(But our beginnings never know our ends!)

Email: lecturess[AT]gmail[DOT]com

Recent Posts Things I Read and/or People I Like

Late Spring To-Do List

  • Read scholarly book #1
  • Read scholarly book #2
  • Catch up on professional journals
  • Administer evaluations
  • Grade seminar research papers
  • Write two final exams
  • Grade final exams
  • Compute final grades
  • Order books for fall
  • Find apartment in New City
  • Attend INRU Commencement!

Powered by Blogger

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Advisor meeting

Today I took the train to Grad School City to meet with my advisor and do other assorted errands--I hadn't been back in town since I turned in my grades in mid-May, and of course I HAD to pick the hottest and grossest day of the entire damn summer on which to do all this errand-running: train station, advisor's office, registrar's office, coffee shop, library, English department, library, shopping area, different coffee shop, restaurant, train station.

Anyway, I have mixed feelings about our meeting. In many ways I think it's the most enjoyable and productive meeting we've ever had--but of course I have to focus on the negative first: she wants me to do a fair amount of work to Chapter Four. Her suggestions are really good, and we batted ideas around in a way that we never have before (in my first year or two as her advisee our meetings would be, seriously, five minutes long), but it comes down to the fact that I've got 6-7 weeks to totally totally finish my dissertation--during which time I'll ALSO be taking a week's vacation while GWB joins me out in the Northwest AND starting a new job teaching entirely new classes--and I'm just not sure I can do it.

I should add that she effectively said that she'd sign off on whatever I managed to do to Ch. 4 by the deadline, as she considers getting the thing submitted the higher priority--but at the same time she clearly thinks Ch. 4 needs work and could be really good WITH that work. And I have a slavish need to please her.

Now, let me say a few things about my advisor. The first thing to know is that she's published 16 books. And when I say "published," I mean single-author books. No co-authors, no edited collections--all her. Three or four of those books are editions, but the rest are monographs on an impressive range of subjects. On top of which she's published at least 50 articles or book chapters. (And no, she's not ancient, either.)

She is, in fact, a machine. And although she realizes that not everyone is a machine . . . I sometimes worry that she doesn't fully realize how very very long it takes someone like oh, say, me, to synthesize new ideas and express them coherently. I'm a very good and careful reader, but I build up ideas very slowly, by fretting over things that seem interesting or problematic, until finally enough of a pattern emerges. And I write well mainly because I write about 10 drafts of everything and because it's actually rather hard for me to follow complicated and involved ideas, so I have to write them extremely clearly and carefully. Once *I* understand what I'm talking about, pretty much anyone else can--but that first step takes a long time!

The other problem here isn't hers so much as it is mine: when it comes to her advisees, I'm the middle child.

Her advisee before me, whom we'll call Elder Sister, was brilliant. Very fun, very hip, and wicked smart. And a very good writer. Went on the job market early, with her dissertation pretty much only half done, and got two offers from Ivies. (I've read her work and heard her deliver talks, so I can confirm how interesting and cool her work is.) I considered ES more or less a friend, and very much admired her both personally and professionally--though at the same time I never felt quite cool enough for her and we haven't kept in touch since she left.

The advisee after me, whom we'll call Younger Sister, pretty much arrived at INRU as a hotshot. She came straight from undergrad, and although she was obviously crazy smart, she also seemed pushy and a bit of a show-off. I was actually always inclined to like her, and I'd now say that I do like her, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm also threatened by her. She's so smart, and so self-promoting--and she has a relationship with Advisor that is unlike anything I've ever seen. They butt heads regularly, but they're also Very Close. Advisor invites her over for social events that are basically faculty-only. No--she doesn't just invite her: they prepare the hors-d'oeuvres together.

It's not actually the kind of relationship I would want (I don't like the blurring of those boundaries, and I'm not as, er, extravagant a personality as either of them is), but I do feel a little jealous, and I'm rather anxious about the possibility of Younger Sister going on the job market this fall. She's two years behind me, doesn't have a complete dissertation, doesn't have much teaching experience, and I know Advisor is scrupulously fair (she's the kind of person who would say, possibly almost literally, "you know you ARE my favorite child, dear, but Lecturess is older and she gets first shot"), but it still sucks to feel stuck between two superstars.

Anyway, that was all rather longer and more tedious than I intended it to be, especially as I'm starting to feel that I finally have a satisfying and adult relationship with Advisor. Our meetings have grown from five minutes to a good 30, she seems generally quite interested in my ideas--asking questions that aren't merely rhetorical or yes/no, and she even gave me the first REAL compliment she's ever given me in private (she occasionally compliments me in public, and though I think these moments are entirely sincere, they also feel somewhat staged): as I was saying something worryingly about Ch. 4 or Ch. 1 perhaps not being as good as it should be, by submission time, she looked up and, transfixing me with her gaze, said, in a voice of total assurance, "it will be fine. Your work is all Very Good."

(That doesn't sound like much--or perhaps it sounds self-congratulatory--but those of you who know me in real life know how different this is from what she famously said two years ago. For those of the rest of you, I will not rehash.)

* * * *

Good to be back in Grad School City despite the sickening heat. I returned five library books (one of which I have apparently had since December 2002!) and only checked out one; bought a pound of coffee beans from my favorite independent roaster and coffee shop; and met up with Babe, my college roommate, for dinner (she works in a neighboring town). Good times--although surely not as good as the LUAU, complete with tiki bar and WHOLE SUCKLING PIG, that she and her husband are throwing for her 30th birthday next month. Vegetarians, hide your children.

link | posted by La Lecturess at 12:20 AM |


Anonymous Anonymous commented at 5:43 AM~  

I remember doing my dissertation (that is, undergraduate dissertation) and being horrendous with my supervisor's other supervisees. I want basically to be the fastest, the coolest and the best, but like you I need to take my time with ideas, I can't just churn them out like butter. Once knowing what they were all doing, I wanted word counts and provisional marks! Nightmare...

Blogger Dr. C commented at 6:22 AM~  

My advisor told me: "A good dissertation is a done dissertation. It doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to be finished." She was a wise lady. I have a perfectionist problem and she managed to get me away from feeling like "Deer in the headlights" to "I am smart enough, good enough, and damn it, people like me."

I am sure your work is good. If it wasn't good, she wouldn't sign off on the dissertation chapter.

Blogger Margo, darling commented at 1:31 PM~  

My advisor was much like Dr. C's--the most important thing is to BE DONE.

It sounds like your advisor does take your work seriously and I would imagine someone as conscientious (and come on, successful!) as you is a pleasure to work with. Do you think she would rather *not* have you as a student, in favor of solely working with high pressure mini-machines who have got to be a TON of work? No way! And don't forget all the slacker students she probably advises, as well, who drag their feet, make endless meetings only to report nothing, and bemoan their lack of progress as if it's anyone else's problem but theirs.

I love what you say about being a middle child. It makes sense, but, like Jan Brady, in order to stay focused on *your* work and all the things that are unique and insightful and powerful about your writing, you have to let this go and get to a zen place where all that matters is what you are writing. (And I say this as someone who is insanely competitive and, often, hateful--in my thoughts--towards people in my field who are precociously successful. Somehow I can always chalk this up to them having had more breaks and privileges than me, and boy do I resent that! Seriously, it consumes me if I let it.)

Your advisor's comments on making chapter four stronger will still be there, and will still be helpful, as you return to this writing post-degree, and I think she knows that, which is why she took the time to engage with you over the material at the same time that she encouraged you to just get it done.

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 2:33 PM~  

I'm Jan Brady! Love it.

Thanks for your thoughts, folks. I know I just need to get this damn thing done, and that realistically Advisor's opinion is already formed--but each new hoop still feels like the Most Important Test Ever. Can't help feeling that I just need a *few more* proofs of my competence or talent or whatever to put in the bank as security before I half-ass or fuck something up. I'm not afraid of the occasional mediocrity...I just want those occurences to be sufficiently rare that she can't render a sweeping judgment based on them (sweeping judgments being rather a specialty of hers).

Blogger What Now? commented at 11:52 PM~  

I love the idea of a zen Jan Brady!

Here's a thought, one that's fairly self-serving since I'm totally not a superstar but still might be true for all that: I've begun to think that the really-really-good-but-not-superstar folks make the best colleagues. In my limited experience, it seems to me that superstardom requires a level of selfishness (to be negative) or of concentration that can lead to the exclusion of others (to be slightly more positive), and that academics are also competitive enough (speaking for myself, at least) that we might rather hang out with really good colleagues who aren't superstars.

All of which is to say that not being a superstar needn't be a problem on the job market. Although, come to think of it, all the superstars in my program got jobs in their first year out, while it took me three years to get my job. So maybe never mind. But I often think that I'm happier in my non-prestigious job than many of them are in their swanky, snooty jobs.

Okay, that probably wasn't nearly as cheerful or helpful a comment as I meant it to be.

Blogger academic coach commented at 11:18 AM~  

I like the way you've outlined for yourself the dynamics of your relationship with your advisor and your 'older' and 'younger' peers. Thinking through these types of relationships, and accepting them, prepares the way for productive work, I think.

It is great that your advisor has given you helpful feedback on Ch. 4 without insisting that you make the changes before defending. This also indicates that she has faith that you will go on to enter the field and publish it.

Good luck finishing it up -- sounds like you have Tons on your plate.

Anonymous New Kid on the Hallway commented at 6:23 PM~  

Can I just say I'd have been thrilled to be told all my work was very good! So I can appreciate the value of such a compliment.

I love the middle child stuff - we used to joke that my advisor had a regularly designated Golden Child, but the problem with being a Golden Child is that they were always Destined to Fail to Live Up to Advisorly Expectations. So, never starting out as a Golden Child was probably better, as it saved you from the inevitable fall. (Sadly, other people's advisees were always wonderful Golden Children with no opportunities to fall...) Anyway, it sounds like you've worked out a good relationship and your advisor is pleased (and can I also say: I doubt 90% of the superstars out there actually think/realize they are superstars! Yeah, there are those 10%, but most folks radically underestimate themselves...).

Blogger La Lecturess commented at 11:20 PM~  

Thanks for the rest of your thoughts, guys. I agree with you, WN, that the superstars are often self-absorbed and difficult people, and not necessarily the folks you want in your department. It's certainly true of Elder Sister, for all her good points--and it's also true, NK, that being the Golden Child isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I was at a conference earlier this year, in fact, in which Elder Sister, now out on her own at her Ivy job, did something in deeply bad form, and my advisor was absolutely livid (I heard about it third-hand, from a junior-faculty friend), ranting about how ES couldn't just do that kind of thing and would never get tenure at this rate, etc. As a consequence, though, I wound up looking like the promising child, and she fawned rather on me for the rest of the weekend. Gross that it feels like that kind of zero-sum game, but there you have it. Gotta love family life.

Want to Post a Comment?

powered by Blogger | designed by mela

Get awesome blog templates like this one from BlogSkins.com