Prospectus-ing in NYC

Greetings, Internet! Somehow I’ve managed to neglect my blog even though I am taking currently zero classes. Go me.

I moved to Manhattan near the end of August, and reconfiguring my work-life balance has been a bit of a process. I’m used to having certain mindsets in university compared with home settings, and they aren’t the most compatible with each other. In college I’d hide in the library stacks until nightfall (or until a concerned friend dragged me out), and spend weekends trying to get as much reading done as possible before lectures started up again on Monday. During my MPhil, I’d go to medieval events once a week, read lots in the meantime, and bake cookies when my dissertation and I started having arguments with each other. I’d make time for friends, but school came first. Let’s call this version of myself “scholastiworkaholic Val.”

When I’ve gone home during school breaks, however, scholarly obligations often flew out the window. I would have Push to Walk 2-3 times a week on top of my usual FES cycle and standing frame schedule. I’d spend more time with my family to make up for my hermit behavior at school. I’d update my Instagram with photos of all of the treats I love. I’d get the bare minimum of work done, which I always made sure was presentable. I was positive, however, that the quality of work would have been better if I had stayed on campus. Let’s call this version of myself “social Val.”

Now, what happens when I start a dissertation – admittedly the largest project I have ever done – and move to a place that I’m turning into a home?

Chaos. That is what happens. Complete and utter chaos.

Any given week, I have 2-3 FES cycle sessions, 2-3 Push to Walk sessions, at least seven hours in my standing frame, catching up with friends, visiting my niece (who is STILL SO CUTE), and also all of the prep work that goes into a prospectus. The prospectus is the thing that tells my department the content and research plan for my dissertation. I got a bit of a late start because I had to pack/unpack all my books, and arrange them in my giant bookcase (pictured below). It’s due in about a month.

Empty Library
Still not done filling this bookcase.

Chaos, I tell you.

How do scholastiworkaholic Val and social Val interact? Oddly enough, better than I thought they would. I think the home setting is really cutting down on the scholastiworkaholism (I swear, if I translated that mishmash of a word into German, it’d be a fabulous compound word). I still try to get up between 6-7am most mornings, unless I have had an exceptionally late night. Once I finish my PT for the day, I get to work on Latin translations or scanning secondary literature for relevant arguments that would fit into my dissertation topic. It feels like a job, because it is a job, but I get to sing along to Taylor Swift while I read about poverty in Late Antiquity, so it’s a fun job.

The change in environment has been a boon for my mental health for sure. At Princeton, there were stretches where I’d stay in my apartment for 3-5 days straight. I am not exaggerating. I lived at the bottom of a hill and it was such a hassle to go places that I didn’t feel motivation to go anywhere. This spiraled out of control more than I’d care to admit. It didn’t help that everyone else was feeling overwhelmed with coursework, and later, generals prep. It really says something that one of my very good friends in the program did not become a very good friend until around the time we finished general exams. That is how little we saw each other during semesters, even while we were taking courses together.

Here? Forget it. I put on my to-do list to go outside and I actually do it. The first month after I moved, I saw my niece almost everyday. I did karaoke with my sister in a bar a few weeks ago. I went to a history event at CUNY about a month ago. I’ve been seeing friends. I downloaded Bumble and Hinge. Admittedly, I haven’t actively used either app in over a week, but that’s not a bad thing. On top of all that, I have a kitchen and a bathroom that are more wheelchair-friendly than what I had at Princeton.

But isn’t all this getting a life stuff cutting down on work time? Surprisingly, not really. If I had an event to go to on campus while I was living at Princeton, I’d go to campus, probably take a few books out from the library, go to the event, wait over twenty minutes for a shuttle (in the cold, I might add), and then be so tired/cold (guess who still has temperature regulation issues?) by the time I got back to my apartment that I didn’t want to work. I’ve set aside two days of minimal physical therapy (re: just the standing frame) that are mostly focused on dissertation work. The other days, I try to do as much work as is realistic. One awesome thing to come out of generals is that I am a much faster reader than I’ve ever been, so at least I have that going for me.

I think about how in college I didn’t feel like a real student unless I was in full scholastiworkaholic mode. And that’s fine in college, although I know I have friends who will disagree and who would yank me out of the library stacks all over again. But I’m in my late twenties now, and I’m not sure the hardcore scholastiworkaholic lifestyle is sustainable. I’m planning to go to three weddings next year, all for friends I love dearly who made time in their own busy schedules to find something beyond their work. My last coffee date was in 2014. It was awkward, I wanted to leave earlier than I did, and I definitely wasted an hour of my time, but at least I put myself out there. I need to start doing that more, and can’t keep using school as an excuse to put off non-school things.

This isn’t to say that I advocate for doing the bare minimum of dissertation work. Absolutely not. I still intend to drive myself mad, and to pore over my chosen primary sources and wonder why the heck I chose them because they confuse me to no end. I just won’t do it every night.

Heck, part of the reason I chose my current apartment is because it’s close to the giant research library by Bryant Park. I’ve been testing some co-working spaces, and my productivity has been better here than it was in Firestone (sorry, but I just can’t work in that library). Am I writing this paragraph out of fear that my advisor/another professor will read this and think that I moved to NYC to slack off? Possibly. I could never slack on my dissertation, though. The prospect of writing a book of original research was one of the lights at the end of the tunnel during the first two years of my program. Now if I could just cobble this prospectus together, I’d feel infinitely better about my gameplan.

All this is to say that my work-life balance will never be perfect, but as long as I don’t neglect either, both will be fine.

Thanks so much for reading! If you’d like the ramblings of a PhD student who has a bit of a ridiculous PT schedule to show up in your inbox (somewhat) regularly, then please feel free to subscribe!

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