Sunday, May 7, 2017

Find Your Tribe

With the Ph.D. in the rearview mirror, I've been thinking about what I've learned along the way (beyond the specifics of medieval history). Yes, there are organizational skills I picked up, and certainly writing tips that I've accrued along the way, but there are other life hacks that, looking back, were absolutely instrumental to finishing school.

Find your tribe.

No one is an island and writing a dissertation can often be a very lonely, solitary endeavor. And while your name is at the top of the ticket, a support group or community of family and friends is absolutely important to navigating through the highs and lows of graduate school. There are different kinds of relationships that you'll need to tap into: each will bring something different to the table (and hopefully you'll, in turn, bring something different to support that relationship).

One of my best friends is a stay-at-home mom of 2 kids under age 3. On the surface, our lives look very different. My dissertation days are often very quiet, and the writing days were filled with limited opportunity for human conversation and interaction. Her days at home with the kids are often hectic, noisy, and are filled with limited opportunity for adult conversation and interaction. It used to feel counterintuitive to call her to vent about my writing struggles, when compared to hers, mine were minor and significant. But we were both looking to step outside of our small, isolated worlds, and while I couldn't understand the difficulties of children teething, and she couldn't quite relate to the headaches involved with revising a chapter, we could commiserate. These check-ins were often a lifeline, I think for both of us. Talking on the phone, even for just 20 minutes mid-afternoon, removed us from our lonely silos and gave each of us a breather.

Another of my dearest friends was my roommate for two years during grad school, and she finished her Ph.D. the year before I did. We had different research interests, different advisors, enough differences to separate us that we didn't have to compete with each other. Yet, we were able to push each other and challenge each other. On weekends and in the summer, we'd meet, laptops out, come up with a game plan for our writing session, and get to work. Watching her finish so successfully gave me the motivation to keep pushing. Moreover, she became a confidante towards the end - I needed support from someone who had reached the final benchmark and could truly understand and answer some of my questions about Operation Endgame.

Of course, I also relied extensively on my family: specifically, my husband and my parents. They all offered the day-to-day support I needed unconditionally. I can't put into words how important they were to this process. Again, all part of the tribe.

I had to learn a lot about myself and my writing habits and style along the way, but I also had to learn about creating a supportive environment, and that's where the tribe comes in.

I've found my tribe and they were absolutely instrumental in graduate school. Now, it's time to thank them and lend the ear that they were so willing to offer me.

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