Completion

After a long extended stay finishing my MA at Concordia, one which indirectly harmed two love relationships and cost me months of needless stress, I have completed my 50-page original research essay.  I handed in my keys yesterday and the final copies of my paper.  Academia kept chugging along as I did so, and I saw new faces running up and down the history department floor.  My paper is mediocre I would say.  Had I continued to be smart I would have handed in my mediocre paper last year and saved a year of bother.  But after my first failed relationship I tired of the constant need to push through mediocre work, so instead I took my time to produce it.  The process was more rewarding, although the opportunity cost was large as well.  But there we go, I am now finished and have been redecorating my apartment and not stressing about reading anything for the past three weeks (since I finished my final draft and have been waiting for review).  During that time, I refused McGill Phd, and so am now not pursuing my studies any further within the walls of the university.

Coming out of university now for the second time I can still say that I would recommend doing an MA for those studious undergrads out there (in Canada).  Bang for your buck it is the best degree and a great sampler of higher study.  However, I do also feel that university in general can be a bit of a distraction from doing what you want in life, so it all depends on if you believe in university or not.

Speaking generally, I am looking to add more balance and perspective to my life.  I feel, especially in university, I focused all my attention on my studies to the detriment of nearly everything else.  It would be nice to divide my focus a little and build a more balanced life.  So that is my concentration right now.  I am excited by it, even though it can seem daunting.  I hope that my days of taking one extra year to write a so-so paper are done, but at the same time, I feel good that I finished my MA and actually engaged in y research, something I wouldn’t have been able to do last summer.

Finally, as always, I hope you all put up with my incredibly infrequent postings.  I am not sure if I will continue this blog or not post-academia…  Its raison d’être is now finished, but maybe once a cultist always a cultist?  I am not sure about that one.  Best wishes all!

 

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Strikes, Hikes, and Theses; in which the author muses on the just cost and meaning of education, while exposing the secret question all graduate students dread…

I have been busily working away on my MA the past few weeks.  At one point I felt like I really had a handle on my topic.  Recently I am starting to feel like the book I am currently reading is sort of the thesis I was planning on writing.  Only argued with a different emphasis then I would bring.  This is making me re-think my plan a little, because I remember during my honours paper I thought I would do something different from a scholar who had written a thesis on my topic, but once I got down to actually writing, I had to admit that our conclusions weren’t all that dissimilar.  I am planning on talking to my advisor soon and hopefully by then I will have a better grip on my plan.

Funny thing is, I think all of us graduate students dread a little bit the question “when are you going to be done?”  I know I do, but I also see it in some of my colleagues faces as well when they are asked that question.  I have to admit, I am sometimes the evil person who asks them.

Anyway, studying has sometimes taken a backseat to politics here at Concordia during the recent protests here in regards the tuition hikes.  The Quebec government is planning on raising tuitions for Quebec residents over the next 5 years.  The proposed raise is quite steep: it will amount to a 75% increase, or 325$ per year.  This has been quite the contested issue here in Quebec, as many student associations have declared themselves on strike to protest, which has in turn divided many student bodies.

So what to make of it?  What’s the answer?

My own position is that I don’t want tuitions to go up as much as planned.  I think student associations should be pushing hard to lower the increased tuition costs.  However, many of the hardline student politicians and provincial student associations in Quebec have a policy that tuition should be free, so they feel the tuition rate that already exists is a compromise, and their minimum bargaining position.  Depending on who you ask, neither the government nor the students are willing to negotiate from their positions.

Now here at the cult of academia I really question our academic model.  I mean, academia is elitist, and I think it will always be elitist.  Many of the gestures towards being more inclusive themselves become enclaves of elitism.  I would not argue that universities are bad per se, but I think they are often seen for something they are not.  This is not to say that university shouldn’t be affordable; it should, and I think this is a noble thing to strive for because universities can offer some upward mobility within society, and they can be empowering places for some.  But I question whether universities are the most important places for governments to invest money.  Perhaps this may seem obvious to readers who are not currently attending university.  But being surrounded by students protesting tuition increases, it often seems a basic premise of their argument is that keeping tuitions low should be one of the primary purposes of government.

And maybe it should be…  what do you think?  I am not sure, personally.  I mean, what are universities?  What would have my life been without them?  I guess it is impossible to know.  It seems like the best thing I got from my university education are friendships from those early years.  Would I have had the same friendships had I become an actor or painter?  If not, what does it mean that the cost of these friendships is going up?

The university is an important part of our societal infrastructure, so how much should it cost?

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Trying Times,: in which the author muses on the inevitable limits on knowledge, the mental puzzle of academic writing, and his new pharmacy job

Funny how it can be very hard to write in this blog… just like it is hard to finish my MA.  I had a great read of the Christopher Klemek book I mentioned in my last blog, The Transatlantic Collapse of Urban Renewal.   Went through the whole book, which I know I really shouldn’t as a grad student and as a proper time management exercise – but I can’t help it – I like reading full books.  The book really spelled out exactly the phenomenon of what I am studying in a wonderful way, and I walked into the library feeling like I was on top of my shit.  Then I stared at the shelf and saw so many fascinating books on cities, and I felt very worried about all I still need to know.  This was in Concordia’s Vanier library, which only has about 1/100th of the books on cities that Webster library has.  And of course, Concordia’s library is missing more books than it has.  Which is only to say that I am confronted again with the reality that one can only do so much.  I always want to do more than I can.  But one really can’t know everything, so I just have to get to a point where I am able to write intelligently on my topic, urban activism in Montreal in the 60s and 70s.  But there are always more that I feel I should read – never feel ready.

On top of all that, I am now working part-time at a pharmacy.  I felt I needed to get a job and get some structure.  There were many days which would sail by without my doing anything, and that never felt good now that my scholarships are gone.  So I found a job.  I am actually looking forward to working, but not as much as I am looking forward to not doing my MA (although I feel the two are connected).  Of course, now there are days which are spent only working and it can be easy to lose track of my academic progress.  Oh well, what can I do?   Hopefully the days off are productive.  Funny how the whole writing process is one big mental puzzle.  I’m playing with pieces in my mind, but maybe I’m really just procrastinating.

All right, big ups!  I might make a page for movie reviews – I watch so many movies – golden globes last sunday, oscars upcoming – silly excitement!  My movie reviews would be pretty bare bones, but it might be good for me to start a page like that, even for my own reference.  Aren’t movies wonderful?

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A long cold winter’s night (or, On Procrastination)

Dear Reader,

I must apologize for my long delay in writing this next segment to the blog.  I have gone through many an inner battle with academia over the summer and into the fall, and even though my questioning would have been well placed in this blog, alas, I wanted to achieve answers.  And then I also procrastinated, one of the great lessons all academics quickly learn if they are destined for success or failure, whichever.  As a result I have written this entry out in my head many times, but haven’t actually posted.  So now I have much to relate.

First of all, I was awarded both the SSHRC and the FQRSC grants for a PhD in history for this year, but… I am still at Concordia pursuing my master’s.  For those of you in the know, what this means is that I have refused my SSHRC.  It always seems like a draconian statement, but I had several reasons for doing so.  For one, I was quite stressed.  I worried about the level of stress I was under (and which I saw in all those around me in academia).  Or more to the point, I worried about the academic lifestyle which worked for me, which was to prioritize academia over everything in my life.  For me, working seriously at my studies meant that I didn’t have time to do a lot of things.  Granted this is mainly because I have challenges when it comes to time management, but it is also somewhat related to academics.  The work schedule just isn’t as definable as many other projects, and it is all in one’s head.  I found I was constantly setting aside huge swathes (is that a word?) of time in order to study, which often I wouldn’t do (thus the procrastination part).  And I was (and still am) always worried intermittently about my paper.  So academia led me to this cliff where all my time was set aside for studying, or worrying about my studies.

Now maybe that’s not so bad, if academia is a huge passion.  Which I do like academia, or I like thinking and reading and (sometimes) writing.  But I got to that edge of the cliff with some time to breathe in between the end of my courses and the beginning of my original research paper, and I asked myself “why am I in this line of work?”  I mean, I wanted to know if it was for passion or for a job, because if it is for a job, there are lots of jobs I could have and still have time to read and think and (sometimes) write.  Now I know that one’s occupation affects one’s reality, so that chances are I won’t read and think and (sometimes) write quite as intensely when I am out of school, but anyway, i asked the question and the answer was resoundingly – I am in it for the money, for the stability, for the job.  Now snickering aside from all the PhD history and other humanities students who are indebted and unemployed, it struck me as not the best idea to enter a PhD to land a job even if I get one.  I mean, then it really is all work, right?

So all of these things considered, I decided, after several agonizing months of trying to find some middle ground, to punt the scholarship and take my time to finish my MA and see where things go from there.  I now have a part-time job at a pharmacy, another as a very underpaid TA, and I feel ready to really tackle my MA.  I am enjoying the research much more now that I settled the whole PhD question and am now looking forward to finishing and starting new endeavours.

I have many ideas of things I want to take on.  I want to be creative.  I feel I have learned so much about the world since taking on this MA it is really mind-blowing.  I strongly do advise for people who have their BA to do their MA, if they have an academic bent and live some place where MAs are still affordable and usually funded, like in Canada.

One thing I would like to continue is this blog, which is named after academia, but is really about me.  My idea is to loosen my criteria a little.  Just in the sense that I find by focusing it too much I make it hard for me to pursue my unfocusedness.  I’m really a general person.  But academia has been the defining aspect of my life regardless, so I feel it can still relate.  But whatever, if it doesn’t, I don’t want to have to make any excuses or fit into any boxes.  So I am giving myself free reign.

For my MA, I am studying urban renewal protests.  The plan is to focus on Montreal, although I have been reading a lot about Jane Jacobs in NYC and Toronto at present.  I haven’t really gotten into the Montreal context too deeply quite yet.  The book I am reading right now I absolutely love (because it is exactly what I want to know about all compiled in one book).  It is Christopher Klemek’s The Transatlantic Collapse of Urban Renewal: Postwar Urbanism from New York to Berlin.  I really love this stuff when I sit down or lie down and read it.  There are just now a whole lot of studies coming out that are really dissecting the 60s and 70s responses to urban renewal, so it is cool how academics find the same problems in succession.  Hopefully I can continue to ply away at my books long enough to hatch a good essay before too long.

All right, best wishes, and thanks for your patience.  I am very slow at getting things done sometimes, so I’ll just have to trust that nobody’s been holding their breath for this!

Ryan

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Brave New World

Hello fellow readers,

I’ve been away for a while, busily putting my nose to the grind.  Why is academia like this?  I am not sure – deadlines rules etc.  It’s easy to get caught up in the treadmill of academics.  I recently finished my two papers this semester (actually, I guess it was two weeks ago now), and I thoroughly enjoyed my classes for the most part.  First time in a long time that I actually read most of the readings for courses.  Both got me thinking about life and academics in new directions.

I have continued this process and am trying to evaluate what I want to do.  I was awarded both FQRSC and SSHRC at the doctoral level for next year, which is great, and am lined up to do something at McGill.  But I have nagging doubts.  The direction I have been engaged in I am not so inspired by.  I feel I mostly never really finish papers, I am never fully satisfied with what they say, and it really makes me wonder why it is I am doing academia.  Hence the doubts.

Now this morning I had a revelation, but let me build it up a little.  A while back, I was talking here about why it is we don’t always do quite what we want.  I was talking to my psychologist about this too, in terms of relationships.  When I suggested my doubts that academia is what I want, he made the comment that it was funny that I wanted relationships to be capable of being what I want them to be but not academia.  I nodded, but it didn’t quite sink in.

Flashback 10 years ago.  I am finishing up my first degree in English Lit.  I bump into an acquaintance in the library and we talk here and there about things.  I mentioned that I am not really into English Lit anymore but I just want to finish.  He says if it were him he would take the time to do what he actually was interested in.  I nodded, but it went more or less over my head.  I wanted out.  Of course, then I wasn’t really happy with my English degree.

So the revelation:  maybe academia doesn’t have to just be one way.  I have to make it work for me.  Lightbulb.  Of course I could speed through, but if I’m not doing what I want, what am I doing?  Or maybe a better question is where will I end up?  Someplace I don’t want to be.

Ta Ta for now!

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The Trick to Grad School

Hey there faithful fans.  In talking to several grad school students I started to think about the product of academic work, the research paper.  One of the startling realizations that I hear some people around me (including myself) make is that there really only is a certain amount of conclusions and theories that people draw upon when academes write their papers.  By this I just mean that after reading many articles about history, many similar patterns emerge.  The natural inclination is to try to create something totally and mind-numbingly original, but the reality seems to be closer to the fact that scholars tend to produce a similar product, and we are studying to learn how to produce this product.  Which isn’t all that different from say working in film or music, or in a pastry shop, or in a bureaucratic office.  No matter where we are, even though there are degrees of creativity and agency and all of that, there is also a pull towards a formulaic creation, a way to produce, a craft that one has to learn, but in learning, one has also not ventured into the pathless horizon, but along a paved road, only occasionally veering into bushes and forests that lie alongside.

Perhaps the same is true beyond our work as well.  We are constantly learning to create specific forms of friendship, of free time, love, etc., which is not necessarily unique, but is crafted out of fixed forms, and we add our own small touches to make them about us, the way we decorate apartments.  And even in opting out we nevertheless recognize and react to certain forms.

But I digress.  The point is that the realization sweeps over us all in grad school (or at least some of us, so it seems) that there are articles and books that really aren’t any more complex than what they seem, that aren’t genius or earth-shattering, or fun/deep to read.  They are just academic articles, or books.  They closely resemble others we have read, and others we will read.  And that the articles we produce will likely look quite similar, in fact that this is the goal – to produce these articles, to show the same things others have shown, but slightly differently.  One does not have to learn everything, one only has to learn how to write this kind of paper.

Perhaps this is a little sad.  But it is also maybe liberating.  I’m not sure, I’m tired from going out last night, so my thinking is down.  I have been longing to create more freely, to create art film, these things.  Because I want to be loved I suppose.  Or maybe because I want to love.

It’s tricky to do just what one wants.  I always seem not to quite be able to.  I am not sure why.  But it makes me wonder if others are not the same way.  If others also stop just short of what they want, perhaps an example of the result is this form of paper.  Or vice versa, maybe wanting things is just another form we follow.  Or both.

Certainly as I get closer to possibly doing a PhD, I also worry about whether I should.  I notice this in academia, the more I have to do, the more senseless it seems and the more I question it.  And of course, there is always more to do.  But what the alternative is I’m not sure.  No matter what process one engages, presumably one will encounter this adverse reaction, which changes as one nears completion.  It’s hard to see my position outside my own emotions and feelings, etc.  I guess the forever hope is to transcend that uncertainty.

I went to a bar last night and saw this band, they were pretty good.  

Thanks for reading.

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Grad photos and smart test run

My first phone post, I am not really sure where the photos will fit in. These are all somewhat related to school, the no dog sign posted on a tree relates to my posthumanist class and our preoccupation with the animal. Same thing for the pigeon traces in the snow. I can’t seem to edit the size of these photos, but perhaps I will do that later.

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