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thesis aspirations…

February 26, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

Last night my Assignment 2 partner and I met again. As we’ve made some very solid progress over the past week, it was a good chat and notably free from any underlying anxiety. Though we still have much to do, we have adequate time left before the “big reveal presentation” and most importantly we have a shared vision and a solid sense of trust in each other. I think it’s no small victory that my partner (who also happens to be “the new guy” in the cohort) said that this process has gone “much better than he anticipated.” Though I told him it felt a bit like a backhanded compliment, I agree completely and feel that we do make a good academic team. I have no doubt that though 45 minutes is a long time to present….we will succeed.

As mentioned before in such places as here, we are in fact using a portion of my partner’s thesis research as the jumping off point of our project. Whenever I admit that, I feel a knee-jerk reaction to point out all of the ways I’m not just the sous chef in the kitchen, I can lead too, I’m not just a coat-tail-rider, tagalong, etc. and yet…the hard truth is that in many ways I am learning more and more that I actually am the sous chef in the kitchen and that’s a totally fine and very valuable role.

Last night as we were talking through some ideas and I was asking for clarification about the whole sets, nets, group thing we began talking about his past research which led to his story which led back around to the story of how he originally integrated into this ongoing project which once more turned to his thesis research. Luckily I am very non-linear because it was a roundabout pathway. (Also as a disclaimer, he was originally part of the cohort ahead of mine thus he’s been at this all for a year longer than me. A doctoral journey is like dog years so being a year older equates to roughly seven years further along!)

As he spoke, it was fascinating and the one clear thing that kept coming through was that my partner is able to talk about his thesis like someone talks about their favorite relative or a really great mentor. As he spoke I could feel his excitement and it made me excited for it too. Ideas I cared little for a month ago came alive and for a couple minutes I found myself wondering what I was doing with weird outlier graphic design online because clearly…social media learning was where it’s at! (Lucky for everyone…those feelings quickly dissipated.) It wasn’t all evangelistic fervor as he freely admitted it’s a hard topic and he is frustrated at times but it wasn’t complaining rather, it was like the allowances you make for a good friend…knowing that no one is perfect and in the end grace wins.

After chatting for awhile, he did the polite thing which is to ask me about my thesis topic. I kind of panicked and recited a couple large words and obscure ideas and quickly shifted the topic back to our presentation. He was gracious and told me my topic sounded interesting which I think might be Canadian code for “wait….what??”

My own research direction is something I’ve been asked about a lot lately, particularly when I mention how far along I am in the doctoral journey. I try my best not to get all caught up in the idea that I “should” have it all figured out by now but it’s hard sometimes to ignore those voices. I feel like right now I’m at the gawky phase in my doctoral journey…I know about all the changes that are happening in me and at times can almost tangibly feel myself growing. In some ways this is exhilarating yet more often I’m changing so much and so quick that I just end up feeling self conscious and awkward. I want to blend into the background for awhile and disappear until I understand more of who I am and am comfortable in my new identity as a fledgling academic.

When I am asked to verbalize just what is my next step…I feel like I’m in grade 3 and I’m being asked what I want to be when I grow up. When I was that age I was pretty sure I wanted to be either a doctor or an artist or the President. In my mind all those ideas seemed equally possible and if I hit the jackpot, I could be an artistic doctor who also happened to be President. The same feels true for my thesis at this point. It’s not that I don’t have any ideas…it’s that I have too many and like in grade 3, I just don’t yet have the perspective on myself or on the situation to really know what is best.

That said, after talking with my partner about his thesis I do now have a new aspiration which is: I want to someday talk about my thesis like it’s my favorite great auntie or it’s the mentor that has changed me in profoundly good ways. I want to someday have “thesis rapport” so when I begin talking about whatever ideas I happen to settle on, it’s not with dull, dry, apologetic academic talk rather it is with the candor that makes whoever I’m talking to feel that the ideas are living and exciting…that for a few minutes they too want to be part of the experience.

I have no doubt that just as I moved through adolescence and into adulthood, I will move out of this awkward, gawky, self conscious thesis era into something a bit more established. While I wish it would happen overnight…I know any good growth takes patience and so. much. time.  So in this era, I’m thankful that there are little glimpses, like my partner has shown me, of what is ahead….Good things for sure.

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