Expectations · Stages of the Grad Journey



Hoola Hoops.

Hoop earrings.

Hooptie Hoop cars.

Shootin’ some Hoops.

Yep. Lots of hoops out there.  Sadly, this post isn’t about any of those.  It’s about the kind you have to jump through…

… from about 300 yards away … and it’s spinning … and it’s on fire.  In other words, the kind where your form doesn’t really matter; you just have to get through it somehow.

My husband recently came out of the ‘dark phase’ of his PhD journey (so perfectly captured in Laura’s post here), and I’m glad to say that we can see some light at the end of the tunnel!  Woohoo!  But then just last week, we found ourselves saying, “Hold on a second.  Is that the light up there?  Really?  We are getting so close to the end of all this labor, turmoil, exhaustion and it’s all been for this?  This finished piece?  Is this really all it’s adding up to?”

I know that many people’s DPhils and PhDs go on to be incredible works – books published that continue to shape and inspire the minds and lives of many around the world.  However, I am also just now realizing that many of those dissertations are also considered – gulp – just giant hoops to jump through.

We had such lofty expectations going into this DPhil program.  My husband was so excited to finally have this sacred time to think, write and explore.  And better yet, it was all funded!  And yes, it has been an incredibly rich and fabulous journey.  There have been many times we’ve pinched ourselves and said, “Ha, we’re living the dream life!”  But after year one, we realized that the time was flying by, and that the program wasn’t quite what we had so idealistically envisioned, and now at the end of year three it’s started to feel a bit like it’s all been a big hoop to get through.

Now, I know that for many, this isn’t the case.  But if you happen to find yourself in a similar spot, here are some tips on how to deal with the whole ‘hoop’ thing as you work your way to the end of your journey:

1.)  Get some perspective:  Yes, it’s true.  As you near the end of the PhD journey (and start searching for jobs) it might start feeling like your spouse’s research has been nothing but a big fat hoop to jump through, especially if you can’t find a job that doesn’t require another sort of degree or a post-doc in addition to the degree you’ve been working on.  But hold on, step back, and look at the bigger picture; recognize that the work put into this PhD is indeed something to be proud of.  It’s taken a long time to get where you are, and even if it doesn’t look like what you had hoped it would look like at the beginning, survey the long haul and be thankful for where you’ve come.  Also try to look at it in terms of the future – like putting puzzle pieces together as your life fits together before you.  The PhD was and is a necessary and crucial piece getting you from point A to point B.

2.)  Be honest about change: It might be your case that you have to help your spouse let go of the ideal that was envisioned for this thesis when he/she started out on this journey. We have to accept in our hearts and minds that change is inevitable, and it’s through change and flexibility that we grow stronger and more complex and able.  The work might have taken a different turn, but that is okay.  Help your spouse focus on the good of where it is going now and help them to articulate and hold onto the desire and dream of its original vision.  Maybe one day you’ll have time to go back and explore further areas that didn’t make it into this work.  The thesis doesn’t have to be a closed book.  It can be something that is worked and built upon in years to come.

3.)  Be realistic:  Okay, so maybe X years really is an incredibly tight time to actually research and write a work as lofty as your spouse set out to do?  Maybe not.  However, just as I stated in number 2, let go, cut yourself some slack, and finish in stride.  This is an incredibly powerful work that has in so many ways been at the center of your hearts and minds for so long…but then again, it is simply just a thesis.  It will speak on your spouse’s behalf for years to come, but then again it doesn’t have to define them.  It’s a crucial step.  An incredible badge of honor.

I think if can help my husband relax, finish well, and be proud of what he has accomplished, then we don’t have to look at the next few months/year as an annoying ‘hoop’ to finally get through.  As I see it, it’s more like a stepping stone on the journey – a rather tedious and difficult one, but nonetheless a step sending us onto the next one.

What are your thoughts?  Has your PhD or D.Phil journey felt like a ‘hoop’ at times?  How have you dealt with this feeling?




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