Friday, April 30, 2010

I think I'm tiring of inventing titles for blog posts.  It's tiresome enough to do this for things that we publish for professional judgment; must we submit to the tyranny of the title as bloggers?

Anyway.  I think I'm getting my bearings on this recent attack of insecurity about my place in the department, relative to Supersmart.  I went to another friend's defense on Wednesday.  (Notice, by the way, how many of us are defending all at once?  Not a coincidence, that.)  Zi has spent a seriously long time in grad school, largely due to family obligations.  I expect those of you who have been through grad school, and remember how many years of your life it comprised, will understand what I mean by a student who took an exceptionally long time.  Of course, this also means that zi has had many years to synthesize hir research data.  Hir dissertation must be really smoothed out and mirror-polished by now.

Except it wasn't.  Hir committee assailed hir for a lack of coherence of certain ideas propagated therein, as well as an inability to link various threads together.  I can only wonder how they could mount such a criticism when they're all supposed to be coaching the student through this in the first place.  This student's chair is considerably more on point than my own Dr. Chair, and can/should intervene before it comes to such harsh words at the defense.

In the end, the student passed, but with significant required revisions, such that zi will have to complete them over the summer, and thus graduate over the summer.  (Among other things, this means that zi cannot walk in the big commencement ceremony next month with me.)  Zi had told us -- hir fellow students, that is -- that zi knew there would be required revisions, but I can't say how surprised zi was to hear the extent of them.  The post-defense drink was decidedly downbeat.

And, continuing my emotional education, today I attended another friend's defense.  This latest one went much better, and zi passed with no revisions at all.  (Other than a request to clean up typos, which really doesn't count.)  I felt another wave of shame and -- let's just say it -- envy upon seeing how in tune the whole committee was with the work, and how supportive they all were of what my friend had written.  I got a handle on it (more or less) by reminding myself of what I had seen mere days ago, and by observing to myself that this student, like a few other of my friends, had far more conducive writing conditions than I had.  (To wit: Stateside field research, and a loving and supportive partner.  Supersmart was another one of these lucky ones.)  In other words, like Dr. Crazy and Flavia have commented, there will always be those both more and less impressive than I at any given point, and comparing myself to others in this regard isn't very productive.

So I haven't truly stopped envying my friends who had stellar defenses full of helpful and kindly interventions, but I can make use of what I got at my defense.  And, lest I feel too sorry for myself, no less a person than one of the members on the passed-with-revisions student's committee told me that I should be thrilled that I was passed with such minimal revisions.  (And zi should know, I suppose!)  And really, zi is right: I passed with light revisions, and can/will walk in this year's graduation, rather than next year's, and need not spend another semester in grad school.  What the fuck do I have to complain about, other than petty emotional hang-ups?

Answer: nothing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Post-partum depression (of a sort)

I'm surprised and embarrassed that I have already reverted from post-defense joy to grad-student-style self-loathing and shame.  I know this is ultimately my own responsibility, and that I need to just get a grip.  But I would like to blame a little of this on a lovely colleague, Supersmart.

I've known Supersmart since the very first day I set foot in DOU-Town, and zi has always impressed me.  Or, to be precise, zi has impressed me ever since I first read an article zi had written.  Supersmart is, well, look at the pseudonym!  Gorgeous prose, fantastic elucidation of ideas, amazing grasp of theory: zi has it all. 

In a questionable move for my emotional well-being, I attended Supersmart's dissertation defense on Friday.  This set up a comparison that, in hindsight, perhaps I didn't want.  Dr. Awesome is on both of our committees, and the difference was stunning.  Awesome gave me some valid and strong critiques of my thinking, and offered a few small compliments on my methodology.  Four days later, Awesome said to Supersmart, "I learn something new every time I read your work.  You really have to publish this book!"

*cue sound of Koshary committing seppuku with a butter knife*

My friends have told me that I simply can't compare myself to Supersmart, that zi is just one of those prodigies who make others feel bad about themselves for not being geniuses.  They're probably right, but it hurts me all the same that I now feel like my committee passed me partly out of pity, while Supersmart's committee glowed about hir work, and begged hir to put the work out there for public consumption.  It's hard to tell in these situations if I'm good and Supersmart is great, or if Supersmart is actually good and I'm actually crap.

All the tendencies of self-doubt and self-hatred that grad school (and my entire life prior to that) has taught me are feeding on this now.  Am I really going to make a go of it in academia?  Is all of my hard work received as a superficial appetizer for meatier work?  Is this primarily the result of bad advising -- which, everyone in the department knows, is my cross to bear -- that I can/will overcome in the future, or am I just not that bright as academics go?  And for heaven's sake, how many encounters like this will I have, where I feel like I've turned into Salieri encountering Mozart?

Somebody slap me and tell me it will be okay.  I think I need both interventions right now.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Professors are idiots/Will I be an idiot, too?

One more line in that post title, and I'd have some kind of academic haiku.

Anyway, I'm trying not to stress about Dr. Junior, the new-ish professor on my committee.  After all, I passed the defense, and there remains very little that zi can do to me at this point.  Except, of course, stall.  Since zi is hundreds and hundreds of miles away from DOU, I had to overnight (of course!) the signature pages for the university bureaucracy to hir, along with another (prepaid, of course!) overnight envelope so that zi could send them winging back to me the next day.  The speed is required (in a loose sense, anyway) because Dr. Sweetie is going to be in town over the weekend and into Monday morning for another defense.  Sweetie suggested that I overnight everything to Junior, have Junior send it all back to me PDQ, and then Sweetie can sign the pages without the need for another set of mailings.

In hindsight, perhaps I should have simply butted in and recommended that I hold onto the pages here until Sweetie flies in, get hir signatures, and only then send them to Junior.

Naturally, what has come to pass, as over right now, is that my apparently passive-aggressive committee member Junior has decided to do mail the (prepaid! all ready to go!) return envelope whenever the fuck zi feels like it, never mind that zi is needlessly creating more complications for Sweetie and me.  All zi had to do was drop by hir campus post office and hand over the envelope with the pages in it, and they would do the rest.  Sigh.  At the moment, USPS still has no tracking information on that envelope, whose number I have in front of me.  I know this is going to end with me getting the package days after Sweetie leaves DOU-Town, thereby forcing me to spend another $36 on the same procedure for Sweetie.

I just want to say out loud to someone that Junior is a fucking prima donna punk-ass bitch.  Who apparently is never around when you need hir at any of hir phone lines.  I can't believe that I originally envisioned Junior as the mellowest, most easygoing of my committee members.  Zi has been almost pure aggravation for me ever since I had to mail out the diss copies.

But, as I keep reminding myself, if I have to spend another $36 of my unemployment benefits in order to get Sweetie's signatures, then so be it.  At least I'm not running up against an imminent bureaucratic long as Junior slips that envelope into the mail in the next few days.  If Junior managed to lose the envelope and all the signature pages, then I'm really going to be angry.  There's no damn excuse to act like this; I can't imagine that Junior would endear hirself to colleagues with this sort of stupidity.  I haven't quite reached the point of hoping that zi fucks up hir chances for tenure by acting like a foolish diva, but I'm getting there.

The darkest fear in all of this, rather, is that I may someday turn into one of these people myself.  What makes professors like this?  Weren't they (...we?) all once responsible, time-managing people who had to contend with other people's carelessness?  Does getting a t-t job somehow increase the risk of early dementia?  It's a worn cliché that professors are hopeless dumbasses about every bit of mundane business outside their specialties, but damn it, that cliché arises again and again for a reason.  If Junior were always this passive-aggressive and careless, it's hard to believe that hir profs (and I know them!) would ever have given her a Ph.D.  At some point, Junior had to be on the ball.  How did zi become the kind of person who screws over a graduate student and needlessly jams up a fellow professor?  Whatever did it, is there a vaccine I can request?

ETA: Some hours after I posted this entry, I checked USPS' website again, and found the package in transit.  Ahem.  Now that I think about it, another stereotype of professors is paranoid fears of being undermined by colleagues, isn't it so?  Somebody get me that vaccine, fast.

Monday, April 19, 2010

But I feel much better now!

I passed my defense today.  I'm a little bit in shock, but I'm transitioning into pleasure at the thought.

Long story short, despite some incisive and rather significant critiques that my committee launched at me, they ended up demanding only very small and highly feasible revisions for the final draft.  Given all the shortcomings they noted during the defense, I was kind of stunned that they didn't ask for more.  But hey, I'm not complaining! 

Oh, and I checked with them on protocol, and I got confirmation that it's not exactly cool to call myself "Dr. Koshary" until I graduate next month.  So I'll stick with "Prof. Koshary" for the time being. 


Sunday, April 18, 2010


My body has clearly taken note of the impending (tomorrow!!) defense.  My stomach is kind of churning, and I have trouble focusing on anything right now.  This morning got off to a terrible start, which has contributed to my nerves.  In the wee hours this morning, I had to call the cops on my dumbass upstairs neighbor for refusing to tone down the party at 4AM.  Then, while I caught up on my missed sleep in the late morning, some douchebag spam artist hacked into my Gmail account and sent Viagra ads to everyone I know.  Hell of a way to start a Sunday, I tell you.

And I'm freaking defending tomorrow!  Jesus Christ on a bike!  How the fuck am I going to get to sleep tonight?  (Earplugs will help against noise, but this semester has been particularly rough on my serenity at bedtime.  Lacking a better plan, I'm having a few glasses of merlot -- enough, as I hope, to help soothe me to sleep, but not so much that I wake up hungover on exactly the wrong day for that.

I'd like to point out, by the way, that although I certainly don't relish having a hangover, I reserve the right to be hungover on Tuesday morning without anyone mocking me for it.

It's a rite of passage.  It's just a rite of passage in a well-understood progression of rites.

I will be fine.  I can do this.

I will defend my dissertation successfully tomorrow because there is no reason I should not.

*shakily pours second glass of merlot*

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Gearing up

I'm back in DOU-Town, and feel like I acquitted myself well at the interview.  It's for a position that, for reasons of long-term planning, I don't think I would take over the fellowship I won.  However, since there was an outside chance that they could talk me into it, I went on the visit.  Plus, they comped me for the airfare and the hotel stay, so why not?  Besides, I figured that it would be worth my while to get familiar with the questions that I'm likely to field on campus visits, especially when I can start with a situation like this, in which the pressure is relatively low and I feel free to experiment a bit with my affect and approach.

Meanwhile, the countdown to my dissertation defense is now approximately T minus 45 hours.  No doubt I'll sleep very badly tomorrow night, but for now I still have the sense of serenity that comes from feeling that I've done all that I can, and that I have done it reasonably well.  My serenity may well evaporate soon, but for now I'm clinging to a comment that Dr. Awesome made to me yesterday.  Zi told me that another prof on my committee -- please don't ask me to concoct yet another pseudonym right now -- told Awesome that zi had read my diss and liked it.  I can only wonder if I will hear this myself at the defense, but still, it seems positive!

Monday, April 12, 2010

On the DL

No details bloggable at the moment, but I'm out of DOU-Town for an interview.  I have a little free time before I have to impress people, so I thought I might amuse myself and (hopefully) tantalize my readers with this little tease.

Off in search of some local cuisine and beer.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Academics and their kinfolk

I just spoke on the phone with my aunt, who was keen to get whatever details I had to offer about the nature of my upcoming defense.  I can understand how non-academics are hazy on what goes on at these events; I wouldn't really know myself, if I hadn't attended so many.  What throws me, though, is the way that my aunt, my grandmother, my parents, and pretty much everyone in my family simply don't understand what I plan to do for a living.  I mean, they understand that I want to be a professor and researcher, but they really don't get what that entails.  Case in point: I was explaining to my aunt a fellowship that I had applied for at University X.  I heard her brighten up and say:

"Oh!  You know, [daughter of an old boyfriend of my aunt's whom I barely know] went to University X!"

Wow, Auntie, do I not give a flying fuck about where this girl -- or anyone -- went to undergrad.  University X is, um, a big school.  A lot of people go there for college.  This fact has exactly nothing to do with anything that I do.  But for my family, who have only the vaguest idea what universities might pay me to do on a day-to-day basis, this seems to be their default setting for relating to my work.  (My mom's side in particular, come to think of it.)  They like to establish interpersonal links to things beyond their immediate knowledge, no matter how tenuous or irrelevant to practical concerns those links might be.  I sometimes feel like they tacitly insist on establishing a link -- any link -- between themselves and wherever I might be working, as if the place doesn't really exist if they can't verify some kind of chain of relationships back to themselves.  It's a weird kind of concrete thinking, and weirdly self-centered -- after all, I'm the one applying for the job, not any of them.  Does every academic's family insist on somehow blessing a potential workplace by virtue of its existence in their cultural and social geography?  Or is my family just peculiar?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The iniquities of the selfish

Seriously, WTF is wrong with committee members sometimes?  The one I recruited for my diss committee specifically because I thought zi would be kindly and low-maintenance has turned into such a fucking prima donna that I can barely get my mind around it.  Check this out.

So, we have to have five members on a diss committee, three of whom must be within the department.  The other two on mine, as it happens, are both at other universities, on opposite coasts.  (Planning is an impressively complicated undertaking.)  One of them, Dr. Sweetie, is a lovely person and a senior academic who now has a cushy full professor gig; the other, Dr. Junior, is also a lovely person (as I thought, anyway) and a junior academic -- zi is the lowest-ranked member of my committee.  I've probably mentioned this before, but Junior was in fact a fellow graduate student in class with me: zi and I were in one of Dr. Chair's seminars together my first year.

When the time came to send out my dissertation to everyone, Sweetie said that zi would be happy to get a PDF via email.  Junior, though, started pulling this pretentious bullshit by insisting on a paper copy.  Paper?  When you already have the PDF?  Ugh, fine.  I had to print paper copies for the profs close to hand anyway, so I printed one more, had it bound, and shipped to Junior via Priority Mail to hir department office, as instructed.  I even ordered tracking and insurance for the retail cost of the bound copy, just in case.

And it didn't get to Junior.  USPS tells me that the package was delivered on Wednesday, but Junior never got it.  To shorten an already long story somewhat, I slowly pieced together that Junior foolishly asked me to mail the copy to hir during hir university's spring break, and the offices shut early for the weekend.  Junior's university, much like DOU, is a huge place, and no doubt has a central mail office that receives USPS packages and distributes them among the departments as needed.  Which means it's there, but it's inaccessible until after the weekend (at least). 

Junior's response is to ask that I overnight hir another copy, so zi "can get started reading over the weekend." 

Mother. Fucker.

I don't believe for a goddamned minute that zi is really going to devote a Sunday almost three weeks before the defense to perusing my dissertation.*  No one does that.  This is just a stupid fucking power play to make me pay due respect to a committee member on an ego trip.  Come Monday, that office is going to re-open, and Junior is going to get the Priority Mail package.  But that, it seems, is not good enough for Junior.

I was so steamed when I got this request that I went to the chair of my department and consulted on this question of protocol: did I seriously have to print, bind and mail another copy via overnight delivery to Junior, when zi already has the PDF and the first copy is probably on its way?  The chair smiled and said, "You already know the answer to this question.  It's not fair, it's obnoxious, but just do it."

God damn it.  Fine.  At least this time I was smart enough to mooch a printed copy out of our grad student lounge** so I wouldn't have to pay another $20 to the copy shop.  I ground my teeth all the way to the post office.

Printing and binding cost of copy #1: $25.00
Mailing cost of copy #1:                       12.50
Binding cost of copy #2:                         5.00
Mailing cost of copy #2:                       32.60

Object lesson in the preferability of dealing with fragile-egoed assistant professors: priceless.***

* Granted, Junior isn't a native speaker of English, but zi is also a graduate of DOU and has a fancy-pants Assistant Professorship at a big university.  I happen to know first-hand that zi is pretty well conversant with academic writing in the English language.  I call bullshit.
** Okay, fine, if you want the truth, I printed two copies, so I could have one as well for the defense.  Don't you dare judge me for this.
*** My dear readers who are themselves assistant professors are begged to take no offense at this statement.  Clearly, not every young prof is as much of a diva as Junior.