My Academic Life (so far)

When I put things down on paper or in a blog I make a public commitment. Right now I am working on developing an academic schedule that will take me through the next four years. Yes, this is an assignment for one of my courses, but this is really a letter to myself. I understand the importance of committing to a plan. When I was working as a  principal I would plan ahead all the time, even though the job by its very nature, was unpredictable. Despite the chaos in running an elementary school, every week I would write weekly plans in a school blog to parents so that they would know what was intended to go on at the school. On some Sunday afternoons, this writing would take hours. I never resented the time. This was an opportunity to reflect on what had happened the week before and plan for upcoming events.

My last school blog post – December 2016

I never worried that the school schedule did not follow what was set down on Sunday. Writing was a  way for me to take a longer view and celebrate what was going on with our parent community. This also made the learning more visible for the community.

Six years later I find myself planning again: this time for a Ph.D. which will consume my time for the next four years.  The first year in a Ph.D. program is probably the most straightforward. I am in the process of taking six courses – two last semester, three right now and one in the spring. After this I will be starting work on my comprehensives. This begins with the development of my bibliography and continues on following the schedule below:

StepsExpected completion
Courses completed Spring, 2022
Committee Member List 
Comprehensive Exam: Bibliography
Written component
Oral presentation
1) October
2) spring
3) fall 2022 
Thesis proposal  winter 2023
Ethics approval spring 2023
Recruitment and data collection summer – fall 2023
Thesis winter 2024
Defense December 2025
my first draft at a long-term schedule

To get to 2025, I need a detailed schedule. I am sure this will evolve as I learn more about the Ph.D. process. However, on this cold January afternoon in 2022, there is comfort in editing a draft schedule that sets a future path and supposes order to a very busy four years.

The challenge will not only be managing a busy writing and reading schedule, it will be finding ways to balance this work with many other interests. The foundation of the week will remain exercise. If I have learned anything through the Pandemic it is the importance of keeping body, mind and spirit healthy. The activity can change from the Peloton to hiking to biking, but this is where I have to start, I simply can’t afford to let this go no matter how busy things get.

one thing we did regularly during Covid was to take walks and photos

At the heart of all this will be the thesis and defense. These are the end goals and I have to keep these in mind all of the time. Over the past summer I started to collect articles and write summaries of what I was reading. This has fallen off with the amount of work I have been doing, but now I need to get back to the process of preparing for my end goal. To do this, I will reserve one morning a week – Wednesday for reading and summarizing articles that I can start using for my comprehensives and beyond. It is a challenge to block out time for a goal that is so far away, but by the fall I plan to produce a bibliography of 20-30 pages that will prepare me for my comprehensives.

Every article – one-page images – can be single entry or represent a folder with hyperlink; text in different fonts – synthesized big ideas; icon for connections – your own and/or other articles or sources; photo scan – original written notes; ideas – applications for your own teaching.


content or topic with matching photo article on gallery walk – pedagogy
  




 text – big ideas/concepts


                   ← other resources







applications for own teaching/inspirations
the summary chart I started using last summer – designed by Heather Swail

The summary chart above was really helpful last summer and I plan to start using it again this Wednesday. I have known for a long time that I write best in the morning, especially after an exercise session, so I am going to reserve time every day for writing – summary notes, assignments, reflections, and revising.  I plan to put in two hours in the mornings each day to get something down. This semester, my goal is to improve my academic writing. Last semester I learned that while I write well, I am a little careless with my grammar and I need to brush up on my APA and academic style.

This leaves afternoons free for reading –  a highly necessary Ph.D. activity. Right now, I am working through Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life by bell hooks (hooks, 1997). She writes that when researching her first book hooks would read up to three books a day, sometimes getting only one line she could use for her own writing (p. 102-103). That will not be me. I am a slow reader; sometimes I need most of the day to absorb one article. I will read every day, otherwise, I will never keep up.

bell hooks (Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)

It is one thing to write a schedule, it is another to live it. I will need to weave in the work I continue to do at the university and for Discovery Education. I won’t give up my work with Discovery, I love working with them. The assignments are always different and interesting. Whether I am writing or editing for one of their digital science books, there is a great sense of accomplishment in getting this work done. Without doubt, they are the most positive and affirming people I know, so why would I leave that behind? It is hard to add this work to my growing schedule as I never know when another contract will come up. When it does, I can easily put in 15 hours a week working on their material. Because there is always a deadline, I will have to estimate and portion out my hours throughout the week.

Right now I have one meeting a month with the graduate student committee for Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future. I am definitely the junior member of this group, but I am starting to meet some great people, so I need to find ways to become more involved.

I also want to keep up my teaching at the University of Ottawa. Right now the responsibilities are light: we work as faculty advisors to second-year teacher candidates, but we haven’t been able to visit their schools since the beginning of the Pandemic. Next year I hope to get either another section of this course or even better, a section of the history methodology course that I taught three years ago. I am certain that this experience led me to this PhD journey. I can’t really schedule this time yet, but when the fall comes I will have to restructure my days. For now, I will reserve one morning a week to work on our current course.

SundayMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday
exercisexxxreading for
comps
xxx
writingAMAMAMAM
readingPMPMPMPM
DEwhen
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
when
available 3-4
hours daily
University
work
AM
classes5:30 – 8:30pm11:30 – 2:30 pm
free
time
6:00 pm – 9:00 pm – 6:00 pm –6:00 pm –6:00 pm –6:00 pm –6:00 pm –
My schedule – first draft

There will be adjustments to this schedule over time, but the daily reading and writing will remain the foundation of my schedule. I am leaving some events out like meeting with my supervisors and committee work, but as these become more frequent I will have to find space.

My schedule is seven days. Since my days as a principal, a seven-day schedule made more sense. There is less pressure and at times when there is no Discovery work I can get ahead on my assignments. I really hope to keep my nights free – there needs to be time for fun, just as bell hooks said (p. 122).

What is missing right now is something I love to do. If I mention it here I know I will get back to it – our regular radio shows – Old Fellas New Music. Bob Kennedy, a very long-time friend and I started doing this show in the spring. Work took over and we gave the show a bit of a rest. We got two episodes done over the holiday break and we hope to get another one in next week. This is a great creative outlet and I am determined to work this in, let’s say Wednesday afternoons for now.

You can find our shows on Mixcloud – https://www.mixcloud.com/paul-mcguire3/

What is also missing are some of the activities that were so important to us before Covid. In 2017 Heather and I developed a fundraising campaign for Christie Lake Kids, an Ottawa foundation that provides recreation programming for children throughout the year. Our campaign – Climb for Kids has raised over $100,000 over a three-year period. We raised this money by carrying out group climbing trips in Peru and the Alps. Our next trip was to be Mt. Kilimanjaro, but this has been on hold because of the Pandemic. Our whole family has been involved in this venture and all of our children have worked for Christie Lake Kids. The family is not on the schedule, but in all things, family comes first.

Our first Climb for Kids trip – The Ausangate Region of Peru

If I write it down, I will do it. If I publish this, I have to do it! Thanks professor for giving me the push to get all this down. I am writing again and it feels great!

References

hooks, b. (1997). Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life. Holt.

A reset for 2022

I did a really challenging Petoton class today with Denis Morton. He is tough and I really got a great workout from him. His theme was resetting in a new year and it resonated with me. I think I have been on a mental and emotional reset for most of this year and it is good to look at what this means to me as we enter 2022.

Dennis Morton

A reset is a good thing. To me, it means recasting, rethinking, and learning from experiences that are unique to me. The first reset for me has been the struggles I have had as a result of Covid. I have written about these in the blog and I am still in the process of recovery, but I am writing now to tell you that recovery is part of the process. It does come and we need to persevere.

This whole period of pronounced anxiety is not a loss, there is so much to learn while you are in such a state. For one thing, I am much more mindful of how I am doing and what I can do to further my recovery process. So many people go through periods like this, it is really important to take these opportunities to learn. Learning seldom happens when everything is going well – there is little motivation for reflection. There vis little real growth.

One of the infographics I made that record some of the wisdom I have gained through conversations with my therapist. Good to read this on a regular day.

The resetting process has many components. One big one for me has been the work I have been able to do on my Ph.D. at the University of Ottawa. I have completed two graduate courses and am beginning to start work on three more. This has been such a wonderful learning experience and I find new vistas are opening up all the time as I begin my training as a researcher. Maybe this semester I will find the time to write about what I am learning – reflection through writing is a great way better absorb the experience.

I have also gained much through Noom. I started this last January and have kept at it throughout the year. The psychology behind the program is what keeps me with them. So much of what they write can be applied to other aspects of my life. This is a very positive approach to examining life and how you want to live it. I have also lost 30 pounds and am much more aware of what I need to do to stay healthy.

I have returned to daily meditation practice using another app, Headspace. I have taken a bunch of their courses and am working on the Pro level. This is now part of my daily practice. It is only 10 minutes a day, but I feel like I am learning more about the benefits of the practice.

An on again off again part of the reset has to be Old Fellas New Music. If you read this blog, you will see a number of posts having to do with the music show my friend Bob Kenndy and I have done since the spring. The latest episode is a New Year’s Eve edition. The show had to take a back seat for a few months as I worked through my assignments, but I am hoping in the new year that Bob and I can do this on a regular basis.

Our latest poster – you can listen to our entire playlist here

So, where does the resetting process take me in 2022? All these elements plus a few others will remain important. Another part of the process has to do with learning to live post-pod with my wonderful partner Heather. Our children are all again on their own with one daughter now in the Maritimes – lots of learning here and having time together is a wonderful reset.

After a challenging year, it is important to reflect on what one is learning. No experience is wasted, everything we do has its purpose. Resetting for a new year means reflecting on the old and setting sights on what comes next. It has been a remarkable year in so many ways; we honour the time by pausing to reflect on all this.

The family in 2021 so many experiences, so much to learn

Feeling our Pain

Taken on a quiet paddle

We all have preferred styles of attention and ways that we perceive what is happening to us. It takes lifelong practice of what I call “mirror-wiping” to see things as they are, instead of as we are! “I” am always my first problem, and if I deal with “me,” then I can deal with other problems much more effectively. Similarly, grief work begins with cleansing the lens of my perception, and simply being “here” to what is. Buddhist teacher Cuong Lu is a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, and here he describes a practical way to be present to our pain.

Do you want to put an end to the dark thoughts racing through your mind, the pressures you feel every day, the many ways you don’t feel seen or heard? What do you really want? What do you really want to end? Your thoughts bombarding you 24/7? Your loneliness? Your despair? What do you think happens when life ends? Do you think you won’t feel anything, that you won’t suffer anymore? . . .

Instead of acting on these impulses—stop, wait, and study the details of your life: the skin on your hands, the despair in your throat, the searing currents running through your veins. Study these things as if your life depended on it. When you stay fully present with your feelings, your sensations, and the world around you, even when it seems dark and cold, joy will arise. Joy and suffering are two sides of the same coin.

The way to free yourself from pain is to feel it, not to run away, as difficult as that may be. Be a mountain and be porous at the same time. Become interested in yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, your sensations. This might not make sense now, but it will. . . .

Pain and suffering make life beautiful. This might be hard to believe while you’re suffering, but the lessons you can learn from hardships are jewels to cherish. If you’re suffering, it means you have a heart. Suffering is evidence of your capacity to love, and only those who understand suffering can understand life and help others.

The world needs your suffering, your courage, and your strength. Don’t try to kill your pain. Share it with another, communicate it. If the first person you talk to isn’t the right one, find someone else. Somebody somewhere wants to listen to your pain, to connect with you and understand you. When you find them, when you lighten your burden and discover the jewels and joy that are alive beneath the pain, later you’ll be present for others who are suffering.

Richard Rohr Center of Action and Contemplation


I never do this in a blog post, but I am making an exception

The most important part of this post is the quote by Cuong Lu. I found it yesterday by chance after I clicked on Richard Rohr’s site – something I haven’t done in a very long time. It certainly speaks to me and what I am going through now as a result of a year and a half of Covid, and I think there are lots of people out there who could benefit from these words, so I am putting it all out there.

One of the distressing byproducts of Covid is the anxiety and depression it can induce in people. One of the high risk groups are people who have dealt with anxiety disorders in the past. In my case, Covid has led to a recurrence of an old anxiety condition that has not surfaced in seven years.

Now it is back and I am working really hard on drawing myself out from a prolonged period of pretty high anxiety. It is certainly a very slow road.

Many others I suspect are going through this too so I hope this is helpful to those who read my blog. These are extraordinary times and I really think we need to be communicating about how we are doing right now. To do so normalizes the distress and helps everyone to feel part of a community that is struggling with the prolonged pandemic.

No one likes to feel bad, whatever form this takes, but I sincerely believe there is value in times of distress. When we suffer, it causes us to lean in, to learn more about ourselves and grow. Growth and learning can be really hard, but it still is an opportunity to look inside with compassion and interest to see ourselves in a new way.

I have written about my own mental health struggles in the past and these posts are usually the ones that get the most response. That is a good thing. I don’t mind putting myself out there, especially if it helps someone else who is suffering.

We don’t like suffering and we usually do whatever we can to avoid this. While this is natural, I suggest that we have to be present to the challenging times, not just the good ones. We need to learn not to judge these times as ‘bad’, they really are just a part of what it means to be human and we all go through these at various times in our lives.

The best response is to take the time to settle in and reflect.

As Cuong Lu says, “Become interested in yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, your sensations. This might not make sense now, but it will. . . .”

I hope people respond to this post, especially if this helps. I hope people post on how they are doing right now so we can all realize we are a brave bright community that is struggling. I do believe that there is comfort in all of this and that this particular post may help out as people contribute to what I am writing here now.

Even if you don’t write anything, I hope you find some comfort in the notion that the dark times are times of opportunity to learn and grow. Even in discomfort and distress there can be the beginnings of joy.

Could this be a dialogue? I sincerely hope so.