The Optimistic Beginning: My Goals as a PhD Student

Tomorrow, I will begin my journey as a PhD student at the University of Maryland. I’ve wanted this for so long; I knew during my senior year of undergrad that I wanted to pursue a career in academia, and I have been working towards that goal ever since: earning an MA , teaching at a community college, and, finally, moving my little family across the country. Here I am, both in disbelief that I am here and completely ready to start.

The library at the University of Maryland, aka my new home for the next several years!
The library at the University of Maryland, aka my new home for the next several years!

As this is the last night of my non-student life for many years, I wanted to think about my goals for my time as a PhD student. I’m not talking about the obvious milestones grad students have to fulfill in order to compete in the job market: presenting, publishing, professionalizing. No, I’m talking about those intangible goals, the ones that are not measured by hiring committees but by the satisfaction of spirit.

I want to be the kind of scholar who finds wisdom everywhere: in books and journals, but also in late-night conversations among best friends, in the blogs of teenage women, in the advice given by a father to his daughter, in the life stories told by a mother or a grandmother, in a protest sign held by a young man. Most texts that have inspired me to write and research are not academic writing. Rather, they are the musings, stories and confessions I hear from all corners of life. I want to remember that our culture’s values and wisdom are embedded in the stories we tell everyday.

I want to be the kind of scholar who centers her work on social change. I believe so hard in the power of writing, and I hope to harness it to not only inch towards an academic job but to also advocate for justice. In order to do so, I will have to acknowledge my privilege—race, educational status, sexual orientation. I will have to seek out the perspective of people who live in the intersections of marginalization; then, speak with them, not for them. I will stumble; I know this. But I hope to learn from my missteps and grow as a scholar and activist in the process.

I want to be the kind of scholar who devotes her energy to teaching and a transformative classroom. I want to refuse the scholar/teaching dichotomy and embrace both identities simultaneously. I taught community college for three years, and I saw how accessible higher education opens minds and doors for adults of all ages. Many of my students rose above hardship and tragedy with their own strength, the support of their community, and the skills and opportunities they carved out for themselves at MPC. In the classroom, we learned, laughed, played, wrote, read, performed, and shared; my students taught me how to create a family within the walls of a classroom, and I will carry that lesson with me wherever I teach.

I want to be the kind of scholar who is committed to her work but also to her personal life. I am only here because of the support and sacrifice of my family and my partner, and their love and enthusiasm fuels me everyday. My partner gave up everything he knew to move to Washington D.C. and support me and this crazy dream of mine. Connecting with the people I love, both here and back on the West Coast, will make me a better scholar. Their encouragement gives me focus and clarity when everything is out of whack. I am committed to being a kick ass scholar, but I am also committed to being a kick ass daughter, friend, sister, and partner.

I want to be the kind of scholar who stretches her mind and challenges herself to understand new and opposing perspectives. I want to seek out seemingly contrary ideas and find the connections. A comfort zone is meant to evolve, and I have to be ready to question my own deeply held beliefs and find truth in other (but not all) mindsets. Rigidity is not good for scholarship nor for personal growth, and I will try to resist the temptation of settling for easy answers when more nuanced and truthful explanations are out there, waiting to be understood.

These are just a few of my objectives for the next five or six years. Of course, everyone starts off optimistic. My next step is to consider and write down specific steps I can take to achieve this ideal. Then, I will have to learn self-forgiveness, because there will be days when I don’t check my privilege or I blow off a student or I snap at my partner. These things will happen because life is messy and priorities battle it out for our energy. Still, I believe in my goals. On the day that I graduate, I want to not only be proud of the Doctor of Philosophy title bestowed upon me; I want to also be proud of the work I did in the field, in the community, in the classroom, and in the home.

And you know what? Right now, at this very second, I feel like I have a fighting chance.

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The Optimistic Beginning: My Goals as a PhD Student

4 thoughts on “The Optimistic Beginning: My Goals as a PhD Student

  1. I can’t imagine a PhD program in the world that could take the activist, the listener, the teacher, the friend, or the decent human being out of you. Different chapter, same book, you know? Of course you’ll be these things because you already are these things. Don’t be too hard on yourself (says the pot to the kettle). Good luck to you on your first week.

  2. Great post! I also have a lot of goals that involve staying grounded outside both my field and the academic world. I’m interested in combining things in new ways for use in the classroom and in research. My SO and I are doing long distance this year; it’s difficult because I want to stay committed to our relationship because I believe it’s a good outlet for support, thought, and collaboration outside of the academic environment, but both of us know he’ll have to move to school with me for it to work. For now, hoping to stay relatively unstressed and happy with my classes, mentors, and research!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Julie! Sounds like we have a lot in common. Actually, during my last year of my MA program, my (now) husband and I were in a long distance relationship. It was difficult at times, but the pro was that I was able to really compartmentalize school and personal life. When we were apart, I was completely focused on my work, and when we were together, the time was special and sacred. So it’s possible to thrive while in a LDR and grad school!

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