I called myself a PhD student to non-academicians for the first time today, specifically a bunch of Latino teens. They reminded me why I'm putting myself through this.
This first month (almost) of school has been subtly but incessantly rough. The people are new, the environment is new, the competing priorities are new. I feel out of place, not because I don't think I belong (I'm comfortable enough in my academic accomplishments and capabilities to know I deserve to be here), but mostly because I don't really identify with the label of academic.
I'd rather talk about the sloppy play of the Redskins' offensive line this past weekend than the latest documentary.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to convey research findings to the general public because I see it as a measure of success the same way others see p values and impact factors.
I'm at an elite school. I feel an underlying tension of competition in my new cohort (to varying degrees depending on the individual) that puts me on edge, not because I can't compete but because I thought the competing was over, at least for a little while. We just got here and I'm already tired.
But I digress.
These teens today, who through the project are eloquently conveying things I've struggled for decades to put into words, reminded me today that it's my non-academic perspective that adds something important to discussions. They reminded me that they rarely see people who look like them in the academy. I can actually open up dialogue both with my presence and my mannerisms in a way that not many others can.
I feel like I have to put in full battle armor everyday as I head to campus and yes, that's tiring. I hope that feeling starts to subside soon, but it might not. As long as I get to engage with communities in a meaningful way during my doctoral training, I think I can hang in there for a little while longer.