Monday, October 06, 2008

I'm pretty much disappearing from here, it seems. I don't seem to be able to balance things very well right now.


Diamond was diagnosed last week with a liver condition. I'm treating her with powerful "liver medication." I just don't know. I feel terrible leaving her for five days, this coming weekend, but I have two different people coming in to watch her every day at different times. She seems as if she might be beginning, just beginning, to feel a bit better.


I mentioned a little while back that I was planning a post about how this job turns me into someone I don't like very much. Yes, indeed. That comes from the feeling of pressure and impatience. It comes from rage. It comes from being ungenerous with myself and with other people.

I really noticed it when I started dealing with a PhD student who is doing a Directed Studies course with me. As it turned out, she has NO training in critically analyzing texts. None. None, none, none. How can it be????!!! My response - two weeks in a row, after receiving her "critical reflections" on the readings - was to do things like slam my computer shut and swear. How awful. It is not her fault. I recognize that. I see that she comes from a very different background, one where she is not expected to approach things in this way. I see that this is a fatal flaw in an interdisciplinary graduate studies program, which potentially sets up people to pursue projects for which they're inadequately prepared. I see all of that. But instead, I react with anger and am not particularly generous with her. I just want her to go away. I feel misled about her and her project and her capacity to do that project. These are all awful things to feel. I sense we're heading somewhere bad. I know she's been panicking to her supervisor about me. And she seems to have gone uncharacteristically quiet. Probably as a result of my not being terribly supportive - though I have tried to explain in detail - twice - what I mean by critical engagement and analysis, and given her five examples of the kind of response I want her to write.

But I feel impotent, in a sense - I don't know what to do about it - and all the solutions I can think of involve more, so much more, than I can give. So I react ungenerously - and even though it's really only in my own mind, it feels wrong. It's terrible. I don't want to be this nasty person.


Maggie said...

I understand your rage. But please be generous with YOURSELF. If the student isn't prepared to do this, she's not prepared, and it's far better for her to find out sooner rather than later. You're doing her a favor, and potentially saving her some pain, by indicating that she's not yet ready. If she's really still flailing (or not producing) after your attempts, I think the *best* thing you can do is to recommend either (a) some classes she could take that would get her prepared; or (b) brainstorm some ways to do her project that don't require what you're asking her to do.

I don't know if any of this makes sense, but the bottom line is that there is only so much you can do here.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I think anyone's generosity has limits - not just this student, but your whole situation. When you're living somewhere you feel under siege, it's awfully hard to be generous. Not that it makes feeling like an ungenerous person any easier, but it seems extremely normal, and in fact, self-protective, to me. (Assuming you plan to get out. If you wantedz to stay long-term, then, if it were me, I'd have to figure out a way to get past it all. But as a short(er) term defense mechanism? Makes perfect sense to me.)

grumpyabdadjunct said...

Okay, I am totally feeling this post from two, no make that three, entirely different perspectives.

Perspective one: the student. The interdisciplinary thing sucks on this level, and I have some idea how she feels. After my dissertation proposal defense one of my committee members gave me a list of 'vital' texts on one of my themes - all political theory texts. While I have used some political theory I have never actually taken political theory, or even a poli sci class, and so I had pretty much NO idea what to do with some of them (as you said, totally unprepared). My supervisor wants me to work with a Russian literary theorist, and she wants chops that I don't have on continental philosophy. Haysus, people, can't I stick to the Cultural Studies stuff I came here to do?

Second perspective: instructor. I cannot understand why I continue to read student work that makes claims or observations or even arguments without any attempts to expand on them, explain them, or (god forbid) provide actual evidence for them. This makes me furious, especially from third and fourth year students. I realize that it must be horrible training, and living in a culture that doesn't actually respect, let alone expect, this kind of thing, but that doesn't prevent me from being ANGRY that I have to confront and teach this every year, at every level.

Third perspective: person with anger issues. Anger is my default, and getting furious is commonplace for me; I work on tempering this every single day. The part where you wrote that you just wanted the student to go away - yeah, that's me, I feel like that several times a day, heck, several times an hour.

Maggie is right, you have to be generous with yourself first, and then try and figure out what the anger is really about. I would go out on a limb here and say that your anger about this student's work is probably pretty complex. Feelings about your work situation, about your former University/program, the time you will have to take to work this through for yourself and with the student (time you don't have) I getting warm?

medieval woman said...

I second what Maggie, et al. said - please just take care of yourself. I tmight be best to let this student grow a little more before you can take her on - I'm not sure if this is an option. Have you discussed it with her supervisor?

And I'm glad that Diamond has been diagnosed and that she's on the meds she needs. Don't worry about leaving her for a few days - she'll still be getting attention and she needs to just rest and recoup. right now.


Marcelle Proust said...

Right in there with you on the ungenerous part, though in a different life area. But when you don't have it to give, you don't have it. Can the student's supervisor help?

I think we should run away to Paris again to recharge!

Hilaire said...

Thanks, all - I *am* trying not to take it on, too much, you know? I am trying not to be too hard on myself. I just don't recognize myself, really, in this impatient person - and that feels a little alienating, to say the least...

I went and talked to the Dean of grad studies about it. She's a good, supportive feminist. As you said, Maggie, she was very clear that it is NOT my responsibility to teach her basic skills like critically analyzing a text. She also strongly urged me to get out of offering this same Directed Studies course to a student from the same (unprepared) background in the winter. I'm definitely going to get myself out of that one. I am not able to be a help to anyone in these situations. These students need tutoring in basic, basic concepts that they learn at an undergrad level. I cannot provide that kind of instruction - hours a week! - in a Directed Studies course.

NK - You're right, of course - I hadn't thought about this as self-protective before. I suppose it is. It's a haphazard attempt to save my time and, more importantly, my psychic energy. And the issue you raise of whether I'm in it for the long haul - and hence whether I need to figure out strategies that are better for me than this - is an important one. I just don't know. There is not one job out there for me to apply to.

Grumpy - It's great to hear about this from the perspective of a student who has felt out of her element in an interdisciplinary course. The thing is, with this student, the problem is that she comes from a completely different PARADIGM - nursing, where (I'm told, though I find this hard to believe) they apparently don't critically analyze things. (?) So she doesn't even know how to approach a text and ask questions of it, the way we do in the Humanities and social sciences. I just don't know how to deal with this. It's more than just disciplinary...presumably, someone with a background in humanities or social sciences (i.e. you, or me in my PhD program) could at least figure out what it means to interrogate texts. I'm just at a loss.
I also think you're right about the complexity of the anger it's bringing up in me. Even the part about anger about my own PhD program - though perhaps in a different way from what you're thinking. I think that my PhD program prepared me to expect things from graduate students that are a little far-fecthed. And that wasn't because everyone was so brilliant, or anything - but it was the case that everyone was versed in what you "do" with theory. I'm starting to think I can't expect that from most students. So then I basically don't know how to evaluate their work. My benchmarks are all screwed up.

Marcelle - yes, Paris would be grand right about now!!

And MW, thank you for the virtual hugs - will pass one on to Diamond.

Maude Lebowski said...

i send hugs. for you and for diamond. btw, the divine miss t has a "liver condition" and has been on meds for four years (she was in the hospital for four days), and she's just as spry as she ever was. so she'll be okay.


take care of yourself, first and formost.

Maggie said...

The other thing I would add is that explaining this to the student in impersonal terms might be helpful. For example, employing a definition of "interdisciplinarity" that means "multiple competencies" and "leveraging one kind of knowledge against another", rather than just, you know, pickin'up some old stuff to graft onto some other stuff, etc. I just read some papers by her: that were really helpful in this regard.

Psychgrad said...

I'm glad to hear Diamond is on the mend. How is the knee doing?

Partly, I feel sorry for the student in a program where there is such a disconnect disciplines (I'm sure it happens everywhere). It also sounds like she is relatively slow in applying your feedback. It certainly puts you in a tough position. But in the big picture, if these skills are important for obtaining a Ph.D., the onus is on her to rise to the occasion.

The very fact that you're thinking about these issues means that you're probably putting more effort into this directed readings than most professors would.

grumpyabdadjunct said...

Oh you bet nursing students don't critically assess material! If they were taught to critically assess things they might question doctors, and that's not allowed! I overstate the case but really a lot of nursing is spent learning practical skills (inserting an IV) and knowledge that doesn't lend itself to critical assessment (drug dosages and interactions). I often have nursing students in my ethics class, and theory is usually brand new to them, let alone critical thinking skills.

It no longer surprises me that undergraduates don't have critical skills, but graduate students? Why was she accepted into this program? Of course in my field we find this too, we get people with planning degrees for instance who have no idea what to do with theory. I taught with someone like this last year, the poor students must have felt like they were at a ping-pong match!