31 March 2005

academic ramble

again with the too-much-to-do. my final response papers of the semester are due (1) next tuesday and (2) the thursday of the following week. then, three or four weeks of frantic paper-writing, and i'll be done with the first year. done! with the first year! at which point they give me the master's degree that means nothing! wheeee!

and summer will be perfect in every way. some RA work, but not too much. lots of studying, but not too much. i envision much lounging and cooking and beer-drinking, along with significant amounts of wandering, running, and being outdoors.

the only question now concerns whether it's actually a good idea for me to take two exams (or indeed, even one exam) this summer. i'm sure to be ready for the comparative exam after a certain amount of studying, but...why IR? would i be taking it just to take something? should i do methods instead? should i pick up contemporary theory, which is actually much more appealing? should i design that exam in politial psych that i've been thinking about?

i thought this was all settled. it seemed eminently logical, as of 11.59 yesterday morning, that i would take comparative and IR this summer, then american next year, and then i'd be done. then, foolishly, i went to a noon meeting to discuss the IR list, and had the pants scared off me.

unlike many of my colleagues, i was not worried about the length of the list (too long, said some). rather, i'm concerned about a list that organizes its readings into "general theory," "international political economy," "international war," "internal war," and "international organizations." that's not the *most* arbitrary possible categorization, but it's also not the best for those of us who are using the exams as self-taught introductions to the field. i asked: could the list be divided into major substantive debates? major theoretical approaches? the response from professors was evenly divided between but that's too much work [and, ok, it certainly is a lot of work] and you should figure that -- "that" being a sort of conceptual map of the field -- out for yourself.

lesson learned: it's not that they're indifferent to pedagogy. it's that they're actively hostile. apparently the only true intellectuals are ravenous, compulsive autodidacts.

kidding, kidding. the professors we spoke with have a point here. these field exams are meant to be the culmination of a lot of training, not the inception of a lot of training. i can understand how it makes perfect sense to swallow the list in one big gulp if the exams are taken at the end of the second or third year. there is no need to write a list whose form teaches if the students already have a coherent sense of the field. my conflict with the profs is over the *when* of the thing (after the first year versus much later), not truly the how or the why.

i hope.