Geez Louise.

Well, I’ve received an early assessment of the first draft of my Jacobite literature essay, and it wasn’t good at all.

My supervisor is a strange cat. Totally driven, and totally intense, so much so that other students have also commented to me on it, and it’s intimidating as hell. He had not one good thing to say about my paper, and I distinctly got the impression that he was disappointed in what he read. How much of this is actually the work, and how much is his view? Which is more important, the grade, or what came out of it? That of course, is quite rhetorical, so don’t bother answering it, please.

He’s now spent three months catapulting his interests and ideas upon me, claiming he realizes my focus is social and military, but rattling off long lists of other areas of focus that he thinks are relevant–areas that only a professional historian with thirty years of experience could possibly be seeing. These broad, sweeping themes in the areas of literature I’ve been looking at are certainly not clear, and I just don’t have the general background in such history from the three months I’ve been here reading this subject.

Or perhaps I’m just not seeing them.

But I really can’t get a word in edgewise when we meet, and most of those times I spend listening to him talk at me about his interesting specifics of 18th century history. These are things that connect with my proposed thesis obliquely, in a broad sense, but really serve more to confuse me than give any semblance of direction.

Now I’m *very* dejected, and I get the feeling that whatever I do won’t be appropriate for him. Of course this is just a reaction, and I’m clear enough to take his suggestions to heart, and to use them to revise my paper in these next two weeks. But I also left that office with a sense of hopelessness, and that maybe I won’t be able to do well over here, in a foreign environment, with a foreign style of writing, as good as it was at Cal, and that just maybe I’m not good enough to make it as a historian over here. That notion was never in the picture before.

So I’m feeling that I was on top of my game at a great institution back home, and now I’m nothing more than a novelty over here, and a weak one, at that. This may pass, and I’m not done with doing my best to rectify the situation. More as it comes, hopefully with less frustration next time.

16 Responses to “Geez Louise.”

  1. psymbiotic Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 11:44 am

    and now I’m nothing more than a novelty over here, and a weak one, at that.
    That's BS and you know it! Darren, you rock, plain and simple. Smart is smart, no matter the country or time zone. You've proven that you can get into a school over there, so I have no doubt in my mind that you'll succeed with flying colors. :>
    My girlfriend is going through a similar experience over at the California Culinary Academy. One of the chefs there really seems to have it out for her. But she's really good, so I think it's simply a challenged to be addressed for her to get through.
    It seems every school has its own Professor Snape. :p
    Egan >:>

  2. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you kindly, Egan.
    As always, your words are from the heart and quite inspiring. It's not intelligence that I'm doubt, rather ability to synthesize information to *their standard*, which doesn't necessarily mean *up* to their standard, but moreso *over* to it.
    This comes from a feeling of frustration more than anything, as there was not one note of encouragement in his initial assessment. It's just a product of his personality and diligence as an amazing professor who is very dedicated and very driven.
    I hope you're well!

  3. psymbiotic Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 2:41 pm

    It's just a product of his personality and diligence as an amazing professor who is very dedicated and very driven.
    Then it's certainly a challenge for you, which means you stand you can learn from him. That's a good thing I think. 😀
    I hope you're well!
    I'm doign quite well, thank you. Only one month left on Bond before we ship. 😀
    Be well,
    Egan >:>

  4. pisica Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 11:59 am

    One of the things I like about my supervisor is that she doesn't push her ideas onto me. She doesn't care whether she agrees with what I say about my topic – her job is to make sure that I'm saying it correctly (contextualised, proven, etc.). If your supervisor is pushing his ideas onto you, that's a big problem – he should be facilitating, not telling you what to write.
    If you're interested, and I'll lend you a book about how to get a PhD – it has some good commentary on the supervisor-student relationship, and the responsibilities of both parties.
    You may want to talk to the head of your department if you're really feeling uncomfortable.

  5. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 12:36 pm

    Well, he's said on many occasions that he doesn't want to tell me what to write or to bludgeon my words or ideas, but really he's doing that without really doing it, if that makes sense.
    He's pretty much the Big Cheese, so to speak. Can't go to someone else, but I do have a very prominent second supervisor that is also grading my work. I get on *very* well with him, but he hasn't read my draft yet.
    It's like this: I'm really just complaining that he had no encouraging things to say to add to his criticisms. I never have felt that my writing is above reworking or lack of perspective. I just don't mesh with him very well and how he presents himself regarding my work, I guess.

  6. fraulein_doktor Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 12:10 pm

    Don't let this episode demotivate you.I know that when stuff like that happens it ends up feeling sore, very hurt, frustrated and pissed off(with yourself, with the others…)and it could lasts for a few days….
    But you're not a "weak novelty", not at all…you're great, you know what you're doing, even if you've encountered this obstacle…
    I understand you fully when you say a "foreign environement"..sometimes I still struggle with language and costruction of sentences, since in Italian is quite different, so I spent the first year of Uni up here just going all gloomy and stuff because I felt I was going to fail all the line…I was wrong(thank God!!! 😉 lol )
    This random blah blah only to come to one, cheesy (maybe) end: Hugs!
    Lots of 'em. 🙂

  7. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 12:38 pm

    Your story is amazing, and I salute your drive and fortitude for cutting through it and making it work. Thank you for such kind words of encouragement. This will pass, as it must…

  8. dougygyro Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 12:19 pm

    What may be happening here is an academic variant of culture shock. It makes sense that the UK would have a different style of academia, but if your supervisor actually understanded and respected your biases then he should be constructively assisting you in learning their way with the caveat that you could choose whatever style you feel most comfortable with.
    It also sounds like he's just so opinionated about his perspective that he can't realize that your biases are valid as well. If this continues, and you can't get the help you need, can you speak to someone else? Could the Head-Master (is that the appropriate term?) be more useful?
    Best of luck!

  9. divineseduction Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 1:15 pm

    Kinda what he said.
    I've a feeling (and you know it anyhow) that it's just there are subtle differences that you didn't expect, and didn't see because they were so subtle, so similar. But when you notice them, they become huge, magnified because the other similarities make the differences stand out.
    Perhaps get together with a few someones (students, alumni, professors) and talk about the simple stuff you've taken for granted. Get them to talk about their high school experiences, or their first year in college. I think there may be some things you could take away from those conversations that will help you understand certain things, and help you to be understood.
    My .02.
    Back to work.

  10. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 1:31 pm

    Funny thing is, he's a transplanted Yank. I just don't think he's concerned with my area of focus. He's clearly a political and social historian, and he regards his area of interest with the most importance. Beyond that, there is something definitely wrong with the level of self-aggrandizing and constant monologue that he spits out in any given meeting with me. I recognize that, and see that I have to really push harder to make an impression with my work.
    In any event, *I* am getting quite a bit out of this study, and I will just have to take my passion and bounce it off other people and events to ensure it remains unbowed.
    Thanks for your input.

  11. shawree Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 5:21 pm

    Don't let all that criticism frustrate you. Use what's constructive and makes sense in the context of your focus, but remember, you ARE the master of your work, and you can choose to reject suggestions as well. My supervisor suggested a lot of stuff I could've incorporated into my thesis when I wrote it, but he did seem to forget that I only had a limited amount of time and space for the thesis sometimes. Not to mention the fact that my background knowledge was/is nowhere near as complex as his. Trust your instinct and put your foot down when you think something your supervisor comes up with doesn't tie in with what you want to do. Maybe you can also ask your second supervisor for advice?

  12. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 5:46 pm

    Everything you say is totally right on. Keep in mind, however, that this guy is going to be giving me half of my grade and eligibility for my Master's degree. To some extent, his opinion matters greatly, at least on the smaller papers.
    My background knowledge is *nowhere* near as complex as his, and I truly believe that he doesn't even hear me pleading that case to him. I've asked my second to review the draft before it's due, for another opinion. Still waiting for a response. I certainly don't want to play them against each other, however.
    I hope I'm not being too proud, here. I just don't think it is that bad, and *especially* not bad enough not to mention anything good about.

  13. angledge Says:
    December 1st, 2003 at 5:56 pm

    Hang in there!
    If it's any consolation, my next-door neighbor – an American & a PhD student in theology – is undergoing the same tribulations. She thinks it's partially a difference in writing styles, but also she thinks that British academics are harsher in their criticism in general. I believe that's part of it – after all, the highest grade you ever see out of 100 is about 75! (one small for example)
    I think your writing is wonderful.

  14. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 3rd, 2003 at 5:52 am

    Re: Hang in there!
    Thank you kindly.
    I'm sure this isn't the first time it's happened, and certainly not the last. Rewrite in process, getting to the bottom of it as we speak…
    LOTS of 5:00 am writing-fests. 🙂

  15. Anonymous Says:
    December 3rd, 2003 at 12:16 am

    Geez Louise
    Remember your Latin? Non Illegitimi Carborundum!! (Or don't university students say that anymore? We had T-shirts…back in the day.)
    I pretty much agree with previous posters: (1) You are good; (2) This person sounds slightly off the wall. In addition to asking around whether he's this harsh to others, is there anyone from your department back at UC who might be able to give perspective on the US/Brit encouragement ratio in Higher Academe? And I don't know if this might help:
    http://www.cpa.ed.ac.uk/prosp/postgrad2003/014_nalSupportServices.html
    Down in the middle of the page is "Drop-In Advice Centre"… "run by professional staff and student volunteers who are trained to deal with financial, educational and welfare problems. Advice is given on any student matter." ?
    Lots of hugs!!
    Kirsty

  16. FunkyPlaid Says:
    December 3rd, 2003 at 5:54 am

    Re: Geez Louise
    The drop-in advice place isn't really appropriate for this kind of issue, I feel, nor is really making a big deal out of it yet. I'm really just expressing my disappointment with an unenthusiastic evaluation.
    Your suggestions are welcomed and appreciated, thank you very much!

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