Archive for category Grad School

Gradschool’s hidden purpose

I now stand, although perhaps lean is a better adjective, at the end of my fifth week of classes. The maniacal frontal assault on my work and schedule no long overwhelmes me to the same degree. Instead, I feel as though I’ve tamed the endless onslaught of readings, writings, work and internships into a highly controlled outline of lists, checklists, and thoughtful planning. It is the ultimate crash-course in time management and directed reading. I can no longer read every piece of material that passes by with the depth I want to give it. Instead, I have to force myself to skim headlines in GoogleReader and pass over names and dates if they aren’t critical to the argument. The biggest change in my study behavior has been the diabolical need to abstract each article I read because I simply cannot hold it all in my memory at once. There is too much information coming too fast with too many applications to trust that when crunch time comes I will remember where I read what.

It appears that grad-school, particularly a master’s degree, is not only about stretching the mind and forcing it to think harder and more deeply. That is part of my life. Instead, this degree and especially this semester is a challenge in time and project management. I have to learn and practice juggling multiple tasks and thoughts all the time. My life is strangely disjointed between the type of work I do in my part-time office job, my part-time archivist internship, and my full-time student experience. Different parts of my brain function at different levels all the time. One of my classes requires thinking and writing with deep analysis, synthesis and conclusions. The other requires concise summaries of content alone without the near-instinctual need to find coherence or meaning in the readings. The third draws on my empathy as a person, and heightens my awareness in body language and speech patterns to find understanding in interpersonal relationships. The struggle doesn’t lie in my ability to do any of them individually, although all require more practice to make me feel competent. The most draining part of grad-school is in the switching from one mindset to the other, the constant focus of one over another while still drawing on the skills I’m practicing in each.

And I say all of this at 11:40pm, after two exceedingly long days, so please excuse some of the rambling. I may need to revisit my notes on how to write concisely.

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A brief monthly summary

The past month has flown by. It started with a bang in DC with friends and 7 museums in 3 days. I’ve been to DC twice before, but this was the first time I had the wherewithal to wander the city and get to know her heart. After doing so, I can say that although I love the dedication to shaping America’s history and identity that happens within the city, I’m very glad I don’t live there. When it comes to getting a job after grad-school, I will likely let my colleagues apply for those amazing opportunities within DC. Unless of course someone offers me a job in the Library of Congress.

I didn’t take many pictures as I browsed the museums and partied with friends, but here are a few that I did collect. They are mostly of the  Capital building, because I find the structural presence and statement of the Mall and surrounding buildings a great narrative of America’s perspective of herself. Walking around the area, I can understand the academic arguments for how places can create certain identities – something I’m skeptical of in my readings because the omnipresence doesn’t translate well unless you have experience of the place.

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Yes, that was a coral reef, with hanging jelly fish, crocheted out of hundreds of colors and types of yarn from the Natural History Museum.

But now classes have started, in the typical whirl that always accompanies the first week. I’m overwhelmed and intrigued and excited and ready to dive back in. On the docket this semester: Intro to Archiving (complete with a fight for one of ~60 internships), Oral History (something I’m increasingly fascinated with as it draws together multiple strands of interests), and Topics in Modern European History (aka my history of porn class.)

I hope to be better blogging about the strands of thoughts I process this semester, but so far my track record for such public musings is less than stellar. But, on the docket for next time: memory, oral history, and the possibilities of technology.

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A year’s end

It seems 2010, the first decade of the millennium, is coming to an end. It’s been a busy year for me. I quit a job, spent five months doing virtually nothing but reading and relaxing, moved, started grad school, got a new job, and am revving up for an even busier next year. It’s strange to imagine that this time last year I was finishing up grad school applications and in a serious fit of nerves about if I would get in to either of my schools (I managed both somehow) and if Archives was really going to be as cool as I imagined. I don’t have that worry anymore, even though I’ve not done the Archives portion of library school – that starts next semester. It’s comforting to know that even if I don’t like that, I DO love library science and would have no problem switching to the academic library tract. Now to start pinning down a research topic for my master’s history thesis since I won’t be doing anything classics- based. I’ve got one inkling of an idea, proposed by my history professor this past semester, but I need to do more research and explore more widely first.

I think that will be my direction of this upcoming year: exploring the world more widely. I’ve got a lot of things to go see and try and explore and none of it will happen if I stay focused on only one point. As such I’m looking to get one professor to work on a paper idea with me, and see if it’s worth developing into something presentable and publishable. I’ve joined the American Archivists Society in an effort to be part of a professional organization and learn some networking skills. And somewhere in there I want to get to know some of my very cool classmates better.

In that spirit, I am on my way to Washington D.C. to visit old friends, maybe make some new, and go exploring down there! I’ve been to D.C. twice, but both times were not great for seeing the historical/tourist sites. No doubt going over New Years is also not the best time for seeing the sites in a relatively quiet time, but I will make it work and hopefully have a few pictures to upload soon.

Here’s to an interesting 2011!

*This entry posted while on the bus to D.C. Hello living in the future!!

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End of Semester #1

The end of the semester is here and mostly gone. I have one more paper to write, my history final, and then I am free to do as I please for the holiday break.

As I expected, it came far quicker than I wanted it to. However, I feel none of the stress or anxiety of not getting everything done that I associated with undergraduate finals time.  I’m not sure if it’s because of my stunning ability to stay on top of all my work this semester, or if the end of the semester was not very full. Either way, I appreciate the lack of stress.

One semester of Library School done, and I can say that this is what I want to do with my life. Despite some of my complaints on the lack of academic rigor, the topics and issues surrounding information access and general librarianship are right up my alley. I have not blogged about these issues as much as I intended to (something I hope to remedy), but in short I’m becoming more and more passionate about information and I can see a way to take my love of learning and knowledge and make turn it into a way to contribute to society beyond academic papers. Better yet are the vast number of individuals I’m meeting who have the same inclinations.

Library school, you came to me on the shores of Inishmor, and I’ve found a path worth traveling. Life is good.

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Thinking: once you start, there is no end

I have reached that point in the semester where my brain is filled with new concepts. My intense analytical readings have spilled over into my everyday life, and suddenly I am over-analyzing my own life in terms of these new ideas. A few examples that have crossed my mind in the last few days:

A desire to examine the historical evolution of using Hitler in for social comedy and protests. For example, the Hitler videos, re-closed-captioning ridiculous revelations onto a scene from Downfall, in conjunction with the protest signs equating individuals and policies they dislike to Hitler/Nazis, the internet meme of Reductio Ad Hitlerem, and the related Godwin’s Law.

Quilting which is historically a social activity, is now an individualistic experience. How did this happen, and why?

A friend who was trying to figure out a way not work all day decided to set his iPad on his desk and leave, knowing that his colleagues know he never goes far away from his iPad. My only response was “Clever. Using your consumerist identity to avoid capitalist production.”

All this education is contagious, a mental virus. It’s overwhelming as I start deconstructing various aspects of my life, but I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way.

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October News

It’s been nearly a month since the last update here. Big events have been going on in that time. Of course the excitement of classes has ratcheted up a notch. My first big round of assignments was due this past week, and I was busy perfecting, editing, researching, and trying to get things working right for them. The next round will be the end of the semester, a measly six weeks away.

Of bigger news is that I’m officially employed! It was a whirl-wind event of me falling into the situation, like I’ve done for every job I’ve had. My roommate mentioned a few openings at Simmons, and I submitted a resume. I got an email Wednesday requesting an interview, I interviewed Thursday morning, and they hired me basically on the spot. As of Monday, I will be working in the Study Abroad office at Simmons, helping put that department in shining order. There are a number of challenges facing me. Most of which I’m sure I don’t have a grip on their depth. But that’s good. I need another challenge to keep life interesting.

Of course, I don’t really need more to occupy my time, but I shall also be attempting to write a novel in November for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a 50,000 word challenge in a month. I managed to complete the requisite number of words last year, and I hope to do as well this time. Despite the demands of a new job, grad school, and whatever else falls into my lap.

I leave you with the view outside my window as the trees began their colorful display.

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Begun, October Has

Be honest. Is there anything better than rocking out to the intro to Smoke On the Water? I thought not. Unless you’re rocking out to Star Wars. There are musical priorities after all.

So my past few days have been pleasantly busy with a few moments of hilarity here and there. Tuesday I battled one of our invading pantry moths. Although I won the war, I think it won the battle. I managed to jam my finger against the floor, and it is only today that the swelling looks to be mostly gone. Wednesday I attempted the fried rice recipe – despite the total lack of measurements.

I’m a logical person, who thrives on directions, especially when cooking. The whole idea of “just throw some of this and some of that in” seems like a catastrophe waiting to happen. Cooking is a science after all! Science requires precision! Except when it doesn’t. I looked at the process as an experiment, and dove in. First, I had to have one of my roommates teach me how to make rice. This may seem like a basic, self-explanatory process of a 2:1 ratio of water:rice. But I’d never cooked real rice, and had no idea how much to cook in order to make fried rice for myself for a few days and my housemates. 1.5 cups was “thrown in” and away I went. I cooked some scrambled eggs, the first time I’d attempted this process successfully! After which, I fried some onions, mixed in some peas and chinese sausage and then carefully poured in the cooked rice to fry it all together. Slight problem: my pan was not nearly large enough to actually fry the whole batch. So I spent 15 minutes carefully turning it over and over to hopefully get it fried “like in stir fry.” Full disclosure: I’ve never made stir fry. I only remember watching my father make it when I was a child. Eventually it smelled done-ish? and so I poured in the final ingredients: soy sauce and scallions for some more frying. At least by this time, it was starting to smell as I remembered, so I figured I was on the right track. I carefully kept stirring, hoping that the constant movement wasn’t creating some unmanageable chain reaction that would turn my rice into a ball of nothingness or create the food-bomb in my own kitchen. When I realized that the rice was starting to burn, I figured that was a good enough reason to pull it off the stove. It tasted largely like it was supposed to, and now I have another recipe to add to my repertoire!

The first big round of assignments is due next week, so I have writing to do summarizing the several interviews I’ve conducted in the past two weeks. I’ve discovered the joys of conducting a reference interview. I find I enjoy the task of helping others clarify their own research and the distinct challenges posed by each project. Besides the act of searching databases for papers and books, I have to learn something about the topic I’m looking for. It’s now part of the possible jobs I’m contemplating. My tech class is moving into the practical application of technology. One of our projects is learning a new skill, I’ve chosen JavaScript. Which reminds me, I need to spend some serious time this week working on that. Our final project is to create a professional/personal website. It has been some time since I’ve done any web developing, but I’m enjoying re-learning HTML and CSS, even if designing is still challenging. Finally there’s history. We’re no longer focused on theory, but practice. Our professor is pulling examples from a large number of sources and types of history, but so far I’ve not found anything I love as much as Classics. Which is why my source hunt (chasing a footnote to its original source) is going to be Classics-related. More as that develops.

I didn’t go dancing this past week, something I intend to remedy next week. However, I am beginning the process of volunteering for Girl Scouts again. There is a small group of Simmons students who want to help troops grow at one of the local schools, and I’ve volunteered to start a Brownie troop. It’s been ages since I’ve been actively involved in GS, but surely all the old skills will come back quickly! I’m trying not to get my hopes up, since I still have to hear from our headquarters’s liaison whether or not there is enough interest to start a troop, but I’m already planning activities and events and ways to start dissecting negative behavior that is apparent in that school. GS was such a huge part of my growing up, and I’m so excited to give that kind of experience to others who need the opportunities that GS provides.

In short, it’s October, and life is getting busy-busy!

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Poststructuralism – aka Derrida, go deconstruct yourself.

Apparently my history professor finds it heartily entertaining to drop poor first-year grad students into the ocean of poststructuralism and see how well we sink or swim. I respect her all the more for it. Luckily the class lecture gave a concise overview of the theories leading into poststructuralism and what its premise is. Namely, the total lack of language to actually give meaning to objects. Because language is all self-referential (that is, you need words to describe the meanings of other words, which means you need to have definitions for those words, ad infinitum…), it is impossible to actually know a grand, over-reaching truth. All this is something I’ve been exposed to before, but never explicitly explained. But the most diabolical nature of these poststructuralists is this well-kept secret: their obtuse, complex, overwhelming language and structure is a conscious choice on the part of the writers to further emphasize the self-referential nature of language. And their philosophical musings have left historians with some interesting quandaries about how to look at history, and more directly, what to “do” with history. How do we use it, if history can not find an “answer.” There was good discussion about how to move forward, and if we really need to quibble over these theoretical questions. All I really can decide myself is this:

Derrida, go deconstruct yourself.

I love grad school!! Just don’t ask about post-poststructuralism.

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Week 4

It has taken four weeks, but as of yesterday I finally remember what it’s like to be in school, and, more importantly, what grad school is supposed to be like. I feel like my history class has dumped me into the middle of a lake, and told me that although there are landmarks and others thrashing wildly in the water around me, I must A. learn how to swim and B. find my way to shore, all by observing the motion of the water around me. It’s a disconcerting feeling. One I am not used to after a few years away from academia. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying myself entirely, I just need to get used to being the unenlightened one in the class instead of the one at the top. My ego is smarting.

My other two classes are interesting, if not as intellectually challenging. This week I shall be interviewing a systems librarian to discover more about her job. A useful practice, which part of me wishes I had done more of throughout high school and undergrad. Reference is about what I expected it to be, and surprisingly something I’ve been informally practicing for a long time now. I quite enjoy it, but would only look for a job in reference outside the public library realm.

Socially, life is good. I’ve gone dancing at a few venues in the area now as I try to find a lindy-hop place that will match the awesomeness of my dance hall in Denver. The reality is: I won’t. The Merc was special, and the best I can do for the moment is to find a place welcoming and with dancers eager to teach me what they know. I’m a far bit better than I expected, which comes of dancing in a place that has a large group of advanced/intermediate dancers that have been around for a decade. So, while my intellectual ego is taking a bruising, my “I can dance” ego has gotten a boost. You win some, you lose many others.

I now have a several-paragraph response paper to write about my history reading. Who knew that we were in a post-poststructuralist era? Considering I’m still fuzzy on what poststructuralism is, I really have nothing intelligent to say about being past (post?) that.

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The Fun Begins

I had my first round of classes last week, and today was the first day that I had time to actually sit down and study. Four hours in the library later, and I realize that I’m out of practice. At my peak, I could sit in the library for 10 hours straight and work with few interruptions. Right now, four hours is my limit. As a friend reminded me, it takes practice to get back to that level – and to remember to stretch beforehand.

Classes this semester look to be a complement of practical (Reference and Information Sciences, and Technology for Information Professionals) and theoretical (Historical Methods). The two different focuses are going to be a challenge to two different sides of the brain. Happily there are no tests in any of the classes as professors are trying to get us to learn for our own sake and not for a test. This philosophy makes me happy, and convinces me that I’ve chosen well. I’ve only dipped my toes in so far, but I’ve already enjoyed a rousing debate about what History IS and how one studies it, and the problems and nature of Reference work. Although most of the ideas are not new, their presentation has sparked some interesting correlations in my own thinking.

And now, two pictures of my campus and a few of the Boston area from my wanderings this weekend. That’s the USS Constitution: the oldest commissioned ship in the world. One of the things I learned from that tour was that my dreams of being a 18th-century pirate are squished. There would have been ~500 men on that one ship, packed in like sardines, with low ceilings and hammocks that would have knocked together in rough water. I’ll pass for now.

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