Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US.
As I work on the last revisions to my dissertation (by the time this post goes live I will have mailed my dissertation draft to my committee), I oftentimes find myself thinking back to the long road that brought me to this moment. Eight years ago, around this time of year, I was accepted at an upstate New York university for my Master’s degree, and I knew this move would change me forever. In the summer of 2004, I would leave my little island, move to a town a few hours away from New York City, and spend the next five years reading, writing, and thinking deep thoughts in hopes of achieving a PhD in English.
One of the moments that remains vivid to me is one very cold Upstate New York day, over three years ago. I was writing my final PhD exam, on Cultural Studies. In my department we have 72 hours to write between 25 and 35 pages on a topic stemming from a list of readings. I had done all the reading, assembled all of my notes on my desktop, and spent that weekend typing feverishly for hours on end. I woke up early Saturday morning, day two of my exam weekend; it was cold outside but the strong wind made the temperature drop further, and our apartment was poorly heated. The corner where my desk was located was the coldest in the house, so I relocated to the living room couch to be closer to the radiator. My boyfriend was not up yet, so I had the couch all to myself. I propped my feet up on the ottoman, pulled a blanket onto my lap, and turned on my laptop. Still not fully awake, I wrote feverishly, and in between thoughts I stuck my hands under my blanket to warm them up. I wrote page after page after page that weekend. On Sunday evening, I exclaimed to my boyfriend that I had finished my draft (12 hours before it was due).
That weekend stands out in my mind as a good example of what my experience as a graduate student had been up until that point. I had been a full-time graduate student with no other obligations other than going to class, writing, and teaching one semester per academic year. I had dedicated almost five years of my life to formulating (and complicating) questions. I read, I thought, I talked, I wrote. I had the privilege of devoting my days to nothing but studying literature and culture. Once I received, months later, the official notification that I was ABD (All But Dissertation), I was elated to know I had made it to the last stage of my graduate education.
The three years after I became ABD have not been easy; for one, I no longer have a fellowship that allows me to just read and write every day. I live in a different location from my home campus. I balance a lot more obligations than I did when I was solely studying. Distance and time have provided me with some much-needed perspective on my experience as a Latina first-generation graduate student. (I have touched upon this in the cross-blog conversation that U Venus contributor Janni Aragon and I have had at each other’s blogs titled “Academics on Academia.”) However, I am certain that this is where I wanted to be. Even though it took me a little longer than I wanted to, and even though there were moments I was unsure I would make it to the other side, I am happy that I stayed the course and made it this far.
Even though graduate school may be problematic, graduate school nurtured my intellectual curiosity, and introduced me to great minds. Is it the only place where I could have done this? No, it is not. However, I felt at home in graduate school. Grad school and I were a nice fit. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to read and write at my leisure and share my thoughts with others. My experience as a humanities PhD has affected how I approach and think about the world around me.
Achieving this hard-fought goal means so much on an intellectual and emotional level, and as such moving on will be a tough transition. The well-worn question stands true: where do we go from here? I, for one, am looking forward to it.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed