“At first I was afraid, I was petrified…”
OK, so the rest of the song doesn’t really apply, but those first few words could effectively describe this school year… I was scared senseless about starting my Ph.D… I kept thinking, “They’ve made a mistake admitting me into this program. They don’t know that I’m not really all that smart… They’re going to find out… and boot my sorry ass outta here!”
Those fears were chased by more thoughts… “I’m scared about how the stress of school will affect my health… In my last degree I packed on 70 lbs. I want to do it differently this time… I want to be healthy… God, I hate that fucking gym!”
Today is the last day of the academic year. As I sit here writing this, I can hear the raucous sounds of Bermuda Shorts Day outside the student centre. BSD, as it is called for short, is a huge year-end party (drunk fest, mostly). Typically the students wear shorts or other summer wear, regardless of whether it is sunny and warmish, as it is today, with an expected high of 14C, or slamming it down with snow, as has happened in previous years. The students don’t care. It’s their last day and they want to par-tay!
I have donned a pair of Capri pants and sandals… somewhere between “BSD” garb and dress that is appropriate for staff (seeing as how I wear both hats around here!) I just couldn’t help it… I felt this twinge of “Oh my God! I’ve officially survived the first year! How cool is that?”
Granted, it was not perfect. I struggled through much of it… full of self-doubt, fear, never enough time to do anything, always thinking I should have done more and done it better… Had a few meltdowns along the way, but somehow managed to suck it up and keep going… And at the end of the day, I have survived my first year.
If I reflect on how things have changed since starting this school year, a few things that stand out are:
- I may not really be all that smart, but I don’t think they made a mistake admitting me into the program… I’m on about the same level as most of my classmates (or so I like to think!) And besides, to think that an entire selection committee messed up would be implying that they aren’t too smart… Not a good thing, given that they’re my professors! So, I’ve accepted it… I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing.
- I am healthier and stronger now than I’ve ever been in my entire adult life. I still worry about whether I’ll be able to maintain it, but I figure a little worry is a good thing… It’ll keep me dedicated.
- I have gone from hating the gym to enjoying it… In fact… I like it now… really, really like it. (Sssshhh!…. Don’t let my trainer hear that! I wouldn’t want him to think he’s won or anything…)
- When I started my Ph.D. program I went in kicking and screaming against theory, saying, “I’m a practitioner, not a theorist, dammit!” Now, I realize that I am both… In fact, I like theory a whole lot more than I was willing to admit. And I have accepted that being a theorist doesn’t have to be at the expense of being a good teacher. You can be both… and should strive to be if you want a career in academia (IMHO).
Anyway, there you have it. And in the words of my Ph.D. supervisor, “Classes end… but the work continues.” I will survive.