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Mpls, MN, United States

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Incidents & Accidents

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


This morning in the class I have with my advisor, she kindly suggested that we might want to have a meeting before the end of the semester. I think she mostly wanted to talk about what classes I was planning to take in the spring; I told her I'd been thinking about a meeting for quite a while and that I already had a title ready: the "I Don't Know How to Do my PhD" meeting. She laughed at that (she's a wonderful person), and later in her office when we talked about it, she made me feel even better by saying that if I did know exactly what I was doing, I wouldn't be sitting in her office--I'd be heading off somewhere with my degree in my hand.

Even better than that, she called my ramblings on what I'm interested in ("Feminine beauty... the monstrous feminine... the cyborg, although I'm afraid that's dead...") a topic. A dissertation topic! When I mentioned how much that term flattered my poor, scattered collection of ideas, she reassured me that she had once based an entire seminar paper in graduate school, of which she was very fond and keeps hoping to turn into a larger publication, on "beds." And she really just made me feel very good about the possibility of developing a real topic, being able to form a committee based on it, successfully taking my exams with that committee, and then actually writing a dissertation.

I realize that my insecurities may sound silly, but they are very real and omnipresent, as anyone who's been in this position knows well. I have always been good at school; school has been the thing I can do. But I am increasingly convinced that I may not, in fact, be all that great at this level of school* and don't, moreover, actually know anything. And as self-aware as that may sound, it's fairly terrifying when you're supposed to be taking your qualifying exams in... say... eight months.

In any case, I have been avoiding both the foot-high stack of papers my students turned in today (which I did bring home; the mass of timeline assignments they also turned in today is currently occupying my entire corner of the TA office) and the final take-home essay assignment that was given today. My professor (my brilliant advisor, she of the timeline assignment) has really outdone herself on this last one. It's simple, elegant, and yet devastatingly complex:

"Ted Nelson first published his Computer Lib in 1974. Donna Haraway first published her Cyborg Manifesto in 1985. Critical Art Ensemble published their critique of nomadic power in 1994. We're long overdue for a new manifesto. Write a manifesto for the visual arts having to do with one or more of the themes/issues we've been discussing such as biopower, life, the vision machine, cyborgs, or interactivity. Take a look at the various manifestos we've read this semester to develop a model."
There it is. I'm going to bed. To sleep on it.

*It may be sort of like an academic version of the Peter Principle.


I Hope So said...

i am completely lost reading this post and i love it. you know about cool stuff.

Ern said...

I don't know anyone who feels like they're doing great at this level of school. And it sucks even worse when you're used to feeling like you're good at school. I have found myself panicking at various stages: "OMG, I'll never be able to do written comps!" But then I did them. And "I don't think I'll ever be able to write my proposal!" But now I'm thinking it might actually be doable. You'll get through it. :)

(Gah, I even failed the word verification...)

Carissa J said...

Thank goodness for good advisors. Hang in there. In the words of my wise husband (who had to repeatedly tell me this throughout my master's degree because I tended to forget it about five minutes after he told me): try not to look at the whole problem; the entire degree; everything you have to do at once. Take it piece by manageable piece. One at a time, until there aren't any more pieces left.

Ellen said...

I'm having a blast in grad school.

turqois said...

Your insecurities do not sound silly. Oh no no no no.

...No no no no.

strovska said...

this is only marginally relevant, but the cyborg thing made me think of this. if nothing else, it will distract you (if i can figure out how to link to it):

circa 1977 would-be cyborgs

Curly Sue said...

Oh Ceri. If only you could see into every grad student's brain. We all have those exact same thoughts: there's no way I can write a whole dissertation, I'll never pass my prelims.

You'll get to each stage when you're ready for it. That was my big consolation while I was studying for my prelim exams: my committee/advisor would never let me do it if I wasn't ready.

Good luck as you mull over dissertation ideas.

Cerise said...

Thanks for all the encouragement, guys!

And Rachel, that video is excellent--I'd never seen it. I think my favorite part is the way they growl that last rolled r in roboter.

turqois said...

Random fact: I am doing a freelance copyediting job that references Donna Haraway frequently. How oddly our paths intersect.