Sometimes it’s still hard to believe that I have an entire year of graduate school experience under my belt. I was an editorial apprentice for a year, I presented a paper at a conference, I took six classes and wrote substantial papers for all of them. I did archival research, wrote a Masters thesis, and even took a summer job as a Course Instructor for the Keio program.
One entire year later, I stand once again at the precipice of another academic year, filled with surprises, challenges and joys, knowing that if it gets harder, at the very least, I can say I got through one year already– what’s another?
This year, this semester, looks a lot different for me already. Instead of the highly structured work of being an Omohundro apprentice, I’m now working with the nebulous Lemon Project, where my physical presence is only required for one hour a week, which I am to spend in my office in Blair Hall. Thus far, this year’s assistantship has been a lot of e-mails and meetings, going to events and planning for them. It’s a good year to be doing the work I’m doing, as it’s the 50th anniversary of residential African-American students at the College. I’m sure a lot of interesting opportunities will arise because of this over the next year.
My current task is simply to organize the first Porch Talk of the semester. I suggested making it self-care themed, as this is a particularly difficult time for a lot of people, given the political climate of America, and also recent events in Charlottesville. Now’s as good a time as any to work on keeping ourselves sane while preparing to fight the good fight.
In addition to this, I’m also going to help my boss move forward with her idea for a Lemon Project journal, hopefully to come out during the Lemon Symposium in the spring. I’m certain that this is going to be my pet project for the duration of my time with Lemon.
In terms of classes, I’ve got a dope line up: New Media, Old Media (it is what is sounds like, a media studies class); Anthropological Reflections of the African Diaspora (taught by a former Black Panther); and Feminist Theory (a class that I have astonishingly managed to miss despite my interest in feminism). It’s going to be tough: it’s the first class line up I’ve had in grad school that doesn’t have at least one literature course, which usually helps me break up the monotony of the academic-ese and theory I have to read. Plus, I’ve never taken a media class (I just sort of got drawn to it on my own and was self-taught until now), I did anthropology once my first semester at UVA, and theory isn’t my favorite. But, given that I do comics and often talk about their television and film counterparts, New Media, Old Media will be useful; I love doing Black Studies in basically any form; and who doesn’t need a good feminist theory class? (Rhetorical; I can think of a few people who think they wouldn’t need it.)
Not only will these courses take me out of my academic comfort zone, they will also challenge my critical thinking skills and how I express my knowledge. New Media, Old Media is going to require me to write blog posts and do a scalar project (I don’t know what this means yet, my first class is tomorrow), so my final paper will be shorter because I’m doing so much other work. Feminist Thought is going to have me thinking outside of the box as well: my professor wants us to write a book review and an oped during the semester, and a research proposal or a lit review for our final papers. She thinks it’s worth being able to express yourself in a variety of ways; I couldn’t agree more. Reflections of the African Diaspora will be more traditional, but even that final won’t require me to do a research paper: my professor wants a lit review.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to have different creative projects this semester, but I will admit, I was already starting to think about the research paper I could write for Feminist Theory about the Dora Milaje in Black Panther. It would be a cool paper that could potentially turn into a dissertation chapter, or at the very least, something to submit for a conference. At least I can write the proposal for that paper and tuck it away for a later date.
And amid all the chaos of starting classes and a new assistantship, I have my biggest project yet looming over me: my Masters thesis. The Dean kindly reminded my advisor that I need to be defended in September. It’s not as though I won’t be ready, but the message definitely jolted me awake and reminded me that I can’t let edits drag on forever. The fact is, I had my first draft in to my advisor on August 1. She gave me my edits back. Now, I’m working on them and the goal is to have draft 2 in by September 15. That gives me time to organize my committee and prepare my notes for my defense for the last week in September.
I can absolutely do it. The edits my advisor gave me are substantial, but doable in the amount of time I have, if I focus. Fortunately, time management and self-discipline are some of the strongest tools in my arsenal.
My plan for this week is to keep editing as I’ve done the last few days, letting my reading for class sort of take the backseat for a few weeks until I’ve gotten through my Master’s Defense. (Though I have every intention of keeping up.) I want to see my advisor about a few finer points she brought up in her comments, suggestions for citing a few things, and maybe a pep talk, but after that, I want to kick into high gear.
If all goes to plan, I’ll be 23 with a Master’s Degree, and the newly freed up mental space to take on new projects in 2018. Then, I can think about the next set of obstacles: Comps.
Fortunately, I have a low key assistantship with flexible hours, so I can afford to spend more time on my thesis this first month of the semester. Most of the work comes in the spring, I hear, with the arrival of the Symposium and Branch Out. I’ve also got a dog that I love, who helps remind me that the most important things in my life are not on my computer, a mom and dad nearby to catch me if I fall, and a community of mentors, scholars, and friends who encourage me. Talking to a friend from UVA who is now ABD at Penn gave me the jolt I needed to jump start my year; Kels is my perpetual hypeman– she keeps me going when I want to give up, so I do my best to return the favor when law school plays too much; and seeing all that Professor Harold has accomplished reminds me that, if she can do it, so can I.
My academic community may not necessarily be here with me in Williamsburg, but I know there are some people out there who’ve got my back. They give me the strength to begin again.