Life Gets in the Way: Do Advisors Get That? Do I?

I’ve made diddly-squat progress on my dissertation over the last couple of months.  A lot of that is my own fault — mostly by choosing instant gratification through teaching, housework, blogging, etc. instead of writing — but I blame some of it on extra-curricular events, a.k.a. Life.  The holidays, of course, take up some time, and the Thanksgiving-to-NYE period always leads to a slow-down in graduate productivity.  But then there’s big stuff: my spouse getting laid off, and, just last week, the death of my best friend’s dad.  The latter has taken up all of my time, and rightly so: offering what pathetic help I can to my friend, traveling to the funeral to speak and be a pallbearer, and reflecting on it all.  It’s hard to get my brain and energy into my dissertation, and I wonder to what extent my advisor gets that.  My advisor is an uncommonly decent and very understanding person, and I know that my advisor would sympathize with and even share in my sorrow.  But my advisor also (a) wants me to get done and get a job and (b) works in the rarefied and weird air of Research-I academia, where the point of life is to produce scholarship.  I can’t help but wonder if, deep down somewhere, there’s a part in my advisor that wants to say, “Suck it up, slacker.  Get the work done.”

This speaks not to my advisor — who, again, is empathetic and kind and would never say such a thing — but to my own insecurities.  I constantly wrestle with my fears that I’m not good enough for this project, that I’m not good enough for my discipline, and that I’m not good enough for my advisor.  I’m not alone among graduate students in this insecurity (I refer you to kungfuramone’s life saga), and that helps to know.  It may, in fact, be necessary to feel this way in order to get through graduate school — to push and push and push so as to silence, even for a second, that voice of doubt inside the head.  But this can also produce distortions in perspective that aren’t just weird (e.g. absent minded professors who bump into trees while walking with their noses in books) but also, perhaps, immoral and inhuman.  If, in the face of death, I worry about the progress on my dissertation, then surely something has gone a bit haywire in my spiritual coding.

I suppose this could all be neatly summarized as: don’t lose your perspective when in graduate school or academia.  But I’m feeling something more on the edges — that, perhaps, through the weirdness of graduate school, dissertation writing, advisor relationships, etc., we have the opportunity to reflect on how our life fits with our work and vice-versa.  I know that’s an inelegant way to end this post, but there it is.

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