I’ve learned I tend to bury the “lede” when I write, so I will lead with this: I’m done. I make my kids call me Dr. Mom and I return to sender all cards not addressed to Dr. Stauder. I’m so happy.
During the five years I was on the PhD train, I learned many things. I hope sharing them might help you.
- The first thing I learned was the title of this three-part series is actually ridiculous. While I was fortunate to find an affordable, part-time doctoral program less than three miles from my home, my life still went through plenty of upheaval. I didn’t fully appreciate how much until it was over. I benefited from a helpful partner, children who consider fast-casual food chains “fancy restaurants,” and a strong community support system. These people and the routines they created for me minimized the upheaval, but life was hard. Anyone considering a PhD or other terminal degree needs a strong constitution and an excellent support system. The “P” stands for persistence, right? To be frank, I didn’t realize how much of my life school consumed until after I finished defense of my dissertation. Thank you to everyone who was a part of the process—including everyone who read parts 1 and 2 of this series and reached out with words of encouragement.
- Speaking of the defense, I also learned the irony of a speech-language pathologist having a terrible time identifying and labeling her own emotions. The week of my defense, I experienced an intense and almost paralyzing emotion. I did not know what it was. It took me about three days to realize the last time I felt this particular emotion was when I was on a beach getting my arm marked with a water-proof marker as I was about to complete an open-water swim. (As I alluded to in part 2 of this series, my husband challenged me to compete in the swim portion of a triathlon, and I did it out of spite.) The feeling was pure fear. Just like with the swim, I knew I already put in the work with my defense. Just like with the swim, I was about to take a risk. As grown-ups, we crave comfort and, let me tell you, there is nothing comfortable about preparing for a dissertation defense. Or a swim in a lake on the coldest day in race history when they announce they will allow wetsuits, and you, as a novice, do not have a wetsuit. I challenge all of us to push boundaries, take risks, and seek opportunities for vulnerability throughout our personal and professional lives. From personal experience, I can say these opportunities for self-reflection have been quite worthwhile these last few months.
- Last, when reflecting on the past five years, I can enthusiastically say I would do it again in a heartbeat. I spent almost the entirety of my graduation day spilling tears of joy, pride, and gratitude. (Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion—and a quote from one of my two favorite movies, which I now have time to watch again.) I was more than a decade into my professional career when I applied to my PhD program. The people I met, the lessons I learned, and the experiences I had made all made up for the upheaval and the fear.
If I can do it, you can, too. Pick a school, a program, and a schedule to fit your lifestyle and your spirit. Make time for self-care along your journey and embrace your inner risk-taker. When balancing everything seems particularly hard, remember you made the choice to start the journey. And aren’t you lucky to have the ability to access such an amazing opportunity?
Also, if you want to tackle an open-water swim, I know a good one…
Erin Stauder, PhD, CCC-SLP, is executive director and CEO of HASA, a private, nonprofit organization in Baltimore, Maryland, that provides hearing health, speech-language, education, language-access, and inclusion programs to people of all ages. firstname.lastname@example.org