Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: February 2013

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oscar Night 2013!

    Hi Grad.Life Readers! Happy Oscar Night! I love Oscar night. I don't know why, but I always have since I was a little girl. And, as a grad student, it has always been a welcome and satisfying break from  school work.
    Last year, in honor of the Oscars, I explored the representation of graduate schools in film --  click to check out Part One and Part Two!
    As you can see from those posts, "grad life" in movies is sparse, and this years offerings didn't do much to change that, but I still really enjoyed seeing some of the nominated pictures this year. Here's what I saw this year, what I thought, and what I wish I saw.

I saw this on Thanksgiving weekend, before the nominations came out, and I thought it was amazing. (I actually posted on this movie at the time -- click here to read.) I even thought it might be contender for Best Picture, that's how good I thought it was! Tonight, it's nominated for 5 awards: Cinematography, Score, Original Song, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. I predict it will win for Song. I think the other categories might be taken by Life of Pi. Wonderful movie, though!

Another one I saw early on, before nominations came out. I was utterly moved and inspired by this film. Again, read my initial post, here. I knew this would be a big one for nominations; and, it received 12 in total. Of course, the big ones here are Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, and Writing (Adaptation). I predict Spielberg will win for Director, Daniel Day Lewis for Actor, and Tony Kushner for Writing -- all deserving!! (Argo might take the screenplay award, but I have a feeling Kushner will pull this one off because voters will want to support Lincoln despite not voting for it for Best Picture.) Daniel Day Lewis was amazing in this role, and so it would be great to see him win. Also, I would absolutely love it if Tommy Lee Jones won for Supporting Actor -- he was my favorite part of the film. But that is a difficult category this year, with Alan Arkin nominated for Argo and Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook. It will probably get a couple more too -- perhaps for costume design and for Sally Field for Supporting Actress.

Silver Linings Playbook
I saw this film just before the Golden Globes, and I was glad I did, because I got to root for Jennifer Lawrence to win. In the film, her performance as Tiffany is tough and tender, gutsy and funny, and endearing.  In real life interviews, Lawrence is so appealing; the word "likable" seems sort of mundane but that is what she is -- you just kinda wanna hang out with her. It would be a big upset if she doesn't win -- she is the front-runner, and I predict it will be her. Her biggest competition? Jessica Chastain, for Zero Dark Thirty. She got a lot of buzz these past two years as an actress, but this film has lost steam in the Oscar race.
    All the performances in this movie are wonderful and they make the movie special -- which is why they were all nominated for tonight. As much as I loved Day-Lewis in Lincoln, wish Brad Cooper had a shot at this category, but for him, at least this time around, the honor is in the nomination. Robert De Niro could win his category, but again -- tough group this year!
   The movie is also nominated for other huge ones: Best Picture, Directing, Editing, and Writing (Adapted). It won't win any of these, but it was a wonderful character-picture with great performances. Loved it, and happy it got recognized.

Here's the Best Picture winner, I predict! Everyone saw it, everyone loved it, and it is about Hollywood, which Academy voters love. It was a great movie -- funny dialogue, intense plot, and cleverly designed to incorporate actual footage from 1979 media coverage of the Iranian hostage crisis.
It has other nominations, too -- 7 total -- but for some reason, I have the gut feeling it is going to be one of those years it only wins the big one. It could take Film Editing, though. That category is often linked with the Best Picture winner.
    This movie was special. In fact, I haven't talked to anyone who didn't like it -- except one person who was annoyed it wasn't completely real to the historical facts of the event. But it is a movie, not historical fact. So, despite this kind of complaint, and because it was a great story and movie, I will be happy for Ben Affleck and all involved in it if it wins.

Life of Pi
Okay, folks, I saved my favorite for last! I have a feeling that not enough Academy voters saw this film, that there was not enough "Oscar buzz" for it, and that it will fall through the cracks tonight, but seriously, it is an incredible film. It has 11 nominations, the second most of all the films. (Lincoln has 12.)  Ang Lee made such a spectacular, heart-warming, heart-breaking, funny, gorgeous, meaningful movie, and it should win, in my opinion, for Director, Cinematography, Editing, Score, Production Design, Visual Effects, Sound, and....Best Picture. But it will probably only get Cinematography, Visual Effects, and Production Design, and maybe Sound categories.
     I have an attachment  to and affection for the novel, as well, so maybe that nurtured my love for this film.If it wins Best Picture tonight, my favorite movie of the year will have won.

A Few Others I Saw

Flight: Denzel is nominated for his role in this film, and, I've always loved Denzel, since I saw Glory when I was 10 years old. He probably won't win, mostly because of Daniel Day Lewis, but also partly because the film just wasn't as good as the other nominated films in this category. Still, worth seeing if you are a Denzel fan and supporter!
Moonrise Kingdom: Nominated for Best Original Screenplay -- so clever and funny and cute! I enjoyed this movie and the performances in it, especially the kids, Bruce Willis, and Edward Norton.

What I Wish I Saw
Les Mis -- loved this play since I was a little girl -- the performances looked amazing from the trailers and previews. I'm sad I never got to see it. It is getting a lot of Oscar buzz hate right now -- people are saying they are "over it." Yikes!
Beasts of Southern Wild, Amour, Zero Dark Thirty: All Best Pic nominees -- they are on my future queue, but I just didn't have time to see them before tonight!
The Impossible: Looks like an incredible film, and I like Naomi Watts.

By the way: New and Improved,
Oscar has a BEAUTIFUL website this year, much nicer than any year before it -- check it out here! It's well-laid out and makes exploring the nominees fun -- for the first time, I think the website is entertaining in and of itself. There are trailers of each movie embedded, and lots of media and info about each nominee, including past Academy award nominations and wins. You can search by category or film, and each of those links back to the other, so it really makes for an interactive exploration. There's an awesome timeline under the Oscar History tab, and it also has a "My Picks" feature, which allows you to link up with Facebook (what else??), fill out a ballot, and share it with others. I'm definitely partaking in this activity tonight!! While the new and improved site seems it will definitely enhance the viewing experience of the actual awards show (which is what it should do!), it also is fun to play around with in its own right! (AKA, in graduate student language: procrastination tool!)

OKAY -- now back to my dissertation for a bit -- until 7:00pm (RED CARPET, HOLLA!)
Have fun tonight, and let me know what you think! (If you have time, hehe.)
-- Liza

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Reforming the Dissertation Process

  After coursework, after all the seminar papers, after exams -- the dissertation looms large for all doctoral candidates. But a recent article in The Chronicle provocatively suggests that the dissertation process is "broken," and that "[r]ethinking the academic centerpiece of a graduate education" might be a first step in addressing the larger problems happening in the graduate school world. Writer Stacey Patton notes that "Ph.D. programs are in a state of crisis,"and that some academics are beginning to talk about needing to "modernize on a large scale and move beyond the traditional, book-length dissertation." Patton notes:
"Universities face urgent calls to reduce the time it takes to complete degrees, reduce attrition, and do more to prepare doctoral candidates for nonacademic careers, as students face rising debt and increased competition for a shrinking number of tenure-track jobs."
One scholar/ writer, William Pannapacker, suggests the dissertation is outdated: "It's a hazing ritual passed down from another era, retained because the Ph.D.'s before us had to do it."
According to the article, what are some of the problems that the traditional dissertation presents?

  • It's too long of a process: Students are forced to "pour over minutiae" and "learn the ins and outs of preceding scholarly debates before turning to the specific topic of their own work." Students wind up in too much debt.
  • It's too specialized and jargony: so "burdened with jargon that they are incomprehensible to scholars from other disciplines, much less applicable to the broader public." Projects wind up only being read by a few people, making it feel, ultimately, like a meaningless exercise.
  • It's too limiting, intellectually and practically speaking: The traditional format "ignore[s] the interactive possibilities of a new-media culture" and may not "reflect students' career goals or let them demonstrate skills transferable beyond the borders of academe,"which only results in limiting the students' potential for future success. 

What are some potential solutions?
Have students create "three to four publishable articles" rather than one sustained book length project.

Providing new digital resources for students who may want to complete projects using new media formats. 

  • Here's what I envision this might look like: Spending a few years a creating digital, hyper-linked, "social" book project, conducting studies that explore new ways to read or teach based on digital and telecommunicative formats, learning the skills of digital archiving and producing an Internet-based project based on these skills. What do you all think or imagine?

"Encourage students to shape their dissertations for public consumption."
  • The examples in the article are inspiring -- a history student could work on a project for a museum, or a preservation agency. Again, like the solutions above, this option lessens the sense that the dissertation is just an exercise, and actually makes it useful to society, or to a company. Is it absolutely ridiculous to ask or think that a graduate student's final degree project could actually make a cultural or social impact? I think not!
What do you guys think about these suggestions? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of reforming this process? Do you agree that this is a "hazing ritual" that hasn't kept up with the times? Let me know what you think, and how you imagine the future! 

To send you off with a laugh, here's a P.H.D. comic I love:

Until next time, Liza

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Dissertation Blues

Happy Saturday + President's Day weekend, dear readers!
      Last year, to help cheer me up while I was writing my dissertation, my aunt, who lives on the West Coast, showed she was thinking about me by writing a poem called "The Dissertation Blues." Each month, I would receive one installment of the poem in my inbox. It was so awesome to know that someone was doing something nice to cheer me up, kind of like someone on the sidelines watching a marathon. (And god knows I will probably never run a marathon.) So this year, I thought I would feature each rhyme here on the blog, to help cheer everyone up who is in the same position! :)  Here are January and February's:
The Dissertation Blues
by Joy Zitelli
(Parts 1 and 2)


It's time to ring in the New Year
with festivities and cheer.
I should be out getting drunk
but I'm as social as a monk
it's nearly 2012
but my dreams I'll have to shelve
toast a glass of champagne or two
and celebrate with dissertation blues.


Lace, valentines, red & pink
but it's this paper I must ink
chocolates and arrows from cupid
home on the 14th 
I'll sure look stupid
on my endless date with you
Mr. dissertation blue.  

Watch for more installments each month! 

And, in tomorrow's post, I'll feature a discussion of The Chronicle's February 11th article "The Dissertation Can No Longer Be Defended," by Stacey Patton.
Have a great Saturday! 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pop-Culture and the Aestheticization of Violence

  Post-Grammy award question to all grad students and readers everywhere: is this video for "Try" by Pink ground-breaking and beautiful, or just plain disturbing?
I first saw this while on a treadmill at the gym, sans sound. And I was pretty disturbed. But then I plugged in headphones and realized what song it was, and I was kind of moved by it, although still viscerally affected, still pretty disturbed.
    The dance is, I think, artistically stunning, but the subject matter is dark. And I'm not sure what to take away from it.
    And yet, its ambiguity reflects this confusing and confused current cultural moment in which public sentiments about domestic violence seem to contradict and turn back on themselves. People are still outraged by Rihanna's resuscitated relationship with Chris Brown, her convicted abuser. Yet, the outgoing Congress  just recently let the Violence Against Women Act expire rather than allow the bill to extend protections to members of the LGBT communities, Native Americans, and immigrants. In this video, it seems like Pink's message is also a bit muddled. To me, the video seems a bit "off," as if it isn't getting the point across that it could, or should.
   On the other hand, if it opens up dialogue about the aestheticization of violence, it may be valuable, and significant. Maybe my ambivalence about the video has to do with my sense that the choreography and the lyrics of the song send messages that are difficult to swallow together in one gulp.  Pink sings, "Where there is desire/ there's gonna be a flame/ where there is a flame/ someone's bound to get burned/ but just because it burns doesn't mean you're gonna die/ gotta get up and try, try, try and try." What is the moral of the song? What does the video ask of us? What does it demand?
   One thought that occurred to me while teasing all of this out is that I think I'd feel a lot different about this choreography -- even this exact performance -- if I saw it on a modern dance stage at Lincoln Center rather than on VH1 Saturday morning countdown. But I can't pinpoint why I feel this way.  All my studies about embodiment, of representations of gender, rape, desire, the body, masculinity, femininity, and power -- all of my Advanced Gender Studies readings over the years about the woman's body in a culture of male domination -- are really not helping me formulate how I feel and what I think about this video. Comments? Thoughts? Watch the video and let me know what you think!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Extracurriculars for Grad Students

   Inquiring minds want to know: do graduate students participate in extracurricular activities?  Or, are scholarship, research, and teaching the only interests we pursue, or have time to pursue, at this point in our education/career?
   The answer is, obviously, that, of course, graduate students definitely pursue interests and activities outside their field of research. But, what is interesting are the pervasive attitudes, among other graduate school students and academics, about graduate students' extracurriculars.
   One blogger, Grad Hacker, defining "extracurriculars" as "anything that is not explicitly related to your PhD research," wrote:

"The idea of doing extracurricular activities during grad school is a touchy subject, and here’s why: On one hand, activities outside of your research are often the best way to run into interesting, new, out of the box opportunities. On the other hand, most grad students can easily point to a friend that is spending a lot of time doing anything but their research and is thus well on their way to the dreaded 10-year PhD."
Seems a little unrealistic to expect that a Phd student would do nothing except research explicitly related to his or her Phd. And yet, there seems, at least from that post, to be a stigma about it, as if it reveals a lack of focus and dedication that makes you lesser of a scholar.
    Another website,, suggests that graduate school extracurricular experiences "[take] two main forms: fellowships and study abroad experiences, and both can enrich your overall time in school in ways you never imagined. And as a result, they have the potential to make you a much more desirable job candidate."  To me, fellowships and study abroad experiences do not even count as extracurricular -- it just seems more like intracurricular to me! Is all we are supposed to do is work? Does everything have to add a line to our CV?
   What has been your experience with attitudes towards your pursuits outside of academics while pursuing a Phd?

    Post script: My "extracurric" involves my band, The Normal Living. I write songs, and sing, along with my band. We actually have our record release party tonight -- so if you have cabin fever from being stuck inside from Nemo's wrath, come downtown to Fontana's and check us out!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Addendum to Favorite Books of 2012

    Hey everyone! Happy Superbowl Sunday! In honor of the big American day of eating, drinking, and watching TV, I'd like to talk about a book. :)
    In December, I posted an entry that listed 10 of my favorites reads of 2012. Check it out, here. But, I forgot one that I loved -- Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen.

Favorite quotes from this book:
“If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles.You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to f#$@ck up your life whatever way you want to.”

“Integrity's a neutral value. Hyenas have integrity, too. They're pure hyena.”

"There was no controlling narrative: he seemed to himself a purely reactive pinball in a game whose only object was to stay alive for staying alive's sake."

"Fiction is a particularly effective way for strangers to connect across time and distance."

"Where did the self-pity come from? The inordinate volume of it? By almost any standard, she led a luxurious life. She had all day every day to figure out some decent and satisfying way to live, and yet all she ever seemed to get for all her choices and all her freedom was more miserable. The autobiographer is almost forced to the conclusion that she pitied herself for being so free."

"I spend my life jumping out of my skin with frustration at myself."

Loved, loved, loved this novel. Let me know what you thought of it! And, enjoy the game tonight! -- Liza

Friday, February 1, 2013

Prosecco v Champagne

Happy February!
The second entry in the Grad.Life Versus series: Prosecco v Champagne!
    Yes, even poor graduate students have things to celebrate occasionally! Passing orals, defending the thesis or dissertation, getting an interview or a job, receiving a fellowship award, getting a grant, winning an essay prize, publishing an article, finishing a course, completing a chapter or a seminar paper, submitting a huge post-doc application -- all of these call for a celebratory toast between you and your loved ones, or, at least, you and your advisor.
    The question is, do you choose Prosecco, or Champagne? What are the differences? What does your choice reveal about YOU?
   Here are some fun facts about "poppin' bubbly" that all graduate students who believe "you are what you drink" should know. You can decide which one you want to clink with!

  • A bottle of Champagne can have as many as 49 million bubbles. Reportedly, Prosecco may have slightly less, but still in the 40 million range.
  • The cork of the Champagne bottle can pop at a velocity of 40 miles per hour and it can even reach to a speed of 100 miles per hour. 
  • A raisin kept in a glass of champagne will keep rising to the top and sinking to the bottom. No word on if this happens with Prosecco, but let me know if you try it out. I'm picturing a Mr. Wizard-esque challenge, with a hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion. Go. 
  • The bigger the bubble, the cheaper the bottle: The size of the bubbles is one of the factors that determine the quality of the champagne. High quality champagne is denoted by tiny bubbles. Large bubbles are a mark of inferior quality.
  • For the calorie conscious grad, go Italian: There are 69 calories in 3.5 oz of Prosecco, but 87 calories in 3.5 oz of Champagne! 
  • By wine scholars, Prosecco is considered the more fun, less serious bubbly compared to Champagne. 
  • Prosecco should have the three FR's: fresh, frothy, and fruity! How's that for great alliteration!
  • Both Prosecco and Champagne are regions in Italy and France, respectively. 
  • Prosecco is made using the Charmat method, by which bubbles are produced in stainless steel vats. This method is cheaper than the Champeniose method used for Champagne, by which the bubbles are created directly in the bottle. 
  • Prosecco is best if young and fresh -- Champagne can be a bit more aged, because it is carbonated right in its own bottle.
Let me know your choices for your next celebration!!
-- Until next time, Liza