update, and a plea

February 6, 2009 at 2:59 am (Uncategorized)

No, I’m not posting much these days.  In fact, I’m not reading much these days (well, that isn’t about Myrmidons or King Arthur or Pedagogy or Crashaw or St. Foy).  Coursework is kicking my rear end.

Note to those thinking about grad school in medieval anything: beg, borrow, or steal to do some of your languages before you start coursework.  I started a PhD program in my mid-30s, and I didn’t know I wanted to be a medievalist until fairly late in the game in my MA program.  I had French from my first undergrad institution in the early 90s, and it needed some serious dusting off before I could pass my MA exam, but the good news was PhD Institution accepted that exam for its department requirements.  Fine.  Great, even.  If I weren’t trying to be a medievalist, I would be all done with everything the department wanted me to do.

But I’m not 🙂 I came here with no Latin (and no Anglo Saxon) and you wouldn’t believe the course juggling the last two years trying to get undergrad-level language classes to fit in around weekly grad seminars and TA assignments (well, if you’re reading this, maybe you would believe it).  I have the system-override equivalent of a Time Turner this semester, which enables me to take two classes that happen at the same time.  It gets pretty confusing when you’re sleep-deprived.

Anyway, if I’d known then what I know etc.

In theory, I should be done with coursework after this semester.  In practice, I’ll be picking up another year of Latin, a semester of medieval Latin, and a summer paleography somewhere, as well as a distribution requirement in 18th or 19th century lit that I haven’t been able to make work before now.  I’m hoping there will be some directed reading in Anglo-Saxon happening too, as my Latin is *already* better than my Anglo-Saxon, and that is not saying a lot.

I have to put together a committee for the PhD exam this semester, in order to get my reading lists together and then take the exam early next Spring.  So I’m at a point where I’m looking up from the trenches a bit and saying to myself, “How did it happen that all that stuff you intended to do didn’t get done?”

That leads me to the “plea” section of this post, which is in some ways a plea for perspective.  What do you wish you’d gotten to in your PhD program that you didn’t?  Would it actually have been easier to pick up that Art History knowledge in coursework, in retrospect?  Or do you find yourself thinking you wish you’d spent more time getting the hell out of dodge (dodge being grad school) and less time trying to take every class under the sun?  Do you wonder what would have happened if you’d published more, or less, or spent more time thinking about teaching philosophies (or less)?  Eternally regret not taking that Victorian poetry class, or not starting some independent study of Old Norse, or not playing more badminton?

Inquiring minds want to know.



  1. Larry Swain said,

    Well, hmmmm….I was a fool. I studied in a program that had 2 medievalists. One was my advisor. But there were practically *NO* medieval classes, what I had were either through a consortium offering so had to travel for or an independent reading. My MA was all medieval and medieval language, my PhD, until my exam prep and dissertation, hardly any medieval at all. So I wish I’d gone somewhere else.

  2. Jonathan Jarrett said,

    I wish… I’d taken slightly less long writing my first article and so had finished the thesis sooner. I effectively took eight months out working on an article. I shouldn’t have finished within my funded time, but one fewer part-time years might have made a difference, there were a lot of good jobs I wasn’t qualified for that I could have been. Also I wish I’d somehow found a way to learn to actually speak Catalan and Spanish as well as read them. And having done so also to go abroad and use them looking at actual documents sooner. And lastly, I wish I’d had some time to meet some of my college contemporaries, because I never did and it might have taken my life in quite different directions. But mainly, my message would be: write something quick but don’t write something long.

  3. Matt Gabriele said,

    Get the heck outta dodge. This doesn’t mean graduate, but work somewhere else and talk to other people who’ll challenge the way you look at your project. Graduate study can/ does create bubbles around you, where everyone (even if they agree) still thinks the same. Pop the bubble as soon and as often as possible.

  4. Mary Kate Hurley said,

    This is going to sound insane, coming from me. Note that I have relatively few regrets about my graduate school career, though I’m sure I could come up with a few in the next year or three if I try really hard to fit them in before I finish.

    I’d have to say more languages — I’ve still not learned Middle Dutch, and my modern Icelandic is non-existence, though the Old Norse makes reading it not so bad. Never made it to Princeton for Sara Poor’s Middle High German class either. More linguistics would have been lovely too.

    Also: More Theory. Yup, capital T theory. I wanted to do all of philosophy when I got here. The languages I did learn (Provencal, Old French, Anglo-Norman….etc) got in the way. Not really a regret. But something I would do differently, if there were more hours in a day, or I could get one of those Time Turner thingies.

  5. Vocational Ph.D. programs: is this the future calling? « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe said,

    […] on a course with the time of two fewer teachers than it had been planned for during some of that; I also spent much too long on a first article, though I guess the work paid off at the time. In the UK it is conventional to over-run, but since […]

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