A Different Kind of Love Story


This morning I saw something on my Facebook feed I’ve seen a gajillion times before: a cut and paste list. I never complete the things myself, but I am not particularly opposed to them either. This particular list was specifically for couples, because single people aren’t nearly alienated enough on Valentine’s Day.

I don’t know why, but today a switch flipped, and I realized I had something to say about my current relationship. 

I filled out the survey and posted it one my Facebook wall, thinking little of it. This evening, I discovered that my honesty spoke to a lot of people. Like, a lot of people. This is a weird way to return to the blog after such a prolonged silence, but hey… I’m graduating in four months, and the world is on fire. Now is not the time for perfectionism. Indeed…

It’s time to stop being polite, and start getting REAL.


In honor of Valentine’s Day, couples: Make this your status and answer honestly!

Who’s older?

I am. Dissertation turned two this month.

Who was interested first?

I was. I found it packed in fifteen boxes in the San Francisco Public Library and decided to take it home, after two weeks of tepid romance.

More sarcastic?

That’d be me. Dissertation isn’t allowed to be sarcastic, what with all the dead people in it.

Who makes the most mess?

Dissertation makes a mess of me and I make a mess of it.

Who hogs the remote?

I do. Dissertation doesn’t like competing for attention.

Red heart

Spends the most?

I followed Dissertation merrily into debt.


Depends on the day.

Most common sense?

Definitely Dissertation.

Do you have any children?

Dissertation IS my children. Wrap you head around that!

Did you go to the same school?

I guess, technically, yes?

Who is the most sensitive?

I am. Dissertation enjoys watching me cry.

Red heartWhere is the furthest you two have traveled together as a couple?

The edges of sanity.

Who has the worst temper?

I do… Dissertation is pretty apathetic about being terrible.

Who does the cooking?

I cook, and eat, for both of us. Which is why I don’t fit in my clothes right now.

Who is the neat freak?

Depends on the chapter and my stress level.

Who is the most stubborn?

Dissertation. Rigid expectations, arbitrary deadlines, and definitely HATES it when I think outside the box.

Bouquet of red roses with decorative heart. St Valentine's conce

Who wakes up earlier?

Dissertation gets up and stares at me until I deal with it.

Who picks where you go to dinner?

I do, which is why I don’t fit in my clothes anymore.

Who wears the pants in the relationship?

Definitely Dissertation. I’ve been in its thrall since the moment we found each other.

How long have you been together?

Since February 2015. Never thought I’d have so many sadomasochistic experiences in such a short time. Mind you, I’m not complaining.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Dissertation. I love you. Please don’t hurt me.Silhouette of the heart of  gesture of hands

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

Upcoming Panel Presentation: AAHM 2016

Prospect of the hospital hallway. Defocused medical (scientific)

“Community Care, Reagan-Era Altruism, and the United States’ First AIDS Ward”

When: Saturday, April 30 @ 3:30 PM

Where: Ballroom 4, Minneapolis Marriot Center City

The talk I will be giving at AAHM 2016 is derived from the second chapter of my dissertation, “A Caring Disease”: Nursing and Patient Advocacy on the United States’ First AIDS Ward, 1983-1985. 

As the AIDS crisis unfolded in the early 1980’s, San Francisco General Hospital—which housed 5B, the country’s first AIDS Ward—became a de facto extension of the city’s gay community. While the influx of gay patients and visitors made some SFGH staff members uncomfortable, 5B’s founder recognized that developing this relationship would only improve the quality of his patients’ experience on the unit. He sought out the support of individuals and organizations operating outside the purview of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and, in many cases, outside the medical establishment completely. The integration of “non-experts” and community-based groups onto the ward destabilized the structures of knowledge and authority on which the nursing profession was (and is) built, but also significantly improved the quality of patient care, saving 5B a tremendous amount in operating costs.

Using the ward’s official records, oral histories, and local and national media coverage, this presentation highlights three different ways the nursing staff integrated “the outside world” onto the ward: the 5B volunteer program, The Shanti Project, and Rita Rocket’s Brunch Bunch. I demonstrate that the nurses’ use of (largely) unpaid labor was one of three major internal contradictions that characterized the unit. Second, because they were politically motivated, these volunteer efforts were dependent on the demographic composition of the ward. Most volunteers worked on 5B as a show of support for the queer community—and disappeared over time, as the patient population became less white, less gay, and less male. Finally, I demonstrate that, while intended as a repudiation of an uncaring federal government, the radical volunteerism that structured ward 5B unintentionally lent support to a community care model being advanced by its political opponents: at this same time, the Reagan administration was calling for altruism to take the place of government services. The tensions and inconsistencies between 5B’s politics and praxis demonstrate that the shared ideology of the nurses who built the country’s first AIDS ward, if crucial to building the ward into a vibrant community space, also made it a space of curious exclusions.

KEY WORDS: AIDS, Community, Nursing


  • Promote tolerance for ambiguity of theories, the nature of evidence, and the evaluation of appropriate patient care, research, and education
  • Recognize the dynamic interrelationship between medicine and society through history
  • Acquire a historically nuanced understanding of the organization of the U.S. healthcare system, and of other national health care systems

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

How I Got My Groove Back

Book on the beach

As regular readers will notice, it’s been a while since I last posted. That’s because I was busy experiencing a “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” style reawakening.

I entered this academic year feeling pretty well defeated, on many grounds. Instead of moving closer to my PhD, I felt like I was fighting tooth and nail to stand still. Everywhere I turned, I saw a new personal, professional, or structural hurdle standing in the way of my success. It got to the point that I fell utterly out of love with my work, with grad school, with academia. I concluded that graduate students who love their dissertations were either a cryptozoological fever dream, or so emotionally bankrupt that they’d lost track of what the word “love” meant.

And yet, here I am. As the end of my fifth year approaches, I can say without reservation that I love what I do again. I don’t just enjoy the time I spend working on my dissertation… I think my dissertation’s kind of sexy.

I know for a fact that I’m not the only person who’s encountered a veritable field of stumbling blocks late in their grad school career, so I thought it would be a good idea to share (to the extent that I understand it myself, which is admittedly limited) how I went from fizzle to sizzle.

Getting back in the archive helped. While never an easy experience—as I’ve discussed in previous posts—being immersed in primary sources always renews my sense of purpose and responsibility.

It helps that my archives are in cool places.

It helps that my archives are in cool places.

Confronting exogenous stressors helped. In some cases that meant having conversations I’d desperately wanted to avoid. In some cases it meant jumping through flaming hoops, like the ones I jumped through to secure my new roommate, who also happens to be a colleague, writing partner, and friend. It definitely meant taking time away from campus; isolating as it’s been working exclusively from home, it’s given me a chance to reengage with my work on my own terms.

Deadlines helped. My adviser, blessed with the rare gift of “Andrea whispering,” realized that getting me back on track meant throwing me back into writing, whether I felt prepared to do the work or not.

Re-immersing oneself in research, resolving external stress, and jumping into the deep end with regard to writing: these are all important parts of getting one’s academic groove back. If probably necessary to my process, though, none of those steps were sufficient. My biggest block was, naturally, a mental block.

Tired school boy

I needed to let go of the idea that I am an academic. More specifically, I needed to let go of the idea that I am a tenure-track professor in the making. In practice, that meant looking at and applying for jobs, learning about alt-ac career options, and keeping one eye fixed on the door at all times.

Do I still intend to apply for tenure track jobs? Of course! Do I still want my career to be academic in nature? Yes. The only thing that’s changed is that I respect myself enough to know that I don’t need those things to be successful. [Insert cliché about life being the journey and not the destination here.]

Research, teaching, and service are now affirmative choices that I make every day, with the full knowledge that those choices do not define me.

Went hunting for stock photos for couples therapy, and this is by far my favorite.

Went hunting for stock photos for couples therapy, and this is by far my favorite.

The graduate school as relationship metaphor is a common one, and one to which I’ve gravitated a lot in the past year. To continue that metaphor, let’s say I’ve gone through some pretty extensive couples counseling, I even did a trial separation! While it was very touch and go for a while, I came out of that process ready to work on my relationship with the academy. Now, I hold my graduate school experience to the same standards I would hold a romantic partner, because co-dependency of any kind pretty much sucks.

I hope to post a lot more now that my life, academic and otherwise, has stabilized. But we’ll have to see. After all, I have a very sexy dissertation to attend to…

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

The SMDS “Suggested Reading” List

I have to apologize to those of you who’ve joined the SMDS RSS feed over the past week or so, because your (much-appreciated) interest in my blog happens to coincide with my needing to step away. A dissertation deadline beckons, so I need to hoard all of my creative juices, gremlin style, until Tuesday, October 23.

Until then, dear reader, I thought I would pass along a “Suggested Reading” list for those of you who are new to the website. These are some of my favorite posts so far, and hopefully offer a little insight into what The Six Million Dollar Scholar is all about.

My grandmother being nutty as she was wont to do.

Nude Models, Pot Brownies, and Frankenfoot: A Tribute to My Grandmother

I wrote this post on what would have been my grandmother’s eighty first birthday. It’s my favorite post because it’s about one of my favorite people; you’ll enjoy it because it’s a reminder that sometimes we don’t need to look very far to find a hero. In my case, I realized I grew up with a brilliant, hardcore feminist in my basement, a woman whose improbable life deserves to be the stuff of books.

Vito Russo, about whom an entire post is coming very soon. Born July 11, 1946, died November 7, 1990. His is one of the many faces I can't get out of my head. Click image to see the website this image came from.

What I’m Learning from A Giant Stack of Obituaries

I came home from my most recent research trip with literally hundreds of obituaries, and no immediate use for them. I’ve since discovered that they may indeed have a home in my dissertation. Even if that turns out not to be the case, they were worth the money I spent printing them, because they taught me a lot about myself, about the research process, and about the fiction that is the personal/professional binary.

Dear Diary

This post has a special place in my heart, because it’s probably the single most effective life hack I’ve implemented since starting The Six Million Dollar Scholar. At the time I wrote the post, I’d only been journaling for six days, but today I can report that, for the first time in my life, I have a daily journaling practice. it’s now been almost two months, and I’m still going strong. It’s incredibly rewarding, and—for an historian, anyway—a great reminder that not all archives are brick and mortar.

Taken yesterday.

The Human Thundershirt

Quite possibly the strangest proof-of-concept blog post ever, I demonstrate that my newfound ability to calm the world’s most disturbed canine is a sign that the world needs more blogs like mine. Plus, there’s an abundance of pictures of a sweet baby puppy dog face girl.

When One Door Closes, Make Lemonade

My summer session course ended up being cancelled, a highly improbable scenario realized by a perfect storm of utter lameitude. When I wrote this post, I thought I’d done a pretty great job polishing a gnarly turd of a moment in my teaching career. In hindsight though, it’s nothing short of amazing how everything worked out. After all, while I didn’t anticipate being out of a teaching job, I neither did I anticipate running into medical problems this summer that would have made teaching a damned-near Herculean task. Maybe, just maybe, the universe was looking out for me?

That oughta keep you busy! See y’all again soon!

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

The Return of the Jedi (NYPL Edition)

I can't be the only person who thinks the movie would be better if it was all about research librarians, right? Truth be told, I'm a Trekkie. Click for link to the image.

I can’t be the only person who thinks the movie would be better if it was all about research librarians, right? Truth be told, I’m a Trekkie. Click for link to the image.

Apologies for the (almost) two day long radio silence. I honestly believe that time moves more quickly in New York City, and—“rebel” that I am—I respond by becoming a tired, slower version of myself. I was born in New York State, but did most of my growing up in North Carolina, and I imagine the resulting conflict is as biological as it is cultural. But anyway.

I haven’t spent much time in the archives yet, but Ihave seen enough to tell you that this trip is teaching me a very valuable lesson. It sounds silly for an historian to say this, but I’m learning not to underestimate the importance of time. A lot can happen in a year.

I was in these exact same archives last August, and—after a solid week of searching—walked away with nothing but doubt. I wasn’t seeing anything in the archive that proved or disproved the theory I’d been working with, and a personal friend and former member of ACT UP made it inescapably clear that I probably wasn’t going to find what I was looking for. Instead of seeing the situation for what it was, I gritted my teeth and flew back to California, determined to make something out of nothing. Hardcore denial.

That’s not the way I usually operate. For better (and occasionally for worse), I’m very calculating when it comes to my scholarship. I don’t waste time. If my archive gives me lemons, I normally cut my losses, make lemonade, and run to the next topic as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, my trip to New York happened mere days after a major family trauma, one I continue to deal with even now. I found myself in New York City, hundreds of miles away from home, brokenhearted and recovering from a horrendous cold. I had not yet embraced the idea that therapy can be a form of preventative care, so I hadn’t established a relationship with a counselor. I was a mess. Growing up, my scholarship was my shield; whenever something bad happened, I put my head in a book and thought the trouble away. Even if the world was falling down around me, I could always count on my brain, until last August. I’d hit a dead end in my research, but I simply couldn’t accept it, because it made me feel like a failure. Clearheaded, historian Andrea knows that dead ends are a natural and productive part of the research process, but in my grief and exhaustion, the worst case scenario prevailed.

The aforementioned denial delayed the inevitable, but I did eventually give up on my dissertation project. It was the hardest choice I’ve ever made as a scholar, but when I finally told my committee that I would not be writing the dissertation that I’d defended mere weeks previous, I felt about fifty pounds lighter. Once I opened myself up to new and interesting ideas, they came quickly. The ideas came so quickly, in fact, that a five minute conversation with one of my committee members spawned a whole new dissertation project, one that I still wake up every day excited to work on.

Even though I knew I was here to research a different topic, I must admit there was a part of me the dreaded coming back. What if the archive disappointed me again? I named my blog the freakin’ Six Million Dollar Scholar, and it wasn’t intended to be ironic. What if my triumphant return to the New York Public Library was a bust?

Good news folks: I don’t have to answer that question. Thus far, the archives have been incredibly good to me. Within a few hours of arriving at the archive, I’d filled all the folders I arrived with. That means I’ve found more in a couple hours this time around than I found in a week last year. I had tremendous faith in my new dissertation topic going into this trip, but all the evidence I’m collecting now tells me that—in addition to finding a project that has the potential to be awesome—I’ve “tapped a vein” in the archive that will continue to serve me well long after the dissertation is over.

In future posts I’ll actually discuss some of the incredible things I’m seeing, but for now I just wanted to revel in the fact that the same place that made me question my intellectual worth a year ago is validating me now.

What a difference a year can make.

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.