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Day 36–Full moons, failures, and faculty

I watched the full moon rise tonight. I am in a place where each sunrise, sunset is an event. The Sun lights up the red rocks in the morning and slowly dims them for rest in the evening. The night show is made up of stars, so many stars, planets, Orion’s belt, the Milky Way, the North Star, The Big and the Little Dipper, Caciopia—I am sure many more but I don’t know the names. Sedona is a dark city, meaning that they have limited the use of lights to maintain the ability to see the stars. What a concept.  I feel closer to God, the Universe, the life of things out here. It feeds me in a way that home does not. There is an openness, a space out here that the Northeast does not have. The ratio of people per square mile is crazy low out here not just in Arizona but in the West.  I think that can impact energy. The density in the East requires more energy to get through, force fields or something. Clutter of the mind.

This year, I want to buy a house that has some views of the beautiful valley or Mount Tom—some space. I like to come home and enjoy where the house is and the landscape. I love my neighbors well at least most of them but they are no more than an arms’s length a way.

Today, I made a conscious effort to stay away from my iPhone, iPad and my computer. I get a little nuts about checking email, voice mail, Facebook, and twitter. One day away a week needs to become part of my routine. It keeps me beating on a higher frequency when I am checking and responding etc… When are we off in today’s world? In graduate school from 1998-2005, I told myself every minute that if I was not working on my dissertation, I had to be thinking about and if I wasn’t working on it and doing something else like hanging out with friends, watching tv whatever I should feel guilty about it. What a loop! Needless to say, I drank the Kool Aid that you had to live and breathe your dissertation and it would happen.

Well, I did it twice and no degree. There is a bit more than giving yourself totally over to something. I wrote this letter below to new graduate students and faculty that captures the essence of my experience.  I don’t regret one ounce that I don’t have the doctorate, I came out with my sanity and a realization that there is a big world out there beyond having this degree. That was worth the over $100,000 education I received. How many people have a $100K wall at home??? Very exciting:)

Six years since I left you and I just realized you broke my heart.  The day I got in, I remember listening to the song, “I believe I can fly.” And I felt with all my being, I finally had a way, a door had opened and I could be the professor, the doctor of psychology, I had dreamed of.  I spent two years proving to all of you and to myself that I had the chops to be there, that despite my test scores I had the aptitude, the diligence, the knowledge to get my doctorate.

I began with a pure and open heart and assumed that my abilities would be honed, I would learn from the best, and I would be celebrated for my perseverance and walking in the door with a formed idea for a dissertation and a study that international researchers wanted.  Little did I know, I was in for a relationship that I would totally lose my sense of self and spent years trying to heal and figure out what really went wrong.

Yes, I am considered well-educated and I will be paying for that for well beyond my grave.  But I am without my union card, my Ph.D.  When as Oprah called them the whispers started I didn’t hear them.  Then the slap in the head and finally the wall of bricks.  My life calling was not to be a professor of psychology and women’s studies but a teacher to the world, a transformer with the world as my classroom.

I assumed that if I was granted admission, I would succeed.  However, I with every paper, every consultation, every research project I knew it was a test.  A test to earn my card and that it was part of the rites of passage to be tested and tried.  The more graduate students I spoke with the more I realized it wasn’t only me that was bumping into this brick wall otherwise known as pledge years.  And yes they were like pledging into a fraternity, if you did all the things everyone told you and made sure they liked you, eventually they would let you in.  It wasn’t about doing ground breaking research because ground breaking research did not exist outside of the faculty’s own research anything else was phooey and they will tell you that.

But you see, no one told me.  I didn’t have this road map.  I didn’t understand.  I was so perplexed I had to try it again and do it all right then decide that a union card wasn’t in the cards for me—on my terms not theirs.  So, it took me a little longer to understand and listen to as Oprah says my true calling.

Below is a letter I would write to new faculty so they understand and remember what it means to be a graduate student.

Dear Faculty,

Thank you for accepting me into your program, your guidance, and your world.  I am giving you my heart because this relationship requires 100% commitment and I am giving you all of my identity because when I leave I will be different.

Please be gentle with me.  Please remind me that I already deserve to be here and I don’t have to continue to earn it.  Please tell me if there is no room for my ideas and just tell me what to do to get my card.

Because you see I have moved mountains to join your world.  I will be accumulating over $100,000 more in debt during my time here and my spouse and family has sacrificed their dreams to let mine come true.  So you see, you are accepting both me and my family and my grandparents, and uncles and aunts and cousins all into this world.  The world that means one of us made it.

Sincerely yours

–Your First Year Graduate Student

I wrote this when I realized that this experience broke my heart. I never put those words together until this past year. I got a letter from my graduate school asking me to participate in a research study on graduate school experiences. They wanted details, formal written statements, interviews all of it. I just sat stunned, reading it over and over again. The letter was addressed to Dr. Miller—perhaps they forgot I didn’t actually get it or maybe I got an honorary one and just haven’t got it in the mail yet-Ha! Then within 2weeks of that, I got my alumni magazine and saw that a faculty member had passed away that I worked very closely with. This professor was liked by many.

However, my memory is that of the hours spent in an office being asked questions like, “What are you stupid, why would write this? What about this, this doesn’t make any sense. What is the matter with you?” And each interaction would be like that and grow more abusive. I felt compassion for this professor at the time and now because I realized that someone did this to this professor and so the cycle continued. I was sorry he passed away and left a young son. I said a prayer for this professor and wrote the above.  Now I must let go. Let go of it all.  I used to wish on first star I saw every night that I would get my doctorate.

I should have been dealing with how to negotiate the conflict on my committee and realize I should have done my work on their research projects as my dissertation not my own. But then again, I would have lost too much of myself in the process so thank the Universe it didn’t happen.  My holding firm in my work opened up the rest of the world to me and that was a gift and so my sadness is gone, my hurt is gone. I hope some future clients will be graduate students and young faculty—I can offer them some great tools to create their own roadmap for success.  It is true that what one may call a failure is what I call the biggest success I ever have. The success is in the failure. If it was a success, I would not have learned nearly as much.



About Joy Rain

Joy has been a diversity and inclusion consultant and mediator for over ten years. Prior to consulting, she was professor of Psychology and Women Studies. Joy has a Master of Arts in Psychology (Boston University) and a Master of Education in Social Justice Education (UMASS Amherst).


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