The Month In Review: May 2016 (Or, “Let’s play an impossible game of catch up, shall we?”)

The title of the post says it all–I’ve well over a month’s worth of material to cover, so I’ll just dive right in and here it is: May 2016, redux.

May 2016 was spectacularly, almost overwhelmingly chock-full of busy.

On May 1, we held our final Premodern Potluck Dinner, where we bid adieu to the wonderful Michelle Dowd, who is leaving UNC Greensboro to take the position of Hudson Strode Professor of English and Director of the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama. The evening was both celebratory and bittersweet, with each of us reading a passage to Michelle from a text that she had taught us, or that reminded us of her mentoring and teaching. As a nod to her extensive work on Early Modern narratives of the Fall, I gave a portion of “Eve’s Apology” from Aemelia Lanyer’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum:

Till now your indiscretion sets vs free,
And makes our former fault much lesse appeare;
Our Mother Eue, who tasted of the Tree,
Giuing to Adam what she held most deare,
Was simply good, and had no powre to see,
The after-comming harme did not appeare:
The subtile Serpent that our Sex betraide,
Before our fall so sure a plot had laide.

That vndiscerning Ignorance perceau’d
No guile, or craft that was by him intended;
For, had she knowne of what we were bereauid,
To his request she had not condiscended.
But she (poore soule) by cunning was deceau’d,
No hurt therein her harmlesse Heart intended:
For she alleadg’d Gods word, which he denies
That they should die, but euen as Gods, be wise.

But surely Adam cannot be excus’d,
Her fault, though great, yet he was most too blame;
What Weaknesse offred Strength might haue refus’d,
Being Lord of all the greater was his shame:
Although the Serpents craft had her abus’d,
Gods holy word ought all his actions frame:
For he was Lord and King of al the earth,
Before poore Eue had either life or breath.

Who being fram’d by Gods eternall hand,
The perfect’st man that euer breath’d on earth,
And from Gods mouth receiu’d that strait command,
The breach whereof he knew was present death:
Yea hauing powre to rule both Sea and Land,
Yet with one Apple wonne to loose that breath,
Which God hath breathed in his beauteous face,
Bringing vs all in danger and disgrace.

And then to lay the fault on Patience backe,
That we (poore women) must endure it all;
We know right well he did discretion lacke,
Beeing not perswaded thereunto at all;
If Eue did erre, it was for knowledge sake,
The fruit beeing faire perswaded him to fall:
No subtill Serpents falshood did betray him,
If he would eate it, who had powre to stay him?

Not Eue, whose fault was onely too much loue,
Which made her giue this present to her Deare,
That which shee tasted, he likewise might proue,
Whereby his knowledge might become more cleare;
He neuer sought her weakenesse to reproue,
With those sharpe words wich he of God did heare:
Yet Men will boast of Knowledge, which he tooke
From Eues faire hand, as from a learned Booke.

May 2 brought the second and last of my spring courses’ final exams, followed immediately by a Skype interview with Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri for their Assistant Professor of Medieval Literature position. May 3 was spent frantically finishing up the grading and entering grades, and what remained of May 3 and all of May 4 were devoted to scanning essays and chapters I used in my dissertation before returning the remainder of my checked out books.

May 5 brought the English and Women’s and Gender Studies department graduation ceremonies, and on May 6 I was hooded and granted my PhD at the University graduation ceremony.

Bloggraduation1

Me (on the right) with my Doctoral Advisor, Amy Vines.

Blog graduation 4

L-R: Amy Vines (My Dissertation Chair, Medieval Literature), me, my colleague Matt Carter (Renaissance), and Jennifer Feather (Dissertation Committee member, and Matt’s Chair, Renaissance)

 

Blog graduation 3

Matt and I, triumphant at having completed our doctoral program in four years. We are the only members of our cohort to pull it off, so we are just a tiny bit proud of ourselves here.

Blog graduation2

Many of my readers are aware of my shoe obsession. The burning question in their minds might well be: What shoes did she wear for graduation? I went with some nice, 1.5 inch heeled navy blue crocodile patterned pumps with a faux jewel embellishment. Classic with the tiniest edge.

A scant two days later, I spent May 9 and 10 engaged in the College Writing Program’s bi-annual portfolio assessment. Every instructor of every section of English 101 submitted two final portfolios selected through a randomized process, and we spent these two days reading through and scoring these portfolios according to the Writing Program’s rubric to determine whether the rubric is properly calibrated, and how well we are measuring and meeting the student learning outcomes for this course. This is exhausting and mind-numbing work, as the portfolios vary widely in terms of student performance and professorial expectations, but it is also important to ensure that the program is doing what we say it does, so it’s valuable service to the University. Fortunately, the Writing Program director, Nancy Myers, is wonderful and has a wry sense of humor, which made things much easier all around.

As soon as I finished reading the final portfolios on May 10, I was on the road to Johnson City, TN to meet up with my colleague, Ana Grinberg, for the first leg of our annual trek to Kalamazoo, Michigan for the International Congress of Medieval Studies. May 11 was our marathon drive (13 hours!) and May 12-15 was the Congress, at which I presided over the Hortulus journal-sponsored session on “Gendered Spaces” (I am the senior editor for Hortulus this year) and gave a presentation in the “Far Out!” roundtable sponsored by Babel. During the business meeting for MEARCSTAPA (Monsters: The Experimental Association for the Research of Cryptozoology Through Scholarly Theory and Practical Application) my MA advisor and friend, Kat Tracy, surprised me with a Graduate Alumni Award from Longwood University, where I completed my Master’s degree in English Literature under her tutelage:

Blogalumniaward

Kat Tracy (L) and a stunned and delighted me with the Longwood Graduate Alumni Award. The President of MEARCSTAPA, Asa Mittman, is looking on in gleeful approval of the surprise stealth nature of the award. You never know what might happen at a MEARCSTAPA gathering, but I was definitely not expecting this!

Blog graduatealumniaward

I returned home from the ‘Zoo around 2:00 p.m. on May 16, and turned right around and got on a plane bound for St. Charles, Missouri for an absolutely wonderful campus visit on May 17-18. May 19-21 were spent completing second-round edits on the articles for the spring issue of Hortulus and working on my own book review for that issue. May 23 was my annual mammogram (all clear!) and lunch with Matt, and May 24-31 were devoted to reading and making suggestions for revisions on essays for Melusine’s Footprint: Tracing the Legacy of a Medieval Myth, a collection I am editing with Misty Urban and Deva Fall Kemmis for Brill Publishing’s Explorations in Medieval Culture series (with a break on May 26 to have coffee with Tina Boyer, a fellow MEARCSTAPA board member. It was a good thing, too, because I had huge news and was bursting out of my skin to share it with someone other than my husband, mother, sister, and dissertation committee members: on May 25, the Lindenwood University Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences had called to offer me the position I had interviewed for!) After some negotiations that stretched over the next week or so, I signed the contract on June 1, 2016. Beginning this Fall, I will be Assistant Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Lindenwood University. This blog will continue to follow my development and evolution from graduate student to faculty member, and I hope that it also continues to inspire and provide example, advice, and support to others who are seeking a career in academia.

Before I close this post, I want to acknowledge that I am living an academic fairy tale. I am exceptionally fortunate to have found what is essentially a perfect position for someone with my background and credentials during my first year on the job market, and even more fortunate that they “pick me, choose me, love me” from the scores of qualified candidates also on the market.

Blog greys

There’s more to it: I am also fortunate to be married to an extremely supportive man who has been cheerleader and shoulder to cry on throughout my graduate career; and to have two daughters who keep me grounded and remind me that it cannot and should not be all work all of the time; and to have had amazing graduate advising at both the MA and PhD levels, which offset a serious deficit in my understanding of academia as an undergraduate and paved the way for the successes I have managed to accrue along the way; and to have developed an amazing community of peers and colleagues who have supported me in a thousand, thousand ways both seen and unseen over the years. In a system that is not set up to offer success to someone like me, these many people and their generosity have enabled me to survive and even to thrive.

I say this because it needs to be said. Academia can be cutthroat. Academia can shut people out for factors both within and beyond their control: for being too young, or being too old, or being from a less-privileged background, or being a first-generation graduate student, or being female, or being female and married, or being female and having children, or taking too long to finish a degree, or not attending a top program, or because of poor or nonexistent advising, or because of a snakepit department or dysfunctional dissertation committee.  At some point or another in my own graduate trajectory, I have grappled with many of these factors–I am a first-generation, non-traditional graduate student, a woman married with children, a person from a working-class background who didn’t quite understand how academia worked the first time around and didn’t have advising to help me make sense of it. As only one example of the many ways this background was difficult to overcome, when I applied to doctoral programs following a very successful MA degree, one Director of Graduate Studies from a top program wrote back in response to my request for information on how I could make my application more competitive:

“Nothing you have done–neither your 4.0 GPA at the Master’s level, nor your publications, nor your conference record, nor any other aspect of your application, is sufficient to compensate for your undergraduate GPA.”

(Which was 10 years old and should have been superceded by the MA and a high GRE and English GRE subject test score). In other words, the message was clear: “don’t bother; I’ve decided you don’t belong here.” This is all to say that yes, academia can be terrible and treat people poorly; the system is not designed for ease of access, and that means that sometimes, no matter how hard you work and how badly you want it, things don’t turn out. So, I am fortunate (and perhaps, just a tad oppositional-defiant and unwilling to take “no” for an answer when that “no” seems unreasonable). But my being fortunate and stubborn is not the only factor here. While I do the work, and I love the work, and I’ve gotten pretty good at the work, and I have achieved a lot through that work, my work ethic alone did not get me here. What got me through, every time I faced an uncontrollable and seemingly unsurmountable setback, was the wisdom, support, advice, and encouragement of my family, my advisors, my peers, my colleagues, and the generous scholars I am privileged to call my friends. This is all to say, never underestimate the power of your personal and professional relationships with people to sustain you through the hardest points in your academic trajectory, and remember that for every gatekeeper like the DGS I mentioned above, there is someone willing and able to help you get past that gate, if you look hard enough.

 

 

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About Melissa Ridley Elmes

I am a medievalist, wife and mother of two who spends her days researching, writing, teaching, painting, singing, dancing, acting and trying to find more hours in a day.
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5 Responses to The Month In Review: May 2016 (Or, “Let’s play an impossible game of catch up, shall we?”)

  1. Tammy says:

    Dr. Elmes,

    I couldn’t resist the formalities; you earned that title. Congratulations! I know you are going to be an AMAZING Assistant Professor at Lindenwood University. I am so happy for you!

    I really needed to see this post today. I am in the trenches of the first summer session at UNCG; (French, Judicial Process, and Asian Civilizations). I had no idea how many hours I would be spending on courses every day, but your post just gave me the motivation that I needed so desperately.

    You are such an inspiration and I am a better person for having known you. Thank you so much! Oh, keep posting these amazing blogs… I will really need them for Law School.

  2. Tammy Jones says:

    Dr. Elmes,

    I couldn’t resist the formalities; you earned that title. Congratulations, I know you are going to be an amazing Assistant Professor at Lindenwood University!

    I really needed to this post today. I am in the trenches of the first summer session at UNCG: Asian Civilizations, The Judicial Process, and French (which I haven’t taken since 1991). Your post came at just the right time and gave me the motivation that I needed so desperately.

    You are an inspiration and I am a better person for having known you (yes, you made that much of an impact in my life) Thank you for just being you! Keep posting these great blogs,,,,I will need them for Law School!

    • Melissa Ridley Elmes says:

      You are very kind to say so, thank YOU for being such a wonderful student. (Three summer classes? Good gracious! At least they sound interesting…..) I am excited to see you go through law school, and I know you are going to make a difference in your corner of the legal system once you get there. :o)

  3. Julie Blomberg says:

    Dear Dr Elmes,
    First of all –
    Congratulations on your degree!

    I just stumbled upon your blog from a “Top Blogs för PhD students” post on another blog. My name is Julie and I am starting my PhD in American Literature in Sweden this fall. I am beyond excited, but also a bit scared (as is expected!). I am writing to you partly because I was so surprised to see that you did your PhD at UNC Greensboro as I spent my exchange studies there four years ago. Secondly, I was surprised that I actually had Amy Vines in one of my classes! The world is small. Thirdly, I am writing because your blog is just what I needed to find today – a well of inspiration!

    • Melissa Ridley Elmes says:

      Julie, Thank you so much for the kind words about my blog and yes, what a small world academia can be! I am glad you are finding inspiration from my blog, and I wish you all the very best as you begin your doctoral work this Fall.

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