The non PhD

*This post was written during ChicagoNow’s Blogapalooz-Hour for August 2016. During Blogapalooz we are given a prompt and we have one hour to post. This is today’s prompt: “Write about something in your life you’d like a second chance at”

Dreams, dreams, dreams

When I was young, like really really young, I always wanted adventurous careers: at 12 I wanted to be a blue helmet with the UN. I thought for a while about joining the police force. Later on I wanted to become a war correspondent. I was not that far from heading towards that last option when I had to choose a major before I headed to college. You see, unlike in the US, in Spain you decide your major before you enter college. If you want to study Law, you start on freshmen year of college. There is nothing like Liberal Arts and Sciences or “undeclared major” back home. You have to make up your mind by the time you are 17.

And, at seventeen, when I had to choose between studying Journalism in a fancy catholic college or Philology (Spanish Language and Literature) in a public and, necessarily more bohemian college, I obviously chose the latter. After all, I had spent the previous eight years in nun’s schools and I was a bit tired of the whole religious deal.

So, on I went to make new friends and start turning my academic life around. High school was such a disaster that I had to repeat senior year. I was more interested in boys, partying, rock and roll and reading anything that fell in my hands than in the actual classes, and that way I received zero after zero for being caught in class reading things as diverse as The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, and Murphy’s Law.

How I became an international student in the US

By the time I was in college, my former sins became a merit, and I did quite well. Actually well enough that, when I had the lack of common sense required to start dating a guy who lived an ocean away, I was able to join him without losing my independence. I moved to the US in August of 2003 with a shiny F-1 student visa and a Teaching Assistantship that allowed me to obtain my MA without asking for a grant from the Mom and Dad foundation, which had generously sponsored my way of living until then.

The whole thing was a bit weird. I had never thought about teaching, and only at the end of college had I considered moving abroad to go to graduate school. But back then, abroad meant England, not Chicago. Becoming a scholar was not necessarily part of the plan. And all of a sudden, here I was, standing in front of 23 students who were just a couple of years younger than me, and reading Foucault.

How I became a former PhD student

I fell in love with the teaching part of the deal, and was pretty decent at the studying part. At that point, there was no question about the fact that I would do a PhD. It was so obvious that my dad’s only reaction when I announced that I was getting married was “You better not quit your career for this”. Coming from an old fashion older Spanish dad that was pretty telling.

And pretty right. Because, eventually, months away from taking my PhD preliminary exams, the step before writing the dissertation, I got pregnant with my oldest son. A rocky pregnancy resulted in a necessary change of visa. That, and the lack of a support system, prevented me from returning to finish it.

I am reminded every day of the fact that I didn’t finish one of the most important things that I have ever started. I work at the university where I studied, and walking those corridors I can’t help thinking about what I am not. All my friends from then went on to graduate, and are now tenure track professors. I am proud and happy for them and truly enjoy seeing them and being reminded of what I once was. I’ll cheer on all of their achievements.

As I read about them, I wonder what could have been. Every Fall I surf the admissions pages. A couple of times I was very close to return, even going through the paperwork. But at this point, and with the current craziness that is going on in my life, there is no way for me to start taking classes again. I can barely work and mother. Studying on top of that would be unachievable. And terribly unfair to my kids.

But every now and then, I joke at the dinner table that when the boys go to college, I will go with them and get my PhD. That it will be my second chance. And as much as we laugh about it, I know in the back of my mind that, for me, it is a possibility. And until then, I continue to correct my students when they call me professor. Because I haven’t made it. I am not a professor. At least not yet.

***Note to girls and women everywhere: listen to my dad. Don’t you quit. Regardless of what your goal is, just don’t. Later on, there is not such a thing as time for second chances.
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