Strength in Numbers (small ones)

After posting about my PhD Journey, I realized I should write about how I got this far in the first place: thanks to my learning community. It consists of myself and two wonderful, amazing ladies, Annie Downey (also a librarian and dept. head at UNT Libraries) and Baaska Anderson (one of the smartest, most ambitious women I know).

We’ve been meeting weekly for lunch (some semesters more regularly than others) for about two years. It started as a way to collaborate on some class projects, then turned into brainstorming sessions on research, and ocassionally has hosted venting sessions complete with crying and shrieking. (The latter primarily pertaining to my near-nervous-breakdown during my residency requirement, trying to balance fulltime classes, fulltime job, and moving while my husband lived in another country. Good times.) We’ve kept each other sane, confessed our fears about balancing family/work/school, and shared our joys and triumphs.

I do not say lightly that these two ladies are responsible for where I am now. Their social, personal, and scholastic support was integral to the completion of my courses and to the research activity I undertook during them. Together, our research became more rigorous and more relevant than we could have done alone. We learned from each other things we never could have learned in class. We tested survey questions and critiqued article drafts. We renewed each other’s passion for learning. We reminded each other that getting a B is okay, that sometimes grad school isn’t about learning, but about surviving.

If you are a graduate student, I can’t endorse this enough. Even if you don’t know anyone in your courses, stand up at the end of a class and say, “I’m interested in starting a learning community: lunch once a week. Anyone interested?” Someone else is probably interested and doesn’t know how or who to ask. Yes, it can be hard to find even one hour a week to meet. But that hour a week could make the difference between surviving your degree and fully experiencing it. Or, in my case I honestly believe, the difference between sanity and failure.

If you can’t get people to meet in person, try to set up a virtual group. I’ve been doing this with a group to study for our qualifying exams; we email each other and share resources on a wiki page. Even if there aren’t students in your program that are interested, that’s what the power of the internet is for. Try tweeting out a call for participants. You’ll be glad you did.


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