Sunday, March 30, 2014

Halfway Doctor: Finishing the Ph.D.

My main resolution for the past five years has been a big one: "finish my dissertation." It replaced the other and far more common for women resolution ("lose weight"), but I've had about as much success with this resolution as many do with diets...temporary success, then a major setback with more work to be done.

I've been in graduate school for ten years now. The first three years were coursework; the next two exams; and the past five, well, research. It's not a straightforward process. The research itself was fairly straightforward, but the 'writing up' (analysis and sense-making) has been extremely difficult.

It's always difficult. If getting a Ph.D. was easy, everyone would do it. Some fields are more compressed than others, and the process will differ depending on program and specific project, but it will be hard. The exact difficulty level and the time it will take depends far more on personal circumstances than anything else.

Work - the kind you do for pay, outside of school - is usually the big hold-up for people, and I am not an exception. I became an 'adjunct professor' - think temp work, but for people with master's degrees. The pay is terrible (minimum wage, no benefits), so most adjuncts end up teaching at several different colleges - and we'll also teach 'overloads,' which means teaching more than three classes a semester. (Most full-time professors teach three classes per term, which works out roughly to twenty-five teaching hours and fifteen research hours. Adjuncts don't get paid for research time, but it's expected that we do it if we want to keep our jobs or aspire to a full time position.) 

I was teaching seven. Even without research, that's 63 hours a week of teaching, grading, and prepping.

I've mostly been the primary breadwinner for my household. My wife is a foreign student, so her working hours and pay were severely restricted. After she came out to her family, all financial support from them ended. So I needed to cover her extra costs - then my own costs - plus all sorts of extras like travel and legal fees and health insurance.

Things began to improve, however, and I have been able to do less paid work and more writing. It was too late to make my original goal of defending my dissertation in the fall of 2013, however, and missing that chance devastated me for two months. 

But, things are looking up. The final product I will produce is much better, and even I can see it now that my broken heart and spirit have improved. Getting married and our travel did eat three weeks of writing time, but now it's settled, I am ready to get back to work and finish this thing, finally.

I don't regret the ten years in school. I liked the research I have done and I enjoyed preparing for the career of professor. It's the right field for me. I am happy with the person that the experiences of the past ten years has created. It feels good to be ME.

My goal is to spend two hours a day in actual academic writing, and then four more hours with the editing, revising, and formatting. With the remaining work I have to do, I should be able to have the writing finished by May. Hopefully I can then defend in June or July, and I will be done.

90 Days

We are ninety days in to 2014, and I have achieved three of my resolutions!


  1. Sew 1 thing.
  2. Spend more time with friends.
  3. Get married!
Accomplishing that third one so soon was a surprise. We knew we couldn't wait for the official June 1 date for marriage equality in Illinois, so we planned to travel to New Mexico at the end of March. But then Cook County declared that they would start issuing licenses on February 21st - and we headed to the office that evening and were married the next day!


We had our wedding clothes ready - but as you can probably tell, we were planning for a ceremony in a warmer climate! But while it was delightful to still go to New Mexico for a honeymoon, being able to marry in our home state - the state where we lived all the six wonderful years of our relationship - was the definite right choice. Being part of history here is special.

I am filled with joy at being married. In the five weeks since we went to the courthouse, I have felt closer and closer to this wonderful woman who is my wife. I keep wondering if I could possibly love her any more than I already do, and the next day shows that yes, I can. I don't mean to say that we're having a fairy-tale life free of all disagreements and difficulties; we've definitely had those...but somehow they are easier to cope with with the faith in our marriage behind them.

Despite this very big success, and the success of the other two resolutions, I do need to step it up to finish my other resolutions. I only have 276 days after all! Here are the remaining seven:



  1. Finish Ph.D. dissertation;
  2. Learn Spanish;
  3. Find new job;
  4. Begin feminist cooking blog;
  5. Run 300 miles;
  6. Get back on pointe in ballet;
  7. Lose 50 pounds.

Well, this entry can count towards that "feminist cooking blog" I have wanted to start...despite the lack of either feminism or cooking in this entry. I'll get to that later. At the moment I am focused on these other goals! I think I'll spend the rest of this week discussing them, and then settle in to a twice-weekly posting schedule. Thanks!