Posts Tagged ‘Lessons’

When I was in college, I was a philosophy major. Twice. I fulfilled every requirement for the major twice over. I didn’t do that because it meant something on paper; I did it because I liked the field. Part of what made me like the field was the idea of how deep I could go into certain things.

Of course, I didn’t know that at first. It wasn’t until a wonderful professor, Marjorie Hass, gave me an analogy of how to really DO philosophy that I found out what I liked about it so much. As an aside, I owe Marjorie a lot; if she hadn’t been sitting at the next table when I registered for my first semester in college, overheard me asking for alternatives to math classes, and spoken up, suggesting I take Critical Thinking (with her), I probably never would have. And had she not given me a book of logic puzzles and then suggested that I take Formal Logic (also with her), I probably wouldn’t have given philosophy a second thought. She started me on a very strange road, and I owe her a lot for that. (more…)

When I was young, my dad once told me a joke:

A wolf comes across a rabbit typing away with abandon. The wolf, curious, asks the rabbit what it is typing. “My dissertation,” the rabbit says. “It’s about how rabbits kill wolves.”

“Rabbits don’t kill wolves,” the wolf says. “Wolves eat rabbits.”

“No, rabbits kill wolves. Come in to my den, I’ll show you.”

So they go into the den, the wolf sure he’s about to have a very easy meal.

Inside the den, a lion waits. He kills the wolf and starts eating him. While he’s eating, the rabbit goes back outside and continues work on the dissertation.

The moral of the story: it doesn’t matter what your dissertation is about; all that matters is who your adviser is.

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Rules exist for a reason. They give us guidelines to follow, and they show us how to get from point A to point B with minimal fuss. They keep order and prevent society from falling into chaos. At least, most of them do.

Some of them don’t. Some rules restrict us, blind us to possibilities, and prevent creativity. I see this all the time when teaching students to write. They have had the five paragraph essay format drilled into them so deeply that they can’t comprehend any other ways to write; they can’t even conceive that there ARE other ways. They know the rules of writing, and they have to follow them, even though it makes them hate writing papers. They know they are constrained, they know they’re in a cage, but since they can’t see the bars, they can’t escape.

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I’ve been dragging my feet with my dissertation. That said, my prospectus meeting hasn’t happened yet (so the prospectus isn’t officially approved) and I already have about a dozen pages.

But I’ve still been dragging my feet. I’ve been questioning the academic methods and railing against them. I wanted to say something new, not just rehash what others have said. I hated the idea that I had to quote so many people, that I had to write a thirty page literature review. I wanted MY words, not someone else’s.

It’s kind of childish, really. And I knew it was. I knew I was bitching for no good reason, and that while I wanted to be able to have my own words be the proof of my brilliance (or at least expertise), that wasn’t the real problem. That being said, I STILL didn’t want to do it.

At least, not until I taught my class about the use of quotations in argument. That’s when I had the epiphany. The one that made me want to slap myself. (more…)

Moving along

Posted: February 21, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Getting back to work is sometimes harder than getting to work in the first place. I’ve had to reset and recenter myself several times over the last few years, and it doesn’t seem to get any easier. But when I do manage, it always seems to be worth the effort.

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I haven’t posted here in quite some time. There’s a simple reason for that: the last six months of my life has been pretty hard. My cat died, then I had cancer, and then my father died. All in the last 6 months. It’s pretty mind boggling. The cancer was minor, and I’m recovered from it, but it still threw my world for a loop.

Naturally, my work has suffered from these constant shifts. So much so that I lost sight of what I was doing and started trying to do too much. I was trying to look at a book instead of a sentence.

Let me explain. (more…)

No one ever did this for me. I wish someone had. I wish I’d known before I started. But I didn’t.

I started my prospectus with no idea what I was doing. I had two others I had seen, things to model after, but I didn’t know even the basic format, aside from what my colleagues had done before me.

So, I followed the model before me, and I put in a section describing the project, one about preliminary theory, one about research questions, and then a vague outline of the chapters in my dissertation. On top of that, I put in a literature review, which was largely taken from this blog. I ended up with a ‘draft’ of 52 pages.

I also ended up using the wrong tone, writing to the wrong audience, and generally doing everything wrong. That’s okay; it’s kind of how I work. I do it, I get told what’s wrong, and I do it again. Not very efficient, but it works. Still, there are a few things it would have been nice to know: (more…)

I started this blog in October 2007. When I did it, it was because my advisor and friend Bradley Dilger suggested that it would be a good way to organize my thoughts and keep in mind what I glean from anything I read. He suggested that I write little reviews of everything I read, both as practice for writing reviews and just to keep my memory somewhere I can read it.

Seemed like a great idea at the time. And it was; the number of papers I have written with the help of my blog, the number of theories I have come to understand better, and the number of times I’ve turned here for inspiration is really pretty high. But recently, I’ve found another purpose.

I was asked by my current adviser to write a Literature Review for my prospectus. Not everything I’ve ever read, but a good grasp on the subject, enough to establish that I know the field. And that’s what I did. Putting it together helped me to organize my thoughts and to identify the main themes of my project, which in turn will help me finish off my prospectus.

At first, it was a daunting task. How could I do all that? How could I go through all the things I’ve read and synthesize them into a literature review? Then it hit me: I already have. That’s what this blog IS. Suddenly, the task of writing a Literature Review was less about a ton of writing and organizing and more about a synthesis and structuring of what I have already written. It’s not cheating: I wrote it to begin with. I didn’t write it for a publication, I wrote it for my own edification. That has always been pretty explicit, I think.

The end result was that in two days, I was able to put together about 30 pages of Literature Review. This blog has, once again, paid for itself. (Not that I pay for it)

So in four days, I start my exams. I have two questions from each of three professors. The first two days will have two questions a piece, and the second two days will each have one. I won’t lie; I am both stressed and scared. But not as scared as I might have been.

It’s weird feeling prepared. Not because of the work I’ve been doing (I’ve done A LOT), but because a few months ago, this felt like something I could NEVER be fully prepared for. Now, within spitting distance of my questions, I find myself anxious to get started. It’s turned from this looming obelisk of terror into just one more hoop to jump through.

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It’s been a difficult semester for me, as can be seen by how little I have posted here. The long and short of it is that outside stress has forced me to take a step back and find a new way to do what used to come easily for me: writing papers.

When in a normal state of mind, writing papers is done easily enough. Five pages meant an afternoon’s work, Ten pages meant a weekend. Even twenty pages wouldn’t be all that bad. But in this state, I found myself having difficulty. And to solve that difficulty, I had to essentially re-train myself to write papers.

I thought it might be interesting to write down how I do that, in case this should come up again. (more…)