As my friends I enter our eighth year of graduate school, our emotional issues relating to our dissertations are met with two kinds of responses.
Of those without Ph.D.s, would-be sympathizers often say things like, “Why would you put yourself through this?,” “It’s just a job,” or perhaps even “What the f*&# are you crying about now?”
Those on the other sides–the ones who have earned doctoral degrees, just nod wisely and say “it’s all part of the process.” My friend Jason, who has an M.D. and a Ph.D. thank you very much, claimed that the Ph.D. caused many more tears than medical school.
At this point in my career, my commitment to enjoying graduate school seems somewhat laughable. Some days I fail to honor that commitment. And yet, universally, the doctors I know say they went through the same problems. Crying about graduate school is not only well within the “normal” range of behaviors, it’s downright pervasive.
The Future Doctor Anderson hypothesized to me that the reason we cry in graduate school has to do not so much with inherent emotional weakness as the fact that in order to graduate, we have to rely on our perfectionism (self-criticism), desire to achieve (fear of inadequacy), pride (shame) and determination (willingness to beat one’s head against a wall). In other words, what makes us upset is very closely related to what makes us succeed.
It is almost impossible to remember that “it’s all part of the process” when you’re gulping back sobs in your cubicle. But striving to keep that perspective is the only way I’ve found to get back to work after my emotions spend themselves.