Friday, May 6, 2011

Grad Student Paper Panic

My last post was about the term paper I wrote for my Milton class.  It was a grand old idea for a paper (so I thought), but it tumbled out of my hands pretty quickly.  I'd never written on Milton alone (though I'd focused on him for a fem crit paper or two in undergrad), and I soon saw how big he really is.  The paper, to be complete, would have to span time back to Virgil's day, nay, back to the beginning of time itself.  To talk about the pastoral, to give any complete sense of what it is, one would need a thorough education in classics, along with concordances to Milton,  Romantic poetry, metaphysical poetry (what are we supposed to call it nowadays?), etc, and the ability to see all these things happening at once.  Only God (or Milton) could do justice to a paper on Milton. So it seemed.

Have you ever turned in a paper and been completely embarrassed by the act?  Not just the act of writing such a steaming pile, but the act of placing something so putrid on the desk of a learned professor who you know will see right through the pages of your crap to your true self, the trembling, ignorant student! Or maybe he'll just think you're a hack.  And which would be the more shameful? you start to wonder as you scurry out of the classroom.  You wait for an email where he demands to know what you thought you were trying to get away with, putting that thing on his desk that way.  Nothing comes.  You dread the next class session.  Next week, you avoid eye contact during lecture.  "If he sees me, he'll know!"  You're still not sure if you're a lazy jerk trying to get away with something, or if you just have no idea what you're doing.  "Here it comes!  Oh God! Oh God!" 


Do all grad students do this to themselves?  I mean, I did get a "minus" after my "A," but as I said, I did fumble a bit under the weight of Milton's hefty pastoral legacy.  But I guess I didn't really drop the ball. 

Next day, in my bibliography class, the room was filled with chatter of the final short paper we were turning in.  A girl behind me, a smart cookie, a teaching assistant with two years of freshman wrangling under her belt, was having Grad Student Paper Panic (GSPP).  "I know I say all my papers are bad...but this one is REALLY BAD!"  Her fears were echoed by the rest of the class, half of them Ph. D. candidates.  I'm sure she will also get an A minus.  Or maybe even an A.  (Bibliography class is nowhere near as serious as Milton class.  I really thought I was about to get kicked out of school.)

My newest blogger associate over at Girl on a Mountain with a Chicken blog recently wrote about GSPP in her program.  It is real!

Before he handed back the Milton papers, the professor handed each of us a "certificate" printed on marbly parchment paper: "PERITUS MILTONI" it proclaimed.  I think I'll frame it.