Thursday, 20 April 2017

Post 101: Why I'm Glad I Didn't Quit My Thesis!

I'm part of this excellent online thesis completion group run by Dr. Dora Farkas. It comprises both master's and PhD students from around the world: anyone who's struggling to finish their thesis, whatever the roadblock they are facing: crisis of confidence, lack of support, lack of motivation, procrastination, interpersonal conflicts with supervisors, what have you. It's a long list.

One question Dora recently asked us as a group is: Why didn't we quit our programs, especially when we constantly thought we would?

I thought that questions was a useful prompt, because for almost half my degree, I thought of quitting, and was varyingly closer and further away from making that happen.

Galiano Island monkey flower (I think!). :)
So, first I'll go through some of my main reasons for considering quitting (good to get those out there again):

1. It's hard to ask for help when you can't articulate what you're struggling with.
2. Interpersonal mismatch: I know that I likely wouldn't have done well with an over-zealous supervisor, but I also in some ways struggled more than I would have if I'd had a supervisor who checked in more often, or in the way I needed. My supervisor was very hands off, and at first the independence was powerful and I loved the trust that was placed in me, but in the middle of my degree, I struggled a lot with making decisions, uncertainty, and felt like I did a lot of my problem-solving alone (though this is linked to struggle #1). Not placing blame here: I recognize my own role in not asking for help, or getting to a productive place where I could ask for help. As usual, it was complicated.
3. Impostor syndrome: I've written several posts about this in the past, so I won't rehash it all here, but essentially, I've never felt more uncertain, and lacked more confidence, than during this degree, and I'm so glad that I've not let it stop me.

Hmm. I think those are at least the major reasons.

More Galiano Island succulents. Definitely some of my favs! 
So, reasons for why I didn't quit:

1. My outline of challenge #3 kind of got there already: I know that I'm a capable, somewhat intelligent person, who works hard. The lies that anxiety and impostor syndrome were telling me aren't true, much as I believed them for large portions of this degree. I didn't want them to get the better of me.
2. I wanted to prove to myself that I could persist and finish a multi-year project. In the end, I think this is the most difficult project I have ever undertaken, and again, in a few weeks when this wraps up, I will be more proud of myself than I already am, for sticking with it, and keeping at it, even when the going got really, really tough.
3. Finishing for finishing's sake! I like to finish projects (though I usually take on smaller ones), because I like that feeling of tying up loose ends.
4. The professional recognition: if I had quit, then I'd feel like I wasted a lot of my own time and money, as well as all the time and money that my participants, my supervisor and committee member, and my funders invested in me. I didn't want to let them down.
5. I didn't want to disappoint my parents and my family. This one is a tricky one, because I wasn't doing this degree for them, but I needed to finish it so I felt like I could continue to have their respect, as well as my own. In the end, I'm sure they would continue to love me either way, but it's better that I can face them having this finished, and being something that I am, in the end, proud of.

So, there are lots of reasons why I didn't quit, even when for so long I couldn't see the end of this degree. But you, like me, can do it, and surprise yourself, and finish up! :)

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Post 100: The Finish Line in Sight!

I have a defense date! Lovely way to start my one-hundredth thesis post!

And have had for a few weeks now. It was a SPRINT to get the paperwork in on time, and I think I was tired just from the two days of stress about that. My supervisor was waiting for my committee member to give the go-ahead, and for confirmation from an external. This Easter long weekend got in the way, because it takes up two days of the necessary 20 business days that need to be in place to give the external fair shakes at reading and reviewing my thesis, and coming up with questions for the defense. BUT -- thanks to the amazing grad admin my program has, who worked her magic, it worked out!

I defend on May 2, 2017.

Galiano Island succulents. :) 
A week ago I would have said, "I can't wait to defend." But now that the days are skipping by faster than I can keep track of, I know it'll be the kind of thing that comes waaaay too soon! It'll certainly be a challenge not to lose my nerve, because working full-time comes with the added challenge of being busy for the most productive hours of the day.
I'm also attending a conference mid-May, and going to visit my folks afterwards, so May will be quite packed, too.

More Galiano Island succulents. Love these guys!
My to-do list for the rest of April looks like this:

Thesis Prep (presentation, review, practice questions, print and re-read my thesis)
Conference Prep (presentation)
File my taxes
Keep on top of cooking and meal prep
Plan for my trip home
Stay healthy (get enough sleep; eat good food; get exercise)
Stay active (I've been biking to work lots, so that has been really good)
Go climbing 1x per week

And on the don't list:
Stay up too late
Eat chocolate
Eat out too much
Let my room get too messy

I think regularity of schedule will also become increasingly important so I don't let my anxiety get ahead of my. My nerves have already been more tense with my thesis defense getting closer.

Right near a bench, downtown Victoria. Love the colour!
But, I think what gives me courage is thinking of a celebration party later this summer, when I've had a bit of time to decompress from the stress of it all.

Longer-term plans include:
Publishing research contract articles (my own and my colleague's)
Publishing my thesis research (1 article)
Writing a few more posts on this blog, and then closing it down
Starting up a new writing project that I can work on through the rest of the year
Tackling my reading list (it's become quite long)

And, coming up with some trips for shared weekends with friends. I am so excited not to have the weight of this thesis on me anymore. The dream of that has been a big part of the motivation to finally finish. I wouldn't have been happy with myself if I had quit this program, despite feeling like it so many times.
Obligatory cherry blossoms. They are finally here! :)
2017 is already a good year.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Post 99: The Short, Short Month of February, and Dealing with Tiredness

At work yesterday, an acquaintance of mine told me that it took her about 6 months after she finished her thesis, during a long and much-needed break, to wake up and not feel tired. 

An ah ha! moment happened for me. I'm working full time, have two part time jobs, and am trying to finish my thesis. Some days, it seems to me like I'm doing everything badly.

With the snow storms over the past week and a half, I haven't been getting much exercise beyond a bit of walking, especially since I haven't felt that it's been safe enough to cycle to work. At the beginning of February I started Adriene's 31 days of yoga, but stopped after not even a week. I've been chiding myself for not being able to stay committed and continue on with it, but honestly, I am too tired to stick with it, even if it would be beneficial.

Cute neighbourhood racoon tracks in the slush! 
I cycled to the library this afternoon to carry on with thesis edits. Every pedal after about half way to here made me feel increasingly tired, though the 6KM bike ride is mostly flat and not all that challenging. But, I told myself to be happy about making it this far. It's a good day when the sun is shining and I have a superb bicycle that I get to ride, and it's warm out (or at least, 5C feels very warm, compared to the -1C + windchill we had last week).

So, even though I'm exhausted, even though I fantasize about the day that I can go home after work and not have the weight of there's some more work you need to do on me, things are still good, and I'm getting by telling myself that it's okay to be tired. :)

I've written before that a thesis is more marathon and less sprint, and believe that now more than ever.
Snowdrops in the front garden, surfacing to bloom after the melted snow. 
Apologies I don't have any more resources to share currently. Just the comfort and perspective that if you're a grad student who's tired and burned out, you're not alone.

Do what you need to do to eat well, get enough sleep, and avoid colds. :)

Spring is coming, there's more daylight, and the temperatures are rising!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Post 98: Self-care in the Days of Trump

I've been finding myself quite anxious throughout the week, as news of Trump's newest Executive Orders rolls out across news feeds. Trump is quite antithetical to my values and ideas about what a just, fair, equitable society should be striving for. As one of my friends recently characterized: there's been a lot of "hand-wringing going on!"

I can't begin to list all of the things that bother me about Trump, but there are a lot. Beyond those actions/hypocrisies/stances that I had expected:
There are quite a few other ways in which Trump has figured out how to give left-leaning Americans, lower and middle class Americans, and the world, the middle finger, that I hadn't anticipated.

Some of these include:
And I'm sure there's more to come.

Sunset on my walk from work!

What bothers me most, as a Canadian, is the concern of watching Trump's bullying of other countries (especially Mexico), and that that will negatively influence the actions of my own country's federal government. While I've been encouraged by some initiatives to strengthen calls for Trudeau and our Immigration Minister take in refugees stranded at US airports, I'm dismayed by news that Trudeau has welcomed Keystone XL's renewed momentum, and I am holding my breath about how complicated NAFDA re-negotiations may become.

This story also warmed my heart today, not even so much because someone with power, privilege, and money decided to use that for good, but because of how many more people and Canadians he brought together to work collaboratively on helping refugees.

A discussion I listened to on the CBC this morning had one commentator arguing that Canada should keep its head down, and that the best diplomatic solution to this quandary would be to promote Canadian interests, and that's it. We/Trudeau shouldn't upset Trump by standing up for Mexico. As we know, Trump has a fragile ego...

To me, however, such advice seems likely only to kick us in the butt later, should Trump decide that he wants certain things from Canada anyways, and won't accept no for an answer. I think standing strong together with our other major trade partner (Mexico), and saying, "Hey now, you don't get to bully us here, or we simply won't negotiate with you at all." is better. Strength together, not alone. I don't like Trump's attitude of "America First." That kind of narrow-minded self-interest only gets you so far, especially if you're supposed to cooperate/collaborate with other countries around the world.

Anyhow. This has gone on for already much longer than I had intended. I find it upsetting. Which is why I wanted to advocate for self-care: putting boundaries around when and how much negative Trump news you take in (Read: don't look at the news right before bed. Spare yourself the nightmares.).

Selkirk Trestle catching the morning sun on my walk to work. :)
Also, consider joining me in Adriene's 31 days of yoga! Having a daily self-care practice, doing something creative and fun, like yoga, is one of the best ways you can be self-compassionate. I'm going to try my best to keep up with this, even if I'm starting it a bit late into the month.

Also, don't forget, that democracy shows up in small actions. Consider writing a letter with me to our Immigration Minister, the Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen, asking him to raise the cap on Canadian refugees, and take in refugees that are detained/stranded at American airports, thanks to Trump. Consider donating to help a refugee family as they are welcomed to Canada or America.
Donate to the Cool Earth society -- one of the coolest climate change organizations around. Volunteer at a local women's shelter, or your local sexual health society. 

Even though we are grad students, we don't stop being citizens of the world. Small actions make a difference. We are stronger together.

Edited addition: I acknowledge my own simplistic skill in writing these comments; I didn't study politics or politics science. So, here's a much more articulate analysis of what went wrong with Trump's Executive Order on Immigrants and Visas. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Post 97: Balance, balance, balance...

You were doing okay, managing work, exercise, and healthy foods and activities, and then BANG! You get the flu.

So much for that balance that you had going.

So, this time I lost about a week. Now I'm feeling like I'm somewhat back on top of being organized. I made three tupperware containers of grapes and four tupperwares of sliced cucumber tonight. I am ready for healthy snacks at work, and do have a very particularly feeling of being pleased, seeing the stacks of containers in the fridge. I recommend doing it: especially if you are inclined to be organized.
Love these sedums: stonecrop. 
Yesterday I was thinking that I'd better get used to anticipating losing 10-20 days a year to illness; sometimes more, sometimes less. With migraines, it's likely more than that, though the medication helps a lot. But there are always the colds, the flus, the stomach bugs, the temporary things you don't anticipate. But taking the anticipation into consideration, I might be more inclined to be more forgiving with myself. I think getting sick is a good reminder to take it easy sometimes. Give yourself a rest because you need it (and honestly, don't feel like doing much else).

And that is all okay.

But, here is my very friendly seasonally-themed PSA:

1. Wash your hands frequently, especially if you are travelling on public transit, traversing the university/a workplace that has you sharing a door handle or guard rail with more than three people.

2. Cough and sneeze into your elbows.

3. Get enough sleep.