Weapon of Choice: Academic Essays?

It’s the tenth week of the semester (how time flies when you’re readin’, writin’, administratin’), and that means many things: we’re all about ready for a break; everyone is a bit tired and/or sick; and it’s paper time!

Last week and this week, I’m working with students on developing the topics, questions, and ideas for their final research papers/projects.  This morning, I found myself responding to a few emails about possible topics and I noticed a familiar structure to my responses.  With some deviation, the basic structure looked like this: “well, you have a couple of different options.  You can do A, which would mean considering questions 1, 2, and 3.  You could think about B, which would mean addressing 3, 4, and 5.  Or, finally, you could try C,  but then you have to think about 4, 5, and 6.  And don’t forget to ask yourself why this is relevant!”

As I read over these, I first remembered the experience of being a student leaving a paper conference.  As both an undergraduate and a grad student, I clearly remember those meetings where I would nod along with the professor (Yes!  Right!  I totally get where you’re coming from!  As soon as I go and look up those terms, I’ll be right on track!), leave his office, and then be totally lost.  Or worse, being totally lost and then spending weeks writing, making a bit of progress, and then years later having the
“Oh!  No way!  THIS is what he was talking about!  Crap, I totally get it now!”  [For the record, I only say “he” in these cases because the conferences were, without fail, with two male professors.  Bill and Jim–I’m looking at you.]

So, in the academic circle of life, I fear that I might be doing the same thing.  Of course, my students are far more up front than I ever was.  “Say that again?” is not an uncommon response to my ramblings.  The point of all of this, however, is that my incessant listing of thesis options made me think of the Fatboy Slim verse “you can go with this, or you can go with that, you can go with this, or you can go with that,” which I’ve been humming all day today.

Now if only I could shake a tail feather like Christopher Walken, I’d be in business.

4 thoughts on “Weapon of Choice: Academic Essays?

  1. Oy, I’ve been doing this all week. The sad part is the rosy glow I have after the students leave the office (I helped! I helped!) that turns to black, gloomy clouds when I read the paper (I didn’t. I didn’t.).

  2. I’m basking in the rosy. I keep hoping that for them, like for me, this is the best possible time. Right now, a paper is in its ideal, Platonic state. It’s when we start to write it down that it gets messy. (And lest we all think that I’m talking about student writing, this is definitively a description of my own process.)

    Maybe if you used jazz hands you’d feel better?

  3. What scares and frustrates me is when I find that I am unable to reframe what I’m saying in a way that they understand, and then they feel obliged (I think) to shake their heads — yes, yes, I understand. I always kinda pride myself on being accessible in my interactions with students, so this is a sad moment. (Sorry…just coming off a week of conferencing…).

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