Reclaiming a lost year: words of wisdom from my committee member

  • Grad school is HARD. For years, you are constantly asked to prove to the people around you that you are worth being there. Give yourself some credit to be doing this difficult thing even with a chronic illness.
  • Being forced to take an alternative route to achieve the same research could lead discovering new methods or at least refining existing ones. There is a place for you in academia.
  • Find your support group. Find people who can share wisdom and who can use yours. It’s even better if they’re not just grad school friends. It’s good to take a step back and see the bigger picture away from academia.

These were the biggest takeaways from a wonderful committee member following a meeting. Story below the cut.

On Thursday November 8, I had a meeting with one of my committee members *. I had a blazing headache and such thick fibro fog that my head felt like an English moore, but I felt like I could not reschedule.

This past year has been a bit of a wash for me in terms of progress on my PhD. My diagnosis and subsequent struggle to figure out what it meant for me left me doing the bare minimum in my program – taking the last classes I needed, doing my research assistantship, and otherwise disengaging from academia. It was a difficult time as I wrangled with the thought of leaving academia, wondering whether I could still be a good anthropologist while having fibro. I dropped out of communication with my committee, and of course the longer my silence stretched, the more difficult it was to actually reach out and re-establish contact.

So I had this meeting and did not want to cancel it. I wanted to just “power-through” it and then give myself permission to go back home and skip my afternoon class if I was still feeling terrible. I also braced myself, expecting to be chastised for being so long out of touch. Instead, I had a lovely meeting and was met with nothing with compassion and understanding. After talking about my plans and timeline for my degree, she shared with me the list at the top of the post.

It means so much when professors take the time to remember what graduate school was like, and how they themselves struggled. I managed to go on to my class that afternoon feeling more at peace with my ability to complete this program than I had in weeks.

*For those unfamiliar with PhD programs, as a PhD student you have a committee made up of academics who already have their PhD. They are ultimately responsible to determine whether your dissertation is good enough for you to get awarded your degree.

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