History

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Why Am I Doing This? A Dangerous Question During Exam Time for Graduate Students

Published August 17, 2014 by harleyquinnly

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I am a Ph.D. student in History. I am having an existential crisis. This can apply to people in any type of situation when it gets tough and makes you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Sometimes you don’t have an answer. 

To earn a Ph.D. in history at my university, you must take so many semesters/credit hours of coursework, earning a grade no lower than a B. That is not enough to prove your worth, however. You must take three, six hour long exams over three days, known as comprehensive exams (comps). The three exams are your general field (US history), secondary field (American West), and a minor field (Public History). 

Why are these so daunting? For me personally, I am not good at tests. Sure, I know the information inside and out but when I am handed an exam I can’t even remember what name to put at the top of the page. I will do reviews, projects, or write you a frickin’ book but don’t give me a test. In addition, I am aware that the exam can ask anything that happened in the United States from 1492 until the 1980s. That’s roughly five hundred years of stuff. And you must know what every historian has written about each era as well. 

scream

Yes, I’m aware it’s a form of academic hazing. It’s weeding out the lesser, supposed to be humbling, etc. As if taking (and acing) history courses for about ten years isn’t good enough. And humbling? What about surviving the professors that routinely made your colleagues cry and whose classes required multiple all-nighters (not from procrastination either). 

What I’m getting at, besides being whiney, is today after I found out I must also submit a dissertation proposal during the exact same time as I’m supposed to be studying (and getting signatures from my committee is like herding cats). I made the mistake of asking myself, “Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I even getting my Ph.D.?”

exist crisis

Most people go to graduate school to get degrees required for higher jobs. I went for my Ph.D. because I had just gone through a divorce, wanted to avoid a personal life, and only knew of adulthood through the lens of a college student. I genuinely love the classroom and reading, any academic pursuit really. If I had unlimited scholarships I would be happy doing nothing but being a perpetual student. 

But then there’s real life. The place where I had to quit my dream job I went to graduate school for in the first place because it didn’t pay enough for me to survive on. The place where I work a horrid 40+ hours a week job with a verbally abusive boss before going home to stress over these exams. I’m proud to say that through hard work, scholarships, help, and luck I have no student loans, but I’ve paid dearly for that in other ways. Because I work, I am unable to dedicate myself to publishing (which is the only means to employment, if you can even find it). So why am I doing this?

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In addition, where I live, having higher education makes you more unemployable than a felon. I often lie and leave off my higher education on resumes or I don’t receive interviews or are flat out told I am over-educated, over-qualified, etc. Smart people need to eat too. (I’m serious about the felon part-I know of a registered sex offender that has a job that pays three times as much as mine)

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I wish I could end this post with an enlightened, ‘This is what I reminded myself of why I’m doing what I’m doing’ but I’m not there yet. I don’t have an answer. Maybe I’m doing this because I’ve already worked for three years to get this far into the Ph.D. Maybe because school was the only thing I felt I was ever good at and base my sense of worth upon it. 

Perhaps this is why you seldom see sober Ph.D. students when they’re studying for comps.

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Mental Illness and Greatness

Published June 12, 2013 by harleyquinnly

lincoln

Lately as I’ve been struggling more with ADHD, depression, OCD tendencies, and corresponding medication, etc. I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of people have mental illness. Contrary to societal stereotypes, we are not all people rocking in the corner muttering to ourselves and unemployable. Some have struggles that interfere with their lives more than others.

I had some sort of an epiphany this week. I had always felt quietly bad about myself about starting medication when I reached the point that I had difficulties functioning without it. Then last week, out of the blue (as is always the case with my revelations), I realized that some of my most favorite and most educated, intelligent, hardworking people I know have some form of mental illness. I read an article that argued those with ADHD usually have a slightly higher IQ than the average population. I am curious as to why that is. Sure, I used aspects of my ADHD and anxiety to finish a master’s degree in eight months but I always thought it was an obstacle-that everything in my life is harder for me than everybody else because of the mental illness I live with. But after these realizations I started thinking, what if these “issues” are part of what makes me successful? Where would I be if I didn’t have ADHD that forces/enables me to seriously multitask? What about the anxiety that keeps me from procrastinating? The fact that I have to be super organized to function? Even though I still have days that I am frustrated when I can’t focus or have to take medication, maybe this is part of what makes me “me.”

I saw this article on another blog and it furthers my revelation. A study believes that 49 percent of former US presidents had a mental illness. I wonder if with greatness comes mental illness, or, the one I prefer, that despite issues one can still reach great heights. The study is listed below.

Hoffman, Haley. “Study Posits Presidents Had Mental Illness.” The Chronicle. February 21, 2006. http://www.dukechronicle.com/articles/2006/02/22/study-posits-presidents-had-mental-illness (accessed June 12, 2013).

“No one would ever expect the general who led the Union army to victory in the Civil War to have a debilitating fear of blood. But Ulysses S. Grant was among the 49 percent of former U.S. presidents afflicted by mental illness, according to an article published recently by psychiatrists at the Duke University Medical Center.

Jonathan Davidson, professor of psychiatry and director of the Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Program, has a particular interest in history, especially U.S. presidents. After culling data from presidential biographies, Davidson was joined by Kathryn Connor, associate professor of psychiatry, and Marvin Swartz, professor and head of the social and community division of psychiatry, to analyze the information. Together, they diagnosed the commander-in-chiefs from 1776 to 1974.

According to the study, published in January in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, of the 37 presidents researched, 18 were found to suffer a mental illness of some form. Depression was the most prevalent disorder among presidents, occurring at a rate of 24 percent. The researchers wrote that the 49-percent rate mirrored national mental illness statistics, but the rate of depression was high for a male population.

“A fairly high number of people have mental disease at some level, so it would be surprising if presidents didn’t,” said John Aldrich, professor of political science. “Certain things, like depression, are associated with artistic accomplishment.”

Other diagnoses included anxiety, alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder and social phobia. Howard Taft apparently suffered from sleep apnea.

At least 10 presidents were affected by episodes while in office, and the study found evidence that symptoms interfered with their performance in almost all cases.

To make their diagnoses, the researchers used the criteria of the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual all psychiatrists use to treat patients. They examined the data to identify symptoms, determine if they were persistent and caused dysfunction and then establish their own levels of confidence that mental illness existed.

Such remote diagnosis through secondary research, however, can be problematic. “Using biographical materials may be an imperfect way to gauge mental illness,” Aldrich said. Swartz explained that detailed analysis of primary sources, while ideal, was outside of the scope of the study but that the published article elaborated on its own relevance and weaknesses. “You have to rely on what historians reported based on their research,” he said. Still, Swartz estimated that their sources erred on the side of undercounting illness among presidents.

The troubles of certain presidents are already very well known. Abraham Lincoln famously suffered from symptoms of depression, though he triumphed politically more than Franklin Pierce, whose more modest legacy the study attributed greatly to his illness.

Having witnessed the violent death of his son in a railway accident just before he assumed office, Pierce suffered from symptoms indicating depression or post-traumatic stress during his term. The study noted that his associates accused Pierce of being a different person than the one who had energetically campaigned for office.

While personal tragedy and the weight of the presidency may have incited the problems of some presidents, others were apparently afflicted long before they moved into the White House.

According to the article, contemporaries of Grant, James Madison, Rutherford Hayes and Woodrow Wilson who watched them as young men would have thought that these men would do very little with their lives based on their seeming mental problems or deficiencies.

Whether they were suffering from an illness before they entered the White House or not, presidents’ afflictions raise questions about their ability to do the executive job.

“The extensiveness of Richard Nixon’s alcohol abuse was pretty remarkable and alarming, given the authority he had,” Swartz said.

Though Calvin Coolidge’s hypochondria may not have had the most profound effect on affairs of state, Coolidge, Grant and Thomas Jefferson were diagnosed with social phobia by Davidson and his associates.

“Social phobia is kind of remarkable in a president. It meant he was shy and avoided social circumstances, and yet he was president,” Swartz said.

The study noted among its implications that no national calamities seem to have been a result of presidential mental illness.

It also considered the possibility that knowledge of these afflictions might lessen the stigma of psychological treatment. But there remains a question about the public’s right, and need, to know the psychological state of the president, in an age of increased psychological vigilance.

“It’s obviously about as stressful and physically demanding a job as there is for mature adults, so it has to at least exacerbate any [already existing] problems,” Aldrich said. “You know, the president is not a person, he’s an institution…. There are a lot of checks and redundancies to make sure he doesn’t do anything foolish.”

What do you think?

We are not alone 😉

Twenty-One Things Academics Hate

Published February 11, 2013 by harleyquinnly

‘Professor, why are we doing this?’

While every job has their annoyances, this post includes those specifically encountered by graduate students and those working in academia. Unless you actually work in this field, do not automatically assume we all have cushy, easy jobs and just like to complain about the lack of coffee packages for our Kurigs. Like others, we also face extreme high unemployment and debt, low salaries, and underappreciation. There have been several articles released lately on how Ph.D.’s are facing reliance on foodstamps due to unemployment or low salaries despite earning four college degrees. So why do we endure this craziness and suffering? Because we love it…and we are slightly masochistic.

Madison Moore, “21 Things Academics Hate,” Thought Catalog, January 13, 2013 (accessed February 11, 2013).

1) Being unemployed. Not that other people don’t hate being unemployed, too. But unless you’re a lucky person who has already secured that coveted mirage of a tenure-track job — and even then you’ve only got six years to get it together — being in academia means that, at some point, you could be an unemployed person with a lot of degrees!

2) REVISIONS. (Everything that is done must be redone at least twenty times before it comes close to being good enough)

3) Ratchet departmental politics. There are always office politics in any career. But in academia, everybody’s heard the story about how so-in-so didn’t get tenure because the department chair kind of hates her or thinks her research is silly. Or has been on a search committee where somebody thinks a candidate who works on anything after 1832 is totally irrelevant. Or how about why we can’t have the department holiday party at Stephanie’s house because Stephanie and Blake do NOT get along.

4) Being in debt — credit card debt — from all those broke ass years in graduate school.

5) “The Administration,” because it seems like they get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to make things as complicated as possible, for everyone, at all times.

6) The “heterosexual matrix” and/or patriarchy.

7) When people ask how the dissertation/book manuscript/article is coming along and you honestly don’t know because you haven’t touched it.

8) Formatting academic articles to the exact specifications the journal requires. And you thought academia was just about ideas — HA!

9) When Word freezes when you’re in the middle of a streak of brilliance and you forgot to save your stuff.

10) Feeling anxious about every interaction with a senior scholar, because senior scholars are the GATEKEEPERS. Do they like me? OMG do they think I’m an idiot?

11) When someone asks a long-winded question during the Q+A that has absolutely nothing to do with what your talk was on, so now you have to maintain your composure, smile and respond WITHOUT seeming like an A-hole.

12) When student papers begin with sweeping claim like “since the beginning of man.”

13) Going on the job market.

14) Tenure reviews.

15) Being underpaid for the amount of work you do. You’re teaching four classes a semester, plus you’re on 12 committees and you have a book manuscript to work on. And if you don’t find the time to finish that, you’re gonna get fired!

16) Overly negative reviews from blind, peer review publications. Because the reviewers don’t know who you are, that means they get to be even meaner.

17) When students email you about the grade they got at the end of the semester, instead of putting the work in DURING it.

18) Anxiety and the diverse medical issues associated with it.

19) When someone has ripped several key pages out of a library book.

20) If someone says that academia isn’t a “real” job.

21) BEING TOLD THEY HAVE THE #1 LEAST STRESSFUL JOB IN THE COUNTRY.

I am working on my fourth degree, have a professional job, and still eat ramen at least once a day

End of the World Racism: From a So-Called “Corn Worshipper”

Published December 28, 2012 by harleyquinnly

Mayan temple

I had an experience a few days ago and was quite surprised with how much it affected me, so I had to write. That day, in the modern year 2012, I experienced a racial prejudice similar to that in the 1920s. I realize that our society is not so enlightened and there are plenty of white supremacists and such, but wow. I was blown away by the ignorance and prejudice I encountered.

While the remark was not aimed at me personally, I still felt personally affected by it. I am not an easily offended person by any means and was surprised that I became more and more enraged as the day went on. This isn’t about being overly sensitive and wishing for a perfectly politically correct world, it’s about respect and correcting ignorance. The remark read (and I’m paraphrasing): ‘Well the world didn’t end. That’s what you get for listening to Mayans who were worshipping corn.’ The remark went on to further offend Mayan culture but the extremely mature person has since deleted me from Facebook despite my saintly restraint from commenting. (Sarcastic voice: Oh however will I sleep at night knowing that I have been unfriended on Facebook? Really, people? I don’t care).

The remark pretty much insulted Mayan culture and spewed unknowingly an offense to all American Indian culture. I can’t decide if the mockery of Indian culture or the blatant ignorance of culture and history is more offensive.

Without getting too much into cultural or historical detail, here’s a lot of what’s wrong with that person’s remarks. Not to toot my own horn, but I am a historian working on a Ph.D. and the brief history I am providing comes from graduate coursework as well as personal cultural experience. In addition, I will provide some links to Mayan culture.

 First, insulting Mayan beliefs offends modern Indians as well

While numerous differences existed between Indian tribes, their culture and religion had a lot in common and they often exchanged this culture when interacting with other tribes. Therefore, Mayan culture has some things in common with modern tribes and insulting their way of life is an insult to all Indians’ culture.

 Second, Indians do not worship corn

Most American Indian religion focuses on nature and giving constant thanks to its resources. This is not worshipping corn. They are thankful to the spirits, earth, and ancestors that make the growth of corn and the sustenance it provides possible.

 Third, Anglo Americans have no right to ridicule Indian beliefs

If you think about it out of context and logically, all religions have odd stories. While some may think the Indians’ belief in thanking nature is hilarious, they may find the Christian story of their god appearing as a burning bush hysterical as well. This is not meant to ridicule anyone’s religion, just to point out that all are based on faith and entitled to believe whatever they wish.

Fourth, the Mayans were not backwards, savage, heathens, or whatever offensive terms used

One calendar was created by the Mayans in the year 3114 BC and was more accurate than the European Julian calendar revised in 1582. At this time, white Europeans did not live in blissful harmony surfing the web on their Ipads. The 3000s BC marks the Bronze Age for Europe, a time when the “civilized” were conquering and killing each other, marrying their siblings/cousins, farming, and discovering how to smoke weed (in Rome). Every culture has their achievements and ridiculous moments, just please take a few history courses (or maybe read that thing called a book) before you butcher my profession and sound like a moron.

Fifth, the Mayan calendar was not meant to predict the end of the world

The Mayans had several astronomically correct calendars to signify various things. Some reports state their calendars were often accurate to within thirty minutes. Similar to other tribes, the Mayans viewed their world and time cyclically, which can be seen in the circular nature of their calendars. The end of the calendar did not mean the end of the world; it meant the end of an era. The completion of that time meant a rebirth, the beginning of a new time. The Mayan began and ended their calendars according to an astronomically important date-the so-called “end of the world” occurred simply on the Winter Solstice.

Mayan elders still exist; all of their people did not disappear. Most of the end of world predictions come from people that are incorrectly translating Mayan glyphs. (The glyphs are difficult to translate to outsiders due to the closeness of some symbols. I had to translate a few for a final in class). The Mayan elders are angry that this incorrect rumor has prevailed-I would be upset too if someone had butchered my culture as well…oh wait, that’s the point of this post!

In closing, the point of my post was not necessarily to mock the ignorance of the offending person (although I do feel better). I also do not intend to insult any other culture. I am simply striving to point out that no culture really has any right to criticize another. This post serves as my rebuttal to the frequent dismissal of “savage cultures” and the butchering of a people’s beliefs. American Indians still exist, even the descendants of ancient cultures of South America.

 For further reading:

There are several great books on the Mayan culture, these are just quick references. If you know of any historic, professionally written books on the Maya, feel free to add!

McFadden, Steve. Steep Uphill Climb to 2012: Messages from the Mayan Milieu. http://www.redrat.net/thoughts/prophets/index.htm (accessed December 28, 2012).

Maya World Studies Center. “The Maya.” Centro de Estudios del Mundo Maya. 1996-2001. http://www.mayacalendar.com/introduccion.html (accessed December 28, 2012).

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