Category Archives: grad school

post-orals… fallout?

Hi friends!

I passed my orals!  Woohoo!  This is good for me because it means I don’t have to drop out of grad school and can spend this summer working on my prospectus instead of looking for a full-time job just yet.  It’s also good for you, if you’re studying for your own exams, because it means that the level of info in these book summaries should be sufficient – if you, like me, will just need a basic knowledge of a book’s argument and its main points.  I hope they’re helpful!

That said, after cramming 275 books into my skull last month, I can’t seem to squeeze any more in just yet, so this blog will be on a bit of an academic hiatus until I start dissertation research in June.  In the meantime, if you’d like to check out what I’m doing to decompress (when I’m not out ridin’ bikes), head on over to joshlightnin.com.  I’ve never built a website of any sort before, but hey, learning something detail-oriented seems like a good way to regain some balance.

See you soon!

summer vacation

Forgive me, dear readers…

but school started up again this week, which means that in addition to reading, I’ve got meetings, lectures, seminars, lesson prep, and teaching – not to mention a rather brutal schedule adjustment to a 7am wakeup call.  Thankfully my students are amazing!

Needless to say, reading is progressing slowly, and posting slower still.  I’ll write again as soon as I’m not overcome by exhaustion – hopefully before next week.

54 books in 31 days

Happy New Year!!

It’s crunch time!  My comprehensive exams are set for the third week of April.  With three months and about 160 books to go, I’m trying a few new strategies: 

In past semesters, I’ve spent hours putting together semester-long reading lists that have me reading books by topic, so I’ll spend a week on suburbia, one on slavery, one on social histories of the colonies, one on transportation (yay!) and so on.  That works pretty well, since it means that the books are often speaking to each other – different historians writing about slavery at different points in our own history, for instance, use widely different methodologies, ask different questions, and come up with very different answers. 

BUT, this semester, since I have so much reading to do, I’m trying a much more straightforward approach: regular old alphabetical order.  I’m hoping for more variety and more cross-pollination among fields and topics.  That, and there’s something nice about working your way down a list instead of jumping around on it.

I’m also only writing out my reading schedule one month at a time, which makes this whole task feel a lot less daunting.  Hence, by January 31st, I’ll be 54 books in.  (sweet jesus!)

And finally, whereas I usually just take notes on the book and my impressions of it and file them away somewhere, for the next 90 days, I’ll be posting daily updates of my progress.  I’m doing this partly because written turnovers have been a great accountability tool at every job I’ve ever held, partly to show potential future grad students what grad school is really like (hah), and partly to stay in touch with the folks I love for the next three months.  🙂

So please don’t feel like you have to read the whole thing, but do let me know when you check in!

vacation/procrastination (so would that be… procrastication?)

School has been out for almost two weeks, and I haven’t read a thing.  I mean – I have a book open in front of me, and I intend to read all about Huey Long and the Great Depression tonight, but I have more pressing things to do first, as I have for the past couple of weeks.  Right after I turned in my last grades and responded to the last student email, I did many of the little nagging things I haven’t been able to do all semester: I cleaned my house, shuffled around the furniture, took a load to Buffalo Exchange.  That done, I baked some cookies and watched a little TV; during the next few days I went for runs, and I dared to sleep in and lounge around until noon.  I went dancing multiple days in one week and saw people enough to remember their names and ask them about things we had talked about just a few days earlier.  I went to work often enough that the same thing happened – and for a moment I remembered the thing I really loved about retail and my world before school: the closeness and amiability, and the repetition and teamwork and fascination with the everyday that fostered it.

Sometime that week I had a drink – ok, three – reasoning that even if I did wake up with a hangover, I didn’t have to do much thinking the next day.  The boy and I went out to our old late-night haunt and had greasy food and joked around with the late-night servers.  We slept in.

And then, finally, the luxury of having time to do laundry and take three hours to pack for a week back home in the motherland, where getting to know my niece and nephew and cooking my sister- and brother-in-law a couple of home-cooked meals trumps reading about long-ago events, hands down.  Tonight, we had roast chicken and cheesy polenta; tomorrow I’m simmering chicken soup from scratch, since everyone has the flu or is recovering from it.  And when they’re asleep (they crash out early), I get to tinker with Photoshop and watch movies and read a novel and finally – finally! – decompress enough to start thinking about what I want to do when I grow up and whether the path I’m on will get me to where I want to be. 

I wrote a little while ago about how in school, we need to protect our free time for the unpaid work that will get us out of here; after two weeks of break, I’m remembering just how protective I was of my free time before I came back to school.  I read novels; I learned about baking breads and cookies and cakes; I studied knitting techniques and designed and knitted sweaters with increasingly elaborate lacework.  I watched a lot of film noir, and spent whole afternoons wandering in and out of junk shops and bookstores.  I went on ridiculously long bike rides.  I had time and energy to really be with my friends when I was with them – and I had a lot of time to be with them.  I think if I had that much time again I would spend more time writing and more time volunteering, but otherwise these are things I miss – connecting with people and learning how to do things and just generally absorbing the world we live in.

My concern now is that academia, if I stay in it, won’t afford me the work-life balance that allows me to be a real person, with varied interests and a strong attachment to the real world.  It hasn’t yet, and after almost four years, I’m beginning to worry that it won’t.  Hence the procrastination.

aaaand we’re back.

And it’s November.  It’s finally chilly out.  And since August, I’ve managed to read not 8 books a week (as I should) but roughly 8 books a month, which is not exactly helping me get to the magical unicorn of 300 books by April.  One of the (many) things I am learning the hard way about grad school is that unlike the working-class world, where you say yes when people ask you if you want to work harder and make more money, here you need to safeguard your time for unpaid labor.  Truthfully, if you’re not on some sort of fellowship, the idea is to work as little as possible and make the least amount of money you can survive on so as to have the most time possible for pursuing your degree.

I am terrible at saying no to more money.  Employment opportunities abound during the school year but are scarce over the summer, and I like to pay my rent year-round.

So this semester, when I should be spending 6-8 hours a day reading, instead I am working five jobs.  Yep, five.  There’s the 20-hour appointment in my department with an awesome prof that pays my rent and bills in return for 30 hours of grading every couple of weeks; the 10-hour appointment in another department that pays more per hour and provides close contact with another awesome prof in return for 12 hours of grading every month or so; the teacher training program I lucked into that only pays an additional grand a semester but that provides awesome pedagogical support; the 8 hours a week I work at my retail gig; and the 5 hours or so I spend making posters and teaching two-step lessons every Saturday. They’re all awesome jobs, I’m learning a lot, and four of them pay well, which is why I had a hard time saying no.  And more importantly, summer isn’t going to hurt.  But good lord that’s a lot of time spent working for other people!

I guess the good part is that instead of a chore, reading has become a rare and delicious treat?