My Road to the Ph.D.: Adapt and Overcome!

“Adapt and Overcome!

I remember hearing this all of the time as an Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadet and then as a junior officer while in the Field Artillery.   Far more often than not, we were confronted with situations that did not present themselves the way they did in the manuals or in training rehearsals.  It’s the reason that so many of the NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) who I worked with stand out in my mind as the ones who ended up helping me as a new lieutenant.  It wasn’t about what we “learned” in ROTC or in Officer Basic Course (OBC), but instead learning on the job–OTJ as they would tell me.  After a few years, the advice and prodding of my NCOs and a couple stand-out commanders sunk in and I got to be pretty good at making things happen where others would get stuck.

That was years ago–hard to believe.  Now I’m working on my Ph.D. in English Literature & Criticism during the summer between teaching developmental college English .  Could I possibly be in a different field of work?!  And yet, the same lessons those commanders and NCOs taught me are what is helping to keep my head in the game.

I’m currently taking a seminar course focused strictly on James Joyce’s seminal novel, Ulysses.  This book has absolutely nothing to do with either the area that I’ll be working in for my dissertation nor will I ever find myself working with Joyce or this book in any of the classes I teach.  It’s part of the reason I’ve nicknamed this summer my “battle for relevancy.”  But, facing a class that initially appears to have no bearing on my professional development, I still know that as a professional in the education field I need to do more than just throw up my arms and call it quits.

And this is how the idea of adapting and overcoming has been creeping into my mind the past couple of days.  In fact, my feelings of growing frustration over the way the material is being handled and the readings themselves began making me think about how some of the students I’ve taught may have felt the same way.  I know there have been times over the course of the past year at the college where I teach that I know I’m hitting a wall with my students.  This summer experience is definitely giving me an opportunity to see things better from their perspective.  While I might not find much value in the actual content of this course, I can certainly do more to take notes on what I would do differently and how I could translate that over to my own teaching.   I certainly don’t need to spend any additional time above and beyond what I need to achieve the course objectives, but I could spend additional time mapping out the strategies I’m using to “push through” this challenging (and frankly, thoroughly less-than-enjoyable course work) and find a way to convey this to my students.  Maybe I can take this course which, at face value, does not seem to have much value to me and instead, turn it into something that has some practical use even if not the must “fun.”  That way, I can help my students learn how to “Adapt and Overcome!


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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