Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Quiet Life (as a PhD student)

I completed (survived) my first week.
There were a couple of things that struck me this week, and as I think about it today, they all revolve around my quiet life.

In one of my classes, the professor discussed the job market, and how (though unfair) hiring committees looked at whether or not you were single/married, pregnant/had kids as pluses or minuses in hiring you. That even though they're not supposed to ask, visual cues often make it so they don't have to, and that fair or not, these things influence their decision on whether or not to hire you.
All I could think about was my profile description for this blog- "I don't have a husband or children, I have Nehi and students".
Furthermore, this week, I overheard a lot of conversations from other graduate students about having to work in their office, as there was no way to work at home, or people talking about working in diners, or coffee shops, or other places, because again, they couldn't work from home. I am lucky. I have an office AT home. It's perfectly conducive to working, has all my books, a nice, bright space, and has the added bonus that no one can bitch if I smoke.

Another comment made this week was the problem with juggling classes, work, class prep, and still have time for family. The tone was somewhere along the lines of "If you don't take time for family, and only work, there's something soulless about you". It instantly pissed me off. I am not somehow lesser because I've chosen to have THIS life, and not THAT one. In fact, I'm pretty sure that in the long run, it makes me a better candidate for the job market.
You see, I have a quiet life. I don't go out, I don't spend money on lots of things, I don't have multiple things crying for my attention. I have work, and I have Nehi. Nehi is perfectly happy so long as she gets her two walks a day, hanging out in the yard while I read, and I remember to feed her. And funny enough, I'm satisfied with the same. We don't need much.
But something else started to hit me this week- the divide between being a grad student at 22, and being one at 37. You see, I've had a "real" job. I've had people yell at me, and be rude, and make every day of going to work a living hell. In addition to that job, I've worked two others. I average that for the last several years, I've worked upwards of seventy hours a week. In addition to that I've still managed to present papers at conferences, write a book chapter, outline my thesis, and write for numerous online entities, including 8 Days a Geek as a reviewer, Infinite Earths for Billy Proctor, while also writing book reviews for academic journals, and this blog, in addition to the scholarly blog I write that chronicles my research. I still spent time with Nehi (and my Dad), still read lots of popular fiction, still went to movies. In other words, I still had a life. It just wasn't YOUR life. These were all things I cared about, so I made sure I did them. It helps that I'm disgustingly organized, but it's not a superpower- I have as many hours in the day to do things as anyone else, I just choose to focus my time on different things.
And the last couple of years, juggling all of these things, has prepped me for returning to grad school. In fact, THIS is all I've been working towards for the last three years. And in some ways, I think it gives me a leg up. Because I'm not being thrown into the deep end, I've been swimming there for a long time.
I admit, that there are several advantages that come with my background.
  • I'm not worried about teaching, I could do it in my sleep after 12 years. Because I know material and concepts, lesson planning if fairly effortless, as is making materials. And I'm certainly not worried about how to reach my students, or how to break down concepts.
  • So far, I'm not hampered by my TA fellowship and pay because I am continuing to teach online, and I cashed out my retirement, so there's a nest egg. I don't have to worry about paying bills, or buying books I want. I'm not going on a spending spree anytime soon (because I'm as anal about money as I am about everything else) but financial worries aren't keeping me up at night.
  • I've done more, with less, for years. When you live two hours from the nearest city, and have no access to academic libraries or research, your life as an academic is hard. Yet I still managed to do the things I did. All of a sudden, I have access to a library, and online journals. Easier can't help but be better.
So, people can keep their judgements to themselves about how not having a family somehow makes me lesser than others.
I for one, will enjoy my quiet life. And maybe, just maybe, my quiet life will prove to be a better, faster track to the tenure track job I want. If not, it's still the life that makes me happy. And in the end, that's what you want.

Friday, August 16, 2013

TA Orientation and (almost) the First Day of School

I had an epic fail today. I'd spent all week in TA orientation, so had decided to skip this morning's Graduate School Introductions in order to get settled in my office. It was a crap day from the start-
  • my key doesn't work
  • the lock shop, which could fix/replace my key is closed on Fridays
  • turns out that my office has three desks, and four people share it
  • The stuff I wanted to put up, I left at home, in my TA folder that I took out this morning, trying to lighten my load
 So, I was in my office for a grand total of one hour before heading home in defeat.
 So, today was not so great.

The week was, well, a week of orientation. No one likes meetings. No one especially likes meetings that aren't divided by skill level. However, I was excited to see an old professor, who is teaching a class on folklore and horror that I'm going to try and sit in on since that's the type of course I hope to teach myself, and I want to see how he does it. It was also nice to meet most of my professors, and the Rhet/Comp guys are all nice, and very helpful.
I got one snarky comment about how I shouldn't have let people know I was a tech geek, to which I calmly responded that I didn't mind helping people. One person was short with me and hurt my feelings, and one person was nasty about me having my work done. I say law of averages, that in a week of meeting 100+ new people, three negative experiences still put me on the plus side.
I didn't get to meet my Old Norse professor, because she's emeritus, or the professor I'm already eyeing for chair of my thesis committee (she wasn't there this week).

Faculty stalking will come later in the week I guess.

My biggest thing is that I want to get going. I want to get started with teaching, and my classes, and figure it all out from there. Because even though my first six weeks are planned out (ENG 101 runs on a pre-scripted first unit) and even though my first week's lessons are finished, and my Blackboard shell is up and running, those are all treading water things. Valuable for keeping you afloat, but not really exciting.

I do have to say that part of my anxiety about this is that I don't do well without my routines, and right now, I don't know what my daily and weekly routines are, so that makes me anxious. Perfect example- it took everything in my power today not to have a meltdown about that stupid door sign. And then, when I came home to work, I realized that switching to a planner different than the one I've used for over a decade was making me nuts. The one I always use is Jim Burke's Teacher Day Planner, which has everything- planning space and a yearly calendar (which runs August to July, so handy). I originally went with a separate ward planner, and At-A-Glance calendar  because I thought the Burke planner would label me as too high school (already got the vibe that I should shut up about my teaching experience).
But as I sat at my desk at home this afternoon, trying to label with Post-Its, and color code, shuffling between different things, I realized that I just couldn't make it work. So I gave in and ordered the Burke. And paid extra money to get it here as soon as possible.
I know that seems like a silly, trivial thing, but it is the collection of all of those silly things that help me create a protective shell. I am nigh on bullet proof if I have my organizer, and color coded Post-Its. But without? I can't process new information, I forget things, I feel tense, and anxious.

I'm looking forward to my first day of class, and definitely looking forward to being able to plan my own lessons, although I certainly understand why they require new TAs to teach the same thing for six weeks.
So far, I'm excited about the accessibility of the staff, and the office staff has all been great. I've learned my way about campus, and things are starting to look familiar.
I guess too, after so many years of workings TOWARDS this, I just want to go ahead and get started. Because once I start, it's just a long check list of things to do to earn my PhD and get out and get a job. And I want to start feeling like I'm making progress.

So, I'm going to take a deep breath, embrace the routines I have (trying not to clutch them to my chest like Duckie), and figure it out.

To my anxiety I say:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

First Impressions, Starting Over, and Obsessing over Details

Today is Wednesday.
On Monday, I report for my first day of my PhD program. We have a week of TA training. There are 30 people in my cohort (Masters and PhD students), and so it's a week of firsts:
  • first time meeting the faculty
  • first time meeting the cohort
  • first time meeting other grad students
  • first time learning way around campus
 I don't do well with new things until I get my routine down. It makes me extremely anxious that I don't know the rules, what is expected, what the norms are. I hate first days. I'm already having a hard time sleeping- tossing and turning at night worrying about every little detail. Will I be able to carry all my books in the leather briefcase I bought specifically to look grown up? In the New Mexico heat, will I arrive a hot, sweaty mess after trekking across campus?

My latest obsession is a flashback to childhood- what to wear on the first day? What makes the best first impression? What shows that I'm a professional, there to work? I was thinking what I wore to teach high school/community college was a good start, but just to be sure, I reached out to my Twitter/academic friends.
They all suggested business casual.
Just one problem. This is what you get when you Google business casual:

Overload, Will Robinson. So let's narrow this down...let's randomly pick an image.
And here's the problem. I wouldn't wear this crap if you paid me money. For one thing- those bags can't carry crap. For another, shoes like that? On your feet for eight hours a day? Are you high? And why do women have those ridiculous accessories? Oy.

I would rather live the life of a hermit than either A) buy anything like this or B) actually have to leave the house looking like this.
I don't like dresses, and I wear skirts to church, and that's it (because they have a two hour limit as far as I'm concerned- as in, I can wear them for two hours before I want to toss it in the closet and not look at it for a week)

The issue comes down to the fact that my idea of dressing professionally is more like this:
In fact, most of my wardrobe is this- slacks, ties, my obsessive love of vests, and jackets. Dress shoes that are nowhere near a heel (and in many cases, are men's dress shoes). Comfortable. Practical. Easy to organize outfits in the morning and color coordinate. Don't get me wrong, I've got some classy stuff- tailored vests, silk ties, good stuff!

Men have it easy, and I've always wondered at the extreme disparity between men and women and professional wear. Why is it acceptable for men to don a tie, button down shirt, slacks, and a jacket, while women are expected to wear this crap? Or, if a women does take the more practical view, and adopt this as a form of dress (as I do) then there are suddenly all kinds of assumptions made about gender and sexuality?
Why will the assumption be that I'm making some sort of statement?
The pressure mounts.
Can't I just dress like this because I want to be professional, and comfortable at the same time?

So, back to worrying. But if I'm going to be anxious, and worried, until I can work out my new routine, at least I'm going to do it in comfort.

Although having just received next week's schedule, I'm now worrying about how to fit my bag lunch into my briefcase since lunch is "bring your own"...