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#grad life

Who remembers the good times when school was in person and you could finish your work a month ahead of time?

Anyone?

Yeah, I remember. But now, it’s completely different because the school locks the online assignments until the week beforehand. No wonder I feel like I’m drowning in work 24/7. 

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ASdsfhsakjsalkjd I just got my TA assignment and I’m the only TA for a class with 270 students… and I’m writing all quiz and exam questions… and the prof told me it should only be like 20 HOURS A WEEK. RIP.

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I hate that as a community we (social sciences academia) could not acknowledge deeply the extraordinary times we are living in, but we still cling on a semblance of normality instead.

I wish we called off everything and instead basically had a general sabbatical. I hate that we still do invited talks and conferences, while on zoom you cannot socialize and do the networking those event are just the excuse for. I want to know people in my field and shoot the shit and get drunk with other colleagues.

How’s my supervisor supposed to supervise me and do her teaching and her own research while the kitas and kindergartens are still closed? All my faculty is struggling. And stress travels down the pipeline.

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 Currently fighting strong feelings of stress and imminent burnout (again) and I stumbled on a comic where the artist details the struggle of creative professionals and alienation in a capitalist world, and not to be Marxist on main, but I was, my my, might it be so simple after all?

So bucle up, dust your high-school philosopy skills (if you’re european, i don’t think you study Marx in high school if you’re on the wrong other side of the atlantic) and join me in this self-exploration trip where we try to assess how Marx’s theory of alienation applies to grad school and if our current feelings are due to structural problems.

1) So, according to Marx, first type of alienation is alienation from the product of our labor. I’m gonna cheat and quote wikipedia: “ The design of the product and how it is produced are determined […] by the capitalist class“ to pursue maximal profit. Therefore “the workers hav[e] no control over the design-and-production protocol

Well, I have a restricted freedom in choosing what to research and how to do that. I need to stick to a single topic to become an expert in that, and mostly to have the best chances on the labor market. Multidisciplinarity has success as buzzword but once you end in a field, that’s it. On top of that, you’re often forced to choose “hot” or “current” topics if you want to built an inviting academic CV and innovation on the method side is often shot down, or worse, becomes a fad and methods that would be better suited to some disciplines get imported and mindlessly used in others (looking at you, economics). The current academic system does not accomodate polymaths. My control on my intellectual production is therefore greatly reduced and my choice is controlled by my chair, my programs and other institutions that keep me “on track”, oftentimes allegedly for my own good and I assume with the best intentions. But grad students and scientific researchers cannot range freely and a long leash is still a leash in the end.

2) Alienation from the process: “In the capitalist mode of production, the generation of products (goods and services) is accomplished with an endless sequence of discrete, repetitive motions that offer the worker little psychological satisfaction for “a job well done.” […] This means (the worker) cannot freely and spontaneously create according to his own directive as labor’s form and direction belong to someone else”

Well in creative work (and research is a creative work) Object and process are one and the same. I think some observations in the previous paragraphs apply here as well. But there’s another catch here, that is, wage compulsion. I am pretty lucky contract-wise but many young researchers have it harder than me and work many hours on the side or take on teaching assignments just to put bread on the table. Being forced to so something makes you hate it in the end.

Marx writes that “ The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself”. But in academia, the expectation is that you are always at work. Long hours and all nighters are common in some fields. If you work from home, is even harder to put solid boundaries, because your office is your bedroom or living room if you are lucky enough. TIme for oneself is often used to “improve” oneself and catch up with readings and books or learning new skills. If you study social sciences, you can’t open a web browser without stumbling on at least five current events related to your research field every time. So you can’t feel yourself outside of work, because there is no “outside of work” anymore. Note to myself: this is why the only moment I am happy is when I ride my bike or cook.

3) Alienation from human nature: “The Gattungswesen (‘species-essence’ or 'human nature’) of individuals is not discrete (separate and apart) from their activity as a worker […] Conceptually, in the term species-essence, the word species describes the intrinsic human mental essence that is characterized by a "plurality of interests” and “psychological dynamism,” whereby every individual has the desire and the tendency to engage in the many activities that promote mutual human survival and psychological well-being […] the division of labour inherent to the capitalist mode of production thwarted the human nature of the worker and so rendered each individual into a mechanistic part of an industrialized system of production, from being a person capable of defining their value through direct, purposeful activity.”

Again, atomization, fragmentation of the production process and loss of agency in the production process are not strangers to the academic world, especially in the lower rungs of the career ladder. As I said, it’s hard to pursue one’s own interest in and outside work, and when work creeps in every other aspect of your life everything ends up feeling like work.

4) Alienation from other workers (this is easy): “Capitalism reduces the labour of the worker to a commercial commodity that can be traded in the competitive labour-market, rather than as a constructive socio-economic activity that is part of the collective common effort performed for personal survival and the betterment of society. […] The capitalist economy […] provokes social conflict by pitting worker against worker in a competition for “higher wages”, thereby alienating them from their mutual economic interests; the effect is a false consciousness, which is a form of ideological control exercised by the capitalist bourgeoisie through its cultural hegemony.”

I am lucky that in my immediate circle of colleagues there’s a high degree of mutual support and solidarity, but grad students and early career researchers have little to no power in academia and in less lucky settings is often a dog-eat-dog world of backstabbery for career advancements and resources. The current pandemic has however fragmented any human connection and it’s super easy to feel completely alone with/against one’s own workload.

I’ll wait for some PhD in philosophy to stumble on this before drawing any definitive conclusion (ha, division of labor strikes again), but personally I think the current status of early career researchers ticks many boxes on uncle Karl’s big alienation list. At least, my situation does.

If you feel bad about your university life and you hate your research, don’t get burnt out. Take a break, talk to your peers, organize mutual support networks. Ask for help. Write me and we will complain together.

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The funniest part of writing my thesis proposal so far has been the number of times I’ve found my way to a research paper and gone “oh, this is going to be super useful!” only to find that I already had that paper open in another tab in another browser window from last week

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[15.01.21]

Feels good being productive again after the Christmas break, had a breakthrough today and came up with a plan for my next piece of writing and for an article I’m submitting! Love those moments when all of your ideas seem to come together. 

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Sometimes I’m writing up my research and I’m just hit by how like, unoriginal it is? Am I not just redoing research that was done 20 years ago? (oh god) I mean, maybe I’ve just been working on this exact experiment for too long of a period of time but I feel like I’m not adding that much to the literature by publishing this. Maybe I’m synthesizing what others wrote and bringing it back to the light with my own kind of spin/analysis but sometimes it’s just like, who will even accept this? Sure, it’s probably nigh incomprehensible to anyone not in this particular niche, as academic papers are, but is it worth it? Then again, I may be coming at it from a different angle than the previous authors, even though I have a relatively low tech process.

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had my first sex & gender science trainee meeting & am both v overwhelmed and v excited !!

feeling very out of my league because my colleagues are all… Doing Science, and I’m just like over here being the gender studies person

BUT I think our knowledge bases will work to our advantage, and you know I’m gonna be the self-appointed feminist killjoy

Anyway. We are starting this network from scratch and oh boy!! Building group infrastructure is always a challenge but I Am Ready

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Having issues with filming lectures, so I’m using the unexpected downtime to read. 2 of these books will inform my teaching; 1 is clr my dissertation

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Goals for January 13th

Professional

  • Attend Writing Center Director’s Day Out (Completed at 12:00 pm)
  • Send out draft schedule (Completed at 2:00 pm)
  • Finalize first week tutor reflection questions

Academic

  • Set up financial aid direct deposit
  • Spend 1hr learning SQL for data science
  • Review web campus requirements to ensure I’m on-track to start

Personal

  • Relax and enjoy Stardew Valley for 1hr (but no longer) (Completed at 7:30 pm)
  • Spend 1hr reading for leisure / book club
  • Spend 1hr on a walk without using social media (Completed at 1:30 pm)
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When you live in a red zone for covid and your school cancels in person classes next week lol.

Such is life. At least I get to wear pajamas in class.

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You know these ribbon skirts would be a lot easier to sew if I remembered to use iron-on adhesives like I was supposed to so the ribbons wouldn’t buckle

So that project’s on hold for a few more days until I can get those.

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Since I found out my grad program DOESN’T start today (they misprinted an updatedstart date — it actually begins the 25th), I unexpectedly have a little more time to enjoy myself before dipping into the full grad-grind!

I have been spending some of my leisure time tending to numerous plants, including my new (and growing) propagation station, as featured above! Currently, I’m trying to establish 3 buddies. From left to right are mint (already planted), ??? (Truly, I’ve no idea what the buddy living in the syrup bottle is), Zamioculcas zamiifolia (“ZZ”), and… a green onion!

Delightfully, the green onion is already growing new roots. The ZZ I’m less sure of. In general, I don’t know how well ZZs take to water propagation, but so far it’s leaves are still supple. As for the ??? plant, it has been hanging in water for weeks without rooting! Even so, it also remains pretty supple. So I guess we’ll just see how it goes, huh?

Unfortunately, most of the extra time will be devoted to the work-grind instead. The following are on this week’s menu of To-Dos:

  • Finalize and publish the Spring tutoring schedule
  • Co-write the conclusion/analysis for a small research paper (So excited!!)
  • Finish developing “Welcome Back!” assignments

As much as I’m enjoying a break, COVID has me stir-crazy and I’m really looking forward to getting started on the next steps of my future career! As such, I cannot wait until I can get started with my program. By then, I should have more relevant and interesting content to share.

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Well, it was nice knowing y'all. School begins next week and I have 5 classes.

Goodbye life, goodbye writing.


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re-reading my master thesis after a 3 week break is an absolute rollercoster - sometimes i am quite delighted by points i didn’t remember making and then points when I ask, “but what follows from this?” or “but what does this mean?” and then reading in the text “but what follows from this?” or “but what does this mean?” because past-me decided it was present-me’s task to answer the stupid question

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