I figured I would update now before the end of the year got away from me.
I am happy to report that my prospectus meeting last Friday went well. It lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes, and there were a lot of productive questions, criticism, and back-and-forth discussions among the professors (who, thankfully, all like each other). I was a little stymied in the beginning by a request to summarize or re-cap my project, but I sidestepped it and jumped into my little half-prepared presentation on the questions I wanted the committee to address about my proposal; insofar as the point of the summary suggestion was for the committee to hear my take on the project, my presentation and list of concerns accomplished the same thing. Then each professor went around the room giving their comments, with discussion at certain points when others jumped in. I was unsure how much I needed to respond to each question/issue, but it was a relatively relaxed atmosphere -- unlike my qualifying exams last year, which were a true oral defense. Overall, I felt that all four of the professors on my committee were behind me and the project. One professor observed that one of the things she liked about the project was the feeling of being taken on a journey, with no sense of what we will find at the end of it. I appreciated her comment a lot, as that is precisely how I think of scholarship and its purposes (in contrast to the outsourcing type of scholarship, via Professor Zero).
In the next month, I will be writing my "memo" of the meeting, which needs to be more than just a summary: I will need to craft my responses to the issues brought up during the meeting, especially regarding the project's quite ambitious political and methodological scope. Basically, I must make the research more manageable and not consider it my magnum opus; I was in fact encouraged to think of it in terms of two "books." "You can save it for the second book." That is something I have to really think about, as I am not certain how easy it will be for me to disaggregate or de-link one or two factors from the others. (Perhaps this is why I am not in the sciences. Ha!)
In other news, I wanted to share the good news about one of the Filipino Americanist tenure denial cases that I mentioned here last month: a negative tenure decision from earlier this year was overturned unanimously by the new tenure and promotion committee, so the professor was awarded tenure after a review of the last process. I am thrilled about this. The professor, who recently published a beautifully-written and well-received book, had already been unanimously supported by her/his department the first time around, so my disappointment at hearing about the tenure denial over the summer was due in part to a dread about the gatekeeping employed against people of color in academia. I feel that this new decision is in the vanguard against the artificial inflation of expectations for professors of color who are up for tenure.
P.S. I have added my del.icio.us links to the sidebar.
Friday, December 21, 2007
I figured I would update now before the end of the year got away from me.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
I am recovering from the dissertation workshop over the weekend (Thursday night to Sunday afternoon). It was basically as long as a conference, and it felt like half a semester's worth of seminars packed into a few days. I got back to my house Sunday night and I still feel fried after a couple of days back home.
About the workshop, it was for graduate students engaged in the "tangled strands" of race, gender, and/or sexuality. The other students' projects were really exciting, and I am happy to report that I did not feel like the "poor relation" as I expected. In fact, there was no poor relation to be found there. The professor-interlocutors told us at the end that we were the most cohesive and generous group of students that they had had in the six (or so) years of the program. Not only did our projects speak to one another's, but we, the students, also engaged with each other extensively during the discussion of each project. I was awed by how a couple of people seemed to be "on" most of the time, and how brilliant they were. It is a skill I have yet to hone, this ability to remain on one's toes during intellectual discussions despite, for instance, the need to jump from one discipline to another and back again or even simple weariness from a long day. My contributions were more hit-or-miss, but I do hope that at least a few of my comments were helpful or at least directed the conversation in productive ways.
Interestingly, I found that at certain points comedic relief was more than welcome. After all, we were stuck together for 72 hours all told, and it seemed necessary to be able to laugh together as well. But I have had seminars where little jokes have consistently fallen flat, partly because of the professor's repressive personality and partly because of the students' arrogance. It did not consciously register while I was preparing for the workshop that I was afraid of this type of atmosphere, but thankfully this atmosphere did not materialize. Most of us went to that table nervous and uncertain about ourselves, but none of us tried to overcompensate by being arrogant and disdainful of others' attempts at levity. Moreover, we were not being graded (not officially, anyway!) for our projects or our performance as budding scholars, so there was even less reason to act out. It was nice.
Other highlights: I did not get flak about my pregnancy, although I may have seemed preoccupied with it because so many people kept asking me questions about it! Part of my worries about the workshop had to do with sharing a room with other people while dealing with the embarrassments of pregnancy, but that also turned out fine, and I liked my roommates a lot. We went to a guest ranch in Sonoma that specializes in retreats, so the area was quite beautiful. And it was in some ways a relief to be so out of touch with the rest of the world for a while. While I could have used more lighting in the cabin, thicker walls, a full-size tub in the bathroom, etc., the food, served buffet-style, was excellent. I mean, excellent. I felt spoiled and slightly guilty at every meal, as if I were spending $50 at a restaurant for myself. And the few sips of red wine that I had were also lovely (we were in wine country, so no surprise there). It was also neat to discover that many in the group were cat-lovers; given my homesickness, it was nice to be able to talk about our cats, and a couple of the professors even shared photos of their feline companions (that was kind of hilarious, actually, as one of the photos was of a couple of sibling cats on their 5th birthdays, wearing party hats -- ahahahaha! I'm sure they just loved being made to wear those things). Finally, I was glad to get to meet other students in my department (English) doing work on race, gender, and sexuality who are also very kind people; I had never met them before because they are in earlier cohorts and because I basically stayed away from my department after my first year and so preempted any opportunities to run into them randomly.
I came away from the workshop with much food for thought about my project. Mine was one of the few in the early stages, so most of the others went to the event hoping for practical suggestions on how to organize their chapters as well as for some inspiration to write the next chapter or section (and to finish). I have only a prospectus and part of one chapter, and I definitely expect my proposed chapters to change during the researching and writing, so I was mostly interested in concepts/larger implications of the work. The workshop was helpful for both sets of students, though I believe some of us got more out of it than others, which makes sense. At this point in my dissertation, I got as much as I could have expected to get out of the workshop -- essentially a more nuanced way of thinking about the "big picture" I want to offer with my dissertation as well as tips on some of the issues that I will need to flesh out in my introduction -- and I hope that I am now more prepared for my prospectus meeting in a week and a half.