Academia is full of surprises!

Grad school can definitely be a vicious cycle full of rejection, but there are many good things about it.  After a long and tough 2017 (hurricanes, rejections and disappointments galore), I was ready to give up on grad school. I don’t mean quitting because I’m not really a quitter, but rather taking a more easygoing approach to it. I have always been so high strung and overwhelmingly compulsive about everything that I tend to forget that it’s OKAY to have fun, be young and enjoy life.

Last Winter, I made the decision to finish my PhD without the intention of pursuing academia (i.e. academic jobs). I made this decision for a number of reasons: watching many of my colleagues get rejected to these jobs that they were more than qualified for, the unfortunate ghost of adjunct professorships (i.e. making the same lowly salary as a TA with none of the health benefits) that haunts the academic job market, and wanting a life (children, a house, and a livable income).

This resolution completely changed my life outlook, plans and overall mental health. As surprising as it may seem, letting go of academia has frankly been the best thing for my research, my applications and my well-being. How do I know this?

  1. Setting Goals and Meeting Them: I wrote my first chapter in one semester (~4 months) and I think I did a pretty decent job. I work best under schedules, so I planned multiple writing groups, and sketched out blocks of time where I could work solely on writing. I love the research I got to do and cannot wait to do more over the Summer.
  2. Work/Life Balance: Last semester, I got really into setting boundaries around what was my work time and what was my “life” time. One of my friends even got me into a TedTalk Podcast called “Work Life with Adam Grant”, which I highly recommend It discusses workaholic lifestyles, emotional labor, and many other important things. I decided that, unlike other semesters, I was not going to let graduate school become my number one priority in life. I would work 9-5PM (sometimes 6:00 PM) and I would avoid weekend labor…and somehow I managed to accomplish this. I did not respond to emails after 5:00 PM, but instead I did things that I enjoyed like reading for fun, writing or just binge-watching something on netflix.  I actually want to write another post about this specifically because grad school’s work obsession is frankly disturbing and beyond unhealthy.
  3. Grant/Fellowship/Scholarship/Job/Research Applications: In addition to writing time, I set times to work on specific applications that will help me further my non-academic (and academic) experiences. I applied to the same number of positions I do every year without expecting anything from them (I don’t think anyone wants to know the number because it’s so absurd…the amount of work that goes into these applications is crazy).
  4. Relaxed Outcomes Facing Rejection:.Out of  [insert ridiculous number here], I received about [insert adequate number] of rejections. Now, this does not mean that I was like yay, I didn’t get this one job I really wanted, but rather helped me keep myself in check. I went in with low expectations while still managing to dedicate a lot of time to my apps. Overall, I feel proud of myself for feeling OKAY about rejection and the great work I put into my applications.
  5. Actually Getting Awesome Grants (WHAT?!): As I said, I went into academia this past semester with very low expectations. I did not expect much from my applications, my dissertation or even my teaching (my pedagogy friends must be freaking out ). I received a fellowship that will allow me to further the field of public humanities doing a job that is very meaningful to me. I received a research fellowship AND a scholarship that will allow me to do research for my second chapter in PARIS, FRANCE.  This means that I get an all-paid expense research trip to Paris that will allow me to live there for most of the Summer!

When did it all change then?

I set out to find what I really loved and cared for in life: connections, philosophy, friendships, social justice endeavors, and celebrating accomplishments–even the smallest of them. In return, letting go of academia made me become a better scholar, teacher, friend, partner and person. I look into the details of my writing and research without becoming so focused on the general, big-picture outcome. I focus on helping my students enjoy themselves during class and understand tough philosophical concepts or complex narratives…and friends, this has paid off. 

I have made space for things that matter to me and have lessened my burdens. I don’t know if this blog post might actually help anyone, but this approach has really helped me. I feel lighter and less anxious about all the things that used to burden me. I feel like I have made the decisions that work best for me and I feel incredibly content and free!

The Importance of Latin

A couple of years ago, I embarked on my ancient language requirement journey. I had, for some dumb reason, decided that Latin would be an easy language to master….I was wrong.

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Latin is a ridiculously complex language. Knowing that, you get to learn so much about your own native language (s). Latin grammar changed the way I looked at the world. I started drawing connections between Latin and English and Spanish and all the other languages I know… and it was quite the adventure.

My question is…why doesn’t anyone learn Latin anymore?

Sure, some Catholics make somewhat of an effort to learn Latin, but it’s still Ecclesiastical Latin (different from Classical Latin) and some just learn the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus. No one picks up a nice Latin textbook anymore. Why?

As a modern language learner, the process of learning Latin was actually quite difficult. It was an entirely different structure. Because Latin is, well, dead, I had to memorize a significant amount of paradigms and take a look at things from a different perspective. Latin shifted the way my brain works. It allowed me to truly break the boundaries of language in ways that I had never imagined.

Perhaps that sounds a little ambiguous. However, it is the closest description to how it felt to approach a dead language like this. For the meantime, I have been trying to pick up Ancient Greek (without much success)…but my heart will always have Latin. ❤

 

 

The Perils of Teaching

As a graduate student, I  have to get to teach every semester in order to afford tuition costs and, well, living costs. However, teaching is not all it has been made out to be. I have been teaching a combination of college level courses for years. From Literature to Religious Studies to Jewish Studies, I have been working hard at getting students to engage with texts and better their writing skills.

Unfortunately, composition does not come easily to most students. For some reason, High School English teachers have been completely focused on getting the students to engage with awkward opening lines or weird paragraph structures. This means I receive a ridiculous amount of emails with questions such as How many sentences should each paragraph have? Do I need to cite? Is this really vague thesis statement okay?

Don’t get me wrong…as far as jobs go, I love mine ! I love being able to engage with students and teach them about all series of topics. I work hard and I get results, but teaching can be a dangerous, treacherous journey. The perils of teaching are the following:

  1. Spending too much time lesson planning: If I didn’t stop myself, I would spend three hours researching and working on the THE best lesson plan. However, I know that I need to have my priorities set straight. I have to work on my dissertation, other jobs, and my mental health !
  2. Lack of Organization: I have so many friends (and even some professors) who find it hard to structure fifty minutes worth of discussion. I recommend structuring things in ten to twenty minute blocks and leaving some extra time for discussion. Organizing your syllabus and scheduling your reading/grading time are also the key to success.
  3. Boundaries: When I first started teaching, I was very flexible when it came down to extending deadlines, absences, and answering emails at all times. It wasn’t until my second year of teaching when I FINALLY put down an email policy on my syllabus and it has helped a lot. I highly recommend including any kind of policy you deem important on your syllabus. I have grading, email, electronic, and participation policies. This helps establish boundaries from day ONE and it helps you manage your time wisely.
  4. Dress Codes: As a woman of color, I have not one, but two things against me. Some students tend to undermine my authority and I have a hard time dealing with that. However, I establish a professional relationship on the first day of class with my demeanor, but also with the way I dress. Dressing up to teach can be fun and it definitely does not have to be boring. I love choosing fun colorful heels, long necklaces, and fun dresses. If Jess from New Girl can do it, anyone can !

PS. I do NOT recommend standing on top of your desk !

Alas ! There are many more perils to teaching, but I hope that my struggles can help a fellow teacher of any sort.

Summer 2017

Hello!

It’s been a while. It always surprises me how tougher graduate school gets. I just finished my preliminary doctoral examinations (six weeks of pure hell, three (two-page length) questions, 80 pages worth of essays, and zero relaxation time). Alas, I am done with the writing portion and am anxiously waiting for my oral defense. Summer this year, like many other years, will consist on taking in Madison: more kickball, yoga, sunset viewings, reading for fun, beer tasting, research, writing my dissertation proposal, academic meetings, and knowing that my Summers here are limited.

I cannot wait to see what my next adventure will look like. Right now my life revolves around my dissertation, my research, and self care. Until next time!IMG_3631.jpg

An Update

Hello fellow readers.

Yes, I do realize it has been a while since I last wrote/published anything. I guess you could say I am in a bit of a rut. Thankfully, life in 2016 has been mostly okay. Grad school, however, has been ridiculously hard.

I am currently in the process of wrapping up coursework for my PhD. This means I have been taking a series of class requirements that I am not particularly too thrilled about. From Latin to Early Modern French literature courses to teaching classes I’m not particularly fond of, I have started to operate mechanically in some ways. I wish I could work on my research instead of dealing with pesky tasks, but that is not really the case and it won’t be for a while.

I came to the realization that life is full of a lot of things that we do not want to do, but we still do them. Why?

  1. Because we learn something: As much as I complain about Latin or French Lit, I have learned so much this semester. Latin has taught me how to better understand languages and how to construct sentences and ideas in ways I had not thought of before. (It helps that the boyfriend patiently tutors me on all matters of scansion and the ablative absolute.) On the other hand, my French has gotten so much better after rereading a lot of early modern books. From reading Laclos to Molière, I have learned to write a pretty damn good dissertation in French and eloquently express my ideas about literature in class. (I have also randomly learned a lot of colloquialisms)
  2. Because we simply just *have* to: Obligations are a scary ordeal. The fact that you have to sit through a lot of things you don’t particularly care about in order to move forward with life is not pleasant at all. However, it gives you some sort of structured guidance. For instance, my PhD degree has a lot of requirements. From languages to PhD minors to breadth requirements, it gets to be a lot. Nonetheless, I love how well-structured my program is. I like knowing exactly what I have to do next (INFJ trait).
  3. Because the fun parts of life become more fun: Right now I barely have time for anything. I am wrapping up the semester (this blog post is my procrastination task of the day) and everything is ridiculously stressful. I try my best to take the time to be present: in the moment. I enjoy long walks to work, cooking a simple meal, brief quality time with friends, and doing work next to my significant other. Even if I am working with people, we always take the time to have a brief conversation, share our lives, and stay on track. Grad school is a hard, sometimes lonely place and family, friends, and fun make it worth it.
  4. Because it teaches us to balance things: The biggest game I have learned to play this past academic year is how to balance it all. How can I keep up with friends, schoolwork, multiple jobs, and all the extra academic work you have to do? These class requirements have taught me that there really isn’t time for everything…and that’s okay. All we need is time to reflect, to have fun, to work, to destress, etc.

If it isn’t clear from the blog post, I still struggle with all of these obligations. I have long, never-ending to-do lists, a mess of languages in my head (guys, I started teaching myself Ancient Greek!), a ridiculous pile of books I need to read, lesson planning, job hunting, and so many other obligations and responsibilities that will not ever fit into a simple blog post.

However, life is more than all of these things. Life is a rapid stream of water and, when you least expect it, the waters will settle and it will all be worth it.