The Warning Letter

Every GEM Conference, a block of time is devoted to a Board of Directors closed meeting in which each fellows’ progress is assessed based on a self-evaluation and their supervisors’ evaluation of their self-evaluation.

I had written mine in the most brutally honest manner possible, not hiding my lack of progress over the first year and detailing the limits of my current research and concerns. I also expressed, for the information of BoD who may not be aware, the problems we faced at LUISS that were not only bureaucratic but academic— we were expected to be researching while handling a full load of coursework (ten courses each with its own written and in-class requirements, and all having such diverse thematic origins that none of us could coast along on prior knowledge) and facing a lack of infrastructure and resources (there was no PhD room in the beginning, it only appeared a few months before we left Rome). I also shared the problems I personally faced in Rome, health-wise, and the lingering effects it has had— I am still trying to find a balance of drugs to keep my body functioning well. That said, I detailed the progress I had made in only four short months in Brussels— 25,000 words— and my optimism that if I can continue to take advantage of the environment ULB offers, this productivity will continue.

It appears however that none of this was considered important, or as many people have suggested— perhaps none of it was even read. As my supervisor was present at the meeting, one of the very few who flew in to attend, I suppose anything relevant to be said about my progress was deferred to him As a result of the Board of Directors meeting, I have been sent a Warning Letter that threatens to ‘exclude’ me from the program should I not abide by what was written in it. The bottom line, according to the letter, was that I was not respecting the deadlines and that they are unsure about my capacity to finish the dissertation within three years. Basically, I had not produced the required two chapters during my first year and it is implied that I either (1.) am not working hard enough, or (2.) am incapable of producing a quality research. In addition to this, I am restricted to Brussels with no conference attendance or any other activity academic or otherwise approved— of course as I read the letter I was in New Orleans, presenting a paper directly related to my dissertation with all travel and conference fees paid for by my personal funds (no assistance from the GEM cache nor from either of my universities) so maybe they should re-think that one.

In any case, everything I had written about the problems we had faced and my optimism at the progress I have had in ULB was swept away. Look, I would have loved nothing more than to not do anything but to research and write, but I could not. We could not. We were buried in unnecessary coursework, and we all now have 50,000 words comprising different articles that cover the entire scope of political theory, political science, and more. And believe me, among all of us— the Board, my supervisor(s), everyone else involved in this program, my family and friend— believe me when I say I am the most involved in my research project, the most concerned with my lack of progress, and the person working the hardest to remedy the problem. After all, if this doesn’t work out it is me who has wasted three years of my life.

Frankly speaking It is demoralizing that when faced with a year-long delay to your research, your supervisor not only does not step in to assist, but does not recognize the problem, but even piles on with unnecessary pressure of ‘not respecting the deadline.’

I suppose I did miss the deadline, if we are to assume the two-chapters-at-the-end-of-the-first-year measurement, and while I respect the part I played in it, the fault cannot be placed solely on my shoulders.

I would have loved nothing more than to meet the deadline. But I cannot be researching and writing for ten other courses while carving out time when possible for my own research all the while fighting bureaucratic battles in Italy that few other people have had to face. Not only bureaucratic difficulties but even sexual violence and racial discrimination. No, it is not flattering for a man to grab your ass. No, it is not okay to belittle Filipinos whether domestic helpers or not. Just no.

Forgive my non-academic language, but this situation is simply ‘shit’.

I would like to think that I am resilient. I would like to think that I have the fortitude to survive with all these challenges granted the opportunity to face them, but when weight is piled on by the very people who are charged with helping, or at least not harming¬— it all becomes a bit much.

And when you lose faith in the very people who are supposed to support your research— and in direct relation to this, with the very program that is coordinating your PhD which failed to step in and assist when we needed them the most last year— where do you go from there?

Since receiving the letter I have been in a quiet depression. Nothing quite as bad as to make me stop functioning— as I mentioned earlier, I’m here at the 2015 ISA Conference and it would be such a waste if I stayed in the room and moped— but I’ve spent a year and a half working on my PhD and on improving the program, and it seems like a huge chunk of time that has just been wasted at would cast a dark cloud on even the brightest of Mardi Gras parades.

Since attending a couple of panels and presenting my paper here at the ISA though I’ve woken up from this stupor of depression. My research is neither my supervisor nor my PhD program. My research is my own, and I carry it all within me. I also realize that I can leave and continue it wherever I want, and there will be difficulties, I am sure, particularly in explaining the past year and a half, but facts on the table sometimes things just don’t work out.

I know that my research is certainly far from developed but I also know that it is solid, and is innovative in the field of norm research, which is now evolving in exciting ways. I love keeping up with works on norm diffusion and postcolonial theory and I am loving being back in the classroom, even if for such a short while— simply put, I love where I am mentally. The question is, why am I not happy? The answer has nothing to do with my research nor my students. The answer lies in the peripherals, the outside-of-me’s. But not my research— my research makes me happy.

In the end, it’s been a roller-coaster of emotion these past few days. That said, self-reflections while freezing by the Mississippi at midnight have reaffirmed my belief in what I am doing right now. I’ve decided that I am determined to pursue my research— I can’t help it, there is something to be said and I have to say it— the only question is whether where I am right now right for me.

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