I spent a lot of time yesterday working on an abstract and a rationale for a panel I'm putting together. In and of itself, neither task was that difficult (although I was a little concerned at first that there weren't quite as many points of intersection between the three arguments as I'd hoped, in the end I found a solid through-line), which was a happy discovery. It could just be that my mind is looking forward to the readings I've assigned my students for the next few weeks, or it could be that the extended discussion on the purpose and value of scholarly work in class on Monday night is continuing to hum away in my brain, but I kept imagining how writing this abstract and rationale would have gone a year ago, or two years, or five years ago. This is, of course, not the first time I've wondered about such things.
One year ago it would have been difficult--I could have managed it, though I doubt that the finished abstract and rationale would be of the same quality as what I produced yesterday. Two years ago? I'm not sure I was ready to produce the rationale: I think I would have been able to write one, but I'm not convinced I really understood how to make it do what it needs to do (basically, the whole creating a conversation that the papers are each contributing to would have been okay, but getting across any kind of "So what?" or "Who cares?" point was not my greatest skill). Five years ago? Not a chance. Five years ago I'd never even written a conference length paper for an English class. It's shocking now to look back and realize that, but it wasn't until the very end of my third year of undergrad that I wrote a conference length paper for an English class. Most English classes I took required essay exams, not papers.
In a meeting I had with a professor a couple weeks ago, when I mentioned my anxieties re: my lack of publications--specifically, that I'm starting to feel like I'm falling behind the rest of my cohort in that regard--the response I got was "it's not a race." I don't entirely believe it, but I desperately hope it's true. In a lot of ways, I feel like it took me a year of work in my MA program to wind up where the students with whom I'd entered program had started. By the time I'd finished my MA and was ready to start my PhD, I think I'd reached the point at which most people are starting to apply for PhD programs. A year into my PhD program, it seems like I'm where a lot of people were a year ago. Being able to spend a few hours yesterday afternoon and write those two documents seems to me like a good demonstration of some basic PhD student (and perhaps graduate student at any level) skills. If grad school and professional development aren't a race, that's a good thing, because I think I just managed to get my shoes on. If it is a race, well, I was always better in the second half of my races, anyway.
Now, next test: I need to have a paper ready for presentation to the department three weeks from Friday. If this presentation goes well--and if a few people give the new draft of the whole thing (rather than the condensed version I'll present) a thumbs up--this will be the first thing I send out. Fingers very much crossed, here. Of course, one sop to my confidence: I've been made co-organizer of a panel at ACLA (the same one that had been shot down by MLA). If you'll be at ACLA in March, come say hello!