Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Day in the Life of a PhD Student (summer edition)

I'm a big believer in sharing both my research, my process, and my experiences as a PhD student here. I think that sharing my research and the process that goes into it is important. I also think that sharing my experiences as a PhD student are important. In the three years between when I finished my second Masters and started my PhD program one of the things I did was read everything I could about grad school- books, articles, and blogs. So I guess I see this as paying it forward. I think with all the issues facing grad students- whether or not to go, how to juggle and navigate what we have to get done, the dismal economy and job market, I think it's important for us to share our stories and support. Social media is great in this way. My biggest support system is on Twitter, not in my face to face environment (not that my uni isn't great, I think a lot of that is just HOW I use social media).

For a lot of people, summer is this:
It's the sun, and the beach, and time off. It's a time of vacations.

Summer is an odd time for PhD students. We don't get paid. Classes to teach to make money are assigned by seniority, so they're hard to get. Some students take classes, which they generally have to pay for themselves as we don't get our tuition waiver during the summer either. Some students spend the summer getting all the work done that they can't get done during the year. This is how I'm spending my summer...

Comp Reading
I have just finished my first year of my program, and I am spending my summer reading for my comprehensive exams in February as I finish my coursework in the fall. Yesterday I finished my Methodology/Folklore Reading List. I started with this list because I knew I would have a hard time understanding the theory and methodology in a vacuum and wanted to get the hard stuff out of the way. I also started my Early Modern Reading List yesterday. I'm not worried so much about the content of this as I am the sheer size. My department recently made a change- rather than choose roughly thirty primary works plus fifteen secondary works for a list you now choose roughly thirty authors and are expected to read everything they've ever written. That's a big difference.

Now, a lot of these works I don't need to read because I know they from teaching English literature in high school for thirteen years. But it's still a lot. And yesterday, as I was knocking a bunch of poetry off the list, I was trying to think of HOW I was supposed to be reading. Should I just be able to explain that Sir Walter Raleigh's poetry before his stint in the Tower was love poetry about Elizabeth I or was nationalistic and that after the Tower it focuses on lost love? Or do I need to be able to identify each and every single poem's plot? Am I looking at the big themes and patterns and how they fit into the historical record? Or am I memorizing each work? My advisor suggested taking notes on the themes/patterns, and then seeing what works I needed to add to my list. My eyeballs popped out of my head- add? Dear God, I don't think I can handle adding anything. Oy. 
After this list I move onto my Medieval Reading List which I am less concerned about because after two very thorough courses last Fall and this past Spring, I've read most of these works, so that one should be fine. This Comp test is also in the same format as those classes' final exams so I feel good about that.
One of the things that I've found helpful is the program below. As I read, it lets me add primary works to my timeline for my dissertation. It's all in one spot, lets me see it in chronology order, and is easy to add to. As I read for comps I've added works so when I go to start drafting in August, I can add details and notes to it. So far it's been very helpful.
Making Money
This week I finally sold my house in NC. This is a huge relief because it means I'm not paying $1500 a month for a mortgage payment. However, it's also an issue. Because the money from that sale once I did the math doesn't even replace the money from my savings that I put out the last seven months in mortgage payments, and Dad's move to the new condo. And that money is now finite. It has to cover Dad's rent the next two years until graduation. It has to cover my job search. It has to cover my move to where I go next. And as I cashed out my teaching retirement fund to pay for grad school (my teaching stipend barely covers half my bills here), it is all I have in savings. I'm very worried that it won't be enough. I guess it's more incentive to stick to my "Three Years and Out" agenda.

I had told Dad if the house sold I could afford to come home this summer for a visit. But looking at the math, I don't think I can. Because that money doesn't get replenished once it's gone. I think spending the money to go home for Christmas may be a stretch.

This is why in addition to my coursework, and my teaching responsibilities at uni, I teach during the year an additional 50-70 students online. During the summer I also teach. This money ensures I can pay my rent, Dad's rent, and put some money in the savings. It makes for a long day- getting up and having office hours 6-8a before I start my day, and answering texts and emails throughout the day, but it's the only way I can afford to do this.
There's an underlying class discussion about grad school that not many people talk about. Most of the students in my cohort have parents footing the bill in addition to their stipend. They go on vacations, and don't worry about paying for conferences. They have significant others chipping in. They have support. And for the most part, they are upper middle class, or upper class. Most of them are going to school full time to get their Masters. That's all they do. Go to school. I admit, I have a lower class chip on my shoulder (which I've mentioned before) about this- I worked full time when I got both my Masters. I can't imagine taking the time off just to go to school. Seems insane. As do their complaints about "not having enough time to get everything done." Really? I don't go out, I don't socialize. I can't afford it. I can barely afford books for school. I took an additional job this summer as a library courier because every little bit helps.

This summer, as I read, I'm also drafting dissertation chapters while it's fresh in my mind. These are incredibly rough chapters, but at least I can get the outlines down and have something to work with.  I know people who have comped, and have no idea what their research project is. No prospectus finished or even drafted or outlined. In many ways, this casual attitude towards time seems a luxury to me. Maybe they can afford to do that, to take years to figure it out. But I have many, many reasons why I cannot afford to spend years doing this.

I think in this way (as many posts have pointed out) that my blog helps me- writing on a regular basis is already a habit for me. And from everything I've read, writing every day, hitting daily word counts, and having writing goals is one of the things that can be the difference between ending up in dissertating purgatory and getting it done. I already have a draft of my prospectus and I know exactly what my project is so all my reading, my conference presentations, my coursework (as much as possible) are all geared towards this. I think I'm in a good place (or at least no one is telling me I'm not when I check in with professors.)
This summer, in addition to comp reading and drafting chapters I'm also waiting to hear on a chapter for an edited collection, as well as revising a conference paper for publication. I'm also waiting to hear on another project (which could either be seen as genius, or insanity.)

So here's my summer schedule
Monday, Wednesday, Friday:
  • 530a Get up, walk and feed Nehi
  • 6-8a Online office hours
  • 8a-12p Comp Reading
  • 12p Lunch
  • 1230-4p Comp Reading, except on Wednesday which is a library run day
Tuesday, Thursday:
  • 530a Get up, walk and feed Nehi
  • 6-8a Online office hours
  • 8-1130a Comp Reading
  • 1130a-230p Library Courier job
  • 230-5p Comp Reading
Saturday and Sunday:
  • 530a Get up, walk and feed Nehi
  • 6a-12p Comp Reading
  • 12p- write, housework, stuff
So that's my summer as a PhD student. What about you? How do you stay productive over the summer? How do you use the time to move forward on your project?

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