Wednesday, October 3, 2012

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.

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