A Reflection on Coursework

Normally, I try to blog every week, but I haven’t blogged for three months (not the most successful run in the history of blogging). Last semester was pretty busy, with organizing a conference and taking an extra course so I could finish up this summer (my final week of coursework is this week—woot). I hope the more flexible scheduling of studying for comps will allow me to return to more regular blogging.

After finishing up all my history courses this spring, I did take some time to think about my coursework experience. I learned a great deal and I think my writing improved drastically, but part of me was still a bit disappointed. I had some really good assignments, like trying to make an iPad app, constructing a digital project, writing a grant application, and literally applying theory to the real world (using Lincoln’s physical environment to explore trends in urban history). However, most of my assignments were the traditional exercises in historical writing (book review, research paper, synthetic essay). Obviously these assignments are important—I remarked to another grad student that all the papers have been preparing me for comps (and ultimately the dissertation)—but there was a point where I did feel a bit bored. How helpful was the 50th book review in comparison to the 15th? Why not use assignments that build similar historical skills but will aid me in other parts of being an academic not normally taught in graduate school (i.e. grant writing)? Why not challenge students to do something really non-traditional, even if they will fail (i.e. iPad app)

Of course, I write this blog post knowing I was a coward during coursework. I am sure if I had proposed some alternate assignment (a digital project instead of a traditional research paper for example) many of my professors would have allowed me. I’ll admit, I was lazy in that regard, as doing something innovative is usually more taxing than cranking out yet another paper. I like to rationalize it by saying grad school is a marathon (I mean after three years of coursework, I’m closer to the halfway point than the finish line). But like I said, that’s my cowardice talking.

I look forward to getting into the research on my dissertation, but even then I’ve gotten the impression from many others that finishing the dissertation is the most important part of writing it. Again, that seems to disincentive innovation. Why take longer on an non-traditional dissertation that some departments may not even appreciate it? While I want do at least some research that is creative, I can only really hope I’m brave enough.

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