Now that I’m settled in York (and perhaps have too much on my plate with auditing Old French and Latin, running two discussion groups/lecture series, constructing props for the Lords of Misrule production of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and sorting out shadowing next term), I can report that I do really love my program, supervisor, and peers.  On the personal front, I love my flatmate and our similar tastes in pumpkin foods, The Big Bang Theory, Merlin, heckling bad films, wandering around York’s streets, and unwinding after a long day with one of our many, many types of tea.

Despite my success at the undergraduate and master’s levels, I still sometimes feel like I’m out of my depth.  I don’t have the background many of my peers have (I think we touched on Cimabue in my art history survey class, read Beowulf in my World Literature I class, and heard about The Canterbury Tales in my Great Books of the Greek and Roman world course).  However, a visiting student who came to deliver a paper here at the Centre for Medieval Studies last night assures me that this is normal.  She said she felt throughout the entire process that she’d be “found out” and thrown out.  It’s sometimes an unsettling feeling, but it seems like it’s a normal one.

This omnipresent feeling leads me to something that has bugged me over the years that resurfaced after speaking with this Oxford-educated woman with a DPhil already in the bag.

In my junior year of college I was in my senior seminar class on ancient epic.  I had this professor for many classes in the two years we overlapped at Gustavus and had done well in previous classes.  The seminar was designed to be graduate school-like: three hours of class time (plus film viewings) one evening a week, one big research paper at the end, and lots of small papers every week and close reading.  Among the texts were the usual suspects (the Iliad, the Odyssey, The Aeneid) plus some texts new to us (Argonautica, Lucan’s Civil War).  I stressed like everyone, but didn’t complain in front of our professor, didn’t miss a class, and got things done on time.  We had oral midterm and final exams, too, and during my feedback for my final, the professor told me I did very well, and (as word-for-word as I can remember it) said “I don’t know if you just speak quickly or speak succinctly, but you covered in 15 minutes what others take 30 to say.”  I got an A on that final and in the class.

This long prelude is to illustrate the surprise I felt when he told me that he didn’t think I was suited for graduate school because I was “too anxious.”  ???  “Too anxious” still confuses me to this day.  What did that mean?  What behaviors or essays had convinced him of this?  I was too stunned and cowardly to ask at the time.

Works cited: dreamstime.com. NB: Not a picture for instruction. If you mutilate one of my writing tools, I may have to hunt you down.

I know in my heart that he was wrong.  Perhaps I was wrong for graduate school in classics, his field and passion.  It was my passion and life as an undergraduate, and I lived and breathed the subject material.  Today, I’m working on the data for my first thesis chapter on the Aeneid and material culture as a kind of proto-romance and as inspiration for medieval authors.  I won’t argue that perhaps I didn’t see then that classics wasn’t my future and that perhaps I wasn’t quite passionate enough to slog through years of Greek study.  Perhaps because I didn’t go into Gustavus knowing I wanted to study classics he thought I wasn’t devoted enough.  Perhaps I was too wrapped up in taking classes in the field that he thought I was annoying and overly-ambitious.  Perhaps my frequent migraines and illnesses came off as simply skipping class for the heck of it.  Perhaps it was supposed to be a helpful comment.  (I have often wanted to believe this is the case, but remain doubtful.)  Medieval literature is a field that gets me excited and makes me happy like classics did because of many of the same things: the magic of classical characters, the beauty of intricate poetic forms, heroes and their quests, the power of religion and devotion, and cultural ideals behind the texts.  However, instead of Latin and Greek, I focus on English with smatterings of French and Latin.  (Learning about the Norman Conquest and the evolution of the English language might be my favorite academic moment in recent memory.)

The final question this situation raises for me is how much professors should provide advice to a gung-ho student.  I’m sure you’ve seen this video.  We’ve heard that jobs for academics are thin on the ground.  I know and I’m aware.  I’m going to graduate school because I’ll always wonder, “What if?”.  I won’t be able to get a job in the field of medieval literature without my advanced degrees, so because I’ve had some funding and have the ability to go to graduate school, why not?  I made this quite clear even as an undergraduate.  I appreciate honest feedback but with one caveat: if asked.  I don’t want honest feedback from a professor or lecturer with whom I don’t feel comfortable and perhaps don’t respect in the field as much as another who knows me well on a personal level.  With all of this in mind, how honest is too honest?  Should professors just tell students what they think in the manner they deem best?  If the student has said that s/he will go if able, even with the knowledge that a career may not develop in the way one would like?  It’s a touchy subject with the economy sliding, many shrinking humanities departments, the elimination of tenure-track positions, and the competition for funding, jobs, and prestige.

So, I go back to that professor and that comment.  The situation crops into the forefront of my mind more often than I’d like, and sometimes it makes me further question whether I belong here and deserve my place.  I have to remember that people who have been in the field for years chose to accept me into all the master’s and doctoral programs to which I applied.  I won a scholarship for my MA year and worked incredibly hard for my degree with distinction at Durham.  I must remember that I do belong here.  Perhaps I don’t have as much experience, but I’m behind other first-year PhDs by a few years, not a lifetime.  I have the privilege of being able to devote my time, work, and life to the Middle Ages, if only for the few years it takes to complete my thesis and program before the Real World comes calling.

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I learned this last week unofficially from the English postgraduate office, but today I got the official news:

I’ve been accepted for the English PhD program here at Durham!

Yes!  If all goes well, I’ll be here next year (preferably with funding) working with the department and advisors I love, writing and studying literature I love, and being in a place I love!  Plus, “Dr. Hulke” does have a nice ring to it!

I’ve spent an unusually large amount of time talking with friends about the perfect mate lately. One guy said that he wants a girl whose eyes suit her face, while the closest physical attribute I confessed to is a love of glasses.  Let’s face it: spring is in the air, and talk of love abounds.

So what DO I want in a mate? All those usual characteristics: smart, sense of humor, supportive, comforting and caring, trustworthy, understanding, loving. But that’s what everyone wants, right? What do I want?

I think “types” are really silly. The guys with whom I’ve been serious haven’t been attractive in the physical sense to most people, I don’t think. They’ve attracted me with their shyness and intellect. Or, at least, at first that’s what did it. College ex #1 became overwhelmed with being erudite and “facetious,” which college ex #2 became overwhelmed in the workforce and we lost our common ground. I suppose that means two things: I need someone whose interests overlap enough with mine that we can communicate about a variety of things without needing to prove superiority. Also, I need someone who is as passionate about books and films as I am. They are my soul food, and if I can’t have a conversation about the Oscars or the latest Big Thing in literature (or the old Great Thing, like Shakespeare or Beowulf–at least on a basic level) I’d feel lost.

Works Cited: http://www.lpsb.org

I’ve come to the conclusion that while I have major qualities besides just common interests I’d like to mix and match in order to create the perfect guy, I can’t say for sure what he’s going to look like, what vocation he’ll follow, or what nationality/race he’ll be.  If I could think of a perfect guy, I suppose he would be an academic (or at least academically-inclined), Christian (I do want a church wedding, after all), and reasonably neat in appearance and living.  However, whichever guy I end up with, he’ll be perfect because of other things besides these.  Didn’t Keira Knightly say that her favorite onscreen kiss was neither with Johnny Depp nor Orlando Bloom, but with the less famous James McAvoy?  It all boils down to chemistry.  My other serious relationships fell into my lap, so to speak, and if I have faith, hopefully the one will do the same.  I can’t contemplate the perfect guy or think of qualities I’d like with which to build him simply because I can’t.  I can’t be a Dr. Frankenstein and assemble various attributes.  For now, faith and my love of my work must see me through.

And think not you can
Direct the course of love,
For love,
If it finds you worthy,
Directs your course.

-Khalil Gibran

But, really…  Glasses are a plus.

This term has been crazy.  No, really.  Any way you put it, since Christmas school has been

mad, insane, batty, wacky, nuts, screwy, cooky, bonkers, daft.

I got back and immediately had an essay due.  After that, I had to finish whipping my applications into shape and edit my writing samples.  Next, a 5000 word essay worth 100% of my grade in my Issues module.  Now? A research proposal for my Research Methods course, which is also the cherry on top of my applications.  I’m trying to get it up to scratch so that I get funding.  There are up to eight Durham Doctoral Scholarships and 250 applicants.  Ouch.  And it’s the only funding I can apply for here as an overseas student.  So, that means I have roughly a 3% chance of getting funding.  Ooof.  And on top of this, the regular reading and classes (though, to be fair, my Issues classes are done, and in RMR I only have the daunting Dialogue Day –presenting a paper in a pseudo-conference atmosphere).  Now, before Easter break, I have to come up with a research essay topic and meet with my essay supervisor and finish another 3000 word essay.

I don’t have time for a proper post, but I wanted to update any regular readers on what’s been going on.  On the bright side, Alicia (who has a new fashion blog!!!) has turned in her Master’s thesis of 101 pages, and my former roomie, Ryan, has passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N1 (the highest level of mastery in the Japanese language)!  I’m so proud of them!!!

So, onwards and upwards.  I’ll try to update more regularly, and pictures by me will turn up after break begins, as my camera vanished while I was home for Christmas.  Keep rocking on, just keep swimming, and everything’s gonna be alright.

Above: probably what my room looks like from floor-level because I haven’t yet taken my Issues books back!  Black Death, the Pearl, and the Book of the Duchess, baby!

Media note: The Oscars are this Sunday, and I’m betting on The King’s Speech, Colin Firth, and Christian Bale.  The ceremony’s being taped at home, so it’ll be good fun during break!  Adele has a fantastic new album out, 21, which is her follow-up to the amazing 19 (“Chasing Pavements” is a well-known tune from that album).  Plus, I finished Her Fearful Symmetry and am now reading The Piano Teacher and Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue.  Fun fab fact: Bill Bryson is the chancellor at Durham!  Finally, I’m reading Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and The Tempest for class.  Hooray for an amazing mix of good music, films, and texts!

It’s a bit late to come out with my resolutions for the new year, but I’ve found that being back in Durham has encouraged me to make some.  I feel most myself when I’m with peers, and I’ve been able to see myself clearly in the past week or so.

Without further ado, here are my resolutions for 2011.  Some are silly, some are serious, and some are things I need to put into writing to cement them in my life.

  • More color!  Whether it’s nail polish, lipstick, or a bit of teal eyeliner, I want to incorporate more color into my daily life.  No fuss, but more fun.  Like Chanel Mademoiselle lipstick.  I had been coveting it for months before finally purchasing it in Dallas right before I came back to the UK.  You may recognize it from the amazing adverts with Vanessa Paradis.  It’s a gorgeous pinky beige, and it’s definitely an improvement over my usual lip balm.  Nail polish is another type of color I would like to use more.  I recently got Nails Inc. polish in Denim as a gift, and so I will use it along with my typical and sporadic use of Chanel Particuliere, a perfect taupey grey.  (Yes, I know.  I seem to have a Chanel fetish going by this post, but these two cosmetics I languished over for months before budgeting and purchasing.  I’m a sucker for a really good quality neautralish and everyday wearable product!)
  • Get out of the house at least five times per week to study somewhere else.  I get way too distracted in my room, and so studying in the library or at a friend’s house is much better for me and for my work.  There is also usually the added perk of being near a printer, which is super handy for getting articles which otherwise may float to the back of my mind and never surface in my research again.
  • Get enough sleep every night.  I have the talent?  Ability?  Work ethic?  Misfortune? of getting into “the zone” when I’m working on an assignment and not noticing the time.  One evening I worked steadily after dinner (about 7:00ish) until 3:30 AM.  AM!!!  I didn’t stop to look at the clock, and completely lost track of the time.  I am hoping the resolve to work out of my room will lead to more productivity during the day, and therefore, less pressure at night.
  • Finish my essays on time without stress AND with enough time to revise with a peer or, if possible, a professor.  Unfortunately, I only have a handful of essays, and some of them are the one shot I have at my grade.  It’s added pressure I think the MA programs in the States usually avoids because of the longer duration of program and greater variety of classes for one’s degree.  The one year time crunch means I need to be vigilant.
  • Be more easygoing about going out.  I’m in England, for gosh sakes!  I should enjoy what the country and the city have to offer.  Pubs, conferences, nightclubs…  I need to take advantage of it all.  Even though I am not looking forward to going to Klute next week, which has been dubbed “the worst nightclub in Europe” and is known for “quaddy-voddies” (quadruple vodka shots, which, from what I hear, is as bad as it sounds), I should go.  When else will I get the opportunity?
  • Be more stringent with my gym schedule, and on days when I can’t fit anything else in, do yoga in my room.  At least a sun salutation.  The college food is heavy on all the things I dislike: potatoes, carrots, gravy, red meat, salt.  Therefore, I have to take care of my diet as best I can outside college dining and in my activity.  (Though my legs are getting super toned due to the freaking hills around town!  After being back in Durham for a week, my butt feels it!)
  • Correspond more.  Skype, letters, emails, Facebook.  I need to do more of it all.  AIM, I think, tends to take up too much time, so I need to relax by writing more thoughtful correspondences to those I truly miss and care about: my friends and pseudo-family in Minnesota and Seattle.
  • And as always, I need to remind myself how grateful I am for my family, friends, education, and life.  I need to learn all I can both in the classroom and from my friends.  I need to stop worrying about time, which goes all too quickly, and carpe diem.

All experiences of life seems to prove that the impediments thrown in the way of the human advancement may for the most part be overcome by steady good conduct, honest zeal, activity, perseverance and above all, by a determined resolution to surmount.  –Samuel Smiles

The several weeks I’ve been here have flown by, and already I’m feeling the pangs of home-/Minnesota-sickness. Not to say that Durham is in any way bad (except for maybe the darn hills which, as a wonderful taxi driver once said, “always go up”). Registration was more complicated than I think it needed to be, with students cutting into the queue, no prior computerized registration, and mixed up modules in various departments. Even though my English module is through the IMRS, the reading list was in the English department. Added to the chaos of trying to pin down my advisor with a “this is my career plan” conversation in mind were the many, many freshers (AKA freshman) signing up for classes and not having any idea where they were supposed to do or what they wanted, other than the free pizza coupons, of course.  I truly don’t believe I was that clueless when I was a freshman.  Naive?  Yes.  Clueless and obsessed with getting drunk?  No.

The one thing I’ve come to count on is the availability of my Belvedere blockmates with whom I can chat, joke, and relax.  We live at the top of one big f-ing hill (and Gusties, I no longer think our hill is that impressive.  I’m sorry.) which is immediately preceded by at least one other big hill.  I should get pictures, really.  Even though it’s literally a big pain in my already painful knee, the people here are amazing.  There are English, law, psychology, math, theology, and museum studies students, among others, and we all seem to really get along well.  In my American classes and dorms (as well as my Cambridge summer school) there has been that one person who seems to believe in making life as hard or awkward as possible, but that one seems to be lacking in this area of my college.  Maybe the trek up the hills scared him or her off?

I mentioned that I did, indeed, stand in line for registration, and I got the confirmation email today that it’s gone through.  What I’m left with is (officially) Research Methods, Issues in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, my dissertation, Narrative Transformations, and From Roland to Orlando.  Unofficially, I’m auditing paleography and perhaps an undergraduate Robin Hood class (yeah, bet you didn’t see that one coming).  The reading load looks daunting and the methods class seems long and tedious, but I have a feeling I’ll come out of this programme knowing what I really want to do and what my focus will be.  Plus, this methods class will help me to be a better writer and researcher, which can never be a bad thing.

P.S.  We had postgraduate matriculation today.  We’re now really, really and truly members of the university.  Exciting!

Oh, and next post hopefully will be a bit more organized and I’ll get to show off my new glasses I mentioned.

I’ve seen that there are, indeed, people out there Googling “Hild Bede postgraduate.” Hooray, I’m not alone! Please, speak out and introduce yourselves. I’m fairly clueless right now, so any impressions, anxieties, hopes, and excitement I hope you’ll pass my way in the comments section.

I finally did actually get some kind of information from Hild Bede today. I’m unclear as to whether I should be there on the university-wide postgrad move in day (September 29) or at the HE postgrad move in time (September 18-19). The little information I have is creating more questions. All this, with less than a week to go before liftoff!

Good news, I get a single room. Bad news, not en-suite. Good news, there are postgraduate activities during orientation. Bad news, I’ve seen the other calendar for Ustinov.

I’m sure it will all work out and everything will go fine. It’s just a matter of me staying up really, really late tonight and calling the office. I’m thrilled that I’m finally getting some communication from the college itself. It’s comforting to know they know I exist! Plus, they’re already taking care of switching my enrolment forms, etc, from Ustinov to Hild Bede.

Tonight I’ll be filling out more paperwork and calling the college. I’ll be sure to say how it goes and what my impression of this college is (or, at least as much impression as I can get over the phone!).

Coming soon: pics of my new glasses and my own odyssey to find the perfect, non-breakable pair.