By Stacey Goguen
Before I dive into the nuts and bolts of how we work, I want to talk about why we work—or don’t. I struggled with getting work done in my first half of graduate school. My writing was sloppy, and I rarely left myself time to polish it. Even when I did proof-read, often my mind was usually a stressed-out mess, so I would read over my mistakes without catching them. Sometimes simply reading philosophy was just as hard. Again, it was like my mind was on hyperdrive, constantly babbling in the background, making it impossible to concentrate on anything other than more accessible than fiction, Facebook, or the news—which I spent a lot of time reading instead, just to fill the time or to try to get myself to calm down.
During this time, I did okay in my classes, but I had no idea whether I was, in general, getting any better at philosophy. My professors and advisor were helpful, but I felt like there were underlying issues (like maybe I’m just horrible at this stuff) that I was too scared to bring up with them.
Then I bombed my first attempt at my qualifying papers. I struggled for months on these papers and didn’t ask for help (for fear someone would tell me to just give up). As the deadline approached, I freaked out, found it incredibly hard to focus, and did a rush job in the last week, leaving myself little time for careful editing and polishing. One of my papers I turned in was so bad, a professor made me promise that I would never turn in something that sloppy and subpar to them ever again.
Two months later, a whole bunch of things in my personal life went to shit. I was in a bad place. It was summer, a time when I am usually at my best mood-wise. Instead, I was in what-I-now-believe was something of a depressive episode. Many days I struggled to find a reason to get out of bed. Sometimes I wanted to cry all day. And sometimes I just felt numb all week. Ahead of me loomed a second attempt to pass in my qualifying papers, but I couldn’t see a path forward. I had been in graduate school for four years, and if I had made seemingly little progress in that time, how was I supposed to get myself together enough to not only pass my QPs, but then successfully defend a prospectus and write a dissertation?
Clearly, I thought, if there are some people who just can’t hack it in philosophy, I must be one of them.
At point, I honestly thought I might drop out of my program and quit graduate school. As you might have guessed, I did not in fact end up doing this--though I did such little philosophy work in the next six months that I pretty much took an unofficial leave of absence (apart from my TA duties).
I’m lucky that several things happened during those six months, which were the beginning of a huge shift in how I thought about philosophy, graduate school, and my life.