Friday, August 13, 2010

University Life, and the Life of the University

Sometimes I think I've been entirely developed in a university Petri dish. Or rather, not one in a university, but one of universities. From growing up on the campus of Michigan State to studying in a school here in New Zealand owned and placed on two different universities, it's been an interesting time.

I seem to have this ideal of what a campus is, as a place where all ideas are welcome and the life of a university thrives around social meeting places where all great thoughts converge, then float back to lecture halls. Which happens at times, but the ideal seems to break when you get young aspiring academics defending positions not because the position is stronger but because they've spent time preparing that position. When you have students with potential and intelligence - but are just to lazy to apply it. And when you have a bunch of graduate students who are bury themselves in offices, and after a period of enculturation they're convinced that while knowledge may be infinite, the universe extends but to the four walls which surround them.

And if I'm totally honest, after living, working, and studying on half a dozen campuses, I suppose I've been guilty of all three charges at some point in my life. And I'm fairly sure I have a tendency to slip into one or more of them on occasion. It's probably a good thing that it happens too, so that when you have right sense to get back on track you're reminded that you're human, and in doing so you better appreciate the humanness in others. Maybe.

Speaking of humanness, gosh man, it's been one of those times when you just wish you knew what people were saying beyond what they actually say, ya know? Or if there really is anything between the lines. I should see if there's any definitive research on mixed messages. Ironic it would be, if there were.

I spent the first semester of this year getting all these crazy, wonderful ideas. Some of them worked, some of them didn't - the ones that did are pretty cool. Topping the list is finding a way to recreate the sound of a viola da gamba with basically what violists already have in their hands. And in doing so, also finding a way of making cheap instruments sound twice as good as they usually do, if only you could teach people to read music in more than one way. Then I've spent this semester doing all the other things that doctoral students do - preparing papers that fit the requirements of a successful conference paper submission (but don't really fit your own research), preparing a piece for its technical components rather than its musical ones (which makes me feel more like a trained monkey than a musician or a researcher). I have a neat folder of related literature for an article on Bach that actually does fit in with my overall research - a crystallization of all the important bits from dozens of sources, notes from personal acoustical experiments and after devouring a whole pile of books. With all the other things ongoing, its been on the backburner so long that it looks like I have to go back and read it again for the third time. And I swear every day it looks at me as if saying in Gollum's voice, "Master is tricksy, Master is false, Master has neglected... his... PRECIOUS!"

University mascot? Who would have guessed, eh.

Today I ended up late because I checked the bus schedule and thought it was a Sunday. Welcome to your Ph.D. work, where you may have cool ideas but you don't know what day of the week it is, and where your research slowly calls you back to Bach, the one and only Lord of the Strings.

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