September 27, 2015
805 has officially begun which means my third year of doctoral study is officially underway. I have survived all required coursework, words ending in ‘ology’ are making greater appearance in my vocabulary, and I feel no imposter syndrome when introducing myself as a doctoral student. I am at the halfway mark, which means that in the not too distant future I’ll proudly add some letters to my name, and add some robes to my wardrobe.
Looking at my position from a cool, collected, impartial, fully bracketed viewpoint I seem to be in a great spot as a positive statistic in the doctoral journey (which in doctoral education is no small task). And yet from the inside, totally bracketed, personal view…I am anything but cool and collected and in fact “hot mess” is probably a more apt descriptor of my academic state.
I’ve spent the last two years happily frolicking in the fields of knowledge—doing my part to be the kid playing in a sandbox that seem to be such a favored metaphor for learning. In the process of such delightful play, I’ve become amazing at constructing elaborate turrets of sand quickly–dazzled by my own cleverness–then just as quickly smashing it all to begin again on something different. Creating artifacts out of transient materials has become my specialty and I’ve become the poster child for all the buzz words like “iterate” and “explore” and “embrace risk.”
But here’s the thing…though I have no regrets about how I’ve spent my time in the sandbox of doctoral education, I’ve forgotten what it means to have ideas be precious—forgotten what it means to construct in material that solidifies and hardens into a foundation that supports something that will withstand a bit of rain and wind.
Perhaps “forgotten” is too kind a word—if I am quite honest with myself, I’ve become afraid of the commitment.
And so here I am on the 805 flight that will convey me to a proposal, research, and eventually a robe with billowy sleeves. When I imagined what entering this place would feel like, I envisioned solid confidence, quiet wisdom…peace. Instead what I feel more than anything is serious longing to be back in the sandbox giggling over my own cleverness, playing with tools handed to me by others, safe and supervised while my imagination transports me far far away. I long for the low stakes that come from knowing wrong turns can be easily obliterated in the fluidity of transient materials.
But much as I may look back longingly, I know I cannot go back. Year three is the time to transition the sandbox architecture that worked best into a solid structure that will not only last but also become a place of connection—a place where others can gather. It’s a privilege to be at this space.
So, time to trust the wisdom gained from the past two years and most of all be brave. The sandbox ethos will always be part of me but it’s time to take responsibility and use my agency to create something larger that will harden…intimidating as that thought may be to a sand lover like me.
Dear all future dissertations students who have managed to reach the somewhat holy grounds of dissertation proposal writing and realize that they actually have no idea whatsoever what they are doing. Though it feels like you’re completely stuck in the endless maze of your own thoughts and you’re paralyzed by the weight of a hazy imagined future, know that you’re not alone. Acknowledge that its terrible for right now—wallow in it even—then keep moving forward in whatever small baby steps you can manage knowing that your hard work will someday result in a party far greater (and less gritty) than anything that could have happened in a sandbox.
September 4, 2015
805 begins next week and in an effort to staunch the flow of panic I’ve been feeling all summer, I’ve begun chipping away at the course reading. It’s interesting stuff and as with the 804 pre-reads…my curiosity is very much engaged.
One thing I have noticed and indeed what’s prompted me to write this post has very little to do with the messages I have been reading and everything to do with the medium. For the first time this year I’m doing a significant amount of reading in a physical textbook as opposed to reading digital articles or even a digital edition of a text. As I said, the content itself is interesting but in many ways the whole experience feels oddly isolated.
Sure I can read in public places and even read aloud passages and then discuss with those around me but…it just feels so different than the process I’ve been engaged with over the last many months and called “reading”.
I’ve spent most of this year (and indeed my time as a doctoral student) reading on a screen in a fairly non-linear manner—looking up info about authors as I go, linking to other articles references, looking up unfamiliar words, referencing Twitter, watching videos. My process feels part word decoding/traditional “reading” and part archeology…with a generous twist of wandering built in. The interface of my computer makes these shifts seamless and though I can get sidetracked, the distractions often prove serendipitous. While I could do all these things simply by opening my computer next to my book…it feels cumbersome and almost like I’m cheating on my book to not give it my full attention.
It’s interesting to think about why I do what I do when reading on screen and when this shift happened. I spent my undergrad studying art history thus was steeped deep in physical books and then did a masters in graphic design thus was steeped in making artifacts, primarily using screen-based methods. Perhaps now as I work on my doctorate the two worlds are beginning to merge? Or perhaps I’m at a point where I’m still trying to figure many things out thus favor a more fragmented approach to on-boarding information? Perhaps the analog format of the book itself is subtly corralling my wandering mind while the screen is beckoning me to explore?
I doubt there is one reason or answer but it’s been an interesting meta bit of reflection on my own learning process and particularly on just what I tend to mean when I say I’m “reading.”