When you go through grade school it is assumed your parents will be present in some way, shape or form. Parents are there to scold you for not submitting your homework, to praise you for getting a good mark, they’re even there to wake you up in the morning to send you off to school every weekday. As you get older the reliance on your parents to get through school decreases, until eventually you’re self-reliant and making statements such as, ‘I can’t do the dishes, I have to finish this essay by tomorrow!’ Never mind the resulting argument that that essay should have been started a week ago.
Then we go to University, and a whole new world opens up of not only having to take care to discipline yourself into succeeding at your academic work, but your life tasks as well. Laundry, groceries, budgets, time-management…all things we, while on occasion might do growing up living with our parents, didn’t really think twice on before carrying on with our youths. When you come out of University you feel like you’ve ‘lived’, you totally know what you’re doing and can handle stepping out into the world, despite how wrong you quickly realise you were. I know many friends who after Uni had to regroup and figure out their next steps, and their parents were there to support them through it.
Some of us then make the insane decision to continue onto graduate school, where a weird thing starts happening. During University most people, myself included, could go home and still ask their parents about their essays and their reading materials and hold conversations about the content of their education. But in graduate school suddenly I found I was sending my parents less and less about the actual materials I worked on, but more about my life. Rather than every conversation with my mom starting out ‘could you look at this essay for me, I don’t think I’m wording this right’ it was now ‘do you have a moment to talk?’ where we then genuinely talked about everything under the sun. They were excited by my passion for what I was learning, but now I was at a point where I was getting so deep into my subject my rants over my research weren’t really something they knew much about.
When I was accepted to do my PhD, my parents were beyond thrilled for me. Did they understand what I was doing (do they even now?)? No, not really. But does my dad tell everyone he comes across his daughter is getting a PhD and does something ‘Celtic’? Absolutely. The joy I get through my PhD and the opportunity it gives me to dedicate my time and energy to a research topic I am so passionate about is overwhelming, and my parents recognise that. They may no longer be here to remind me to meet deadlines or to make my doctors appointments for me, but knowing someone is standing on the sidelines just there to see me be happy and succeed is a huge motivator.
Family takes different forms for everyone. While my experience might be with my mom and dad, someone else might have their grandparents, mentors, best friends, or their siblings. But whoever it is, be sure to take joy in the knowledge that there are people in your life who are just happy to see you happy and doing well.
At this time of year in a PhD student’s life it is important to reflect on how far you’ve come- to recharge and get yourself ready for the end of the summer and set your intentions for the start of a new term. That being said, during the PhD it is easy to get bogged down by what others expect of you, including what you expect of yourself. Don’t forget that equally, there are people who would still think the world of you without the PhD- it’s about who you are as a person, not what you are doing, that matters to them.
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