Five Years Down, Nine Months to Go

Today is new grad student orientation at my institution. That’s where I was five years ago – and even last year, incidentally, since I gave a brief presentation during it. This year, I have no cause to go anywhere near it, although it’s not uncommon for those of us more “experienced” grad students to hit up the end-of-orientation reception to snag some of the food.

They train us well in all aspects of grad life, yes.

Some days, I have trouble believing it’s been five full years. Five years ago, I had this insane plan that I would have graduated by this point (I’m honestly not kidding when I tell you that at one time, I wanted to graduate when LOST ended). Two years ago, I realized that I could do that, but it would probably drive me over the edge, so I revised my plan and decided to take a little more time. (Six years, actually, is the accepted norm in my program – and we get full funding for that amount of time, so it’s not like I’m taking overly long or anything.)

Somewhere in the last five years, I learned to read efficiently and began downing books by the dozens. Once upon a time, I kept track of all the books I read, but these days that just seems like something I don’t quite have the time for. I learned to survive coursework and comprehensive exams. I figured out how to right a dissertation prospectus and conduct research. I even learned how to perform oral history interviews (and have spent many hours killing my wrists during transcription efforts).

I’ve gone from being petrified over writing academic papers (after three years in the corporate world) to becoming better at the writing process in general. I went from the daunting prospect of writing a dissertation – whatever that seemed to mean a few years ago – to having six chapter drafts that comprise the skeleton of the dissertation as a whole.

Five years ago, my fall semester was a jumble of classes and new faces and figuring this grad school puzzle out. This year, my fall semester is a jumble of chapter revisions and job applications and trying not to think too much about the future while I focus on finishing the dissertation.

Five years ago, this point of my graduate career seemed like nothing more than a far-off dream or distant speck of light. It was something I anticipated excitedly, but could not actually imagine.

The last five years are behind me now. For five years, I’ve chronicled the graduate school experience in different ways and on different sites, occasionally with blogging breaks, but always coming back to the fact that I wanted to have some record of all of it. One of these days, I’ll go back and reread what it felt like to be that first-year graduate student again, when my life consisted of 1,000 to 1,500 pages of reading a week, combined with classes and general adjustment. (Now that seems like the easy life, but back then, it was one of the hardest adjustments I’d ever made.)

But now, right now, it’s gone from years to months remaining on the agenda. In nine small months, less than 275 days, grad school will be part of my history.

And let’s face it: that completely blows my mind.

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