And the Page Turns...

by - Thursday, March 07, 2013

Ok, I have been sort of hinting at this for a while, but my life has hit a major crossroads. Last week, I went to see my adviser about my dissertation proposal. The whole thing had become a bit of a mess, but I thought I was aggressively turning it around, and I did not see it coming when she basically broke up with me. She basically said that she doesn't think I can write a dissertation and that I need to find another adviser or skedaddle.

It wasn't a great day.

But in a weird way, it was.

Even though I have spent the majority of the last week in a leaky crazypants panic, I also suddenly feel really free. Like I have been banging my head up against a wall for a year, and someone just let me know I could step back and find another way around it. Even though I would not recommend this sort of event for uplifting your self-esteem, I can see how this very very bad day will someday, in retrospect, be one of the best days of my life (even if for no other reason that I don't have to constantly try to interpret passive aggressive emails or try to deliver on demands I don't really understand). I have been miserable, and now I can make decisions that will lead to not being miserable, and that is a blessing.

So these are my choices:

1. To find a new adviser at Stanford- this would be ideal, but it is highly unlikely. The situation is a bit like breaking up with a guy, then realizing that the nearby dating pool is just a zoo. Art history is a strange field. It's kind of country of distant islands; everyone has a specialty, and those focuses are incredibly diverse and specific (one faculty does Russian Avant-Garde film, another does American landscape painting and psychoanalysis, etc.). In other words, though some of the faculty have been very supportive, and they do not agree that my proposal deserved the reaction my adviser gave it, our interests are so disparate that they don't know much about my topic. There is one professor in another department that might work, but it is a longshot. We will see what he says, but it is looking like my options there is running out.

The upside to this, even if I had to change my topic (yes, again) is that I would be able to keep going. If I leave now, I do so with the Masters degree and nothing else, so three years of progress are kind of wasted. At the same time, I know how much I have learned and matured in this time, so no matter what it is not a waste.

2. To immediately attempt to apply to new schools- Immediate is an overstatement, since applications are in the fall. I honestly am still gathering information about whether this is a viable option. Having something like this happen certainly knocks down your stock. It also isn't great for your confidence, and I am afraid jumping into the program if I am still a bit of a mess.

3. Do something else for a while- I am thinking about working at a museum or getting a masters in teaching. I could do one of those things, then with a little bit of distance decide whether I need to get my PhD to feel good about how I have lived my life. I also think with a year or two between this whole thing and the incident might add some new successes and experiences to my CV that might help me get in elsewhere.

Right now, I am meeting with everyone I can think of to gather as much information as I can to make an informed choice. The truth is, I still want to teach art history, and one bad experience with one professor hasn't changed that. I still have no doubt in my mind that in better circumstances, I could absolutely do this. When I was maybe 12 or 13, I got a Sister Wendy art history book, and the thing blew my mind. Here was this nun talking about all this cool stuff (including a BUNCH of naked people). On the other side of this train wreck of a graduate school experience, I still want to be a nun who talks about naked people.

At the same time, a straight linear success isn't the only kind of success, and if I am truly miserable (and obviously not very successful lately) here, then I feel it might be wiser to move on. I have all sorts of hang ups about being a "quitter" or having to admit to people that I failed at this huge thing that I tried, but pride is a shitty reason to keep at something that isn't working. Also, if I have learned anything from my life, it's that God does great things out of situations that really feel like failures. I think my family is the bomb, even if there were long phases that from the outside it looked broken. I know good things will come out of this, I just have to decide what I want that to be.

So, be warned readers (aka my family members who mostly already know about this), the blog may be taking a real turn, as will most things in my life. It has been serving as the fluffy counterpoint to a ridiculously rigorous and challenging writing process. Now, I probably won't have that for a while, so maybe I will do some thicker writing on here. We'll just see what happens, won't we?

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