(But our beginnings never know our ends!)
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Late Spring To-Do List
Thursday, July 28, 2005
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 |
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