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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.

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