The Enlightened Beginner: Precept Group

The start of your first precept group meeting can be one of those moments in which the worry-centers of your brain start firing on all cylinders. It can be intimidating to walk into a room full of extraordinarily bright individuals, many of whom will seem to have a complete picture of how their entire year will go. They may talk about the number of thesis pages they’ve already written, the number of emails they’ve sent to potential advisors they’re “excited to work with,” and that they spent the summer (re)reading Thousand Plateaus (twice).

All of these things happened in my first precept meeting. BUT FEAR NOT!

Here’s the deal with the French girl. As David suggested the other day in lecture, you should cultivate the perspective of the Enlightened Beginner–someone who’s pretty jazzed about new ideas and imaginings (and not satisfied with accepted/staid/established ideas). It’s the best way to approach new material–even stuff that you thought had nothing to do with your area of interest–with a degree of curiosity that you can carry over into your research.

Five more things you need to know about how Precept will work, after the jump. 

  • Your Preceptor is your absolute first line of defense against everything. Preceptors are your biggest allies, your biggest fans, and your biggest supporters. In short, they’re heroes.
  • Precept will be your intellectual home base. It’s a place to express your uncertainties and ask questions. It’s a place for vigorous academic discussion where ideas (and not personalities) are the subject of constant critique. Everyone brings something to the table.
  • It’s not a contest (but there will be prizes [don’t ask], awarded at random, by Ben). It’s a collaboration, a workshop, an opportunity to offer alternative readings, perspectives and insights (no matter how embarrassing you THINK they are, they usually aren’t).
  • Keep in mind that, although Core is only one quarter long, Precept is a year-long event. Your cohort will be your  source for the best editors, closest readers, and most engaged collaborators. I wrote an English thesis, but the best advice I got came from a Fine Arts student and an Art History student. The weird alchemy of interdisciplinary conversations, when done in the MAPH context, produces good things.

Lastly: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room.” Everyone here is bright, engaged, and ready to do battle against the gathering darkness of ignorance. I guess, in short your wolf pack is about to grow by ~11 (no blood oaths please). So get excited.


3 thoughts on “The Enlightened Beginner: Precept Group

  1. Bill Hutchison

    So, A-J, inquiring minds and all–what was the advice you for from the Fine Arts student and the Art History student?

  2. ajaronstein Post author

    If I had to talk about all of the stuff that Young and Ingrid helped me with in a single comment, it would just stretch on forever.

    To radically simplify it:

    1) Young’s project on trauma and identity–and the conversations we had about his work (here:–helped me better understand the theoretical material I was working with. I learned how to express ideas about trauma in a more fluid way from him. I doubt I would have had a good handle on it at all without talking about the theory from a visual perspective.

    2) Ingrid’s project on everyday photography helped the other side. From a thematic perspective, her work helped me think about ordinary life in a more complicated way. But to be honest, she was just a flat out great writer and a great editor, who cleaned up my badly mangled prose.

    ….I miss precept.

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