Sunday, August 26, 2007

It's the End of the World as We Know It...

…and I feel fine. No, really I do. The first week of the fall semester is over, and I’m happy to report that I am feeling very optimistic. In fact, I am hopeful that this semester will be more enjoyable than last spring, which is somewhat surprising. As any regular reader of my blog will know, I’ve long been predicting that fall 2007 would be the most grueling semester of my life. It may be a bit premature to say otherwise, but for the moment I’m feeling quite happy with the way things have been turning out. In my opinion, that’s saying a lot, because the last two to three weeks have been a mess of constant change and uncertainty. I won’t bore you with all the details, but needless to say, the fall semester was drawing increasingly near and I felt like I had absolutely no idea what classes I needed to take, what classes I wanted to take, how many classes I would be teaching and when I would be teaching them, etc. I was also busy reading an entire logic textbook within a five day period, hoping that I could familiarize myself with it well enough to pass an opt-out exam that would allow me to skip taking the otherwise required logic course.

To give you a quick summary of how things have turned out, here goes. I did NOT pass the logic opt-out exam. That means I am stuck taking the class for credit this semester, as it is the last time the class will be offered before I graduate (in May 2008, assuming all goes well). That probably sounds like a bad thing, but truth be known, I’m rather thrilled about it. I had to take something for credit this semester, and as insane as it may sound, I think logic will be a nice break from the full-on philosophy classes I normally take. I won’t have to write any papers, for starters. And it helps that I already took a logic course at my undergrad institution. That means this class will largely be a review, making it a whole lot easier on me than it could have been. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I barely missed testing out of the class (you had to score a “B” on the opt-out exam to test out). I was rusty and slow and not everything from the textbook was something I had learned as an undergrad. I ran out of time before I could even finish the exam. But I quickly tried to add up the sections I had completed and that I felt confident about, just to see if I even stood a chance, and I thought I would be right on the border. That was frustrating in and of itself, because I had hoped that after taking the opt-out exam, I’d pretty much know whether or not I’d have to take the class, based on how I felt about my performance. Instead, I felt more uncertain than ever. So, even though they didn’t give us back our tests, I assume I barely didn’t make it. At first I was a bit disappointed by this, but now I’m rather excited that logic is the only class I have to worry about taking for credit. It’s kind of nice to have that decision made for me. I was stewing over what class I would take for my final three elective credit hours. Now I know.

Also on my plate this semester: I’m auditing a class on the Scottish philosopher, David Hume. If you’re not into philosophy, you may not realize that he’s easily among the top five philosophers of all time, influentially speaking. I figured I would be doing myself a disservice not to take a Hume class when it’s being offered. Even though this means I should be doing a lot of reading (otherwise there’s no point in auditing the course), I won’t have to take tests or write papers. It should all count toward personal enrichment. Ain’t that a nifty concept, to do something purely for the intrinsic value of it? In addition to Hume, I’m teaching two 1010 classes. In a lot of ways, 1010 is just the rudimentary version of the logic class I myself am taking. I think that could be a perk, just because my logic class may inspire me in regard to how I present certain ideas to my 1010 class. Aside from these goings-on, I need to be working diligently on my thesis. It has to be fairly complete by February in order to graduate in May, and people expect to see some good progress on it before they start writing you letters of recommendation, which I will also need since I’ll be applying to Ph.D. programs. And finally, I’ll be spending this week cramming for yet another test, the GRE, which I take Saturday.

I don’t know how all of that sounds to the casual observer, but given that I already expected this semester to be overloaded, I think it all sounds quite manageable. Busy, but manageable. Again, I think the real lifesaver is that I’m not taking a class for credit that will require me to write papers. That’s a huge relief right there. And, as an added bonus, I once again do not have school on Fridays. No papers and no Fridays is enough to make me an officially giddy schoolboy. But we’ll have to see how giddy I feel come November. That’s assuming I’ll have a chance to post again by then. Ha ha.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Back to Back to School

For some reason I’ve had an incredibly difficult time writing this post. I’ve started it numerous times but failed to finish it, and here I am starting it completely over once again. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal. The main news is that the summer semester is over. As a student, I wrapped up my directed readings course on free will with a successful grade but less than stellar self-esteem. As an instructor, I finished out my first semester of teaching feeling slightly sorry for those students who had to be my guinea pigs. I’m sure I’ll be much better at things the next time around, so this semester was both a blessing and a curse in that regard. Anyway, here’s some other school related goings-on for your reading pleasure:

Great Things Come in Twos
As part of my fellowship, I was guaranteed to teach five classes during my second year as a graduate student—two classes one semester, three classes the other semester. I wasn’t given a choice about whether I’d be teaching two or three in the fall and three or two in the spring. I was really hoping to teach two in the fall, since I know fall will be an incredibly busy semester for me. I’ll be working on a thesis, teaching classes, taking at least one class for credit, and applying out to Ph.D. programs. It’s enough to give me an aneurysm just thinking about it. And so it is that I’m happy to report, I’ve received official word and I will only be teaching two classes in the fall. If only the fall semester weren’t starting so darn soon (August 20th)!

Hey, Where You Going?
Speaking of applying to Ph.D. programs, this is a subject that’s been weighing on my mind quite a bit lately. It will only be a few months before I’ll be buried in the application process, a fact that is simultaneously daunting and exhilarating. I think I’ve narrowed the “definitely applying” list down to six schools, while a few other schools remain on the “maybe” list. To give you an idea of where I might be headed a year from now, here is the “definitely applying” list (in alphabetical order):

Cornell UniversityIthaca, NY
Florida State UniversityTallahassee, FL
Indiana University-BloomingtonBloomington, IN
University of California-RiversideRiverside, CA
University of North Carolina-Chapel HillChapel Hill, NC
University of Notre DameSouth Bend, IN

I couldn’t honestly tell you which school I’d choose to go to if it were up to me. It used to be Notre Dame, but I’m not 100% sure about that anymore. FSU and UC-Riverside are supposedly the best schools for the particular area of philosophy that I am most interested in, which means they should be my top choices. And they probably are. The only thing giving me pause is that these schools are not as strong in my secondary interests, nor are they as highly ranked overall. I don’t know how much those facts should play into my decision. As a doctoral student, I may get too submerged in my main research topic for it to matter what other strengths the school has. But no need to worry about that now. First I have to get accepted somewhere. I won’t know anything about that for another six months at least. I’ll update you then.

No Viagra Needed!
After several weeks of struggling to get it up, I finally figured out how to get the pull-down projector screen to retract after class. You may remember that this was a skill that completely eluded me for the bulk of the summer semester. Finally, I was fortunate enough to witness another teacher work his magic and I immediately realized what I had been doing wrong all this time. I was going too slow. I swear the instructions printed on the handle of the screen tell you to slowly retract it, but that’s apparently very bad advice. You’ve got to do it right quick, like you’re performing some sleight of hand. Sadly I didn’t learn this trick of the trade until just recently, so I didn’t benefit from it much this semester. But watch out this fall, because I’ll be putting the power back into PowerPoint! (Or at least the pow. Or maybe just the p.)