I might be feeling a little nostalgic because this term, if all goes according to plan, I will complete my BA English degree and with marks sufficient to enter further study! I’ve been thinking about what I thought studying English Literature would be like, and what I expected to learn. When I enrolled in the program I knew very little about English literature and soon found I knew absolutely nothing about English Studies. For me, as you become immersed in a discipline what you don’t know usually becomes apparent fairly quickly. It can feel a little uncomfortable and even a bit disorienting while trying to learn. There were days when I wondered how I was going to get on in a degree program where intellectual expression and academic attainment have such a high standard and I often felt inadequate for the task. Yet in the 2013 exams I earned first class marks, and find that the challenges of academic work are entirely a pleasure. I expected earning a degree to be a lot of work, and it is. I did not expect the work to be so much fun and to completely change my way of experiencing the world.
Here we are at the edge of the wilderness putting together my study plan for my new courses. Jelly Bean and I like to sit on the screened in porch to read and study. She can watch the meadow while the breeze tickles her nose and I muster my digital resources. So far we have only seen several doe with their fawns ambling by. The fawns are quite small, only about Jelly Bean’s size. Surprisingly the deer and my collie dog are mutually disinterested. The meadow grass must be too sweet and my dog is to comfortable snuggled up beside me while I work.
I have been working on my strategic and tactical study plan for these next four courses. What does that mean, exactly? Well, I want to be sure to accomplish personal and professional goals and also pass my courses with higher marks than my 2013 results. That’s the strategic part. I also want monitor weekly and monthly progress through each module, and be certain to master things like jargon and details specific to individual courses. That’s the tactical component.
It’s been a busy week, with another trip to the edge of the Everglades. Business travel and competing responsibilities sometimes encroach on my precious study time. The year ahead looks like it is getting a bit busier professionally. Although it would be absolutely fabulous to have only my classes to concentrate on in the last year of my degree it is helpful to look ahead and plan how professional or personal interests might intersect with studying. I’ll be spending more time in the library for my work projects, which is a very helpful coincidence. I will also be doing a lot more writing professionally which is a welcome way to develop writing skills. But doing more does not necessarily mean doing it all well or that doing more work will be a pleasant experience.
There is an old adage in the restaurant industry that goes something like this: You might think you have been in the restaurant business for 20 years, but in reality you have been in business for one year and then repeated the same mistakes for the next 19.’ When I set out to make a new study plan, or begin a long and complicated project, that admonition is valuable to consider. Finding a tool to help with organization, efficiency, and revision seemed like a really good idea.
Icons of style and elegance. That’s how Garrison Keillor describes English Majors on the Prairie Home Companion. It might not be how you would expect a blog about English Studies to begin, unless of course you listen to the show. Besides first-rate story telling across genres, ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ regularly gives the English Major pride of place. Such splendid recognition is fantastic, but then, the program itself is really a paean to English Studies. The work of understanding and creating through skill and pleasure in language is immortalized through its P.O.E.M., ‘Professional Organization of English Majors.’ For me, in the real thick of the academic year, it is a light-hearted reminder of why I am studying for a degree in English.
It’s falafel night at our house. Lucky for me we have an amazing falafel shop nearby with what can very easily be life changing selections on super busy days like this. Falafel night means my schedule has been overwhelmed, I am absolutely out of time, and there is nothing but loose ends for every project on my desk. For me, this is a fantastic feeling because it means progress is at hand. It is sheer bliss, no matter how uncomfortable the hours surrounding this kind of climax can be. Personally, this crunch is much better than the holding pattern which precedes it though both times require a particular kind of approach and handling, especially since it can easily feel like the whole enterprise could go off the rails at any moment.
The notice for exam registration was going to come sometime, I knew that. Still, it was a sobering to actually find the email in my inbox this morning. Exams are a little worrying now, partly because I am sitting exams for 4 units, partly because they are still 4 and a half months away, and partly because this is such a busy time of year personally and professionally. There are so many deadlines, projects, and social engagements that any additional thing seems impossible to consider rationally.
It finally happened – I have reached a very particular study goal of mine that has been elusive, a little frustrating, and very important. It would be great to say something like, ‘I always knew it would happen eventually,’ but honestly, there were days when I never, ever thought it would. After a few weeks of steady progress and implementation with this particular task, and noting there is a great deal of room for more improvement, I think it will stick. I think we all can have a block that affects everything, and can sometimes feel insurmountable no matter what we do or how hard we try. My particular ‘block’ has been writing an essay plan and developing an argument. The last few weeks I noticed a complete reversal from a process I could not seem to control, to a process where my skills and confidence are building. Read the rest of this entry »
This week I decided to organize a quiz on my work so far this term. Quizzes require me to demonstrate knowledge, and in the case of our English program, to demonstrate critical thinking and argumentation. My hope was this quiz would show me what I know. It has been an oddly comical experience because I learned precisely what I did not know, which, as it turns out, is much more valuable. My quiz raised many wonderfully perplexing questions about the process of reading, argument and writing, and helped me master a long-standing obstacle in my academic work.
The first step in my study strategy is to note what specific topics I want to investigate in each course. With these topics in mind I begin to read broadly in each unit. Then, with an understanding of authors and the literary culture of the period, I focus my further reading on texts and authors that best support research into my areas of special interest. My ‘quiz’ was intended to help me progress confidently, and develop a strong foundation of knowledge for each unit before moving on to more focused research.
One point of interest to me is genre and conventions. It interests me partly because there are usually questions about conventions and genre in every exam, they touch on interdisciplinary research, and because they supply good points for arguments on other topics. My quiz question was ‘list the conventions’ associated with each of the four units I will sit exams for in May. I found that to satisfactorily pass my quiz and satisfy my concerns about the progress and scope of my learning it was necessary to articulate a more detailed definition of convention and genre.