Journey to PhD

10 things that I have learned so far on my #JourneyToPhD

Hey yall!

So, it’s been a while…again. But, I am so happy to say that I have completed my SECOND semester of my #PhD! Now, I can get back to chatting with y’all and writing my little heart out. When I began my blog, I was convinced that I could post at least once a week, but #blkgradlife showed me #thatwasalie.

Anyway, I want to share with you all 10 things that I have learned so far on my #JourneyToPhD:

1. Time is of the essence. I’m sure we’ve all heard this at some point on any academic journey. However, as a doc student, it has a new meaning. There is literally always something (else) to do. An article or book to read, papers to write, research meetings to prepare for, projects to outline, research teams to join, TA positions to fill, grad assistant duties to complete, tests to study for (and conquer)…and that is just a list of things that have to be done in one day. A doc student’s schedule from day to day would make the average person (doc students included) curl up in a ball. It is OVERWHELMING. Moments of “down time” are few and far between.

2. Find your groove. I think I finally figured this one out. I am blessed to have a grad assistantship that does not require me to go to an office early in the morning nor do I have GA duties every single day. Therefore, my schedule is immensely free to do my schoolwork. This means that I can stay up until 3, 4, 5 even 6 o’clock in the morning doing work and not have to “pay” for it the next day. I have learned that I do my absolute best work (reading, writing, brainstorming) in the evening, from about 10pm-6am. So, I place my phone on #DND at 8pm and get busy. Sometimes I won’t check it again for hours and I look up to see that it is 8am and I haven’t been to bed yet! But, this works for me. I have always been a night owl but there’s something about the stillness of the midnight hour that allows me to focus in a way that early morning hours do not. Figure out what time works for YOU and protect it (this means you may have to ignore some calls and avoid social media…).

3. You can’t read everything. The rumors are true, y’all. You CANNOT read EVERYTHING as a doc student. There just isn’t enough time in the day! Or the week…or the month…or the semester…or the…you get it. When I first heard this, I said to myself “y’all just have never seen a student like me! I read everything! I can do it!” Pretty soon, I was consumed with articles that were piling up and spending literal hours weeding through them. I tried to read every single word and paragraph and I was starting to burn out, which felt awful. So, I learned about halfway through the second semester to figure out what I needed to read verses what I wanted to read. I created a method that allowed me to know what each article entailed for class discussions when it was on the “need to know” list and I saved my “happy highlighter hand” for the articles on my “want to know” list. It worked!

4. Your professors DO NOT know everything. This may seem extremely petty….and it is. However, it’s also true. Your professors  are people just like you and I. They do NOT know everything. To be honest? You probably know more than they do about certain subjects. Know that their “grading” or “evaluation” of you is not a reflection of you as a person. It’s a function of this system that says we have to be “rated” as participants in the Ivory Tower. Basically, it sucks. And I say this as someone who cried the first time that I got a B in middle school (yes, a B). But chances are that your brilliance far exceeds your professors’ ability to “grade” you. Most of your faculty cannot even conceptualize all that you are capable of achieving!

5. “Teaching happens in the classroom, Education happens when you leave”. This is a big one. I started to learn this towards the end of my second semester. The classroom, in all of its Eurocentric nuances, can only teach and show you so much. As Black scholars, much of what we learn and will contribute comes from within our own communities. Our education happens outside of the 4 walls of the classroom– it happens at conferences, at #SistaScholar sleepovers, over Skype sessions for your research team, at 3 am when you can’t sleep until you’ve written down the perfect research question…. it happens when you are experiencing this process. Remember this: what is taught to you will be regurgitated; but what you learn and how you are educated will be reciprocated.

6. Getting a PhD (has the potential) to make you feel like a “bad” friend. The fact of the matter is, everybody will not understand your new lifestyle. Even after you try to explain that you have hours upon hours of reading, writing, researching and more reading to complete, some of the folks that you love the most still will NOT get it. It doesn’t help that friends and family like to joke by saying “you’ve changed so much since you started working on your PhD” or “you don’t have time for me anymore now that you’re going to be a doctor.” Although folks usually mean well (intentions vs. impact 101) when they make these jokes, it can still be hurtful. Especially since most times, I really do not have time to talk to folks on a daily basis. However, if you’re anything like me, when you began this journey you were probably extremely accommodating to your loved ones– answering every call and text and being available whenever someone needed you– despite having piles of work to do. Know that your willingness to “prove” to folks that you are still you will come at a cost— lost hours of focus and hard work that you cannot get back. Try to remind yourself that you do not have to prove anything, to anybody. Those who love you will do so even if you cannot answer every call, tweet or text.

7. Self-care is crucial. Take care of yourself! This journey gets intense and there probably won’t be anyone constantly reminding you to lay down when your eyes get tired or to close the books after a 16 hour study day. You may need to remind yourself that you matter, just as much as your deadlines. I have learned to treat myself at least once a month and it helps me to remember me in the midst of my responsibilities. My self-care looks like a massage, mani/pedi, trip to the cupcake shop, going to a matinée or walking around the mall and eating in the food court– alone. These things are simple pleasures that I have come to treasure over the past 6 months because they give me time for me. I usually pick one Saturday out of the month and treat myself to at least 4 things (sometimes all 5 when I have the coins) on my self-care list. I incorporate these things into my budget every month so that I know I’ll have the resources when I am ready to use them. Choose something(s) that you enjoy and do it. Remember: Your self-care doesn’t have to cost anything! I am an extreme homebody so my #SelfCareSaturday forces me out of the house; but I am partial to a Lifetime or Netflix marathon in bed as well 🙂

 

8. #SistaScholars save lives. THIS! So much of this. Lean on your #SistaScholarCircles, y’all. They’ll hold you up when you feel like letting go. Find a group of 2 or more BOMB Black women who are doing the work and stick with them. Encourage them. Ask them how they are doing. Help them proofread their papers. Collaborate on research projects. Brainstorm ideas about how to #EndarkenTheIvoryTower. Plan your #BlackGirlMagic takeover. Vent to each other. #CiteASista.

9. #BlkGradLife is….LIFE. #BlkGradLife has helped me so much since June 2016. I had (and still have) so many questions and my fellow Brothers and Sisters in the #AcademicStruggle have been there consistently to help a sista out. Whether it’s been a 4am tweet or a midday check-in, we are one big #Black and #Excellent family. Join in the Twitter convos. The #BlkGradLife and #BlkGradChat hashtags are FULL of #BlkGradGems!

10. There’s no handbook (that I know of) for doing this “right.” Lastly, my #JourneyToPhD has shown me that this process is just that…A JOURNEY, not a race. There are probably millions of different ways to “do” this #PhD thing but that does not mean that any of them will work for any one person. I have spent so much of my second semester trying to figure out what I should be doing (publishing, presenting, researching) when all that I needed to be doing was what I had already done…doing the best that I could. Do not compare your journey to anyone else’s. Whatever you are meant to do, will be done. Seek guidance from mentors (if you are blessed to have them) and do what works for you. Academia can be intimidating, invalidating and extremely isolating…but you deserve to be here and you earned it. So keep pushing!

On my #JourneyToPhD, I am learning that I have what I need to succeed already inside of me. What I do not have yet, God will give me, in time.

To those finishing up the semester, finish strong! To those who have already finished, congratulations! To those who aren’t sure if this is for you, I’m praying for you.

In solidarity,

#BBG

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