The third year is different. No longer do I register for courses and discuss books around a seminar table. Instead, I lead undergraduate discussion sections as a teaching assistant, do individual directed readings, and study stacks of books in preparation for the oral exam in the spring. In a way, the process becomes more solitary.
Biggest step outside my comfort zone this year (so far) was a phone interview last week about my dissertation topic—in German. I keep thinking how I could have/should have/would have said it better. Hope I get the grant!
At last I’m teaching! Teaching assistant appointments require a tolerance for serendipity. In the fall quarter I led two discussion sections for a lecture in “American Politics: FDR to Obama” with about a week’s notice. Now I’m leading discussion groups on “Hitler and the Germans.” You don’t need to be the expert—the professor has that role—but you do need to have a sense of history, grasp the essentials quickly, and enjoy the students. I have been happy to have two courses that lend themselves so well to lively discussions with the juniors and seniors taking the class.
Speaking of comfort zones, my oral exam is scheduled for May 24. Four professors will quiz me for two hours on early modern Europe and World History. I am studying my books in groups: all the Reformation authors together, all the Enlightenment, all the Science Revolution. . . The goal is to explain what the issues are and how have historians have staked out their positions and thereby achieve the status of ABD. Were there multiple Enlightenments, one big one, or maybe two, a mainstream and a revolutionary one? Why didn’t somebody keep track of this?