Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Starting to Talk About It

We had a reunion of our culinary group last weekend. This was a group of three couples who would get together on a fairly regular basis to try out new or favorite recipes, drink a barrel of wine together, and just be together as very good friends. We all met in SCT and have since moved to other locales. Fortunately one of the the other two couples followed me and Wife here to LSC last spring, so we've enjoyed continuing our regular friendship with them. The other couple came in from out of state last weekend, so we were all together again, celebrating the birth of their daughter. So nice to get together again...Wife and I really miss this group. 

One of the others in this group is a colleague of mine from my academic department in SCT, and she's serving as one of my peer reviewers for my dissertation. Peer reviewing is part of the validation process that researchers use when conducting qualitative research. In a nutshell, she will read my data analysis and we'll have discussions about how I'm coming to the conclusions I'm reaching. If she doesn't see what I'm seeing in the data, then it's up to me either to explain to her where I'm seeing it, or to consider her advice and modify the conclusion I've reached. I've actually asked three of my colleagues to serve in this capacity, and I've been looking forward to getting to the point where I can run things by them. Well, that process started happening last Saturday night. 

Peer Reviewer 1 asked me how things were going at our dinner, and before we left I sat down and tried to give her the overview. This was tough for me, as it was the first time I had verbalized any results of the study to anyone other than Wife. Even when I would speak about it with Wife, my words felt cryptic at best. The other couples listened in (tough not to do that evening, as there were only six of us plus a baby), so I felt like I really had to have my shit together for the first time. 

In some ways I was just a blithering idiot, but in others I think this was a healthy exercise to endure. And, it's high time I'm at this point. I mean geez. This is my seventh year as a doc student.

Even though I felt like a withering plant during this discussion, trying to get enough water to survive a drought, Peer Reviewer 1 and her husband (both professors now) said afterward that they thought the results were really interesting and that I should focus on getting something published from these data when all is said and done. That took my surprise - good surprise. I respect the opinion of this couple a great deal. I felt I really didn't have my words together very well, and yet I guess I was able to convey my thoughts well enough that others could understand what the hell I was trying to say. 

Here's the thing: If they "got it" when my words were at such a primary level, then I think the process of telling the story of my 14 participants may actually, dare I say, turn out to be easy. Easy? I shudder to use that word. I shudder because I guess that I've had it drilled into me that only something rigorous and difficult is worthy of dissertation work. On the other hand, I suppose that if this were seven years ago when I started this doctoral process, I probably would consider this to be difficult. Maybe it's getting easier because I've been doing it for a long time. I guess this is supposed to happen. 

OK, back to Saturday night. When Wife and I were driving home, I shared some of these thoughts with her like:

"It was too easy...I must be doing something wrong," I said. 

BUMP BUMP. That was the sound of Wife hitting her head against the window (figuratively, not literally!), incredulous when listening to these words. 

"I don't know when you're going to realize that none of this appears very easy to me," she said. "You are doing good work. When are you going to realize that? Will you recover from this impostor syndrome sometime soon?" I'm paraphrasing here. Some of these words went unsaid, but so much of the story was told in her facial expression, a combination of exasperation and sympathy that only a wife could have for a her husband (that's a compliment). 

"Sorry. I don't know. I mean, yeah, I think I'll get over it soon," I said, with the world seeming to spin around. 

I suppose this was a really good first experience with finally breaking that barrier of bringing these conclusions out in the open with people who's work I respect to no end. I'm just sorry my wife has to see me go through all this emotion to develop my personality as a researcher, or I dare say as a scholar. But the combination of her holding in frustration (well usually, haha) while still encouraging me along is something that helps me stay focused on moving forward. 

Bottom line: I probably wouldn't have come this far if it were for you, Sweetie. Thank you (smooch).


tommysmommy said...

I am SO proud of you. I have so much respect for all the work you've put into this - for you and for us. And I'm so excited that the word "easy" is now in your vocabulary - and that you think this is meant to happen! I just think you have no idea how worthy you are of this praise from colleagues - and your humility is one of the things I love about you (and yes, on occasion, makes me want to give you a dope-smack upside your head!)

I also think spouses should have a degree as well. Can I get hooded, too? :)

lemming said...

Spouses definitely deserve a degree.

When my cousin was five, his parents brought him along to their PhD graduations. He was given a GTT degree - "Got Them Through"

Anonymous said...

I feel a responsibility as a parent to verbally smack you up side the head too. What you have done as a grad student these 7 years has not been easy and if you are getting praised for it, say thank you. Your wife has been a brick to be there for you and your son,and you and she have the added challenge of parenting a special child. Bravo on all levels. Pay attention, pat yourself on the back and move ahead to completion.
Getting your doctorate the same year that we elect Obama president is big time celebration. I am ready to light candles and blow horns. love.....mom