...and its taken a little while for that to sink in, especially since I'm not entirely certain what lies ahead on this journey.
But in the meantime, I've got a bunch to do, including moving into what I will now refer to as the dissertation apartment (I literally just thought of that as I typed this sentence but it makes me smile).
Oh, there's a paper I'm working on right now, so let me get back to that, too.
I have all these people trying to insert their ideas into my writing. Some of them are great, but some of them are also problematic. No, not all Latinos have trouble speaking English. I don't need to lead with how hard it is to be undocumented. Yes, that is vitally important, but there are literally thousands and thousands of Latinos in this country that are US citizens - native-born and naturalized - where the first concern is not migration.
I'm here to shift the conversation. Sometimes, though, it feels like shoving and fighting and trying to keep from getting lost. Yes, it makes me stronger. But it also makes each step harder.
If you're like me and you've ever wondered why so few people talk about PhD life during coursework, I now know the answer - THERE IS NO TIME. With some periods being more productive than others, I've only managed to sporadically post so far. Between a full course load, 2-3 jobs at any given time, my own research, and attempts at a personal life, this cherished blog has just taken a backseat to all those other pressing tasks.
BUT NOW! I just took my comprehensive exam last week and am taking a little less than 2 weeks of staycation to get my life (i.e. apartment) in order and plan my summer/potentially a lot more than that. I won't know until mid-June if I passed the comprehensive exam or not but in the meantime I've got all the writing to do plus work-for-pay things that are actually quite a bit of fun.
This now brings me to my title of the post - what now? I haven't registered for any fall courses (I won't be able to register for dissertation credits unless I've passed comps), though I do know I'll be continuing to teach the same course as last semester and I'll be at the current fun job of course. This summer is largely dedicated to 3-4 manuscripts that need all the love and attention they didn't get during the semester (including one that MUST be out of my life by July per my advisor). Then in the fall, assuming I pass comps, I'll have to work on finding funding/developing my proposal. And I've got an independent study I'm interested in doing with the work wife so that we can develop a course on criminalization and health.
I've got no lack of things to do (not that I've ever really been one for being bored), but that's a double-edged sword - there's a small part of me that's a little concerned that I'll get so distracted doing all the things that I won't make the progress that I need to make on my dissertation so I can finally reach the end of the rainbow.
I guess we'll just have to see how things go. Hopefully now that my time is less structured, I'll be able to post updates more regularly (especially since the structure that I want to add includes regular writing time).
I call myself a social justice researcher, meaning I've made central in my professional work issues of prejudice, inequality, and justice. It permeates most parts of my life - I love artists like Immortal Technique and J. Cole who take a clear political stance on things; I follow Latino Rebels and Presumed Incompetent on Facebook; I gravitate toward movies like Dear White People or Cesar Chavez, but will still critique them when I see something contrived or over the top. Basically, I make a point to stay woke.
And doing so can get exhausting.
Sometimes I just want to binge watch the redux version of a show I watched growing up (i.e. Fuller House) without thinking about how white the cast is or the lack of representation in media. Sometimes I just wanna go shopping without thinking about the children's hands that were used to make the garment I'm trying on. Sometimes I wanna use the word "wanna" without having to think about code-switching or what the intentional use of grammatically-incorrect vernacular means for the respectability of my professional brand.
Today I'm tired. Today I'm exercising my right to pause the woke button and just live - I'm going shopping later without worrying about my own consumerism. I will then go home and maybe clean up (maybe not), probably sit my bum on the couch with the dogs and settle in for a good Netflix binge. Because I'm human. And while I've dedicated my life to the good fight, I don't believe that means it is at the expense of my sanity or that I have to always be on message.
I deserve a little time to put away this paper on power structures and the social control of Latino bodies. I can wait a day before I get back to interrogating the effect of academic training on the implicit bias of health professionals.
I might take the dogs to the dog park later.
I'm currently sitting in a building on campus that clearly used to be a church for Writing Wednesday, a weekly chunk of designated space and time offered specifically for graduate students to sit down and get work done (think manuscript or dissertation writing). This sacred time alone is invaluable for busy students like myself that struggle to just take care of basic life needs but are still trying to be productive students and scholars. Plus they have K-cups out the wazoo and BREAKFAST. Its offered by the Initiative for Minority Excellence here at school, so unsurprisingly, there are a lot of people of color that attend. Also unsurprising is the fact that most people know each other since there frankly just aren't THAT many PhD students at this school.
So that's where I'm sitting this lovely morning, having enjoyed a lovely jalapeño cream cheese bagel that makes my heart happy and trying to balance the exhaustion-induced desire for coffee with the anxiety-driven need to limit my caffeine intake. I swear, between coffee needs and finding the right kind of music to fit the work I'm doing, its like a constant game of self-medicating chemistry.
I was aimlessly looking around the room just a few moments ago in that way you do sometimes when you're trying to figure out how to phrase something you're writing when it occurred to me that PhD students have some very predictable patterns of behavior, myself included. To start, there's the typical white earbud/laptop work combo (plus points if they're both Apple products) clearly indicative of someone making many thoughts. Caffeine of some kind is almost a necessity, which is banal in how un-insightful an observation that is... But then there's also the pen case of different colored pens and highlighters for color-coding all the thoughts. Many also have a planner because what kind of student would you be if you didn't have a stupid amount of deadlines to constantly have to juggle? Mine is a very casual school, so most people are wearing at least one piece of athleisure wear (sneakers, anything with moisture-wicking spandex, a FitBit type thing because who doesn't keep track of their heart rate and steps constantly these days?, and potentially something involving fleece).
This leads me to the thesis of this post - we all really do just have similar ways of being and for all that we pride ourselves in our original scholarship and innovative thinking, we're products of our shared environment and being in a college town means that its EVERYWHERE. Classes, laptops in coffee shops, books and notebooks, and largely muted colors so you can focus on your oh so important smart thoughts because who has time to think about such banal things as style when you're busy trying to change the way people think about something?
I find this mildly entertaining but also a little sad. I'm one of these people. I love the stretchy pants I'm wearing right now and have a stupid number of gadgets all dedicated to maximizing my intake of information, my generation of knowledge, and my productivity in the academy.
I'm a PhD student.
It's pre-sunrise in the little college town I call home and I'm trying to get some writing done before the SO and dogs wake up. After all, every blog, listserv, and website I frequent tells me that I should make a point to write for at least 30 minutes EVERY DAY. Besides, this whole work-life balance thing is precarious stuff.
But I digress.
I'm in the final semester of coursework (Already?!? More like finally!) and one of the classes I'm taking is on proposal development - namely working on a NRSA proposal to secure funding for my dissertation research. For those that have the immense pleasure of not having to worry about such things, suffice it to say that the funding struggle is real and has just gotten realer.
The nice thing, though, is that I'm now getting a chance to pull together all the seemingly divergent bits of training I've collected over the last couple of years and really see how it all fits together to serve a common purpose. Plus points - in my insatiable need for feedback from my peers and departmental faculty, I'm getting a chance to practice articulating my research interests and put my ideas out in a strategic positioning/branding way.
It has been surprisingly validating to not just talk about the vagueries of my ideas, methods, and research interests, but to have it click for people what I mean when I talk about doing research around social justices issues in health.
That plus all the content development I'm working on for the new(ish) job has noticeably helped me grease the writing wheels to the point where I'm getting pretty good at putting words on a page efficiently. Good thing, too, because I've got years of practicing that exact thing ahead of me...
I make no secret of the fact that I love interdisciplinary research - I have a strong natural science background, consider myself a social science researcher, and love working with arts and humanities concepts/methods/researchers. All of that means my research takes (what I consider) super interesting directions, but it also means that I have some additional challenges that someone firmly ensconced in one field does not.
I only sometimes know what people are talking about.
Each discipline has its own jargon, including using the same words in vastly different ways. For example, in public health the term "project" usually refers to a specific grant, research question, or intervention. It has clear time constraints and specific deliverables. Silly me, I thought everyone talked about projects in this way until I sat down for my first anthropology/communication class. Suddenly, project could mean your research agenda, the community you're working with, your life purpose, or any number of broader LIFE projects that it took me a while to understand. So... yeah, the same word can mean different things.
I spend a lot of time talking about methods and theory.
I love working with arts and humanities researchers because they look at health in ways that I think get at a fuller part of humanity (e.g. theater as a mechanism for social change or theories of apparatuses of power) than some of the more tradition health science methods. That means, however, that I have to devote a good amount of time (and manuscript space) to explaining a theory or a method that isn't often used in health research. I can't be super mad about that, though, since having to be explicit helps strengthen and solidify my own arguments. #win
Fall semester of year 2 came and went and I failed to post a single blog. Womp womp. It was a killer of a semester with a ton of academic, professional, and even personal stuff going on, so my bad but such is the life of a doc student sometimes.
Skip ahead to now! :)
This spring semester is a few weeks old and so far its hectic, especially considering all the new things that are starting in 2016. Here's a list:
Clearly, this year has hit the ground running and I'm just along for the ride. But its largely eustress, so I can't really be mad about it. BONUS: developing content so frequently for the new position has primed me to generate and express ideas quickly which seems to be translating into me posting more frequently here! Plus, I seem to be having all the ideas/thoughts/feels about this pivotal time in the doctoral journey.
That being said, Dear Reader, I'm now going to spend some quality time looking at the NRSA grant requirements as I work on developing my dissertation ideas. Oh, the funding struggle.
I've been meaning to work on this post for a little while now, especially considering how much free time I actually have currently without classes being in session. But... naps plus Netflix, so...
Also, its probably worth pointing out that while I marvel at the amount of free time I have, the sad reality is that I have weekends plus roughly 1.5 more weekdays of time. Compared to the semester, however, that's HUGE.
So what am I doing with my time? I work the assistantship 15-20 hours a week still. I have the primary practicum/main research project - we recently submitted a big grant proposal, had two revise-and-resubmit manuscripts to work on, and I've been working on my own first author manuscript. Then there's the first generation stuff that's starting to ramp up as a new academic year approaches, the research collaborative I and some colleagues are trying to get started, a potential tapping in of some aging researchers at the university (maybe another project...?), and a systematic lit review that I can't seem to make any headway on but oddly remain relatively enthusiastic about. Plus I'm trying to get some academic reading in (only gotten as far as one book, and two chapters in two different books...), decided it was vital to my LIFE to rearrange my home office, and have generally been on an almost constant search for friends to join me for outings and happy hours. This next month or so I'll be doing quite a bit of travel, including a week-long workshop that fills me with nerdy excitement. Plus camping.
Basically, I'm living the dream. I'm getting to work on things that I'm excited about, get plenty of R&R time in my opinion (though I admittedly need more pool and beach time), and am actually starting to look forward to a new academic year. Plus, I know several people that are either about to start their own doctoral programs or are otherwise doing major life-changing things that add to the general excitement about life and progress.
I would do well to remember all these sunshiny rainbow-filled days come like October or November when I'm just trying to survey. For now, however - party time, excellent!
Also - summer haircuts rule.
You know, I often write about the struggles I face as a doc student, in part because I hope the someone considering grad school will stumble across the blog and go into it with their eyes wide open. Plus, its cathartic to put my story into the internet abyss. But there are also periods of sunshine and rainbows that remind me of why I continue to put myself through the other stuff. Like right now - things are just coming up me. :)
After a killer spring semester and a week of much-needed rest, I finally worked up the nerve to look at my grades. I'll be the first one to spout the "grades don't matter" line, in part because I've believed that most of my life (and I have the undergrad GPA to prove it), but also because I get that a) there are no more school applications to worry about, and b) I'm learning to generate knowledge rather than report it. And yet, it still felt pretty great to see almost all Hs (on the H - high pass, P - pass, L - low pass system my grad school runs) for the semester. I felt validated for the level of exhaustion I was feeling at the end there and like I might actually be able to approach thriving some day.
Then I get an email saying my Letter to the Editor was accepted for publication in the journal I plan on submitting my inaugural first-author manuscript. I strategically submitted to that journal in hopes improving the chances of the still-under-way manuscript being accepted. Plus, I now get to cite myself when writing this article and, really, isn't that the dream?
THEN I get asked to do a sex ed 101 session with some undergrads working on an arts-based intervention I have been involved with off and on for a few years and with which I am moderately obsessed. It was one of the most fun things I've done in a while and reminded me of why I keep saying I want to teach. Plus, it looks like I'm going to get even more involved in the project because fun+research=yessssssss.
NOW I've just gotten word that I was accepted into a summer short course on multilevel models and multidimensional approaches to immigrant health. Plus travel stipend. Why yes, yes I will go to Ann Arbor for a week to get access to national datasets and learn some stuff from leaders in the field from across the country. And you fit in perfectly with both my dissertation ideas and all the things I discussed with my progress review committee this past week? Well. If you insist.