My Road to the Ph.D.: All Quiet on the Western Front… of PA.


I just noticed that it’s been almost a week and a half since my last post.  Not that I have an overwhelming audience but my apologies for the delayed update.  In some ways, it’s hard to believe the time moved that quickly.  You attend a few classes, grab a few meals, read, read, read, and then write a bit–next thing you know, you’re less than one week to mid-session break.

Thus far, it has been an interesting experience.  Our professors regularly assure us that the workload we are covering in 5 weeks is quite literally on par with those courses our peers in the regular program cover in 15 weeks.  I suppose that explains their regular apologies and looks of sympathy!  It is an intense program and requires you to be intellectually “on” pretty much from morning straight through until evening.  After speaking to many of my classmates, I find this intensity challenges each of us in our own quiet way.

Perhaps the most obvious strain is the quantity of work.  It is not at all uncommon for me during the week  to sit down and read a novel and turn around and write 4-5 page responsive paper on it… in one day… multiple days in the week.  For one class.  But I have to confess that if the content is enjoyable (and much of it is), then it’s less painful than it sounds.  And anyone who has had the misfortunate of ever engaging me in conversation will know I rarely lack for words–spoken or typed.  🙂

Others struggle with content that we have to handle.  I think fewer students struggle in my American literature course (with the exception of the three foreign exchange students from Pakistan, India, and South Korea) as each of us has already a certain cultural context to draw upon in order to better interpret the readings.  It’s the History of Literary Theory & Criticism that I see more students with looks of pain and anguish on their faces each Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday evening.  As a frame of reference, many English scholars, professors, and teachers tend to have a certain perspective with which they look at the world of literature.  This perspective essentially colors the way they’ll look at behaviors, actions, themes, etc, that are present in the text.  In English, we call these perspectives a number of fancy terms, but ideology is one that is most common and the body of these ideologies forms what’s known as criticism–because let’s face it: these high-and-mighty scholars like to criticize others from their perspective!-)  Anyhow, it is rarely the case that these works are written in accessible English and the vast amount of jargon usually is enough to turn most students cross-eyed.

In some ways, I think I’ve been blessed as I can typically handle the amount of work we’re assigned and manage to get just a bit ahead.  I won’t lie and say I follow every single thing I read in my Lit Theory course, but I’m finding I have a knack for picking up on enough key points that I can make sense of what I think is important.  Instead, my challenge is the quiet.  The nature of this program is that we don’t have time for much socializing.   Time is spent in libraries or apartments working on the readings and papers.  Meals are excuses to get out of the apartment but are quickly eaten in order to tackle the challenges waiting back in our respective study areas.  It’s not to say we don’t have the occasional study group, but solitude is generally the norm.  I’ve even taken to walking around with headphones now as a way to fill the quiet.

For the time being, this seems like a good makeshift fix.

But in 7 days, I’ll be home–even if only for 4 days.  It will be nice to fill the quiet with the sounds of my wife laughing (usually at me) and my little boy squealing.

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About fhelvie

I live in CT with my wife and two sons. I am also writing my doctoral dissertation, which is focused on the relationship between American literature and comic book superheroes. I have served as a panelist at a number of conferences discussing my research in comics, medieval literature, and pedagogy. Most recently, I had the good fortune to present at the New York Comic Con. In addition to my work in comics scholarship, I'm also a full-time professor of developmental English.
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