As I sit to write this, I feel like this post may come off as very boastful…and I don’t mean it to be. However, getting a Ph.D. is no small task. Given that I didn’t write about it for at least 5 years, and that I seriously struggled with this degree, I’m going to take at least one post to exorcise some of the demons from this time in my life. So please take my apology in advance for any moments that I come off as smug.
Remember how I briefly mentioned in my prior post that within the past four years I had switched advisors, and finally managed to finish that Ph.D.? I realized that I’ve literally never written about my Ph.D. journey since having T. There was a reason for that…there’s a lot to go into here. This is going to be long.
I cannot count the times and ways in which I almost didn’t finish. When I got pregnant with T (and in my first year, no less!), I pretty much freaked out. I freaked out about telling people, couldn’t imagine how people in my department or the university would react, or how I could possibly finish coursework. A full-time Ph.D. program is insane. And I do mean, absolutely emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting. You have to be somewhat clinically crazy to want to inflict that kind of torture upon yourself every single day. Now, add a child to that. Did you know that children are equally (actually, I think MORE) emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting? Yeah, I think I’m going to go there. Little kids make a Ph.D. seem easy. And I was stupid enough to try to do both. So, I took a semester off and started my second year a half of a semester “behind.”
While going through my first year of motherhood, I felt completely lost as a now second-year Ph.D. student (Spring, 2013). I found out after returning from maternity leave that the person who had brought me into the program wasn’t going to be offered tenure. I was officially advisor-less. When you don’t have someone to act as your guide through academia, be a mentor, and help you figure out who you want to be in the field, you’re essentially on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. There’s a glimmer of hope you’ll survive, but the odds are against you. So, I applied and interviewed for teaching jobs…but for some reason (mostly the ease of daycare) I decided to stick with the Ph.D.
The second half my second year rolled around. I was “given” a new advisor at the beginning of Fall 2013. She had been brought over from another department. I’d had her for a class my first year as Ph.D. student, and honestly, wasn’t particularly fond of her. However, she was pretty prolific as a researcher, and offered some hope as far as a direction to take my research. It was around that time that I stopped sleeping. Insomnia (likely due to anxiety) started taking over. I eventually sought help, but how I managed to finish my second year as a Ph.D. student is seriously a mystery to me.
It was some point in the middle of my third year (Summer 2014) that I eventually came to the conclusion that I hated the direction this new advisor was taking me in. By the end of 2014, I’d learned enough about the kind of person she was, but also enough about myself as a scholar (ugh, that term sounds pretentious…) to know that I didn’t want to do the research she did or the ways in which she did it. When I told her this, she basically told me that I’d have to do it her way or she wasn’t going to act as my advisor. I started looking for teaching jobs, again. I was offered one. Again, like an insane person, I turned it down. The internal turmoil I felt is still so vivid in my mind that I remember having that conversation just as if it had happened yesterday. It was around that time that I somewhat secretly met up with our previous Department Chair, who was now the Dean of the Graduate School. After telling him what was going on, he offered to sit on my dissertation committee as a co-chair. I had a path forward, and just needed to work up the courage to take it.
(Retrospectively, it might seem like I’m being overly dramatic. But realistically, I know I’m not. I cannot emphasize enough about the politics that are at play in academia. An advisor is seriously your lifeline going forward. If you don’t have a good working relationship with your advisor, let alone the people on your committee, your career is essentially dead in the water. When your department has about 10 faculty members, and you need 3-4 of them to get along enough with you AND each other, in addition to understanding or appreciating your research, there are times putting together a committee can seem impossible. Then, there’s the job market to think about. Academia is so small, and the market is so bad that you basically need to come out glowing so much you sparkle in order to get a job. But, I digress…)
The beginning of my fourth year as a Ph.D. student was rough. It was Spring 2015. The woman who was supposed to be my advisor was my department chair and hated the direction I wanted to take my research; I was acting as her Teaching Assistant and I cannot even write down how horrible this relationship was; and she was pressuring me to teach a class in the Fall that I really didn’t want to teach, but I wanted to have a class of my own on my CV. I was slowly getting her on board with the idea of co-chairing my dissertation (really, it was the Dean/newest co-advisor getting her on board; I didn’t have much to do with it).
Then, it was like the universe dropped a bomb on me. In the middle of March 2015, I found out I was pregnant again.
I don’t think we’ve made it much of a secret that O was a complete, and total surprise to us. But when I found out I was pregnant with him, I went through such an array of negative emotions and thoughts that I still can’t bring myself to admit a lot of them out loud unless I’ve had a lot of wine, or when I was in therapy. I thought having one child during a Ph.D. program was near impossible. How the heck could I do it with two? At this point in the program, I had been hoping that I would have been able to graduate at some point in 2016. Ha ha ha, naïve Lyndsie. My timeline was going to be thrown totally out the window.
The rest of 2015 kind of flew by. In some ways, being pregnant with O ended up being the best thing that happened during my Ph.D. program. (Whoa, never really thought of that until now.) He helped me take a breather when I was at a crossroads in my career as a graduate student. He also presented me with the biggest challenge I’d ever faced as a parent. He was colicky, he had reflux, and I suffered from postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety for nearly a year after he was born. Having O forced me to seek help, get therapy, and figure out where my boundaries were and what I wanted my priorities to be moving forward. I spent Spring 2016 on maternity, but also some mental health leave.
I came back to school in Summer 2016 ready to hit the ground running. In the time that I was away, my “main” advisor had (apparently) been stripped of her chairship. I was advised by the Dean to keep my head down and keep on working towards graduation. Fall 2016 is a blur of wrangling two kids, working as a teaching assistant, working through the PPA and PPD and trying to put together a dissertation proposal. At some point that fall, I met a lovely new assistant professor in Sociology, who literally changed my academic life.
On a whim, I put on my extrovert hat and reached out via email to this new colleague who was interested in immigration. Anyone who is an introvert and deals with anxiety knows about how long it took me to decide to reach out to this new academic stranger. Divine intervention must have been at play, there’s really no other explanation for what has happened since. When meeting with her I felt a connection that I had never had with anyone at my university. I felt like I had finally found an intellectual kindred soul. I knew in that first meeting that in an ideal world, I wanted her on my committee. But, she was new to the university, a shiny brand new assistant professor, there were standards about those sorts of things (which differ by department), and I had no idea how she felt about me.
Luckily, she must’ve felt somewhat similarly. She managed to convince her department chair that I’d make a great teaching assistant for her. It took some wrangling between her department, my department, and I think the Dean, but I ended up as her TA for Spring 2017. What I learned as her TA took my research in a newish, but exciting direction. I had found the theoretical framing I wanted, and I had someone who knew what I was talking about.
Throughout 2017 several other divine forces came into play. After no less than three different full drafts of my dissertation proposal (which are usually about 100+ pages each), the Dean concluded that I had put my life together well enough to move forward. He and I managed to part ways with my “original” chair, and he became the full chair of my dissertation committee. I also managed to convince him that my new academic colleague in Sociology would work well on my committee. Lots of stars aligned, and a proposal defense date was set for January 2018, with a tentative dissertation defense date of late March or early April.
Despite multiple rounds of stomach flu, strep throat, and I think a round of something like hand, foot, and mouth, that ended in a sinus infection, I managed to make my January deadline. M had to stay home with one of the sick kids (I think it was T?) so I could actually go defend my proposal…which I did, while sick with whatever the kids had brought home. I was so miserable; I had been in urgent care a day or two before and was antibiotics. Regardless, I did it and was cleared to finish writing the full dissertation. This past Spring was a whirlwind of long nights, lots of writing, re-writing, and drafts flying back and forth to the Dean. M pulled a lot of the weight around the house while I focused on finishing. (This house would have stopped running if M hadn’t taken over; I was a mess.)
Defense Day rolled around in early April. I managed to successfully defend my dissertation and earn that elusive Ph.D. And while the Defense Day is the part most people talk about, it was probably the easiest part of the process for me. I was excited to share all of the hard work I’d been doing the last 2+ years of my life. And, as everyone tells you, it’s great practice for the job market.
On Defense Day, I had no idea of what lay ahead. I had recently learned of a job opening with someone that my Sociology colleague had actually introduced me to about 4 months earlier. Since I knew of the person, and the research sounded exciting, I decided to apply. In May, my advisor and dissertation chair (the Dean) ended up offering me a position the same week I did a phone interview with MU. And the rest, as they say, is history…I now have too much work, and not enough time. 😂
I wake up every single day aware of how lucky I am to have gotten out with a Ph.D. and to have successfully acquired a job (or two). There were so many days I woke up thinking I was going to quit. When I met with the Dean in 2014, I told him I wanted to quit…and he told me to hang on. There were many days after that where I wanted to quit, as working with him was no walk in the park either. But every day I inched closer to where I wanted to be. Now here I am, on the other side…and I’m very happy and grateful to be here.