Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: July 2012

Thursday, July 26, 2012

From Tragedy to Knowledge, From Darkness to Light

Hello GSAS students and friends,
    This week the mass-shooting in Colorado has both saddened and unnerved me. While my heart goes out to the survivors and the families of the victims who are enduring this terrifying and life-altering tragedy -- as my tears fall while I hear fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, sisters, and brothers talk of the loved ones they lost --  my intellectual side simultaneously has been tossing and turning over the cultural and social implications of this horror that need not have happened. Since the event, I have thinking about how graduate study and scholarship might be useful in shedding light on this tragedy and perhaps preventing future ones. To me, if graduate study can’t be used to helped improve society in some way and make the world a better place, it shouldn’t even exist.
   Here are some seeds of scholarship that might be cultivated by those within academia and brought to bear on the public consciousness.

1.)    Studies in sociology, political science, and law on gun control and policy. Can scholars and academics study this issue so that politicians can stop saying, “We need more studies on how gun control laws would actually impact these kinds of events.” A certain politician has said that he didn't think any particular law would prevent people who are intent on doing harm from carrying out their harm -- is this true? What basis is this claim made from? I'd like to see some scholarly discussion on this so that we as a society have some real basis from which to draw our conclusions.

2.)    Studies in poli/sci and American Studies Programs and American History on the 2nd amendment – how can we make the public more aware and in touch with the origin, purpose, and effects of this amendment? What is, actually, the right to keep and bear arms, and why do we have it, who and what does it protect, and what does it mean for a society, and how can we view this right in light of 21st century advancements in both ethics and technology? Instead of just reflexively saying, “We need to protect the second amendment,” let’s strive to increase an awareness about what it really is. Let’s open a conversation about this right of ours, and make the conversation more accessible to all. The effects of this amendment, or right, have a bearing on our lives whether we want it to or not. We need to become more familiar with our rights and why we have them. Graduate and academic conversations can be a starting point for getting this conversation into the public consciousness.

3.)   Studies to increase awareness of and education about mental illness, mental disturbances, and mental health. Academics have to research more about the relationship between our societal choices and values and the state of our individual and collective mental health. What can we do to nurture our psyches, and what can we do to prevent our psyches from becoming diseased, disordered, and disconnected from reality?

These are just some preliminary thoughts about what discussions must, I believe, begin to rise up out of the horror and pain of this needless tragedy. Again, my thoughts and love are with the survivors, the victims, and family and friends whose lives were all changed forever on July 20th.
Until next time, Liza

Monday, July 16, 2012

Business Cards Available for GSAS Students

Hi folks! I hope everyone had a good Monday!
    Soooooooo, I discovered something cool today on the GSAS page of the Fordham website! GSAS students can order their very own BUSINESS CARDS!
    At conferences, I have always been impressed by the students who whip out a nice card when I ask to exchange contact information. I think it is the sense of direction and focus that the "business card" evokes. Not that one goes to graduate school to emulate the corporate world lifestyle, but the act of pulling out a nice business card gives off a sense of dedication to your chosen career path. It signifies commitment to academia as a career; it shows that you have self-confidence in your career path. It shows that you see yourself as a viable contributor in your chosen field.
   I have often thought of making my own business cards, to give out when attending networking-worthy events such as conferences, lectures, meet & greets, socials, talks, readings, and undergraduate alumni events. But I worried that homemade ones would further call attention to the self-perceived amateurism of my life as a graduate student that I was so desperate to hide and run away from.
   Looking back, I am sure I could have designed some decent ones and nobody would have thought twice about it. In fact, I am sure most of the ones I've collected from students over the years were probably homemade, although I certainly didn't nitpick or think about that when I received them.
  But it somehow makes me happy that we can order OFFICIAL ones from Fordham. Does it make me feel validated or legitimized somehow? Perhaps... or else I just think it is cool and functional at the same time.
  The information that you'll need to order them can be found on this page: Click Here! The deadline to order them for this year is September 15th, so I wanted to let everyone know about it! The price is pretty reasonable -- $30 for 500 -- which would be just about equal to the cost if you made your own!
Here is what they look like! They are simple but effective, and "official" looking.
Find the order form here!

What do you guys think? Will you order these? Let me know what you think!  Do you have them already? If so, let me know how they came out!

Monday, July 9, 2012

An Origin Story, with Fireworks

Hello Readers,
     Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a nice 4th of July week! As I celebrated 4th of July, with city-folks trying to stay cool, donning red, white, and blue, and with crowds gathering together to watch as fireworks burst overhead, I was prompted to remember what inspired me to follow my current path as an Americanist in the graduate English department. Without any irony on my part, I have to say that it is sort of a patriotic story -- probably the only genuine feeling and act of patriotism that I have experienced in my adult life. (Which, I guess, is sad.)
Photo from The Library of Congress Website

     Before I tell the inspiring story (ok, the irony is back), first I'll just give a little bit of reflection on the reflection. Since graduate students' interests have a tendency to morph as they learn more, think more, and work through the critical problems they encounter, it makes sense that I was not always an Americanist studying 18th and 19th century novels. But it is also true that to commit to a certain discipline of scholarship for so many years at such a high level, it is not uncommon that graduate students often have specific reasons for choosing what to study -- sometimes practical, sometimes academic, and sometimes emotional reasons --  as well as a great degree of conviction about what that field means to them. Becoming an Americanist who studied novels was not a given for me, and even now, on a daily basis, I do not consciously think about the reasons that turned me in that direction. But on Independence Day, as flags waved, I felt more connected to that origin story than I usually do.  I thought I would share the reasons that I study early American literature, and then invite you to share your stories about why you study what you study.
    My path as a student of literature began as an undergraduate, when I studied Early Modern, Modern, and Contemporary Drama, and also wrote a lot of poetry. As I began my Master's, I shifted my focus from drama to novels, and from poetry to fiction. I believe that happened for a practical reasons: at Fordham, the Modern Drama teacher was retiring as I began my coursework, and I began to choose classes that were centered on fiction writing and novels, and it just kind of stuck. As the semesters raced by, I fell completely in love with Victorian novels -- the classics such as Vanity Fair, Jane Eyre, Our Mutual Friend, and Wuthering Heights, and the Gothic greats like Dracula and Frankenstein, and off-the-beaten path sensation fiction such as Lady Audley's Secret.  I couldn't get enough of them -- they were like candy to me, and writing about them was proving to be so much fun. The Master's program for English required, at the time, a certain number of British Lit courses and a certain number of American Lit courses, so of course I made the rounds, but whenever I could take a class that centered around Victorian novels, I signed up.
   I had a couple of great American classes, too, and read and re-read some American classics, but they just weren't stacking up to the delicious Victorian dishes I had become so hungry for.
   This all changed when I went for an innocent visit to see an old college friend who happened to live in Washington, D.C. Believe it or not, I had never been to that city before. When my friend Heather heard that, she took it upon herself to arrange for me to see at least all the monuments and a couple of the special exhibits and sites/ sights that were so special to the city. I never in my dreams believed that a little sight-seeing would alter the path of my life! As I took in one site after another, I began to feel something I had never felt about the United States of America, and to think thoughts I had never thought about the origin of our country.
   It was, to be precise, the words that did it. It was the words I read as I crossed through FDR's monument, that ran through my brain as the fountains and waterfalls flowed and trickled around me. It was the words carved into Jefferson's and Lincoln's echoey stone houses that gave me the feelings down to my bones about the bravery of starting something so new -- of fighting for independence with nothing more than ideas pressed out into the world in the form of language.  As I read the inscriptions, something deep down inside made me want to study how it could be possible for a nation to create itself -- and how stories and words and language were the key instruments in doing so. And somehow it resonated with me personally, too -- could language and stories create not just a nation, but an individual? How does this all work? Can you trust it?
    This feeling was more than an appetite for the sweet treats of Victorian novels -- this desire was about wanting to know HOW, and WHY, and WHAT HAPPENED ALONG THE WAY. It was curiosity about the very ground I walked on, the rules I lived by, the customs I followed blindly, the social hierarchies that governed my life, the values that shaped my choices and beliefs about work, education, freedom, family, and self-hood. I was feeling, for the first time, a part of a nation, and I wanted to know more about its origins, and if the language behind those origins could be trusted and believed in.
   That was the weekend I decided to become an Americanist. I remember telling Heather about my decision as we were sitting underneath some pretty flowery trees near the National Mall. I said, I think it could matter, at least to me, to learn about what was written then, and to think through it, and to see where it veered off track. She said, "It's good if it matters." I remember feeling elated about this decision, as if it were a revelation that the universe had been waiting for me to have. I left DC that weekend feeling a renewed energy, and that fall I began my PHD and declared my field as American Literature. I had new purpose!
   Now, when I am feeling challenged and unmotivated, I do try to remember that weekend, and to recall my revelatory feelings about American literature. For me, no matter what happens in the rest of my life, I'm sure that fireworks on the Fourth of July will always remind me of that refreshing wonderful feeling of true conviction about the next step in my life path. That feeling is not so easy to come by, and I am grateful I had the experience even once in my life, even if my path twists and turns from here.

    It may sound cheesy, but that is my story of why I committed to my major field. With all that said, I am sincerely interested in your personal stories -- what drew you into what you are studying? Was it a moment, a weekend, a person, a book, an experience? And when you are frustrated and stuck, what brings you back to that moment of origin? Please share!!!
Until next time, Liza

Monday, July 2, 2012

Summer Grad Life

Hello Readers!
Happy July!
       As I was racing to make headway on a dissertation chapter by June 30th, I took a bit of time off from blogging at the end of June --  but now I am back and will provide the GSAS community with what I hope to be insightful and entertaining blogs about Grad.Life for the rest of the summer! I hope you check in periodically to see what is going on in the GSAS world!
       I was thinking that new graduate students, or family members/friends of graduate students, may wonder what a typical summer is like for a graduate student. It seems like a sort of mysterious segment of time from the perspective of someone who has never experienced it, so I thought I would devote the first blog of July to describing and investigating the "grad-life summer."
      After some thinking back on my summers as a graduate student, I guess the short answer is that there really is no typical summer for a graduate student. Unlike law students or medical students, graduate students don't always have a structured "place they ought to be" for the summer that is designated by their school, department, or program. There is no "best practice" -- like the way law students all get a summer job at a local firm or clerking for a judge. For graduate students, it definitely depends on your unique situation and department. Some departments require students to register for certain classes over the summer; some have the option to take courses; some take no classes at all. Some use the summer to write a thesis or dissertation or an article; and, sometimes there is funding available for these projects, and sometimes there is not. Some students teach the summer session; but courses are limited, so most do not. There is the possibility, but not usually the requirement, of a professional internship; yet, there are some graduate students that work a full time day job and so for the summer take "off" from being a graduate student while still holding down their full time jobs.
Students on an archaeological dig!
      In my experience as a grad student, the summer is time that is less structured than the regular semester periods, but it still needs to be productive in order to succeed in the program and as a scholar. It is a time to set and try to achieve both academic and personal goals. These goals could be oriented towards academic research or work -- trying to get ahead on reading lists for upcoming exams, catching up on reading journal articles published in your field, or committing to a personal project, clinical study, or field work. You may enroll in a class to try to get ahead in your coursework. On the other hand, these goals could also be more personal -- making money to help sustain you for the next semester ahead, or visiting family whom you haven't seen all semester, or catching up on pleasure-reading or a updating a personal blog, or starting or completing a personal writing project, or furthering a practice or enjoying a hobby. Summer for a graduate student can be a time that is really tailored to suit one's own personal needs -- it provides more freedom and choices than the fall and spring semesters.
       While grad students may have the freedom of less structured time in the summer months, the one thing graduate students don't have (usually!) is the freedom of having extra money. But the GSAS has, in recent years, opened up opportunities for Summer Fellowships that may make research in distant libraries, archives, and research sites possible. Information on these summer grants may be found at this link: GSAS Summer Fellowships. The deadlines for these grants are in December and March, depending on your specific department, so if you want to plan ahead for next summer, you can start thinking about your application during the Fall semester!
     Personally, this summer will be about maintaining my "day-job" while making great strides on my dissertation chapters. This will entail long afternoons and early weekend mornings of writing and researching, and some afternoons and evenings in the library.  Note about the library: during the Summer Session at Fordham, the library stays open on Monday-Thursday til 11pm. When classes are not in session ("Intersession"), the library follows a 9 to 5 schedule. This year, the Summer Session goes until August 2.  Here is a link to the Summer Session calendar and homepage!
     Overall, think about summer as a time when productivity may mean very different things to each particular student -- but productivity is a must! But don't forget to plan to enjoy the summer weather, too, and budget time in your schedule for enjoyment and leisure. As a graduate student, you one may feel like you always "could" be doing something to further your progress, and most of us feel guilty when we are not. But be realistic -- you need time for yourself, too. Summer is the perfect time for this;  plus, it's important not to feel cheated out of summer, because overall productivity for the year will suffer! And for the graduate student in your life, make sure you support them through the sunny beach days that make it nearly impossible to be stuck inside a library -- give them the encouragement to keep at it but also to take care of themselves and take advantage of the flexibility that the summer may offer them!
I'll be back with a new post soon, tackling some important issues for grad students that have evolved around the nation in the past few months. Keep reading, and enjoy the holiday week!
Til next time, Liza