Monday, January 29, 2007


It's snowing here in my city. Small, lazy flakes are making their way to the ground, backlit by the street lamps and headlights and the glow from my neighbors' windows. They're a lovely distraction from the gray and slush and grit of winter in a city this cold. Earlier today I was thinking that everything, everything was dirty and might never be clean again. Now things have gone white like crisp linen, and I'm pretending I don't notice the puddles of salt and sand on my laundry room floor.

Earlier this week, I went to the first seminar I've taken in a while. My advisor somehow convinced me and ten of my closest friends that we needed to take a research class with her as a way of kicking our collective asses into gear. (She didn't put it quite that way, but I know what she meant.) For the first class, she asked each of us to put together five minute presentations on our dissertations. She set guidelines: no self-deprecating jokes, no notes or off the cuff descriptions, and if we didn't know what to say, we were supposed to make it up.

This assignment turned me into a petulant child. I did. not. want. to. I whined and whined and whined. Secretly, I was terrified. Not to be an idiot in front of my advisor, though I do always feel as if I have something to prove to her and it stresses me out. But these friends of mine? This particular group of ten? May be the group of people I respect most in this world. They are people who demonstrate their intellect and decency and kindness in real, consistent ways. There are no grand gestures in grad school. There is only every single day. And as much as I want to do work that lives up to my own expectations, I want to do work that is worthy of their respect. And the thought of actually laying my plans in front of them in such a raw way made me seriously scared out of my mind.

Luckily, among the list of reasons why these fellow grad students are my favorite people is the fact that they are excruciatingly funny. This assignment had turned them into petulant children, as well. None of us wanted to do it. And so in the hours leading up to class, e-mails whipped around like a very sharp wind, reinforcing just what a bad idea we knew this to be. They didn't want to do it any more than I did, but they made me laugh about it.

At the seminar, I was willing to hide under a chair if it meant I didn't have to go first. Thankfully, as the chairs were very small, I did not have to do this. And as each of these brilliant, nice people told the group about their projects, I felt something within me unfurl. Every single one of these people is going to be known as brilliant some day. I cannot begin to explain how inspiring their projects really are. And as each of them talked, I remembered all of the reasons why they are wonderful people. And it's just entirely impossible to feel threatened or frightened of people you adore as much as I adore them. I was distracted from my own fear by their show of lovely ideas, twisting and dancing in the room like softly falling snow.

I have no idea how people make it through grad school without a group of people of whom they are inordinately fond. I hear stories of grad programs that are so competitive that no-one can share worries or complaints or fears. I can even see how my own program might foster a sort of cut-throat competition. But I have these wonderful people to distract me from that, to deter me from my own worst impulses, to convince me over and over again of the good in this field and this career. And this week, I could not be more grateful for that. I just couldn't.


Blogger Suzanne said...

What a lovely post! It gives me hope for academe.

11:57 AM  
Blogger O'Donovan said...

> There are no grand gestures in grad school. There is only every single day.

I love this. And I'm so glad it went well.

5:24 AM  
Blogger feminaformosa said...

Wow! What a great idea to have a dissertation progress seminar. That is great that you like your colleagues so much; I envy you! My colleagues are fine, but tend to hold things close to the chest, so no use trying to get them to participate in a regular feedback session.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Acre said...

I can't imagine having a chance in hell of finishing this dissertation without the input and feedback of my colleagues here. It would not be pretty. It's got to require a whole different level of dedication and discipline to continue with a project without the affirmation and guidance of other grad students. Hat's off to you for surviving in that environment!

6:33 PM  

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