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Grad School: A Love Story

One GradHacker reflects on what she has enjoyed about the Ph.D.

February 11, 2016

Wendy Robinson is a doctoral student in Higher Education at Iowa State University. You can find her not working on her dissertation on Twitter as @wendyrmonkey.


If you are a loyal GradHacker reader (and, really, why wouldn’t you be?), you’ve probably noticed that our posts this week have all been about self-love and/or self-care. Today, I’m going to talk about a slightly different kind of self-care: realizing that being a grad student can actually be, well, amazing.

I must first acknowledge that one of the time-honored traditions of being a grad student is complaining about being a grad student. It has been my experience that whenever two or more grad students are gathered together, bitching about school will inevitably follow. Complaining about the many challenges of being a student is both a bonding exercise and a way to shake off some of the stress of doing something that forces you to be in your own head all the time, never quite sure if you are making progress.

I know that I have certainly used this space to do just that. Whether it is groaning about how expensive it is or how much time it takes away from my family or even just the stress that comes from trying to do a dissertation well, I’ve probably made it seem like earning my doctorate is an exercise in unhappiness. But as I draw ever closer to my defense date, I’ve been thinking about what the experience of being a graduate student has really been like, both the highs and the lows.

So today, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ll make a confession: I do actually like being a grad student. In fact, there might even be some parts of it that I love.

Shh, don’t tell anyone.

It turns out that even though writing my dissertation is causing me anxiety dreams right now, I really do like being a researcher. There is a kind of magic in identifying a question that nobody else has asked yet and working steadily until an answer begins to reveal itself. There is a pleasure in the certainty that I know something now that nobody, including myself, knew a few months ago. I’m also aware that I’m better at reading and understanding other people’s research now and, after doing a mixed methods project, I get a little thrill when I can throw around words like “chi-square” or “regression analysis” and actually know what I’m talking about. Given that I took high school geometry twice and successfully avoided math for my undergraduate degree, feeling confident when it comes to statistics is no small thing.

I’m also finding that the experience of writing a dissertation has reshaped my perception of myself and what I’m capable of in positive way. I’ve always loved to write and have been able to earn a small living through freelancing but I’ve always secretly wanted to write a novel. In the past that has seemed like an unattainable goal. But now that I’ve written over 75,000 words on community college academic advising, I feel like creating a world for the character in my head is totally doable. Not only doable, but fun. I’m pretty sure that any writing I do from now on that doesn’t include having to do a lit review will qualify as fun.

Finally, I’d be lying if I didn’t say there is also the small matter of the fact that many people equate getting a equate PhD with being smart. I don’t mind being assumed to be intelligent, even if I know that finishing a dissertation is as much about persistence as it is smarts. As a first-generation college student, finishing my doctorate feels like the ultimate affirmation that, yes, college was for me. I was supposed to be here all along.

It has taken me three years and thousands of dollars to get to the point of feeling like I belong in academia, but now I’m here. And I think I’m in love.

What parts of grad school or being a student do you or did you find most pleasurable? Let’s talk about it on Twitter- meet you at #gradschoollove

[Image from Flickr user RebeccaVC1, used under Creative Commons license]


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