I just got an e-mail from my grad chair, telling me that she's in the midst of putting together a request for an extension for my comps (as my expected deadline for my exams is August, and I'm not expecting to write until October). She said that this is totally a normal thing, and that Grad Studies will absolutely grant me an extension, but the form requires her to give a reason for my delay. And so...did I have any ideas of what she could put there?
Meaning: So, what happened last semester? And how are you doing?
And so I put together a response for her. An honest one, which she could then filter into an official response. I knew I could do that, because my grad chair is spectacular and is the sort of person who takes her job very seriously and expects us to come to her and talk honestly about how we're really doing. (She frequently reminds us that part of her job is to encourage us to vent to her about any frustrations we're having with our programs.)
While it was good for me to open up to Dr. Grad Chair, it was also difficult, because I had to come to terms with how ridiculously terrible last semester was. Seriously, I can't think of a worse semester that I've had, for bad things happening that would cause me delays. Do you know how hard it was for me to write out essentially, "Well, of course part of the delay was the fact that there were complications with my supervision and my reading lists. But also I was delayed by a chain of three family emergencies that happened within a few weeks of each other: my grandmother died, at about the same time as my father went into Intensive Care, right about the same time as my apartment flooded and we ended up without a home for a couple of weeks. And all of that added up to me losing more than a month."
It's hard to allow myself to be that human, in the academic setting. I'm still getting over my old expectation that I have to be, to use Anastasia's term, "a brain on a stick." It's hard to admit to professors that I have a family, that I have feelings and difficulties and reasons for delays. When I started my MA, I really tried to act like a brain on a stick. If I was scheduling a meeting with a professor, my only valid reasons for not being available at certain times had to be academic. I had the toughest time admitting to Dr. B that, during my final month of thesis revisions, I was nannying the Wee Girlie and therefore could only meet during non-naptime times. The funny thing is that he didn't care, so long as I was still on schedule for finishing.
The circumstances of my life, and all of you, have helped me get past those unrealistic expectations of myself. I'm really getting okay at being a human academic. In fact, I idealise about it, and am always the one advocating that we in academia must show our human sides.
And yet there are those times when it's still difficult. It was hard writing that e-mail today, coming to terms with the fact that I lost a couple of months of productivity due to family emergencies (in addition to more "valid" academic reasons). But I knew that I needed to be honest, and that I have to get used to telling people (beyond my grad student friends) that I'm human and that I'm part of a family.