Tuesday, March 07, 2006
it's hard out here for a... grad student
It's award ceremony season here in Los Angeles and as I watched the Oscars the other night, I was reminded of how few opportunities we are given to commemorate our accomplishments, or even to mark the passing of time. As much as Hollywood represents something materialistic or superficial about American culture, and as much as we ordinary folk are divorced from that lifestyle, we should also recognize the absolute necessity of it, especially for its role within our ritualistic universe in this increasingly secularized world.
Our diminished capacity to commemorate things has left us without a formal venue to gather around and celebrate achievement, though I wonder if it is simply because commemoration at least in my academic world is generally associated with loss through graduation and departure. While there are holidays and birthdays, is it too much to want more? To want the formal integration of award ceremonies into our life? Why do kids and actors get all the trophies? Since when did they stop giving us those things? And for most people, is their college diploma going to be the last important commemorative document they get? Hell, that's not even an award. You paid for that piece of paper.
There are so many things to award in life, at least in terms of the things that I would like to have recognized. My best research paper, my first outside grant, best conference presentation, a published article. Even juicier are those other more intimate events--best kiss, best blowjob, best all time fuck ever--these are events that become diluted down to nothing more than information passed along in whispers over coffee, events that deserve greater fanfare. Screw that! Sound the trumpets, fire the guns. Maybe among the many skills we have to learn in the course of life, we should also learn to celebrate our achievements no matter how small, because for the rest of us, there is no Oscar waiting behind the curtain.
I suppose that in the pea-brained graduate student's imagination, the Ph.D. itself is as close to winning an Oscar as you can get. Except that by the time you get to this stage, there is a sense that the degree itself is not award enough for the pure hell that you have to go through to get it. The loneliness, the poverty, lack of any security about the immediate future. The sense that no one really cares about your work. Anyone I've talked to who have actually gotten their Ph.D. (and there are many of them because I have an enormous number of brilliant friends!) says that it is meaningless and empty. Of course, not only do I think these people are overly modest, I also think they're lying sacks of shit.
Everyone says that doing your Ph.D. is more like running a marathon than a sprint. Having actually run a marathon, I rather compare it to an iron man triathlon, the kind that beats you down and makes you feel like donkey dung. When I ran the LA marathon back in 2002, I hit the proverbial wall at mile 17. The subsequent 9 miles were indescribable agony. I have never recovered. No wonder it is taking me so long to finish my degree. I hit that wall in 2002 and I'm still trying to make it over the finish line.
At this moment, about a hundred and fifty pages of my dissertation stand between me and my degree. I have a feeling like I will finish or die. One of the two. It is that degree or me. I have no idea what I initially intended to say when I started this, because now that I brought up my dissertation, I can feel it trying to stare me down and all I can do right now is stare back and hold my own.
Posted by babibi at 2:22 AM