A Second Quarter Stretching Part 5: I Wish I’d…

Welcome one and all to this final installment of “A Second Quarter Stretching” with all the cane-shaking-old-man-on-his-front-porch advice you never asked for!  However, to keep the awkwardness to a minimum, Bill and I are chastising our younger selves rather than folks that walked across our lawns.  Before we get down to business, thanks, one and all for your continued interest in MAPHmatically Yours.  This series has racked up an average of 85.25 views per day and a new MAPHmatically Yours one day record.  As the point of this blog from the beginning has been to provide a source of unofficial–yet reliable–information about Chicago’s MAPH for those considering the program, it is very gratifying to see so many folks are stopping by as April 15 deadline approaches.

If you had the chance to meet yourself last April and offer some advice, what would you say?


I spent much of Campus Visit Days trying to get a sense of how I stacked up against the demands of the program and against my fellow applicants.  With hindsight, I recognize that I was profoundly wrong about many of those first impressions.  I’m a non-traditional student and one of the pitfalls that we “older and wiser” folks are prone to fall into is thinking that all the “kids” not in their mid-thirties are somehow less capable, committed, and discerning than we are.  So, when many of the Campus Visit questions addressed concerns like: “where is the best place to buy alcohol in Hyde Park” and “when I’m tipsy, dressed inappropriately, and coming back from the clubs, what is the best way to get back to my apartment” I felt that I was entirely justified in feeling that my fellow MAPHers–and the program itself–wasn’t as serious about academia as I was.  As things progressed, I quickly discovered how wrong I was.  If I could slap myself upside the head way back before Colloquium started I’d remind myself that one does not get an invitation to the MAPH by being anything less than an amazing student and that many of those earliest MAPH events are concerned with trying to help people through feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and culture shock.  The program and the people become very serious, very quickly.  I think I would have made more and better friends if I’d kept all that in mind.

I know already that I’m going to come out of this year in Chicago beating myself up over not having taken advantage of more of the presentations, exhibits, performances, and conferences that happen every single day around here.  The problem is, when you’re starring down the barrel of an analytic exposition or a seminar paper or a thesis deadline, it is difficult–if not impossible–to say, “I can work on that later, this opportunity will only come around once.”  Same thing with classes, when you have only three slots open in the second quarter and there are six or seven classes you’d like to take–some with Rock Star Profs, some in areas that you have interest in, but haven’t gotten around to studying, and others that feed directly into your thesis research–you tend to choose pragmatically according to which have the least unreasonable work load or contribute to your thesis most directly.  I’d love to tell myself that I should let loose a bit, take some risks with my time management, and course selection, but that is not the attitude that got me here and I know I would make the same choices again.

MAPH does some things really, really well.  One of them is using the Core class “Foundations in Interpretive Theory” to telegraph many of the UChicago “Little Red School House” writing guidelines.  However, if you are a bit dense, or intend to teach future students to write, there is nothing like taking the actual course and having all the elements of the Chicago approach made explicit.  I have not taken ENG 33000, it is one of those courses that gave way in order to provide more slots for balancing philosophical content classes.  But, if I had it to do over, I would have sacrificed a content course in order to learn more about Chicago’s approach to rhetorical composition.  I’ve picked up quite a bit from preceptors and TAs who have been inculcated, but I have not doubt that my own writing and that of my future students would have been improved had I been able to take the class myself.

I think the various things I’ve mentioned previously in this forum would all hold true. But to my regular list of Be Humble, Make Friends, and Work Your Ass Off, I would add two more. One, if you can afford to not work more than ten hours a week, don’t. I work about 20 hours a week and it takes up an astonishing amount of time. It takes up time I need to be reading, writing, or more importantly, relaxing. I have to fit some down time in for sanity’s sake, but there’s not much of it. I was warned back during my campus visit last April not to work more than ten hours a week. That’s the piece of advice I got that I most wish I had taken, and it’s one that I will give at the MAPH campus visit this year. My second piece of advice would be: Hang around the MAPH office! I started visiting the MAPH office for purely social reasons (the down time, ten minutes at a time) during my second quarter, and it was wonderful. Working on the crossword with Hilary, Maren, A-J, and various preceptors and other MAPHers made me feel like I was really part of something, and it eased my nervousness about communicating with all of them. Nothing like having a cup of tea and doing to the crossword to utterly humanize people. (And to realize who knows which various obscure pockets of knowledge: Maren knows all the French words, A-J knows a shocking amount of sports stuff, and Hilary knows everything else).In terms of encouragement, I’ll be coming out of MAPH as a big, huge believer in the program. For every Gradcafe naysayer who calls it a cash cow for U of C (most of whom were never in the program, repeating only things they’d heard), there are several dozen MAPH grads who will tell you about what a powerful experience it is, both academically and personally. Throw yourself into MAPH – into anything, really – and your chances of having a revolutionary experience increase exponentially. There’s a who legacy in MAPH and U of C overall that you’ll become a part of. And you’ll never forget the really long, really short year you spent there. The only thing that really panics me anymore is that I’m going to have to leave the program, which I do not want to do.

What I really wish is that a year from now, I could come back to myself NOW, and every time I worry that I can’t do this, that everyone else is so much smarter than I am, that I’m a pretender to academia, that I am a fraud, that being admitted to U of C was a tragic mistake on some foolish admissions person’s part, calm-me could put his arm around freaking-out-me’s shoulder, take him to the Div School cafe, buy freaking-out-me a cup of coffee, and say, “Dude. You’re a real person. And you’re going to be fine. Trust me on this one.”


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