A few weeks ago one of my best friends casually mentioned that she thought I was crazy for leaving my job to pursue a PhD full-time. Had she said this to me in October I would have agreed with her and called my former supervisor to ask for my job back.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this first year has taken an emotional and physical toll I was not prepared for.
I knew the journey wouldn’t be easy (less than 2% of people in the U.S. have PhDs), but I did not know that it would often leave me in tears. Sometimes these tears were of joy (making coherent contributions to class discussions after 4 hours of sleep) other times they were tears of sadness (realizing that I can “function” on 4 hours of sleep). There were many moments of self-doubt with a heavy dose of imposter syndrome.
In the midst of all of this I have a child to raise.
I mistakenly thought that leaving my full-time position to be a full-time student would make parenting easier. *insert maniacal laugh* I’ve decided to petition the university to get a honorary doctorate for my kid. His patience, sense of humor and heart has made our transition so much easier. He’s one of the reasons I made it through this year.
Even with the tears and frustration I am so proud of all I’ve accomplished this year. I’ve taken classes with some of the most respected scholars in my field. I presented at my first international conference. I won an award for my research. I’ve developed relationships with new friends that I know will last a lifetime. I’ve watched my kid continue to develop his voice and come into his own.
Now that the year is done I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on what this all means and how I want to continue to grow next year. I know that nothing is perfect, but I believe in progress. I believe that I can be intentional about how I engage with the people and environment around me.
Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it. – Maya Angelou
Here are some lessons from year one:
I have been blessed with an amazing cohort. We have a variety of personal and professional experiences that make our time together incredibly rich. We also genuinely cheer each other on. These are my people. In addition to loving on my cohort, I have found it invaluable to nurture community away from my academic life. These are the people who don’t ask me about my dissertation topic or conferences. These are the people who I can talk to about reality tv drama. I love and need them.
Go to Sleep
There was a time in my life where I thought being able to stay up all night and make it to an 8am class was a good idea. I found myself falling into that trap this year. I would often wait until my kid was in bed to turn on my Keurig and begin working. After endless cups of coffee I found myself falling asleep at 3am and waking up at 6am to get ready for the day. I’m 1,000% sure sleep deprivation affected my ability to be the type of student I wanted to be, but more importantly the mom I want to be. It really hit me one day when my son asked me to play a video game with him and ended his sentence with “…but I know you’re tired”. It broke my heart, but it made me realize that I had to change my schedule for my health and for my family.
Ask for What You Need. And Ask Often.
The best advice that I’ve gotten this year was to ask for what I need. In many ways I felt like a freshman in college trying to navigate what it meant to be a PhD student and mama. I’ve spent the year learning the “ways of being” as a PhD student in my program. Sometimes it has felt like a game where the rules were written in a language I didn’t understand. I realized that once I started sharing what I needed things started clicking. I think this is a testament to amazing faculty and staff who were willing to listen and help me.
No is a complete sentence. No is also a word I struggle with. When I was working full-time it was nothing for me to volunteer for a committee or leadership opportunity. I’ve learned that this cannot be the case while I’m a student. There’s always a temptation to sign-up for something that may lead to an opportunity down the road. Every time I’m tempted I can hear my Dad’s voice saying –“What’s for you isn’t going to miss you”. There’s nothing wrong with being selective with your time and engaging only in projects that truly feed your soul vs. simply building your CV. You can do anything but not everything.
I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew it would be worth it. I’ve learned so much about myself and what I want in my journey. I’m prepared to ask for it. And ask often.