November 27, 2015

As graduate faculty and graduate students, we are trained to be critical – to see the flaws and problems in arguments, ideas, and products. This is not surprising, because it is important to carefully evaluate ideas and thoughtful critical review is a significant aspect of what it means to be a scholar. We also operate in stressful environments, filled with diverse personalities, external and internal review procedures, challenging production scenarios, and intense writing deadlines. It can be therapeutic to talk about such stressors. Our gripes and annoyances often make for amusing anecdotes that others can relate to. Accordingly, we talk about such things frequently and look for opportunities to exchange war stories.
Despite the value of criticism and the stress surrounding much of what we do in the academy, it is important for us also to be grateful. We can find gratitude in the scholarship we are able to do, in the people we are able to work with, and in the opportunities we are provided with. Such opportunities often emerge in the future, as a direct result of the time and effort we expend in our graduate program. It may be necessary to think toward the future and imagine what we might be doing five or ten years down the road. We also find value in appreciating the people we know, the ideas we experience, the events we attend, and the doors we open for our future careers and scholarly activities.
I think back on my own experiences as a graduate student and I do not recall many moments in which I was overcome by gratitude. Doctoral work in particular is taxing, and when the work itself is not overwhelming, there are always frustrations to be found in the minutia of everyday life. Institutional review board (IRB) applications, registration paperwork, surveys, and approval forms seemed to inundate me, not to mention the stress of teaching classes, preparing for comprehensive exams, writing a dissertation proposal, and, eventually, writing and defending my final dissertation. And yet, looking back on this experience, I am grateful for the lessons I learned during these moments that serve me so well in my current role, particularly those things I learned about organization, stress management, and the importance of clear and consistent communication. I am especially grateful for my former professors, who pushed me to become a better version of myself, to do work outside my comfort zone, and to become a better writer and thinker.
Faculty members’ academic routines are often equally frustrating. Student registration and approval paperwork is replaced with travel forms, compliance certification reports, and annual evaluations. Faculty members routinely tell me that it seems like there is only enough time to do the urgent things without leaving time for the important things. But there is much to be grateful for as a faculty member, too, and it can be worthwhile to reflect on these things when times are rough. As a faculty member, I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to collaborate with smart and productive faculty from across academic disciplines, for the enthusiastic and competent graduate students that constantly impress me with their energy and accomplishments, and for the partnerships I’ve been able to pursue as the director of an interdisciplinary program.
As we move into the last few weeks of the fall semester and enjoy the holidays with our friends and families, I challenge you to put your frustrations aside and instead to identify the positive attributes of your work and the environment that has made that work possible. What you are most grateful for in your own academic experiences? Who are the people who have helped you along the way? How can gratitude become a central component in your academic identity that allows you to overcome obstacles and maintain productivity even in adverse conditions?
We are usually grateful for our friends and families and our time away from the work, which we should be. It can be empowering to extend our spheres of gratitude to encompass not only the personal, but also the professional.
Happy holidays to you all from the Texts and Technology doctoral program.