The PhD Chronicles: Year 1, Officially Done

That's it.  Year one is in the books.  My papers have been submitted and now, it's time to wait for grades and enjoy the three-week break before the summer intensive.  But hey, by July 1st, I'll have 24 credits and that will be 1/3 of the credits to completion of the degree.  So what has this first year been like?


I got what I asked for!

Word cloud of this blog post in the shape of a check mark.
I regularly get asked how is the program going.  It's not the most asked question; that goes to "Are you done yet?"  (The answer to that questions is :  "Stop asking me that question; it's a PhD program, community education program on astronomy.") followed by "How much do you have left?" (Another PhD student question no-no.  It's like asking a marathon runner how much he or she has left to run; we hate being reminded on the finish line because it's so damn far away).  However, when asked about the how, my response is usually, "I got what I wanted and now, I'm dealing with it."  I wanted a rigorous program; one that pushed me and yes, even made me doubt my abilities.  Having three master's degrees with only one that actually pushed me and made me earn it, I realized that at the graduate level, this was supremely important to me.  I wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone, hurt my brain thinking, discussing, and writing, and feel like there was risk involved in completing it.  

Well, I got what I wanted.  It's been all of those things and more.  


I learned a lot.

It speaks to the above point, but I did learn a lot this year.  I learned much about higher education, where it comes from, how it works (and doesn't), its possibilities and limitations, and probably, most important, a much clearer contextualized understanding of my roles within it.  I realized more of the complexity and dynamics of higher education, which has helped me to understand why previously conceived solutions, though nice, are not likely to work and to begin to conceive of pathways to make things work that I am interesting in.

I also learned a lot from my cohort and better understand the power of the cohort.  Besides being in a room with other skillful and intelligent people who can look at the same content and come up with different ideas, I also was impressed with the secondary learning we are doing about each others' projects.  Thus, as some of us start to focus on specific issues or elements of higher education semester after semester and share that with others through group projects, presentations, and dialogue, we learn more about things that may not necessarily interest us personally enough to research but by proxy become more aware and invested in these issues.  

I've also learned to let go and accept my limitations at certain times.  Often, I am not going to get to all of the reading (and yes, even classes, I didn't get to any of the readings).  But that's ok for me.  I do what I can, recognizing that I have limitations and obligations that mean not everything will get done.  So long as I am able to continue forward, continue learning, and continue trying, I have come to learn to let the rest go and just know that it's there when needed.  

I still feel concerned about completing and a dissertation.

And I don't think that will go away until after I have the prefix Dr. added to my name, though even then, I will probably be lost to how I did it.  It still feels so far away and overwhelming.  I know I will get there, but it still feels like the great mountain on the horizon.  I may have closed some of the distance towards it, but it still feels far away and still unconquerable from this distance.  

I still grapple with impostor syndrome.

Maybe I always will, but this is perhaps why the dissertation feels so insurmountable.  Maybe it's because I an letting things go (admitting that I can't do it all) or feeling the doubt that I've mentioned in previous posts, but I still grapple with feeling like I am legit.  I am sure that many friends would (and have) rushed to my side to say, "You bet your ass you are; if anyone is legit, it's you!" Yet I still feel like I'm not always as smart as people think I am and being in a program with other intelligent and skillful people, critical professors (and i mean that in a good way), and encountering works that open up need ways of understanding, challenges me because well, I'm an adult in his late 30s with numerous degrees and ample experience in higher education and still woefully ignorant.  

My doubts are also flared by discussions with other who have achieved doctorates and ask questions that can seem like they are measuring up my degree.  The two that raise the biggest flags and make me feel most uncomfortable or where I feel a the biggest sense of judgment (implied or inferred) are around these two questions:  How many credits is the program?  Does the program have comps (comprehensive exams)?  They both feel like measuring questions.  The first, often seems embedded in the idea of a PhD in Higher Education being "legitimate", while the other being an indication of the program's rigor.  Maybe that is my own doubt speaking, but academia is indeed filled with petty arguments of intellectual one-up-manship and I've certainly heard enough bashing of doctoral degrees by doctors of different disciplines to know that a hierarchy exists.  


The relaxing begins now!

Ok, enough reflecting.  The semester is over and I've got 3 weeks before the next one starts.  I need to enjoy some time with friends, the reading of many graphic novels, the playing of video games, and just time not figuring out what is due in a given week.  


Want to catch up on my previous reflections about being in a PhD program?  Check them out:
  1. Acceptance
  2. Orientation
  3. Day 1
  4. Week 1
  5. First 2 Courses Completed
  6. First 2 Courses Finished
  7. Semester 2, Here We Go
  8. The Existential Crisis of the Week
  9. The Balancing Act
  10. Negotiating Privilege in Higher Education
  11. Zeroing in on Research
  12. Completing the Second Semester
  13. Dissertation Journal #1
  14. Dissertation Journal #2
  15. So Starts The Third Semester
  16. My Educational Philosophy...for now
  17. Dissertation Journal #3
  18. PhD'ese
  19. And Sometimes, You Feel It
  20.  Semester's Endgame


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