Absolute Uncertainty

It has been a while since I have taken the time to write something that does not have to do with something read or researched for a class, but writing I have done. There are so many things that have happened since my last writing that I really do not know where to begin. Even if I did, I think other pieces I have previously written and posted say what I want to say, and I do not want to be a broken record.

I am all but done with my first semester of graduate study with only one final revision to turn in on Friday. I learned a lot this semester, though a fair amount of the reading and writing I did does not directly pertain to my scholarly interest or curiosity. However, I did manage to find ways to connect subjects which were read to something that interested me and was able to weave my interests, questions, and opinions into the arguments my classmates and I had during seminar meetings.

Our seminars, like most graduate level history seminars I am assuming, lasted for up to three hours with a small break in between. Most of the time two hours was about the limit, and most of that time was spent arguing about interpretations of what was read or written for discussion.

The largest seminar ended with ten participants and the smallest, six. We came to class prepared. The professor opened the discussion by sharing his own thoughts or opinions concerning the reading assigned, and then opened the floor with this, “what did you think?”

Now here is the funny thing. At no time did a professor tell a student that they were wrong or mistaken. At no time did a student tell another student that they were wrong or mistaken. At no time was a voice raised above what passes for civil discussion or discourse. At no time was a student attacked personally. What would happen is the student offering an opinion would be challenged to better support their opinion, and most of the time, really all of the time, the student would be successful in fulfilling the challenge.

In short, we conversed. We discussed. We may not have left class with an overall common agreement, but we did leave with a better understanding concerning the multiple and widely varying interpretations that arise from an event or a figure from history.

It took some time, but I have been able to find a topic I want to investigate for my thesis. Questions concerning the topic will likely change continuously as I delve deeper into the primary and secondary source material, but the overall scope will likely remain unchanged.

Here is another funny thing. The professor who will serve as my advisor/mentor is unabashedly liberal in his political philosophy, and, well, so am I. The topic of the research seminar I took this semester related directly to my thesis, so the paper I wrote will serve as at least a portion of one of my thesis chapters, if not all of one. The professor that led the seminar is unabashedly conservative in his political philosophy. Though not his primary focus of study, he has just as keen an interest in my topic as I do and has expressed so multiple times. I will likely ask him to serve on my thesis committee, and I hope he accepts.

About halfway through the semester, my seminar professor arranged an informal interview with a friend of his to help me develop a stronger grasp on conservative thought with regard to politics and conservative interpretations of historical events and figures that relate directly to the paper I was writing as well as my thesis. The conversation between the three of us was, well, enjoyable. We all knew that we weren’t going to be changing any minds and on some things we did happen to agree. He and I were both up front with one another concerning our philosophies and outlooks concerning the current political landscape, and we laughed when we each said “I won’t hold that against you.” When he asked me about one of the figures I am studying, I told him that I did not agree with just about anything that ever came out of his mouth, but after reading his memoir I could relate a little more with him, but that I still had questions to ask. Our conversation lasted more than two hours, and when we parted ways we shook hands and he told me to be sure he got a copy of my paper.

I found out a little later that it was on the suggestion of my advisor that my seminar professor set up that meeting because he wanted me to have a well-rounded perspective and idea going into my research. He wanted my assumptions and opinions challenged before I ever got started on the study, and challenged they were. Did the meeting change my mind? No. Did the dialogue carried on throughout the meeting force me to entertain an idea or an opinion different from my own? Yes. Did I have to work harder to support my point of view? Absolutely. Did the outcome of my study meet with my previously-held assumptions? Yes and no.

It is that yes and no for which I am grateful, because it opened my eyes to something I had never considered. It is that yes and no that has led me to ask questions that have not been answered. Can I answer them? I am going to try. Because of the challenges presented, I find myself in a realm uncertainty that is either divisive or not addressed at all.

Something my mentor told me brought back something I have always believed. “Make sure you find an opinion that differs from yours.” In order to refute that opinion, I have to entertain the possibility that it may be correct. By entertaining the idea that it is correct, I have to work harder to find the evidence that will support my argument refuting it. If I cannot find the evidence I want to find, I will have to change my argument, as I have already done once and will likely do again. Though I will likely depend some on what others have previously written, what I say or write will be my argument against the differing opinion, and doing so will be both a challenge and an experience.

In a world that is filled with ideological and unwavering absolutes, the challenges ahead loom with a level of uncertainty. I look forward to it, and of that, I am absolutely certain.

 

Getting Ready…

I’m sitting here and have been staring at my “To-Do List” for my graduate school application.  I have two recommendations down and one to go.  I have taken the GRE.  I have to write my statement of intent to submit with my writing sample, and I have to submit an essay of 500 words on the importance of a graduate school education as it relates to my career goals.  I have two months from tomorrow to get my application submitted for early review.

As far as the statement of intent goes, I don’t really understand the point.  I’d think the intention of most that are going to graduate school is pretty much the same…the desire for more education in a given field, taking a particular interest or focus in a given field, and gaining knowledge, tools, and skills that will make one more marketable, or, simply marketable,  as an employee in a given field.  Do they want to know if I’m a capable writer?  I’m submitting a 25 page senior thesis.  That should give them some idea of my capabilities to write, to make an argument, and support a thesis statement.

Yeah…so, I just don’t get it, but I’m going to do it.  I have to do it.  I’ve written two paragraphs coming to about 125-130 words.  I’m shooting for another 200 words or so, and it’ll be done.

The scholarship essay is optional, but who wants to pass up the opportunity for free money??  So, I’m going to write that, too.  It’ll probably end up being a flowery version of my statement of intent or something like it.  We will see.

I’ve sent an email to the professor under whom I wish to study, and am looking forward to hearing from him soon.  I’ve already begun reading and sifting through bibliographies.  Right now there are 10 books lying around my computer, on my desk, or on my printer that are either bookmarked or are open to pages I’ve been reading.  I’ve got a decent reading list put together already of 17 books, so I’ll just wait and see how it compares to the list he wants to give me when we begin meeting.  Oh, and those 10 books on my desk are not counting the stack of books by my bed that I have been picking through.

I may be crazy, but I’ve missed this.

Getting Excited…

Wow…Two months since my last post.  Let’s look at where I am now…

We’ve moved and gotten settled into our new house.  I studied for, and took, the GRE.  I have a few finishing touches to put on my application for graduate school for the Summer term.  I have met with professors to discuss my plans concerning graduate school and what I am going to do with more education.  I started another trip around the sun.

Yes, I took the GRE.  I took it last week.  I didn’t want to, but I had to.  I had to take it in order to apply to graduate school.  Let me just tell you about that experience.  It was painful.  The months leading up to it were painful.  The days leading up to it were painful.  The whole experience was painful.

See, I get anxious before taking a test…any test, really.  This test, however, was different.  As I read the preparation materials and reviewed math skills that I have not used in nearly twenty years, I realized that there is really no way to fully prepare or study for the GRE.  Sure, time management is key to successfully completing the test, but what it really comes down to is that you either know it, or you don’t, and that does not work too well for me.  If I don’t know it and need to know it, then I NEED to know it.  It’s kind of like an obsession, really.

I remember feeling pretty much the same way when I took the SAT in high school for my college application.  I either knew the material, or I didn’t.  I did a lot more preparation for the GRE.  I bought a prep manual, reviewed math…yes math.  I honed my skills of analyzing arguments and presenting opinions on issues.  I attempted to learn every million dollar word in the English Language.  I did reasonably well, and I don’t really have any complaints, save one…

Standardized testing sucks.

It just…well…sucks.

And here is why…

The education I’m wanting and the kind of work that I want to do requires doing research on a given topic, analyzing and interpreting the research, formulating a thesis based on the analysis, and supporting that thesis with an argument based on the research performed along with knowledge of the topic being argued.  Sure, some mathematic skills may be required when doing research such as knowing percentages or analyzing data and statistics…hell, maybe even dealing with some fractions or long division.  Though when it comes to calculating the circumference of a triangle given only the radius of the square root and knowing that pi equals cake plus milk, there is absolutely no point in the future when I am going to need to know how to do that.

I know, I know…never say never.

I’m saying it, though.  NEVER.  So why did I have to waste energy studying, reviewing, and obsessing over that when I could have used that energy reviewing and obsessing over skills and knowledge that will pertain directly to my chosen educational endeavor?

All in all, I did alright.  I made it through without having an aneurysm.  I finished the sections within the allotted amount of time. I don’t think my pulse rate went above 180 bpm.  So, we’ll chalk up a mark in the success column.

My scores, once they are official, will be submitted to the graduate school’s admissions office and the program to which I am applying.  Two more essays to write and one last recommendation to get, and my application will be done.  That’s pretty exciting.

What’s even more exciting is that, once the new year begins, one of the professors under whom I will be studying is going to start meeting with me weekly to discuss what I am reading and helping me fine-tune a particular topic and/or period of study .  I’m pretty jazzed about that.  I’m not going to lie.  I’ve already got my library card and everything.

It’s an exciting time, and I’m looking forward to it.