So often, that's supposed to be the incentive to do things in graduate school. At this point, though, I have lots of things on my CV (I probably need to do some pruning, though I really hate to take the performance poetry off), so I'm trying really hard to focus on doing things that are genuinely beneficial.
Today should have been one of those things. After my column on plagiarism was published on Inside Higher Ed's website this summer, the department chair asked if I'd like to do a talk for the department about it. As there's no longer money to bring in speakers to the department, they try to draw on the resources within the department for informative talks; this would be another one of those. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a talk by a professor about the necessity for and the future of the humanities, which was well-attended, fascinating, and prompted a nice exchange during the session.
I put a lot of thought and practice into my talk today; the thought of presenting something department-wide was daunting. Alas, I needn't have worried: five people attended.
The professor who organized the event was quite apologetic and seemed rather pissed. There were two professors and three grad students present. I knew that several of my friends would be in a class which conflicted with the time--that professor, along with my own adviser, sent their regrets that couldn't attend. But only two professors on a Wednesday afternoon?
I admit that it's not surprising--people in this department (as well as the university in general) simply don't interact in the ways that they did at my last university. At orientation, grad students were told at the university-wide orientation for new GTAs that the university has a "culture of absence"--though they were talking about class attendance by students, I think that the description could just as likely apply more generally. A surprising (to me) number of grad students and professors live in New Orleans (an hour and a half away) and commute to LSU. Even those who live closer don't spend a lot of time on campus. One of the frustrations I faced last year was the discovery that for many professors, it's necessary to confirm that they'll actually be at their posted office hours, as unless they are expecting a student, they'll skip them.
More and more I appreciate and miss the much more community-oriented, collegial atmosphere at UT. More than anything I miss the reading groups, the established faculty/grad student groups which met regularly to discuss important works in various areas--critical theory, Americanist studies, 18th century lit. Attending the feminist studies reading group from the start of grad school was crucial to my success there--not only did I meet other students who shared my interest, but it was a low-stakes environment in which to meet and interact with faculty members.
Here, there are faculty writing groups, and I've been involved in a few informal reading groups, but it doesn't seem the two overlap. I've started a reading group in WGS here, and our first meeting we had one professor attend. It's a start. But this evening I'm feeling frustrated that there's not more interaction on campus--and this is probably exacerbated by my frustration at still feeling isolated, after a year, living here. It's quite difficult to have a social life as a graduate student if you enjoy neither bars nor drinking nor sports.
None of this is new, and it is certainly slowly improving. And today I did have an opportunity to give a presentation on a topic which is important to me, and got some good feedback from the people who were present. And Tuesday is yet another presentation, a dry run panel presentation sponsored by the EGSA which will give me an opportunity to try out my weird Flannery O'Connor paper that I'm presenting next weekend for the Flannery O'Connor panel at SAMLA. Even if five people attend that, I'll get a chance to practice and perhaps some feedback whether my pairing it with the Ministry song that samples dialogue from Wise Blood makes any sense whatsoever.
So, in the larger scheme of things, today was a blip. But still an annoying blip.