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September 22, 2011

Is there a doctor in the house? - A PhD journey sparks thought

I want to heartily congratulate Natasha Boskic, a co-worker of mine, for successfully defending her PhD dissertation last night. She did a fabulous job, and I had the honour to be there. Six of us from the office went over to offer our support and be in the audience (it's open to the public, though typically it's just people the person knows). She did a fabulous job, and we're all very proud just to be associated with such success.

(Incidentally, I interviewed Natasha for the last episode of the podcast about her dissertation, which involved ethical and literacy issues in alternate reality gaming. She was a great interview and it was a very interesting topic).

She started out by saying that doing a PhD is a personal journey, and those words stuck with me throughout the rest of her presentation. I don't have a PhD (hell, I don't even have a Master's degree), so I don't have any frame of reference. But I can only imagine what kind of journey that entails. Four years of your life (I don't know what the average is, but I'm sure that's close) dedicated to researching a question, an area that you feel passionate about. I'm sure you discover a lot about yourself in that journey.

It made me stop and think about my life, though. I did apply to the Master's program in History here at UBC back in 2000. I didn't get in, mainly due to grades I think. It turned out to be a good thing, in a way, because I discovered after the fact that our staff tuition waiver doesn't cover graduate school. Yes, if it was something I was passionate about, we would have made it work. But while I wanted to do it, that passion wasn't really there to justify the cost. Who knows? That passion not being there might have made it so I would have been unsuccessful anyway.

We've had four doctorates come out of our office (3 PhDs and a Doctor of Education degree), and as we were walking over to the defense yesterday, we were talking about that. My boss asked me when I was going to get my PhD. I joked that I didn't even have my Master's.

That started the line of thought that continued when Natasha started speaking. I don't have any real desire to go down that academic path. While I do have a passion for learning, the passion for learning in an academic setting isn't really there, even ten years later.

It did, however, make me think about the huge variety of personal journeys that we all take. We all go down separate paths. While our friends and family can love and support us down those paths, they can't really join us on them. Sometimes we are joined by others who are moving the same way along those same paths, and perhaps friendships can form out of those. The journey is ultimately a personal one, though.

None of them are "better" than another. It just depends on what you need at that time. The gaining of knowledge, whether it's research knowledge or just knowledge about yourself, is always a valuable endeavour, whether it's through a formal process like a PhD or just improving yourself in everyday living.

All of this reinforced some things that I've been thinking about for the last couple of weeks, about the need to be more social. In retrospect, a few of my posts during that time period have ultimately stemmed from this, I think. I see a bit of stagnation setting in that I need to do something about.

I'm going to V-Con, a science fiction convention here in Vancouver (if you're going to be there, look me up!). I plan on not being a wallflower at this convention, or at least not as much of one as I was last time I went. Small steps!

I'm also taking a short fiction class next Spring. I don't know if anything will result from that writing-wise, but I'm also taking it for the social aspect, to talk to classmates and all of that. I do hope to get at least one short story out of it too, of course.

Finally, my boss has had individual meetings with everybody in the office, and one of the things we talked about was professional development, as well as personal development that may only be related to work tangentially. After that meeting, some ideas have been sitting in the back of my mind. After seeing Natasha yesterday, and the final result of her personal journey, these thoughts have crystallized a bit more. Maybe a public speaking course of some kind (that's one of the ideas that my wife suggested too, but it went in with all the other ideas, percolating in my mind without actually coalescing into anything immediately).

I don't know exactly what I'll decide to do, other than what's already in motion. Thankfully, the issue with my friend that sparked some of the recent posts (you can probably guess which ones they are) has been resolved. It did initiate a lot of these thoughts and realizations, though. So maybe it's for the best that it happened. It taught me a lot about myself, and the parts of my life that have been missing, even if I hadn't actually noticed that they weren't there.

My personal journey most likely does not fall along the academic path like Natasha's did (though I do hold out that option for the future).

But I think it's time that I finally start it, whichever path it leads down.


  1. Dave, I have two master's degrees. I also have lots of debt and spend my time being an "overeducated housewife". While I don't regret graduate school, it hasn't really paid off the way I thought it would.

    You're a very good writer. I enjoy reading your blog. Today's topic hit home for me because I think about my life's path a lot. I never expected to be where I am. It's not a bad place to be, but it's not what I expected... especially when I got out of grad school. I'm proud of my degrees, but I feel like a lot of time and money was wasted.

    It sounds like you have some exciting endeavors coming in the future. I look forward to reading about them.

  2. Thank you for your thoughts, Knotty. For me, if I did a Master's degree, it wouldn't necessarily need to "pay off" except in the knowledge and self-improvement aspect of it. If it helped me in my current position and to make more money, that would be gravy.

    Right now, I'm not at that place, so that's another reason not to do it.

    Thank you for the compliment on my writing. Can always use a confidence boost. :)

    It's weird how our lives can turn out totally different than expected, even if it's still a good life. Sometimes we do think back to what might have been, not because we want to change everything. It's just interesting to think back to our expectations from years ago, and wonder what it might have been like if those expectations had actually happened.

    I do plan on sharing them when they happen! I thank you for being a regular reader, and a good friend too.


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