The time has come for my leisure reading to dovetail into my studies for the next ~4 years. I use that tilde cautiously and grudgingly; apparently the average completion time for a doctoral degree in English Literature in Canada is 6.5 years. I have puzzled over this number for the bulk of my summer, since guaranteed funding runs out after four years, and that window already allows for a wealth of dissertation work, with all other examinations coming to a close two years in.
I’ve been told it’s one of those things I’ll just have to experience firsthand, but for now, I’m holding to the thought of completing this program in four years. The reason? Because I had to start research for my dissertation this summer in order to write effective grant applications. Practically speaking, I see no reason why this shouldn’t mean my dissertation work starts now, and not two years down the line when classes and comprehensive exams are completed. And so, until confronted with evidence to the contrary, this is my standard operating premise: I’m in dissertation mode until I have my degree.
That said, this whole process is ridiculously exciting. I’ll be TAing again this fall–Intro to Poetry, no less–and I’ve already started framing lessons around my personal “3 Rs” for first-year students: reading, (w)riting, and relevance. I’ve also started having dreams of running late for class, as bad as any I used to have as a kid in elementary school. I’ve signed up for every relevant teaching symposium and mentor initiative I could find, to start connecting more actively with my peer group. And of course, I’ve got grant proposals drafted and conference proposals in the works.
But most of all? I attended a dissertation defence last week. And it was wonderful. In a matter of a couple hours I went from regarding that whole process as this dread entity looming at the end of my doctoral studies, ready to shatter dreams in one fell and caustic swoop, to realizing that no committee in its right mind sends a candidate into the fray if it does not believe the candidate is ready. What emerged certainly involved thoughtful, detail-oriented criticism of the student’s dissertation, but criticism ultimately of a constructive, forward-looking nature. The aim, as with every step in this process, was improvement.
Knowing this, I felt immensely calm about the end-game, and all major points in-between. My success lies, as it always has, less in the framework of the program itself and more in what I choose to put into it. That’s quite a freeing revelation, and has wholly informed my approach to personal reading in these last two weeks before the start of school.
To this end, I am happily ensconced in a fortress of books, and intend to post about one apiece as often as I can throughout this coming term (I won’t say daily, because those sorts of promises always lead to epic blog fails). Hopefully, this should keep me honest in my reading, and it should also prove a useful means of synthesizing data, as I find the best way to remember a given text is to formulate persuasive arguments around it.
Debate reviews should also come back this term, as a kind of leisure activity that doesn’t involve my eyes so much as my ears. Add in a few more Letter to my Nephews instalments, the occasional spontaneous essay, hopefully some good news about all the writing I submitted this summer, more film reviews, and updates on my personal writing throughout this fall, and this should be a fairly productive next four months.
Best wishes, then, to everyone with their own game plans to make the most of the rest of the year. And for anyone else taking classes this fall: Have fun!