The first thing that came to mind when I was thinking about this blog post was “writing.” Even though I am an English major, I used to have a love/hate relationship with writing, and for a long time it made me wonder if I was actually suited for grad school. Granted, I actually never had to write a final paper before I started grad school at Memorial. I did my undergrad in France where I only had final exams, so I felt like I was not really as prepared as my classmates to write so much in such a very short period of time. Yet, after some years in North America now, I believe I can say that I finally have a healthy “relationship” with writing, and so “final papers’ week” was, for once, more pleasurable than dreadful.
I had roughly ten full days to write three papers after I was done researching everything. In addition, my classes were very diverse, so the topics of my final papers did not overlap at all. I took two classes in the English department: the first one was about contemporary theory, and the other was on masculinity in television. I also took a class in the gender studies department about feminist methodologies and epistemologies. Time-wise and topic-wise, these were clearly not the best conditions to write awesome final papers, but this is how grad school works for most of us. I started freaking out a little in November when I realized that I could not start writing these final papers because I still had presentations to do, a grant to apply for, and personal research to work on as well, but it all turned out fine. Actually, I believe being busy and working on different projects taught me how to stay focused, but also how to pace myself so that I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the end of the semester. As a grad student, you have to get used to the rhythm of grad school and that means anticipating all the work you will have to do, and not overestimating, nor underestimating, your own capacities.
Before coming to MUN, I was under the impression that grad school had a very uneven rhythm, one that kept switching between “very manageable” and “when-will-this-all-end” amount of work. So, at the end of the semester, swamped with work, I would start feeling like a fraud (oh, dear “impostor syndrome” – I still have it, but at least I know I am not the only one who feels that way). As you can imagine, this would inevitably lead to writer’s block (and a somewhat house-cleaning-frenzy, aka procrastination). My own “remedy” would be to wait until the last minute, pull an all-nighter with the help of caffeine and a bunch of unhealthy snacks, and put these words on paper as best as possible. Yes, writing was a painful experience.
However, this past semester I realized that grad school could have an even rhythm as long as I fought my procrastinating tendencies. So now, before working on a big project (like a presentation or a paper), I try to plan out what I will do everyday, how many words I will write (with very manageable goals) and stick to it. With a little bit of determination, I know that if I stick to the plan, and do no more or no less, I will be done on time, while still having time to unwind and have fun guilt-free. If I don’t, it means that I am procrastinating; and simply realizing this has helped me tremendously. This is why I like working on several projects at once. If I am bored or stuck with one, I switch to the next. Since it is ‘refreshing’, it prevents me from actually procrastinating. Working on two or three projects at once means that even though your progress on each project might not be as quick as if you focused on just one, it personally helps me from feeling overwhelmed.
It worked well for me this time around. For once I was able to finish everything without pulling all-nighters and feeling miserable, and even though they might not be perfect, at least they are done. As I said earlier, my classes were very diverse, but I found it fascinating to be able to learn a concept in one class and re-use it in another. I was also pleased by the fact that the professors let us work on topics we were personally interested in. So, for instance, even though the class about television was focused on masculinity, I was allowed to discuss femininity in my final paper. Also, even though theory is considered “highbrow,” I used it to analyze comic books. Finally, my feminist class was very practical, which is something I deeply loved, and writing the final paper for this class gave me a base to expand on for my research proposal later down the line. So, even though these classes were not directly related to my own interest (I study female-authored autobiographical comics), they still helped me think critically about my research. I can’t wait for next semester when I’ll be taking several classes right up my alley! Until then, I am going to enjoy this well deserved break…
Best wishes, I’ll write soon,