In Graduate School as in Life, I tend to ignore the journey in the interests of getting to my objective. The fastest and easiest path from point A to point B. Nothing fancy, just utilitarian. This may spoil the experience, but I maintain it frees my life from the shackles of deadlines, stress and in some ways responsibility. I work on my terms, not the system’s - even if I am admittedly within the system.
In the last week of the semester, I am coasting to a calm finish. My research paper for Nineteenth Century American History is due tomorrow - it has been done since before Thanksgiving. A minimum of work was put in on both my Museum and Oral History final projects, which are due Wednesday and Friday respectively. After that, I will only need to grade finals for my American History Survey discussion sections. Followed by winter break in Minneapolis.
I am spending my free time playing basketball, writing a blog, offering ideas to the creators of blog phenom “Public History Ryan Gossling” and locating addresses for our Seasons Greetings Cards. I have the partial backwards semester to thank for these blessings of time management.
Undoubtedly, to be a graduate student you have in someway become a good student. You have are skilled at getting things done and doing assignments in a timely manner. You not only get things turned in, but your ideas are salient, your research is sound and your prose is somewhere on the spectrum from fair to poetic. You command the readings in class discussion, because you are critically minded and can see the forest for the trees in the big picture of your subject’s literature.
The threat you see looming to your sanity is not whether or not you have the smarts, but how damning the end of the semester will be. Like any assembly line, the machines stamp in time. You know that the final step in your semester cycle has the most moving parts, requires the most preparation and effort across the board and will sap every ounce of your being. You tell yourself, “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” And when it’s over you spit on the ground (figuratively) and say “That’ll do Pig.”
The central tenant of the backwards semester is to ignore what you’ve learned about being a student in the course of your life. You must will yourself to neglect your weekly assignments or at least temporally reduce their budget. Why spend 12 out of 14 weeks focusing on books that only account for something like 20% of your grade overall? Instead, grasp the larger meaning. You are in class to get done with a huge project at the end, which is often work around 50%. Start there, at the end and proceed. When you get done ahead of time, you can make up for class participation while everyone else is waning away in class under the pressure of the bottleneck. You friend, will be a champion among slaves.
This strategy is not for everyone. It is not for the faint of heart, the cowardly or the procrastinative. Rather it is a new freedom, for those that choose to fight for it and live life on their own terms. The ideal is a glimpse of perfection, which can not be attained whole hog, but striven for. Usually the closest we will ever come will be by happy accident - a confluence of factors beyond our control that align in a moment when we are looking in the right direction and have the fortitude to pounce upon it. Beyond this perfection, the best to be hoped for is progress in the right direction and some peace of mind. The sense of a bit of power in conditions in which we usually feel powerless.
Some scoff at this promise out of fear and self-doubt. But to those that can take the risk, the reward of the backwards semester are theirs to reap!