Wow, so many first things I wish I knew in my first year and have learned since then.
Personal or Drama Central:
Without the support of my friends and family throughout that first year I can confidently say there is no way I would have made it. Quite honestly, it was one of the hardest years of my life (sounds hyperbolic, but truly it was). I moved from a mountain town that I grew to love dearly over the course of 9 years to Louisville, hours away from family and friends. Then I went through a terrible break up towards the end of my first semester. Luckily, I had friends I could depend on. I think that’s the first thing I would say when you come to PhD land. Learn to lean on others. After the break up happened, I was in shambles and still had two weeks left of the semester. While my professors were so understanding (which was wonderful), I depended on my cohort like no other and they were there for me. From checking in over the phone daily, watching movies, or kidnapping me to get me out of my house, everyone in my cohort (and others!) helped me to make it through to the other side. Each person here was amazing and I truly appreciated it (really, thanks y’all). I also depended greatly on my family. If you have that support use it! They were tremendously supportive during that time in my first year and encouraged me to keep going all the way through this long dissertation process.
From that first year, I learned so much about who I was and how to live with and by myself (alongside my two kitties of course). One of the most significant parts of the first year was coping with change. I would highly recommend the counseling center too. It has helped me tremendously to understand who I am and to grow into a someone who now has a loving relationship. Am I oversharing? #sorrynotsorry
Professional…whatever that is:
Similar to Ashley’s earlier posting, I came into the program realizing that I didn’t know everything that my peers did. I knew a lot from being a Writing Across the Curriculum consultant and being an assistant director of Comp., but still had lots of educational gaps to fill. I had to be patient with myself as I adjusted to learning more. I also tailored much of what I learned to my own interests. First-year Travis did a great job of setting up Fourth-year Travis’s dissertation (Travis thinks it’s weird to talk in the third voice). From talking to my diss. director in his office about my topic to writing conference presentations that I used as the impetus for my dissertation chapters, I always tried to keep focus on what I could possibly use for the diss.
Like Rachel’s earlier post, I also had to learn that NO was not a bad word. I’m such an extroverted person that I want to do all the things for everyone. As I’ve moved further into the program, I’ve learn that it’s ok to say NO and use that time for self-care instead of work.
After separating these things, it’s strange because the personal is professional and the professional is personal. From Year One I’ve noticed that there is often a blurring of lines between those two. Some of the best mentors and professional friends have become the closest people in my life. Another example of this is how I’ve recently become Facebook friends with most of the folks at my new university (including my department chair!). I’ve come to realize that I won’t apologize for who I am (hell, at 35 I’m way past that). I’m going to post pictures of drag shows alongside pictures of me presenting at Cs on the Facebook. Speaking of, I have officially come out to my classes as queer (something I NEVER would have thought to do in year one) and am now publishing as a queer scholar alongside my Appalachian Rhetoric work. Ah, so much growth and the merging of professional and personal. Huzzah!
What Travels Well…
Well, since this is one of the last “Year One” postings for this year I want to leave y’all with an excerpt from Jim Wayne Miller’s “The Brier Sermon.” I think it really represents my journey through graduate school from moving into an empty house to thinking about packing up and starting another “year one” at another place that I’ll call home:
Say you were going on a trip
Knowing that you wouldn’t ever be coming back
And all you’d ever have of that place you know,
That place where you’d always lived
Was what you could take with you.
You’d want to think what to take along
What would travel well
What you’d really need and wouldn’t need.
I’m telling you, every day you’re leaving
A place you won’t be coming back to ever.
What are you going to leave behind?
What are you taking with you?
Don’t run off and leave the best part of yourself.
Travis A. Rountree is a doctoral candidate in the final stages of preparing his dissertation for defense. He’s sad to leave Louisville, but is excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.