I sought my doctorate because it was the closest thing to being a Jedi in real life. When I started, I didn’t care what my PhD was in, provided that I could wear a robe one day a year, be called doctor (preferably in a British accent), and perhaps carry a light saber. Not to mix genres, but Indiana Jones also had his doctorate, so in retrospect, given my childhood idols and fantasies, I really didn’t have a choice in the matter. I’m still waiting to receive my light saber.
One thing neither Star Wars nor the Indiana Jones movies showed, however, was the reading and writing inherent in such a discipline. I suppose I saw Yoda read once, and Indiana Jones definitely read and wrote during the movies, but usually a beautiful woman and a few nasty Nazi’s were involved. These influences thus pushed me to academia, but they never modeled what happened in academia.
When I read my first academic journal article I dropped out of school the next day.
Awarded a rather prestigious scholarship at the time to become a psychologist, I never knew that the first paragraph of an academic article would jolt my childhood obsessions out of me and replace them with debilitating fear. The language of the article (something on Criminal Psychology, I believe), the archaic miasma of academic jargon mocked me with every single syllable. I had no idea what it said. I’d read a sentence, look up to the ceiling with confusion, dive back in, come up for breath, plunge down. My breath soon faltered and I drowned. It only took a paragraph or two.
I called my advisor and told him, “I quit,” and I gave my finger to the Ivory Tower evermore.
And now, many years later, I teach graduate students how to read, write, and succeed in academia through The Grad Academy. Oh, how the irony drippeth.
I do not read an academic article like a beloved novel or some sacred text. I do not drink in every word, nor do I fear its wacky lingo. I have little patience for fluff, so I read an article as quickly as possible, absorbing what I need and tossing the rest like a soggy piece of pulp fiction. I don’t mean to demonize the academic article; I mean only to show my conquering of it, a conquest of what was once my greatest terror.
My eyes still trip over articles, but it’s no longer an issue.
My dyslexic tendencies, though allowing out of box thinking and unusual problem-solving abilities (so I’m told), are not the greatest of qualities when it comes to deciphering academic lingo. My eyes trip over every other word, speed up, then slow down, then look up. If my driving was like my reading I would hit a stop sign, rear end a Chevy, pull forward and run over a cat, drive into oncoming traffic, pull back in, hit a pedestrian, put it back in reverse, hit the Chevy again, pull forward, run back over the cat and the pedestrian, and then find myself back to the stop sign, now destroyed, with a small genocide at my wheels and a very upset Chevy truck driver behind me.
Academic reading should be taught, though so many force-learn it through grit.
Having delved deep into reading research during my own PhD, I often default to a non-linear reading style, a kind of reading jujitsu that follows the jagged path of my eyes rather than fight it. Rather than swimming through 30 pages of mess, I fly above it like a bird of prey and attack when I see a relevant piece. It’s not skimming; and it sure as hell isn’t speed reading; it’s more like having a dinner plate and picking around, choosing which piece I eat first, what to leave on the plate, and determining what my meal is going to taste like. My purpose dictates my method. Like a surgeon, I extract what needs to be extracted. A heart surgeon does not take out your appendix, nor does he pull your teeth.
My purpose dictates my method.
If academic reading is my dragon; academic writing is my dragon slayer. The clickety-clack of my keyboard is the magic elixir to my inherent fear of reading. If I can write about it, I know it. I slay my dyslexic demons with words and phrases, and I charge into the heavens to float on the power of my words. Even my worst of drafts comfort me.
The blinking cursor, once a mocking entity, now matches my heart beat and follows my rhythm.
Academic writing is a slow process, but I build a skeleton upon which I add muscle and flesh. I intertwine my ideas with strong fibers. And, through a process of revision and revision and revision, through sculpting, through slashing away pieces no longer needed or never needed I come to a place of harmony. And what was once an off-kilter skeleton looking like an off-brand Halloween decoration is now a strong statue of sentences and paragraphs, of my ideas clarified.
Such is my conquest. I wear my scars proudly.
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