diving in

This is me, studying from my rapidly approaching language exam. As I successfully (if not painlessly) passed my prospectus defense a couple weeks ago, it’s the last hurdle between me and my dissertation. Should I successfully complete the exam (two hours, 250 words, a text I won’t know about in advance), I will officially have only the dissertation standing in the way of the doctorate. My advisor and I are working on a four year plan. At times, that seems eminently doable. At times, it occurs to me that it took me five and a half to finish my BA, and it seems crazy. But I am ready for the challenge.

Right now, I’m diving in– diving in to French, diving in to the deep mental work. It’s a blessing, one of the greatest of my life. Like a lot of academics, I harbor a deep insecurity about being an academic, about my mental life. It’s a reaction to a cold, deeply anti-academic culture. I always feel the need to explain, the need to justify…. But when I am assigned something– when I’m compelled to do something– I can just dive in, and all of that just falls away. Language work, this work with French, it’s taxing, in a corporeal way, a frustrating, satisfying way. I get physically tired. There’s not much assignment left in my life. When I’m through with this test, the expectation will be that my life as a student is essentially over. Right now, I’m signed up to take Medical Writing (in the English department) and Experimental Design (in the Statistics department) in the fall, and the ability to take classes across that gulf in disciplines is one of the great blessings of my life. There’s every reason to think that I’ll end up dropping those classes. I’ll be dissertating, after all, and if I meet my goals, on the job market. But if I’m honest with myself, when I think of never taking another class again, I’m afraid.

I’m 32 years old. I have been in formal education for going on 23 of those years. A lot of people see that as inherently ridiculous, and they’re entitled. For me, it’s a primal kind of requirement: there are things I need to know.

The future is coming rapidly, and I am resolved to confronting it openly and honestly. There is, of course, the reality of the humanities job market. But then there is also the job market of my field, and the spotless hiring record of my program. And then again there is the omnipresent threat of another financial crisis, another collapse. I have no illusions and no great expectations of success. I am prepared to finish this degree, one way or the other, and to do so consciously. I will not get to be a student for much longer. So, for now, I’m just enjoying the struggle, the requirement, the pleasure of having my mental work dictated by someone else, learning those things I wouldn’t choose to learn if it were up to me, the work. I’m diving in.


  1. Hope you enjoy your dive into la mer!

    But pray tell, what’s Medical Writing and why is a man of letters like you taking a medical course? And why is it in the English department? Do you read Chekhov’s plays *and* his doctor journals?

    1. Medical Writing is a class about medical journalism and health writing. We’ll study the terminology and genre characteristics of medical writing, read some articles and books by well-known writers who deal primarily with medical issues, and (I’m sure) write some of our own. I’m really excited for it, I’m just not sure I can justify taking it while ABD.

      1. Well, they sure have range at Purdue! Sounds like you won’t do much Chekhov (or Robin Cook medical thrillers, for that matter!).

        To fulfill a college requirement, I actually took a course about the history of modern medicine. Not my field, but definitely a rich subject and relevant to those who like to learn about our world.

        Just watch out for gory illustrations!

        Thanks for the explanation, and good luck.

  2. I can’t exaggerate what a breath of fresh air your blog has been to me lately. Also, you’re making me excited about starting my own PhD program in the fall.

    I know you’ll be busy, but I hope you keep writing. Good luck.

  3. I think I actually said this before at some point, but definitely focus on the idioms (especially constructions with ‘on’, tricky things like that) … I spent too much time memorizing verb forms, for my French exams.

  4. Good luck Freddie! I just completed my doctorate too, it was a wonderful experience. Two tips, one selfish, one not:
    1. Don’t stop writing your blog! Its one of my favorite reads, daily.
    2. Don’t stop going out with your friends, drinking & generally enjoying life. Your production of knowledge will be that much richer.

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