This has been a really long year for me. It’s been a long time since I last posted something on here and I figured I would give an update to people who may have wondered what’s been going on with me. I came into the year coming back from my trip to Haiti, which was an amazing experience. Unfortunately, I came back to my apartment being flooded due to a busted pipe under the building. Additionally, my roommate had lost his job and the responsibility of paying all of the rent and all of the bills fell to me and that caused additional stress for me. On top of this, I’m dealing with grad school stuff, particularly studying for my comprehensive/qualifying/doctoral exam, which I had originally planned to take in April. To digress a little, the format of this test is essentially a long essay that you’re given 16 hours over 2 days to complete. The content of the exam differs depending on your specialty, but it is essentially testing you on everything that you have learned during grad school. Just imagine trying to study for that.
On top of this, I took in my younger brother for a few months because of all the terrible things that have been happening from our hometown, specifically violent things. In retrospect, it may not have been the best/healthiest idea for me because I ended up taking on too much stuff and it wore on me very quickly. Add to that, a relationship that was not going well and did not end very well. There were points during that first 5 or 6 months of the year in which I felt like I was on the verge of cracking. Some days, I just stayed in bed the entire time, not wanting to deal with anything. Eventually, my roommate got another job and my brother was ready to go back home, so some of that burden that I took on dissipated.
One way in which I tried to cope with these things was to try and put my energy into my work. I started trying to do more things with my department’s graduate student association as well as our diversity committee. Also, I ended up becoming co-president of the Black Graduate Student Association, something that actually gives me sort of fulfillment outside of the purely academic stuff that I do. I did 2 presentations at one conference, complicated by the fact that I left my laptop on the plane when I landed in Philly for the conference. Somehow I got my laptop back, but that was definitely additional stress I did not need at that point. Ended up both organizing a roundtable with friends and volunteering at another conference later that year. A conference that I probably would not have afforded if I had not gotten a travel award and/or taken out a student loan for the summer. I was also working on a manuscript based on one of the presentations I did earlier in the year and I submitted it to the Journal of Black Psychology. It was rejected. Talk about a blow to the ego. I’ve edited and fixed it since then, but I have some level of apprehension in terms of sending it out again to another outlet, given how long this process can be. On top of those things, I had an internship in which I worked with a consulting firm and I also was a field interviewer for the Atlanta Youth Count project, which was a study on the needs and experiences of homeless youth in Atlanta. Both of these experiences together were very informative and opened my eyes to a lot of things. It also provided a distraction from some of the other things I was dealing with.
Another source of conflict and stress (really has been for the last 4 1/2 years) has been my relationship with my advisor. It’s been rocky, a generous term, the whole time and I’ve tried my best to get through the situation. A bit of miscommunication between us resulted in me scrambling to find committee members for my exam for my goal of taking the exam in April. Ended up not getting enough people in time and I had to wait until the end of September to take the exam. This put me in a bit of a limbo for a few months because I was unsure for most of that time when I would be able to take the exam. I ended up passing the exam, but that was after I had to redo one of the sessions during an additional hour and 15 minutes on top of the 16 hours I had already done. After the exam (actually before the exam and during the time I was studying), I started working on my dissertation. I had a general idea of what it was I wanted to do. I really wanted to move forward as fast as I could within reason to get to where I wanted and needed to be. However, there was period of a month during which we did not meet. This was due to a sick day from me and honestly a day she just didn’t show up. Unfortunately, but not too unexpectedly, the fault landed on my shoulders for us not meeting during that month.
There’s a bit more to this story, but I’m keeping it as brief as I can while trying to get to the main points. During the last meeting we had, I wanted to talk about our dissertation, but I felt as though she would rather talk about why we had not met in the last month, which I felt was counterproductive. During that meeting, I felt as though the blame was being placed on me and there was more interest in lecturing me about missed meetings than about talking to me about my dissertation. Four years of frustration, feeling unsupported, doubt, and anxiety boiled over and I finally had just had it. I stepped out during the meeting, not sure if I was going back for the meeting, but eventually deciding to not go back to the meeting. I hadn’t made a conscious decision to switch advisors with that action, but it was probably the only thing I could have realistically done after that. I feel like the relationship was too strained, at least for me, and I had dealt with enough negative feeling during that to continue any longer. I ended up making the switch a couple of weeks after that and I have to say that I feel a sense of relief from finally making that decision. It was long overdue honestly.
So remember earlier when I mentioned having to fix part of my exam? The first day of the exam went pretty well. I wrote 8 single spaced pages and felt like the exam was not as difficult as I thought it would be, or at least as hard as I was afraid it would be. I had basically written everything that I wanted to include except for one of the sections. Right after I finished my writing for the first day, I found out that my apartment had been broken into. Most of my stuff outside my clothes was stolen. My Playstation 4, my laptop, all of my DVDs, and more. Once again, something that happens at the absolute worst time. To make it worse, they broke in through my bedroom window. I basically did not sleep in my own apartment for 2 weeks straight because of the combination of my apartment complex dragging their feet on fixing my window or at the very least covering up the hole and that I just did not feel safe there. The next day, my brain would not work. I spent much of the time staring at the computer screen in a semi-daze. Needless to say, I did not get as much done on the second day as I did the first day. The next week I had my defense and afterwards I was told I had to revise one of the sections. Of course it was the section I hadn’t finished on the first day and had to struggle through on the second day. BTW still have not heard anything from the police; it’s been almost 3 months. I don’t plan on hearing anything else on the matter.
This has been a really rough year for me, but I try to think of the positive things that have happened for me too. I ended up replacing a lot of the stuff that got stolen. I was hesitant to at first, but I went through with it because I made a decision not to let that situation make me afraid. I was on a panel discussing the movie Straight Outta Compton and NWA’s impact on the Black community and society as a whole. That was interesting to say the least. The roundtable that we organized at the conference went relatively well and we decided to write an article for our field’s newsletter. It was accepted and you can find it here if you want more info (page 28). It’s about culturally sensitive mentoring of graduate students in community psychology. I also wrote an article about my first trip to Haiti, which you can find here. I’ve been trying to do other things where I can put my skills to use, but in a non-academic realm. I just became a contributing writer for this online magazine called Those People, where hopefully I can utilize the things I’ve learned from my research to communicate to a different audience in different way.
I saw two of my best friends each get married over the summer and I’m about to see a third friend get married in a few days. Also for me, I am in a relationship again, this time a much better one with none of the drama. Not to mention how supportive she’s been during these last few difficult months, particularly with the situations with the break-in and my advisor troubles. Definitely lucky to have someone like her. I also taught my first class during this semester. That was definitely a highlight for me this semester. I found myself unexpectedly at ease when I was teaching. The anxiety that I normally have when I give presentations was largely not there during my lectures. It may have something to do with an increased sense of control over the situation. This experience definitely helped me to feel as though the work I do matters because I can actually see the impact. It’s been a long and trying year, but I can take lessons learned from this year and use them to make sure the next year is better. I know that this marker is rather arbitrary in terms of making a change, but given how the last 356 days have gone, I would want to make sure that the next 365+ will be a vast improvement. So here’s to hoping that 2016 is a great year.