Keeping the PhD Life in Perspective

The first semester of my PhD program is over. As the next semester starts, I met with my advisor to get feedback on my performance. We talked about a variety of issues: the transition, coursework load, research efforts, and writing demands. After our conversation one aspect stuck out. She had asked me why I always seemed so calm, never stressed, or overwhelmed. Before I responded, I thought, well I must have hidden it well, but there was more to it than that. As I began to share my thoughts on her question, I started by saying that my lack of stress or being overwhelmed comes from having perspective for what I do. What I call “work” is relative.

As a doctoral student my job is to think, to be analytical about educational issues facing my community. Part of my “job responsibilities” is to immerse myself in literature, theory, research design methods, and statistical tests. As a “laborer” I carry books, read them, and think about their arguments, strengths, and weakness. A bad day at work is writing 1000 words rather than 3500 words. What we call work in the academy, it’s all relative. At the end of the day I have it easy, yes, the work I do can be mentally taxing, but is nothing compared to what others may be doing.

I am in a place of privilege. I recognize it. I thank the village that raised me and afford me this opportunity.  I don’t get caught up in the 12-14 hour days of thinking, reading, and writing. I can’t complain about how hard my work is when my family members, past and present, put in the same amount of hours as janitors, landscapers, and other physically demanding jobs.

I recognize the special opportunity I have to dedicate my time to my ideas. To work to benefit myself (as a future academic) and others in the research I do. My work involves trying to think of ways to improve the transfer process, to change meritocracy in undergraduate admissions, or decrease the STEM attrition for students of color. I love the work that I do, but I won’t ignore the privileged position I am in. Knowing this and keeping my perspective keeps my grounded, there is nothing to stress about in this PhD life. Time to get back to writing.

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