Monday, September 14, 2009

More than Halfway Up the Climbing Wall of Prelims...

Deborah pauses, moistens her hands with chalk from the bag tied around her waist, and tightens the muscles inside her climbing shoes so that they curl more firmly around the footholds.

She looks down toward her feet to find the next sturdy foothold, then looks up. Look! The top of the wall! It looks so close now that her oral defense date is set for October 5, and now that all the written exams must be completed by next Thursday.

Only a few more footholds, she thinks. You can do this. Twelve hours of written tests down this month, eight to go. Three more in-house exams of two hours each, and finishing up that take-home before preparing for the two hour oral defense.

Her mental muscles are getting tired and a bit trembly, but the adrenaline is high. Surely she can push through. Moistening her hands once more, she takes a deep breath and moves one of them up toward the next handhold.

Onward and upward. Onward and upward.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thriving in the Third Year

So I'm learning/remembering a lot about my preferred working style/kind of life (including the writing life) by my first month of this, the third year of my PhD. Mostly, I'm confirming that I was right about myself, in that I thrive better when I don't have to take 3 classes while also doing a million other things.

It's not that I'm not fantastically busy. In fact, if possible, I'm busier than I was last year. But I'm finding that I enjoy the academic life much much more when I have more of a say in what I do when.

It's not that I don't have deadlines now: quite firm ones at times. I must finish these preliminary exams by September 24, for instance, because I'm given a month to do that. And I have a month to defend the exams. But I negotiated the timing of that, and have been able to choose what kinds of questions I wanted to take/prepare for when.

I chose to do this now, at the beginning of the semester, before my students have their major assignments due. This small juggling act I'm allowed to do allows me to be a better teacher, because I won't have so much other craziness at the end of the semester.

It also allows me to really focus on writing these prelims well, because while I have lesson planning (and have been really enjoying planning lessons this semester without 3 classes at the same time--having a chance to use my creativity to make up good new interactive activities), I don't have a huge amount of grading to do until the prelims are done.

It helps all of this so much that I only have one (last required) class I'm taking. I really like taking classes, but am glad the crazy 3-per-semester requirement is done.

I can begin to see the end of the tunnel a bit, and that helps too. After all, if I pass these exams, I'll be officially qualified to teach at the university level. After that, (just?) the dissertation, which is a topic I'm incredibly motivated to dig further into and have already collected and written a lot of material towards. (And since writing is my thing, and I wended my way through writing a 100 page MA thesis only a couple of years ago, the length of it doesn't overwhelm me too much. At least not at the moment.)

So, while I'm fantastically busy, I'm not minding that. I'm really enjoying this academic life of mine.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sorry It's Been So Long...and Exam Progress

Sorry it's been so long since I posted last, but the beginning of the semester has overwhelmed my blogging impulse a bit. I'm teaching 2 sections, taking my last officially required grad class, and using the first month of classes to take my 20 written hours of the Big Nasty Tests (to be followed by an oral defense).

Plus I've been blessed this week with the usual 2nd-week-of-school seasonal allergies. Thanks, Indiana--I'll find a way to repay you for this someday. Maybe drop an anvil on one of your fallow fields while no one is there. (That would be not harmful for anyone, but incredibly cathartic, don't you think?)

Actually, despite the busyness and the stupid allergies, as I settle in to teaching this course I haven't taught before and write my exams in 2-hour chunks, I find myself enjoying myself quite a bit. I'm very much enjoying my students, the class I'm taking will definitely be helpful, and I'm getting intensely good at writing 2000 words (give or take 200 words) in 2 hours in response to each of my preliminary exam questions.

In fact, I'm appreciating the learning experience of these exams much more than I thought I would. Reviewing the materials I've been learning over the last couple of years is really helping me synthesize everything I've learned. And writing the answers to questions in the areas I've studied that I'm looking to dissertate on is also helping me to transition to that area in my head as well.

So, despite the Big Nastiness of these tests, I'm--dare I say--enjoying them. Weird, I know. But true. I think--hope--I'll even enjoy the oral defense of these written portions next month. (I actually did enjoy my MA thesis defense, so there's precedent.)

Anyway, I have a take-home to work on this weekend (Labor Day DOES mean labor, doesn't it?), a few final revisions to that creative writing project I got hired for this summer, and, more immediately, two classes to teach this afternoon, so I'll sign off for now. More later.