Earning Your PhD is like Designing a House

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One of the projects that I completed during my Master’s degree was a prolonged study of metaphoric criticism. It goes without saying now that I have a heightened awareness of metaphors and how ubiquitous they are in our communication. The project opened (metaphor) my eyes to how much we rely on images and seemingly unrelated words to describe what we are talking about. Even the title of this blog is a metaphor (and not a great one, but short and memorable enough to work). So why am I thinking about metaphors tonight?

This afternoon I attended orientation for the CRDM with the nine other incoming students for the class of 2010. We heard from program faculty and current students, each providing their own advice for being successful both as a PhD student and future academic professional. The usual spiels – try to read a bit of everything, write a TON (yay for blogging!), make sure to have fun, read more than you write, etc. etc. And all of them reiterated – “this works for me, though it may not work for you.” So that got me thinking… what might work for me? I think I’ll take a different approach to viewing and tackling the work ahead of me.

Outside of research and course work, my greatest passion is interior design. Over the past two years that we have lived in Raleigh, I’ve slowly been transforming this cookie-cutter townhouse into a home that exudes our personalities while serving as a comfy base that we truly enjoy returning to at the end of the day. Each room serves a different purpose, contains various and sundry pieces, and has taken a while to compose (and none are yet complete). Together, they have become our home; however, it is perpetually a work in progress. Our art is forever rotating, I will one day find the perfect duvet cover, there are always more stylish curtains, the dining room chairs would look better if reupholstered, and I’m dying for new countertops. The bones are good. But it’s still a work in progress, one piece (or two) at a time.

And metaphorically, my PhD is my next house to design. Like when we moved here two years ago, I have a blank canvas. It’s solid structurally – I’m confident in my Master’s coursework, I’m self-motivated with strong time management skills and a support system to boot. Now – for the work that takes me from merely a student to an academic professional, future professor, expert in the field. I’ve got rooms to work on: determining my focus in the field, networking, establishing an online presence, solidifying my teaching persona, finding my confident and capable writing voice. All rooms that together build the home. None that can be completed hastily or carelessly. Each serving an important role in my life.

And thus, I may have to forgo my literal home design as I work on this metaphorical house design for a while. Well, four years. And maybe by then, we’ll be moving.

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