Friday, April 12, 2013

Almost there.


I've been blogging here for five years now, and in many ways the blog has done what I wanted it to do.  It's kept me aware of how often (or seldom) I write, it's given me an audience to keep me honest, give me shit, and give me hope, and it's provided a record of my changing style and interests.  But probably most importantly, as the title suggests, this blog has followed me through my career as a student, from "non-traditional" college junior to graduating Master of Arts.  That's me.  I'm a master now.  A black belt in literature.

The next illogical step in this eternal forward march of studentry is to take a PhD.  Yes, I'm going to do it.  I only spent the first year and a half of this blog talking about how I would do it.  And now five years later, I will.

I'm staying at NIU and entering the doctoral program this fall, with full support.  That is, they are paying my tuition and I am getting paid (better than I was paid as a masters student) to teach.  Had to throw that in there in case anyone reads this and wants to tell me I'm going in debt.  Yes I will continue to be quite poor!  But I won't be paying anything for school, just like I didn't pay anything for my MA.  They'll be paying ME for school. 

The school has very little money for any new appointments in 2013-14, after hiring a huge cohort last year.  But they found some money for me.  The graduate director made sure they found some for me.  And that was awesome.  Since he didn't know if they'd have enough money in the English department, he wrote a letter for me to get a "recruitment" scholarship from the Graduate School.  Which is funny because it's more like a "Wait, wait! Please don't go somewhere else!" scholarship.  I like it.  But after all that (I took the money of course) they also found me an assistantship appointment and the bucks for that too.  Maybe I could go somewhere else.  But it is sweet to be where you are appreciated.

The letter that informed me of my scholarship award also informed me of how I should feel about it. "I encourage you to think of the waiver as a demonstration of the Graduate School's faith in your ability [...] and an institutional commitment to your academic success."  Thanks, Dean.  I'll think exactly that.

Know what I told them in my statement of purpose?  That I'm going to study the history of ideas.  And that I'm going to study Old English.  And that somehow that will all work out.  I put it more eloquently of course, and they did not seem to mind my unapologetic goal of becoming a generalist.  In fact, I think it might even help in a market where every new grad has been told Specialize! Specialize like hell!  As Dr. David Gorman tells me, "Be someone who knows something."  Spending these years on intellectual history will bring me knowledge of many somethings.  And being a fool for Old English will give me a very enjoyable pastime that I may one day be able to pretend is my "specialization."

WAIT! OH SHIT!  I just read an article in The Economist telling me I'd better not do a PhD because I'll only make 3% more than my MA'd peers.  The correspondent made an attempt to separate STEM, professional, and humanities PhDs, but not a very good one.  She also noted that the award for the most unfinished dissertations goes to humanities students.  It's probably because we get paid the least as assistants, and at some point we can't take it anymore and our kids get hungry. (TAs in other fields at my school get paid more than me to do recitations, grade, or sit as lab attendants.  While we, the few, the proud, the English, design and teach all our own classes by our own damn selves.)  Material pains aside, as many of the (non-sexist, very respectful) commenters argue, many of us who pursue a PhD, especially in the humanities, are not thinking of that 3% or however much it should be (and how much would be enough for someone who already thinks a PhD is a waste of time?). 

So this is NOT where I say the blog has run its course!  I'm still a student.  For at least four more years, I'd bet. And now that I'm a 32 year old PhD student, I'm no longer non-traditional.

I have in the works three very long blog posts on actual topics, that is, they're not autobiographical indulgence as I like to label it.  I'm writing about sexism, because it's everywhere.  I'm writing about it twice (1. anti-feminist tu quoque, and similar problems in arguments by angry commenters, and 2. the sinister side of benevolent sexism).  And the third work in progress is about my grandmother, who died February 27.

Also in the works is a proposal (idea finalized today!) for a fellowship to do research in the NIU Library's Special Collections.  It has to do with H.P. Lovecraft but I won't tell you what it is until I submit the proposal. We've got the second largest collection of his papers outside of Providence.

I'm due for a writing revolution, revamp, or rejuvenation.  Nothing well written has come out of me in a long time.  That's the thing I miss the most about this blog -- the push of having a place to publicly publish (soooo much alliteration!  Thanks Wulfstan...) put me at the top of my game sometimes. Lately I've fallen off, and so have my words.  I think I'm in a transitional stage.  I'm learning a lot, so lately when I write I know what I'm talking about.  I think I need to rise to the next level of incompetence for my writing urge to kick back in. Maybe when we use writing to understand things we can't figure out otherwise, that's when it's at its best.

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I publish all the comments, the good, the bad and the ugly. Unless I have no idea what you're saying. If you want to email me (with only good I hope), I'm at rbyrd [at] niu [dot] edu.