good news is me and my bunny peanut made it back to waco safely (driving from nj) bad news is i tested positive for covid and have to quarantine all week and cant start the semester in person
I got an ipad! Does this mean I need to start putting out put together academia vibes?
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
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.
Winter Studying Challenge
16th January: scarves or sweaters? Oh that’s so hard! I think I prefer a really good scarf because you can look so cute in them, but they can get in the way! I like layers. This is the other angle of my kitchen. Sorry for posting so much in here and not my bedroom - I’ve found I’m more productive when my mum keeps me from being distracted.
Monday through Friday 6 am Alarm and my brain is all “Wretched, terrible creature, be silent. It is still dark and cold. The world is still dead. My lids are heavy. I’m too comfortable. I need at least 3 more hours of slumber or like 5 more minutes.”
Today, Saturday. My brain at 5:58 am. “Arise from your deathbed dearie. It’s time to be awake and do many things. Oh? What’s this? You have nothing to do this early? The rest of the house is silent and still? You think you are allowed to dream again? No. You may lie here, under your warm covers, but you shall not sleep. Also you need to pee.”
so I got interviews for both grad programs I applied to. which is yet another signifier that I’m ✨doing the thing. ✨
on a completely related note; I recently realized that I often treat my successes as something that happened to me rather than something that I accomplished due to the fact that undervalue my effort and hardwork. how do I make myself as proud as the people who love me are??
like yeah okay I did well enough in undergrad to qualify and I’ve been saving my ass off and I studied pretty rigorously by my standards for the GRE and I wrote the essay and had it proof read and rewrote it and I polished my resume and got those references and carefully assembled my application but like…
I know it isn’t luck that got me here… but I feel like it’s luck or happenstance or a cosmic joke that I got here.
Hello fellow science nerds I want some science friends! This is me saying hi to all science peeps. My name is des im a biologist :)
Is one of my main motivations to go grad school rn so I can get my prime student discount back?!? More likely than you think
No matter how bad or hurt I’ve been by love, I’ll always adore it. I love, love. It’s such a beautiful feeling and experience and although I’m in pain right now I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for the pain because it reminds me the love I have and feel for you is pure and real. It means something to love and feel pain. I’ll never harden my heart because of the hurt I’m enduring, I’ll always wear my heart on my sleeve because that’s who I am.
So please excuse me while I lose myself in the next 5 days of watching romance movies before I start my second semester of grad school and get stressed the fuck out.
adults: grad school is strict and tough and professors won’t stand for slackers
my professor: *the day after our assignment is due* yeah I’m gonna postpone this a week. have fun!
But I dropped out and still continue to suffer lol
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
A meme inspired by my readings for my Vietnam War seminar. Needless to say, Gen. Giap had the high ground.
So… Throughout the last 6 months, I’ve been coordinating with a teaching faculty member on a BIG mandatory tutoring project that he began to support the subject of his dissertation. Today, he told me that my name will be included in any research he publishes for the dissertation! Holy cow, am I excited! I might even get to take part in writing the conclusion. This might be smol beans but I’m stoked nonetheless!
Anytime I try to come up with a research question, my brain wants to consider all the things but commit to none of them
New quarter goals are:
–light a candle each time I have class so I can make it through all my old candles and buy some new ones
–No school work evenings and weekends (is this even possible???)
–keep up with non-school related reading list and actually read more than 10 for-fun books this year