Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Middle of the End of the Beginning of My Ph.D. Program

For being on the cusp of semester’s end—and really, the end of my first academic year in a Ph.D. program—I’m not feeling nearly as happy as I should. I’m not sure why. As much as I long to get to the end of these things (semesters, that is), there’s a certain bleakness in not having a set schedule or a clear direction to my day. I feel aimless, and most things that I would relish doing if I actually felt busy just feel like a giant waste of time when I can actually do them. That’s the irony of it all, I guess. But I think it’s just an adjustment period. It takes some time getting comfortable with vacation mode. It’s not like I wish I had a million things on my to-do list at the moment, but because I’m so used to living that kind of life, not being extremely busy can feel purposeless at first.

Anyway, that was not my real point here. There is reason to be happy. Plenty of reasons, really. On Monday, I took the final exam for a required course that is a very extensive overview of 20th-century metaphysics (and a little bit of epistemology). The course is known for being quite rigorous, as is the final exam, which many (though not necessarily the majority of) students commonly take as long as five hours or more to complete. The final consisted of 21 questions, of which each student had to choose 17, and each answer was expected to be roughly a paragraph long. The study guide for this exam consisted of approximately 100 questions, each of which requested much greater detail than anything we saw on the exam. It was a massive amount of information on which we were being tested. But somehow I felt very confident going into the exam, and I felt great about my exam when I turned it in about three hours and ten minutes after I began. (I wasn’t the first one done, so I’m not bragging here. But I was pleased I didn’t take longer. 90 minutes into the exam, I had only answered three questions, so I started to worry that the exam would take me eight hours to complete. Fortunately, I picked up the pace after a slow beginning!) Still, after turning in my completed exam, I was only hoping for perhaps a B+ on the final, figuring it would be highly unlikely that I would have answered any question with absolute perfection, and thus if I lost even one point on each question, I’d be out of the A range. But lo and behold, I did get an A on the exam. Not even an A-, but a full-on A. And so an A in the class, too. I’m thrilled! A’s have been much harder to come by at FSU, so that’s part of why I’m thrilled, but I’m also especially excited because (a) the professor for this class is one whom I anticipate working fairly closely with during my time at FSU and I’d like to make a good impression, and (b) I am thinking metaphysics may be one of my primary philosophical interests. It feels good to excel in a class that is of such interest to me.

In less great news, I got a B+ on my final paper for my free will class. This is a bummer because free will is supposed to be my area of specialization, but also because I felt pretty good about my final paper and had hoped for better. Apparently, something wasn’t quite up to par. (I haven’t actually gotten back a physical copy of my paper with notes, so I’m not sure where I faltered, although I’ve started to guess—and really, if I can guess where my paper was weak, then the B+ is probably warranted.) Looking on the bright side, I’ll still have an A- for the course, and even if I had received an A on the final paper, I would have gotten an A- in the course due to my previous assignments. So, as far as final grades go, it doesn’t really matter that I only got a B+. But my pride is still wounded a bit. Ouch.

Back to happier news, I have little left to do before I am completely done with this semester. On Friday at 11 a.m., I’ll have my final exam for logic, which is always daunting, but fortunately for me and everyone suffering with me, the professor curves his grades in the students’ favor. (This is another required course that is known for being incredibly difficult, even more so than the metaphysics course.) Regardless of what happens on the final exam, I’m basically guaranteed a B- for the course, and I long ago resigned myself to the possibility that I would fare no better, so that’s fine with me. And in that sense, I’m not too stressed about the final exam, which is nice. But I’m still looking forward to having it over and done with, and I hope never again (in this life) to be required to take exams where my answers look something like this:

Is that enough to garner your sympathies? And that was on the simpler side, thank you. No Hebrew involved.

A couple of hours after I finish the logic exam, I’ll head off to the intro philosophy class for which I’m a TA and watch those students take a final exam. I’ll then have about three days to grade all of the exams which fall under my jurisdiction (so to speak), which fortunately is not nearly as many as it is for the other TAs in that class. It will keep me busy for a couple of days, but it sounds paradisiacal compared to everything else I’ve been doing lately. And so it will be quite nice.

That’s my life for now. Time for bed.


  1. I remember the logic class that I took but I cannot for the life of me remember what the notation means.... but I'm not sure that is a bad thing. :) Congrats and good luck.

  2. It's really good to hear about your life and what you are doing. It sounds very overwhelming. I am so proud of you. I hope you can relax for a few minutes....even though it's tough, isn't it? It's so much hard work.

  3. You're so amazingly awesome! Congratulations!

  4. Misericordia! What on earth?! High-school logic is enough for me to identify the existence operator and the membership operator, and I have no idea what psi and gamma-star are, let alone that barred existence operator or whatever the heck it is.

    And to think I used to be a math major...