At the beginning of this year, I wrote about a little experiment my colleagues and I conducted regarding professional dress. To recap, many of the graduate students in the University of Maryland’s ethno/musicology division have teaching responsibilities, and we were noticing an increased discussion about what we wear while teaching classes and taking classes. The idea of business-casual attire had come up a number of times, and I wanted to know what would happen if we all dressed in such clothes for two weeks, although some kept the experiment going a bit longer.
I can’t stop freaking out about my dissertation, and I’m starting to enjoy that fact.
Some of you may have noticed that postings on our blog have been a little scant recently. We sincerely apologize for that and are continuing work on many awesome projects. The reality of the situation is, however, several of us have just finished thesis writing or are currently in the throes of dissertation writing, and for me at least, this has led to some strange occurrences in my life. I mentioned in a previous post how I had become convinced I needed to shunt health and sleep to the side in order to finish the dissertation. I have to admit that as much as writing that blog post did help me get some perspective on what I’m doing and why, I still have days where I feel like I’m not doing something right if I haven’t had at least one nervous breakdown. And that has led to another problem: I’m starting to enjoy this process.
One thing I didn’t learn in my now 20+ years of education was how to write a dissertation. Fellow students and professors have told me not to think of the dissertation as the end; it’s not my life’s work but only the beginning of my life’s work. I know they mean well, but whilst deep in the throes of dissertation writing—when my thoughts are sticky and globby, when I can’t understand the article I just read, when I’m not making sense to myself anymore—I think, “And this is only the beginning?!”
In a way, though, this kind of encouragement is misleading. The dissertation is an end of sorts. It’s the culmination of years of study, research, and fieldwork. It’s a liminal space (oh no, that word!), a place of becoming. One final rite of passage as a student. And as such, it’s freaking me out.
I’m sure other disciplines feel the same, but for me, there’s nothing quite like an SEM conference. I saw so many wonderful, thought-provoking papers, got to meet and talk with so many new people, and bought so many half-priced books the last day, that I came home thoroughly inspired. For this week’s blog post, I thought I would share my reactions to my favorite paper presentation.
“What would you do,” a professor once asked, “if you’ve only got three weeks left of your fieldwork and your interlocutors aren’t responding to you?” She asked this of me and a fellow student several years ago when we were taking one of her classes. I think she was a bit frustrated at our frustration. One of the requirements for the class was a paper that added new research to and knowledge about an area of the world that has been under-studied by ethnomusicologists. For this paper, she wanted us to go as far as we could in conducting fieldwork without actually traveling anywhere. We were to use email, Facebook, Skype, phone calls, anything that would put us in direct contact with actual people. And my people weren’t picking up the phone. Or answering emails. Or responding to Facebook messages. In desperation, I turned to my professor, and she asked me the above question.
I think we can all agree that the anticipation felt from the “first day of school” prompts vibrant memories. For me, year after year, there has always been the excitement mixed with nerves about meeting new classmates, the decision of what my first-day outfit will be, and the dreaded first-day-of-school photo session outside my house. Then again, I was also always pleasantly surprised to find mom’s celebratory first-day chocolate chip cookies waiting for me when I got home.
Last month, I posted a “To-Do List” where I listed my personal thoughts on how one should mentally prepare for the decision to move forward with graduate school applications. I knew that I could create a much stronger post if I could gather feedback from my fellow SU blog contributors based on their lived experiences. So I did just that! I now present to you a comprehensive list of graduate school advice, not-so-secrets, and high-fives from Ana, Heather, Liza, and Alice!
I had a kind of epiphany as I was looking over my students’ posts after our blues unit. I teach an online world music class and part of the students’ participation grade is to post weekly thoughts, questions, ideas, etc. on our discussion board. I couldn’t help but notice how many times they wrote: “the blacks’ music”; “their music”; and so on in reference to the blues. The blues is so essential to American popular music, but my students still see it as something separate, as something other.
Today’s post was inspired by something I read in Andrew Weintraub’s Dangdut Stories (2010). In his introduction, Weintraub discusses numerous reactions to his decision to write a book about dangdut (a popular music genre in Indonesia). Some of the reactions were very positive, but he quoted one “academic colleague” as saying: “Why would anybody want to study that!” (14; emphasis in original). Continue reading