Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Friday, February 27, 2015

PhD Limbo
Dore's Limbo
I love the visual nature of Dante's Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. I really want to teach it, perhaps a course on hell in the medieval period as a lens for viewing literature.
But I digress. 

In Dante's Limbo, the first circle of hell, the watchword is "unaware." Here we have the great classical heroes and characters who were simply ignorant of Christianity because of WHEN they were born, not any conscious rejection of the religion.
They are victims of circumstance. Which makes it an even better metaphor for my week.

I heard many rumors this week about when I would hear the results of my comps (mostly from passive aggressive asshats). Within forty-eight hours proved not to be true, as did "news from Thursday." The first couple of days I dove for my computer every time I heard the incoming mail notification, only to discover it was junk mail. 

I know I passed two of my exams (not "know" like anyone has told me, but "know" as in I knew everything on the exam). It's the third that is giving me angina. 
That's making me cry and be upset and be angry and feel disappointed, and as though I have disappointed others. That's making me doubt myself.
So this has been my week. Terrified of what happens (which I realize is completely out of proportion because my uni has a mechanism in place to retake if you fail one, and it's usually a take home article/essay and there's no way I wouldn't pass that.)

You work so hard for all of this (five plus years in my case) and the idea that it could all go up in smoke is terrifying. 
And I've stared at my computer screen a lot this week. Doing nothing. Like what's the point.
But this is what PhD life does to you. It makes you insane. It makes you doubt. In many ways, I think just surviving these hoops is the real test of earning a PhD. Can you survive?
It's like hell week for academics.

And as I've said before, I think this is harder when you don't have  an in-house support system. I am grateful for my social network on Twitter, and my other UNM grad students, but when it's 9p and you're home with just the dog, there's no one to talk you off the crazy ledge of "my life is over." 
Nehi is simply no help. Although we've walked a lot this week, and I'm spending serious time with my heavyweight bag.

This week I've also seen my entire committee more than I have in the last year so that also has seemed like I was part of a strange psychological experiment or candid camera.

So here I sit at my computer, a victim of circumstance.
In the dark.
I'm not sure when I'll hear about my comp results, latest answer says perhaps Monday. I have no idea how long it takes to grade. And while I'm certainly adding to the list of "when I'm a professor I won't..." there's really nothing I can do.
The thing I've realized after a week in limbo though is that it really doesn't matter. And maybe that's the academic lesson (other than good practice for the job market in the fall or a lesson in patience (I have none)). 
What I hear will not change my publication history. Or the work I've done with this blog to provide a resource for grad students. Or the work I've done to support younger teachers. Or the contacts I've made. The results of my comp results will not change me as a scholar or person. And that's important to remember. There are lots of things in this life we've chosen that are completely and totally out of our control. And while the first assumption a lot of the time (particularly by women) is to think it's US, it's not.

As a great, supportive professor said to me this week, "this profession works to tear you down, and you can't let it." Hard to internalize, but surviving absolutely depends on it. We create our own reality.

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