Did you know, by the way? Aneesah and Zakwan are now happily married [est. 3 January 2014]. I met them last week, and they were utterly in love with each other. Moral of the story: If you decide to sign a contract of life-long partnership, you might as well find a cosigner that you like very much. May Allah shower barakah on their marriage and family forever after. Allahumma ameen!
Now, to business. I'm going to talk about an essay. (This blog is fast becoming a celebration of academic life isn't it? Ah well. Not enough of that in the blogosphere, I think. Here's my contribution.)
Some two weeks ago, a course tutor e-mailed me to say that he had marked my essay, it was excellent, and I could drop by to talk about it. This is routine in the HJS department, as well as in most Arts and Humanities faculties in UCL, I think. When the lecturer has finished with your work, you can get further feedback from them, even if sometimes the essay has not been second-marked yet (yes, written works are assessed twice. First the course tutor grades it, then another lecturer grades it. Like to get a second opinion, and to make sure that the grading is fair).
So I set an appointment to see him to find out what "excellent" meant.
I was nervous about this essay. I had to pick a topic for myself (this was the one sparked by my recollection of the London street urchins), which is always a gamble because if you failed to develop good answers and arguments in the essay, that probably was because you failed to ask the right questions in the first place. I only consulted the professor once (by consulting, I mean I said one or two lines about the proposed general subjects of the essay, he told me it was a possible essay subject), and he recommended a book I could refer to.
The topmost, slim white volume by Travis. It cost me £64.94 (Amazon).
The book was so recently published that none of the libraries had it, so I had to buy one myself.
I asked Waterstones if they had it, but the ladies at the counter told me that it's a print-on-demand volume (which wasn't the problem), and cost like, £80. Even the lady was horrified ("EIGHTY POUNDS?").
After that, £64.94 on Amazon did not seem too bad.
[To give you some perspective, that The Jew in The Text book right underneath it only cost me £4.80 including delivery -- okay yes, it was a second-hand copy...because I always try to get the cheapest I can.
But I generally avoid buying books if they cost more than £20 apiece -- and even that, I think, is expensive.
**Ohhh no. I checked my past Amazon purchases and actually, quite a few of the books I bought were £25-£40 each. Duit rakyat.]
Still, the Jews in English-Speaking Lands essay was to be the longest (6000-7000 words, the other two were 4000- and 5000-word essays). A longer word limit meant that I had more space to make mistakes, and more space lulls you (me) into not keeping the arguments airtight and sharp. And as I developed the essay [while time was running out -- six weeks after submission, during the meeting with the tutor, I found out that I actually didn't have to send it in until 3 months after the day I submitted the paper. Anticlimax, much? I Life-Evented that discovery on Facebook because it was so improbable...downright ridiculous, really], I was aware that if the questions I set out to answer in the essay were insignificant, or poorly thought-out, that was it. The course is assessed by an exam (70%) and an essay (30%). If I don't do well in this one, chances are I won't fare well in the course overall.
***The A for that essay was the first milestone, because the tutor said it was a first-class MA-level essay. I had to know that. That I don't write like an undergraduate.
To know, after your essay has been graded, that you actually could've had three more months to work on it, is not such a bad thing when the grade is satisfactory. But on the day I submitted it, I remember thinking that if only I've had more time to do it, I could've produced a much better essay. The one I sent in was not my best effort. I was super relieved and thankful that I managed to send it in on time (ha ha), but I knew that I could've done more, if only I slept less and made myself work more regularly every day. I couldn't even bring myself to re-read it after submission, because I knew I'd die from self-criticism when I get to the half-baked parts.
Now, accidentally finishing and submitting papers any amount of time before the deadline -- let alone three months before -- is uncharacteristic of me. But that was a Life Event because in my meeting with the professor, which I thought was going to be a routine tutorial about coursework, I found validation for my future plans (which, basically, is to stay in school until formal retirement, or death, whichever comes first). Here are some of the things I learnt during the tutorial/meeting:
- The essay was "superb", which I'm grateful for because it counts for a noticeable chunk in the course assessment, but it wasn't just about getting a Distinction-level grade (the essay still needed to be second-marked anyhow). The A, this time, was a milestone because the lecturer said that if I want, I could look for primary materials to augment the sources I've included in the essay, and get it published. This in no way means that I'll get a free pass at publishing it after I back it up with primary sources, but it does mean that the essay is beyond term-paper well-done.
- After I was done with asking about the essay*, the lecturer asked me about my future plans. We talked about my PhD options (after I admitted to being crazy enough to do something in academics). UK or the States, possible topics, possible funding (the more grants you have in your name, the more you'll get [the easier it is to convince people to grant you more], so his advice was to apply for everything available...which isn't that many, but still). The lecturer said that students regularly come and say that they want to (be an academic), but that you never really know how good they are until you see what they write. And apparently my Sherlock Holmes-inspired essay tells him that I have potential. This means the world to me because one very big question I needed to answer by doing this MA was "Am I good enough to pursue an academic career?" Now I've been told that I definitely am, alhamdulillah.
- He said "We'd love to keep you here", but "for a student like you, there's no reason for you to settle for anything but the very best", meaning that if I find a suitable supervisor somewhere else, he'd be happy to advise. I told the professor frankly that I intend to stay on at UCL if I can, partly because I want to continue studying Hebrew here. Ahhh imagine. 3 more years of Hebrew. Happiness.
Of course, I still have a lot to prove (in the other courses, in the exams), but alhamdulillah this feels like a healthy start. I have a long way to go ahead of me and I don't expect it to be easy, so please remember me in your du'as.
- I now have more time (in theory, at least) for the three essays and a presentation I need to do for this term, and let's not forget three exams that I'll need to revise for.
- I know (now, rather than later in May or June) that I should further my studies after this, which means that though I'm only in my second term here, I can already start narrowing down research topics for PhD because I could and should. Next term will be dissertation term, anyhow, so I can plan for that, too.
- It has been a powerful lesson in not procrastinating. I didn't mean to do the essay that early, but because I thought that was all the time I had, I did it. It's always better to do things today, not tomorrow. Lesson learnt, alhamdulillah.
- Now that I know where I stand, I can set my personal standards higher for this term inshaAllah.
Ya Allah, grant us not only knowledge, but also the hikmah and strength to derive benefit from what You allow us to know. Let our 'ilm serve us well in this world, and let it serve us even better in our lives after death.
(Sulayman 'alayhissalam) said [when the throne of the queen of Saba' was brought to him]:
"This is from the favour of my Lord, to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful.
And whoever is grateful, his/her gratitude is to (his/her own benefit).
And whoever is ungrateful, indeed my Lord has no need of anything and is the Most Generous."