When I was accepted into my doctorate program at Berkeley, my faculty advisor gave me two pieces of advice:
Don’t change jobs. Don’t have any children.
In the second year of coursework, my wife gave birth to twins, doubling our number of kids. Once my coursework was completed, I switched jobs and left the Bay Area for Southern California. And then, just for good measure, we added baby #5 this past year. When I look back over the past four years, the immensity of the work starts to stare back at me.
I think about being the principal of a high school while simultaneously taking courses every other Friday night and all-day Saturday for the first two years of the program. The greatest part of the sacrifice was shouldered by my wife, Lynzie, whose already long weeks of me leading a high school morphed into weekends of graduate school. The “slow” days of summer turned into three full days of classes each week. I religiously used the 45-minute BART ride back and forth from San Francisco across the Bay to Berkeley to do my readings and pound out my papers. One Friday evening, I made half the journey to class in the back of an ambulance with one of my students. On several occasions, I found myself on the bus at 11 pm after Friday night class, going back up the hill to chaperone a school dance. And then the twins came. Honestly, it’s all a little hazy.
Despite the very real time challenges – the experience of doctorate coursework was absolutely exhilarating. The readings, the discussions, the arguments. The learning was intense, all-encompassing, and exactly what I was hoping for when I started the program. I’m deeply grateful, to my advisor, to the professors, and to my fellow students, for creating such a fabulous and challenging learning experience and opportunity.
And then we moved to Southern California and I started a new job. We were excited for a new adventure, but mourned leaving San Francisco and the friends we came to treasure there. On more than one occasion during those first weeks, Lynzie and I cried together – a combination of our exhaustion and perhaps even a little fear. All the while, the dissertation timeline marched on. Orals examinations, proposal hearings, bimonthly check-ins via Skype, and in-person consultations with my advisor any time I could get myself up to campus. Nights, mornings, weekends – whenever a spare moment presented itself.
Then the data collection began at the beginning of this year. I had to wait until after my proposal hearing to start the collection, which meant I couldn’t start until mid-September, exactly the same time that Lynzie was due to give birth to Gabriel. I pushed myself to conduct my baseline interviews. I was relieved when September 19th rolled around – the day I’d set aside to conduct my interviews – and the baby still hadn’t come. Of course that changed at 2 pm as I was finishing my final interview, when Lynzie texted me that her water had broke. Gabriel was born just after 5 pm that same day.
As the Fall morphed into Winter and Spring, the writing intensified. I set my weekly goals, either coming in early to work to put in an hour a few days a week, or setting aside half a Saturday to focus and make progress. As March and April rolled around, I adopted a new strategy, which was to lock myself away until I had a finished draft each time that I could send back to my advisor for review and feedback. That ate up two full days of Spring Break, and the bulk of a few weekends.
Through all of this, Lynzie has been my absolute rock. We are an absolute team and I am deeply grateful that we’ve been able to tackle this opportunity and challenge together. Her capacity for work is unparalleled, and she helped me keep the faith in the difficult moments. Each time feedback came back, she was there to help me square my shoulders and figure out where to fit the 15-20 hours of thinking and writing I knew it would take to make my revisions. Add to her encouragement the ongoing support and encouragement of my family members, friends, and colleagues at work. Everyone has been deeply supportive, and I’ve relied on that positive feedback when doubts that I’d ever actually finish crept in.
And then, I finally received the email from my advisor that he was satisfied with the work, and that I could send it along to my other committee members for review and revision. The timeline drew tight, and still I worried whether I could complete everything on time. A few more late nights and long weekends and somehow, miraculously, I had all 3 required signatures, just 24 hours before the deadline.
Don’t move. Don’t have (more) children. It wasn’t necessarily bad advice. But it also didn’t take into consideration the incredible people around me who have made this possible.
People have been asking me how I’m feeling about it all. Yes, I feel relieved. Yes, I feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in the work. But mostly, I feel grateful – for the opportunity and privilege I’ve had to study and learn, and to the incredible people who have rallied around me.