I Have A New Job!

new job ahead

Way back in 2014, I wrote a blog post about this history podcast I’d recently discovered called The Memory Palace. In that blog post I described the show as “is all the reminder one needs that history can be not just fun, not just accessible, but freakin’ lyrical.”

In the time since I wrote that post, a good bit has changed at The Memory Palace. The show is now hosted by a different podcasting network, RadioTopia. Radiotopia in turn is run by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, which—per the highest of authorities, Wikipedia—is the largest on-demand catalog of public radio programs available for broadcast and Internet use. So, that’s pretty exciting.

The show is also now released every other week. So, that’s pretty exciting.

The show also now has a Research Assistant. So that’s pretty exciting.

That Research Assistant is me.

So, that’s pretty exciting.

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I am of the opinion that things happen for a reason, which is why I couldn’t stop thinking about a recent episode of The Memory Palace, which ended with a call for applications. The show’s host, Nate DiMeo, was looking for somebody to help him out. Shockingly, putting together narrative history podcasts based on archival work is kind of a lot of work, and he’d been doing it all by himself for all these years (which explains why, in the early days, the show didn’t come out very often). Now that he has an actual production schedule, he needed somebody to help him speed the process up a bit.

The announcement he made on the podcast specifically asked for a Ph.D. student studying history in the LA-area.

I am that thing.

I half-heartedly tweeted at Nate, and then promptly went back to the mountain of work under which I was buried at the time. I’m writing a dissertation, teaching two courses of my own in the next six months, and already do a pretty significant amount of extracurricular work—service to the department and the profession, public writing, and intensive pedagogical training. Adding another thing—even a really cool thing—to that list seemed, well, bat-shit insane.

4.1.2016 2.jpgBut I couldn’t get the damned job out of my head. I finally did the thing I always do when I need to be talked out of a bad decision: I called my mother.

She told me I’d be an idiot if I didn’t go after the job. It was… unexpected.

After that, the process went fairly quickly. I sent in my C.V., and wrote up my various and sundry journalism credentials. I also fangirled out just the tiniest bit… and who could blame me? Not only had I listened to every episode of the podcast (going so far as to post about how much I enjoyed it on my blog), I’d gone to the most recent LA live show. I get the impression that even Nate was a little surprised by how freakishly well I fit the job description he’d put out. Short story shorter, I got the job, and now my name appears in the credits of a podcast I love.

I’d be lying if I said taking on a part-time job is easy, even when—like this one—you can make your own hours. It’s also not a choice for which a graduate student is likely to be commended. My advisor is quite possibly the best human on the planet, and she shares a great many of my political commitments. When I told her, her response was, “I’m of the opinion that’s it’s none of my business what you do with your personal life. If you’re happy, I’m happy for you. Just finish your dissertation.” And here’s the thing: I literally can’t imagine a nicer reaction coming from a graduate advisor, which is, to my mind, utterly hilarious. Ph.D. Comics, take note!

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It’s not easy taking on part-time work in the home stretch of my graduate career, but I’m loving every minute of it. So, from here on out, in addition to posting about my academic work, and the trials and travails of graduate school, I’m also going to be posting episodes of The Memory Palace. My first episode, “Episode 85 (AKA Leo)” came out last week. Give it a listen if you want to learn about the incredibly bizarre, and dubiously fortunate life of Jackie, the second MGM Lion. And let me know if you have any questions about the work I’m doing! I’ll definitely post about MP again, so I’ll tailor my writing to your interests insofar as I possibly can.

 

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

Lost in the Archives, Found on Castro Street

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This post comes to you from a hotel room in San Francisco, where I’ve spent the past ten days doing archival work. I’ve been here for ten days now, and—thank goodness—will be returning home tomorrow. In the past month, I think I slept in my own bed four times… the rest of the time has been spent living out of suitcases at various and sundry points across the United States. It’s been a very long month.

This research trip was incredibly productive. I’m leaving tomorrow with thousands of pages of material.  I’m also leaving in an acute state of information overwhelm. The quantity of information I found in the archives, and the limited time frame within which I have been working, has meant I’ve only been able to actually read about 1/5 of the material I collected in the past ten days. Even so, I know there are at least two more archives that I should have hit up while here. It’s actually pretty amazing; folks in SF have done an amazing job collecting and preserving the history of the AIDS crisis.

Panicking over the amount of material at my disposal, and trying to figure out the logistics of a return trip, are great problems for an historian to have. Trust me: I’ve had the experience of coming up empty, and it’s the worst. Nevertheless, the position I find myself in right now is… uncomfortable. I’m not fun when I’m overwhelmed.

Overwhelm sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. Earlier this week, I was utterly unmoored. That wasn’t the end of the world either, but try telling that to an unmoored-Andrea. Try telling that to any academic, actually.

Much of the past week and a half has been spent in a fog, trying to wrap my head around the outlines, the ethos of the archive, as opposed to thinking through individual documents. In my case, that’s a dangerous place to be… a slippery slope of insecurity. What does it all mean? What kind of conclusions can I make based on these kind of archival materials? Can I really construct an argument on the basis of documents like this? Do I need to change my dissertation topic to accommodate the archive? Could it be that nobody’s done this kind of research before because it’s not actually interesting? Could I have just wasted a ton of time and money? Is it possible I just collected thousands of pages of material I’ll never use? Did I lose my iPhone charger? I DID! Holy crap! What am I even doing here?!

One day this week, my research anxiety got so bad that I was either going to vent, or have a mini-breakdown. I did what I always do when I’m in trouble: I called my mom. She listened quietly as I rambled for about ten minutes, jumping wildly from “I’m seeing this interesting trend…” to “I don’t think I can write a dissertation,” from “I think I’m going to need to do oral histories” to “I can’t deal with all the street harassment in San Francisco!” She then proceeded to tell me exactly what I needed to hear:

“Go home. You could have everything you need in front of you, but there’s no way you’re going to see it right now. Walk away.”

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I was only able to take half of that advice, given the time constraints within which I’m working. I spent a couple more hours taking photo after photo after photo, and then I went home, and fell into bed. At, like, 5 PM. I got a (very) good night’s sleep. The next morning—instead of running to archive A for a couple hours before my appointment at archive B, the original plan—I got on a cable car, went to the Castro, stopped by Hot Cookie, and bought a bunch of food I have no business eating, including a cookie shaped like a certain part of the male anatomy… because it’s the Castro.

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I wandered the streets, stared in shop windows, and imagined what it was like living there in the early eighties, the late eighties, the nineties. I thought about the people I met through my research: the archivists, who told me about their experiences; the dead, whose voices live on in the sources; friends, colleagues, and mentors who once walked the same streets; and those people who, if very much alive, still only exist for me on papers tucked away in folders and boxes.

I wandered the streets of the Castro, and I remembered why I came to San Francisco to begin with, why I decided to go to graduate school, and why I want to be an historian.I also realized why I was so scared.

Rummaging through archives is a wonderful experience, one I wish everybody had at least once in their life, but it’s a space in which one is easily unmoored. Sometimes that means that the people you read about become hopelessly abstracted, other times you lose track of your research question, or realize that question is utterly unanswerable. Still other times, you lose track of yourself. In my case, I think all of those things happened.

CASTRO1The sheer volume of information I encountered in my archive forced me to recognize how little I know. Meeting people who lived the experiences I’m interested in historicizing—while inspiring—left me questioning my ability to tell their story. I realized that my dissertation needed to be radically restructured; some topics were far better documented than I’d anticipated, and others proved to be total dead ends. I realized that the archive is slowly but surely forcing me into work that strays from both my intended path, and the path I’ve prepared myself to travel. I began to feel incredibly small in comparison to the big, big, big task ahead of me.

Once I got myself out of the old musty rooms and into the streets, I remembered why I’d entered those musty rooms to begin with. I remembered that all the amazing people I’d encountered want me to do this work, have encouraged me to do this work. They built these archives so I could do this work. The task before me is very large, and yes, I feel a bit small in comparison, but the answer is to GROW, not shrink. If I became unmoored in the archive, I dropped my anchor in the Castro.

And so here I am, sitting in a hotel room in San Francisco. I’m physically, emotionally, and intellectually exhausted. I’m totally overwhelmed. I’m also very thankful that my anchor has been recast, and really, I couldn’t have chosen a much nicer place to do it.

“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.

“Procrastibaking”

No, this is not a stock photo. Yes, I made these. No, the bottoms are not even remotely brown. Yes, they are super chewy and indulgent. As if that wasn't enough, these delightful little cookies double as a sanity-preservation device!.

No, this is not a stock photo. Yes, I made these. No, the bottoms are not even remotely brown. Yes, they are super chewy and indulgent. As if that wasn’t enough, these delightful little cookies double as a sanity-preservation device!.

My name is Andrea, and I am a “procrastibaker.”

I wasn’t always this way. There was a time, long ago, when I didn’t particularly care for cookies, when Pillsbury did the trick, when baking happened… for a reason. Those were dark times, friend.

Then, during my second year of graduate school something happened, something that—as I understand it—happens to many a young graduate student: I discovered that cooking yielded not only a concrete product (well, not concrete… my food is almost always digestible), but also yielded a feeling of accomplishment. That feeling only multiplied when giving the aforementioned food to other people. Shockingly, folks tended to appreciate my Thai food then more than my academic output. I can’t imagine why.

I caught the cooking bug in a big way. I started inventing reasons to cook. Feeding myself wasn’t enough—in fact, most of the time cooking killed my appetite. No, other people needed to see that I was capable of producing a quality meal, they needed to eat and enjoy it. That year, there was a dinner party almost every week. It was both enjoyable and fulfilling, but my wallet got so light it came darned close to floating out the door. INSERT FOOD PORN HERE:

By my third year of graduate school—not coincidentally, the same year I took my oral exams and advanced to candidacy—I had really honed my new addiction. Instead of big dinner parties, I returned to my first love, baking, and restricted myself to one or two projects a week. I spent significantly less money, and instead of feeding five to ten people to the point of bursting, everybody in my classes got a cookie (or two, or three). This was my calling.

These days, I bake at least once a week. I almost always make cookies, not because cookies are my favorite thing to make so much as they are the most space, time, and cost-efficient of the options available to me. When I’m done baking, everything goes straight into the freezer, and then gets doled out to my fellow grad students throughout the week. I’m the cookie fairy.

My kitchen counter at least one night a week. The cookie flavors may change, but the weird foil runner remains the same.

My kitchen counter at least one night a week. The cookie flavors may change, but the weird foil runner remains the same.

While I’m the only person I know who distributes baked goods on an almost daily basis, cooking is one of the stress relievers of choice for grad students. I know folks with cooking blogs, Instagram and Facebook chefs, and elaborate-party havers. By far the most impressive academic foodie I’ve encountered was my undergraduate thesis adviser: she was in her first year of teaching… she actually made her own sausage. 

I’ve long assumed that academics weren’t the only people who turned to the kitchen for validation, but I didn’t realize the extent to which that was true until last month, when I read a Wall Street Journal article about therapists using cooking classes to treat anxiety and depression.

It makes all the sense in the world: cooking forces one to disconnect from stress, focus on something else, and (if you do it right) leaves you with something to be proud of, and share with people you might not engage otherwise. To quote the article at length:

Psychologists say cooking and baking are pursuits that fit a type of therapy known as behavioral activation. The goal is to alleviate depression by boosting positive activity, increasing goal-oriented behavior and curbing procrastination and passivity.

“If the activity is defined as personally rewarding or giving a sense of accomplishment or pleasure, or even seeing the pleasure of that pumpkin bread with chocolate chips making someone else happy, then it could improve a sense of well-being,” says Jacqueline Gollan, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Clinical studies on cooking’s therapeutic effects are hard to come by. But occupational therapists say cooking classes are particularly widely used in their profession, which seeks to help people with mental or physical disorders maintain their daily living and working skills.

I used to think of my cooking as a symptom of a problem: the self-esteem issues that often result from spending the majority of one’s twenties in graduate school. Now, I see my procrastibaking as a solution, as one of the things that’s keeping me going during the long hard slog to the PhD. My only regret? They REALLY should have mentioned this at my orientation!

That would be orange glazed chickpeas and tofu, nestled of-so-comfortably on a bed of sesame-soy grilled zucchini and basmati. BOOM.

That would be orange glazed chickpeas and tofu, nestled of-so-comfortably on a bed of sesame-roasted zucchini and basmati. BOOM.

Here’s a few quick tips to optimize your cooking experience:

  • Cook healthy foods, or cook for somebody else. I cook healthy meals for myself, but the vast majority of my baked goods end up in other people’s stomachs. Grad students, as a general rule, are too poor and too stressed out to turn down free food, so get rid of the stuff you make as quickly as necessary to avoid binging.
  • Mix it up. If you always cook the same three things, you’re eventually going to go on autopilot, which effectively eliminates the benefit of the activity. Sometimes zoning out is a good thing, but make sure you’re trying new recipes on a regular basis. Just don’t put yourself in a situation where the success or failure of a kitchen experiment is going to really upset you.
  • Make the time productive. Just because this is your time to de-stress doesn’t mean you can’t also use it to get important stuff done. I study HIV/AIDS, in addition to other things, so I listened to an audiobook of And The Band Played On while cooking over the summer; it was more relaxing than close-reading the ginormous text, and—since the book is well-written and engaging—pretty fun. Other times, I’ll listen to NPR, put on the news, or listen to a podcast that I would otherwise have to carve out time for.
  • Track your spending. How much is that recipe going to run you, exactly? Cooking is great fun, and I am not an advocate of eating super cheap, but be aware of what you spend. The time and enjoyment I get out of baking cookies is worth the investment in ingredients; the same cannot be said of cupcakes, which is the reason I don’t make them on a regular basis. The last thing you want is to turn procrastibaking into a source of stress, and that’s what will happen if you don’t occasionally do the math.
Definitely the least productive use of my culinary skills so far, but also the most fun.

Definitely the least productive use of my culinary skills so far, but also the most fun.

Are you a procrastibaker? Share your culinary accomplishments with us in the comments!

 

“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.

A Bedtime Story for Adults

Sleep like a baby

Last night, I read Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life before 8 AM (review to come), and it got me thinking about the importance of routine in my life. Specifically, it got me thinking about how much happier I’ve become since developing a nighttime routine.

If there is one thing that graduate students need, and almost ever have, it’s stability. Uncertainty is built into our lives: classes and teaching schedules change, funding fluctuates (or disappears entirely), deadlines come and go, and few people hold us accountable for our use of time. Being your own boss is as liberating as it is frustrating, and academics rarely walk away from a hard day’s work with something tangible to show for their day. My nighttime routine adds a little structure to my life, gives me the opportunity to reflect as I wind down for the evening, and—perhaps most important—instructs my stress-addled brain that it is officially okay to be tired.

So what does a nighttime routine look like? It looks however you want it to look, though I’ve found that I get the greatest satisfaction from combining activities that involve different kinds of sensory stimulation. Basically, it’s a grown-up version of the routine my parents shepherded me through as a child.

Here’s what my night looks like:

  • Mood lighting. I have a very bright floor lamp on one side of my room, and a much dimmer lamp on each bedside table. During the day, the floor lamp is on. When I’m ready to wind down, the bedside lamps go on.
  • Scented candles. A bajillion years ago, I read that one of the most addictive parts of smoking (besides the whole nicotine thing) is the act of lighting a cigarette. Staring into a flame is that fun. It’s not news that fire is a fantastic meditative aid, but I think we underestimate how helpful it can be outside of standard-issue mindfulness practices. I don’t have a fireplace, so instead I light two scented candles on either side of my bed. The light bouncing off the walls and the aroma of “midnight orchid” is a quick signal to my brain that it’s time to get sleepy.
  • Pre-beauty rest beauty routine. A couple years ago, I discovered—to my horror—that lines had begun to appear on my face. I’m told that this is part of a larger process called “aging,” and that it’s something of a human universal. Well, it sucks. On the bright side, my new-found anxiety about the youthfulness of my complexion has led me to adopt a fairly rigorous face cleansing routine in the evenings. This is, of course, great news for my skin, but it’s also super helpful as part of my larger power-down process. The combination of cold water, and (the texture and smell of) the various lotions and potions I apply to my face, are great signposts for the end of my day.
  • Pro-level oral hygiene. This past summer, I found out I had a cavity. Three cavities, actually. The first twenty-seven years of my life were cavity-free, so this news was very upsetting, and the subject of another post, which you can read here. I used to brush my teeth before bed. Now I brush, floss (most of the time), and rinse with mouthwash… like an adult. My next visit to the dentist is going to be awesome.
  • Podcast-induced giggling. While all of this is going on, I’m usually listening to a podcast. They aren’t as all-consuming as television, they’re portable, and—if you listen to the right shows—they are tremendously entertaining. I normally listen to comedy podcasts while I wind down at night; “My Brother My Brother and Me,” “Throwing Shade,” “Sawbones,” and “The Adventure Zone” are among my favorite end-of-day jams.
  • Journaling. A daily writing practice is incredibly rewarding, and a surprisingly easy habit to pick up (I did it in August—you can read about it here). I usually only devote about ten minutes to journaling each night, but it’s enough to get me reflecting on my day, and thinking about the kind of tomorrow I want to have.
  • Body lotion marathon. I know, I know. All I can say is that I live in the desert, and I have really dry skin. I also hate this kind of maintenance unless I see it as part of a larger production.
  • Reading or Knitting. More often than not I finish my nighttime routine by curling up in bed with a good book, or a pair of knitting needles. Sometimes the rest of my routine is a little too effective, and I’m officially too tired to make this last step happen, but it hardly feels like a sacrifice, since I know I’m making the time to indulge my hobbies on a regular basis.

I’m hoping to make one addition to my nighttime routine in the near future: a to-do list for the following day. I used to write up lists and schedules every evening, but fell out of the practice for reasons that, honestly, aren’t entirely clear to me.

I realize that my nighttime routine is time-consuming, and (correctly) implies that I spend very few evenings out late with friends. Certainly that isn’t going to work for everyone. Maybe your routine can be counted in minutes, not hours. That’s fine, as long as you treasure that time. Make it non-negotiable. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you.

It’s your turn. What’s your nighttime routine? If you don’t have one, are you down to give it a try? I’d love to hear if it works out!

“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.

Beyond “QuitLit”

I quit my job text on cardboard

I spent weeks working myself into a fine lather over the how, when, and why of explaining my current relationship with academia (which I eventually did in my most recent post). Grad school is a fantastic incubator for self-consciousness, and—though I make a genuine (and, I would argue, largely successful) effort to stay optimistic and confident in all things—I couldn’t help but worry about how my colleagues and peers might respond to my public declaration that I’m not 100% sure what I want to be when I grow up.

While some of that anxiety was inevitable, it also proved to be a fantastic waste of my time.

Since returning to school (and SMDS), I’ve been buoyed by support from peers and mentors around the country. It turns out I’m not alone. There are a lot of graduate students who aren’t really sure the career path they are following is the best choice for them. Indeed, I’ve heard from highly successful tenured professors that they still don’t know if they made the right choices, decades later. Even those who are convinced they found their place in the world are sympathetic to my situation, because they’ve seen it so many times before. I’ve also discovered that some of the grad students I most admire (and least expected) are warming to the alt-ac path, if for no other reason because the exigencies of the job market dictate they must.

I’m sharing this miniature update because—while I consider myself a pretty astute observer of micro and macro trends in higher education—I didn’t anticipate the tide of empathy in which I’m currently bathed. At best, I assumed I’d face a lot of cajoling; at worst, I figured I’d be written off as too weak to survive in academia. I came to these expectations honestly, in no small part thanks to a number of articles on the topic (so-called “QuitLit”) that have been circulating in the recent past. I was especially struck by Elizabeth Keenan’s Vitae post on “Having the Talk.”

It might seem counterintuitive, but stay with me here. The fact that so many people are taking to the internet to enumerate the reasons why they left academia, and to empower others as they do the same, made me feel like the thoughts I’m currently indulging required justification. It felt like I was committing some kind of radical thought crime, just by acknowledging that—at twenty freakin’ eight—I’m not 100% wedded to my current career path.  That’s insane.

None of this is to say that I don’t appreciate the efforts of my fellow bloggers; I think “QuitLit” deserves a big, prominent place in discussions of higher education. That said, what I needed to hear over the past few weeks, more than anything else, was what I heard when I went back to school:

“Oh. Yeah, me too.”

“It makes a lot of sense for you to be having these thoughts given where you are in your career.”

“Leaving academia seems far less upsetting now than it did a couple years ago.”

And my personal favorite, from a friend who beat the odds and actually got the tenure-track job: “[I]t seems pretty self-apparent that a true scholar can find fulfillment and do the world some good in any number of professions.”

So there you have it folks. If you are considering alt-ac career options, or leaving grad school, or are SURE you want to try for tenure but want to feel like it’s okay to discuss other options, shoot me an email, leave a comment on this post, or join the SMDS Facebook group. I will tell you what you need to hear… with a comforting lack of fanfare.

“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.

I’m Back… And I’m Starting Over!

New life chapter

Just three short months after starting “The Six Million Dollar Scholar,” I did that thing that pro bloggers tell you to never, ever, ever do: I disappeared. It’s been over three months since my last post, which is even more embarrassing because that means my blog’s spent more time inactive than it’s spent active. WOOPS.

Well, I’m back now.

So where did I go? I crawled into my own head. A small piece of me actually died in there. Some call that piece “denial,” others “fear,” but I’m going to go ahead and call it what it is: bullshit. My bullshit died. I killed it.

I stopped blogging because I decided “writing for fun” was a waste of time, that the aforementioned time needed to go to my dissertation. I was struggling with my academic work—pretty much for the first time ever—so it didn’t make sense to blog. Instead, I devoted myself to hitting my head against the wall, harder, and harder, and harder. Eventually the dissertation would shake loose, right? Grad school is suffering, so finding myself chronically unsatisfied with my work was just a sign that I was on the right track, right? RIGHT?!?

Wrong. I had been going nowhere, and I’d been going there at the speed of light. By the time my twenty eighth birthday rolled around in December, I was demoralized, depressed… I was done.

A fairly accurate rendering of where I was around this time last month.

I went home over the winter break with no books, no journal articles, no writing, nothing. I resolved that I would use my time off to deal with the frightening reality that I might not be cut out for the career I’ve spent years pursuing. To call that process uncomfortable would be an understatement. Academia is, and always has been, my security blanket. It’s my constant, my rock, my significant other. It doesn’t just structure my identity, it structures my assumptions about all the big-ticket concepts in life: success, love, work, intelligence, and freedom, to name a few. Nevertheless, I rolled up my sleeves, and took a good long look at my situation.

What did this several-week-long face-to-face with the truth yield? A series of realizations:

  • I am NOT happy with life as I’m currently living it.
  • I have all the tools I need to succeed, both within and without academia, but I’ve been too disconnected from myself to use those tools effectively.
  • There is nothing more comfortable than that which reliably sucks, and there is nothing more frightening than attaining what you want.
  • By convincing myself that my life path is pre-determined—and structured by others (academia, my professors, reviewers, search committees, etc.)—I’ve made graduate school into a trap, instead of a space to freely cultivate my ideas.
  • My priorities in life have been changing fairly radically over the past few years, but I failed to accommodate, or even accept, those changes.
  • In walking away from blogging (and non-academic writing in general) I have been denying myself that which brings me closer to the truth. Of course I couldn’t post… being authentic would mean admitting I didn’t have all, most, or any of the answers.

I would say I had a fairly productive Winter Break, wouldn’t you? For all the epiphanies I managed to cram into a few short weeks, the process of arriving at all of these conclusions was incredibly difficult. So difficult, in fact, that I couldn’t—at the time—do a damned thing about them. I just had to sit with all this new information, and try not to throw up.

Now I’m back at school, and it’s time to take care of business. What does that actually mean?

This is probably the place where you expect me to tell you that I’m dropping out of school. I’m not. But I might… one day. I honestly don’t know, and that’s actually really important to me.

The single most radical thing I can do, and my single greatest challenge, both personally and professionally, is to accept (and dwell in) uncertainty. So that’s what I’m going to do.

These days, when I wake up, I have three main goals: I will use the day to (1) do meaningful academic work, (2) write something meaningful, whatever that looks like to me that day, and (3) to do something concrete to build up my “alt-ac” options. My days will also include home-cooked meals, exercise, non-academic reading, and at least eight hours of sleep. In essence, I’m going to force myself to live intentionally, but without a concrete end in mind. I’m trusting that this will bring me to a place where I’m able to truly understand what I want out of life, and how—or if—a Ph.D. figures into that calculus.

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, but part of me worried that doing so would somehow invalidate the whole blog. After all, I called my blog “The Six Million Dollar Scholar.” Can I still claim that title, now that pretty much everything about my life and career is up in the air?

Yes. Yes I can. Looking critically at (and beyond) my Ph.D. is probably the most intelligent thing I’ve done since starting SMDS. In fact, it’s an exercise more academics would do well to adopt. It’s also helped remind me that I need not be a grad student, a professor, or an anything in particular, to be a scholar. Learning is my jam. I’ll be a scholar no matter where this journey takes me, because that’s just who I am.

So there you have it. I’m back, and on the road to being better than ever. 2015 should be a very interesting year.

“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.

Happy Academic New Year!


I don’t normally take such a long break from blogging, but my oh my, has the past week been busy. I completed and turned in my dissertation prospectus (more on that in another post), started physical therapy, cleaned my house to a degree that’s genuinely unnerving, and started filling my freezer with enough home-cooked meals to last me a couple months. We’re talking at least twenty four hours, probably more, devoted exclusively to cooking and cleaning.

Suddenly, I see a number of parallels between my back-to-school fussing and doomsday prep. But it’s not doomsday I’m prepping for, it’s Academic New Year!

Tomorrow our (read: grad students’) first day back in the saddle. The undergrads will return days later, in—and this is patently absurd—October. “First Day” is putting it strongly. We’re having a meeting, taking professional photos for our department’s website, and enjoying a potluck at the park. Doesn’t matter. The first day of school is always light. It still counts.

As far as I’m concerned, starting the school year this late is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, EVERYTHING ABOUT IT IS TERRIBLE. On the other hand, I’m more desperate to get back than I’ve ever been. I’ve been holed up in my apartment by myself for two long. I think I may actually be paler now than I was when summer started. I’ve been productive, yes, but it’s time to return to polite society.

This impulse is comical at best, and pity-inspiring at worst. Because I’m on a research fellowship this year. I am not taking classes or teaching… in fact, I’m not required to be on campus at all.

To be clear: I am excited to go back to school even though I’m not really going back to school. Cue the sad trombone.

This isn’t quite as pathetic as it seems. Despite being one of the most disciplined people I know (not so humblebrag), even I occasionally need a little support. I’ve managed to not goof off for the past three months, but the impulse to work when nobody’s watching, well, it’s fading. Packing up my silly little lunchbox and going into the office every couple days is going to force me to engage with busy people, thereby shaming me into work.

You bet it is.

At least that’s the plan. I’ve never had this kind of freedom before, and I’m more-than-a-little afraid of it. I’m hoping to mitigate my freedom, somewhat, by forcing myself to show up for the next few weeks, until I have established a schedule. I want to wake up in morning knowing that my peers expect to see me in the dissertation research room, empty lunchbox in hand, with something accomplished at the end of the day.

This little mind game appear to be working, because my back to school butterflies are as alive now as they were when I was in grade school. The primary difference is that now, instead of getting stoked over the prospect of a new Lisa Frank trapper keeper, I’m daydreaming about resolutions.

The start of the academic year is my New Year’s Day. Yes, I celebrate the traditional holiday, but this is when the big changes happen. And happen they do.

Last year’s resolution was to develop an online presence. It was an aweosme resolution because it was broad enough that failure was unlikely, and the possibilities for improvement limitless. The only thing I knew for sure was that I REALLY needed to update my LinkedIn profile, which I’m pretty sure had gone completely untouched for a good four years at that point.

Tah dah! One year later I’ve put together a halfway decent website, started a blog, chaired a panel on public history and digital humanities, edited an online journal, celebrated my one year Twitterversary, AND—perhaps most shocking of all—finally updated my LinkedIn profile. Basically, I own the Internet now. I’m swimming in this space, and the floaties are off!

Academic New Year is real, and if you harness its power for good, the rewards will be bountiful.

When I think of the word “power,” I think of Terry Crews. Because duh.

Given how successful last year’s resolution was, I’ve been wracking my brain for months trying to figure out the perfect goal is for this academic year. This entire blog is a resolution, so—with all these ideas circulating—it’s hard to pin down an individual goal to focus on. But, of course, if you set too many goals for the Academic New Year, you’re more likely to be unsuccessful. I needed one good goal… anything else I improve in my life is gravy.

I’ve decided that this year’s goal is to cultivate a daily writing practice beyond the journaling I already do. I see this goal potentially manifesting in several ways: maintaining my blog, devoting more time to freelance work, finally submitting those journal articles I’ve been sitting on for years, and, of course, dissertating like there’s no tomorrow. Those are the possibilities that I see now, but if the last year has taught me anything, it’s to wed oneself to processes, not their outcomes.

Tomorrow morning, when I get up unnecessarily early to iron a skirt that will most certainly   be visible in my picture day photo, I’ll be doing so with a little extra spring in my step, because I know I have succeeded at changing my lifestyle, and will yet again. I hope that you all of you start thinking about one goal you can devote yourself to this year—wherever your calendar year begins—and know that you will achieve it, because you will.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m  pretty sure there’s a floor that needs mopping… somewhere.

“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. You can join the SMDS community on Facebook by clicking here and liking the page!