If we were looking at a chart or graph of my confidence in graduate school, it would come out like a volcano. I got here and after meeting other students and professors, I felt good about where I was. We’re all intelligent people, and this is a place where I belong and will learn a lot. Then we started to get assignments and papers to write, when the top blew off, and now it’s all been downhill. The confidence is gone. I’ve always considered myself a good writer, but have a completely different style than what International Relations (IR) professors are looking for.
My background in Journalism and History has given me experience in writing articles and analytic pieces. And let’s not forget over three years of blogging, which is a completely laid back and lazy style which I’ve unwittingly adopted. History papers are much different from IR papers, in which you take what you’ve read and studied and demonstrate that you’ve learned it. You cite references, but the bulk of the work is on you to speak for yourself, and not let the quotes do the work. Yet no one told me that upon entering grad school, and so I assumed it was similar. Thus, my first couple of papers have been a bit of a shock. There is a sharp learning curve here, and as today I need to choose classes for the Spring, it’s proof that time flies in grad school.
An IR paper looks for parsimonious and scientific prose. No nonsense, no flowery introductions, no sense of personalization at all. Political scientists want you to get to the point immediately, use a plethora of sources to prove that you’ve done research and someone else agrees, and then wrap it up as quickly as you started. It’s probably because with so many sources that in trying to prove a theory, a paper can often run upwards of 50 pages.
This isn’t my style, and I’m trying to adapt as quickly as possible. Never having taken an IR or political science class in undergrad, I feel unprepared for this change and wish someone had explained what is expected at the start of the semester. It’s disconcerting to go through life thinking you’re talent is writing and then get back a paper marked in red, knowing that you have to split your time between work and other classes which also demand the same amount of work. Now I’m 25 and feel like I need to learn how to write all over again. There’s no way around it and it’s either sink or swim. I just hope I don’t float away downstream unnoticed.