Well, here we are. My cohort are finishing their first term as doctoral students, and I am finishing my treatment for breast cancer. And even though it sucks not to be frantically scrambling to get my term papers done, I have to say in the end, I may well have learned more from the cancer treatments than I might have learned in a semester of graduate school - and it's all material that will serve me well when I do enter, next fall.
First, I've learned This. Is. It. There's no time for moping, grousing, complaining, whining, moaning, bitching, or any other "ing". Do, or die. Not only in the literal sense, but in the metaphoric sense. Nobody is going to apply for me, do the research for me, write the SOP/personal statement/paper for me, revise the SOP/personal statement/paper for me, solicit feedback on a paper for me, submit a paper to a journal for me - it is My Job to make this happen, and even the best advisor in the world is only an advisor. If I want to be taken seriously, I have to take it seriously. This lesson, learned from the necessity of researching my cancer and then advocating for myself and managing my care as a patient at four different facilities with a slew of doctors who did NOT always have it together or know what was best for me, has led academically to my submitting and having accepted a chapter for a collection of essays on Chaucer's beasts coming out of Palgrave-Macmillan, a solicitation to submit an essay for a journal, another essay topic under consideration for a collection, a request to expand my role on an ongoing research project, and a request to chair a session at a conference.
(And, I applied for a Ford Fellowship this time around. Keep your fingers crossed for me, because cancer is a little expensive and we could really use the help.)
but the point is, I'm working as a scholar, right now. I'm not even actively enrolled in the program yet. But if I wait to do that, then I'm just cheating myself. So - I'm not "waiting until I start the formal program"....I'm doing the work because - I want to do the work. I have already started. I started the day I decided to pursue the doctorate. My department knows about what I'm doing because I am keeping them updated, and they heartily approve of my work towards professionalization as I wait to enter formally into the program next fall.
Second, I've learned how very humorous being human is. That's right - a corollary: If I want to be taken seriously, I have to take it seriously BUT, I can't take myself too seriously because that only leads to stress, anxiety and burnout. Not to mention, I'm not very nice when I'm feel pressured and upset. In the beginning, I fixated and obsessed over my diagnosis and over all the things I had to deal with and go through. I made myself sick and exhausted myself being upset about everything, and then I was snappish, distant, and completely self-absorbed. Once I loosened up and decided I was going to do this with humor and a positive attitude, the whole thing shifted. Everything was easier, and I was better at what I was doing, and able to do more. Today, at my second-to-last radiation treatment, one of the nurses broke down and said "I just don't know what I'm going to do come Monday. You are so inspirational and I just - you have handled this with so much grace and you are so strong and such a beautiful person inside and out. You have brought so much to us and to the other patients with your smile and humor." I blushed and fell all over myself embarrassed, but I know that in graduate school, the ability to laugh at myself, have a sense of humor, take the work seriously but be willing to be myself warts and all, is going to mean something to other people, going to inspire them and going to lead to better relationships.
Well - that's two things. There are more, but I am busy right now. I'll try to update as I think of things to write. But in the meantime, hopefully this will help some of you as you begin your doctoral journeys. don't WAIT until someone else tells you what and when to do the work, get in there and do it, and then refine your approach and the product thereof as the professors help train you into your role. Be yourself - you are more inspiring than you could ever imagine you would be to someone out there, even if you don't think you are because you're a ridiculous creature who can't walk, think and drink coffee without wearing the coffee and tripping (like me). Take your work seriously and do it because you love it, but do it well because it's important - but also, laugh whenever there's a reason to laugh - and if there is not a reason to laugh, find one. There will be more of this as I can present it. And, don't forget to check out my blog at http://caridwen.wordpress.com/ , which is updated much more frequently than this one.