A Second Quarter Stretching Part 3: Men on a Wire

By this point in the series, I hope you feel welcome and have a sense of what’s going on–so I won’t bore you with the aformentioned pleasantries.  One of the perennial questions about the MAPH program is something along the lines of “Just how rigorous, intense, stressful, or otherwise challenging is the program, really?”  Many, many posts trotting out work I’ve done in the program, discussing the school’s evaluative process, and trying to suggest ways students can prepare themselves in advance of showing up–I hope–have gone some distance toward answering the “hard” question.  However, second quarter revealed an entirely new stress inducing challenge: balancing the demands of graduate level classes with the thesis writing process.  So, this post will attempt to elucidate coping mechanisms meant to enhance your calm, John Spartan.

Wo(Men) on a Wire

Bill:

I took classes this quarter that aligned closely with my interests, which align closely with my thesis. To that end, I was able to overlap my thesis work and my class work in many cases. At least during the first half of the quarter. As the quarter went on, I was getting a little tired of doing non-stop thesis-related work and tried to branch out more in my classes. This had the unfortunate side effect, especially for someone who gets wildly interested in things, of distracting me from my thesis here and there. But along with my new, class-fueled interests, I maintained my excitement for my thesis project. I’m lousy at time management for my projects at times, so there were points where I was rabid about my classwork that I let the thesis work slide a little, and vice-versa. Had I another year to do this program, I suspect I would have learned a better balance. As it was, taking it all quite seriously was the most important part of ensuring that everything got (at least most of) the attention it required.

MAPHman:

I think Bills approach is indicative of the “normal” approach taken by the majority of MAPHers–and it is also one of the programs (few) shortcomings.  That is, while the degree awarded is a very broad Masters of Humanities, Chicago’s MA–just like most Ph.D. programs–tends to narrow a student’s focus very quickly.  I came into the program intending to balance art history, philosophy, and linguistic theory classes, but quickly discovered that I had only seven course slots available to be filled out of the nine allotted to me–one is consumed by Core and the other by Thesis Workshop.  As part of my goal was to get into a Philosophy Ph.D. program, I was warned that I needed to take as many survey type philosophy courses as possible (balancing Analytic and Continental concerns of course).  However, I quickly realized that those were the only courses I’d have time to take.  So much for mixing and matching courses from all over the humanities!

As my thesis began to take shape I naturally looked to aesthetics-based philosophy courses, but found the offerings to be few and far between–really only one in the entire year I’ll be in Chicago.  As a result there is precious little alignment between my thesis and the courses I’ve taken.  The thesis has become ethical–but I’ve taken no ethics courses.  The linguistic classes have been largely analytic, but the approach taken to communication in the thesis is much more continental.  End result, I spent much of second quarter feeling stuck between the “rock” of my seminar papers and the “hard place” of my thesis.

To put this in perspective, my friend currently working through a Ph.D. at Boston College, Robert Minto notes in the comments section here that less “plus-y,” more relaxed Masters programs tend to place “a heavier emphasis upon acquiring competence in the history of philosophy” where MAPHers take part in the same race to specialization common to Chicago’s Ph.D.  Now, I’ve worked hard to balance analytic and continental but I’ve failed utterly to balance ancient and contemporary, pragmatist and theoretical/transcendent approaches, and obviously courses related to my thesis and courses related to my interests.

So, while Bill, like Philippe Petit, managed to walk the tight-rope strung between the World Trade Center Towers, I fell off and hung myself with it–metaphorically speaking.

Tomorrow – Part Four: After all this, you want a job, too?

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