Post-PhD Ramblings: What Is There to Remember?

Hem Raj Kafle

Hem Raj Kafle

I was a bit concerned when my friend Shyam advised me to write about my PhD experiences for this month’s Choutari. Would it be worth a read? But, then, I remembered reading Philip Guo’s PhD Grind with my exhausted, empty mind post-defense. This little book, an account of a computer scientist’s six-year engagement in Stanford University PhD, had nearly inspired a memoir of my own six years in Kathmandu University.

I remember reading a line from the acknowledgements page of a graduate thesis written for an American university. The author, with a visible sigh of relief, writes something like this: I thank my wife [Name] for not eloping with someone while I remained either engrossed in the writing or absent for library or field work. This is perhaps an ‘extreme’ feeling for a culture like ours, where you do not need to fear polygamy or elopement to result from such a pious mission as the PhD. But how you miss the family joy, and remain apprehensive of having become a nuisance to your own dear ones!

I began one of my post-PhD talks with this quote I happened to read on Facebook, “Long time ago, people who sacrificed their sleep, family, food, laughter and other joys of life were called saints. Now they are called PhD students.” Someone asked me right away how I had grown through that supposed phase of sainthood. I said I had come out of a very ungenerous conviction that my own family was the biggest hurdle to my growth and that I sometimes felt like dumping everything away and starting the life of an ascetic. This is another extreme feeling one could ever speak to an eager audience.

Yet, I do not aim to present a very personal experience, which might rather take the form of a grumble than a celebration of success. This is the real danger of post-defense rambling. I would rather love to foreground the aspect of learning and personal growth. People think PhD must have made me wiser. I have no desire to deny this. I take this opportunity to share what I consider worth sharing from my six-year engagement.

 PhD is an adventure marked with meeting many people – interested, disinterested, uninterested – and talking about your research. It is an anxious journey from the known to the unknown and back to the known. In such a process, I travelled to India five times. I presented papers at four international conferences. A couple of these travels were planned for meeting with Prof. Raman, my Supervisor from BITS-Pilani Goa. I travelled alone, with friends, with my better-half. Each travel involved some confusion, some excitement, some irritation, but gave enough impetus for further work.

I spoke to international audiences half a dozen times, a different work and perspective in each presentation while rhetorical theories, Nepalese history and newspaper editorials featured in each discussion. Inside Nepal, I would explore possibility of integrating rhetoric in English teaching and present in NELTA conferences, and grasp any aspect of editorial discourse and present in the conferences of Literary Association of Nepal. In the process, I collected dozens of books in Nepali. I would in fact pick up anything from Kathmandu streets if it spoke of media, movement, contemporary politics, and any stuff from the internet that had a key ‘editorial’, ‘rhetoric’ or ‘fantasy theme criticism.’

In the university, I taught English and communication skills integrating elements of classical rhetoric wherever possible. I made and taught syllabi for the courses in media studies and communication ensuring the inclusion of some useful aspects of rhetoric and discourse. I encouraged undergraduates to take up projects in rhetorical studies, and got about a dozen reports produced on representational themes.

I spent hours downloading YouTube video lectures on communication, rhetoric, discourse, and critical discourse analysis. I spent hours on Facebook gossiping with friends about my progress, crafting statuses and posting notes. I ran at least five blogs, writing, editing and publishing diverse contents. I wrote poems, essays, memoirs and newspaper articles. When I look back at the bulk of the dissertation, its accompanying raw materials, the blog entries and the collection of poems and essays in English and Nepali, I feel that the six years with PhD were my life’s most creative period.

PhD is a phase that comes to your life only when you choose to bring it because you must. Once it comes and you enter a process, it shakes your life to the core. What you have to learn and practice does not necessarily come from your earlier learning, nor from your regular work. Circumstances teach you how to put aside all the previous pomp and baggage. I name this a compulsion of “ruthless submission of adult arrogance to childish ignorance.”

PhD makes you develop a passion for listening and making others listen. My own main temptation was to talk if someone was there to put up with me. Dr. Adhikari, my supervisor from Nepal, would spend hours with me listening and talking things. Each time after I parted from him, I felt reinvigorated. A lot of new ideas would surge up and I would ramble a dozen pages forward no matter whether they made it to the dissertation or not. Then I would talk with my wife about my current epiphanies and progresses. I would explain to anyone my project if they showed a little curiosity to know how I was faring.

There is greater pressure in the share of a scholar in English. You have the burden of the virtue of not committing grammatical and stylistic errors. Most often, you are others’ guru and friend so far as teaching these vital aspects of dissertation is considered your own pious, universal responsibility. You are your own guru and enemy. You know how to tutor yourself, and at the same time keep on accumulating pressure in the name of ensuring quality.

I would take to my undergraduate and graduate classes any theory, method, tips on writing or speaking. That’s how the concept would matter to others and get registered and matured as valuable knowledge for myself. I must have scribbled the largest number of junks during the formative years. The junks were the most original things about my learning and experiences. They still look dearer than the 351-page ‘final’ dissertation.

PhD gave me many good things, especially the readings that were useful to life if not to the dissertation and degree. The materials wait to be revisited, helped to mature and brought to their actual discourse community. They continue to claim to have been the degree’s legitimate offspring.

I understand that the product of PhD (dissertation/thesis) is specific for a small discourse community. Not many people will and have to understand the work. Parts of it may come to a wider network of readers only if the writer opts to work beyond the degree either into a book or a journal article if only he or she is in or joins a university teaching position.

Once your work is brought to the public, every literate person appears to believe and may sometimes brag that they could have done as good or even better if they had thought about doing what you have done. But you are the only person who did it. The work is unique. And you are your own reader. Your supervisor has read it, plus a few people in the evaluation committee. Except for five or six persons, the product may have only a very small audience in the future. I am sure not more than half a dozen people have read my thesis. I only hope some people will read part of it if they happen to work on an identical topic. Else, as far as the saying of many goes, it will remain proudly at a corner accumulating dust – for ages.

What do you find out, or develop out of half-a-dozen years’ straining? Perhaps, you create knowledge, or a perspective. Or you have uttered a popular idea in a more interesting and philosophical way. Someone else can give equal scholarly hue and worth to similar task later. But for the moment yours has got qualified, it is the only work on earth that can claim novelty if it is novel.

Nevertheless, the dissertation is not out to change the world, neither the degree it brings, but you are. You are at least expected to initiate some kind of change.

The people from your scholarly network may read you and try to make a difference. You have not closed the lid for new perspectives. You cannot do so. You only transfer one perspective to your community and hint at new avenues of reflection. If one PhD ended all possibilities, we would have been mugging up stale thoughts and moth-eaten books and none would ever think of sweating for three to six years.

The hard-bound black book is only a signifier that a section of the work in continuum has taken a tangible shape. Every dissertation is in the making. It is just a beginning. A ‘finalized’ work has several other works ingrained in it. Only some curious and profoundly informed scholar can interpret the text and nourish its discursive embryo into one or more useful births later. The continuum exists. A scholar in discourse lives in this continuum.

The author: Dr. Kafle is an assistant professor and coordinator at humanities and management unit, school of engineering, Kathmandu University Nepal.

 

 

Interview with Dr. Rajendra Bimal — by Praveen Kumar Yadav

This is the first part of an interview with Dr. Rajendra Bimal, a veteran in language and literature from Janakpur.  Dr. Bimal earned doctorate degree in linguistics in three languages English, Nepali and Maithili. He has also been awarded with honorary PhD for his contribution in language, literature and culture of Maithili language from Maithili Vishwa Vidhyapeeth India. He is a linguist, litterateur, professor, poet, author, cultural activist and academician.

Dr. Bimal speaks on the following key points:

  1. His professional growth with English
  2. Memorable moments as an English teacher that have left lasting impression on him
  3. Key changes in the scenario of English in Nepal (teaching/learning/practices)
  4. English as an interdisciplinary field

The second part of this interview will be posted in the July Issue.

The Choutari team thank Mr. Praveen Kumar Yadav for preparing this issue of Oral History Project.

Please CLICK HERE

Choutari Oral History (Interview with Prem Subedi Jan 2012)

“Good Teaching is the Same, Center or Periphery”

Under its “Oral History” project, Choutari has been collecting and publishing interviews with teachers from across Nepal. This interview was taken by Hem Raj Kafle with Mr. Prem Subedi, a seasoned English teacher who had also taught Hem in high school a long time ago. Mr. Subedi remembers his early days of teaching, shares a few things that he wants to remember and value about being a teacher, and reflects on the changing ways in which we teach. He suggests that good teaching is the same whether you teach in a city or the rural backwaters of Nepal. He adds that in order to be a teacher you need some special qualities.

As we enter a new year in our professional lives, let us consider what qualities we want to cultivate as teachers. Let us also think how we can share ideas and support for one another across geographical and sociocultural borders.

Please listen to the interview by clicking here 

… and 

on behalf of Hem Raj Kafle
Shyam Sharma

Interview with Gambhir Man Maskey

Mr. Gambhir Man Maskey started to teach English during the very formative years of modern education in Nepal. The accounts of the different phases of his growth as a  teacher embody a long, perhaps uneven, history of  English teaching in the country. We are deeply indebted to Mr. Maskey for agreeing to share with us some precious recollections of this history. The Choutari team would like to thank Mr. Eak Duwadi for taking the initiatives.

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Interview with an English teacher

Hem Raj Kafle

This is a podcast of my conversation with Ms. Ekku Maya Pun. Ms. Pun has been teaching English in Kathmandu University for the last eighteen years. She is a highly respected person among her fellow teachers and students for her dedication and resourcefulness.

The conversation focuses on five main questions:

1) What made you take up English studies and English teaching?

2) Will you share with us at least three important things that you learned from your experience of being an English teacher?

3) How has the scenario of English teaching changed over the years?

4) How do you take the correlation/tension between English Language Teaching and English (Literary) Studies?

5) What are the challenges for English teachers in the next decade?

Please click the following player to listen to the podcast.

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(back to editorial/contents)

Multilingualism in Nepal (Jun 09)

This audio clip was archieved from one of the BBC Nepali Sajha Sawal programs. This media reveals us the complexities and challenges of multilingulism in Nepal. Because we have been arguing that language pedagogy is shaped by every setting’s unique socio-cultural and linguistic particularities, this stimulus can be one of the resources to familarize the audience of this specificity. This one-hour audio centers around four issues of multilingualism and restructuring of the state: language in the central government level, language in the local level, language in education pollicy, and language for international communication.

(Source: www.bbc.co.uk/nepali)

LISTEN TO THE AUDIO

A man and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the silent treatment. The next week the man realized that he would need his wife to wake him at 5.00 am for an early morning business flight to Chicago. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence, he finally wrote on a piece of paper, “Please wake me at 5.00 am.”

The next morning the man woke up, only to discover it was 9.00am, and that he had missed his flight. Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn’t woken him when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed … it said… “It is 5.00am; wake up.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

An English teacher often wrote little notes on student essays. She was working late one night, and as the hours passed, her handwriting deteriorated. The next day a student came to her after class with his essay she had corrected. “I can’t make out this comment you wrote on my paper.” The teacher took the paper, and after squinting at it for a minute, sheepishly replied, “It says that you need to write more legibly!”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

A young student reported for a final examination that consisted of only true/false questions. The student took a seat in the hall, stared at the test for five minutes, removed a coin from his pocket and started tossing the coin and marking the answer sheet. Heads meant true, tails meant false. The young student finished the exam in 30 minutes, while the rest of the class was sweating it out. Suddenly, during the last few minutes, the young student began desperately throwing the coin and sweating profusely. The moderator, alarmed, approached the student and asked what was going on. “Well, I finished the exam in half an hour,” said the student, “but I thought I ought to recheck my answers.”

 

( Source: http://www.101funjokes.com/school_jokes.htm)

Putting Local Knowledge First

Oral History Project-1 (Nelta Choutari April 2009 Issue )

As a part of a plan that could in some ways be called an oral history project, three of us–Bal, Prem, Shyam–started audio-recording ELT talk among ourselves. In future issues, we will try to talk to experienced teachers at home and with scholars abroad. We hope that this will not only make your khurak more lively with real people’s voices, it might also preserve the voices/resources of this generation for future ones, contributing to the society’s intellectual/professional collective memory, archive, or whatever we call it.Please listen and comment on this international conference call (Hawaii, London, Kentucky) done by Skype and recorded with Audacity. We’ve given it a title: Putting Local Knowledge First.