First Weeks – Difficult, But, No, It’s Not the Apocalypse

You want me to do what?!

You want me to do what?!

Maybe it’s just because I’m reading Delaney’s Dhalgren, but all I can think about is the idea of a never-ending (post?-)apocalyptic time in which everything is confusing, chaotic, and hazy. Which sounds a bit like how MAPH felt during my first few weeks here.

As you’ve completed (and perhaps struggled through) your first analytic exposition writing assignment  and you feel overwhelmed with meeting 100+ people, you too might feel that you are in the midst of Dhalgren’s Bellona, lost and alone, but take heart! For starters, unlike the protagonist of Delaney’s novel, you (most likely) remember your own name and where you come from. You’re also probably receiving some regular nourishment, provided you are attending even a few MAPH events. And it helps that (hopefully) nothing is on fire.

Bellona, city from Dhalgren

Bellona, city from Dhalgren. Not MAPH.


If you are feeling as though you’ve entered a completely new world in which the rules are illegible, take a deep breath (or three) and read on for some helpful advice. It’s all going to be okay.

1. You don’t have to have it all figured out; but 10 weeks is really fast.

Like taking your first steps as a MAPH student.

Like taking your first steps as a MAPH student.

Although Add/Drop gives you a few spare weeks to decide your classes, work picks up really quickly in the vigorously fast quarter system. Juggling several different classes that you’re still trying to decide between can be extremely arduous with everything else going on, so try to commit to classes sooner, rather than later. There is no “wrong” class as long as you choose something you’re engaged with.

2. Be savvy about scheduling.

Presentation? Try to schedule it NOT at the same time as all your other papers are due. Also, maybe this goes without saying, but do something that interests you. It will be worth your while to wait until later in the quarter if you are invested in the subject/author/book/project.

You’ll quickly discover that it’s (gasp!) impossible to get all of your work done and to do everything. So start being strategic about which things you are really passionate about, both in classes and extra activities. Really interested in service but not so much in planning social events? Then skip Social Committee. Super pumped about social events but less excited about university lectures? Then plan those social events! Etc etc.

Class reading gone wrong.

Class reading gone wrong.

Insider tip: When it comes to reading, be savvy. It is unlikely you’ll finish every single reading for every single class every single week. Although there’s no one hard and fast rule for reading, pay attention to what class discussions focus on. I had one class which focused far more on the secondary critical material and took a broad approach to the novels, so I did like the PhD students in my class and spent more time reading the secondary reading, and skimmed the novels. As far as classes go, choose things you are engaged in that mesh well with your study style. Your preceptors are the masters in this arena, with all the info on what would be a good fit, so make sure to heed their advice!

3. If you’re thinking, “I cannot possibly meet one more person,” make room for just a couple more: professors. 



From Bill Hutchison’s excellent post last year:

“For many reasons, you should meet with your professors during office hours at least once. Here are some of the reasons: you will probably want/need to go talk to them about your papers mid-quarter and that talk will go even better if you’ve already had a bit of one-on-one time with them, it will make it easier to speak in class which you should try and do at least once a class period if you can, and you will start getting to know faculty who you might want to use for your own strategic aims later on (thesis, letters of recommendation, etc.). It will also help you demystify/humanize your professors (results may vary) and will give them a chance to see you as a discrete person outside of the class mass.

Have a question or some thoughts in mind before you go to office hours. It’s best not to go in expecting the professor to be entertaining and do all the social heavy lifting. Show up, but show up prepared. Most professors are pretty decent and will make it easy on you. If they don’t or it’s weird, don’t worry. The prof will still remember you and that’s (usually) never bad.”


Naps are awesome.

Naps are awesome.

Your sanity and healthiness are important! So take care of yourself. It’s better to go home and get some rest than to stay up all night every night just to finish all the reading. If you need alone time, take it. If you need to go out, go out. If you need to get away from Hyde Park, check out the numerous blog posts about other neighborhoods. And then actually leave Hyde Park. (Check out this excellent essay from MAPH Alum Greg Langen (’13) on the merit of riding CTA). This is important for two reasons: first, it dramatically improves your productivity. Seriously, you’ll be surprised how much more writing/reading/thinking you can do in a given stretch of time if you dedicate part of that time to running, drawing, meditating, lounging, or hanging out. Second, it reminds you that your productivity is secondary in priority to your life. It’s hard sometimes in MAPH even to distinguish your work from your life, let alone to remember which one is properly subservient to the other. Doing the things that make you feel like you (the relaxed, humorous, easygoing version of you, I mean) is the only way I know of to maintain a proper perspective.

5. Hello, Mentors here!

Although MAPH may or may not be “A riddle that was never meant to be solved” (William Gibson’s view of Dhalgren), you have the support and an infrastructure to help you make sense of the riddle of your experiences and studies here in the next 9 months. One great way to do that is to come see your mentors.

The Mentors will be holding office hours throughout the year. Come see us in the office! This week’s hours will be:

Keri – Monday, September 30, from 9 – 11 am
Jessi – Wednesday, October 2, from 9:30 – 11:30 am
Tavi – Friday, October 4, from 10 am – 12 pm

Come chat about your worries, excitements, questions, or whatever else has taken over your brain for the time being.

You’re awesome, and you are going to have an awesome year.

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