Ups and Downs and Small Endings: the conclusion of my first semester of grad school

I find it both hard to believe, and also extremely relieved, that this semester is over. During it, the semester felt like it dragged on for years. But now that it’s over it feels like it was nothing but a heartbeat. (I guess that’s life though.)

This semester was really rough — and I don’t just mean the challenges academically. The incident — the hostile work environment — it didn’t just go away because I got a no-contact order against that student. He was still in every class of mine. His presence, and the uncertainty of his emotional/mental stability changed my ability to perform in class like I would have like. That sense of safety and freedom was gone, and it never got completely rebuilt. Putting up with a classmate who didn’t feel the need to complete reading assignments, or come to class with the texts, or take any notes whatsoever, or even bring a pen when we all knew every single class there would be peer grading of our presentations, or keep track of simple reading orders, or presentation deadlines and thus doing them the night before… Someone who just didn’t care and actually stated flat-out that he’d just “fake it ’til you make it” through the whole semester?

My therapist pointed out that he’s very triggering for me. I found his (lack of) work ethic and attitude towards class, his desire just to mess with people for fun — it was all very offensive. Having all of that loom over ever single class meeting took its toll. I’m exhausted. However, despite all of that, I feel like I had a very successful first term of grad school. I knew it was going to be tough. I knew it would be a lot of work. But experiencing that first had was a lot different that just having a base realization of it.

One of the bigger challenges of this semester was that I wasn’t taking any classes in my concentration — cultural anthropology. This challenge was most present in my biological anthropology course. I think science is awesome and super fascinating, but I’ll be quick to admit it is not my strongest area of study. Coming to terms that I would not just easily grasp everything nor just get A’s all over the place was tough. I have high standards to my academics, and this class challenged my ability to maintain them. I still, as of writing, have two papers to finish for the course.

However, it wasn’t all a struggle. I absolutely loved my archaeology course. I was able to make connections between cultural theories and archaeological theory and method. I may not know what the different types of projectile points look like, or know much about chert, but I do — apparently — know about theory. It made that class so much fun. My professor thought so to, and actually sort of bragged about me to a few of our cultural professors (including my advisor). Top that off with my final presentation — explaining Bourdieu’s agency theory of practice and how to see it in the archaeological record (through the example of postmolds) — it rejuvenated me and my interest in anthropology. My professor actually told me it was one of the best presentations he’s had.

This semester also opened some doors for me. I have two feasible ideas for my thesis — one to complete in Chicago, and the other in India. Which, oh yeah, hi. As long as I can find the funding, I’ll be spending a month in India this summer for an ethnographic field school with my advisor. While $4k is a lot, it covers airfare, travel within India, housing, some of my food, and my tuition. It’s also less than half the cost of all the other programs of the same length through our university. I am beyond excited for this trip, and truly hope I can figure out the financial aspect.

Next semester should hopefully be more in my wheelhouse. I have my cultural theory course — which I know will be challenging, but I like these sorts of challenges. I am also taking a class with my advisor on witchcraft, magic, and ritual. And then I’m sitting in on a class with another professor who fondly calls it her Monster class. (Yeah, I can’t wait to tell my conservative family that I’m taking courses in witchcraft and monsters.) Hopefully by the end of the semester I’ll have my thesis proposal done, or at least a draft close enough to do. Largely because as of next fall, I’ll have most of my credit requirements complete for my degree. I’ll really only have my thesis left to complete.

This has probably been the most fun intellectual challenge I’ve put myself through. I am beyond glad that I chose this for myself.