Let's start with the beginning of the story...
In the fall of 2005, my PhD story began. I had been invited to begin my doctoral studies at UBC and spent the first year of my program teaching kindergarten in the morning and heading out to UBC in the afternoons. The first two years of the program was full of classes and seminars with a wonderful cohort of other PhD students. During these two years there was also fellowship and grant writing, presenting at academic research conferences and preparing for my comprehensive exams and completing my research proposal. I was fortunate to receive a UGF and a SSHRC fellowship. I loved the beginning of my program - the classes, the reading the discussions. I passed my comp exams and went through the ethics board with my research proposal and did my study and data collection in 2009. I was a PhD candidate.
It was after my data collection that things kind of stalled for me. I entered the PhD program because I enjoy learning and it seemed like the next step after I had defended my MA thesis back in 1996 (while pregnant with Adam). I never intended to enter academia formally so the motivation to complete for me was limited. I was absorbed in my family and work life and the reality was, the data analysis and writing of my dissertation was something that happened in bursts of time and off the side of my desk so to speak. I kept trying...and getting extensions.
The fall and winter of 2013 was a difficult time - our house flooded, I had a frozen shoulder and then tragedy struck our family and my mother passed away unexpectedly. I was granted a one year leave of absence from my program. It was hard to come back after distancing myself both physically and mentally. I decided I wanted to complete the program and with the support of my family, friends and committee, tried to find ways to get engaged with my data again. I had written a complete dissertation a few times and it had never been enough. I knew this past summer was my likely my last go at it, even though UBC seemed to keep granting me extensions. The boys were busy with their own lives - both work and socially so I was able to completely immerse myself in my data analysis and writing this summer. I spent most of the summer reading, thinking and writing.
Most of my days and evenings looked like this...
There were deadlines set and not met. There were committee meetings. There were tears. I kept trying. There were moments of excitement as I made connections and thought about new things. All the writing I submitted was getting closer to where it needed to be but was still not quite there. I was almost at the end...in the big picture, probably at 95% but ultimately, time just ran out. I was called out to a meeting with my committee on September 23 and was advised I was just not going to be abel to do all that needed to be done by the end of the month, which was apparently, for the first time in a program, a final deadline. The university would not give me any more time and the dissertation wasn't where it needed to be for external examination before defense.
During that meeting I actually paused at one point and said WOW. This was really what it had come to and I was a bit shocked. After ten years, the story was over. I walked to my car and sat in the parkade for about a half hour crying, full-body sobbing actually. What had just happened?
In the next week, a formal email had to be written and I went through the motions of telling my family and a few friends and colleagues. It all seemed surreal. I was heartbroken and devastated and then angry and then sad. I am still feeling like I let down my husband and sons, who have been such a big part of this story and have provided me with endless support. And my mom...who I promised I would finish.
In the end, I won't walk across the stage with a pouffy hat and be able to put those three letters after my name. Technically I do have three letters I can claim - ABD (all but dissertation). A decade of my life will always been known as those PhD years.
I wanted to complete my PhD, but I wanted to do it on my own terms - not sacrificing a family life, travel, a work-life balance and my career. I really thought I could do it. I made choices both personal and professional that ended up contributing to me not completing and I can absolutely live with those choices. I am so glad I went to the boys' soccer and hockey games, fencing competitions, grad events and that we had so many special family vacations and times being together.
There have been some life events these last few weeks that have helped me gain perspective. A friend lost her 52 year old husband after only being diagnosed with brain cancer at the end of July, another friend is making a significant life change, a treasured mentor and colleague passed away from early onset Alzheimers at too young an age and my grandmother's and mother's minister for decades also passed away.
In the big picture, I have my marriage, my wonderful sons who have become amazing young men, my health, my family and friends and a career that I love. So amidst the stormy skies this month, the light has shone through.
I am at peace.