Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Road to Somewhere

It's been a while since I've blogged about my Ph.D. progress, mostly because of all the life changes that have occurred in the past year, since my brother's passing. Tomorrow I meet with my dissertation committee to discuss my research plans, and if they give me the green light I will officially be in research mode. This is exciting and emotional for numerous reasons, which I will now outline for anyone still reading...

As a college freshman the deck was somewhat stacked against me before I ever stepped onto campus.  I was:

  1. A first generation student (neither of my parents went to college, although my dad did get a certificate from a technical school);
  2. A student with a disability;
  3. A closeted and scared teen with a history of marginalization, harassment and bullying;
  4. Mostly introverted, lacking direction, and often afraid to ask for assistance when needed.
My first term at college was a disaster, and (due to my 1.00 GPA) I was put on academic probation.  This scared me enough to dedicate myself more to academic life, but I remained lost in terms of what I wanted to do. After my second year at the University of Minnesota - Duluth, I transferred to the Twin Cities campus to be closer to a more vibrant music scene.  Once again I had an abysmal first quarter at my new school and was placed on probation, but my involvement in musical activities would soon change my life as a college student.

Working in a record store and developing my skills as a musician/songwriter, while often convenient distractions from studying, turned out to be a means for me to find my voice.  I found creating music to be an intensely personal (almost spiritual) process, one that helped me begin learning who I was, what I valued, and what mattered in my world.  The college campus was the perfect place to be during this time of personal exploration.  After designing my own degree in Marketing/Studio Art/Music History I began falling in love with the process of learning, and academics in general.  Everything changed for me at this point. 

My increased academic confidence (and the guidance of a few exceptional instructors and advisors) eventually led to the completion of a Bachelor of Science degree, and a few years later, a Master of Science in Counseling and Student Personnel, after which I thought I was done with being a student.  The world of academics, and the hunger to keep learning, was still there, and after working for 8-9 years I knew it was time to go for the Ph.D..  Perhaps more importantly, I knew that if I didn't pursue a doctoral program I would later live with regret.  After receiving "no thanks" letters from two different programs I was nervous that my past academic shortcomings were hindering my chances, but the Higher Education program at the U of M had my name on it.  In the spring of 2005 I was accepted to the program, and a year later I was a full-time student again.  

After months of inactivity,
my home printer is back in action.
In the time since beginning my doctoral studies I have experienced incredible highs and some devastating lows. I've blogged at good length about the loss of my family, and the toll that grieving takes on the psyche (and in my case, physical well-being).  I was still grieving the loss of my dad when my mom lost her fight with cancer, and nothing could have prepared me for my brother's death.  It was a 1-2-3 punch, and I was down for the count by necessity. And yet here I am preparing to propose my research plan to my committee tomorrow.  It's an academic milestone I'm sure some people thought I'd never reach.  

Hardship is just that: hard, but over time it can make you more resilient. There have been moments in the past 25 years that were so challenging that I honestly didn't know how I'd get through, but I kept going forward anyway.  I have grown accustomed to telling myself "just keep going".  So that's what I'm doing, and I reckon I will continue doing so until my body stops.  

This one was a whopper. Thank you for reading!!  

Jeff

PS: THANK YOU to my husband, who has stuck with me through all the really rough shit. I love you so much.


1 comment:

Matt Van Slooten said...

Well said. Thank you for sharing.