Friday, May 31, 2013

Disappointment, bits of encouragement, and the prospect of a long summer

I know my posting on this blog has been pretty sparse this year. With the exception of book reviews, that is. As much as I enjoy doing the book reviews, it has never been my intention that this be primarily a book review blog. I anticipate doing at least one of them this summer, but aside from that, I'm hoping to get back to more of the blog's original purpose -- to keep my family and friends up-to-date on what I'm doing, and to provide an informal platform for other thoughts.

So what have I been up to in recent weeks? I can tell you something that hasn't happened; I didn't succeed in getting my dissertation proposal approved before the end of the semester. That's something I had hoped would happen back in the fall semester, if you remember, and I'd hoped that I'd be well on my way to completing a couple of chapters by now. So that's a major disappointment. In fact, it's probably the hardest academic struggle I've ever faced, and it's been enough to bring on some doubts about my chosen career path. I have always assumed that because I'm introverted, bookish, and good at school, that tasks like independent research and writing would come very naturally to me. So it's rather disorienting to find those tasks so difficult and unappealing at this stage. I just really don't know what to do with that data. How seriously do I take the fact that this year has been such a (largely) unhappy sludge? Does it necessarily mean I'm not cut out for this kind of work?

On the other hand, I presented a paper at a conference last week. It was the primary conference in my field; relatively small, but attended by most of the top scholars in the study of Early Christianity. In case you're not familiar with academic conferences, the main idea is to provide an opportunity for discussion and networking within your field. Each conference presenter has about 20 minutes to present an excerpt from his or her current research and then to receive questions and feedback. As you can imagine, that's an intimidating prospect even for someone who isn't particularly shy. I have presented at conferences before, but this was my first time presenting my work at such a major one. My presentation on Gregory of Nazianzus was well received, though, and I got some nice feedback -- including, notably, some very warm words from an elderly, retired clergyman who appreciated the richness of my material and asked me to share a copy of what I had written with him. It was so kind of him to encourage me like that! And it reassured me that, whatever happens on the academic end of things, there still may be an audience for the kind of writing I'm good at.

So there you go. It seems I do have things to say that may be helpful for people, whether or not that audience falls primarily inside of academia or outside of it; the question remains whether I can sustain the energy and motivation to finish this degree and seek out a niche where I can do that kind of work. At the moment I just can't envision what that's going to look like.

And as for this summer? I'll keep trying to revise my proposal in the hope of getting it defended and approved first thing in the fall semester. Hopefully I'll emerge from that, too, with some solid material that can be readily developed into chapters; that way I won't be so terribly far behind.

Honestly, summers in St. Louis have not tended to be the most fun, and in light of everything I have to do, I'm hoping I can manage to keep my spirits up. I will really need some encouragement in the coming weeks and months.

Thanks for reading, and I will try to keep you all posted more regularly, even though I don't imagine it's going to be the most fascinating thing to read!

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