I'm coming off the hardest academic week of my life. No- make that the worst academic week. My dissertation stands un-proposed. There is more work to do. It's holiday time. I'd like to be seeing friends, finishing buying gifts, writing cards, and feeling merry. I'll do those things, I'm sure, but the merry is hard. After working harder than I recall ever having worked before, it feels very much in vain and I'm feeling, intellectually, about three inches tall. For the millionth time, I'm questioning continuing in this program. On top of the other worries, I worry about what that means.
My work in a lot of ways has defined me... always has. I got good grades as a kid. It wasn't on purpose at first. Then it was fun so I wanted to see if I could keep it up. Eventually, it became part of who I was: my reputation to my classmates and teachers, and part of my identity personally. Achievement became something I could determine my value as a person from.
As I've gotten older, God's been working on that with me. And He's used events in my life to try to help me learn to find my identity in Him. Usually, this coincided with an attack on my identity as "the good student."
In 11th grade, I was very sick. Paired with other events at the school, like a change in administration, this was taken poorly. I maintained my A-average, but was told at the end of the year that the teachers were instructed not to give me any awards because of my absences. My college career was-- untraditional. It included a year of part-time study, giving up a large scholarship, an online certificate program, a leave of absence, and eventually a Bachelor's degree which took seven years to attain. As I've moved through my Ph.D. program, God's spoken clearly to me about my need to find my identity and value in Him, not in my own performance. My worth is not expressed in a transcript, but in the Bible-- in the real meaning of Christmas, in the sacrifice on the cross.
Whether or not I get my PhD, I worry about if I'll stay in STEM. I worry that not staying in academia makes me a hypocrite. I worry about encouraging people to go into STEM fields when I found it so hard to be and stay there myself. But it's also uncomfortable to me that, someday, I may look back and tell my children, or grandchildren, stories of when I was young, and how I'd gotten my degree, that I had been a scientist for a while. I think about all the conferences I've attended and how much I've enjoyed them. I worry if I'll miss being a part of those communities. I worry about my transition from "scientist" to "person who enjoys science."
To Be Continued.