The PhD Chronicles: Year 2, Week 1 Done!

As can be told by my earlier post, this week has been rough.  I ran into challenges a lot about what I was doing and why.  I'm still not sure I'm entirely out of the miasma but I'm in a slightly better space.

Monday rolled into Tuesday, wherein I had two presentations to work on.  One of which, I won't lie--I got a bit more persnickety than I probably should have but I couldn't resist.  I'm not a big fan of unnecessary and meaningless work and the presentation wherein we were supposed to summarize 70-100 pages of findings from a book that had 20-year-old research in it (in some areas, that's ok, but when we're talking about who our students are--it's irrelevant), seems like a tremendous waste of time given all the other things we could do.  The other presentation I was a bit more fond of, but because of poor planning, we didn't get to it.  (Note to educators, use your time in the class wisely and if you scheduled for many people to present, do not spend too much time waxing away to the point at which several people don't get to go--it's inevitably frustrating to the students).  

All of this has felt supremely rushed and underwhelmingly compelling, which is to say that my motivation is lacking and has been hard to rally.  I'm hoping this weekend will allow for that and I'll get caught up on so much of what I've missed this first week, but I make no promises since we already have a paper due.  

However, being deep in this malaise of disconnect, I two things certainly helped me to rally back into a better space.  

The first shout-out goes to my cohort.  They all recognized me struggling and at some point during the second half of the week reached out to me.  It meant a lot,; it helped a lot.  Even though there was nothing they could really do about it, they still helped me talk about what I was running into and why I was in such a funk.  For those that are thinking about a cohort-based program, this is definitely one of the benefits.  The team had my back.

But something else happened at the end of the week that was supremely helpful.  As happens (to none of my readers or friends surprise), I get into discussions online about a variety of things--many of which lie at the intersection of social justice, politics, and identity.  While careening into one such discussion, wherein it was clear that people in the thread were unwilling to view others as humans, I came close to reacting aggressively (or at least as aggressively as I do) but managed to contain myself.  I continued with the dialogue for a while longer and eventually, a long-time friend of mine messaged me with the following (with some editing out of irrelevant material):

"Omg, Lance! I just saw the back and forth between you and some close-minded individual "contributing" to XXX's original post. I want to say that you are much more eloquent than I ever will be. I was raging just reading that. I agree it's sad to see so many,  even in our generation that are so fearful that they turn hateful to others. I think I need to take some pointers from you on how to respond as I have a tendency to get so fired up, that it just makes things worse. Again my sincere thank you for modeling the way"

I responded in kind that the person had made my day (given my week was a bit rough and the conversation I found hurtful in many ways) and the friend followed up with:

"Thank you!  I am glad you take the time to do this and I am working on my approach actively.  I am not always the popular one at the lunch or dinner table but I too feel like I need to use my voice on behalf of others that may not be able to. As I interact with a number of privileged white folks,  I am now trying to change the way I speak and try to appeal to them. Because if I treat them like outsiders or monsters that is what they will always be. All of this is easier said than done! So again thank you for not being fearful. We need more people like you"

The interaction carried on for a few more back and forths but you get the drift.  My friend's reaching out though made a significant mood shift for me.  I haven't overcome the entire malaise of what it is that I'm working through but the fact that someone observing me in action was moved by what I was saying.  I needed that because I was beginning to feel the futility of it.  In this program, we dive into understanding the systems of higher education (and the world for that matter) and see the many different faults that lie in its foundation.  In many ways, the work we do in the classroom, in our research, and in higher education can feel like a Sisyphean feat and without a doubt that weighs on me.  Not because I don't enjoy the work that I'm doing per se but because if I am not finding ways of fixing or addressing the issues (or worse, actively contributing to the problems unintentionally), but because I care deeply enough to want to make sure I'm doing something to help.

So even though what I was engaged with the Facebook thread wasn't technically about higher education, in many ways (the broad ways we think about education and its purpose within culture), it was.  Therefore, for someone else to reach out to me and appreciate what I was voicing, reminded me that silence is just as often an action too and that if I can rally to regularly be a voice, I still have the chance to help.  

It's not a huge victory but it is one that has brought me back into step with what I am trying to achieve and do while in the program, so I thank my friend for that.  In the meantime, I should probably get ready for week two!

Want to keep up with my PhD adventures?  Check out any of the links below:

Sub-series specifically about the dissertation:




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