Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Completion Anxiety

As I head down the home stretch of finishing the PhD, I've noticed that I am suffering from an acute case of completion anxiety. To be honest, I don't know what's scarier--trying to finish the dissertation, or having to think about it actually being finished (and, consequently, my new "post-graduate school life" beginning).

It's really easy to get settled into the identity of a graduate school student. I mean, where else do you get a pre-fab community of friends with similar interests, similar stresses, and (for the most part) similar incomes? As much as I have been tempted to malign my friends who seem to have no interest in getting out of grad school, I am sympathetic with the comfort they obviously feel staying put.

I'm sure this must be the case with a lot of people in a lot of different jobs. So, I'm soliciting advice... how does one get over the anxiety of just moving on?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Folly of Youth

I'm often amazed at the size of my students' egos and, to be honest, their cajones. An illustrative anecdote: I recently read several midterm papers by students who lambasted Plato, Aristotle, Kant and other great thinkers of the West for being, variously, "naive", "idiotic", "illogical", and "close-minded." While seemingly unburdened by the assignment's requirement that they explicate and explain the theories of these philosophers, some of my students opted instead to indulge in diatribes against their "inability to think outside the box," their "obsession with the wrong issues," and their "ignorance about the obvious mistakes in their theories."

Now, I should say that I do encourage my students to be critical and to try and find their own "philosophical voice." But what I sometimes get instead is the most base version of right-wing talk show polemics. Is this a generational thing? I mean, it never would have occurred to me, when I was an undergraduate, to make such bold and unsubstantiated generalizations, nor would I ever have assumed that I knew all there was to know about, say, Kant, just by reading one of his essays!

This just reinforces my longstanding suspicion that the realtionship students have to their professors, their classes, and their education in general today is very, very different than my experience as an undergraduate. (I never would have written some of the emails to my professors that I receive from my students!) I want to resist the temptation to buy in to the current ad-campaign that labels these kids the "me" generation, but sometimes... well.... doesn't anyone read Greek tragedy anymore? or the Bible, for that matter? Is it no longer the case that one of the timeless truths of humanity concerns the dangers of hubris?

What gives?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

medical mysteries, part deux

Before you undertake the massive project of writing a dissertation, you should be forewarned of the strange physiological anomalies that will accompany it. Some of them are obvious and expected (loss of sleep, anxiety, depression), but others are...well... mysterious.

Fortunately, I haven't developed anything remarkably strange (like my friend Kyle's apotemnophiliaphobia), but here's my own personal list of diss-related dis-ease:

1. Strange, almost overwhelming, craving for Chinese food. In particular, hot & sour soup.

2. Inability to "sleep in"... no matter what time I went to bed the night before.

3. Dreams of (in my case) Derrida. I only met the man once, but somehow my subconscious has developed a deep, personal relationship with him. In my most recent dream, we were at Six Flags, on one of those roller-coasters where you ride suspended under the tracks, and he was eating a funnel cake, which is a food that (second only to Krispy Kreme Donuts) represents "death" for diabetics like myself. (Incidentally, I've also had dreams in which JD and I were at Krispy Kreme.)

4. Nosebleeds. I've never in my entire life had a nosebleed, but in the last 8 months I've had three. I wasn't in any kind of a fist-fight, and I don't have allergies, so I really don't understand this. And I think nosebleeds--or any bleeding from the head, for that matter--are really scary.

5. Sensitive teeth. I can no longer bite into anything cold. Espcially cold funnel cakes. Or Krispy Kreme donuts.

6. Photographic memory of texts. This is not really a bad thing, I suppose, but I find that I am now able to remember exactly where on a page a particular quote I am looking for is. It's weird. The downside is that developing this talent has apparently diminished my ability to remember other things, like the names of my students.

There are probably other medical mysteries associated with the diss that I've forgotten... but, well, see #6 above.