In my PhD program, we have to submit a course of study to the Graduate Committee and get feedback and eventually approval on, essentially, what we’re here to do, in our own words. It’s kind of a strange document in which you connect what you’ve studied so far to what courses you’ll take for the rest of your degree (sort of blind conjecture), and begin to describe your trajectory for the exam and dissertation. It’s one part salesmanship, one part guessing game, one part self-justification. I found it tremendously helpful, though, because of the way it has forced me to define what exactly it is that I’m studying. I’m interested in girlhood and nationalism, but in what context (too many to be practical, honestly)?
Because no one in my department does girlhood studies and because there are many genius people in my department who I want to work with, I’ve had a hard time setting parameters for my studies. My first year advisor suggested I set up meetings with various other faculty members to discuss my interests and how they fit into other areas people here study in order to work on defining, for myself, the time period and the geography of my study.
As I walked home from a pretty productive meeting with the director of my program, I started thinking about the work I’ve done so far as a grad student. It occurred to me that all through my Master’s I had started to pick up strains of girlhood, nationalism, diaspora, and immigration, the issues that have become the primary focus of my research. I never set out to study these issues in particular. It just happened. Maybe I’m silly, but it made me wonder, did I choose this work, or did it choose me? The conversation with myself took on a note of fate vs free will. I started to wonder how it is that we become passionate about the things we study in graduate school. Is it destiny? Chance? Carefully crafted plans? Or does it vary scholar to scholar? What is the ratio of issues in the world to issues in our person?
And, why is this work so important to me? Is it because with growing focus on the social uplift of girls in global discourse (Girl Up, the Girl Effect, etc), it seems tremendously important to think about how the girl is being figured as a key player in the betterment of particular societies and how her innocence, opportunities, and future are being used rhetorically, perhaps without enough thought about how tropes of girlhood work in culture historically? Is it because, on some level, I’m still holding the hand of a younger me who felt a desperate need to do something important with her life, even though she was (is) young and naive? Is it because I have a sister 17 years my junior who is brilliant and who I want to protect from the crap our culture puts smart, bold girls through? Yes. And yes. And yes.
I don’t mean to make it sound like an ego-boosting moment or like a dramatic epiphany. It was what it was: a moment of sweet clarity, walking in the sunshine with a latte and a stack of library books, reflecting on my journey and smiling on the course that felt so wandering but ended up so straight. At any rate, to me this feels like a defining moment in my career. I have to say, to people who I respect and admire, “This is why I’m here. This is what is important to me. These are my plans.” That’s not easy for me. And I’m really pleasantly surprised by how peaceful and happy I feel about the whole situation.It’s been a rocky year, but I feel like I’ve fallen back in love with school. I’m excited for the next steps. Moments like these are why I stayed in school so darned long.
So, fellow students, what have your journeys been like? What is important to you and your studies? What is your labor of love?