Thursday, February 15, 2007

Academic Obligations

I haven't had as many scheduled activities this week as usual (a combination of bad weather and a temporary gap in a lecture series I've been attending), and I've been considering how to fill my days.

As a teacher, I have an obligation toward my students - to attend class, to prepare for class, to grade their work relatively promptly, even to have office hours nobody attends.

As a seminar student, I have an obligation toward my instructor and fellow classmates, including, in this case, attending class, posting weekly email responses, doing the reading somewhat attentively.

As a student preparing for an exam of my own making, here's where it gets tricky. What is my obligation toward my own sense of intellectual responsibility and desire to become acquainted with a particular body of material? This exam is supposed to center on a list of materials I've chosen and a set of questions I've formulated and discussed with my examiners ahead of time. Do I have a responsibility to reformulate those questions over the course of the semester, as I develop a greater familiarity with the texts I've chosen? What about replacing some texts with others, or does that belong more aptly to the further narrowing-down of the dissertation? How proactive should I be in talking to my committee members over the course of the semester about ideas I've been turning over - or should I (more cowardly) reserve my ideas for the exam itself? (The fear of "running out of ideas" seems ludicrous; more likely my reluctance to share ideas with others leads to a shortage, rather than the other way around.) And what obligations do my committee members have towards me (only one is currently affiliated with my program; all are primarily affiliated with a different department)?


Bardiac said...

Wow, that sounds like an interesting exam!

I'd say, make it your opportunity to explore everything you can in as much depth as you can, and push forward. I'd suggest you should feel pretty proactive about talking to your faculty members.

BUT, you should recognize that this is your exam, and they're not going to read tons of new stuff as you go because you are. Keep them informed, be responsive to their concerns and interests, because even with your own direction, they're going to ask the question they think they should ask.

When I work with students (at the MA level), I find it lots easier to respond verbally to ideas during office hours than to be asked to read some big hunk of work all at once.

KM said...

Hey, Kermit, best wishes with reading for comps/quals!

I'd say your committee members' responsibility to you is to be available, within reason, whenever you need your academic and professional questions answered. After all, even if most are in a different department, they did agree to be your committee members, your mentors so to speak. And after graduation, their reputation will follow you around while yours also follows theirs... your shadows will be connected, lol! ;-) In the meantime, assuming they get a course release for serving on your committee, well, Kermit, make 'em work for it!

I look forward to hearing how it all develops. Again, best wishes.

Jane Dark said...

I meant to comment on this earlier, if only to ask: do you have to turn in reading lists that you get approved? In my program, we do, and that ends up being really helpful in terms of figuring out what direction the exam is going to go.

kermitthefrog said...

All of your comments are helpful, and more or less things I've tried to tell myself all along. The problem I'm facing now is that the reading list I submitted originally now feels like it's going in several different directions. So do I maintain it as is and figure I'll have a start in more than one area, or do I revise the list and narrow the focus? I'm tending toward the former, since the latter seems to tend more in the direction of a dissertation proposal.