Sunday, December 31, 2017

"'M'a fuckin' doctor."

In 2003, my aunt, who hitherto had been my favourite aunty, pulled me aside to tell me about how my mother had complained about my choice of major (English). She said to me, "you cannot write." Not as in "I forbid you to write" but as in "you don't have the talent/knack/skill to write." My mother was very adamant against my discipline of choice. I went to Canada to start my English degree without her blessing--but you really only need the support of the parent with the pursestrings to help, which I had. I flew out of KLIA with my best friend, her parents, and my dad.

In 2010, that supportive parent came to Canada to help me move from Nova Scotia to Ontario, on a three-day road-trip. This was a little after I received my first short story acceptance. My mother, by that time, was resigned to my career choice, and her only feedback was to get a PhD after the Masters since that just seems to be a natural course of action. (I hadn't actually considered it back then. I kind of wanted to work between degrees and return to school once I felt more secure.)

When I began my PhD in the fall of 2012, I knew I would finish, because not finishing wasn't really an option on the table. I had funding; I was in a good school with welcoming faculty and staff; I had my family's support - somewhat conditional emotional support, and definite financial support. And while Riverside wasn't exactly an ideal place to be in terms of thriving socially (and psychically; the desert doesn't agree with me), the university was enough, I had a decent place to live and a little garden to keep me going, and an end goal. 

I wrote my qualifying exams in the Spring of 2014 after I finished coursework. I was fortunate in having begun my studying in the fall of 2013 and putting together a committee that was an eclectic mix of people. When I reached coveted ABD status, I flubbed and failed to defend my prospectus by the end of fall, and had to do that the fall after. 

All the while, I did my best to keep writing short stories and staying in the genre publishing world and social media. I didn't get out to steampunk conventions like I had hoped for my research, and couldn't score myself any fellowships that would enable me to do so. As an international student, I had additional conditions for finishing and funding, so I decided to get more involved in university politics than I had planned. 

I drafted the first three chapters of my dissertation in the '15-'16 year, struggled to edit the following year, and somehow managed to push out a fourth chapter and a conclusion right as it was due to my adviser. (I also walked at commencement in the spring, having delusions that I would finish and defend over the summer.) I had to go on filing fee status this fall in order to remain a student (and not have to pay obnoxiously expensive tuition fees as an international student) but on October 11, 2017, my dissertation committee met, and decided that I passed. I finished some final edits afterwards, filed the graduation paperwork, and on December 5, received my letter from the Dean of Graduate Division confirming my finishing the program. 

While walking home from my defense, I sent a WhatsApp message to my parents that read something to the tune of, "your offspring is now officially a doctor." (Well, that was to my dad. To my mother I was simply "your daughter.") 

So far, so good, every so often I remind people that I've finished, and say, "I'm a fuckin' doctor now."

Over the course of my PhD, I became pre-diabetic, and yearly tests showed my blood sugar climbing and climbing. I couldn't even begin thinking of fixing until the spring of my final year when I grew so exhausted and unable to concentrate, my doctor suggested that it had something to do with my physical health. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, so for months I ate no rice and no chocolate. With a bit of discipline to walk or swim every day, by September my diabetes had been reversed. I am ending my PhD slightly healthier than when I went in.

So. M'a fuckin' doctor now. I don't really feel any different. I still have crazy Impostor Syndrome, I am unemployed, and I live in a country that doesn't really want my kind.

But I am a doctor, though. I'm the first to get a PhD in my immediate family (a first cousin on my father's side will be the next; I'm so proud of him!) and possibly a good chunk of my extended family. I've been incredibly privileged to have gotten this far, which wouldn't have happened if my parents hadn't saved enough money to send me overseas for my first degree. I'm also privileged to have stuck it out this long on a subject that I still care about, thanks to the incredible people in the steampunk community I have met over the years.

I don't know whether I'll stay in academia. I don't know whether I'll find a job and stay in the States or have to go home and start over. Lots of things I don't know.

But I've done a PhD. I wrote and published several short stories and poems. I've edited anthologies. I may not have won prizes or awards, but I feel I by and large have the respect of my peers. I cope with mental depression and I still know joy. I took advantage of my privilege to get the healthcare I needed. I am friends with some of the most wonderful people. I am only 33.

My dissertation, Shades of Sepia: Examining Eurocentrism and Whiteness in Relation to Multiculturalism in Steampunk Iconograpy, Fandom, and Culture Industry, will be available on ProQuest very soon, and I am considering ways to monetize it. (Not being married to the traditional career trajectory of the academy has been very freeing.) I hope you will stick around for that. I hope I will, too. 

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