Monday, June 16, 2008

Dissertation Summer Camp

I haven't been to summer camp in many, many years, but that's all I can think of to compare with what I'm doing now. I'm in Chicago, staying at the International House in a dorm room. A real dorm room, with a twin bed, a desk, a small bookcase, a small dresser, and some kind of wardrobe to hang clothes in. All in all it looks like a smaller version of my dorm room senior year of college (except this mirror was taken from a fun-house, and my mirror in college, as far as I can recall, didn't make my face look like the face in Edvard Munch's "The Scream.")

Dorm room
(Image taken with my computer's camera)

There are other things that make it feel like summer camp. For example, I'm here for two weeks - so often a classic campy amount of time.  I just got here yesterday and  I don't know anyone except a friend from school who happens to be here too. I don't know my way around either this dorm facility or the streets outside (but I'm learning as fast as my directionally challenged self can). I'm still figuring out where to eat and what the best routes are to get from here to there.

And I'm spending at least eight hours a day working intensively on something. When I was a kid, this something was French horn playing. At music camps I learned I could actually play for many, many hours in a day (and my lip got really, really good.) This time, of course, I'm hanging out in an archive all day, doing dissertation research.  (I brought a hoard of knitting with me, and plan to knit while listening to audiobooks after hours, but haven't gotten to it yet). It feels so similar because there's that same sense of focus and purpose, the sense of having come to this place in order to pursue a particular goal.

In this case, that goal apparently involves having my research interrupted by the cutest of all animals, cats. The papers I'm working with are owned by a seminary, and stored in a separate building other than the library. This building houses a few students, a few offices, a bunch of manuscript archives, and best of all, two cats! I was delighted when the librarian told me not to be alarmed if a cat wandered into the room where they'd set me up to research - and indeed, a cat came trooping along and even, after I'd put away my papers for the day, plopped down next to the box I'd been perusing, and posed for my computer's camera.*

Archives cat

Every archive, it seems, has its pluses and minuses, and this one, so far, seems good for the entertainment value. It's sort of amusing to be in a dorm again (especially since there's a very definite time limit on my stay), and totally incongruous that I get to research with cats (not something I'd ever expect to see again). Even if it's weird and lonely to sit here in a dorm room with the unfamiliar noises of a city I hardly know, it's strangely comforting to think that just a few walls over, someone else is going through a similar set of feelings, just as if all us grad students were once again enthusiastic and scared little kids at summer camp.

*Normally I'd be concerned about allergens in close proximity to precious historical materials, but I'm really careful, and believe me, if that box hadn't been closed, the cat wouldn't have been on the table!


Elizabeth said...

Wow, what an adventure! Enjoy your time away, at least you have the kitties to bring you a smile!

Jessica said...

How cool that you get to go to "archives camp" and play with kitties! I just hope the dorm room isn't as awful as the last one I stayed in. It was at a conference and it was the most disgusting thing... blech!

Diane said...

I love academic places that have animals. The physics building at my school has a resident dog. One of the professors brings it in on a regular basis and it hangs out in the stairwells.

Your dorm room looks pretty classy! Dark furniture - ooh.

Sheepish Annie said...

I'm not sure how I'd feel about living in a dorm again. My undergrad days were the happiest of my life, but I honestly don't think my middle-aged self would adjust so easily this time around.

However, any experience that includes cats is a good one. I think I could survive anything if it came with a purring fluffy thing!

schrodinger said...

Having never done anything that in my youth (things are quite different in the UK), I think the whole thing sounds like fun! I hope your research is successful, and that you have fun with the cats.