If my blog style right now were a friend I would be that friend that only calls when she has nothing else going on and is bored driving, walking, etc. I feel guilty about it truly, but hope my readers (Mom) will still read my blog even though I have been that friend we all hate.
I haven’t written because I feel like my blog style is stories of my life (sometimes challenging or emotional) but always neatly tied up with some humorous anecdotes. It’s not that life has stopped being funny for the past few months, but my experiences have not felt blogworthy. I guess while I was living it disappointment and self-doubt didn’t seem like what people would want to read.
The more I have reflected on this the more I realized that this is exactly the type of experience and feelings I want to read about. I am constantly searching for memoirs that deal with real emotions, not necessarily the most dramatic or the funniest, but the emotions that I feel and am hoping someone else can spell out in an eloquent way. Maybe that’s why I love memoirs so much, they are basically a book full of moments – some relatable, some are ones you daydream about or have nightmares out– but they are emotions and experiences of real people. They aren’t always told as part of a nice narrative, they are significant for being the moments that they are. (Side note, Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please is not only one of the funniest memoirs I have read, but also surprisingly poignant).
I had a picture of what starting a PhD program would feel like and somehow thought I had it all figured out. Despite how many people told me starting a PhD program would be hard and different from my Masters I convinced myself that they did not know me and my experience would be different. It turns out I was wrong.
Most of the time my brain hurt for being forced to think in ways I never had before and to study graphs ( Side note, political scientists do not look fondly upon “people” who exclaim, “Who even reads the graphs anyway?” In my defense, I did not realize this was a Phoebe quirk and was really shocked when I said “Come on no one else reads them right?” and was met with blank stares.). I also spent countless hours doubting: my intellect, my judgment for doing this program, my interest in my topic, and whether I had the willpower to continue this program for however many years I had left.
I did however realize that although I was being challenged in this way there was a new found freedom I did not have when I was in a Masters’ program. First of all, even if I did not think I was smart enough, the general public tended to think I was. People looked at me differently as a PhD student. It seemed like what I said had more weight now. Uh oh…
Additionally, I no longer cared about looking cool. Since cool is not usually a word associated with being a PhD student I kind of embraced this stereotype. I could sit alone at lunch and not feel like I had to be talking to people. I did not have to go to “social hour” to have small talk with my classmates. I could float through the halls somewhat anonymously. At times it felt lonely, but mostly it was one less thing to exert energy on.
The real crisis period came when my final assignment for a course was to write my draft dissertation proposal. Most of the advice you hear as a new PhD student is to pick a topic that will interest you for many years. To me this advice seemed way too obvious to feel helpful, of course I wanted to stay interested in my topic, but how do I know what topic will keep me interested? Picking a topic felt like a huge commitment and each time I thought I found an interesting topic I would feel excited and committed to it for several hours and then the next day decide it was one that would likely bore me in a year. In order to complete the assignment I just wrote about a question I was interested in the day I had to start my paper and I have already decided I do not want to study that exact topic. I do not think I am a flakey person, but I am just appreciating the fact that I will be studying this one question for several years. That and I find decisions generally challenging. In the year of me making huge commitments (i.e. marriage) this seems like a ginormous commitment. How do I know now what will interest me in three years? Is it women in militias? Armed groups that kidnap women and girls? Armed groups in Africa? Mexico? Colombia? What makes a topic one that sticks?
Now that I have finished my first semester I feel like I should have had some key eureka moment when I realized it was all worth it and I am on the right path. Unfortunately that moment never happened and I am pretty sure it is not going to happen. I think there will be daily (or weekly during the especially rough periods) moments or cosmic signs when I am reassured that I am on the right path. I am sure of very little in this program so far, but one thing I am sure of is that in my future I want to teach and this process (torture) is getting me closer to teaching. Luckily, most people tell me it is only going to get better from here…although of course I am not sure they know what they are talking about.