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hello, external.

March 21, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

And just like that…I have an external committee member, feedback from the internal committee member previously known as the external committee member, and a list of potential dates for my formal proposal defense.

On Thursday morning (in before external time) I woke up with the conscious resolve to be through with the drama and shift my focus toward proactive researcher self-improvement. I was going to master NVivo, qualitative research analysis, and finally investigate Scribner. In addition, I was going to get back to blogging more regularly because writing helps me not only be a better writer but also process life.

Oh, and I was about to embark on an 16 hour road trip to Colorado so having a head filled with positive possibilities was way preferable to a head filled with “what-if” scenarios involving me never getting an external.

Somewhere between the Mississippi River and Des Moines, I got an email saying the five words I’d been fantasizing about for over two weeks, “An external candidate has agreed.” I kept on reading it over and over again just to make sure it actually was real…I had really understood and there actually was no rejection in the sentence. Reading the news was like a giant exhale.

I used to think that this kind of waiting was all an academic head game—it existed in my mind and just involved mental toughness, steely resolve, and perseverant thinking. I’ve since come to realize, like anything in life, waiting and all the complex emotions it brings is a whole body thing. I felt the tension of waiting in my chest and in my shoulders—the frustration and anger of waiting was in my stomach. It seemed even at times I felt the impact of waiting running in my veins. Waiting is achy, exhausting, uncomfortable business.

This experience has made me realize I know very little about patience and trust…I know very little about waiting with grace. Looking back from the comfort that is resolution, I can fully acknowledge that my experience of waiting was basically a first world problem…it was never “if” I would receive a positive resolution, rather it was just “when” that positive resolution would come. I have people in my life who are waiting on questions that have no guaranteed positive answers, just invitations to be present and learn from living within the tension. This experience has made me realize these people may be true superheroes…they certainly are people I want to learn from.

This experience has also made me realize the best thing about being in a season of waiting is the knowledge that you’re not alone. Given the complexity of my situation, my friends couldn’t fix it or make it go away. That said, they could and did listen as I worked through all the messiness of my feelings and rehashed the situation again trying to find a solution within my power to enact (even as we both knew deep down known that a “situation” of our own making was a myth at best.) These friends did not make the waiting hurt less but they did help me find perspective and humor in its midst. These too are the people I want to learn from…the friends who never cease to inspire me.

In the midst of all this, my supervisor and I discussed once more that doing a doctorate is roughly 20% growing a knowledge base and 80% growing as a person. These past two weeks have been crazy hard but I’m hopeful they’ve contributed a bit more to the 80%. Last week I could never imagine thinking this but…though it is excruciating at times, I’m glad for the process. Well, perhaps I should qualify that…I’m almost as glad about the process as I am that I now have an external. : )

one year ago…

March 15, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

If last year I was framing this journey as trying to listen to dark matter, fully appropriate a year later to find myself floating in deep space. It’s admittedly a pretty dark place but when I’m able to look past all the immediate discomfort of the present…so dazzling to realize I actually am here.

on learning the harder stuff.

March 14, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

This week in my intro to graphic design course we’re discussing critique. Critique is one of those subjects in the art and design world that has a mythic quality to it. With my students I emphasize that critique is always just about the work and never about you personally though perversely…it always feels like it’s about you personally and never just about the work.

As designers we are fortunate to be part of an industry where we get paid to make things and be creative. In this transaction, we should do our best but ultimately we live in the creative tension that knows that the majority of our output isn’t for our own pleasure rather it is for communicating a specific message from a client to an audience. It’s hard work untangling your identity from a design piece—learning to hold it loosely. That said; if you cannot find that separation space between what you make and who you are, guarantee you will not be able to survive in the industry.

In design world, how you do the work matters just as much as what work you do.


A couple weeks back I received some bad news about my dissertation committee. Because I had done a pre-presentation to my full committee (well documented in such posts as this one) the member who was supposed to be my calm, cool, unbiased external had apparently become tainted. I now had an incomplete committee with no external member. Though he had only good intentions, the very thing my supervisor hoped might speed up the process moved it into an indefinite holding pattern. Education is a complex process. Inherent in this complexity is that realization that for better or worse, his errors will bleed into me and vice versa. For the record: knowing this in my head and feeling this practically are two entirely different things.

As my year had been tracking to a March defense, the news broke me. I was angry that no one caught the error…frustrated that by no mistake of my own my plans were stalled out. I was disillusioned by an opaque system secret society bent on giving me no information or power but wanting all of my trust. While at the beginning updates that things were being “worked on” gave me some hope, as days passed I stopped believing. I felt my own anger turn into bitterness as I realized I wouldn’t defend in March and with every day that passes, even defending in April feels like it’s slipping away.

I’ve spent the last few weeks doing what any logical human would do, namely sending copious emails to the single contact I do have in the system asking for updates, asking for information, and generally asking for any scrap of reassurance that I have not been forgotten. I’d love to say these have been rational, respectful emails but more often than not they’ve been messy, filled with equal parts desperation, rage, and demands for answers that might make the situation hurt less.

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