Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: March 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

“Today is Monday, Yesterday was Sunday, Tomorrow is Tuesday”

I’m sure most of you are sick of hearing about Rebecca Black and her new hit single (kind of) “Friday.”  But, since this is a blog about grad. school and graduate student experiences, maybe this will be a little different than the rest of what you’ve read. I don’t want to comment on how terrible the song or the singing is, how terribly exploitative the Ark Music Factory is for taking advantage of rich parents who don’t know how to stop spoiling their (somewhat delusional) children, or how this 13-year-old is apparently Kim Kardashian’s cousin. I don’t even want to talk about how she is planning on donating the proceeds from her songs to Japan. I want to talk about how this is going to affect Rebecca Black’s future not as a person, but as a student.

Because, for some reason, after the initial horror I felt watching the video wore off, and after getting all the information on how and why it was even produced in the first place, what I started thinking about was this: what is this girl going to do when she applies to college, if she applies to grad. school, when she applies for jobs?

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to Google yourself periodically to find out what’s out there, to put privacy settings on any public profiles you may have, etc. But what do you do if there’s already something out there and you can’t get rid of it? Or, in Rebecca Black’s case, what do you do if you’ve become so noted for something ridiculous that that’s probably all anyone will identify you with for years to come? Can you spin an application or a resume or an interview to make an old and embarrassing YouTube video an asset or a learning experience? What in the world is Rebecca Black going to do with herself if (or, in my opinion, when) this “I have to watch because it’s like watching a train wreck” kind of fame wears off?

At least when I was 13 all that was really around was AIM. The worst things I ever did online were make an AIM pen pal named Jessica who had the same birthday as I did and attempt to make a Hermione Granger fan site (meaning I didn’t really do anything bad or embarrassing…unless you think pen pals and/or Hermione are evil). The big player for posting embarrassing things in my day was DeadJournal/LiveJournal. And, let's be honest, everyone’s a little emo as a teenager. Right? The point is, once the much more public MySpace and YouTube became big I was old enough to be aware of what I was doing, and it wasn’t so commonplace that you didn’t think twice about posting things. But what are all these kids and teenagers going to do when they try to enter college or the professional world and all anyone can think when they see their name is “Aren’t you that guy/girl from that YouTube video?”

Am I crazy to think about this when I listen to “Friday”? I mean, Rebecca Black’s parents certainly didn’t think about it. Do you think this kind of fame is ephemeral enough that I shouldn’t be concerned? But, then again, isn’t the internet basically eternal?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Losing it (Work, that is)

Most people who know me even remotely well will tell you I am a bit of a worrywart. Some people may even call it paranoid. Of course, I just call it “practical” or “safe.” For example, I am overly cautious about things like leaving my suitcase with someone else at an airport. I like people who leave my house late at night to text me when they get home. And every time I am writing a paper that is more than a few pages long, I not only click the little save icon several times an hour, but I periodically email the paper to myself.

Most of the time I know I’m a little bit crazy. But a couple of weekends ago, on my way to the PAXEast Videgogame convention, I witnessed one of my worst fears: some girl had just missed her train. And, somehow, all of her stuff was already on it when it left without her.

And of course, finding articles like this one in The Chronicle just make me feel even more validated in what is probably just another element of my personal insanity. The article talks specifically about the terror of losing academic work. Of course, when it’s something like a dissertation or a huge research project with one-of-a-kind data, the terror of loss is probably at its peak. As the article explains, losing that is essentially like losing a child. You’ve invested years of time and energy into this thing, this being that has essentially taken on a life of its own, and then, all of a sudden, it’s taken from you. Either by a cruel human or a machine malfunction. And, usually, there is no hope of recovering it. It’s probably an academic’s (student or otherwise) worst nightmare.

And, of course, as usual, there are pros and cons to having newer technologies when writing things like our theses or dissertations or research projects. For example, I can’t imagine writing a whole paper (even if it’s only 10 or so pages) on a typewriter where you can’t hit “backspace” when you make a typo. Or only having one copy of your paper unless you go to a Xerox machine. Or being unable to just email in a paper to your professor if you’re sick at home and can’t come to campus. Then again, typewriters don’t usually “crash” and leave you without a bunch of work you thought you had done, and not being able to email in a paper or post it on Blackboard would also mean things like having response papers due in class and not up to three days before.

With a computer, unlike with a typewriter, you don’t just have one copy of your paper. You can print as many copies as you need, and you can back-up on external hard drives, USB drives/thumb drives, or even by emailing things to yourself. But, besides email, all of those technological items are prime targets for thieves. And while a robber would probably be completely uninterested in taking that one copy of your dissertation sitting next to a typewriter, they may inadvertently take that prized possession if it’s on that MacBook Pro, thumb drive, and/or external hard drive.

So, as the spring semester slowly creeps to a close, let us all remember this entry. The moral of the story is: back it up in as many ways as possible, guys. Physically and in “the cloud.” For once, follow this insane girl’s lead. Be a little paranoid, and avoid the trauma that the people in that Chronicle article suffered.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Life Beyond Academia

It's a scary world out there for a lifetime student

My comps. are over and I can barely believe it. Now all I have to do is cross my fingers and hope for a pass, and grad. school will almost be over. Of course, this means that my job search must now begin.

From the emails you all have been getting from the GSA, I’m guessing many of you are currently in the same boat as I am: seeking a non-academic job after 20+ years of life as a student. The GSA, Student Development, and Career Development at Fordham are currently trying to fill some gaps to help people like us, starting out with humanities students and probably moving their way on to the sciences. As they said in a recent email, they have recognized a need for workshops and other professional development programs that would help us navigate careers outside the strictly academic job market. And GSA is spearheading a project that intends to fill that gap.

What’s strange is that everyone seems to be realizing that this is an issue not just at Fordham, but in academia in general…and they’re all realizing it at the same time. When I went to the Chronicle (my go-to resource on all things academia, as you can tell) to look for information on this trend, I found at least 10 articles written on this or related topics in the last year.

One of the most recent ones, and one of the most helpful in my opinion, talks about the importance of “remov[ing] the stigma of a nonacademic career for the many students who are either struggling on the tenure-track market or don't want a teaching job.” Masters and even Ph.D.s shouldn’t be seen as useless or as a waste of time outside of academia. A lot of the skills we learn in an academic setting, especially teaching and research, are transferable to other jobs. And the experience of graduate school, in my opinion at least, is an opportunity for personal growth as well, which is never time wasted.

The authors of this Chronicle article make a good point though: we have to learn how to sell them to people in other sectors properly. According to these authors, many people outside of academia think of Ph.D.s especially as “overeducated and underexperienced.” I would argue that, on the other side of the coin, many graduate students think that doing anything outside of academia would be unmotivating and understimulating. I think we need to find a way to make academia less insular and isolating, because, as anyone in graduate school should know, discussion and conversation is the best way to learn and to find solutions. The new initiative by the GSA is the first step in this direction, and I’m personally very excited about it.

In case anyone else out there is interested in reading more about these kind of things, I recommend looking at that Chronicle article, especially since it links to several other good ones including one by Fordham’s very own Leonard Cassuto. There are also a lot of helpful websites out there for people who are in this boat (like me). The one I’ve heard about the most (including through a few friends’ recent witty Facebook statuses) is, a site you can subscribe to to get lots of inside info. on/support about different career tracks. From what I can tell, it’s definitely worth a look. And I’m sure the GSA will be sending out a whole lot more of these kinds of resources out in the near future for all of us leaving the academic world.

Happy Spring Break everyone! Hope you’re all getting some much-deserved rest and having fun!

Monday, March 7, 2011

March Madness

The March Hare

In undergrad., March=Midterms. This year, for me and many other Masters and (I believe) Ph.D. students, March=Comprehensive exams.
My comps. exam is now (terrifyingly) about 40 hours away (as one friend’s Facebook status countdown so kindly informed me). That’s right, it’s on Ash Wednesday. Originally, I took this as a bad sign. I also took it as another reason to stress (a very easy thing to do when you’re already on the edge): When, during my 6-hour exam, will I have time to go get ashes? But this panic, as a friend of mine told me, is probably unnecessary for even the most devout of us grad. students.  After all, “The life of a grad student is a daily reminder that ‘you are dust.’”

Strangely, what this whole Ash Wednesday thing got me thinking about wasn’t my own mortality. It was the way we, as graduate students, interpret the world through our own disciplines in many ways. Sure, there are differences from person to person. But the fact that I, as an English major, looked at the date of my exam and decided it was foreshadowing something, or that another of my more optimistic friends (another English student) tried to interpret it as a good omen just as you would interpret the text of a novel (“It means you can celebrate afterwards!”), might be considered a bit odd out in the real world.

A few weeks ago, another friend of mine tried to convince me I should really be in the History department. When another friend of ours heard this, she simply said: “Isn’t funny how we always look at other people and other disciplines through our own research?”

And, as I thought about Ash Wednesday, I found myself coming back to her statement. Because it is funny. And yet it seems so natural. Because I’m pretty sure a Theology or History student would interpret my comps.-exam-on-Ash-Wednesday situation totally differently. So why do we isolate ourselves in our own disciplines to the extent that we see the world through department-colored glasses? Was this always a side-effect of grad. school, or is it simply the time we live in? And what would it take to snap ourselves out of this mode (besides being aware we’re even in it)? Do we even want to change it?

PS Good luck to everyone taking comps this month!