Friday, April 28, 2006

Some advice, free of charge, because I like you

If you have a grad student in your life of the PhD variety, do not say, "When are you going to graduate?"

It seems to be fairly uncommon it is for people to understand how a typical PhD program works. Most people are used to the idea of high school (4 years), college (4 years), med school (4 years), most masters programs (around 2 years)... but it's difficult to comprehend why you would enter a program without having a defined timeline for leaving. The fact is, you finish a PhD when you've done enough new, at least semi-important, research. When you've contributed enough to your chosen field, you get a degree and leave. If you're a bit slow publishing and someone else "scoops" your findings by publishing first? Well, tough, and no, you don't get credit for it in some fields. I knew people who left programs after 5 years because they were scooped and knew they didn't have time to do another full dissertation's worth of work before their program kicked them out at the 7 year mark. Here, have a master's for your troubles, and enjoy finding another career.

For a lot of people, this is unsettling. (No, I'm not talking about the actual students. For them it's more nausea-inducing.) My father-in-law regularly is surprised that I don't know when I'll finish. I had thought it might be this spring at one point (HA! And I'll say it again - HA!), but then Rocco was conceived and born, and that slowed me down. When your biological clock's alarm sounds, it slows down your academic clock. That makes intuitive sense to me, so why does my father-in-law still think I'm on my way to mortarboard nirvana soon?

I'm a bit unusual, however, in that I'm not really rushing to get out. DT has a good, stable job, we're not sure if we want to move or not when I finish, and most importantly, I want to keep a good balance between my family and school. This means I'm watching newer students finish their degrees and go off for interesting jobs, but I'm happy where I am and generally happy to enjoy the process instead of rushing to finish.

That said, I would like to finish at some point, and that point seems to be moving further away every day. My brother once told me (while working on his own doctorate) that I shouldn't become obsessed with my research but that at the same time, "Every day you don't work is a day later that you graduate." Three years ago, that trade-off was easier to make. Now, I'm struggling more with how to prioritize as the years click by. I spent most of today on a field trip with WonderGirl, and I'm grateful that my schedule is flexible enough to allow that easily. However, I'm also aware that if I did everything her school requests (since I'm a student and it is therefore assumed that I have no commitments), I would have a hard time maintaining traction on my own research.

Someday, though, I'll be Dr. Ruth, I know it.

Wait, that's what I'm working for? Sheesh.


me said...

I find it so hard not to compare myself to other people. I compare myself to other students whose single focus is being a student, and I compare myself to other mothers whose single focus is being a mother, and I always come up short! But I think I'm a better person/mother/student for being all of the above since my life is more fulfilled than if I was just one type of person.

Ruth said...

I think that's a good point - it's hard not to compare, but that doesn't really help any of us. I don't know about your program, but there aren't many other parents in mine, and I think that actually helps. The other students seem impressed that I'm able to be a mom and a student, and that makes it easier for me to accept the fact that they're ALL GOING TO FINISH BEFORE ME. Oops, sorry.

Your last sentence rings true for me, also. Everyone is different, but I definitely think I'm a better mom now than I would be if I was a SAHM, I'm a better student than I would be if I didn't have my family to motivate and focus me, and I'm a better person because... well, that one I can't explain. Maybe it's because I don't deny myself chocolate when I need it. :)