Well hello to you, all of my long lost friends! It has been ages (years even) since I wrote to you about my graduate school happenings and I feel I owe you an update and a bit of an explanation for my absence.
First and foremost, I’M DONE! I did it, I pulled the sword from the stone, slayed the dragon, and kissed the fat lady on the cheek as she was singing my swan song. I am officially Dr. Van Hook forever!
I first want to address the reason for my radio silence all these long (and I’m assuming painful for you) months. I stopped writing in part to give the newer students a chance to share their stories, but also in part because during my final push toward graduation I was a whirling dervish of emotions…most of them unsavory to say the least. It felt for a while that every time I sat to write a blog post, I had nothing productive to tell you. Experiments weren’t progressing, my dissertation wasn’t shaping up into a glorious book chapter or Cell paper and I felt less like a runner elated to cross the finish line and more like dead weight being dragged toward completion. In a nutshell, I was broken down and embarrassed. We all want to hit a grand slam and make it look easy in the end, right?
It took me a lot of time to put down my pre-conceived notions about what my data should actually look like and really sit down and focus on the bigger picture; what had I actually learned? I was told once that getting your Ph.D. is less about the actual discoveries that you make and more about changing the way that you think – that this process turns you into a scholar. It’s a transition I liken to an actual change in my brain chemistry that has altered the way that I think about everything I encounter in life, from politics and religion to where I want to live and how I choose my friendships.
There is no doubt that I have become a scholar, and the transition was never more tangible than when I was writing my dissertation. I organized, analyzed, and synthesized a gigantic document of some of the most abstruse and esoteric information in the world. I did it. And it’s awesome. Seriously, I love my dissertation. Not because I cured cancer (I assure you I did nothing of the sort) but because it is 100 percent me. It is my work, my discoveries, and my blood, sweat, and tears (emphasis on the tears) and I could not be more proud. I am forever a scholar.
In moving forward I feel relief, calm, doubt, happiness, and even a bit of loss. Finishing grad school is the hardest thing I have ever done and if I take nothing else away from it I at least know that I am strong.
To all the incoming students: You are going to hear a lot of stories, I mean A LOT. Take them with a grain of salt. Everyone’s experience is vastly different. Make mistakes and learn from them. You’re going to be fine.
Current students: Please remember to be kind to yourself. We sometimes live in a dark place, but our work does not define us. As always, lean on your fellow students for help.
Faculty, staff, friends and parents: Remember to take time to teach AND praise. We’re working hard, it’s important to remind us you appreciate it. A few simple words can be incredibly impactful on the mental health of a student.
Thank you all for listening and enjoying the blog over the years!