A Comps Haiku

Today’s post is brought to you by my husband, who wrote me the following haiku for comps:

I will defeat comps

Smoking drinking kick ass-ing

I have no fear. RAWR

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Comps as Rite of Passage

I was planning on writing a follow up to my last post on comps* preparation tips, but there was really one one thing I wanted to say:

Try not to stress out. 

Of course, I wanted to say it because I was totally failing. Despite efforts to keep up with the basics**, enlisting the help of a caretaker***, and getting other people to help me with my non-comps work****, I was still feeling sick with stress and generally struggling to stay on track because I was psyching myself out. What actually did help was reframing the comps process for myself as a rite of passage.

Maidenhood Ceremony, my favorite rite of passage yet

Maidenhood Ceremony, my favorite rite of passage yet

And, amazingly, it has helped a lot with managing my stress. Whereas I can – and do – always second guess my academic preparedness and the adequacy of my self-discipline, this frame refocused my attention on completely different aspects of the process. I’ve been through a few major rites of passage in my life – I got married in 2006, I had a maidenhood ceremony in 1996, I got baptized in 1994 – and there are commonalities that I found very soothing.

  • You can’t ever really be prepared. That’s kind of the point. You can center and ready yourself, but the rite itself is beyond your control. Since a great deal of my stress around comps comes from trying to control it, I find this to be a major relief.
  • Some challenges aren’t that meaningful. It’s not just about testing your knowledge, the structure of the thing also introduces challenges that have nothing to do with whether you are qualified to be a PhD candidate. Whether it’s 3 weeks of nonstop writing or a day of fasting, some of the challenges are just arbitrary, and for me that provides some respite for feeling intimidated by them.
  • The rite is actually for me. Even though other people are participating, helping, guiding, and ultimately judging me, the point is creating a ritual that marks my transition into another stage. I need to not lose sight of the forest (yes, I’m prepared to be a PhD candidate and do my fieldwork) for the trees (what if I don’t say what this professor expects to hear!?).

One final thing I realized is that, because of my particular background, I have had a lot of agency in the structures and practices of all my rites of passage up until this point – why stop now? Instead of just trying to control myself to meet their expectations, I want to think about how to make this really mine. Maybe I’ll spend some time designing a comps outfit for orals. Maybe I’ll go to happy hour after I finish each question. Maybe I’ll take a ridiculous photo of myself every day of the process and post it. If you have other ideas, please share them! Help me make this a ritual worth loving memory.

* aka the comprehensive exams, aka qualifying exams, aka quals
** exercise, food, and sleep
*** You know what stuff you let drop when you get stressed (in my case, eating healthily and getting exercise), so ask someone else to help you stay on track – maybe even bring you food like you just had a baby. Maybe take regular walks with you.
**** This tip came from my adviser, and she was talking about my TA responsibilities and encouraging me to ask my coworkers to help me with grading and even cover my classes while I’m in comps.

Patron Saint of Grad Students

Caravaggio - San Gerolamo

Sometimes there is a bunch of stuff you can learn to be more successful in grad school*. But there are plenty of situations when you know everything you SHOULD do, and still can’t pull it all together and all that seems to be left is divine intercession**.

That is pretty much where I am at the moment.

With this in mind, I have identified five possible Catholic saints who whose patronage might be particularly relevant to grad students (and specifically anthropology grad students in one case):

Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Josse Lieferinxe

Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Josse Lieferinxe

  • Saint Jude ThaddeusPatron Saint of Lost Causes and Desperate Situations
    • called the Forgotten Saint because people stopped praying to him ‘cuz they mixed him up with Judas Iscariot, some people also say he was Jesus’ brother
  • Saint Catherine of AlexandriaPatron Saint of Libraries, Scholars, and Teachers
    • a pagan Roman princess who converted to Christianity and is often depicted sitting and reading or with a quill for writing since she was most known for her exceptional knowledge of the arts, sciences, and philosophy. Incidentally, she is one of the 14 Holy Helpers, aka the Extra Helpful Saints.
  • Saint JeromePatron of Archaeologists, Scholars, and Translators
    • born with the awesome name Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, this guy is the patron of archeologists because he spent a lot of time hanging out in crypts and tombs and restoring old stuff. Apparently he pissed off the Roman establishment by attracting a lot of women to the studious monastic life.
  • Saint UrsulaPatron Saint of Students and Teachers (particularly the education of women)
    Saint Joseph Calasanctius

    Saint Joseph Calasanctius

    • like Catherine, a martyred virgin princess (along with a group of other virgins who had the misfortune to run into the Huns at Cologne and get beheaded en masse), she is the namesake for the Ursuline Order, which takes as its mission the education of girls and women
  • Saint Joseph CalasanzPatron Saint of Universities and Schools for the Poor
    • opened the first free public school in Europe and had a lot of good ideas about pedagogy (like teaching in the vernacular, emphasizing math and science, and accepting all students regardless of religious identification or class)

The time I spent learning about these saints for this post was TOTALLY a good use of my time … and on a related note:


* Like pretty much anything posted on GradHacker
** Although this post is definitely meant to be taken lightly and is in no way an attempt to convert anyone (God forbid), I am totes going to actually break out the old rosary and chat with one or two of these guys after.

On turning 29 for the first time

For women of a certain upbringing, 29 years old signifies the last year of one’s youth. I think it is fascinating (and more than a little funny) that this arbitrary prime number has been embraced as a number to claim, over and over through the years.

As a woman committed to a career in a field where maturity and asexuality will likely serve me better than youth and virility, I have to admit I am a little horrified by the idea that someone hearing my age will assume that I am seeking to conceal my chronological age.* As an anthropologist interested in the intersection between multiple frames of age (chronological, social, physiological, sociolinguistic, and otherwise) it is marvelous to have achieved (again) a chronological age with real social meaning**. As an outgrowth of the child I once was, I am thoroughly disgusted that I have not yet achieved a 2.5 kids and financial certainty. And as a grad student, the age trajectories of people who have not given almost a decade of their lives to training seem bizarrely foreign***.

What a ridiculous birthday this is, so saturated in banality and denial. And how delighted I am to celebrate it!

* I adore my (sadly few) gray hairs and years of experience in the world and unashamedly hope they will work in my favor.
** And, if I am being entirely honest, somewhat concerned that I will soon be too old to establish non-maternal rapport with adolescent informants …
*** There is a real sense in which graduate school seems to be a limbo of age in which real life only continues by sheer force of will and otherwise you are suspended between some freakish extended adolescence while preparing for obsolete decrepitude.

Grant Writing Sucks

Grant Writing Forever Alone

Grant Writing Forever Alone

I am a happy, confident person. I generally do the things I have learned are beneficial to my learning success*. But grant writing is the loneliest, awful-est, ego-destroying-est task I have ever had set before me.

As I mentioned previously, this is my first semester of dissertation grant writing. I am keeping in mind the following pieces of sage wisdom:

  1. this process sucks for pretty much everyone
  2. it will eventually get better as I practice more (even though it may still suck a lot)**
  3. getting support from peers is a good thing (think samples, writing groups, and editing)

This wisdom, while good to know, generally doesn’t make me feel better. Neither do assurances of my awesomeness. I think this feeling of soul-wrenching inadequacy has a great deal in common with how I have felt in some of my most socially painful phases: when I have experienced personal rejection that I took as proof that I was fundamentally flawed. The best advice I ever got on how to deal – at least temporarily – with these feelings was to call the person doing the rejection a “dumb bitch”. So I think the time has come for me to stop thinking of Fulbright as my “new best friend”, and to realize that she might just be a dumb bitch*** whose opinion of me should not reshape my world.

Any other strategies for dealing with the similar yucky feelings are welcome. Except for @xarkgirl‘s because liquor is expensive and I’ve got a long semester ahead of me.

* These vary so much by person that it does not seem worth wasting a blog post enumerating them.
** Getting better at it is simplified with such awesome tools as Dr. Karen’s Foolproof Grant Template, by Dr. Karen Kelsky of The Professor Is In (http://theprofessorisin.com), which I highly recommend.
*** Yes, “dumb bitch” is a vitriolic and sexist thing to actually call someone and not something I endorse “in real life”. But the point of the original advice, and the application here, is to utterly disengage from one’s sense of obligations of appearing to be a good person to the rejecter in question. Thus, the immorality of it serves as a way to really turn off one’s instinct to “be good” so that instead one can focus on the task at hand.

Squee on Learning New Things, or, Biological Anthropology Is Super Different

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Student T-shirt

a relevant t-shirt that coincidentally happens to be available for sale through my store

I am determined to become more of a curmudgeon. When I came here after working as a case worker for an awesome non-profit, I thought I left my earnest optimism behind. But these moments of squee keep popping up and quashing my cynicism.

One thing I really value about the anthropology graduate program I’m in at the University of Arizona is the four field approach. Nevertheless, I have mostly lived between sociocultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and medical anthropology.* Archaeology and biological anthropology mostly enter my world as “things my friends do”.** But, suddenly, a burgeoning interest in bringing together work on age and life course in biological and sociocultural anthro is pushing me to wade into something unexpected.

I love it. I am SO into thinking through the social implications of different models of getting really old (like, 1) your body just falls apart through a bunch of different processes, which epidemiologists and evolutionary biologists are into, or 2) your body has a clock, and there’s a maximum life span we can achieve if we can take care of the pesky diseases and whatnot, which gerontologists are into). And it had never occurred to me before that humans demonstrate more variation in older ages (though, now that I think about it, it totally makes evolutionary sense and fits with my experiences).*** Sure, I’m into age and all this stuff is at least somewhat relevant to my research, but the real reason I’m so stoked is that it’s TOTALLY NEW to me!

And I think, when I am reminded of the likelihood there will be no good jobs waiting for me after my 8 years of graduate training, that this is a dream worth trying for. The joy of this – of a life of getting to learn TOTALLY NEW STUFF, of building on that stuff with research and of sharing it through teaching – is worth a lot of risk.

Do you have these moments too? What was your last moment of work related squee?

*Unclear about the differences between these and actually want to know more? Check out the American Anthropological Association‘s attempt to answer the question What is Anthropology?
**I may be selling myself a little short here, as I am trying to put together stuff like a course design for a four field anthropology intro classes built around age, but still …
***Both of these things are covered in a chapter I read called “Human Population Biology and the Evolution of Aging” by Wood et al in the edited volume Biological Anthropology and Aging: Perspectives of Human Variation over the Life Span by Crews and Garruto in 1994.

A Twinkle In My Eye: an anthropology grad student reflects on babies

Me and my Mama

Since I was a pretty little girl, I imagined becoming a mom. Mostly it involved having a daughter to whom I could pass on many of the left-wing second wave spiritual feminist* rituals I got to do growing up. Go on, ask me about my maidenhood ceremony some time.

But I “knew better” than to have kids before my mid-twenties. My siblings warned me away from such things, but I hardly needed their advice. The discourse that having kids early interrupts all personal ambitions was one I had pretty completely internalized**. So by the time I thought about coming to grad school, I knew I had to take balancing babies and career seriously. Even before I came, I found as many grad students with kids as I could and interviewed them about their experiences.

What they said is stuff you can find in places like the Berkeley Parents Network, like reminders that there is no good time (but you still might want to get through comps first). Things sounded a lot better in our anthropology program than in Mary Ann Mason’s report on new mothers in science. Of course I still worried that I would face discrimination once I entered the job market (and still do), but if my foremothers could blaze a trail into academia, I would be damned before I’d let an unfair structure keep me from having both parts of my dream.

But the inequalities go far deeper than any single school environment. And, putting aside my belligerent yes-I-can-too attitude in favor of self-reflection, I wonder: Can I do the kind of research I want and still have kids? Can I immerse myself, heart, lungs, and bladder, into my fieldwork while I’m learning to parent? And if I can’t … what then?

—-
* Incidentally, if you like spiritual feminist stuff and aren’t second wave (like me) you, check out Bare Your Soul: The Thinking Girl’s Guide to Enlightenment – it ain’t anthropology, but it is very readable collection of essays by United Statesian women from a wide variety of religious and racial backgrounds.

** I’m not planning to talk much about my research here, but I must admit that my mind was blown when Mike Males presented statistical research showing that young parents (within class categories) were actually somewhat economically better off by becoming teen parents in his book Teenage Sex and Pregnancy: Modern Myths, Unsexy Realities. After writing my master’s thesis on pregnant and parenting youth, I often wonder if I would have been better off becoming a young mom and having 8 or 9 year old kids now.