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a year off

Megan Betz

My baby is now a month old, & we are seven weeks into the semester. This week, I returned to class. Next week, I return to my part-time job (for part of that part-time, doing most of the hours from home). The week after that, I start teaching my Community Gardens & Community Orchard special topics class. Two days ago, I mailed a check to the Association of American Geographers to renew my membership. This morning, I got an e-mail notifying me that registration for the Dimensions of Political Ecology conference at the University of Kentucky is open. I sat at my desk, surrounded by the piles of books for my comprehensive exams. My color-coding materials--sticky tags, Post It notes, highlighters, note cards--are scattered as I read Vasishth and Sloane's "Returning to ecology: An ecosystem approach to understanding the city." My baby is sleeping in a bassinet next to me. 

When I saw the registration notification for DOPE, I tried to map out a plan to attend. I tried to think of how I could convince my fellow graduate students it would be fun to share a room with a five-month-old baby. I tried to convince myself that I'd be comfortable driving the three hours down to Kentucky, taking my baby away from her dad--who would miss her like crazy--for a few days, but more importantly that I would make the drive safely when last year we had to leave the conference a night early to race a snow storm. I came up empty. It doesn't make sense--not this year.

I won't be heading to the 2016 annual meeting in San Fransisco. I won't be heading to DOPE. Due to my greate fortune of living in the town of my main research site, I don't need to be applying for research grants or fellowships for travel or technologies. This is saving an immense amount of time & effort. Less distracting writing & presentation making. Fewer deadlines to worry about. But the other edge of this sword is that I feel a bit stunted. Nothing to add to my CV & no external pressure to make progress on several research projects.

I'm trying to turn that anxiety & that extra space toward, well, the obvious comprehensive exam preparation. However, I'm also trying to merge preparations with wrapping up several papers from ideas presented at last year's conferences. That's two presentations, which fall neatly into two different reading lists, plus a third project that maps neatly onto my third reading list. Three potential publications, each half way there & destined to become sharper ideas as I work through all of these readings. Finally! I'm starting to feel it--the excitement of digging into these readings. Instead of feeling like it's a big pile of homework just to later write exam responses, I feel like this I've been given these next four months to work on three publications.

Let's hope I keep this motivation when my peers are preparing & practicing new, fresh presentations. 

Back to reading while this baby continues her early afternoon nap...