The ramblings of an absent-minded doctoral student

The ramblings of an absent-minded doctoral student. Chronicling my life as I earn a PhD in history.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

a fine line between sanity and...well...insanity.

So it appears that over the last couple of months I have failed to remember I have a blog. I could say that this tends to happen when one is extremely busy. And I suppose, in reality, I am really busy. But I come to find that no matter how much work I do, it never seems to feel like enough. And in the last few weeks in particular, I keep feeling like I'm just not doing...enough, whether that's working enough, reading enough, researching enough, keeping in touch with friends enough, making enough money, working out enough (this last one is primarily what's bothering me, followed closely by not reading enough). And I can't help but wonder if this is a personal issue that I'm grappling with, or whether graduate school drives us to constantly compare ourselves to others. This post almost seems semi-deja vu-ish...and perhaps it is. Do we ever reach a point where what we do, what we look like, what we accomplish IS good enough? Realistically I know that it has to be a personal decision; that I have to decide that yes, this is good enough. It's one thing to continuously strive to do better; but sometimes you just have to remember that no one is perfect. And no one ever will be.

Friday, September 23, 2011

And so begins year two

In reality, however, year two only marks the PhD progress. I have been in school for what is now my twentieth consecutive year. I think there must be something fundamentally wrong with me. I'm either extremely dedicated or a sadomasochist...there's a fine line in the realm of academia.

At the beginning of every new momentous event [whether it's the new year, a new school year, sometimes even just a new week or day], we all make claims that THIS one will be better. THIS is the year/week/day that things are going to turn around. We're going to be more motivated, more dedicated, more successful...and truthfully, sometimes we are [for a moment]. And then our same lack of will power finds itself steadily taking control once more, and we fall back into that same funk, finishing things at the last minute, getting less and less sleep and eating whenever is convenient [not when our bodies tell us to]. Many might call me a Negative Nancy...I prefer to think of myself as a Realistic Rita. I am one of these people. At various points through the year, month, even day I tell myself: "Self, we can do better. So why don't we?" And sometimes it works. But fret not fellow colleagues! Apparently we can now do resistance training for our "will power muscles."

According to the authors of the newest book about this phenomenon, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney:

"You only have a finite amount [of willpower] as you go through the day," Tierney says, "so you should be careful to conserve it and try to save it for the emergencies."
Exhausting your mental energy is a process that researchers call "ego depletion." Decision-making taps into the same energy reserves as self-control.
"You don't think of decision-making as necessarily being like resisting temptation, but it is," Tierney says. "It involves the same kind of mental energy, the same source of mental energy."

Maybe it is possible to re-work our willpower and train it. I leave that to the individual to decide. But for me, I am going to make that same ol' claim: I will make this year better. Even though I know that at some point, my willpower will falter, knowing that I at least gave myself the benefit of the doubt is a surprising self-esteem boost. And maybe that's all we really need: to know that what we're doing is worth it, and that despite the pitfalls, there are times when we can succeed.

This year is going to be full of fresh challenges. I'm assisting with the Center for Historical Research for a quarter instead of teaching, so that's a new experience. Generals Exams are looming ahead in Spring Quarter. Fellowship applications and opportunities need to be taken more seriously. The key is not to let it overwhelm me. Bring it on, year two [or twenty, whatever]! I'm ready.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It's Wednesday already?

Well, my goal of 2 books a day has been a total bust. I have yet to finish unpacking. But I did get a good number of things accomplished. I put together a bunch of furniture, did get the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom unpacked, and had a mostly positive meeting with my adviser. She's pleased with my overall progress, which is good. I learned, however, that my fear, intimidation, and hesitancy has come across in class as more flippant and careless. I was unaware of this, and now I really need to step up my game and change my in-class persona. I mean, if you look at my work and what I've accomplished (or tried to accomplish) then flippant is far from how you would describe me. But if that is how I'm coming across during class discussions and presentations, then I need to find a way to change that. And I suppose the best way is to believe in myself more and to present myself in a more authoritative way. I don't know why, but I never feel like I have anything of value to contribute. And I need to change that perception. So that is my new goal for this school year: to show that I am not flippant (besides passing my generals exams of course).

Now that I'm moved in and mostly unpacked, I really need to buckle down on my generals reading and start seriously researching funding opportunities to get back into research. I have really lacked in the research area given the mix of my schedule and mental health issues. But a new workout routine and a 5k marathon goal has really helped improve my overall mood and motivation. So let's see if I can use that to my advantage.

Why is it that I can sound sophisticated when I write papers, but not when I write a blog entry?

Monday, July 25, 2011

belle réussite

I have managed to pass the intensive readings course in French for Graduate Students with an A. That certainly helped my GPA out a bit. Part II started today and thankfully, I only have to meet 2 more times: on the 4th to talk about Part I of my translation and on the 16th to talk about Part II. This gives me much more time to focus on packing, moving, unpacking, and working on my generals readings list. I'm trying to do 2 books a day, one from each of my minor field lists, until I come up with my major field list.

Kyle has been gone for a few weeks, the weather has been miserable, and I've been so overwhelmed that it feels like I haven't gotten anything done, even though that's not the case. But for now, I have errands to run and a house to pack, so I should get back to it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A good, good life

Sometimes I wonder what exactly I'm doing with my life. Like, I have things that I KNOW I want to do, like start a family and finish my PhD. But there are other things that I'm not sure I still want to do. Is teaching as fulfilling as it used to be? Is this what I want to do? Am I cut out for this? Will I finish my degree? Again, the same questions I've been mulling over for the last few months. But I've been doing fairly well in French class and I hope German class goes just as well in the Fall. Also I now have my generals lists completed for my two minor fields, so now I just need to nail down my major field.I think if I can just sit down and focus, then I'll be prepared for generals in Spring. I'm just worried that I don't know enough about the fields and the historiographical debates in order to fully answer a generals question. But I'm sure everyone feels that way. I guess we'll see how things go...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You can't outrun your fate

So ends the spring quarter. It didn't go quite as well as I thought it had, which is always disappointing. I've been wrestling, since receiving my grades, with whether or not I'm cut out for this kind of work. But as many have said, "everyone goes through that." While this may be true, and somewhat helpful to hear, I think we all have unique, individual experiences which facilitate this question. How do I do better? What do I need to do in order to master this material? Is there ever enough time?
Despite my poor seminar grade, the conference version of that same paper was received quite well. So maybe I need to re-group, focus on the conference version and expand it, rather than trying to edit the seminar paper. Now if I can just find the time to do so. Between French homework, trying to take care of myself physically, and  preparing lectures for the class I'm teaching, my paper is presently sitting on the back burner. I just need to organize my time better. My experience at the conference, though, has renewed my motivation. Let's just hope the loneliness of summer and Columbus's terrible weather doesn't interfere.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Life is a learning process

I'm feeling surprisingly calm about the rest of this quarter. I'm sure this feeling won't last long with finals looming, but getting the rough draft of my seminar paper complete has really made a difference. The paper is just over 30 pages and is undoubtedly going to go through a lot of editing, but I personally think editing is the easier part. I know a great number of people who would disagree with me, but it simply feels good to have the draft done. Luckily there is no final paper for my Atlantic class. Instead, we are doing something which I find to be unique at the grad level and also immensely helpful. We're creating a teaching module focusing on a specific subject within Atlantic history and also making a visual aid to present said teaching module. I was immediately requested to become the Atlantic pirate "expert" for the class, so I'll be examining how historiography on piracy has evolved and in what ways you can utilize piracy to discuss various aspects of the Atlantic world, like economics, military/policy making, imperial desires, etc. Although the military final is my most daunting (we're going to be writing a paper, in a a sense, as if we were taking generals), I actually feel like I might be able to pull it off. I may not have memorized the strategies of all these great thinkers to the degree that others have, but I at least know where to go to find the necessary information, which, I think, is half the battle. My professors this quarter have been exceptionally helpful in all aspects, helping me to feel more prepared for the end of the quarter and the coming year. I feel like my topic is really starting to take shape, and I'm wondering if my dissertation is going to end up being solely Dutch focused rather than a large examination of piracy in multiple nations. Perhaps such a project is too large at the dissertation level and might be a future project once I've settled into a career. Depression is so bizarre sometimes. On the one hand I feel content with my progress this quarter. On the other hand, I feel....for lack of words, just..."bleh" today. Not sad or angry or anxious. Just...bleh. But having really supportive people in my life (friends, family, Kyle, colleagues and my profs) makes dealing with the pressures of graduate school and the uncertainties of depression a bit more manageable. I also think moving out of my current apartment (which causes enough stress) will be beneficial as well. Well, here's to hoping.

Friday, April 22, 2011

bigger than the Twilight love affair

No matter how many times other people say they feel the same way I do, I still feel vaguely alone. I've always excelled at school. It was the one thing I thought I was really good at, where I felt confident. School was just kind of my thing, where I felt the happiest. At this level, though, I feel average at best. I know that there will always be people smarter than me, more accomplished than me, but I often wish I just understood things the way Elegant E, Boonie and C. Dawg* do. We're all first years, but they just have this knowledge base and this ability to grasp concepts that seem to just....escape me. The feeling I have when I'm sitting in Military Thought and Strategy, of not knowing what's going and feeling like I have nothing of value to contribute, is the same feeling that's started to creep into all of my studies. Beyond my inability to read Dutch, the only time I feel even semi-confident is when I'm reading about and discussing piracy and privateering events. And even then, my knowledge is debatable.

I love my colleagues. The cohort at OSU is fantastic and they've really helped to make my transition more bearable. But there's still something about Ohio that feels mildly uncomfortable. Maybe it's just been the weather lately. But battling depression on top of doctoral work is a challenge and a half....

*names have been changed for privacy.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

incessant battles with ourselves

No matter how much work I seem to complete, it always feels like I haven't done anything.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Feeling a little like Carrie Bradshaw

Daily I wonder what I’m doing with my life and whether I’ve made the right choices. Have I really been following my dreams? Or am I just afraid of failing and ready to give up because the path is difficult? I honestly don’t know, sometimes, whether or not I’m going to succeed in earning my PhD. I doubt myself constantly, wondering if I’m smart enough. Everyone else seems to have it all figured out, balancing life and school, getting great grades and managing to complete everything in such a timely and productive manner. And I know I shouldn’t compare myself to other people. Everyone works in their own ways. And maybe procrastination, albeit a bad habit, is my way. I think what I’m most worried about is not being adequate when it comes to researching my seminar/dissertation topic. I’m not even sure what I’m arguing. I have a vague inclination of what I want to write about, but I’m supposed to be proving something, writing something of significant historical value. I know that pirates affected trade, every historian knows that, but the question is how? In what capacity? Am I really capable of learning French, Dutch and potentially Spanish in order to complete this project in the next 3 years? Will I get enough funding to go overseas and do work in the archives? How do people do it? I have a Master’s degree, so I’m supposed to be somewhat ahead of some people, but in reality I feel so far behind, so unintelligent. I know others must deal with some of these feelings of inadequacy, but we all hide it so well. How do people take classes, do generals, research their topics and grade/DSL?! When do we just cut through all the bullshit and say “I have no idea what I’m doing?” Is it possible to ever be truly satisfied with our work, with our accomplishments, or has society warped us into believing that we're never enough, that we must always strive for more? Am I the only one who is going a little bit crazy here? And why is it that all of our successes are overshadowed by our failures and shortcomings? According to a 2009 sleep study, 65% of Americans lose sleep because of stress and 15% actually suffer from stress-induced insomnia (I, being one of those 15%). Our lives continue to become more fast-paced and we're encouraged to work harder for longer hours. When did work become so much more important than our sleep, our health, and our lives? I know that it's too much to ask, but all I want to do is relax. Anyone got some bubble bath or scented candles??? 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Piracy and the Netherlands, 1587-1596

I think that I have narrowed down my seminar topic. Now let's just hope I have the sources to accomplish it.

Piracy and the Netherlands, 1587-1596-examining how the Netherlands fits within the broader scope of piracy perpetrated in the Atlantic World in the 16th century.

I also seem to have narrowed my violence paper to examining the role of location and environment, instability of power, and distilled spirits on the violent behavior among pirates in the 1680s.

Now if I can just get the papers written.

Let the stressing commence...

We've finally reached the last week of the quarter. I'm frantically trying to work on my final papers while organizing my students' final exam. My paper for my Early Modern Violence class is attempting to establish that pirates were violent beyond the traditional instrumental role within empire and state making, and participated in interpersonal violence as well. So far I'm looking at sodomy, murder, dueling and mutiny. Hopefully it's what Dr. D-Man* is looking for. I'm using evidence from Foucault, Elias and Lacour for establishing the axes of violence and then looking at people like Thomson and Rediker to understand in what ways pirates moved along these axes. For my Colonial American final paper I'm using the books we've read in class, as well as arguments made by people like Bailyn, McConville and Zuckerman to understand the role of regionalism versus synthesis in early American historiography. It's exceptionally stressful since my professor in that class is also my advisor. I feel like I have fairly good starts on the two papers. I'm also busy trying to complete a basic outline of my paper for seminar which is examining trade, piracy and the role of the Dutch in the Atlantic world. Writing, writing everywhere....

At leat I leave on Wednesday for spring break.

Here's a link to the Snopes debunking of the Lincoln v. JFK conspiracy that several of my students were depressed to learn was not founded in fact: Lincoln v. JFK

*name has been changed for privacy.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Week 8 comes to a close...

Only 2 weeks left in the Winter quarter. I still have so much left to do, it seems. I just finished reading War Under Heaven: Pontiac, The Indian Nations & The British Empire by Gregory Dowd. I thoroughly enjoyed it, actually. It was a very interesting take on Pontiac's Rebellion. Next up is Benjamin Carp's Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution. We have a short reaction paper due on that as well as an outline of our paper due for the writing seminar. I still have to work on my final papers as well and grade my students' papers. I feel overwhelmed, but at the same time, I'm not entirely concerned. I feel pretty confident that I'll get all of this done in time. Not that I have any choice anyway.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Day, New Challenges

Either Bella* (my sweet and darling deskmate) has returned some of her books to the library, or she's arranged them differently because I actually have space to move around! I can't complain. If I had all my books here instead of on my floor at home, she'd be in the same predicament! Currently I have 26 books checked out (and for some reason the library gave me another copy of a book I already have, even though I didn't request it; gotta love the library system) and I'm not even at the Generals phase yet. My advisor worries that I'm taking on too much and that I'm pushing myself too quickly. I'm trying to slow down and trust her instincts. After all, she's been doing this longer than I have. I have a very busy week ahead of me, but there's only a few more weeks to go in the quarter. Than I get to take a very lovely break to Texas to watch my brother and bestest Kyle graduate from AIT and spend a week with my grandparents and the lovely friends I have there.

I also received word this morning that I was awarded $250 from the College of Arts and Humanities to fund my trip to New Paltz in June. This will be matched by the department for a total of $500, thankfully, which should cover my flight/hotel for the most part. This is a huge relief. Now let's see if I'm as lucky when it comes to the departmental scholarships.

*name has been changed for privacy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My panel at the OIEAHC Conference, June 2011

Session 17:   Sixteenth-Century Intercolonial Interactions
    LC 113
    Chair: James D. Rice, State University of New York, Plattsburgh
    “To Trade or Not to Trade”?: The Effects of Piracy and Privateering on 16th-Century International Trade Relations in the Atlantic World
                Jamie Hager, Ohio State University
    The Search for Roanoke: A Visit to the Lost Colony through the Mixed-Up Memory of Gerónimo de la Cruz
    Joseph Hall, Bates College
    “Symerons” and Sultans: Narrative Descriptions of Francis Drake's Personal Diplomacy
    Ignacio Gallup-Diaz, Bryn Mawr College

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Early America is consuming my soul

I've decided that this is far more appropriate/useful than Tumblr. While many may find this blog boring, I plan to keep track of my weekly assignments, progress in my research, professional accomplishments, etc. I just passed back my students' midterms and I was actually pretty pleased with their performance. One class averaged 85 and the other averaged 80. My mid-quarter evaluations were also fairly positive overall. Many of the concerns addressed were actually out of my control (as in problems with the lecturer, format of the course, etc). But I have a busy week ahead of me. For my Colonial American readings course I have to complete Jon Butler's Becoming America as well as T.H. Breen's article "Baubles of Britain: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the 18th Century" (which I read last quarter for my Early American survey) and Harry S. Stout's "Religion, Communication, and the Ideological Origins of the American Revolution." This gets followed up by the readings of my Early Modern Violence survey: Stuart Carroll's Blood and Violence in Early Modern France, Bob Davis' "The Renaissance goes up in Smoke" and "Better Occasional Murders than Frequent Adulteries" by Paul Sant Cassia. Luckily all I have to do for my Early American writing seminar is print an article, the table of contents from the journal it's contained in, and the publishing guidelines for submissions to the journal.

My research hasn't gotten very far lately. I've checked out a number of books that I think will be useful, but I haven't had the time to read through them yet. Although I have submitted my application for the Arts & Humanities small travel grant to fund my conference trip to New Paltz. Now I just have to complete my Bradley Fellowship application as well as get my materials together for the various department award applications. With enough funding, hopefully I can make a trip to Europe for a few days this summer.

I also still have to figure out a way to get my car back to Columbus from Cambridge, put together my desk, unpack, rearrange my room, and make football shaped cookies for this weekend's Super Bowl party. And right now I have a headache. All I want to do is go to bed.