One month in
We're almost a month into the first year of doctoral study and its finally starting to feel like we're making some headway in bonding as a cohort. We're starting to joke, talk about things other than classes, and generally gel as a group. Granted, there is still definitely a lot of awkwardness and relative silence, but there's visible progress.
A non-academic in academia
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.
We're three weeks into the semester and I'm still searching for that foothold that will help me feel like I have my bearings. Something (anything at this point) that will start to set that rhythm for the semester so I stop feeling like I'm trying to balance a bunch of spinning plates.
I feel simultaneously busy and not. I only have three classes this semester, so things appear deceivingly simple. I only have 20 hours/week of assistantship to do, which also sounds completely doable. But really I also have the independent study working on a project I LOVE with my advisor. It feels like a side project, is registered as a class, and has a hold over me like a job. Oh, and there's the contracting that I'm still doing with the DC office, which is currently my biggest source of income. And publications I should be working on to position myself for whatever teaching/post-doc position I want at the end of this degree.
Aside from the classes, most of my time is unstructured, which is one of the things that I appreciate about the academy - the ability to set my own hours for most things. But MAN is it harder than I thought. Meetings are scheduled when I should be working. 20 hours feels like a HUGE burden, even though I'm only in the office like three times a week.
Didn't I used to work 30 hours a week on a regular basis during my master's...?
I'm trying my hardest to get through the literal volumes of reading during the week in an effort to protect my weekends for rejuvenation (read: laundry, dishes, and the contracting gig). So, assuming this trend can be continued, I have my weekends free and I don't have to be on campus until late morning most days. This sounds like THE LIFE, right? Except I was so tired at the end of this week that I passed all the way out for like two hours almost immediately after getting home on Friday.
Very little in my life right now is mandatory. I don't have to publish two articles my first semester as a doc student, I'm just trying to get my thesis manuscript out of my life so it's unfinishedness stops stressing me out (that's one) and get caught up in one of my favorite project teams (that's the other). I don't have to participate in any extracurricular activities, but I would like to feel connected to my campus and know it will help me professionally. I don't have to go to a single talk, but man am I super interested in this lunch thing coming up next week on methods for engaging communities. And the side gig? Definitely not required, but I've gotten it into my head to pay off all my debt now so I have less to worry about the rest of the years. Plus, its hard to let go of something that has such potential to be useful for a wide range of people and just needs people willing to execute things thoughtfully and thoroughly.
Taking time to just LIVE on the weekends shouldn't stress me out, but today it has definitely been hard to make my way through Ugly Betty episodes when I keep thinking about the upcoming presentation for one class, the untouched thesis manuscript, my growing pile of laundry -- well, maybe not so much the laundry... That's what's closet doors are for, after all. But you get the idea. I want to do a lot, including be kind to myself.
I think this means setting my alarm earlier on weekdays.
[insert the BIGGEST of sighs]
That and maybe get a better handle on my schedule in general so I feel less like time is trying to not-so-subtly power walk away from me...
Luckily, my sister is almost as big a fan of quotes as I am and texted me this less than an hour ago:
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.