Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: March Madness

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! 

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