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MDLee

Spitting off of the Ivory Tower

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Hello all!

I just finished my thesis defense (and am now knee deep in revisions) but I thought I'd share the scene for you, because I found it amusing.

Last year one of my committee members sat me down and told me that I needed to re-evaluate my purpose in grad school, and consider whether it wouldn't be better for me to just give up all together (she didn't say it quite like that, but it was pretty close). She didn't believe anything I had written was fully explored, she thought my methods were unorthodox and strange.

So, as I sat in on my defense, this professor states for the committee and my entire gallery (which included half of the department) that she felt the thesis was weak because I was breaking rules I had no right to break as an MA student ("when she's published five books, we can talk.") My committee chair tells her that because what I study is inherently interdisciplinary I was simply following in the footsteps of all of my mentors and therefore was entirely within my rights to write as I had (outside of the rigid boundaries of departmental confines). The first professor retorted that I was attempting a history thesis, and HAD to follow those rules. My chair calmly put her in her place...It was kind of a funny conversation.

I imagine its a forecast of the kind of unorthodox academic I'm going to be. I figure when I get my PhD I'll be the one at the top of the ivory tower acting like academics should be thoroughly grounded in the real world and the rest of my cohort will wonder who the heck let me into the club...

"Oh yah...that was us."

LoL

Cheers :)

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Cheers, academia needs more trouble makers. The undergraduate process doesn't really let a whole lot through.

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Cheers, academia needs more trouble makers. The undergraduate process doesn't really let a whole lot through.

The key is to act like you're following their lead until you get in...then RAISE HELL. :D

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I think the best advice I received regarding orthodoxy was from my MA supervisor. He had taken issue with the fact that I didn't address heavily enough many of the important thinkers in the field, I of course argued that a lot of what was in the field was stale wank and I think he agreed to some point. But he told me that in academia, you don't get anywhere without first "paying homage" to the big wigs and that what I should do is try to understand their theories inside out, address them more robustly, so no one could argue that I didn't understand the main issues involved, and then after I had built that up, I should take a sledgehammer and start swinging. Didn't really matter as much at the MA level, although it did get me a first, but definetely something to keep in mind as your academic career progresses. Don't be afraid of stepping on toes, making enemies and following your own path. Stir shit up once in a while!

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What's so unorthodox about your methodology?

My school is one of the only places I've ever heard of that makes us defend our undergraduate theses in front of a committee (fortunately it's a closed defense).

I knew my defense was going to go strangely when my first question was "Is this a history thesis or a political tract?" I could have made my life easier by not responding that I think all academic writing is political and that all the existing writing on related topics to mine have been politically liberal (not in the conservative/liberal-left/right sense). My second question was "Why do you use Marx to talk about capital accumulation? Why not Keynes?" Third question: "Why haven't you talked more about discourse? Why do you assume the importance of material conditions? Why not start just with discourse?"

I was super frustrated right afterwards, but now I figure it's better to get used to this now rather than later. The fact is that when use methodologies/hold beliefs which aren't currently in vogue in your field you're going to have to defend them. This made me realize I need to be better prepared for these sort of challenges in the future.

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The key is to act like you're following their lead until you get in...then RAISE HELL. :D

I knew I was forgetting a step!

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My school is one of the only places I've ever heard of that makes us defend our undergraduate theses in front of a committee (fortunately it's a closed defense).

Mine requires it too...though the thesis itself is optional (it's how you get honours) and the 'defense' is really more of a 'discussion'. Or so I've heard.

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The key is to act like you're following their lead until you get in...then RAISE HELL. :D

* giggles * A friend of mine once said, "Being a rogue academic is only fun when you get away with it."

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* giggles * A friend of mine once said, "Being a rogue academic is only fun when you get away with it."

no, no...getting caught is half the fun. Then you get to act all loads of offended "I can't BELIEVE you question ME!!"...

*NOTE: This only works when they've already given you the key to the Ivory Tower...as a grad student it could end the career before the career starts.

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My second question was "Why do you use Marx to talk about capital accumulation? Why not Keynes?" Third question: "Why haven't you talked more about discourse? Why do you assume the importance of material conditions? Why not start just with discourse?"

LOL, my advisors (current PhD and past MA) would probably murder me if I tried to use Keynes to talk about capital accumulation, which is fine because my inclination is always to use Marx for that. As for starting with discourse, that assumes that discourses exist a priori before material conditions and possibly that discourse shapes material conditions and not the other way around or in a dialectic.

In other words, I'm totally on board with you thepoorstockinger. Maybe you should join my field?

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LOL, my advisors (current PhD and past MA) would probably murder me if I tried to use Keynes to talk about capital accumulation, which is fine because my inclination is always to use Marx for that. As for starting with discourse, that assumes that discourses exist a priori before material conditions and possibly that discourse shapes material conditions and not the other way around or in a dialectic.

In other words, I'm totally on board with you thepoorstockinger. Maybe you should join my field?

Funnily enough, I seriously considered applying to geography programs at one point. I do urban history so I read a lot of urban geographers and it seems to be one of the last places where there are still lots of Marxists running around.

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Funnily enough, I seriously considered applying to geography programs at one point. I do urban history so I read a lot of urban geographers and it seems to be one of the last places where there are still lots of Marxists running around.

The Journal of Historical Geography. That could have been you. We'll still take you, if you want. Honestly, I think every strong human geography program has a bunch of critical social theorists, many of whom are Marxists. They aren't just running around but in some cases are running the whole show. Gotta love it!

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The Journal of Historical Geography. That could have been you. We'll still take you, if you want. Honestly, I think every strong human geography program has a bunch of critical social theorists, many of whom are Marxists. They aren't just running around but in some cases are running the whole show. Gotta love it!

I am doing a history MA next year, so who knows - I may make the switch to historical geography for the PhD.

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Fortunately I'm on financial economics, where Marx is just that weird guy whose ideas halt growht and productivity for a while in certain regions.

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