Transitioning the PhD


It’s been a little over a year since I officially and contractually signed off my position as a PhD candidate at Boston University.  It was sort of a big deal to me, though the feelings I had when I signed and mailed that letter were surprisingly calm.  Regardless of whether or not I felt good about the decision (which I did feel good about), it was still a big deal because getting a PhD had been my life’s goal since I was in high school.  It was my “when I grow up” for years.  It was my envisioned educational future.

And, it was a big deal because I was proud of myself for getting into Boston, dag nabbit.  I’m still proud of myself for that.  And I’m proud that I spent two years of my life there writing my rear off.  My mind grew way more that I thought was possible during that time.  It changed me and made me a better thinker, more empathetic, and simultaneously more confident in my intellect while also making me more humble in the fact that I realized how little I actually knew.

Anyway, my point is that even after I signed off my right to the pillow-hat and the triple-striped sleeves, I’ve held onto that achievement very tightly.  I held onto the fact that I was in a PHD program (even though I didn’t get to finish) rather than the fact that I actually finished a real, live Masters degree.

When people asked me where I came from, I’d always want to somehow find a way to say Boston and PhD together.  I didn’t want to let go of the fact that I had made it to that point in my life’s goals and I wanted to tell people about it–it validated my long-term goals in a way.  It was something that had defined me for so long, that I couldn’t bring myself to leave out those three letters entirely.

Other funny thing:  I’ve held the “PhD” in such high esteem for so long, that I realized I’d rather say that I was in a PhD program and left instead of just telling people that I got a Masters.  Masters degrees, for some reason, sounded cheap and, dare I say, a bit “lame” when squatting next to the glorious Doctorate.


I think I might be transitioning finally.  I’m learning that as time goes on, it’s getting more and more difficult to find a way to link myself with my doctoral program and more and more easy to be proud of the fact that I did, in fact, do a lot of great work to get a Masters degree.  And on top of it, I’ve done some other pretty cool things in the meantime.

I’ve had a go at two dream jobs in the past year: teaching college and doing GIS.

I’ve been accepted into and almost completed another graduate program in information systems–which is cool to my brain because it’s so different from my humanities-based masters degree.

I’ve “not walked” 6.2 miles (in one go!).  ::big, big deal to me::

I’ve learned how to make the best pie in the universe.

I have discovered a certain budding bliss and perhaps nascent talent in cooking.

I’ve built an amazing foundation to an amazing marriage to an amazing man.

I’ve grown a successful garden two years running.

I’ve seen the redwoods.

I’ve kayaked a foggy estuary at 6am multiple times.

I’ve eaten mushrooms I picked myself.

I paid off a car.

I’ve figured out how to save money on an unbelievably tight budget and still have some left over to be able to go to Japanese food and the Harry Potter premier next week.

And, I have never felt more beautiful in my entire life (mostly thanks to Atticus).

So, I suppose, as I’ve done things other than be in a PhD program that I’m really proud of, I’ve found it easier and easier to let those three letters blend in with everything else.

I think someone somewhere might want me to say something right now like “Oh, and now I’ve realized that a PhD really didn’t matter”  or  “And then I realized that it was a completely awful experience”…  But that’s not true.  It still does matter to me.  It’s still one of my achievements I’m most proud of.  But, the perspective is a little different now than it was when I was 22.  It’s not the only big achievement checked off my life-list anymore like it was then.

I got a masters, a marriage, some new hobbies, and a career path I love–oh, and I spent two years in a PhD program.  Pretty awesome, but not necessarily my headliner anymore.

And that’s a transition–a good one.



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5 responses to “Transitioning the PhD

  1. You could have hundreds of letters after your name, or none, and you’d still be one of the best people I know.

  2. danosaur

    I liked this a lot. In light of thinking about identity and how we identify ourselves and how others identify us, etc. etc. …wish I had something more insightful than that…

  3. Pinto

    @D: Yeah, I think it pretty much shows you how insanely disturbing it is that I place so much self-worth in my level of education. I see this post as a sort of redemption, but also as an example of how self-centered my thoughts often are. I’ve realized, as I’ve talked things out with Paul, how important other people’s respect is to me and how I’ve come to equate post-name letterage with gaining that respect: as if I have given up on the possibility that people could respect me for another reason.

    I mostly chalk this up to my upbringing–in a family that focused SO MUCH on being the best in the class, in the social world of the military with all its pomp and uber-emphasis on rank, on realizing with every move how shy I am and how the only way I could really stand out to people was to be “the smart one”….etc etc etc.

    But, there is also the fact that I haven’t been able to transcend that upbringing. If I really felt as if that way of thinking was wrong, I could get over it. So it follows that there’s a part of me, intrinsically me, that wants to be Top Dog in some way: particularly in a brainy-successful way.

  4. Pinto

    Also, Beth: Whaaaaaaaat? You’re amazing. You, literally, saved my emotional life when you came to Boston. I’ll never be able to thank you enough for being kind enough to be my friend. You made my little life so much less lonely and I’ll never be able to pay you back for your kindness. I’m not even exaggerating–I think you saved my world. Thank you, Beth–I miss you, I hope I can come and visit over Christmastime or something!

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