Some days you’re the windshield, and some days you’re the bug.
On Monday I had a midterm exam for one of my core curriculum classes. These core classes have stringent grade requirements towards an evaluation of my performance at the end of next semester — the official decision on my status as a doctoral candidate. Thirty five students took this midterm. None of us finished it, not even with extra time. I did what I could. Sadly, one of the four problems was material that I had studied before the hurricane hit but had not reviewed again in-depth by the time of our rescheduled exam. Boy I sure wish I had just read that section again in detail before I walked into the exam. I’ve been investing great time and effort in this class as it is quite challenging. I can only hope whatever curve the professor uses is favorable to my efforts. One thing I certainly do not enjoy about returning to school is exams. This midterm is a sizable 35% of my grade (as is the final exam). I’ll be buckling down even more over these last six weeks of the semester.
In early September I submitted my first big deal smartypants paper to a conference. If it is accepted I get to go to Paris to present it. My advisor said of it on more than one occasion that she expected this paper of mine to win an award. That may have been hyperbole on her part; whatever the case she was very pleased with the final product. I set my expectations lower than hers, hoping simply for its acceptance, period. The evaluations came in early this morning. The evaluators found it to be a weak submission and unlikely to be selected for publication. I cannot explain to you the large disparity in the assessments of my work. As papers are now the most important thing that I produce, this is a blow.
And on Friday I discovered some difficult, possibly insurmountable, problems in one of my ongoing research projects (the same one addressed by the aforementioned paper). I don’t yet know how we will solve these problems or how much more time it will take to do so. Because of the demands of my classes, progress feels to be at a snail’s pace as compared to this past summer when I was able to spend all week on this project.
The walk to church this morning was melancholy at best. However, in those meditative moments I was reminded of the old adage, “If you never fail, you’re not trying hard enough.” By the measure of this past week, I seem to be trying plenty hard enough! I regret how I handled my most challenging classes and circumstances when I was a college student the first time around. I’ve come to see grad school as redemption for those missed opportunities. I am certainly discouraged at this moment. But whatever may come, I can honestly say that I have given my all in each of these circumstances, and I am thankful for the opportunity to see just what it is I’m made of.