The first day consisted of a two-hour orientation with our cohort of five incoming MATXstudents and a lovely reception with much of the MATX community: faculty, staff, students that are ahead of us, a number of professors affiliated with the program, and the new director for the VCU School of Mass Communications, Dr. Hong Cheng, who is from Beijing (so he and I connected over stories of our Arts in the Alley trip to China) and who is very gracious and kind.
The orientation was helpful – a good overview of the program and of the important steps we need to be focusing on during the next two years (besides doing well in our classes and finding the best electives for our specific research focuses): finding a good dissertation advisor (check: I have a wonderful one – one I already have worked with), finding four other faculty members who will serve on our committee (I have a few people in mind, but nothing definitive), deciding on a competency and how that will be measured (an extra skill that will help us in our research and further endeavors), our bibliography exam, and our prospectus development and defense. After all that (and, again, after at least 36 credits of classes and independent study semesters) we will all hopefully gain those three coveted letters. No, not those (PhD). These: ABD. All But Dissertation. When you officially become a PhD Candidate. It seems very far away now.
For today, my last first day of school picture in a new program – perhaps ever.
How many times have I done this, in some way, shape, or form? Even if I just count the first days at a new school: kindergarten; elementary school in Vught; elementary school in Klimmen when we moved halfway through first grade (Ummer Clumme); Junior high/High school, which is one entity in the Netherlands (Bernardinuscollege); Maastricht University for my bachelor’s and master’s; and most recently George Washington University for my master’s in Strategic Public Relations (but that was primarily online, so the whole “first day” dynamic was decidedly different).
Tomorrow will likely be the last first day of a new school I will ever experience – not because it’s the last year (I have at least 3-4 years ahead of me), but because generally, after a PhD, you don’t go after another degree. A post-doctoral fellowship, yes. Teaching. Getting a certificate, here or there. But another entire program? Not unless you decide to go in an entirely new academic direction.
So: tomorrow. My first day as a VCU student. My first day as a doctoral student. At the end of this road: hopefully a PhD. A Doctor of Philosophy in Media, Art, and Text. I’m a bit terrified. A lot excited. I’m wishing I took more of a break this summer (I did not take one, at all. Sigh.) But ready or not…. here we go.
I love reading. I always have. My mom has classic stories of me, hiding under my sheets and blankets after lights were supposed to be out and reading as many more pages as I could get away with, and one story in particular: my parents took me to the US on vacation (from the Netherlands) when I was 13, and I packed my own carry on bag. The thing is, I packed it so full of books (16 – one for every day plus two extra for long days) that the bag ripped at the airport and
my parents, understandably upset, had to buy a new bag for me.
So: I love reading, and always have. Good thing, because I’m told that this PhD journey involves, well, a fair bit of it (if “a fair bit” is more-than-you-ever-thought-humanly-possible-and-then-some). Facing the Rocky Mountains (or the Swiss Alps, if you’re so inclined) of reading assignments for the next two-plus years, I want to make sure that occasionally I read something for pleasure alone or for professional (in my case: Arts in the Alley) development. Here’s the first one: Digital Storytelling – Capturing Lives, Creating Community.
All through my master’s degree, our sweet dogs were my muses – sometimes poignantly, since we lost both Snowball and Cooper to cancer in the midst of that degree. Now Foster and Lola will continue the muse-roles during
what I am sure will be more reading, writing, and researching than I have ever managed before. They are quite good at it, too – see the proof in the photo below.
Well, not my first conference…. but first in my PhD-related career. It’s the AEJMC conference – Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications – and in the throes of finishing my thesis earlier this year my future dissertation advisor (and then-informal second thesis reader) recommended I create a “short” (=35 page) version of said thesis and submit that to the AEJMC conference call for papers. I whittled away enough time to create a much shorter version of my thesis and never expected to hear anything – after all, I was new at this, and I was so absorbed by finishing my thesis that I figured this wasn’t going to work out. To my surprise, I discovered a few months later that my paper had been accepted – and was the third of the top three papers! That meant presenting at the conference (unleashing an avalanche of insecurities starting with my first experience with the in PhD circles well-known “Impostor Syndrome” and continuing into the realm of “What should I wear? How do I squish 35 pages into 12 minutes? Should a use a fun graphic on the first slide or is that not done?” My knees were shaking a bit, last night, but I survived. Hubby said I did well, and so did my dissertation advisor. I made some new contacts (research contacts! this is getting… real!), and I have a pretty certificate and a (small, but welcome) check to show for it. And… now that I have done this – it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it could and would be. Hmmmm….. I wonder what other paper calls are out there right now……