I call myself a social justice researcher, meaning I've made central in my professional work issues of prejudice, inequality, and justice. It permeates most parts of my life - I love artists like Immortal Technique and J. Cole who take a clear political stance on things; I follow Latino Rebels and Presumed Incompetent on Facebook; I gravitate toward movies like Dear White People or Cesar Chavez, but will still critique them when I see something contrived or over the top. Basically, I make a point to stay woke.
And doing so can get exhausting.
Sometimes I just want to binge watch the redux version of a show I watched growing up (i.e. Fuller House) without thinking about how white the cast is or the lack of representation in media. Sometimes I just wanna go shopping without thinking about the children's hands that were used to make the garment I'm trying on. Sometimes I wanna use the word "wanna" without having to think about code-switching or what the intentional use of grammatically-incorrect vernacular means for the respectability of my professional brand.
Today I'm tired. Today I'm exercising my right to pause the woke button and just live - I'm going shopping later without worrying about my own consumerism. I will then go home and maybe clean up (maybe not), probably sit my bum on the couch with the dogs and settle in for a good Netflix binge. Because I'm human. And while I've dedicated my life to the good fight, I don't believe that means it is at the expense of my sanity or that I have to always be on message.
I deserve a little time to put away this paper on power structures and the social control of Latino bodies. I can wait a day before I get back to interrogating the effect of academic training on the implicit bias of health professionals.
I might take the dogs to the dog park later.
I'm currently sitting in a building on campus that clearly used to be a church for Writing Wednesday, a weekly chunk of designated space and time offered specifically for graduate students to sit down and get work done (think manuscript or dissertation writing). This sacred time alone is invaluable for busy students like myself that struggle to just take care of basic life needs but are still trying to be productive students and scholars. Plus they have K-cups out the wazoo and BREAKFAST. Its offered by the Initiative for Minority Excellence here at school, so unsurprisingly, there are a lot of people of color that attend. Also unsurprising is the fact that most people know each other since there frankly just aren't THAT many PhD students at this school.
So that's where I'm sitting this lovely morning, having enjoyed a lovely jalapeño cream cheese bagel that makes my heart happy and trying to balance the exhaustion-induced desire for coffee with the anxiety-driven need to limit my caffeine intake. I swear, between coffee needs and finding the right kind of music to fit the work I'm doing, its like a constant game of self-medicating chemistry.
I was aimlessly looking around the room just a few moments ago in that way you do sometimes when you're trying to figure out how to phrase something you're writing when it occurred to me that PhD students have some very predictable patterns of behavior, myself included. To start, there's the typical white earbud/laptop work combo (plus points if they're both Apple products) clearly indicative of someone making many thoughts. Caffeine of some kind is almost a necessity, which is banal in how un-insightful an observation that is... But then there's also the pen case of different colored pens and highlighters for color-coding all the thoughts. Many also have a planner because what kind of student would you be if you didn't have a stupid amount of deadlines to constantly have to juggle? Mine is a very casual school, so most people are wearing at least one piece of athleisure wear (sneakers, anything with moisture-wicking spandex, a FitBit type thing because who doesn't keep track of their heart rate and steps constantly these days?, and potentially something involving fleece).
This leads me to the thesis of this post - we all really do just have similar ways of being and for all that we pride ourselves in our original scholarship and innovative thinking, we're products of our shared environment and being in a college town means that its EVERYWHERE. Classes, laptops in coffee shops, books and notebooks, and largely muted colors so you can focus on your oh so important smart thoughts because who has time to think about such banal things as style when you're busy trying to change the way people think about something?
I find this mildly entertaining but also a little sad. I'm one of these people. I love the stretchy pants I'm wearing right now and have a stupid number of gadgets all dedicated to maximizing my intake of information, my generation of knowledge, and my productivity in the academy.
I'm a PhD student.
It's pre-sunrise in the little college town I call home and I'm trying to get some writing done before the SO and dogs wake up. After all, every blog, listserv, and website I frequent tells me that I should make a point to write for at least 30 minutes EVERY DAY. Besides, this whole work-life balance thing is precarious stuff.
But I digress.
I'm in the final semester of coursework (Already?!? More like finally!) and one of the classes I'm taking is on proposal development - namely working on a NRSA proposal to secure funding for my dissertation research. For those that have the immense pleasure of not having to worry about such things, suffice it to say that the funding struggle is real and has just gotten realer.
The nice thing, though, is that I'm now getting a chance to pull together all the seemingly divergent bits of training I've collected over the last couple of years and really see how it all fits together to serve a common purpose. Plus points - in my insatiable need for feedback from my peers and departmental faculty, I'm getting a chance to practice articulating my research interests and put my ideas out in a strategic positioning/branding way.
It has been surprisingly validating to not just talk about the vagueries of my ideas, methods, and research interests, but to have it click for people what I mean when I talk about doing research around social justices issues in health.
That plus all the content development I'm working on for the new(ish) job has noticeably helped me grease the writing wheels to the point where I'm getting pretty good at putting words on a page efficiently. Good thing, too, because I've got years of practicing that exact thing ahead of me...
I make no secret of the fact that I love interdisciplinary research - I have a strong natural science background, consider myself a social science researcher, and love working with arts and humanities concepts/methods/researchers. All of that means my research takes (what I consider) super interesting directions, but it also means that I have some additional challenges that someone firmly ensconced in one field does not.
I only sometimes know what people are talking about.
Each discipline has its own jargon, including using the same words in vastly different ways. For example, in public health the term "project" usually refers to a specific grant, research question, or intervention. It has clear time constraints and specific deliverables. Silly me, I thought everyone talked about projects in this way until I sat down for my first anthropology/communication class. Suddenly, project could mean your research agenda, the community you're working with, your life purpose, or any number of broader LIFE projects that it took me a while to understand. So... yeah, the same word can mean different things.
I spend a lot of time talking about methods and theory.
I love working with arts and humanities researchers because they look at health in ways that I think get at a fuller part of humanity (e.g. theater as a mechanism for social change or theories of apparatuses of power) than some of the more tradition health science methods. That means, however, that I have to devote a good amount of time (and manuscript space) to explaining a theory or a method that isn't often used in health research. I can't be super mad about that, though, since having to be explicit helps strengthen and solidify my own arguments. #win