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an open letter to cohort 7 on the completion of their first academic year

April 20, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

Hello Cohort 7!

At the beginning-ish of the term I wrote you a short message that I hoped would generally cheer you on in an effort to promote cross-cohort pollination. From my position as part of what Dr. Anderson has called the “ghosts of 802 past” it seems you’re just about finished with 802 thus I want to bookend that first message with my own congrats and specifically a couple recommendations I would make about the summer.

So first….congratulations!! 802 is the antithesis of easy-breezey and if your experience was anything like mine, you are probably emerging from the other side of it with lots more learning and a little (or a lot) overwhelmed/humbled with how complex the research process actually can be. Ideas that mostly lived in your head as potential dreams were tested and exposed to peer and professorial feedback. Hopefully they (and you) fared well and 802 was a good place of refinement, exploring what is worth pursuing and stripping away what might not be the perfect fit you imagined. Be somewhat lavish in celebrating the completion of this next step in your doctoral process and your first year in the program. It’s a huge deal and should be rewarded with lots of champagne and lots of warm fuzzy feelings!

Your first summer is an interesting time in the program cycle and for me proved quite strategic…though in none of the ways I anticipated when I finished 802. The following are things that I wish someone would have told me when I’d finished 802 (actually…my supervisor may have told me some of these things but at times—terrible as it sounds—wisdom from your supervisor feels like pedantic wisdom from your parents when you’re thirteen, out of touch at best…even if it’s totally true!) Last year I was right where you are now so, as much as anyone can “get” another’s experience…I get where you are. Do with these what you will and know that they are couched fully in my own experience, which may or may not resonate with you.

For real. Take the next month and binge watch televisions shows you’ve neglected. Spend time with friends and family. Resist the urge to use qualitative, quantitative, epistemology or methodology in a sentence. Go to bed early. Eat actual meals around a table. Be outside. Be active. Remember you have a body and are not just a brain.

Learn something new, offline.
You’ve spent the last solid year learning about learning, learning about research methodology, learning about your own philosophical stance, learning about academic writing…the list of “learnings” could go on and on. While that will prove vital in the fall, it’s head-y stuff and most likely has been learned while sitting in front of a screen. Learn something this summer offline that involves you physically doing something. It doesn’t matter what it is and it doesn’t matter if you’re terrible at it…just try to learn it and you’ll be amazed at how all the things you’ve learned about learning this past year come alive in whole new ways.

For example, I spent last summer learning yoga and food photography. I was pretty basic at both but did find—while hanging out in downward dog—my mind making connections from the past year it never would have had I spent the summer just focusing on doing more school-related “academic” learning.

Think about your thesis (just not too much.)
Inevitably now that you’re a year into the program people are going to begin asking you what your dissertation is about, if you’ve begun research, when you will graduate, how you’re going to change the world, etc. It’s tempting to make up things that sound impressive and then begin panicking inside because you may feel even more uncertain about your thesis than you did before you began 802. To satisfy those well meaning question askers…think about your thesis a little bit and come up with an appropriately vague yet impressive sounding descriptor so you have something to tell.

But for you personally, don’t think about it in hard facts so much as daydream what it might be, what it might bring to the world, and who you might be at the end of it. Most of all resist the urge to marry any ideas right now because I can almost 100% guarantee you will not be the same person next year at this time that you are now. Trust the process and know that the right connections will happen at the right time but the best thing you can do now is remain open, explore, and resist the need to control.

Read…but not in a stressful way
Along the same lines as the above…keep reading but not in a stressful way. Read broad and wide and read things both closely aligned with what you’re interested in and things that are the polar opposite of what you are interested in. Don’t feel like you need to be formal about it, rather read like you’d explore a new city…somewhat haphazard and rambling with wide open eyes following whatever paths present themselves. When you’re tired of reading, stop and only start again when you’re ready. This isn’t about consuming words rather it’s about dancing over them and seeing what might stand out to you and pique your interest.

Keep connected with your cohort
It looks like, from my own ghost lurking, you all as a cohort have a great connection. Keep that going over the summer doing whatever you have established as your cultural communication pattern. As you’ve no doubt realized a cohort has a unique element to it like nothing else in the program. Profs in the program will be great resources, your supervisor will be a hybrid drill sergeant/cheerleader/therapist but…your cohort is family in this journey. So, make time to circle the wagons and update each other on the mundane of life because those moments are what it means to be human.

And most of all (and perhaps most cliché) have fun as that’s ultimately what summer breaks should be about. If you’ve made it through 802, you will be fine in 803 and 804 so try not to worry about what the future might hold. You are strong and you are courageous and you are smart so in the end, with a little kindness, all will be well.

One Comment

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  1. Terry Anderson #
    May 2, 2015

    Great and supportive advice Lisa – thanks for writing – a suggestion is to have this blog picked up into your Landing blog (you can set to do this automatically!) Then if you tag with 802, your words of wisdom will be accessible to cohort #8 and beyond!
    All the best

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