Ch 2-3: Graduate Study for the 21st Century

Chapter 2: The Structure of Your Career: An Ideal Plan
Semenza’s succinct overview of a grad students’ time, taken generally, didn’t challenge many of my prevailing notions of the Plan mostly because CCR kicks so much ass in that department. A few pieces of concrete advice, however, seemed helpful. In terms of time, I should think of my 4 years as such:

  • finish coursework in 3 semesters + a summer (I’m already 4 courses deep)
  • compile most of my annotated bib during last semester of coursework (Fall 2012)
  • pass exams within 6 months of finishing coursework (by end of Spring 2013)
  • complete prospectus 3 months after exams (by Fall 2013),
  • which would leave almost 2 years to write the dissertation and find a job.

About the dissertation:

  • The prospectus should be a hypothesis with works consulted (15-20 pages) that serves 3 purposes: a checklist of bibs, your exigence anchor and your blueprint for writing.
  • Fact: 30% of ABDs fail to get their doctorate not because they aren’t capable (they gotten so far already), but because they’ve become cheap, matriculated, resident labor and grad programs don’t know how to handle that.
  • Tips on writing the dissertation: write at least one chapter per semester and two in the summer, avoid teaching new courses (no more than 2), and prepare for the market at least one year in advance.

Chapter 3: Organization and Time Management
As with Chapter 2, I’ve already heard much of the advice passed along here or learned from experience. The section on organizing seemed particularly old to me, considering my work (survival?) as a WPA, but it always feels good to have those things reinforced. The dominant argument in the chapter, though, is worth pasting prominently on a tack board, monitor, or desktop: protect your research and writing time.

I’ve seen faculty defend theirs over the years (ever try to schedule a meeting on a Friday?), and now it’ll be up to me to do the same. Because a typical graduate student’s schedule is flexible, it’s important to respect that dynamic and develop routines that foster productive habits. Specifically, Semenza assigns his research and writing time to 2 hours every weekday morning (and about 4 hours on weekend mornings), where he will “refuse to answer the phone, to respond to any knocks on [his] office door, or to schedule actives of any kind” (which I suppose would now include Facebook) (49). His point is not only to dedicate time, but to dedicate time when he is most energetic, alert, and fresh. Other priorities, such as service and teaching, and (to some extent) family, should be put in check. Paper grading should be systemic and efficient — about 15 minutes per paper or 3-4 minutes per page — and office hours should occur on a MWF schedule since most student pack in courses on TTh.

Semenza also goes to great lengths to refute the myth that grad students should expect true “breaks” or summers off. Forget it. Those are prime research and writing times and based on what I’ve seen from the majority of past and present CCR students, I’d say this is true as true can be.

To counterbalance the stress of the 10+ hour workday, Semenza argues for a solid exercise regimen, trying to fit in jogging, yoga, or the like at least a few times per week. I look forward to trying to get that going again, though it’s going to have to be with respect to another dynamic discussed in this chapter: family.

Having a kid throughout the Ph.D. process — a somewhat rare thing based on this chapter — may delay my degree and will definitely make my life more stressful (compared to what, I’d like to know). This will mean, for example, that in order to get the exercise in, I’m going to need something like a jogging stroller and/or bike seat or trailer in the warmer months, and maybe a gym or pool pass in the colder months. First world problems.

As I said, the organizing section of this chapter wasn’t super helpful and Semenza’s print-centered recommendations to use folders, binders and date books is definitely outdated, but it did get me thinking again about digitization and the office space(s) I’ll inhabit in the fall: the windowless basement of HBC (barf), my home office (booya), and the random local coffee joints (buzz). My home office — where I picture myself writing and researching 75% of the time — will require me to clear space on the desktop (almost a quarter of the desk is taken up by an old pie shelf we’ve used for paper), in single-drawer filing cabinet (for CCR files) and on the tack board for notes and on-deck work. Consider those added to the to-do list.