Academic Reflections for 2014

2014 turned out to be a rather unusual year for me. Among other things, it was my first full calendar year in Montréal with my wife Amber and dog Linus, bookended, naturally, by deathly cold temperatures (–10C/19F as I write this post). With most of our focus on trying to settle into this new life in a new place, we did only a modicum of traveling, staying fairly close to Montréal with such exotic destinations as Burlington, Vermont and Toronto, Ontario. For me at least, getting to know Montréal itself has fulfilled that longing for the new or strange that generally gets people itching to travel. Looking back over the year, I can say that the hybrid culture of this city, its inhabitants from every corner of the globe, and the kind of summer climate and atmosphere that makes it clear why so many people choose to make Montréal their more or less permanent home has been more than enough to satisfy my restlessness, curiosity, and desire for something interesting, different, and otherwise.

My continuing to settle into a new city over this past year parallels my continuing to settle back into the academic way of life, so to speak. In terms of my studies, 2014 brought a lot of changes, major and minor, most of which were welcome after any initial shock and disorientation wore off. Falling back into the groove of an student’s schedule is something I continue to struggle with, especially since my wife works what most would consider “normal” hours, and I’d rather sync up my free time with hers than find myself working late nights or weekends.

These minor inconveniences aside, I’d say 2014 was an overall academic success for me, having presented at two graduate conferences, completed coursework for my master’s degree, and received an award for “Best Essay by an M.A. Student” in the Département d’études anglaises at Université de Montréal. Additionally, I overcame the major challenge of reorienting my area of focus for my master’s degree—as well as for what will eventually (if all continues to go according to plan) be my dissertation topic as a PhD student—which all began with writing and submitting my master’s thesis proposal this past spring.

Shifts in Disciplinary Directions

Around mid-April, it was time to finalize and submit my master’s thesis proposal. This two-page document outlines the work I have been doing over the past eight months and will continue to do for the next five. Other than the obvious difficulty of summarizing one’s research and plans for a master’s thesis in a mere two pages, this exercise was difficult for me in that it indicated a rather significant shift in my formation as a graduate student. I originally came to Montréal with the intent of continuing the work I was doing as an undergraduate on Nicole Brossard. Indeed, Montréal was the ideal destination.

Yet, things have changed. I am now a “modernist”: I specialize in transatlantic English-language literature from about 1898 to 1937, particularly with regard to issues of gender and sexuality. My thesis discusses a poetics of excess in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, and how this poetics resists certain hegemonic impulses of modernism, such as constructions of modernist lineage, the privileging of masculine-oriented aesthetics, and the reification of sexual difference. Each time I speak or write these words, however (which is a lot, given the number of times friends and colleagues ask, “What is it you’re working on, again?”), I realize that my undergraduate studies on Brossard’s work, feminist theory, and gender studies primed me to think this way in the first place. So, while this shift in subject matter seems very drastic in some respects (i.e. historical, political, and social contexts), in others it appears but a small step into an adjacent domain.

PhD Applications

Speaking of steps into adjacent domains, this fall consisted of almost non-stop work on PhD applications. Eight applications in total, a dollar amount I don’t care to write out, countless statement of purpose revisions, and three distinct writing samples to satisfy the varying (and sometimes irritatingly specific) requirements of each university—as many have reassured me throughout the process, this, in itself, could constitute a full time job. It’s the kind of work, though, that I feel infinitely grateful for even having the opportunity to do in the first place. There are millions of incredibly intelligent students on this continent alone who likely don’t have the kinds of resources necesary to complete the application process, let alone actually pursue doctorate studies. Undoubtedly, it’s a privilege made available to me through the support, assistance, and encouragement of a number of people, including my wife Amber, my parents, my advisors at Université de Montréal, those who have generously taken the time to write and the numerous professors at universities across North America who have been kind enough to speak with me about my interests and plans for the future.

As exhilirating as turning in that final application was this past month, however, I really have to put the whole thing out of my mind now until the admissions decisions start rolling in. I’ve given myself the entire month of January to complete the first draft of my thesis, and if I keep running through scenarios in my mind of some graduate admissions committee finding a typo in my writing sample and immediately dropping my entire application into some kind of incinerator that is kept around solely for the purpose of destroying the dossiers of laughable PhD applicants, well, I’ll probably get my thesis finished, but it’ll be a little more stressful than necessary.

New York, New Year

So, I guess this brings us to the end. I don’t have any particular goals set out for 2015, but I think I have enough currently going on that simply keeping up with it all seems noble enough. Rather than forecast the future here, I’ll just leave off with some nice photos from New York City, taken during our “holiday” vacation about two weeks ago. Happy New Year.

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