Hi guys, Marc here. Pardon the lengthiness of this post. I'm making up for how seldom I write on this blog. AND, today marks the end of something really really big.
If everything goes as planned I’ll be getting remarried today.
Katie Nelson was good, nigh perfect. There was nothing wrong with that wife. I just wanted someone with a little more, how should I put it, doctorality to her. So the new wife will have all the attributes of the old, but with one significant bonus: she’ll be a doctor of philosophy.
Yes, with my new wife I want a new title. Goodbye Mrs. Nelson, hello Dr. Katie.
But there’s one catch. It’s all about the intentions: the woman for me can’t have worked for the title just for the sake of having the title. In fact, few of the most common motivations for earning a PhD would impress me. Which is why I’ve chosen THIS PhD candidate:
Knaresborough, England. Yesterday
Katie didn’t do it for the job prospects. Her idea of a great job is teaching basic history courses like world history and ancient history, engaging with students at the introductory level, and shunning the politics and research of the tenure track. That and selling kick-ass sodas. All this she could have done with her Master’s.
She didn’t do it for the money. No, on the contrary. While the vast majority of PhD candidates in her class are applying for post docs, research grants, or tenure-track professorships, Katie decided to write a novel. One geared toward teenagers. Because she wanted to. And because I told her it would be a waste of talent if she didn’t!
She didn’t do it for the recognition. Not for any initiation into the academic elite, the less than 1% of Americans who complete a doctoral program. In fact, I don’t know anyone more critical of academics than Katie. Now, this might seem hypocritical. A PhD candidate who criticizes academics? Until you realize what kind of academic Katie is: one who writes in plain English; one who loves to inspire students to think and hear them—not herself—speak; one who would write a novel for teenagers after submitting her diss; one who would call her dissertation her diss; one who would want to move to Utah given her choice of anywhere in the world; one who would appreciate a part-time job teaching introductory history courses because she genuinely loves to inspire college students and one who is good at it; one who thinks that “publish or perish” is a bitch.
The more I think about it, the less I think I know why she did it. But some things are clear.
Katie obviously likes rigorous intellectual stimulation. She eats it up and uses it in her everyday. It’s one of the most admirable things about her I think. One of her greatest goals in life is to rid her thinking of all bias and keep a clear and open mind. Earning a PhD has helped her in that goal. All the reading she has done in the last three years would do that for anyone. Not to mention writing a 300 page book!
It’s clear that part of her reason for completing a PhD is the opportunity it gave us to travel. Living in Europe for three years doesn’t come easy and post-grad work is a great way to get that visa in your passport.
She wouldn’t have gone far without that ardent love of history itself that you can’t help noticing about her. Who can tell the story of Edward the Second’s demise with such relish? Who else would site the Bayeux tapestry as the highlight of her trip to Northern France, or the Book of Kells as the highlight of her trip to Dublin? Who else do you know that would reconsider the fight to stop global warming because of her insight that change has always been inevitable? No one I know loves history like Katie does.
Most importantly, she did it, I think, to prove it to herself that she could. If she comes out of that room today with a smile, she knows that she held herself up to the light, nakedly and honestly, gave it her best, never sacrificed anything, and came away knowing, for herself, that she is excellent. Emerson says it all:
“None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to the whisper which is heard by him alone.”
So. She did it. She reached the pinnacle of studenthood. She finished an eleven year journey with flying colors (colours?). She made me and everyone she knows proud to call her a friend. No matter what happens in that room. Not because she earned a new title. Because of her reasons for doing it.