changes, stasis, and anomie

my department is in the middle of making some rather substantial changes to the graduate program over the next few months. i suppose it’s always slightly awkward making those kinds of changes to requirements: who gets grandfathered in? who gets to move on to the new? what about people who have just completed the old, stricter requirements – sucks for them! etc. the changes are making it much easier for us to progress to ABD status, which i think is only a good thing; there are students here in there 6th & 7th years who aren’t ABD. i will be (cross your fingers for a defense date) by may, which will be the end of my 5th year, and that’s not particularly unusual.

anyway, and i do have a point here. one of the reasons i think some changes were needed is that the old structure of the program seemed to maximize anomie, leading to near-infinite extensions of the time period between finishing classes and producing something. in ideal cases, this time period also allows for amazing papers that get published and awards and all that – but the ~2 years i spent in that phase were really really difficult and anomic.

so you can imagine that i was pretty happy that the department is streamlining the process. it meant that i (and several others in my boat) have had to change horses midstream, rethinking what we’re working on this semester and what our timelines will be. that’s a pain, but it also buys us at least a few months of work. i’m ok with that tradeoff.

what i’ve been shocked to find is that not everyone feels the same way. there are folks who are genuinely upset that their plans need to change – folks who even seem kind of angry that they don’t have to complete this last requirement and can go on to their proposals. it’s not out of any pedagogical considerations; it’s more like the rug was pulled out from under them. it’s made me realize first hand how an anomic state can arise even from positive changes in one’s life.

a prof here has a quote on her syllabus:

It’s an experience like no other experience I can describe, the best thing that can happen to a scientist, realizing that something that’s happened in his or her mind exactly corresponds to something that happens in nature. It’s startling every time it occurs. One is surprised that a construct of one’s own mind can actually be realized in the honest-to-goodness world out there. A great shock, and a great, great joy. Leo Kadanoff, Chaos

it’s the same feeling when you really really *get* theory, when it suddenly crystallizes in your life out of the pages of a book.

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