Friday, February 18, 2005

On obstacles and small successes

I very rarely write about my experience as a PhD student, mostly because I don't consider it to be among my primary identities. But every so often - and especially this week - that status dominates my everyday life, and it really bites.

(Cue The Damned's I Just Can't Be Happy Today.)

My dissertation feels further away today than it did a few months ago. My committee is brilliant, but both my supervisor and my primary reader are at different institutions this year, and I've been without my local support network for eight months now and it's really taking its toll on me. Added to that is teaching two classes, which gives me the responsibilities of a full professor and none of the respect or rewards.

I talked with PT yesterday, and he told me I still need to learn to take more joy in my small successes. Like losing fewer than 5% of the students who originally signed up for my classes. Like teaching courses with no exams that students still bother showing up to every day. Like opening up a new world for just one person. Like finally understanding that one idea. Like being able to apply it to one other idea. Like writing the perfect paragraph. Or sentence. And thanks to some very kind readers, I have also been reminded that what I write here and elsewhere has occasionally been known to inspire.

All of these things are good and true, and I am heartened to know them. Really. But since I feel determined to wallow in self-pity a tiny bit longer, I would like to state for the record that the PhD experience is too often dehumanising and we should be ashamed that we do nothing to deter bright, confident and determined people from feeling utterly alone and defeated.

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