When I was working half time and taking classes two classes at a time was no big deal. Now that I’m working full time, however, I am really struggling to keep up.
At the request of my chair, I am currently taking a course on Historical Research Methods and another on Historiography that he feels are necessary to my credibility as an educational historian. OK, I buy that. I am taking the courses through an online program that is reasonably reputable, then will transfer the credits back to my home school. One will be done the middle of this month (final paper due september 19th), the other the middle of next month. The latter has FAR more reading required.
I must admit, the courses are just killing me. First of all, the research methods class has bounced back and forth between a really interesting book called Historians’ Fallacies : Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (which talks about methods more from the perspective of what historians do wrong, and is quite witty despite the fact that the rest of the class hates it) and a book called Major Problems in American Military History: Documents and Essays (Major Problems in American History Series) (that focuses on specific events and exemplifies different approaches/perspectives using some source materials and then historians essays on the topics).
Problem number one is that I couldn’t care LESS about military history. If I were reading it for fun, maybe, but then I would not have chosen these figures/events to study.
The other course is Historiography. Problem number two is that historiography attracts the most dull writers I have ever seen. Historiography basically looks at two things: the growth and changes in historical research methods over time, and how historians in different periods have approached the writing of history.
On the one hand, this should be really interesting; it’s almost a meta-history kind of thing. However the writers of both our books make me crazy; there is so much required implicit knowledge of history built into how they write these things that you need a PhD in history to understand the context of the different writers. Parts for which I know the history are fine. Parts where I don’t end up murky, if I get through them at all.
While finishing these two courses I also have to finish 2 conference papers, a tentative teaching portfolio for a history of ed class, and a side data analysis project for a school district. Right now, frankly, I mostly want to take a few months off.
I’ve heard it suggested that the most “dangerous” time for a graduate student is between finishing classes and comps; technically that is more or less where I am, but it isn’t a feeling of being lost in that gap that is the issue. Were I a more traditional graduate student the challenges would be minimal.
Because I’m not, I am losing any and all enthusiasm for continuing. For finishing.
I miss having hobbies. I miss spending time with my friends. And while its all well and good to talk about doing those things for a normal graduate student, its much harder when you have a full time career and the PhD has BECOME the one and only hobby.
Yes, I know I’m whining.
On the one hand, I now better understand why there is such a push for all graduate students to follow the traditional “quit your job and live on a pittance” path. The alternative, while possible, is incredibly difficult and painful.
On the other hand, I am now more the ever convinced that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system of graduate education so fixed and inflexible that it would prefer to burn people out who choose a less-traditional path then help them succeed. The fact that I was in a position at ALL to go part time for 2 years in order to get to this stage is a miracle for an adult professional.
I also am beginning to wonder at the concept of the dissertation as it is currently defined. I mean, it is often positioned as your first BIG project of independent research; the final phase of your apprenticeship. However before I even take my COMPS I will have 3 solo presentation, 3 joint presentations and 3 joint publications in reputable journals. Does that really indicate that this is my first big project? Or is it just some weird formalized rite-of-passage that is only partially necessary. If I were to get a couple of my solo presentations published would that be enough? And if not, WHY not? After all, a faculty member spends their career publishing in those same places. Would that not prove my competence? Why write something that no one will ever read? What, precisely, does the dissertation prove above and beyond what has already been proven?