Help! My students ate my doctorate

or.. it was my cat. Or… my printer jammed. Or.. gay mafia.

It is true. I am (yet another person) blogging to chronicle the slow churn to insanity that teaching full time and trying to finish a PhD has put into motion. I have convinced myself that holding a full time lecturer position is very good practice. (of course, the salary is convenient).

Yet, this wonderful exposure to department duties (re: I’ll do whatever you ask because I want my contract renewed!) leaves my “real work” (aren’t we all so pithy in the tower) on the table waiting to be read, waiting to be written… waiting to be attempted.

And so, almighty Gods of Research, I confess before you that I am indeed a Sinner. Absolution has been granted by my committee who finds this position to be “extremely important” to my professional development.  “You’re on schedule” one says.  Yet another joins: “You can slow down because you’ve never dallied”  Enablers!

In truth, I’m so very grateful for this job, enjoy my colleagues and I’m thrilled when my students achieve. Yet, there are four (forty?) books on my desk that are starting to accumulate their own dust – I”m not sure if they’re generating it or collecting it but I am positive life may sprout soon.

I want to engage them. I want to know their dry, methodical secrets. But the 90 chapter exams sit next to them saying: “You hate us, but we pay your rent. We win!”

And so, the good intentions of keeping the job, paying the rent and giving students (moderately paced?) feedback pave the way to Academic Sins.  Mea culpa.

Any one in the same boat with some wisdom on fighting the fatigue and meeting personal goals?

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About ChrisB

Sinner is a humanities doctoral student in a large, overbearing city who should be writing his dissertation, or grading 90 papers, or grading 90 essays, or meeting with students, or reading productively, or reflecting diligently on productive reading. He finds the world complex yet in no way mysterious. He wishes people learned what came before so what comes now would be less baffling and more apparent. He is disgruntled, tired, enthusiastic, dedicated. In a word: he's an academic puppy. View all posts by ChrisB

3 responses to “Help! My students ate my doctorate

  • vpallo

    I was in precisely your position a few years back (and am still alive to talk about it!). First, is there any chance you can negotiate a course release for at least one term? Even one less course can help. It may not free up that much time, but every little bit counts, especially if you teach any courses with a lot of writing (which it sounds like you do). I know that option isn’t always readily available, but sometimes it’s worth a try.

    Short of that miracle, what helped me tremendously was to give myself deadlines. I also finally embraced the idea (albeit reluctantly at first) of “writing your diss. in 15 min. a day” (I’m sure you know the book–one summer in desperation I picked it up, and although I was skeptical, it really did help.) How this translated to me was that I had to come to terms with the fact that I could no longer wait for long weekends devoted to research or writing; I had to grasp at whatever spare moments I could. I also needed to commit to putting my diss. first, and doing a little something on it just about every day. Even if it was just proofreading a few pages, it at least felt like I was making progress, and it kept the diss. on my mind.

    Finally, and most importantly, I realized that I would be a much better instructor to my students when my diss. was off my plate, and that in the meantime, they would probably never even notice if I was less engaged with their work than I had been previously. In other words, I gave myself permission to prioritize my work over my students’. I even updated them on my own progress and frustrations, in order to show them that I was right there in the trenches with them. Being transparent like this helped them understand and perhaps even lower expectations of me, and also gave them an opportunity to see the inside view of writing that they didn’t always get.

    This is long, and probably contains mostly ideas you’ve already tossed about, but I hope there’s something here worth your time! Good luck! (And thanks for stopping by my blog!)

  • Sinner

    Thank you so much for that. Those are helpful (and supportive!) things that give me that ‘boost’ that we all find ourselves needing. I’ve been trying to psych myself out with an “Every day, this hour X will be for my work, not my students.” It has been working.. sometimes. I may put myself on a 15 minute goal and build the endurance. I was reading some essay about scholarship, maintaining that when you do it every day, when you read and write, you crave it like any exercise. But when you don’t do it for three weeks, you almost start from zero and have to rebuild the endurance again. Long haul! It was really nice to read your post – I think I very much needed it. Cheers!

  • vpallo

    My pleasure! Anything to avoid grading. 🙂 I just couldn’t help posting when I read your thoughts here, because I identify so much with what you’re going through. All the best!

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