Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Love Letter to Myself

*Note: I originally started this blog on 9/15/12. Sorry for the delay but I wanted to finish it. It's probably now a little differently shaped since it's blended with other thoughts I've had in the weeks since, but I hope it's meaningful for those that read it.

I recently read "A Love Letter to College Freshmen." This was being posted and shared around the internet on Facebook and amongst my higher education/student affairs colleagues. I didn't read it right away, I think partly out of not wanting to give in to the social pressure. Eventually I clicked on a link to it, I believe from someone's Facebook page. What I read inspired me to reflect on my own experience in college and as a college freshman 14 years ago in 1998. It also inspired me to think about the work I have done professionally for the past 9 years supporting college students' development. It also inspired me to think about this new journey for myself in being a PhD student.

At the end of this love letter, Hannah Brencher, writes:
"Sit down during this first week of college… take out a piece of paper… and write it all down. Your hopes & your dreams  & your goals for the next four years. Who do you want to become? What do you want to accomplish? It’s time to start all of this. Write it all down. Put it in an envelope. Seal it up and scribble “Do not open until college graduation day,” in big, bold letters. And tuck it somewhere safe…
Get clear on what you want to make of these next four years and then go out and do it…
You’ve got this. You’ve really got this."

This resonated with me in lots of ways. I started to think about what I wanted for my next 3-4 years in this program, during this time and place in my life. So I'm taking the time to write it down and share it with others.  I want to be able to reference this in between now and graduation day when I receive my PhD, partly because I think I may some encouragement and reminders along the way. And I want others to read it so they know more about why I'm here and can check in with me, ask about my progress, encourage me, and hold me accountable. I'm sure it's not everything and I'll probably think of more things later but if I don't write it down now I might never get to it.

Here it goes...

  1. Be open with those I encounter in my program and my classes.Be vulnerable. Learn from them and lean on them. Remember they understand the journey.
  2. Know when to ask for help and support.
  3. Find something outside of school to connect with, giving me an escape. 
  4. Find a spiritual outlet with like minded people.
  5. Get involved in NASPA (which I've been talking about for years), either regionally or nationally
  6. Present at a national conference
  7. Publish some of my work/research (not yet ready to say in a journal)
  8. Continue to develop professionally and attend conferences in the region and nationally (at least 1 per semester), also giving me an opportunity to stay connected to field, keep my name out there in the field, and see colleagues and friends.
  9. Take advantage of opportunities and do new things. Try new ways to get involved on campus outside of my comfort zone of residence life. But choose wisely, thinking about what will benefit me in the long run. Don't say yes to everything.
  10. Connect with the master's level students here who remind me why I entered the field and renew my energy and love for student affairs. 
  11. Stay connected to my friends and family who know me best and love me no matter what, making an effort to talk to them regularly.
  12. Attend a study tour abroad (and visit my mom in Italy if possible after)
  13. Continue reading for pleasure/fun, even if it's at a slow pace and only a few books a year. (Won't make my goal of 50 books this year, but I might get close with all those library books)
  14. Remember to take time to laugh and enjoy life. 
  15. Get plenty of sleep.
  16. Make time for myself to de-stress, rejuvenate and relax. An occasional pedicure is worth the splurge.
  17. Make working out a normal part of my routine again and continue my journey to lose weight. I've kept off 60 lbs and I'm not going back.
  18. Stretch my thinking and my ability in the field. Research new things. 
  19. Finish my PhD in the year 2015 and have a full time job as a practitioner in student affairs when I'm done.
  20. Always remember, "You've got this Abi, You've Really Got This!" (This is one that others can help with the most when I'm stressed or feeling down.)
There it is. Feels good to see it and have my feelings and thoughts out there. Now on to making it happen. Some of these I've started on and others I need to work on and make a priority. I'm thinking I might need to put #20 up in my room somewhere...

Officially a Doctoral Student

I had my first exam today. So far it's been the biggest test (no pun intended) of my ability in the program. There are not many exams in my PhD program overall. The bulk of the work is reading and discussion and writing, academic writing. The exam I took today was in Advanced Quantitative Analysis, which is lots of words to say learning how to design research experiments. This is a year long class and next semester we'll do more work with data and numbers and utilize statistics. This semester it's more learning about concepts. So today's exam tested those concepts. I haven't taken a test in so long I wasn't sure how it would feel to be in the classroom taking a test. I was a little nervous but confident that I'd studied all I could and knew enough to pass the test.

After the I finished the exam, I found 2 classmates in the hallway discussing how they felt they had done. My first response was that I'm glad it's over. But in reflecting more I felt I'd done ok. I knew there were a few things I didn't know and probably hadn't answered to the best of my ability, but that overall I felt (and still do feel) that I passed the test. I will be happy if I get a B on the exam. One of my classmates commented that now we were officially PhD students, after completing this first right of passage, if you will. We kind of chuckled about it in that moment, feeling some truth to the statment. It felt kind of true because we haven't had any writing due and we heard so much about how important writing was and about "academic" writing and how we'd be given lots of feedback and made into better writers. That has had me anxious to get writing, but nothing has been due and that's been kind of frustrating. It was a lot of hype to sit and wait and make me even more anxious to start writing. Unfortunately almost all of our work is due within about 5 weeks of each other right at the end. So my life will be a little crazy finishing all of that for the month of November. On top of going to 2 conferences in November. Not sure how that's going to happen. Haha.

So back to what my classmate said about officially being a PhD student...It got me thinking. Thinking about when I am officially a PhD student. About if there's something that happens that makes me feel more like a student again. Or if there's an event or feeling or maybe even a breakdown (which everyone says happens eventually) that makes it all more official. There's been lots of talk about the PhD process sort of being this testing process, almost a kind of hazing. A process of pushing you, sharpening you, seeing how far you can go, all so you come out on the other side better. Leaving the program with a PhD but also as a better writer, a better thinker, a better orator and presenter of your thoughts, better prepared for your next step in a career, whether as faculty or a student affairs practitioner (my future plans). But this process is not easy. It's long and hard and uncomfortable at times. It requires endurance and determination. The chair of my department said during orientation that she isn't any smarter than anyone but was just more determined to finish. I remember someone saying that if getting a PhD was easy everyone would have one. Well I'm pretty determined. I know that what I signed up for will not be easy but I want it. I want to be stretched and pushed and come out at the end of this process a different person.

So maybe there isn't a point at which I officially am a PhD student. I did pass a small marker in the journey today, and that feels good. My academic department officially welcomed us in a convocation ceremony a few weeks ago. I think that's about as official it gets, and I have a nice pin to show for it. It was a nice welcome to the department for this new "official" PhD student. I'm still getting used to that student title, but it's kind of a nice change. Maybe the 20+ books I have checked out from the library is some sort of status marker too :)

Sorry if I've been rambling in this blog. I'm not sure if my thoughts all came together and made sense, but I needed to get things out of my head before my weekend away for Fall Break! If they don't, I'll blame that on not feeling well today.