Writing with a dog versus writing with a cat
The type of support your pet can give you during this entire PhD process depends entirely on your pet’s natural inclinations. This also, funnily enough, probably corresponds closely with whether you, as a PhD student, seek negative or positive modes of motivation.
What this means is that those with dogs benefit from having a cheerful, peppy friend in your corner. As a general rule, dogs love you. They pay attention to you, they listen to you, they hang on to your every word. So when you’re talking to them about, say, the futility of political opportunity structures, dogs will most likely nod, bark in affirmation, and wag their tails in support. ”You are amazing! Great idea! Seriously - you rock,” they enthuse. My PhD friends with dogs tell me that having someone to support them in this way can feel great. Plus dogs have the added benefit of giving them an excuse to go outside and see what is happening outside the confines of their
offices prison cells. The downside of dogs, though, is that their neediness can be a bit excruciating and when every single idea you have is met with such boundless enthusiasm, well, how can you trust them?
Cats, on the other hand, are polar opposites. As a cat person (although I sadly cannot have one because MOTL is allergic), cats are erratic. Sometimes, they show their love by jumping on you and purring. Most of the time, though, they just can’t be bothered. My PhD friends with cats tell me that sometimes, when they tell their cats about what they’re working on, their cats can barely contain their boredom, oftentimes walking away mid-sentence and yawning. Oftentimes, cats get angry. ”Why, for God’s sake, are you talking to me about political opportunity structures?,” they ask. ”They’re so boring. You’re boring. Your thesis is boring. You fail in life.” And that’s what my ex-roommate’s cat did, a cat so intelligent and yet so ruthless but also capable of extreme affection that I can spend hours parsing out her actions. Anyway, she would, in the middle of me trying to get her to at least show some interest in my thesis, actually plop down on top of my laptop, clawing me if I even so much as tried to lift her. This meant that I just wasn’t able to write. ”Your thesis is so bad,” she seemed to say, “so I’ll save other people the agony of even reading it.” The good thing about such negative forms of motivation is that you just want to prove cats wrong. Your thesis is exciting and innovative! As a result, you work harder. The obvious downside is that there is only so much abuse you can take.
Other pets that my colleagues have include goldfish (they apparently get annoying because all they do is stare), birds (they are mostly indifferent), and guinea pigs (all they do is eat pellets and poop, so they can’t be relied on to give support).
Hmmm. As I write this, I am starting to wonder whether it is possible to classify supervisors according to certain pet personalities…
Fear and (Self)-Loathing in Academia: Why I Dread the First Day of School
I could not sleep last night in anticipation of the first day of school. However, unlike in years past, when the thought of returning to school filled me with unbridled glee, now I think of the start of school with trepidation. Actually, scratch that: thinking about the start of the school year and all that it entails is enough to make me want to curl up in the fetal position, suck my thumb, and start wailing. I suppose the difference between regular students and those of us who labor in academia is that grad students and profs see the start of the school year as signifying the beginning of work, which means the onslaught of deadlines, teaching responsibilities, and administrative tasks, whereas students see the school year as being full of possibilities. Herewith are the following academic issues that I have to face in the months ahead:
1. Getting my PhD – In the next year, I need to finish my dissertation, revise my dissertation, and defend my dissertation. Although I love my dissertation and see it as either being a co-dependent baby who I love and who needs my full attention or an abusive parasite that I can’t get rid of, the time has come for me to say goodbye. With a few friends, I’ve started a dissertation accountability group, where our goal is to see us through the program. Hopefully, this will help all of us become doctors sooner rather than later. And hey, one of the great things about this group is that I actually get to socialize with smart people who understand what I am going through. Sometimes, after hours and hours and hours of writing, you forget what human contact feels like.
2. Bolstering my CV – Although I am happy with the publications and the grants that I’ve managed to get, the realities of academia necessitates figuring out what your next publications are and where your next research grants will come from. Since this is my first official year ‘on the market’ (as an aside: can we think of a less frightening and less capitalistic term for those who are job hunting in academia?), I have to start finessing my CV to make me competitive for the very few postdocs, lectureships and professorships that are out there. We all know that finding an academic job is harder than getting Paul Ryan to tell the truth, so thoughts of what the ‘future’ holds is stressing me out. And, yes, when I look at the abysmal number of postings out there, I sometimes have a ‘Sliding Doors’ moment and think where I would be had I opted to say yes to law school rather than going to London for my masters.
3. Book Launch – A book I co-edited with a group of people who I now consider good friends and colleagues has now been released through a solid university press. This means, thankfully, that I can eliminate the term ‘forthcoming’ on my CV and actually say that it is out. (This also means that I can harangue my friends to buy it off Amazon!) This also means, though, that the very first book I’ve edited will also be subjected to academic scrutiny. Getting the feedback of our anonymous reviewers was tough enough but having our books actually reviewed by people in our field is daunting. What if nobody likes it? What if all the other chapters except mine are well-received? Worse, what if no one pays the book any attention?
4. Teaching – I am doing an inordinate amount of teaching this term in order to avoid falling into the PhD Trap, which, as I’ve discussed, involve PhD students being unable to finish their dissertation because they need to take the time out to work to pay for tuition and living expenses. Compared to other jobs, teaching at least offers some flexibility and – at least for me – is relatively easy, if only because I am going to be handling courses that I’ve taught previously. That said, I hope that this is a good teaching year, where I get engaged students. At the very least, I really hope I don’t have overly difficult and needy students who don’t care about the material but only want As no matter what it takes, even if it means begging, bullying, or both.
If I get through the next few months without turning into (too much of) a misanthrope, I will consider the year a success. Wish me luck!
“But he’s a young fifty! Think, like, a hot, hippie Tom Cruise minus the crazy and the botox.”
Overheard while dissertating, Vancouver edition:
20-something # 1: “So, how’s the dating life going?”
20-something # 2: “Good. I met someone! He’s not working now but he hopes to do more with his medical practice.”
20-something # 1: “Oh? He’s a doctor? Cool.”
20-something # 2: ” Yeah. I mean, he does a lot of natural, holistic medicine, so he’s trying to get that started. He’s pretty fit so he has a good body. He does different types of yoga - kundalini, ashtanga…”
20-something # 1: “Yeah, I agree, knowing how to have a centred yoga practice is, like, a deal breaker.”
20-something # 2: “Totally. I mean, yoga is my life! Oh, but there’s just one thing.”
20-something # 1: “What’s that?”
20-something # 2: “He’s 50. But he’s, like, a young 50.”
20-something # 1: “Oh?”
20-something # 2: “Think, like, a hot, hippie, organic-food loving Tom Cruise minus the crazy and the botox and not, like, Ricky Gervais. Gross.”
Dating West-Coast style?
“I hope you’re feeding your baby breast milk.”
Overheard while dissertating:
60-something woman: “Hi. How old is your baby?”
Young, exhausted-looking mother bottle feeding her kid: “Oh. Hi. About 6 months?”
60-something woman: “Well, I certainly hope you’re feeding your baby breast milk in that bottle. Do you know that feeding babies formula makes them more prone to sickness? Women who don’t breast feed are irresponsible.”
Young mother: “No, I’m actually feeding her vodka.”
Ha! Mad props to the young mother for shooing intrusive know-it-alls away!
I am afraid that my dissertation is morphing into baby Voldemort
In a previous post, I compared my dissertation to a baby whose life I needed to tend to before I can move on to the Next Chapter of My Life ™. As I frantically survey the chapters I’ve written for my dissertation, I am beginning to fear that my dissertation is not in a healthy state. No, I don’t mean that my dissertation is at risk of dying. Like a persistent parasite, my dissertation has consumed too much of my soul to perish. On the contrary, what I am actually afraid of is that my dissertation may end up being a bloated monstrosity that brings nothing good to the world. In the eyes of my supervisor and my committee members, my dissertation may very well be the thing that ‘shall not be named.’ In short, I suspect that in its current state, my dissertation is Baby Voldemort:
What gives me some comfort is the fact that I can still rescue my dissertation. Baby Voldemort, after all, was originally Tom Riddle. Though I don’t want to get into the intricacies of the nature versus nurture debate, I harbor hope that with enough love and attention, my dissertation won’t have to tread down the path of uselessness. Maybe, just maybe, I have enough fortitude to will my dissertation into morphing into Baby Harry Potter instead.
As Harry Potter fans know all too well, Harry Potter’s journey from being a sad orphan to the vanquisher of evil shows that love can overcome even the most debilitating circumstances. I suspect that if Tom Riddle received even a modicum of affection while growing up, he would have avoided cavorting with snakes, cutting off his nose, splitting his soul into a gazillion horcruxes, and embarking on a depraved affair with Mistress of Mean Bellatrix LeStrange.
Of course, now that I write this, I fear that turning my dissertation into Baby Harry Potter may mean that I, as my dissertation’s sole parent, may risk being killed in the act of protecting its interests. Eek. I just scared myself. I really shouldn’t think about death while dissertating at 3 am.
“You can’t be a tiger mom if you’re not Chinese.”
Overheard while dissertating:
Young mom-to-be # 1: I think Aaron and I will be all set. We’ve discussed what our respective roles will be as parents. We’ve also been reading parenting books. I know she got, like, criticized by the press, but I totally love the way Amy Chua raised her daughters. I am so going to be a tiger mom.
Young mom-to-be # 2: I love her! She set boundaries and now her kids go to Yale. That’s good, right? I am also going to be a tiger mom.
Young mom-to-be # 2: What?
Young mom-to- be # 1: Um, not to state the obvious, but you can’t be a tiger mom.
Young mom-to-be # 2: What? Why not?
Young mom-to-be # 1: You have to be Chinese to be a tiger mom.
Young mom-to-be # 2: Seriously?
Young mom-to-be # 1: Yeah. Maybe you can be camel mom. That makes more sense cause you’re Persian.
As a good friend, E2, is fond of saying: I have no words.
Summer is not the time for cultural genocide
Hipster Boy: “You look really intense. What are you reading?”
Me: “Huh? Oh. I’m reading about the cultural genocide caused by the Indian Act.”
Hipster Boy: “It’s such a nice day. Why are you reading something so dismal? Is it for class?”
Hipster Boy: “Your prof must suck. Who wants to talk about that stuff in the summer?”
Me: “I’m the one who assigned the readings.”
Hipster Boy: “What?”
Me: “I’m the prof.”