MV Choices: Postgraditis

Postgraditis is more than making good grades or feeling smart.

Many people may perform well on tests in school or even make firsts during their undergraduate degrees, but postgraditis is when you choose a topic and obsessively study it until you know more about it than everyone else. Postgraditis, and its more severe form PhDitis, is a chronic condition that affects a small percentage of the population. Though rare, it is a serious and acute disease with lasting side effects.

Some people still think that postgraditis is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They’re wrong. Postgraditis can seriously affect the well being and relationships of those diagnosed with the condition. It can affect eating habits, sleep patterns, and can interfere with one’s social life, leading to loneliness, anxiety, and depression.

Postgraditis can take many forms. It can range from those who develop a tendency to collect plant samples, take the opportunity to experiment with lasers, have a fixation on numbers, or even more dangerous flights of philosophical fancy. Those vulnerable to this disease must be aware of the symptoms in order to increase the chances of an early diagnosis.

The symptoms of postgraditis can be complex and vary widely between people. But as a general rule, if you have postgraditis, you swing between feelings of idealism, self-importance, and generally feeling ‘on top of the world’ and feeling stressed, anxious, and like you no longer time have time for extracurricular things you used to enjoy.

If you think you or a loved one might be suffering from postgraditis, consider the following questions:

  • Are you looking at graduate programmes or are already enrolled in a graduate programme at a university?
  • Do you make more than one trip to the library per day?
  • Do you have more than 100 books on or around your desk?
  • Do you find yourself contorting yourself on the floor in stretching exercises or yoga poses recommended by your physiotherapist?
  • Do you frequently eat more than one meal in your office?
  • Do you find yourself referring to your office or lab as ‘home’?
  • Do you use words such as ‘sign’ and ‘signifier’ during dinner conversations (and know what they mean)?
  • Do you spend an inordinate amount of time on Wikipedia or becoming intimately familiar with the inner workings of the BBC or The Guardian websites?

If you answered yes to two or more of the above questions, you might have a case of postgraditis. However, there are many other symptoms of postgraditis and you’re unlikely to have every one listed above.

There is no single cause of postgraditis.

You can develop it for different reasons. However, studies show that those with undergraduate degrees are more likely to develop this condition.

If you have postgraditis or PhDitis it is important to talk to your local academic advisor.

There are no physical tests for postgraditis. The main way in which your academic advisor will tell if you have postgraditis is by asking you lots of questions about your educational history and how the way you are feeling is affecting you mentally. Try to be as open as you can with your academic advisor. Describing your symptoms and how they are affecting you will really help your academic advisor understand if you have postgraditis and how severe it is.

Living with postgraditis may be difficult, but also can be very rewarding.

Not all of the consequences of postgraditis and PhDitis are bad. In many cases it can lead to a sense of purpose, a new prefix to your name, or even a career. Many people make long-lasting friendships during this time and even meet their life-partner. Postgraditis is not a life-threatening disease and often goes away after 1-10 years.

There are some key steps you can take to help your recovery from postgraditis.

  • Eat well. It is important to maintain a healthy diet while coping with postgraditis. Research suggests that eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, monitoring your alcohol intake, and including a regular amount of cake is essential to surviving postgraditis in good health.
  • Get regular sleep. The organ most affected by postgraditis is your brain. Your brain needs regular times to recharge, which is best done while you are asleep. However, too much sleep can lead to lethargy and distraction, so it is important to find a balance that best works for you.
  • Exercise. It has been shown that being physically active lifts your mood and can reduce stress and anxiety. Exercise can also improve your self-esteem. Taking a short walk after lunch can also reduce the tension that comes from staring at a computer screen or bending over books for most of the morning.
  • Find other people with postgraditis. In order to fight loneliness and isolation, it is important to make friends and find ways to be social. Many universities have support groups for those with postgraditis, called ‘forums’ or ‘societies’.
  • Be organised. Keep a diary and keep good notes. This will be essential when you find that you need to remember something you read from three or four years ago. The more organised you are the easier your recovery will be.
  • Meet regularly with your academic advisor. Your academic advisor is there to help you. This can be a fruitful and rewarding relationship. In the rare case where your assigned academic advisor is unhelpful, absent, or too busy, find someone to be an unofficial mentor to help you during your recovery.
  • Do your work. Once you are diagnosed with postgraditis, often the recommended course of recovery is to finish your degree. Remain diligent and keep working. Remember: The only person responsible for a full recovery is you.

Postgraditis does not appear in children and rarely in people under the age of twenty-one.

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Learning to say no

The other night, while having dinner with some friends, I chided one of them for overfilling his plate for work this semester. He said it was his idea of fun, but I reminded him of his exhaustion last semester. He wasn’t dissuaded, of course, nor is it really my place to tell him what he can and cannot do, but it made me wonder when it was that I started saying ‘no’ to commitments, for I, too, used to overwork myself.

It came out of self-preservation. On the verge of mental breakdown my final year of university, I withdrew from most of the world, it seemed. Save for a few choice friends, for the obligations necessary to graduate and my jobs (yes, note the plural), I stopped going to choir, various society meetings, and so on. The following year during my gap year I was very jealous and protective of my internal source of energy, a jealousy I took with me into my master’s programme. I had pushed myself to my uttermost limits and thus I knew my limitations. I was, and am, determined to never let that happen again.

I’m healthier in mind and soul now, and so I am letting myself take on more commitments, but I still look at my diary and say, ‘No, I need an evening at home. I need to be able to sit in quiet and read a book and not talk to anyone.’ I need time to think my own thoughts in solitude. I am an introvert, after all.

But self-preservation isn’t the only reason I’ve started to slow down. Ironically, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised I’m in no hurry. I don’t have to finish my PhD, publish my thesis, write my magnum opus science fiction novel, publish the Pooka novels, travel the world, and everything else, by the time I’m thirty. Lord willing, I have a full life ahead of me, and time to do and learn all the things I want to do and learn. So trust, also, is why I’ve started to slow down: trusting in the Lord that there will be a tomorrow, that his mercies are new every morning, that there will be time to do the things I want to do to live a full and abundant life, and most importantly, time now to live intentionally, focusing on the quality of what I am doing, rather than filling my diary with a quantity of activities.

In other news, I’ve discovered the band ‘Of Monsters and Men’ and I really like their sound. Below is a video of ‘Little Talks’, though I also like ‘King and Lionheart’. (This is also one of the strangest music videos I’ve seen. Just listen to the song, you don’t have to watch it.)

http://youtu.be/ghb6eDopW8I

Giants, dragons, & bears…

A friend of mine asked to hear more about my creative writing and another asked me to write about how powerful medieval literature is. Here is an attempt to answer both, quoting the illustrious Helen Cooper:

‘[Romance motifs’] quality as memes, with their generous capacity to latch onto the mind and replicate, is wonderfully caught by one of the last authors to use medieval texts in an unbroken line of transmission, John Bunyan, in the later seventeenth century. He misspent his youth reading cheap prints of romances, not least the perennial favourite Bevis of Hamtoun: a work that owed much of its popularity to its density of the simplest and most colourful of such motifs, dragons and giants and grim prisons and healing balms. […] Bunyan realized that a good story composed of motifs that are already familiar is the most mind-engaging form there is, and that romances are the very best such stories. It is no coincidence that the authors who kick-started the modern equivalent of the romance, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, were two of the leading medieval scholars of the mid-twentieth century.’ (The English Romance in Time, pp. 3-4)

As I continue to read The English Romance in Time I find more and more quotes I would like to use from Cooper, but I shall refrain. The romance genre — not to be confused with the modern romance novel — was the most popular form of secular literature for at least five hundred years. Though there is family resemblance across these texts, no one definition fits all of them. But their popularity lies in their appeal to the imagination and to entertain, their relevance to current society whilst being placed ‘far far away, long long ago’, and their use of familiar motifs and ideas — and not only the faithfulness to various motifs, but their adaptation of them. The beautiful woman met beside a fountain might very well be expected to be a fairy, but in the case of Melusine, the fairy becomes all the more compelling because she loves her husband, raises many sons, and desires a mortal, Christian life instead of a life with other fairies. Romances were not only used to entertain, but also to educate, and opened themselves consciously, and sometimes not so subtly, to debate the actions, motivations, and morality of the characters. In short, medieval romance is exciting to not only read but also study because in addition to the giants, dragons, quests and adventures, they are also mirrors through which we can glimpse the preoccupations, concerns, desires, and ideals of medieval society, albeit darkly.

And so it should come as no surprise that I find myself writing ‘modern medieval romances’, fairy tale retellings in the mode of medieval romance. The Pooka novels make use of motifs found in fairy and folk tales, Classical myths, and medieval romance. The knights and princess go on quests, encounter strange creatures, and have many adventures along the way. Like my medieval predecessors, it is not only the appearance of standard fantasy and fairy tale motifs, such as dragons, a damsel in a tower, etc., that make my stories fun to read (or so I hope), but the reworking of those motifs, the blending and reinterpretation of them into something familiar, yet unique.

This is, of course, a rather poor answer for a very rich subject, and yet I hope it has proven interesting…

A few tips

When presenting a paper, do not do the following:

  • Drink blue Powerade before or during your presentation (or any colour);
  • Read from single-spaced text;
  • Wear a graphic t-shirt and jeans (with or without holes);
  • Make asides in sotto voce;
  • Speak in monotone;
  • Neglect to indicate quotations;
  • Make funny noises or faces when one mispronounces something;
  • Go over time.

Instead, take these words of advice: read from a double-spaced, size 14 text; know your text well and practice reading it ahead of time. Have someone listen to you with a timer and their own copy of the text so they can mark places that are unclear or awkward. Smile, and act confident even if you don’t feel like it. If you make a mistake, continue forward as if you meant to do that, and few will be the wiser.

Despite some of the above occurring at the conference I attended this week, it was a very good conference. It was very enjoyable to discuss my topic with ‘my kind’ — other folklorists, even a few of them also being medievalists. I presented my work on a comparative etymological survey between fairy and elf and was told by one of the Professional Folklorists afterward that he enjoyed it because it went ‘whoosh — right over [his] head’. I was greatly impressed by the group of postgraduates that organised the conference: it was obvious they worked well together, as a team they were very welcoming and friendly, and also as individuals actively mingled during break times. Definitely a good model to follow if I ever co-organise a conference!

Innovation

Exercises, ice, and rest are helping my wrist to calm down, but I knew that if I wanted to get any writing done today I would have to find a different way to go about it. I can type one-handed, but that’s tedious. Knowing that it’s all about the angle of the wrist when typing, I decided to take a cue from Anna’s standing desk.

Normally the nook is home to our music books and the stack of books I’m borrowing from friends, with just enough space for the computer to sit. This set up has been working well for today. When my ankles and knees protest from standing, I can sit down to think or to consult the materials spread out on the table.

A few people have half-jokingly suggested that I invest in dictation-software, but for what I’m doing that just isn’t feasible. I’d be better off with an amanuensis — and one who knows Middle English as well as I do, and isn’t afraid of Old English or Latin (or even Spanish, French, and German) either. I doubt dictation software is sensitive enough to know which dialect of Middle English I’m reading from, or to handle that each word can have multiple variants of spelling. So for now, the standing desk is working. I have over 1000 words written, and still have more of the day left to go.

To the Cosmos

Dear University Financial Aid,

Please answer my emails sooner rather than later.

Best wishes,
Chera

*  *  *

Dear University Library,

Please accept my application for employment.

Kind regards,
Chera

*  *  *

Dear Sallie Mae,

Please send proof of my approved loans. Promptness is always a virtue.

All best,
Chera

*  *  *

Dear British Home Office,

Please accept U.S. Federal Loans as acceptable form of payment for university tuition and fees.

All best wishes,
Chera

Moving again

This time I’m not moving to another country, but in some ways I might as well be. Next week I move house to live with two Scots instead of half a dozen Chinese. Despite my attempts at friendliness a year ago, the situation here quickly became one of me versus them and it has been quite unpleasant. I can’t wait to move, actually, and I am curious to see how my new living situation will affect my general health and happiness. An actual house instead of a Soviet-era dorm, and with two cats and a dog. Even though I’ll only be moving one mile, from the north side of town to the south, I expect it to be very different.

It is quite odd to be finishing my master’s program just as everyone I know in the States is beginning a new school year. Sarah started yesterday and Kelly starts on Thursday. I feel like I should be buying school supplies and preparing for classes—instead, I am looking at turning in my dissertation, moving and having a full month off before returning to work in October. How strange.