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Three Week (and three day) Check In

May 16, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

This past Friday marked three weeks since April 21, the day that has become 100% memorable to me as the day when I passed my candidacy. The days leading up to this auspicious event I was on a daily blogging, check in kick, and I had secret thoughts that the twenty plus day practice might mean I’d keep up a daily (or almost daily) habit of writing and reflecting on what I’d been learning, reading, etc.

Turns out…not so much.

Daily writing taught me that as much as I applaud daily writing, daily reflection, etc. it’s hard stuff to both live and process in tandem. After the intensity that was April, self care looked more like watching a lot of HGTV and drinking craft beer and generally recovering from a years worth of feels that happened over the course of about 40 days.

But now…its three weeks (and three days) past April 21.

The ethics application is conditionally approved (which means apparently I’m not yet ethically fit for research with humans but with luck and a couple semantic revisions I shouldn’t mess people up too much with the interactions I have with them). So in anticipation of bigger stuff on the horizon, clearly time to get back to keeping up a daily (or almost daily) habit of writing and reflecting on what I’ve been learning, reading, etc. Though I’m mostly thinking this back to reflection thing isn’t a good idea…I think this era will prove to be quite an important one and worthy of something (somewhat) concrete recorded about its process.

First topic for getting back into things which is all based on reflection and zero based on reading: life post candidacy (*disclaimer: an overview for the uninitiated from the very narrow reflections of one person’s, highly personal experience.)

I don’t know if this is true for every institution or not but for me, candidacy felt like a rarified space, clothed in mystery. No one who had been through the process seemed to use anything beyond very non-committal adjectives to describe the process. This vagueness generally reinforced the idea that the whole thing is complete secret society level initiation. As I’ve now been through the process and been initiated into said secret society, I am no longer free to give specifics about what happens in the sacred space but…I can give away a couple hints about who you might be when you come to the other side which I will share below as my first tentative forays back into the saddle that is blogging.

Basically, you wake up the next morning post candidacy and have no more worries, problems, issues, etc. Even though legit all sorts of chaos might have prevailed in previous days, you feel fit and healthy and exude balance that others can’t help but notice and feel calmed by as they bask in your presence. You sleep deep and long. You exude a glowing radiance. You think, ”Wow…this must be what life feels like as a Doctor.” And related, “I will be very very very very good at life as a Doctor.”

This grounded zen lasts for about two days and then the realization hits you like a freight train that during your candidacy you spent about two hours convincing three strangers that:

  1. This super fringe area of research hasn’t been explored yet and this might be the reason all our lives are difficult.
  2. You are the best person to explore this super fringe area of research because you’re passionate, capable and have an airtight, foolproof plan for success.
  3. All of our lives are incomplete until you get approved to explore the super fringe area of research.
  4. It would really be a crime not to give you the green light because you’re basically going to bring world peace (albeit in a super fringe slice of the world) through your research.

After such a convincing argument….who could refuse?? Not the committee because you won them over with your charm, charisma, etc. Unfortunately, this now means….you actually MUST do said research.

You. Must. Do. It.

Pretty sure “must” is the ultimate zen-kill because “must” means all that you presented in somewhat airy, abstract terms has to land itself and work into the nooks and crannies of real life research. Describing a well intentioned, creative plan will get you past the candidacy but a full dissertation with actual data and such needs flesh and bones and blood (disclaimer should my ethics review committee happen to read this: all metaphorically speaking, of course) to actually work.

At this point you become amazingly adept at finding somewhat tangentially related diversions to make you feel productive yet also help you ignore the enormity of the task ahead. For me, finishing my ethics application and then endlessly pestering my supervisor to sign off on it was my task of choice. *Related: Whenever I’m stressed about anything my default is to begin pestering my supervisor. After almost four years, I think he’s become quite adept at indulging and ignoring me. Pretty sure this is the mark of a good supervisor. 

Skilling yourself in something software related also helps because learning a tool makes you feel competent and in control (even though honestly…tools are pointless without a good plan but still…feeling in control is a pleasant drug.) Over the past three weeks I’ve attended numerous NVivo webinars, practice importing data, made pretty word clouds, and generally “oooh-ed” and “ahhhh-ed” at shiny capability that I’m 98% sure I will never need but…still pretty epic.

What continues to remain tricky and I’ve yet to find a good solution to is life in the nagging now-but-not-yet identity that is a doctoral candidate. As I’ve basically brought a village with me along this journey coming one step closer has meant that there have been many village celebrations which have included the inevitable question of “how much longer until you’re Dr. Lisa?” My answer thus far has been “about a year” because I do hope sooner than later is when I can wrap all this up and move along to other things.

That said…I still Must. Do. Said. Research. And here is the hangup because in addition to carrying candidacy in who I now see myself as, I still have traces of all the steps that came along during the process…the times I didn’t make it and the ways I failed along the way.

Lisa the Doctoral Candidacy. At such points as close as this March, these words felt like something that was just as likely to happen as for me to visit the moon. Yet, here I am and here I have been for almost a month. I didn’t realize how comfortable being a doctoral student had become until I crossed the line into the next zone of candidacy. I am once again in the early stages of another new liminal space. Now looking back, student life all feels like warm fuzzy nostalgia and it’s hard to remember how hard it actually was to navigate. I have no doubt this era too will have the same warm patina when I’m Dr. Lisa trying to figure out what’s next. Learning, like being a human, is a weird thing because its never a binary experience rather it’s living in the fluid tension of succeeding and failing co-mingled.

Which is where things get sticky and voices start up again in my head and I remind myself yet again that I made it this far and will eventually make it all the way. First step: back to a daily (or almost daily) habit of writing and reflecting so this era, which I think will prove to be quite an important one, doesn’t pass by in a blur.

day 21 (of 20)

April 22, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

Products:

  • One SUCCESSFUL candidacy oral defense presentation! (Which feels like really maybe three life events rolled into one because speaking a presentation plus taking two rounds of questions….woah.)

Process:
This morning I woke up with the goal of keeping my mind as black as possible for as long as possible leading up to the 2:30 start time. My theory was that all the words and info were as settled into me as they possibly could be thus if I could just let the accumulated wisdom be the thing that drove me onwards…all would be good. If I let my pesky neurotic brain take over…things might not go so good.

So…I moved slowly through the day, went shopping, and generally puttered around all with the goal of not thinking. It mostly worked as I was able to make it to about 1:15 before the full gravitas of the situation hit me. Luckily by that time, time was already so close so I didn’t spend all that long in the “oh my goodness….what am I doing???” mode. After a practice round, a mega dose of magnesium, and a couple final touches on my webcam background, I logged in and basically the jet plane took off so there was no looking back. Roughly two hours later, after a presentation and two full and thorough rounds of questioning, I was politely asked to leave the meeting while the committee deliberated and then about ten minutes later called to re-join and given the good news that I was indeed a pass.

Perspective:
I’ve heard from people before that the presentation part is the nerve wracking part and then the questions turn into a fun experience because you get the chance to speak in depth to people who have read your work and are actually curious and interested in what you are doing. I have no doubt that this is true for others but I will say that my experience was almost the complete opposite. For me the presentation felt great and I think because I’d practice so much it felt like everything came together just right at the right time and in the right way. The questions on the other hand felt exhausting because I felt like I had to pay super close attention to the words and the overall nuance and remember the whys and the hows behind each of the points the committee was questioning. I came into the experience thinking that it would basically be a convivial chat but yeah…for me it was more like a marathon of looking at and trying to explain my own motivations. I think one of my best and worst attributes is that I act on instinct and what “seems” right for the moment and the situation and hold loosely onto any given situation. While that gets me nicely through daily life, that doesn’t seem to hold water in an academic sense so trying to get back to the real, root why took a somewhat profound set of mental gymnastics. But apparently, I was up to the task as I convinced the committee!

I’m still in awe that it’s done, I’m through, etc. I think this will take a couple days to sink in. And I’m fairly sure tomorrow I’m going to wake up with the same resident knot in my stomach that moved in just about a month ago and get to first remember all over again it’s done and then celebrate once more that this season is done. I know that there is so much massive work ahead of me and this is only just the beginning for now….I can rest.

day 20 (of 20)

April 21, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

*Further proof doing anything numerical and quantitative might not be a good choice: for the last 20 days I thought that when the magical 20/20 would arrive I would actually be on my candidacy day. Oops. 

Products:

  • More practice runs with the fam
  • More tiny tweaks to slides and script
  • One full read through the written proposal noting stuff and reacquainting myself
  • Much staring blankly at the wall thinking woah…you are actually in. this. moment.

Process:
Again…nothing very sexy. Lots of talking and recording and more talking and trying to consciously slow myself down as I am talking. I’m so close now that I know I have lost the ability to hear myself talk and assess things like speed and coherence. This is comforting because I think it means I’m developing vocal chord memory (if that’s even a thing) of these words. This is unnerving because the words feel more like just noise than anything coherent.

Perspective:
Whatever happens…I’m deeply proud of myself for making it to this point and through these twenty days of very conscious reflection and discipline. It feels like my whole world is basically cheering me on and confident in my abilities and sending an insane amount of positive energy my way. It’s nice to be loved so well and supported so fully.

I wish I could peak into the future and see how it all turns out…just a tiny glimpse like reading the last couple pages of a chapter before beginning it. That said it seems like the theme of this whole season has been learning to trust. First it was trusting the call to this research area, this kind of alignment of my interest and story with this hole in documentation and research. Next it was trusting my supervisor to take care of me and advocate–to carry me through a system that I could not enter. I think now I’m learning to trust myself and the strength that I know is deep inside me, the strength that has been forged through all the months of just showing up daily to the process with open hands. It’s easy right now to say this is the hardest season of all but I think while enmeshed in any of the previous trust learnings…I’d say that was the hardest because it was the one where I was situated–present context has an acute discomfort that time always dulls.

And so, though there will be no peaking to the end of the chapter, no reading ahead to see how it turns out and if the tears will be frustrated ones of happy ones at least I get to do this process with a pretty amazing girl who’s admittedly deeply quirky and has her moments but when it comes down to it…is also totally strong, totally trustworthy, and will totally make it through, whatever twists and turns may or may not occur.

day 19 (of 20)

April 20, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

Products:

  • Two complete run throughs including Q+A chat time with two completely different groupings of academics. Whew.

Process:
Today felt like a good run through for the “real day.” The first presentation was late afternoon (much like it will be on Friday) so I practiced trying to be a normal human for the morning and early afternoon–not giving too much into the desire to run into the mountains screaming, curl into the fetal position under the covers, etc. It helped that I had extended work meetings but even so, I think I have a somewhat good mental game plan for Friday morning.

Perspective:
The two groups I practiced with were composed of pretty vastly different academics. It was interesting to see and gauge reactions which honestly were quite different.

I left the first presentation (made up of primarily quantitative-oriented researchers) feeling deeply relieved that the experience was over. I think their comments and viewpoints were quite valid and interesting but they felt so far removed from my own grounding that enacting them in the ways they outlined really felt like they would remove “me” from the experience. As its ultimately my research (even though I’m not making the mistake that this will define me) this would be quite problematic. So…overall the experience felt super beneficial to see things from a viewpoint far outside of my own and also somehow through their eyes look back to be able to see, even more, where my own lines lie.

The second presentation was to people who are enrolled in the same program and institution as me. Though we are all studying different areas and are in no way really homogeneous…it still feels a bit to me like we’re an extended family and as such they’re a bit less intimidating. (Also…it was the second presentation so I didn’t have to wonder “if” I’d make it as just over an hour ago…I had.) The questions swirled around an entirely different set of items and they challenged me to dig into and consider some deeper “whys” in the research, digging into both its foundation and my own as an educator. I left the second presentation feeling profoundly thankful to have found this community.

And so one. more. day.

day 18 (of 20)

April 19, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

Products:

  • Another day, another practice run (or actually many many practice runs but…just one recording.)
  • More answers to questions that may or may not be asked
  • Many more deep breadths
  • Printed out all 82 pages of the proposal in case someone wants to reference a specific section and I need to do some quick scanning (because clearly 82 pages and swiftness go hand in hand!)

Process:
Not much new stuff to report. I am getting slightly better at not thinking panicked, irrational thoughts whilst in the early stages of the presentation but still tend to think around slide 13/14 that time has basically stopped and slide 41 will never arrive. Actually, I think I might just be getting better at ignoring said panicked, irrational thoughts. Tomorrow’s the double feature practice run with presenting to both the research lab and 806 so hopefully by tomorrow at this time I’ll be completely confident, and psyched-up-yet-relaxed leading up to Friday.

Perspective:
I got the “official” letter today outlining the process for Friday including timing, expectations, etc. It’s crazy to think that about a month and a half ago I was consumed with the angst of not having an external and could not imagine both having an external and being just a couple days from the main event. Though I would not wish the stress of this past season on anyone, looking back I think the ways it broke me were almost catalytic in the growth that I know is happening to me as I begin to build the “what’s next” bit of whatever the new season might bring.

day 17 (of 20)

April 18, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

Products:

  • Newly updated slides! (now with….page numbers! and even references!) Proposal_Presentation_V2
  • Newly updated script! (not quite updated with page numbers) Proposal_Outline_041717
  • Questions actually with answers! (well…some of them) Questions_to_Answer
  • More video recorded rehearsals (which I’ll not upload since…more of the same)

Process:
Literally…not many days from now is the. big. day. I think this knowledge is helping me focus and (hopefully) helping give my brain the extra incentive it needs to cram in some more info about coding schemes and data gathering and all the whys and hows and what-ifs that I think I need to be conversant on to make a good showing on these things. This final run is all about being focused-yet-cool as the last thing I need to do is amp myself up any more. So…from here on out it’s about working out the kinks and getting enough rest so I can keep myself in the mental good zone as long as possible.

Perspective:
Literally…not many days from now is the. big. day. (monumental enough to say twice.) Yesterday if I was completely honest, I would have said that even underlying a day that is a super holiday in my book…there was an undercurrent of panicky anxiety inside me that the day was coming faster than I was going to be ready for it and I was most likely going to get sucked under like a bad wave and probably never emerge.

I’m so thankful that this morning it had all washed away and between emails from my supervisor, another round of good practice sessions, and lots of time spent strategizing questions-with-answers, I’m finishing the day feeling way more grounded. In addition, I think yesterday was still the speculative “next week it happens” realm so I could comfortably catastrophize. It’s now the realm of “this week” and as such there’s neither room nor time for mental shenanigans. And so…onward it is as the countdown begins in earnest!

day 16 (of 20)

April 17, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

Today was 98% holiday, 2% presentation. Apparently by practicing, I’m actually getting longer in length….this is good because it means I’m better at actually taking breadths. This is bad because at the 20 minute mark—I have no idea what happens but I have a feeling it’s nothing good. After today’s session I have all of about 3 seconds to play with. I don’t think this is a big deal quite yet but if I get really great at the whole breathing thing…I may need to shave off some of the syllables.

 

day 15 (of 20)

April 16, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

Products:

  • Cleaned up tiny design details within the slides.
  • Cleaned up tiny wording details within the script.
  • Recorded the full presentation and began the listening to aid memorization. You too can watch and listen!

Process:
Today was a good, steady work day broken up by lots of sunshine and walks. Time off yesterday was definitely worth it as today I could focus way better.

Perspective:
After listening to the recording, I think overall I sound great! (and oddly like I am from the East Coast at times…apparently my inner New Yorker comes out in times of speaking all the words…good to know.) This was a good confidence booster as admittedly the mental picture I have of myself delivering this content has yet to reach the view others seem to be assuring me they see in me. Hearing myself helps me get enough distance to be able to pat myself on the shoulder (metaphorically) and say, “Wow Lisa, you may be scared but good for you showing up and getting it done!”

Tomorrow:
Easter it up! And….begin working in earnest to memorize stuff because me talking is a million times easier than me reading out loud.

day 14 (of 20)

April 15, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

Some days you do a lot, other days you do basically nothing. Today was the latter. Though it’s tempting to feel stress and guilt and all the “what if’s” and “shoulds” because I am just one week until the official, official day, I’m actually 100% okay with accomplishing nothing today because….balance.

day 13 (of 20)

April 14, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

Products:

  • Two successful presentation run throughs to the parents. (My dad now has a million questions about what exactly I’m studying, what degree I’m getting at the end of all this, and told me it’s pretty amazing the wide wide open world of things I’ll actually be qualified to do in the not too distant future. Both my parents have begun thinking up both possible tough questions the committee will ask and also the appropriate ways I should answer. Related: I could not love these lovable weirdos more.) 
  • One successful presentation run through to the cohort. (First time presenting to actual academics and the verdict was overall positive! As these people know so so so so much, getting their affirmation makes everything feel more manageable and is a super good distraction to the crazy voices in my mind and the pulse of low grade anxiety that seems to have taken residence in my stomach. Related: doing life with a cohort really is the best way.)

Process:
Today was all about beginning the process of practicing talking these ideas out loud, in earnest. Somewhere between 16:30 and 18:00 is still a crazy long time to talk continuously but I think if I can keep doing it consistently (and multiple times per day) between now and next Friday I can build up a bit more endurance and confidence.

Perspective:
Today’s been a big, good shift in my overall outlook. Hearing praise on many fronts really helped bolster me. In addition, hearing tough questions that I don’t have the answers to at this moment was also a good wake up call as it’s giving me another thing to focus on that might take my mind off all the talking. Here are a couple:
Why am I excluding educators in fully online programs?
What’s my estimate of participants required?
What do all of my trustworthiness variables really mean?
Constructivism vs. Social Constructivism….which do I actually mean and why?

Good good stuff. Now time to figure out some good (and clever and grounded in actual published work and such) answers.

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