I can quote Shakespeare verbatim in tapioca-mode, but I’ll be darned if I can attribute these quotes correctly. So far, I’ve attempted to put Touchstone in Twelfth Night (this is particularly puzzling since, of all shows, you would think that As You Like it would be freshest in my
mind right now and, indeed, it’s only my performance recollections which saved this mishap from making it to the final cut of the paper), and re-attribute a piece of Macbeth’s “sound and fury” speech to Hamlet (What, what, what are you doing?).
Thing Two: I am, as of today, T-minus two papers and four days from completing the last Fall Semester of coursework in my PhD. My first paper goes down Monday, my second Wednesday, in between I proctor and grade a final for one of my TAships. On Wednesday, I will drive to campus, drop off my paper, and drive directly down to NY for holidays with my family. Because my life isn’t stressful at all.
Thing Three: It’s remarkable what slack people will cut you when you look at them with the glazed-over look of hopeless “good god, I don’t remember how to talk to a normal person because my mind is still reeling about early nineteenth-century draperies”. Either that, or my friends are amazing. I suspect a combination of the two. Maybe I look worse than I think I do. At least I’m bathing regularly (IMPORTANT!).
Thing Four: No matter where you are, I can assure you that if you aren’t done by now, you are very close. If you, in the past few days/weeks have experienced the same jarring helplessness that I have experienced, I would like for you to take a moment, take a breath, and remember that the light is right there at the end of the tunnel. I know you’re tired (“exhausted” might be a better word… actually “bone-weary beyond all possible means of human comprehension” might fit best), I know you’re frustrated, I know you’re worried. But you will do it. I have faith. Hold fast, Horus.
Thing Five: I’m going to take a break and sit on my couch for a few minutes. I haven’t actually sat on my couch in at least two weeks. Since I’ve put in a good six and a half hours already, I think I deserve this.
Keep calm, and keep editing folks! See you on the other side!
It’s finals time.
That means a lot of things (among them: grinding the gears, burning the midnight oil, and lighting both ends of the candle for the next few weeks).
If your life is like my life, then inevitably when you become the busiest is when everyone suddenly decides that they would like to be social with you. And, while I do love my friends and family and do need occasional breaks from aforementioned clichés of business, it can be really frustrating sometimes that busy season of necessity means “the season in which I ignore people”.
I’m not doing it maliciously, it’s just the only way I can get anything done.
Distractions come in two varieties: the long-form distraction, and the momentary distraction.
The long-form distraction is by far the simpler type to avoid. If I don’t plan well in advance for a night away from my desk, I don’t spend a night away from my desk. As much as it kills me to miss the various parties, social functions, and gatherings that inevitably occur right before the holidays, it would kill me more to neglect my work and do poorly on my finals. Wise researchers take note: this policy works. Understanding friends will understand; this is what your job entails at the moment and, thereby, any declarations of “lameness” on account of it should be systematically ignored.
For that, a break is a break and it’s important to remember that the world doesn’t revolve
around nineteenth century circus clowns performing Shakespeare. Make sure you budget time for drinks, dinner, or some fun activity at least once a week or you will wind up an overwrought bucket of stress by the time things are said and done. Also, human eye contact is good for the soul.
So long as you can balance work and play, the long-form distraction shouldn’t prove too much of a problem.
The momentary distraction can come in several forms: an e-mail, a text, a facebook message, a gchat, or a well-meaning person (your landlord, your roommate, etc.) poking a head into your workspace to bring you news from the outside. While this may seem the less innocuous form of distraction, for me it’s deadly. I find that, reliably, for every thirty seconds I have spent being momentarily distracted, it will take me at least five minutes to get back to where I was in my stream of thought pre-interruption.
For me, the problem is several-fold. I have a hard time in general with my attention span, especially if I’m not yet into “the zone”. Once I hit the red, I can go for hours; but getting there is particularly difficult for me. I blame modern technology; I am truly a product of my generation who would rather have a constant influx of disparate information to keep my mind chewing than go deep-diving on any one thought. How I wound up a professional academic with this particular personality quirk is a giant question of the universe. In addition, I am extremely sensitive aurally and have found that external words in any form (music, TV, talking, etc) will completely take me out of the internal mind-tempest that research requires.
The best way to avoid these problems is (I have found) to turn off (or at least silence) my phone, keep my browser windows open to library resources ONLY, and work during the day when there’s no one in my house but myself. If I wind up working overtime (which is extremely frequent during finals crunch), I either try to arrange to work when my roommate is out of the house, or arrange a schedule with her that involves noise-canceling headphones (I am fortunate to have a very understanding roommate). Alternately, working after the household has gone to bed is something that I have found to be extremely soothing and productive (though you do have to plan for it so that you make certain you get your much-needed finals-time sleep).
A great way to improve the quality of your finals life is to make your nearest and dearest aware of these distractions and what they do to your work. If those people most likely to distract you understand that encouraging text messages are best left sent between the hours of 9 and 11 PM, they are less likely to inadvertently interrupt your stream of thought with a mid-day friend-crisis. If those people can fathom that when you say “I’m buried in mountains of work”, you literally mean that your book fort is actually large enough to cause a deadly avalanche, they are less likely to give you a hard time for skipping Friday night beer-o-rama. Give them concrete examples of how their actions affect yours in this volatile, stressful time. If they really love you, they’ll let you go crawl into your cave and re-emerge sometime after December 18th.
So… what are you waiting for? You have finals to write! Heck, I have finals to write! Go stop procrastinating and get your butt in gear! (…unless it’s your pre-planned night off in which case have fun, relax, and get enough sleep. Drink lots of fluids, eat right, and we’ll all get through this together somehow, I just know it).
The past week has been a bit odd here in Dani-land.
Coming off a show is a strange experience in and of itself. I don’t feel the need to say more on the matter since you’ve already had your fill of my prattling about post-show depression (which, in my head, often becomes “post-part-um depression”; with “part” being a play on it meaning as a synonym for “role”… har har). Coming off a show and diving into three weeks of hell because you’ve been leaving work to pile while you survived tech and performance with lingering deadlines hanging Damocles-like over your head is a special kind of hell.
I’ve been scrambling to re-assemble the pieces of my life and tame the piles which have grown on my desk. Tomorrow (or, I suppose, today as it brinks on midnight as I write this) I give my big semester presentation (on the history of Magic and Magicians which, while it has been fun to research, has presented its own breed of historiographical troubles). After that, I have a week and a half to prep for ASTR (during which I will also be putting the cast of Measure for Measure through what I’m calling “Shakespeare boot camp” to ensure that they all have some agility with the text before the Director sinks her teeth into rehearsal), then a week after that to put together some written work for the Measure playbill, and I still need to keep up on my class reading and research and pitch two disparate final papers to two disparate professors.
It’s no small wonder I’ve become a little bit of a frazzled nut case.
I’ve been fondly referring to October as “hell month” and counting the days until I can get out of hell free and roll downhill towards the semester’s end in hopes that I don’t hit some snag or bump which causes me to careen wildly off course. So far, outlook is positive for a relatively smooth trip, but the skies change every day so stay tuned.
I have previously blogged about the techniques which I turn to to help myself get through times of normal stress loads. I will, however, take this moment to discuss what happens when those techniques erode. Anyone who has been through a nightmarish schedule knows that there are times to stress and there are times when you feel like you’re being torn apart by rabid tigers while carnivorous spider-monkeys do the macarena on your masticated corpsicle. For me, October has become a time of the latter and, in that regard, let’s talk about surviving October.
Here are some things that may help you survive your own flavor of the spider-monkey/tiger paradigm.
Thing One: Make a list. It’s often helpful to me to just sit and write out, in bulleted form, all the things that I need to accomplish. It helps me to understand how much I really need to do on any given day and, in so doing, helps me understand how best to plan my time. When can I do small ten-minute tasks? When do I need to block off hours for the big stuff? Sometimes I make a list the night before a long day of work just so I can sleep better knowing that I won’t forget anything because I took the time to write it all down. Oh, and forgetting things? I’m less likely to do that when it’s all listed in front of me. Also, I get the greatest feeling when I can cross something off the list. Built-in reward mechanism.
Thing Two: One thing at a time. My therapist perhaps said it best; “no matter how busy the bee is, it can still only attend to one flower at a time”. There ya have it folks; it doesn’t matter how well you think you can multi-task, you are still an old-model desktop lacking a parallel processor. One thing at a time.
Thing Three: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” Except replace “fear” with “worry”. Worrying does no practical good. It does not behoove you to waste your time and/or energy worrying how or when something is going to get done. If you are taking a break, leave your work at your desk, take a few deep breathes, and brush up on your favorite meditation technique. Find some way to get your mind off the work mountains. If you absolutely cannot take a break because you are worrying, then go back to work and get something done. It will make you sleep sounder. Hell, that’s why it’s midnight on a Monday and I’m sitting at my computer blogging instead of snuggling in my warm bed with a book and a mug of tea.
Thing Four: Conserve your energy for the things that well and truly require it. Just like worry will suck that energy right out of you, so will a great many other items on your list of scheduling baggage. Cut out the things that will take and give nothing back. It’s like running a marathon; you need to make sacrifices to get to the end. I haven’t been to the gym in a month because October has been too intense to give up eight to ten hours of my week at the iron church. The gym is a lifestyle. The gym gods will forgive me (though I may hate myself for a week after I do go back).
Thing Five: Work hard. When you do work, close all your safari (…or firefox… or I.E.)
windows. Silence your cell phone (or turn it off… or to iOS6′s handy dandy new “do not disturb” setting). Don’t answer the door. You will get more done if you prevent yourself from being distracted. I find that, when I’m well and truly in the zone, the tiniest interruption can pull me right out of it and, for every thirty seconds I spend in the real world dealing with something that cropped up outside of my work, it takes me about five minutes to get back to where I was before the interruption. Cut this off at the head and remove the temptation to do anything but get your hands dirty with your research.
Thing Six: When you’re done, you’re done. Be honest with yourself. Can you go a little longer? Will it be productive? If the answer is yes, then read another chapter (or write another page, or research for another hour). If the answer is no, put it down and walk away. You’re done. You are not helping yourself by pushing yourself past your limits and, in fact, you may create a mess that takes more time to clean up later. Note: this tactic only works if you can well and truly push yourself to your limits and be strict with yourself about them. If you stop just because you’re a little distracted or you would rather be watching your netflix, it will not help you get your work done. Push through the moments of weakness, and know what you’re actually at your wall and when you’re just being a weenie.
Thing Seven: Take care of yourself. Water, sleep, vegetables, gym if you can manage it. If you are not feeling your best, you will not work your best. When I have the most work is when I need the most sleep and, if I don’t get it, my work suffers. Make time to take care of your basic human essentials, and ensure that you are as comfortable and healthy as you can be.
Thing Eight: Don’t deny yourself what you need to get the job done; be that coffee, a shower, a walk, or a cupcake. If it’s really crunch time, this won’t last for eternity. You could probably use the extra pampering if you’re working as hard as you should be.
And on that note, I should to bed. Goodnight, dear readers! Here’s hoping that your crunch-times are as short and painless as possible!
Over the years, I have come to a certain conclusion: you never know how to do something until you have already done it.
For some things, this is less problematic. For example: I didn’t figure out how to write a college level paper until the last semester of my Senior year of undergrad. While it meant that I struggled through writing them for most of my career as an undergrad, it also meant that I had plenty of opportunity to perfect the style in my Master’s and I’m still learning things about how to write a paper (and look forward to continuing this learning throughout the course of my career as an academic). Things that you, inevitably, will be forced to repeat have an acceptable learning curve. Your first anything is going to be the sacrificial lamb which dies upon the altar of experience.
Unfortunately, some things you really can’t go back and re-do.
As part of my job, I am required to hold office hours. While this sounds horribly official, what it truly means is that I make a promise to the students that I will be in a given place (i.e. my office) at a given time (i.e. my hours) and at their disposal to answer any questions they may have about the class, their work, their grades, or the universe in general.
So far, none of the students have taken advantage of this. I go, I sit, I wait, I bring work
which inevitably doesn’t get done because I share the office with many colleagues who tend to want to talk and visit (which, don’t get me wrong, I do as well), and I mark time until I can go home and actually get some work done.
And I wonder, why am I sitting there alone when this is a golden opportunity for some undergrad to grill me about all of the questions I know they should be asking especially if they intend to go on to graduate school? Why can’t they see that this is a gift, a precious commodity of connection which they could be cashing in on in order to better edify and prepare themselves for the life to come?
And then I remember: when I was an undergrad, I never went to office hours. In fact, I think I can count on one hand the number of out-of-class interactions I had with professors who were not my advisor (even the professors who had the most profound impact on my academic career and/or personal development). This is not to take into account that I’m not even a professor; I’m a TA. I never even spoke to the TAs when I was an undergrad. They were like some sort of weird mutant minion creature that the professor had cooked up in vats to do his bidding because he was too busy working on his latest book project to grade our finals. They didn’t warrant making eye contact with much less speaking to.
Ah, the certainty of youth.
Alright, let’s set the record straight: a TA is a teaching assistant. It’s an individuals hired by the department to help make the professor’s life easier. This individual knows the subject matter, but perhaps doesn’t have as much in-class teaching experience as a tenured professor (but then again, who does?). That doesn’t necessarily mean that this individual isn’t smart, capable, and desperate to answer your questions. In fact, it probably means that the individual ischamping at the bit to get a chance to pass on something valuable. A TAship is often the first in a long series of steps towards becoming a real professor. We all serve our time observing, working in a supervised environment, and doing a bit of grunt labor so that we too, someday, can have the coveted job of molding young minds.
The TA’s office hours can be extremely helpful if you find yourself struggling with your writing, understanding an assignment, understanding the course material, or even the college experience in general. Think of the TA like a friendly neighborhood spiderman: the TA is closer to the undergraduate experience and so is more likely to remember what it’s like, the TA knows the library resources really well because she spends her days digging through them, the TA is excited about whatever it is that you’re studying and would love an opportunity to pass on some wisdom, knowledge, or advice, and the TA works closely with your professor and so knows what is expected of you/the class in general.
Think about the possibilities for a moment. Instead of turning in a paper that you think may be what the professor wants, with a little advances planning you have someone to ask! You can better understand course expectations! You can learn what a comma splice is and why people keep writing in the margins that you’re making them! You can improve your grades with better communication, pointed questions, and a little bit of diligence! The TA is there to help, not laugh maniacally while marking down your work for something you did but didn’t think to ask about, so think to ask about it. How can you use this person to your advantage? This MVP can bat for your team if only you would take the time to ask her.
So love your TA. Embrace your TA. Don’t worry about being bitten by your TA and turned into a radioactive creature of the night… unless your TA actually does glow in the dark and has weird freakish horns, green skin, and eyes without pupils, then you might want to worry.