As a person who sometimes feels that they are forever in a state of ‘studentness’, there has come a time (or many) that I have asked myself the big question….

And as I tell the grade 3 classes when I give guest talks I tell them that a PhD program means that I am in grade 21. YUP. Grade 21! But really, this current state of learning is a weird place. So what is this big question you ask?

BIG LIFE QUESTION: What is a PhD and what makes one successful at a PhD? Is it finishing with the most papers? Is it the person who finished the fastest or with the most data chapters? Is it the day you accept your piece of paper with your name and the credentials on it?

Speaking at the Shorebird Festival Cordova, Alaska May 2017

The past 3+ years of my life as a PhD student and now PhD Candidate (a status that just means I passed my comprehensive exams and have been titled to be a person that MAY be qualified to accomplish their Doctorate) is that this is a time of pure learning in my life. I embrace the ‘forever state of studentness’. Yes, there are the formalities with supervisors, department requirements, TUITION payments (ick) and just plain paperwork. BUT, my life is more than that. And my PhD is WAY MORE than just my thesis.

Ice skating on a frozen lake at Sheridan Glacier Alaska
Arctic sunset, Southampton Island Nunavut Canada

In fact, the thesis for the doctorate is filled with a condensed version of the science, the condensed, “I figured out how to use this program’ and the classic ‘this section was made possible because I got my r code to work’. But when I think of the person I was day 1 of this program and who I am today; I’m so much more than a 4th year PhD student. I’m a WAY more experienced, confident, social, world explorer! I travel more, I have worked with people from all areas of the world and know many more people from other countries and continents than I ever imagined.

Second Speaker to the famous artist and birder, David Sibley, Shorebird Festival Alaska

I have learned about seasons, tides, and a range of habitats because I ventured out to see them. I work hard but play hard too and I think that this has made me a better student.

Subsistence Lifestyle; halibut fishing, edible plant gathering in early spring Alaska
Flying across barrier islands of the Prince William Sound and Copper River Delta Alaska

Perhaps, admittedly that my supervisors would like me to be stuck in a chair and working 50 hours a week but I would be miserable and maybe not put the heart into the work, like I am doing now. And, as the thesis becomes a longer word document on my laptop (which I should really back up asap!) I grow more than that file.

The thesis is WAY more than the sum of its parts and more than the credit you earn at the end of your name when it’s all over; it’s about becoming a person that will love and cherish their work and show passion and happiness in all areas of their life. I feel like I am becoming ‘Super Me’ and it feels great!


Leave a Reply