Camille Reyes

Posts Tagged ‘PhD’

Deconstructing in a Breakdown

In Writing on December 12, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I realized tonight that I am technically not a great writer. This would not chafe much were I a chemist, but since I have fancied myself a writer since my first head swelling feedback on a 7th grade creative writing assignment, wherein a anthropomorphized refrigerator wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting household, this is a let down. (Diagram that sentence, nerds!)

I’ve been unwittingly making excuses for my faults. “Oh, professors tell me I write in a more French, lyrical way. I don’t need your American sense of order <spit>.” Until today, I did not connect other feedback, including my need to “summarize the literature more, critique less,” or “get closer to the texts” with my actual deficiency. No, the cartoon coyote in my brain dropped the TNT tonight while working on a research proposal—a dangerous space for me since without the original research, I have few props with which to embellish my own exciting ideas. No, I have to review the literature that came before–a vital step, but one that requires, much to my horror, topic sentences and transitions.

I shant transition here; you see I wonder if my shortcomings are similar to the brilliant mathematicians who struggle to calculate the tip at dinner. There are such Einsteins, yes? I’m not saying I am Margaret Atwood, or even J.K. Rowling. Hubris is not my issue; it’s crankiness. I used to know this stuff because, much like sentence diagramming, I had to number the parts of a paragraph within the context of an essay. Like James Brown, I used to break it down. THEN, I brought back the fridge funk. I had game.

Maybe I should give myself a grammar and structure camp over the summer. Get back to my roots. Oh, but that sounds tedious, like picking up the socks strewn about my apartment right now, only much worse. I don’t have this lazy tendency elsewhere. (By the way, I added that last transition after I finished the post. Doh.) Whenever I get the notion to take up tennis again, a biannual event since age eight, I start with the mechanics of my swing. I now hear the voice of my last instructor (my first being my dear dad): “Swing UP Mount Hood, UP Mount Hood, UP Mount Hood.” My swing secured, I then pay attention to my footwork, trying hard not to overrun the ball (good God, that is a metaphor for my life!). Finally, I get to my favorite part: crushing the ball. THWACK! That felt good.

Now if only I could muster the same patience and dedication to fixing my writing issues. At least I can finally be honest with myself about my GRE writing scores. Turns out, I wasn’t misunderstood. No Van Gough here. For now, I will crack open another Red Bull, and ponder it no more. In the immortal words of Margaret Mitchell and Scarlett O’Hara, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” Today, and until about 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, I must finish this paper with a stylish thwump.

Portland, Oregon skyline and the swinging Mt. Hood

Steak is Overrated. A Prose Ode to Thomas Benton.

In Education on February 18, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Although I’m certain about finishing my MA, I’m not sure about getting my PhD.  If you read accounts like this one from Thomas H. Benton in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I would be one graham cracker short of a Smore for enlisting.  The comment trail to the article is equally interesting.  Benton has hit a nerve.  I’m one of those gals who actually likes to do a lot of research on prospective opportunities/fields.    My independent studies confirm the bleak conditions Benton describes.  Finding a tenure track position in the Humanities post graduation has only slightly better odds than becoming an astronaut.  Yet, I chuckle at a number of descriptions offered in the piece, including the idea that teaching and research assistants are some sort of cogs in the machine, an exploited labor force with the evil tenured bosses spitting on them from on high.

In the private sector, this form of “exploitation” is known as internships or junior staff.  There are many junior staffers who think they are above such menial tasks as teaching freshmen or making copies.  Those elitist jerks miss loads of opportunities.  Perhaps I watched The Secret of My Success with Michael J. Fox one too many times, but delivering those copies to the CEO and having a conversation in the process embodies an entrepreneurial spirit, not some laughable masochistic grad student behavior.  Same with teaching freshmen.  News flash for Benton: at some universities (read NYU) competition for even these teaching jobs is fierce, as it should be.

Does NYU have more delusional hordes than most schools?  Perhaps.

Is NYU a different animal because it is private and absurdly expensive?  Perhaps.  And this question of expense leads me to another point.

Benton derides the “life of the mind” as some fantasy world.  Is it any more of a fantasia than the working class HVAC brother he touts in the essay?  When I completed my undergraduate degree in English, well over a decade ago, my dream was to become financially independent.  There were many who forecasted doom simply because I chose to major in what I loved.  I owe Professor Robert “Rocky” Rockabrand for dispelling such myths.

To be fair, there were plenty of thunder heads; starting my career was extremely hard–right up there with divorce, home foreclosure, losing a job, pregnancy–or so I hear.  Would it have been any easier if I had majored in Business? No, partially because I’m less talented/interested in determining break-evens or traditional ROI.  I did my research then, as now.  I began in marketing/public relations at a theater, and for a time I really wanted to be a journalist.  I worked connections and landed a fancy freelance gig with a wildly respected daily newspaper, working at night while I slaved away  at Arthur Andersen (Benton should’ve been there!  Hello disillusionment. ) during the day.  There was a hiring freeze at the paper.  Even in the late 90s the media had a chronic cough.  They couldn’t hire me full-time, and I am so grateful because I would’ve been miserable.

After limited experience and observation, I came to the conclusion that journalists had it really, really bad–PhD holding bad.

I stuck with public relations so I could work with my journalist friends, yet eat filet mignon on Tuesdays.

This “strategy” or life plan worked much to my satisfaction for many years over the course of many companies, none greater than my last, the venerable PR agency, Waggener Edstrom.  I was living Benton’s private sector fantasy, driving around in my dream car fueled on healthy paychecks, benefits and only a B.A. in, gasp, English.  Had I a family to enjoy and help support, I probably would not have left.  I did not radically change my life because I was a bitter bunny either; I took a giant risk because I wanted something more.  Divine providence, hard work and many mentors brought me to NYU, not some brainwashing professorial cabal.  Grad students are, by my estimation, better than your average exploited worker at making informed choices.  Benton is kind to write with such truth, and he will no doubt help many students.  Yet, this is his truth, not mine.

I admit the mounting debt from student loans looms large.  I miss the Caesar salad at El Gaucho, and my sweet Mini Cooper S.  Double for my Portland friends or my adorable dog, now happily retired with his grandparents in Florida while I read Heidegger in Brooklyn.  The other side of my ledger is looking plump though too, filled with big ideas about the fate of the media in this country, critical theory, even I Love Lucy.  I’m learning kaleidoscopes from brilliant faculty and fellow students; I’m happy… for now.  Keeping my fantastic life of the mind going will come with continued sacrifice, yet it also will come with value–a value determined by me-the little worker, dear Benton.  I will weigh my choices once more, as soon as I finish reading The Death and Life of American Journalism with relish.

For a lovely retort to Benton check out Matt Feeny’s essay:

http://theamericanscene.com/2010/02/16/is-the-phd-trap-a-trap-ii

To Joy, with love

In Philosophy on December 10, 2009 at 4:49 pm

stress.gif

I’ve been stressed lately.  The last time I was genuinely stressed involved a software company in Washington and a overdeveloped sense of responsibility.  The culprit this time is academia and a overdeveloped sense of politics.  I’ve been playing the “what should I get my PhD in” game, and losing.  A friend helped me realize today, through one of her web sites, that I was putting the strategy before the horse.

Before I pick mad gifted doctoral program #1 (of 6-10), I need to stop, collaborate and listen.  Who knew Vanilla Ice was a philosopher?  Me, that’s who.  What do I WANT to do?  I chose NYU and grad school even though it meant some pretty large professional sacrifices, not the least of which was working for the best PR agency in the universe.  This choice has proven to be a magical one–exactly what I was destined to do.

My dad and I talk about destiny a lot.  He believes that we already know what we know, we just have to uncover it.  Sounds a bit like Heidegger, Plato and a lot like my dad–my Cuban American poet/anarchist. I toss a certain spiritual, God directed element into that mix thanks to my mother and her mother before her.  Walk on down the line.  I wish more people could look at life in this manner.  It might not be the most productive system, but it sure feels good. Kudos to mom and pops.

I want to perform, period.  I love sharing, be it through writing or singing in particular. A doctorate would work wonders for my writing, no matter the Humanities field.  I relish the scholarly discipline and the incredible feedback of the academic process.  Yet, I also want to share broadly (hello, blog; next stop world) and the academy holds very few open houses.  Then there is the music. 

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