It’s Thursday morning. And, in a few hours, I will cross the graduation stage and graduate with my doctorate.
I come from a family of doctors – though, not this kind. My parents are medical doctors. Many of their siblings are doctors. One of my uncles, all of his children became medical doctors.
In my own family, we’re more of a mix. A couple of PhDs, MD, PharmD, and a terminal MFA degree.
I remember setting my sights on earning my PhD. I had said I wanted to complete the degree before I turned 50. I’m a decade ahead of schedule.
I think it’s no surprise that I really began running when I thought about pursuing my doctorate. Even today, on my early morning pre-graduation run, when I was already exhausted and pushed myself to the limit, I told myself, “Just a little further. Don’t quit now. So close. So close.” And, I think about how many times during these 4 ½ years when I wanted to quit my pursuit of my program.
I didn’t quit. And, friends, life wasn’t easy during those four years. I went through a series of surgeries; had unexplained and very complicated health consequences that had me in-and-out of the hospital trying to figure out what was going on; supported my partner as he pursued employment in another state, which meant I was working-schooling-chauffering-parenting solo 6 days a week; spent months experimenting with medication to help my symptoms; experienced serious (and hidden) depression; and changed jobs.
Some of my classmates had it much worse.
When times were really tough, I rushed to reframe my thinking. I remembered the literature on access to doctoral education – how so few have the opportunity to pursue advanced study and how even fewer make it to graduation.
I remembered that, after years of giving to others, this was the gift I saved for myself. That engaging in scholarly work and exercising my brain was something that benefitted me. That, despite the roadblocks and detours that were on my pathway, this was something I needed and I wanted.
When desperate, I repeated to myself, “I’ve already come this far, just go a little further.” Like running from lamp post to lamp post, I just had to make it to the next marker and then the next marker.
When my children expressed disappointment that I was sitting in my car writing a paper instead of sitting in the lobby watching their karate class or dance class, I remembered that this too shall pass and that when this was all done, I would refocus quality time with them. It’s only for a little while longer.
But, the journey to the doctorate is an exercise in conflict.
It’s a lonely journey, but I was kept comforted by the stories of the participants. Although they only spent a few hours with me in interviews, their voices rang through my headphones, typed onto my laptop, and made sense of in the findings section. They kept me up at night and got me writing early in the morning.
It’s a social journey, and I am grateful to my professors, mentors and cohort sisters who taught me and pushed back on ideas and concepts in class. As with any relationship, these were complicated and complex at any given time. I was so interested in the dynamic of relationships in a doctoral program that I decided to focus much of my dissertation on this process. Somehow we knew when to lean in and fully engage with each other; sometimes we knew to just leave each other alone and give each other some space. And, the last leg of the journey – the one where we are individually writing – is filled with lots of space.
Since my defense, I’ve wondered what has changed or what is different. And, I’m not sure quite yet. I don’t exactly feel smarter but I do feel like I finished something big.
I made it.
Peace and PhD,