The Matriculated Marker: On being both student and teacher

“Here, in college… you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of the instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you A’s. Originality on the other hand could get you anything – from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it.”

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Last weekend, I set about the task of marking my students’ dissertations. I went to a trendy but usually quiet cafe (there are lots of these around the North West of Northern Ireland, and they usually have identical menus) and after a pot of tea had passed I still hadn’t finished marking even one of them. The bearded barista, clearly a perceptive young man, offered me a refill gratis. “Thank you,” I said, adding darkly “It’s dissertation time.” Continue reading “The Matriculated Marker: On being both student and teacher”

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On Safe Spaces and Samuel Richardson

“Now all we have to worry about is all the other books, and, of course, life, which is huge and complicated and will not warn you before it hurts you.”

Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

Two weeks ago I found myself encountering an interesting pedagogical challenge: teaching a book that centres upon a woman surviving a sexually traumatic event and reframing her recovery by marrying her would-be rapist. Continue reading “On Safe Spaces and Samuel Richardson”

Crabs and Cautious Optimism

“Come along with me, misery loves company,
You’re welcome at the home of the blues.”

Johnny Cash, ‘Home of the Blues’

It’s no secret that the work of a PhD is heavy going. As candidates, we face poor health, financial drain, and the possibility of failure as standard risks for undertaking this type of project. I think everybody begins with a sense of cautious optimism, of which most are disabused by around the end of semester one. But what’s wrong with a little optimism? Continue reading “Crabs and Cautious Optimism”

The Value of Vulnerability

“Cheer up, Dad. Did you know the Chinese use the same word for ‘crisis’ as they do for ‘opportunity’?”
“Yes. Crisistunity.”
Lisa and Homer, ‘Fear of Flying’, The Simpsons
How do I begin to speak about what my viva was like? I passed it, and that should be enough, but for a month now I have been in perfect agony about what that pass has meant, the qualifiers placed upon it, what mis-steps I may have made that precluded me from an even passier pass.