I often get the question, “why did you decide to get a PhD”? My response is typically something like I love learning and librarianship so I want to pursuit both of these together. However, I am not at a place in life and in school where reflection has taken center stage.
What is getting a PhD like? It is nothing like either of my master degree programs. Getting a PhD is like boot camp or going to jail. A caveat, I have never experienced either of these but from I am basing this on what I have read and been told.
Much like when you enter boot camp, in the PhD program you are stripped down and loused. You are freighted and nervous. By that I mean that your identity is utterly destroyed. For me, I am no longer a master’s student, nor am I a librarian. In this process you give up a social life. All that you know is quickly removed to prevent infection. I mean to say that what you think you know is quickly removed so that what you are learning is not infected by the misconceptions you carry. You do reintroduce what you learn later, so that it is built upon true research, approaches, philosophies and principles, but at first it is removed. You learn to salute the academic way. Much like the Marines shouting “OORAH” your spirited cry becomes “how do you know that” and “why is that important”.
None of the above is actually scary or bad. This is the process one takes in order to obtain a PhD. Much like the military, you learn to rely on your brothers (in this case your entering class). Deep in your being, you form a bond with these people that transcends time and space. You know that they will never fail you, and that you will do whatever it takes to ensure that no one is left behind.
Also like military training, you learn to trust your gut, the academy (the core), and your superiors. Sometimes you get burned and someone betrays your trust. But you know deep down that you will never make it through this warzone alive if you don’t continue to trust. You dissertation chair, committee members, faculty and advisors are like your captains. More so, your dissertation chair is your direct superior officer. They guide you and shepherd you through this whole process. If necessary, the chair will take a grenade for you to ensure you make it through.
Much like any process, you know you are here for a reason. My process is nearing a close. I am almost a bona fide academic warrior. I have survived the war of the intellect. I now enter a short period of solitude to finish up my research but soon I will be walking off the field scarred, bruised and battered (mostly my ego), but alive. This is something I am proud of. More than half of those who enter this battle lose and give up.
No matter your age, you enter a PhD a kid and emerge an adult. I once believed that I would never call myself a doctor or let anyone else call me a doctor. I thought it was too stuck-up and pedantic for one to refer to himself or herself as a doctor. I must confess that I don’t feel this way anymore. PhDs refer to themselves as doctor, not because they are better than anyone else, but to celebrate their own survival and to offer respect to this noble brotherhood of survivors. This group put themselves through misery, isolation, heartache, and myriad other physical, mental, and emotional tortures, so that they may fully love their profession, field, or the world.