Friday, February 26, 2010


Today was a great writing day for me; I credit it to adding cinnamon to my coffee.  (Or, possibly, a critical mass of theory reading that started to catalyze last night.)  I've written so much now that there's really little else I could say without repeating myself (even more), so the thought arose that there's not much left to do but edit for clarity tomorrow, when I'm fresh, read the last two library books in my possession for any new insights, and then send the diss out to the committee.

Then I got this strange feeling in my stomach, as the thought sank in that, if I wanted to ensure the defense date of my choice, I'd need to email my profs now, ahead of sending the diss.  But of course, they'd then want to know when they could expect to see the draft, if I was already trying to schedule things.

So, while I tried to keep my arms steady -- I was shaking -- I emailed them my preferred potential defense dates, and assured them that the draft would be ready by the end of this weekend.

Jesus fucking Christ. 

I'm still kind of shaking right now.  (You have no idea how hard I had to concentrate to type this!)  I'm halfway through my first glass of wine; I expect to have a second before I retire for the evening.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010


  • I'm into the two-week countdown until I need to email my defense draft to the committee.  Holy crap.  It's coming along, to be sure, but it sure as fuck ain't finished yet.  I fancy that I can already feel the long steel knife that Dr. Awesome is preparing to shove oh-so-deftly between my ribs, if I don't pull together this theoretical discussion business.
  • The school whose departmental faculty I completely misidentified sent me a rejection letter.  (I know, it's not exactly a shock.)  I'm pretty much over it now, although it was kind of a blow to get that letter the same weekend that I learned that my friend had scored the t-t job at another place.  That was my one quasi-realistic hope for a serious job.  All I can hope for now is a postdoc (odds are bad) or one of the few teaching jobs that hasn't already rejected me (odds are laughably bad).
  • I made myself re-read my old friend, Walter Benjamin, to see if I now agreed with anything that he said.  Nope.  And you know what hurts about that?  I feel like he could have accomplished so much more, had he really engaged with film instead of sniffing at it.  And yes, I know, it's hard to adjust to new art media when you're committing suicide rather than face the Nazis.  Doesn't mean I can't wish that he had treated the new form more seriously in life.
  • The truly awful follow-up to my latest joust with Benjamin, though, is that now I have to re-engage with his dreadful colleagues in the Frankfurt School.  Dude, reading Adorno raises my blood pressure!  Why do I have to do this crap, all for background theory that I regard as tangential?
  • Answer to that question: because, if I don't do it and then explain why it's tangential irritating crap in my dissertation, then my committee will pounce on me and try to rattle me by asking why I never dealt with Adorno.  Grrr.
  • I ended up spending much of yesterday evening comforting a colleague who was having a minor breakdown.  It's all a sad story, and relatively personal stuff, but I'll sum up for blog purposes by saying that zi was in the classic shitty grad-student position of having to choose between complying with the demands of an unreasonable martinet of an advisor, or going to a family funeral.  After some tears had been shed in frustration at the inhumanity of the scenario, zi eventually decided that zi would go to the funeral, work hugely overtime to keep the assignment grading on schedule, and leave hir family mourning early if it seemed like it would cut too deep into work time. 

    I know this makes the advisor sound like a complete monster, so I'll qualify a little: my colleague, who is a good person at heart, is self-admittedly awkward in some interpersonal situations, and has somewhat carelessly laid the groundwork for this scenario by giving the advisor the impression (over the course of years) that zi is lazy and overly entitled.  While there's a tiiiiiiiny bit of truth to that, the larger problem is that my colleague is a dumbass at communicating via phone or email, and is not that much better in person.  I wouldn't go so far as to suggest undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome, but zi is kind of dense about how other people receive information, and how they will think about hir in reaction.  That said, it's a family funeral!  How fucking important can it possibly be that the grading for an ordinary homework assignment is delayed by half a week?

    When we finally went our separate ways last evening, I went home and enjoyed two glasses of wine (heavy drinking for a week night, for me!) and breathed a sigh of relief that, as frustrating as my own academic career is at the moment, it's nowhere near the disaster it could be.  (My colleague has many more disastrous circumstances than this right now, but that's hardly fit material for the blog.  Just assume that there's more where this came from.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Need a little sugar in my bowl

I have decidedly mixed emotions today, although I know I should just be happy, go on about my work, tra la, tra la, etc.  On the good side of things, to start at the beginning, my old college prof wrote me back and said that I was welcome to use the syllabus I had re-shaped from the course that I took.  I feel good knowing that my job applications are being pursued ethically.  Plus, against all odds, Dr. Awesome actually read and commented on my chapter this week!  (My abject begging appears to have borne some fruit.)  Zi had some slightly daunting critiques to make, but after a little consideration, I think that I know how to satisfy them to the degree that time allows.  And, since zi hirself said that I shouldn't be anxious, I'm working on the assumption that zi just wants to make me bust my hump as long as the semesterly time frame allows, and then permit me to survive my diss defense.  Of course, I'm forced to wonder why, if Dr. Chair agreed with everything that Awesome said, zi didn't fucking tell me so hirself weeks or months ago.  But that's another story.

So, the bad side: I'm drinking tequila this evening because I've had not one but two of my existential fears as a young academic paraded in front of me today.  I had a pretty fun lunch today (Colombian food!) with an old friend and colleague, along with hir spouse and baby.  Not like I'm really freaking out about this yet, but I have begun to fear that the professional life I've chosen is going to sabotage my ideal-situation desires to have a family.  Before you say anything -- yes, I understand that this fear isn't yet reasonable, and that from the perspective of many female academics, I should just shut the fuck up and enjoy the relative freedom of choice bestowed upon my sex by society.  I get that.  That does not mean, however, that I don't bug out about this stuff, too.  I don't want to be one of those guys who ends up having kids when he's too damn old to run after them or pick them up without pulling a hernia.  And, since I have exposed myself to the dubious mercies of the worldwide academic job market, I really don't know when I'll be in a position to meet a likely partner, much less be able to settle down and start a family.  I don't much relish the thought of being a lonely bachelor for the next several decades, which seems both likely and unlikely depending on the time of day you ask me about it.  This friend of mine was already together with hir partner before they were even out of college; zi didn't have to deal with dating while in academic training.  But whatever; I'm still young (I hope), even though the cashier at the liquor store tonight didn't even think of carding me.  This is a fear that I haven't truly grown into yet.

The self-pitying tequila is more in reaction to some actually good news: another friend and colleague of mine has landed a job -- a real t-t job!  I always hoped that zi would get this position, but it's amazing that zi succeeded at this when zi is right where I am: frantically finishing the dissertation to graduate this May.  It helps that zi is eerily perfect for the position, in terms of knowledge specialties and a variety of interpersonal factors.  Back at our conference last year, zi and I hoisted a beer to toast our respective prelim interviews, and zi claimed that zi had a gut feeling that I would follow in hir footsteps.  (I got called for my prelim the day after hirs.) 

Of course, several months later, zi had an on-campus interview followed by a job offer, while I have had...the wind whistling outside my apartment while no one calls me for bupkis.

It's not covetousness, mind you; I would have been a preposterous candidate for this job, far removed from anything that they wanted.  And zi was ideal in just about every conceivable way.  But I was hoping that I'd have my own news -- I know, this year, it's really just fantasy to think like this -- to share, and now that I'm seriously contemplating applying for food stamps and can't seem to get my foot in the door anywhere, I feel kind of like an enormous pile of fail.  Right now, my friend is probably off getting celebratorily trashed with hir partner -- yeah, zi is also married -- and I'm nursing my usual Friday night drink by myself, wondering if I'm ever going to hear any good news again.  My friend's great news just drives home the point that, once in a while, it is actually possible to land a t-t job straight out of grad school...which makes me feel somewhat less a victim of circumstances and more of a loser.

Of course, winners are probably less inclined than losers to console themselves sorrowfully at home alone on a Friday night drinking tequila at their desks while listening to Bessie Smith and telling a sob story on a blog, so perhaps I've brought all this on myself somehow.  Maybe I just need a little sugar in my bowl...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

RBOC (my first ever!)

  • Just when I thought that I had finished a draft to my own satisfaction, more or less, and could simply wait for my profs to weigh in, I started relaxing after a little writing by fiddling with the format of my bibliography for DOU format requirements.  (Don't you relax this way after banging out a page or two?)  Lo and behold, once I started close editing of the bibliography, I started finding/reminding myself of sources I'd read that I'd never cited, and that it would be useful and smart-looking to cite.  ('Cause I r smrt like that.)  I can't pretend that my system for this is very practical; mostly, it involved importing my Zotero citations to a Word document because I either knew for certain that I had already cited something, or expected to do so very soon.  You can just guess how well that latter part worked out.  Anyway, the process has led to the realization that I just can't remember all the shit that I know, even when I think that Zotero's tagging system will do that for me.  I've already found ways to incorporate a few very pertinent things that I'd be embarrassed to leave out in the defense draft, and I suspect I will find some more before it's over.  (...When will it be over?)
  • I noticed lately that I increasingly prefer to write and edit to classical music, which has not always been my preference.  This new taste is especially useful for editing, when I'm trying to hear the flow of the words I have written, rather than psych myself up for creating new ones.  Opera works okay, but the words and the excitement of the dramatic passages seem to suit creation better than editing; wordless music seems to do me better for editing.  Since my diss work is now more a matter of editing than writing, I decided to splurge on something useful, and downloaded this Jenő Jandó album of Beethoven piano sonatas.  It came to my attention this evening that, when I tell my iTunes to arrange my classical music by album, it puts the second movement of the first sonata at the end.  There's no damn reason for this that I can see: the composer, the CD info, and all of that is precisely the same throughout the album, so iTunes shouldn't be able to pull any of that fiddly, fussy nonsense.  (How could any part of the 8th sonata possibly follow the 23rd?  It's track 2, for heaven's sake!)  In many ways, iTunes is awesomely powerful, but I wish it wouldn't do things that plainly violate mathematical logic, to say nothing of human intuitiveness.
  • I caught up with some friends of mine from grad school over the weekend.  They're a married couple, one of whom dropped out of my program, the other of whom is laboring to finish up hir degree in another department this May, as I am.  The grad student was clearly the less enthusiastic about hanging out on a Saturday night, since zi probably wanted to wake up early and do...whatever it is those science-y people do on a Sunday morning.  But all three of us ended up having fun, chewing over the miseries and difficulties of grad school, the job market, etc.  One of the biggest laughs for me came right at the end of the evening, as the other grad student and I hugged goodbye.  In the very same breath, with no prompting or planning, we each said to the other, "Stay strong!"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Keep your head above water

Episode #1: While doing something or other at the department some weeks ago, I ran into a faculty member with whom I have the closest thing to a friendship of equals, among our faculty.  (Of course, zi isn't on my committee.)   I asked hir what zi thought I were supposed to do if the academic year draws to a close, and I have no job offer at all.  Zi nodded sadly and said, "Well, I didn't get any jobs myself, my first year out of school.  I worked in a law office for a year, and tried to keep my hand in."  Then zi rushed off to attend to work, before I had a chance to ask how one "keeps one's hand in" when one has no formal affiliation with any academic institution.

Let the record show that this prof is no slacker; zi is still pretty young, as tenured profs go, and is about to publish hir fourth (fourth!) book.  Zi's also something of a name in hir sub-field of our discipline.  It sort of stunned me to hear that zi had no academic position at all, a year after getting hir PhD from a highly respected program, and being something of a wunderkind.

Episode #2: As has been my wont of late, I was in my department's front office yesterday for a while, updating the dossiers of job opening info that I send to my letter referees and putting some more addressed envelopes in their boxes.  I greeted a recent departmental hire as zi came in, and zi asked me how things were going.  I probably said something like "Surviving," which is fast becoming my standard response -- "Fine" would be a baldfaced lie -- and explained that I was trying to finish up my diss.  Zi jokingly asked if that's what I was doing on my computer in the main office, and I explained that, in fact, I was also trying to obtain a job for next year, which is what I was doing at that moment.  "Ah yes," zi nodded sympathetically, the sarcastic smile fading, "for the first few years, you just have to try to keep your head above water.  I got rejected from 47 jobs before I found one.  It's tough even in a good year, let alone this year.  You'll get a burst of energy, though, once you finish your diss."

Holy shit.  This, from a big fancy prof we poached from another school, who earns more money per year than I expect to make in the next three years, at the least!

It's both encouraging and disheartening to know that current big cheeses in my department (and, really, my field at large) were once as economically vulnerable on the market as I am now.  Encouraging, because it reassures me that I'm not just some loser whom no one would ever hire, and that my .000 batting average on the job market thus far is simply par for the course.  Disheartening, because I fear that I am neither the theoretical giant of Episode #1 nor the research maven of Episode #2.  And if both of those profs spent the first few years after graduate school just trying to keep body and soul together, what fucking chance do I have, unless I make a pact with the Devil and transform myself into Faust, PhD?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Following the logic

I'm a lot calmer about this whole "Revise 'til you drop" process today.  I had the revelation that Dr. Awesome -- and possibly Dr. Chair as well -- are pushing me to keep revising because, from their point of view, that's the only thing that could make sense.

Awesome, who has actually said to me that hir aim is to help me make my diss as good as possible, clearly did some simple math and decided that the schedule that Chair and I had worked out was unnecessarily stingy on pre-defense revision time.  I need to turn in the finished, polished, put-it-on-a-shelf-in-the-library-for-eternity version of my dissertation to Dear Old University by May 7, if I'm to graduate this May.  (And I will!)  Practically speaking, this means that I would have a full month for post-defense revisions even if I didn't defend until the first week of April.  As I gather, my profs generally think that revisions shouldn't take more than a month, if the diss were judged passable in the first place, so Awesome is thinking of the end of March or the beginning of April as the only reasonable time to defend.  Anything earlier, in hir view, would simply cheat me out of time that I could use to make as many improvements to the diss as possible -- after all, why take an unfixed problem to the defense if I already know what I need to do to fix it?

The question, then, is why Chair ever suggested that I should plan to send the defensible draft out to my committee around February 1.  Seriously, WTF?  It's not as though zi has no collegial contact with Awesome; Awesome, in fact, often stops by Chair's office while the latter and I are taking a diss conference, and teases me in a jinx-inducing way by calling me "Dr. Koshary."  (I actually begged hir not to jinx me that way, when zi did it this week.  Yes, superstitions are just one more symptom of dissertation madness.)  They talk to each other all the time, and, deference to the senior department member notwithstanding, it's hard to imagine that Awesome never brought up this matter with Chair.

So what's Chair's deal?  Is zi, as I have occasionally heard muttered by others, simply lazy, and thought that forcing an end to my pre-defense revisions would mean that zi had that much less work to do for a few months?  It's not out of the question, I must say.  But, the more I think about it, the more I suspect that Chair, who may be a trifle lazy but is not inclined to work against hir own interests, actually never meant for me to send the diss in February at all.  Rather, zi judged me (accurately) as suffering in the throes of dissertation madness, and believed that setting a specific date would give me something to hang onto.  Then, once I believed in my maddened state that I had finished revising, Chair could let Awesome break the news to me that I have to keep on working until Awesome thinks I'm ready.

Fiendish in its simplicity, really.

At any rate, I've now accepted the fact that Awesome has no reason to let me stop smithing the dissertation until the end of February at the least.  And once Awesome is satisfied that I'm ready, Chair will be satisfied as well.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The discreet charm of the professoriate

I'm feeling all right now, but I wasn't like this for most of the day.  I turned in a hugely expanded draft of the final diss chapter to my supervisor yesterday, and then went to see a colleague defend hir research prospectus; zi is about to go off to research, and I don't know when I'll get to catch up with hir in person for a while.  After an impressive defense, we adjourned to a bar for a while, and then to another colleague's apartment for (more) drinking and dancing.  It was a fabulous night, but I was pretty hungover this morning.  Those little glasses of wine were deceptively intoxicating.

I got another taste of my committee's unusual politics when I gave my supervisor the draft.  Long story short, my supervisor is well versed in most aspects of my work, but zi is pretty much ignorant of a crucial area of study in my research.  (By hir own admission, I would add.)  The second name on my diss committee is much better informed in this latter area, so zi is the one who would know better than anyone else on my committee if I'm bullshitting or getting it right in this field.  But this advisor is almost absurdly overbooked with committees: zi is the supervisor for so many of my colleagues that I've lost track, whereas my supervisor has only me.  There are many good reasons for this, and they require a post of their own someday, so for now let's just say that the more popular one is pretty much awesome.

As one familiar with such scenarios might expect, this leads to a small amount of tension between the professors, since in many ways the number of supervised students equates with power within the department.  I do my best to be sensitive to my supervisor's emotional needs in this way, which more than anything else requires that, whenever I have a question to ask or a draft to read that (...Koshary fumbles for a pseudonym...) Dr. Awesome is best equipped to do, I go through the motions of asking Dr. Chair first.  (I know, I'm horrible with pseudonyms.  I dabble in fiction writing from time to time, and I hate coming up with characters' names there as well.)  Once Dr. Chair is satisfied that hir position in my personal pantheon has been respected and acknowledged, zi is happy to say, "Why don't you see what Awesome thinks of that?"  I've made the occasional error in this regard, and the resulting brouhahas have made me very aware of the nature of the power dynamic I have to negotiate.

So I give Chair the draft, explain in general what I've updated, and zi tells me that zi'll try to get to it this weekend so that we can discuss at hir office hours (which are early in the week), but that some fiddly bureaucratic stuff has to be done as well and it might not happen on schedule.  As I've noted before, I'm already more than a week behind schedule to get the diss out to the committee and organize a defense date.  Chair no doubt recognizes the look of horror that flashed across my face, and told me zi would try hir best to get the thing read promptly.  Then zi says, "Have you given a copy to Awesome as well?"

Well, duh, of course I haven't.  I haven't touched a match to a keg of dynamite lately, either.

"Well, since Awesome knows so much more about [whatever] than I do, perhaps it would be good to run this by hir as well.  Zi may not have time to read it, of course, but ask."

Now, I will admit to you readers that I have occasionally gone to Awesome surreptitiously to get something done when I knew it would be quick and easily hidden from Chair.  It didn't occur to me to do the same here because, like I said, Awesome has lots of students and is very busy all the time.  Zi and I get along well, but because I am classified as Chair's student, Awesome doesn't have to fret over everything with me to the same degree.  I just assumed that Awesome would say, "Just worry about what Chair thinks, and I'll chime in when zi asks me to.  In the meantime, I'll read the diss when you give me the diss.  I ain't no damn book editor, punk."  Or words to that effect.

But, since Chair told me so explicitly, I printed out another copy and buttonholed Awesome so zi would know exactly why I was giving hir this draft now.  I quickly (frantically?) explained that Chair wanted Awesome for back-up, and Awesome -- who, like me, has experienced first-hand why it's a bad idea to make Chair feel other than a special individual snowflake -- immediately tried to punt.  "Well, Koshary, I'll read it, although it may take ten days before I can get to it.  But Chair is the chair; what zi says goes."

Like I didn't know this already!  "I know that, but zi specifically asked for your input here."

Awesome (who began to see that the punting effort had failed): "Well, in that case, I'll read it, and if Chair wants me to play that role, then I can play that role.  But I'll give you my full critique, so you know what to fix."

Aack!  "But wouldn't it be easier to do all of that at the defense?  I mean, I know there are always critiques to be made, and no dissertation is perfect, but..."

Awesome would have none of it.  "Well, there are always critiques, yes, and I understand why you're in such a rush to get it finished, but part of my job is to make sure the diss is as good as it can be.  Wouldn't you rather deal with that before the defense than after?"  Point made.

Then Awesome hit me with another good point: "If you want me to tell you if the chapter is passable, I'd have to read all of them to say.  Now, the last chapters you showed me, they were drafts, not passable."  I nearly started to cry, until I remembered that Awesome hadn't seen any of the revised drafts I've been working on since October.  Stay calm, Koshary.

"So, would you like me to print out a draft of the whole thing and give you that, for context?  I could have it ready for you on Monday!"  Was that a note of pleading in my voice just then?

Awesome (who realizes too late that zi's dealing with another half-crazed doctoral student): "Oh no no no, that won't be necessary.  I'll read this chapter and get back to you."

"Are you sure?  I mean, whatever works best for you.  I could do it..."

Awesome (plainly attempting to flee): "No, don't worry, I'll read the chapter."

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that my mania made me approach Awesome again right after my colleague's defense.  (Yeah, Awesome is hir chair, too.)  I had to confirm that zi didn't need the other diss chapters right away, and zi said, "No, this chapter will do for now.  Don't be anxious!"

DON'T BE ANXIOUS!?  Seriously, after all these years of these profs making me a fucking basket-case, this is when they think to reassure me that I shouldn't be anxious?  I'd have a drink to calm down, if my head weren't still a little fuzzy from last night's activities.

Monday, February 1, 2010

How much is enough?

If I'm keeping to the schedule my supervisor and I worked out -- well, scratch that, I've already fallen behind.  Correction: if I don't want to fall more than a week behind on the schedule that my supervisor and I worked out, then I need to add some citations, think deeply, and write more cool shit into my dissertation draft during this week, so I can email the sucker to my committee over the weekend.  I'm not as intimidated by all this as I was some months ago, when I had all those blank pages, as it were, taunting me with their lack of verbiage.  I'm slightly intimidated by the thought of innovating more cool stuff, especially since my supervisor is particularly critiquing my reticence to think Grand Theoretical Thoughts.  (Who knew that an arrogant SOB like me would turn into such a Voiceless Violet?) 

What really intimidates me at the moment is how shallow and stupid I am in comparison to some of my friends and colleagues who recently graduated.  I've been reading their dissertations, and for the most part, they make me feel like crap.  And the stupid part -- I know it's stupid to care about this -- is that the most intimidating aspect of their disses is the length: over 300 pages!  People, I have a little less than half of that right now.  It'll be a little longer once I add a bit, and who knows what the committee will say at the defense, but I honestly don't envision my dissertation ever topping 300 pages.  It seems -- or seemed, anyway -- unnecessary.  I'm a big fan of precise, efficient prose; I'm not the Ernest Hemingway of my department (I hope), but I'm well aware that precision is often a more effective writing tactic than an avalanche of prose that becomes repetitive and disorienting.  (Assuming you want readers to know what you're saying, anyway.  Obviously, an avalanche of bullshit is virtually a necessity if you're in government or administration of anything.) 

And yet the length worries me.  Am I being too parsimonious in my theory discussions?  Am I ignoring some unwritten rule of diss style?  I suspect that a lot of dissertations, even very fine ones, are longer than necessary, just because it's so hard to shut up about certain background issues, and because people figure it's better to be give too much information than not enough.  And, looking at my friends' disses, that suspicion certainly bears out.  In fact, one of my committee members, who also sat on two of these other diss committees, begged me in uncommonly frank language not to do the same thing.  While discussing my plan for the posited five-chapter diss, I asked if zi expected 60 pages or so per chapter, since that would generate the apparently magic number of 300.  Zi looked horrified, and responded, "You can't write 60 pages per chapter, it's criminal!  You can't do that yourself!  You can't do that to us!  They should only be 35 pages, max!"  Doesn't get much more direct than that.

What strikes me is that three particular friends' disses have all gone over 300, despite drastically different circumstances in their research and writing processes.  One of them spent a comparatively huge amount of time doing research, taking hir time, underwritten by a staggering number of research grants.  (Oh, to have hir CV for mine own!)  Another spent an average amount of research time, per se, but had a good bit of background research accumulated along the way; hir material was also the sort that did not lend itself readily to brief summations.  And the third...well, poor thing, zi had an interesting idea that perhaps should not have been built into a research prospectus, which meant that zi could never secure funding, which meant that hir research time was dreadfully short, and so zi likely felt pressured to bulk up descriptions of every single iota of data in order to compensate for the plainly insufficient quantity.  And every one of them somehow generated over 300 pages of text.  WTF? 

What on earth is going on here?  The one with all the fancy research grants didn't go to DOU, but the others are from my department, and we all share many of the same committee members.  Am I the only one who ever thought to ask how long the fucking thing should be?  Have the faculty become frightened of wading through so much text in a year when so many students are expected to graduate?  Do I seem like such an underachiever that my prof sees reason only to request the league minimum?

I guess it boils down to one of those questions I've been asking myself since childhood: Am I crazy, or is everyone else crazy?