Thursday, November 24, 2005

When the War is Over

At 6pm on Monday night, I gave the last of the final essay results to Dr P, the convenor of the course I teach in. Monday was a day very similar to Sunday in terms of the energy expended on marking. I turned up to the results meeting in the morning with my head hanging low, admitting that I still had thirteen to mark. Thankfully, since I had the most students, Dr P was very understanding. She told me not to apologise and said nice things to me, which I appreciated.

This is the first time I have worked with Dr P—she was on study leave when I taught the course previously. I have nothing but nice things to say about her. She is so aware of the conditions and pay of sessional employees and that sensitivity permeates the convenor-tutor relationships she has. She is almost insistent that since we don’t get paid for attending lectures and watching the set films we need not do so. Generally, when I tutor in a subject for the first time, I do go to the lectures for my own benefit. I wish I did get paid, but I don’t resent it. I didn’t go to the lectures this semester, but I did attend one of the film screenings because I hadn’t seen the film since it was released at the cinema. When Dr P saw me at the University’s cinema she said I was going ‘above and beyond’, and she said the same thing when I told her I had sat through Lara Croft Tomb Raider on Friday night, because quite a few students had chosen that film as an example for the essay question on the ‘violent woman’. I think that being familiar with the films helps me do my job more effectively, but I appreciate that Dr P says these things. It’s a sharp contrast to one convenor I worked for, who would openly joke about her exploitation of me. I mean, everyone knows that exploitation is an unfortunate part of being a postgraduate/early career researcher, but hearing a senior colleague laugh about making you take on convenor duties for a tutor’s pay wears thin quite quickly.

Dr P had a word with the academic administrator about extending the deadline for the submission of results. (So now I’m feeling really bad—my hand is covering my face at this point). The administrator was apparently not at all mystified that I still had a few left to do. She called me a ‘trooper’. Heh. I like the academic administrator (even before this concession). Some people find her a bit stern, but from catching the same bus and having conversations with her, I’ve discovered that she’s phobic about all kinds of travelling. It’s not easy to be intimidated when you know this about someone. She sits up the back of the bus and buries her head in reading material to block out the movement. Once, in the middle of a storm, complete with lighting, she said she was going to catch the ferry because she didn’t feel safe on the bus. Later she reported to me that half way through the ferry trip home she overheard some school girls having a conversation about how water was the greatest conductor of electricity. She knows it’s an illogical fear. As a point of curiosity, I found out later that in the same storm my Master’s supervisor had caught the bus, instead of her usual ferry trip, because she felt more secure on the bus in such weather. The administrator has bought an i-pod for the bus trips to and from the university, because she can’t stand the poor grammar she hears in the students’ conversations on her journeys. She made special mention of the frequent utterance of ‘like’ as a particular point of irritation. And just the week before I had advised my students that academic writing required a different register to conversation. The example I used was ‘valley-girl speak’, where people write ‘like’ instead of ‘as’. Heh and double heh. The administrator and I have the same pet irritations; no wonder we get along so well.

This time I started my marking thinking, as I always seem to, that two weeks was plenty of time to finish the number of essays I had. But it’s slowly dawned upon me that, sometimes, after a day of intense marking, you just can’t face another assignment for an entire day. I always feel guilty on such days, as though I’m a disorganised wastrel. Then Dr H, who always seems to be so efficient about marking, said she had the same experience. I think I’ve already communicated my admiration of Dr H—anyone who can do their honours while going through a messy divorce, then proceed to complete a Master’s and a PhD pretty much to schedule, while single-handedly supporting two children is AMAZING. I am not worthy. So, even though I had about four days of disorganised wastrel-ness, I became Zen with the marking process and all that it entails; including two cups of strong coffee and 90 minutes of socialising before beginning the final thirteen.

Dr P is taking a job overseas from next year and she will be sorely missed. Not only did she prove to be great to work with, but she offered me some very practical advice about determining what my expectations were in a PhD supervisor. As a direct result of my conversation with her, I climbed up the stairs of the Doo-Hickey Tower (that’s my nickname for the building) and asked GT to be my supervisor. My Master’s supervisor and the Head of School had suggested that GT would be interested in my topic, but I wasn’t really sure if someone so prominent in the field would have enough time or the inclination to nurture me through the inevitable crises that occur throughout a PhD. Dr P said that GT probably wouldn’t do that, he would just want me to produce work. She said as long as I was aware of the way he worked then he would be a great mentor. I went away and thought about it and then came to the conclusion that after such an extended and emotional Master’s, I really would like to have a timely and professional Doctorate. This is no reflection on my Master’s supervisor, who really supported me through several crises—now that’s ‘above and beyond’—but the thought of crying in front of GT is too mortifying for it ever to eventuate. As it turned out, GT was interested in my project and has agreed to be my principal supervisor (small jump for joy!). I walked away from my meeting with him feeling as though all the myriad of things I had been worrying about had been lifted. My thesis had been effectively cut in half and a clear chapter progression presented itself. My goodness, what will I do without a chapter progression to worry about?! GT even made a comment to the effect that he thought the university had lost me as if he thought it would be a matter for regret. Well I didn’t even know I was a blip on his horizon, so perhaps the fact that he had even thought about such a prospect is an indication that he will be alright in the unlikely (yes dammit, I insist, unlikely) event of a crisis.

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