The Four Horsemen of Grad School Scholarship

Tomorrow ends our October Reading Week–an entire week free of classes designed especially for frantic grad students to catch up on their reading.

I had a lovely vision of how this week would go–an organized ballet of assignment completion, self-care, and chores.  But lo, this vision now lies in ruin, for I have been visited by the Four Horseman of Grad School Scholarship.

1.  Overambition

I had such beautiful dreams for this week: catching up on all the readings and assignments.  Writing all the papers.  Cleaning all the rooms.  Repairing my computer.  Going on a proper grocery run instead of playing the hunter-gatherer and stalking free lunch seminars.  Basically, I aspired to do many more hours of work than would actually fit into 168 I had available, which means that no matter how hard I worked, I still felt like I was doing this all week:

2. Overcommitment

Using my superhero-like powers of self-affirmation to set aside those slothful feelings of academic inadequacy, I considered my workload, and realized that, dammit, I did do stuff this week. I got plenty done, actually!  So what’s with this lingering feeling of panic, this suspicion that no matter how many checkmarks there are on my to-do list, I shall never, ever be done?

Meet Overcommitment, riding that beautiful, beautiful horse named All The Opportunities.  That’s when I realized that no matter how many papers/assignments/readings I did this week, this is my life, from now until the end of my degree program:

3. Sleep-Deprivation

There’s something about a calendar week full of blank spaces where classes should be that just does something to the brain of a grad student.  Like catnip.  I simply could not resist filling all those blank spaces with social activities that kept me up way too late.  I called these social activities “Self-Care”–funnily enough, this was Sleep Deprivation’s college nickname.

4. Mortality

I’ve always imagined that Death, the fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, might be greeted with a measure of relief by the people who’d just been visited by Famine, War, and Pestilence.  In just the same way, running up against the limits of one’s mortality (albeit in a less terminal way) is frankly a bit of a relief.  Despite engaging in endless conversation, meditation, and examination about an Immortal, Invisible God, it turns out that I’m not Her.  I have a body.  It needs to sleep and eat and get flu vaccines and then get sick from flu vaccines and dance and stay up late and sleep in.  I have a brain.  It occasionally needs to take breaks from thinking heavy thoughts about liturgical adiaphora and medieval anaphora and hypostatic union and why the hell Muhlenberg was so mad about those crypto-Moravians, and just watch endless Gilmore Girls reruns. This brain and this body are decidedly not invisible, or invincible, or capable of walking on water, or getting all my assignments done during Reading Week.

And that’s OK.  Really.  Even when, at the end of Reading Week, “That’s OK, really,” must be taken as an article of faith rather than as one of reason…it’s still OK.  Because somehow, legions of students that have gone before have also felt like this, and made it through.  Because somehow, the work gets done and the learning happens.  Because sometimes, when you’re reeeeeally lucky, it eventually becomes clear why God called you to this strange and wonderful thing called grad school in the first place.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

(Julian of Norwich)


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