This year, I’m starting a PhD in Education, with a focus on writing, using online tools, and psychology. I’m looking forward to it like crazy. I love learning, talking about teaching, taking classes, reading, and research, so I’m expecting to do a lot of work and have a lot of fun. I’m also expecting to go a little crazy, but that’s par for the course, I understand. I want to learn more about why people make the writing choices they do, and how we can use 21st century tools to help them engage with writing, more fully.
I also suffer from sometimes-crippling anxiety and imposter syndrome. I honestly can’t understand why anyone would let me into a PhD program, let alone let me out of one with a degree. I fully expect that, at some point during the next couple of years, someone will sit me down and say, “We’ve just figured out that you’re here, and we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”
Part of that is that I have no idea what I’m getting into. I have a couple of friends with PhDs, and they’re been enormously helpful, but I don’t have a lot of frames for understanding how this works. I have a lot of facts, but not a lot of stories, and I work best with stories.
With that in mind, this blog is going to be my story: who I am (without, at least for now, any identifying details), what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what my challenges are. I know, I know, that everyone’s experience is different, and every university does this differently, but I also know that stories matter. I know, too, how many of my students are the first generation in their family to go to college. Some of those students will be the first generation to go to grad school, and beyond. Like me, they might not have a framework for this. If my story can make that experience less scary for someone, then it’s worth telling. As I’m someone, maybe it’ll make the experience less scary, for me. That counts.
This semester, I’m taking a basic statistics course, an overview of the scholarship on how people learn to write and teach writing, a seminar on being a PhD student, and a seminar on teaching first-year students to write. I’m only supposed to take three classes, but I really wanted to get these four done (also, one of them is only offered every two years, and I plan to be done with my coursework in two years).
That’s something I wish I’d known when I started planning my courses: some classes are only offered every couple of years. I did not know that, and it changes my plan. For the program I’m in, I have to take a minimum of 19 classes, although many people take more than that. If I only take the 19, I’ll be done in exactly two years and on to research.
In my program, “qualifying exams” are misnamed. They’re not tests, but a research project that gets presented to a committee that I will have been working with all year. I’m less worried about this than any other aspect of the project: writing is something I know I can do, and if I’m researching something I’m passionate about, I’ll be fine.
The key, of course, will be making sure that I’m passionate about my research. I’ll write more about that, later.
It’s hard not to look at a comic like Piled Higher and Deeper and be terrified about the prospect of the next few years, but I have to remember what I’m doing and why: I’m here to investigate topics in education and writing that I’m already interested in. When I talk about my plans for research, the people around me get excited, and I think that’s a good sign. My goals are to learn a lot, write a lot, get some articles ready for publication. If I look up in five years and I have a PhD, great. If I don’t, but I’ve accomplished those things, I think I’ll be okay.
For the moment, this blog will be weekly. I’ll be writing about my work, both as a learner and a teacher, my struggles, and my anxieties. I learn best when I’m writing, and no just focused on the work, so that’s what this is about. If it’s helpful for other people, that’s great, too.
That’s my story, today.