• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


When the Thrill is Gone

Five ways to reignite the passions of your quiet scholarship.

December 10, 2017

Deidra Faye Jackson is a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education at the University of Mississippi. You can find her on Twitter at @DeidraJackson11.

If the best dissertation is a finished dissertation, as the saying goes, is the best doctorate simply the one that is over and done with?

I’ve been asking myself this lately as I wind down my graduate studies and wrap up the last two chapters of my dissertation with an eye toward May commencement. As many of us can attest, the pathway to the doctorate is paved with blood (from rising pressures), sweat (from recurrent anxiety), and tears (from intermittent pangs of joy and bouts of emotional pain). Anxiousness, accompanied by scholarly malaise that reliably show up on the scene, may cause some grad students, even those who are well into their programs, to question their academic lifework.

I want the culmination of my university research career to make a lasting difference in the world, but in my heart, I know that it probably won’t. And that’s OK. But when you’re an educational researcher, a social scientist, or an artistic creative, analytical inquiries likely aren’t driven by developing life-saving medicines or improving the infrastructures of remote communities; the apex of your graduate academic career may seem underwhelming when compared to fellow emerging scholars whose studies are shaking up their respective fields and  appreciably serving a need.

I’m in awe of them. But for those of us who know that we’re not significantly improving mankind with our research, we possibly are making quiet impacts in at least five inconspicuous ways that just may be enough for us to reawaken the deadening passions for our research topics. Considering these points may encourage us to reclaim affection for the research questions that really got us going at one time.

1) Give it up for the families and friends, who (still) support you. For the four, five, six, or seven years you’ve been working on your doctorate, they’ve stood by your side, not always understanding the elevator pitches of your academic research, and at times even challenging them, continually encouraging you in some way. Though you may see the obvious value of your scholarship, its translation may be lost on your loved ones. Your descriptive study of East Coast expenditure reporting systems may not resonate with them the same way that say, exploration of the effects of music therapy on intensive care patients might. However, these devoted people still are rooting for you and your ongoing work.

2) You never know to whom you’re an inspiration. If you’ve been studying and writing in the same restaurant/coffee shop for a while–so much so that servers tell you what you want to order when you approach the counter–people notice. Passing customers will glance over at you and ask, “Huh. So, this is a great place to study?” or reveal that they admire you for studying because they “couldn’t do it.” Undergraduate student wait staffers will admit to you that they, too, should be hitting the books. People instinctively admire those whom they presume are actively working to improve their lot in life.

3) You get to use the same skills and academic know-how that you acquired during your studies. That statistical procedure you learned during your second semester of studies? You’re using it in your dissertation’s data analysis. The lectures on literature reviews and models of inquiry that you discussed two semesters later? They made launching your research that much easier. If you’re lucky enough to be enrolled in an academic program that you deem to be a good fit for you and your academic interests, rejoice now–not everyone can acquire, improve upon, and implement new competencies within their chosen fields, be they academic, professional or both.

4) When you promised that your research would “fill a gap in the literature,” you still have the potential to break new ground in your field. After years of demanding that my students make clear the “so what?” significance of their writing, having my professors pointedly asking me the same question regarding my own research has been sobering. You actually have the chance to leave your academic mark, so accept the challenge and determine how you’ll do it effectively.

5) Your pursuits within the field of higher education, which is still evolving from thorny historical beginnings and surfacing contemporary issues, reside in what was founded as a good and noble endeavor. According to higher education history, postsecondary federal policies were aimed at providing students opportunities to enter, access, and prosper in learning within the academe, and empowering societies to grow economically and intellectually. We’re a part of that.

Ultimately, no matter the presence of family, friends, or even supportive strangers in our academic lives, or admiration for higher education’s founding fathers or the potential to pique readers’ curiosities, it’s on us. Levels of academic support and our motivation, resolve, and willpower at various points of our journey, and frankly, life, largely drives or stalls our uncompleted research.

It reminds me of marathon runners who carry injured or physically exhausted teammates over the finish lines though, predictably, there are debates about the merits of such self-sacrifice. The fellow competitors, to me, embody the notion that the support of others is often enough to carry you over the (figurative) finish line. Also, being at the right place at the right time is a tip by which runners–and their helpers–abide.

Like many, I’m fully invested in my research focus. But we’re not here to save the world, just to finish our doctorates.

[Photo courtesy of Flickr user Chris Fort under a Creative Commons license.]


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