This summer is the transition from the third to the fourth and final year of my PhD program in Cultural Studies.
There are office spaces I could work in on campus, but if I’m there, I prefer the Tea Room. Good espresso, big windows (which are quite reflective from the outside, making an interesting vantage point, like a 2-way mirror). There was a time when my work involved ethnography, although it was the kind sometimes called “homework”—working in one’s home culture. I was studying the relationship between mainline Protestant Christianity, neoliberalism, and gender discourse. Infrequently I hung out at a local women’s church group over the course of a year, interviewed its members, and attended a few functions. (There was a time before grad school when some of my work involved museum and gallery practices—conceptualizing, researching, installing, writing catalogues for, publicizing, and documenting exhibitions at the campus art gallery or local institutions. I loved my Museology degree.) These days, my work involves reading and writing and sometimes drawing and mostly, I can read and write from anywhere. I like long swaths of time to do this kind of work, so I tend to work from home when I can. When I can’t, it’s because I’m attending or teaching classes or tutorials, participating in meetings of the steering committee for the Cultural Studies Program, meeting with a faculty member for whom I’m a research assistant, interviewing a fellow grad student for SGS student profiles, volunteering with the Modern Fuel Artist Run Centre, or, every so often, having a coffee with my supervisor. For the past couple of years I’ve lived outside of Kingston, so when I come in, I’m in for a long day. I’ve tended to pack days like these as full as possible. I like them. I find the social stimulation in that variety to be invigorating.
Over the first two years of my degree, I decided to spread my courses out, taking two in first year and two in second year, so that I wouldn’t feel isolated from other graduate researchers. During this time I also worked on writing projects outside of coursework, like blogging and pitching stories to journalistic venues, and I was working on professionalization through a graduate workshop series offered by the Religion and Diversity Project. In my second year I began working as a TA (in Religious Studies) for the first time and also took a half teaching fellowship. The former required attending classes twice a week and leading two tutorials on the same day once a week while the latter meant helping to create a syllabus, lecturing twice a week for half of a semester, and marking. TAing this year meant leading two one-hour tutorials on Fridays, marking quizzes and essays, fielding a lot of emails, administrating Moodle, and occasionally proctoring quizzes. In second year I also joined my program’s steering committee to get a better sense and a different perspective on how a program functions. I remain on it today, and we typically meet every other week, with a few additional subcommittee meetings mixed in every so often.
In my Master’s I was an RA for a faculty member in the English Department on a book project that saw me doing textual research, interviews with local artists, transcription, and some chapter editing. Now, I’m an RA for a faculty member in the Art History Department doing some administrative work and some other kinds of work, like helping to caption the figures in her forthcoming book. Before the Spring/Summer term, I was also helping to coordinate my program’s seminar and speakers series (“Cultural Studies Speaks,” which is open to the public), and this work was officially considered a kind of TAship. This involved sitting on a seminar and curriculum subcommittee of the steering committee and identifying artists, cultural producers, activists, academics, and other potential speakers, as well as coordinating their visit, and promoting the series.
For a few years now I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing fellow graduate students to write short profiles on them for the School of Graduate Studies to showcase some of the remarkable things they’ve done and I’ve also covered some graduate student events. I love this gig because I’ve met fascinating people, made friends, and learned about areas from experts themselves. (It’s given me the idea for a business called “Rent-an-Expert.” It’s where you dial up an agency and ask for a nuclear physicist, or a musicologist, or a legal scholar when you have questions only they can answer, and that agency sends one down to the local pub for you to hang out with for an hour over a pint). I do interviews a couple times a month and spend some time writing them up, checking them with the interviewee, and sending them off.
Of course there’s also Gradifying. Once a month I write a post and in between, I check Google analytics, store ideas in a bank of possible posts, and think of ways to promote the blog. The other writers and I correspond over email and meet every so often to catch up.
The time that isn’t spent doing the above is mostly spent as social time, or spent lifting weights at the gym, reading up on exercise and nutrition, gardening in the summer months, reading (I just finished Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, got any recommendations?), drawing (I have an 8 foot piece of paper to start a biiig project on), writing (I like an old-fashioned correspondence), and playing or listening to music.
I’m sure there’s more to be said about what it is to spend long periods of time reading and writing, and even what it is to “have meetings.” If I had the space and time, I would offer a phenomenology of these activities. The way they’re named makes them sound homogeneous within themselves, and they’re certainly not.
Stay tuned for another perspective piece series starting up next week.