Check out the first installment in this series here.
Written by Laura, a current graduate wife
Recently, a group of our graduate wife friends gathered for lunch in Oxford, and of course, at some point during lunch, began to talk about the process of our husbands’ PhD programs and potential phases we would or could face during that time. As the conversation continued, excited words flying across the table, we knew we might be on to something rich, something that would be beneficial to other graduate wives outside of our intimate lunch. One of the women in that group, Laura, offered to put pen to paper, writing a four part series for The Graduate Wife, explaining those phases. We hope it is helpful for you – whatever phase your other half is currently in – and will give you an idea of the best way to support them during that time. – Mandy and M.C.
You can see it: the tiny glimmer of light at the end of the inky, bleak tunnel. You finally (finally!) have measurable results from the months and years you trudged through your research. Anticipation, relief, tentative signs of optimism – like daffodils or crocus muscling their way through thawing ground and announcing the arrival of spring – mark the beginning of your final stages as a grad student. There are now a finite number of tasks to complete before graduation and you start to see the final checklist forming: finish writing a certain number of chapters, defend your dissertation, take a final examination, complete residency, do final lab write-ups or submit articles to journals for publications, whatever it takes to reach the finish line (and breathe a deep sigh of relief).
Many students gain momentum and experience a second wind in this stage, but sometimes the race to the finish line includes lingering exhaustion. In addition to completing necessary degree-related tasks, you are likely attempting to pave a path to the next stage of your career – applying for tenure-track jobs, postdoctoral fellowships, clinical placements, positions at law firms, hospitals, or your local Starbucks. That cloying sense of insecurity and self-doubt may rear its head once again as you grapple with anxiety about the unknown, and as you imagine the worst case scenario: “Mom, I know you wanted to turn my old bedroom into a yoga studio, but……”
It might be safe to say that never before have so many elements of your future seemed quite so far out of your control. For some this gives rise to a new degree of motivation; for others, it feels like a wet blanket of anxiety and fear.
How do you live with the uncertainty? How do you emotionally balance your excitement as you begin to see the culmination of your academic diligence with the foreboding fear that your career as an academic might be coming to a screeching halt?
- DON’T panic. Plenty of grad students have tread on this steep terrain, and most would tell you that these are simply the final pains of post grad life. You will be wanted, you are employable, you are going to make it.
- DO build into your life plenty of healthy distractions as you await news of interviews or potential job matches so the waiting won’t unravel your nerves. Plan a mini-vacation, start a new physical activity (your mom seems to be really enjoying yoga, might give that a try?), or join a group of people doing something active and lively and interesting and that has nothing to do with academia. Maybe you don’t feel up to beginning something new so close to the end of your stay, but anything to keep you physically, emotionally occupied is invaluable during the long silence. Just step away from the computer and start doing something enjoyable – it will sustain you.
- DO share the process with your spouse or significant other and don’t immediately dismiss their encouragement. They may not know the exact statistics of your program’s placement records or every detail of your field’s current available openings, but they care (heck, they made it this far too!) and want to support you. And likely, they are waiting on pins and needles just as you are. Determine not to fixate on the process and instead start to mend some of the distance that might have necessarily developed during the dark stages of your program; focus on celebrating even the smallest joys, and cultivating a renewed connection.
- DO your best during your workday, and then walk away. Try – try! – to enjoy time with your partner, friends, or family and remember that this is the end of a long and treacherous journey; you are truly staring at the final tasks required to reach your goal. You are almost there!
- DO cultivate spiritual resources- prayer, mediation, involvement in a religious community; If these have ever buoyed you before, now’s the time to draw on that strength.
- DON’T give up – the end is in sight!
COMPLETION AND EVALUATION
You’re a Master, or a Doctor, or So-and-So, Esquire. It is finished. You have reached the summit. Additional letters will forever accompany your name, and rightfully so; you have completed a great work. In this stage, however, it is natural to take a look around, count the costs of having earned your new title, and ask the question, “Was it all worth it?”. Enjoy your successes, mourn any losses, and take a deep breath. Place your feet on a new path; on to the next journey…