Some Parting Thoughts

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by Rachel Robinson

After a winter that seemed like it would never end, spring is finally here in Toronto. There’s something about seeing the flowers in bloom all over the city, going for bike rides and runs outdoors, and sitting on a patio enjoying the warm weather that makes spring feel like a time of beginnings and adventures. For those of us graduating from the program, we are catching glimpses of the new horizon of life after Ryerson Philosophy. Whether moving to a different city, embarking on a PhD or forging a career path outside of academia, there is a sense of uncertainty mixed with excitement buzzing in our lives.

These new projects bring with them a familiar set of questions: Will I be good enough? Smart enough? Determined enough to succeed? Yet despite our worries and fear of impostor syndrome, we can take pride and comfort in the fact that we have received the kind of training and support from our Graduate program that has prepared us for what lies ahead – whatever that may be. We leave Ryerson confident that the past two years have not been in vain, but have truly enhanced our perspectives. Through the time spent in seminars, colloquiums, house parties, pubs, the lounge, and our conference, we have created and nurtured a real community.

Whether we will directly or indirectly apply our knowledge of the Western Intellectual Tradition, doing philosophy is not something that ends with graduation.

We study timehave had the privilege of working with and learning from a group of talented professors and fellow students. The environment at Ryerson embodied the spirit of doing philosophy both inside and outside of the classroom. When philosophy is done properly, it is a life-changing, transformative experience.

 

We complete this program knowing that there are certain phrases, certain quotations, and certain ideas that will stay with us long after we have left our seats in the boardroom of 440.

Papers and Procrastination

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by Rachel Robinson

There are few things more intimidating to a student (or, for that matter, any writer) than a blank page. Sometimes, the empty screen staring back at you can appear to reflect your state of mind: empty. At this point in the writing process it’s common to feel overwhelmed IMG_0647at the amount of work still to be done, and simply thinking about the due date doesn’t necessarily make the ideas or writing any better. As philosophy students, writing papers is something that we’re familiar with, yet that doesn’t mean that we don’t occasionally fall prey to the beast that is procrastination. As a former Peer Tutor at the Write Place at King’s College at UWO, and as someone who’s written her fair share of papers, here are a few ideas to help you cope with the temptation to wait until tomorrow to work on that assignment.

  • Brainstorm. Before trying to write down anything formal, begin by writing everything that you know about the topic at hand. Set a time limit – say, 15 minutes – and in that time write down any possible ideas and trains of thought that occur to you about the topic. Don’t worry about the spelling, grammar or sentence structure at this point in time – the idea is just to get your mind thinking and engaged with the topic.
  • Look at your brainstorming. You will (hopefully!) be surprised at how much you already know about the topic, and what great potential some of those ideas have. Sometimes, just seeing that you have an opinion can be encouraging, even if you don’t end up using all of your rough work.
  • Pay attention to when you get your ideas. Sometimes, our best ideas for papers come to us during our down-time. For example, I find that brushing my teeth is often when I have a major idea for a paper, and I have to write it down on a post-it afterwards so that I don’t forget it later on. This doesn’t mean that it’s alright to spend days just waiting for inspiration – often we don’t have that kind of luxury. Rather, I mean to take time away from your work so that your mind can renew itself, instead of just obsessing over how little you feel that you’ve accomplished.
  • Similar to the previous point: write down your ideas when they come to you! Too many times we’ll say something interesting or useful in conversation, and then forget what it was when it’s time to write. Literally writing down your idea, instead of just making a mental note of it, will make it easier to remember later on when you’re at the computer.
  • Set up a schedule for writing – and actually stick to it. You probably know your writing style, and how many pages or words you can comfortably write per day. Do your best to set aside some time each day for writing, and don’t worry if it isn’t your best possible work. During the writing period, it’s important just to organize and explain your project in your own words. Having a daily goal to accomplish will help to make sure that the paper is being worked on, and not being neglected until the last day. If possible, write at the same time each day, when you’re at your most focused. This is habit-forming, and your mind will know to write during that period.
  • When possible, wait a day in between writing your first draft and editing it. The mind needs time to step away from the project, and come back to it with a fresh perspective.
  • Leave ample time for proof-reading. While proof-reading isn’t the most exciting part of the writing process, it is definitely necessary. This is the time to be harsh with your work. Read each sentence out loud (or, better yet, have someone else read the work out to you) and make sure that what you intend to say is actually what you’ve written down.

The Philosophical Body

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by Rachel Robinson

As students of Philosophy we are engaged in the Western Intellectual Tradition. With oct 30 blogmuch of the emphasis placed on mental activity, we often forget that our bodies are a key part of our success as students and scholars. For those familiar with Merleau-Ponty or Feminist thought, it is well-known the body is a subject worthy of philosophical exploration. In fact, some may say that the body announces itself. The body speaks especially loudly when it says that it’s time to stop working, whether by the stomach’s growling from hunger, the legs’ stiffness from sitting in one spot for countless hours, or the eyes’ burning from staring too long at a computer screen. At each of these instances, and especially when they’re combined, the body dictates how much quality work can be done. An anecdote that one of my professors often told was that of Kant taking his daily walk at the same time each day at such a precise time that the townspeople set their watches to his routine. Kant knew that spending all day long reading and writing needed to be supplemented by some form of physical activity, and this is advice that grad students tend to forget. Sometimes, the mental exhaustion that is part of extensive research can be helped by attending to the body’s needs. Here are some suggestions for staying mentally and physically strong:

  • Pay attention to your eyes. When they start stinging or burning from constant computer use, it’s time to step away from the screen. Sometimes, just closing your eyes for a minute and then getting back to the typing may be enough, especially in the middle of a paragraph. When you have a headache but still need to write your ideas down, do it the old-fashioned way using a pen and notebook.
  • Learn the difference between taking a mental break and just being distracted. A mental break is when you’re too tired to think clearly because the sentences no longer make sense, and you’re doubting the clarity of the last few sentences you’ve just written. This is the time to do something else, preferably non-academic to let your mind rest. Being distracted is when checking an unknown word online becomes hours logged on Thought Catalogue or Buzzfeed. Try to limit your computer-oriented breaks to 10-15 minutes, and then getting back to work. Sometimes we get easily distracted when we aren’t particularly engaged in the subject matter, and few things are more depressing than seeing a blank word document. Try brainstorming or free-writing any and all ideas that come to mind, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more interested you become when you find you do have thoughts on the topic.
  • Stand up every hour. If you can, walk around to keep the blood flowing in your body. This will help you from cramping up and from feeling cold. If you’re working at home, open the front door or just step outside for a minute (even and especially in winter). A breath of fresh air is surprisingly refreshing from the stuffiness of indoor heating.
  • Keep water nearby. If you drink enough of it, you’ll be standing up and walking every few hours, guaranteed.
  • Take a short walk to clear your mind, perhaps to the grocery store where you can load up on great study foods like nuts, almonds and bananas. Similarly, take time to cook meals that you can then have as leftovers later on that week.
  • Go for a run. Or a bike ride. Or try indoor climbing. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the times that you’re the busiest are the best times to work out. Your body and your mind will be thankful for the change in routine. Soon, fitting in that daily run or gym time will be a natural part of your life.
  •  Call your parents. They miss you. Your emotional well-being shouldn’t be neglected either.