I’m in hog heaven. This week, I’ve been to a seminar on sign language impairments, learned some Lindy Hop, signed up for Korean classes and an interdisciplinary conference, hosted a queer theory/mediaeval art lecture screening in college and eaten home-made kimchi. And I’ve met warm, inspiring, thoughtful people in college and the department. I only had one evening with my partner – which is not enough and needs to change! – but overall this is everything I hoped for, and more.
Despite all the extra-curricular activity, most of my time has been spent on the course. And as it’s second week, the first signs of storming have emerged: the inevitable group negotiation of roles, boundaries and mutual expectations.
The boundaries are appearing at all levels: the implicit rules of the group, but also theoretical boundaries between sub-disciplines, between sounds and meanings. I’m tripping over them: using the wrong explanatory framework, focusing on a phonetic distinction in a phonology class, confusing grammatical case with syntactic function. I feel like I’m learning a whole set of new languages and at the same time trying to figure out what they have in common, and why the differences are important. The linguistics of linguistics, if you like. (Stop me if you think I’ve just spiralled up my own academic backside!)
This is an adult learning environment and I’m responsible for my own learning. It’s my job to draw my own map of the subject and make sense of it. I see many parallels between postgraduate study and my last role: the need to handle ambiguity, understand multiple competing representations and perspectives, choose a course of action and justify it in the wider context, and have the same conversation in different ways with different stakeholders. But this is also a structured foundation programme with classes and homework. There’s real temptation to pretend I’m back at school and hand responsibility back to the faculty.
As you would expect, the course tutors have different styles, preferences and approaches which overlay the differences in the subject matter, and I’ve realised this week that these differences are actually very helpful. The variety provides an opportunity for comparison, and therefore to build hypotheses about what’s driving it and what’s going to be important in the long run. For me, the best approach so far is where the tutor’s assumptions are clearly stated and tested, and where the structure of teaching supports me to distinguish between the core concepts of the subject, the competing theoretical approaches and a tutor’s personal academic viewpoint. But where that isn’t as clear for any reason, I now have a framework and some tools to engage in discussion with the tutors and build my understanding: my own personal contribution to the storming.
So I’m looking forward to third week, but it’s still early days and I’m sure that I’m not noticing loads of stuff. What do you think? What have I missed?