"Love your subject well before you ever start, because that passion will be tested mightily."
I'm about one week removed from the end of my first semester of doctoral study. In talking with my sister a few days ago, she pointed out that I didn't sound like I had all that much fun.
Initially, I agreed with her assessment - I was tired, felt like I had little to show for a semester of never-ending work, and was in a department that had a vastly different approach to education from what I was expecting or wanted.
But there was still nowhere else I would rather have spent the last several months. Trust me, I asked myself that question repeatedly throughout the semester and pretty much daily around finals...
So being the person that I am, I decided to make a list of first semester thoughts/feelings.
Things I feel like I learned this semester:
Looking at it, that doesn't seem like such a bad list. If another first semester PhD were to run off that list for me, I might even go so far as to say that was a solid list of stuff to have learned in the first semester.
So what's my deal?
There's a part of me that feels like I have sooooo far to get in just a few years that I should've learned more, contributed more to research projects, and have made more progress toward developing my initial thoughts around a dissertation idea. Its even worse when I look at some of the things more advanced doctoral students in my department have done. Plus I had to do way more rote memorization that I believe in this semester (since I believe at this level I should be doing ZERO memorization).
Ok, maybe it was a decent semester and I'm taking some of my own joy away and replacing it with illogical angst...
You'd think I'd be more used to going from big fish-little pond to little fish-big pond since I do it so often.
Well, at least I have a few solid weeks of sleep, celebration, and general recuperation before I have to jump back in again. After all, I continue to want this above all else.
I swear, sometimes grad school makes me feel like an untamed horse fighting against a bridle...
I managed to get my first bad grade of doctoral study over the Thanksgiving break, just in time to shake all confidence as I enter my first finals season of doctoral study. Sigh.
Now that I've spent the majority of the day letting myself be angry about what I consider to be a rote memorization and verbatim regurgitation approach to education, I can look (slightly) more objectively at the ill-fated assignment. It was basically an issue of detail and clarity (they wanted more of both).
This is where my bad-student-ness comes in... I know I know the material. I don't think I should have to recite PowerPoint lectures back at people to prove that I can make a decision about an appropriate study design for a research question. At no point in life (except of course during the next two years) will I be asked to know any of this information from memory. Instead, I will be expected to know where to get the details I don't have top of mind and think through things critically.
Obviously, I favor Einstein's notion that education should train us to think rather than focus on learning (read: memorizing) facts.
But alas, none of my pedagogical or ideological feelings about education (regardless of how passionate I might be about them) are going to change the fact that I am in the program that I'm in and that in order to get through said program I must prove that I'm a good memorizer and spitter-backer of things. I have to accept the bit and the bridle if I want the degree.
And while I also spent a handful of hours today questioning my decision to pursue said degree, the sad fact still remains that I would still rather be here, doing this exact thing, than anywhere else. I even hit up the student store sale today to reinforce my commitment to the journey and program with some university swag.
A little retail therapy never hurt anyone. Plus, it's almost my birthday.