Staying the (dissertation) course


I used to live in Portland, known for (among other things) its urban growth boundary, organic micro-brews, and locally roasted Stumptown coffee.  Home to the country’s largest independent bookstore (Powell’s), the smallest park in the world (Mills End), and the most downtown bridges (ten), Portland was also voted the second most bike-friendly city in North America.   Bike lanes, boxes, and racks abound.  The urban chic commute during the week, but the 40 mile looped Springwater Corridor attracts families and weekend bikers.

Now, nothing makes me feel like I’m ten years old again more than riding a bike.  Pedaling along with the wind in your hair (ok, your helmet), a bell to ting, and a basket to carry your peanut butter sandwich in – what could be better?  (Some would say playing cards in your spokes and streamers on your handlebars – you know who you are, people!)   But despite the knowing smiles I’d get from the riders with titanium bikes and technical clothing, my step through bike with the soft seat and upright handlebars allowed me to coast along the trail and over the hills, drink in the scenery, and stay the 40 mile course.  It was such fun, I did it often.

I’m not sure when I realized that coasting the hills, enjoying the view, and going at my own pace,  were way more important than the right clothes or the best (most expensive) gear or fitting in.  Or when I got comfortable with being comfortable, or willing to look foolish, or even happy to provide other people with a smile.  But almost without noticing it, I went from being a person who talked about how much fun biking was to being a person who biked.

For years I talked about graduate school and dreamed of earning a doctorate.  I had a lot of reasons for just talking about it (lack of time, but mostly lack of faith in my ability to do it).  The coursework, yes, I thought.  But those comprehensive exams?  That dissertation?  I didn’t want to end up like those ABD people.   But gradually, I made my way into graduate school.  With some gentle prodding and some kind and encouraging words at the right moment, I started taking courses.  And quickly realized what fun it was to think deeply about theory after so many years in practice. Slowly, I completed the coursework (yes, even evil Stats!).   It took me longer than most, it always does.  Then, with the help of an online and international study group, I passed the first comprehensive exam.  The second exam was harder – an integrated literature review.  But reminding myself that it was great practice for the looming dissertation, I thought if I paced myself, I could enjoy the work and pass the exam.  It took two tries, but eventually I did both.  The dissertation?  Well, that’s in progress.  I’m coasting down the hill of a completed first Chapter, drinking in the deeply interesting scenery in Chapter Two’s lit review, and gearing down for the climb up to a fall proposal – wind in my helmet and bugs in my teeth from the great big, goofy grin on my face.  Passersby frequently smile at my foolish enthusiasm.  But, oh what a ride!

– AMF

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