Enduring the Trials of Graduate School: From Conception to Labor Pains and Birth (Revisited) By Michele Stopera Freyhauf


Freyhauf, Feminism, Religion, Durham, Old Testament, Blogger, Bible, Gender, Violence, Ursuline, John Carroll

With the new school year in full swing, I thought this post from almost two years ago would be an appropriate reflection, encouragement, and outward support to those returning to school or nearing the completion of their degree.  Remember – do not give up – the sweat, sacrifices, and struggles are worth it in the end AND  You are not alone.  Remember the strength and courage it took to return to school or take that next step to pursue your educational goals will become the tool to help you persevere and reach that finish line!!

Going back to school at 30-something to complete a B.A. in a completely different field (from accounting to Religious Studies and Theology) was an interesting endeavor.  After many years of legal and business writing as well as crunching numbers, learning how to write academically, including formatting citations and using new technology was quite an undertaking that has proven to be rewarding.  All the searchable databases in the library no longer included card catalogues and microfiche.  This was amazing!  No more correction ribbon and electric typewriters (am I showing my age yet?!)  Going to college in 1985 is different then going back to college in 2006.

The transition did not stop with technology and formatting papers.  With each class and each instructor, a new transition was introduced on my way to the finish line.  It was a very large transition and more difficult when you sit in classes with students your own children’s ages. Add to that the reintroduction of the grammar game; in-text citations or footnote citations, semi-colons or dashes, commas or no comma, etc.  With the help of great mentors and patient professors, I prevailed and moved on to my next task (I mean transition) – Graduate School.  New professors, new demands, different writing styles, scholarly growing pains in abundance.  The research and writing intensified (which is an understatement).  Then there is the addition of critical reviews, peer reviews, and multiple presentations.  Each professor with his or her own format and requirement. Each with their own style of subjectivity or, if you are lucky, a specific grading protocol with tangible prompts or goals.  It is a world of unexpected twists, but, in my opinion, better than undergraduate work. 

Drawing courtesy of Megan Ludwa and Poem courtesy of Bridget Ludwa O’Hanlon

I compare Graduate School to being pregnant.  With each class our mind expands and with each paper we write, it becomes a process much like a woman’s body would go through during pregnancy.  We continue to feed our minds and expand our knowledge to the point that you feel like your head cannot retain anything else; there is no more room; you feel as if you are to explode.  That essay or project becomes a labor of love that you invest your entire being into to.  Like anything else, this process can cause brief bouts of nausea, pinched nerves (especially in your neck), and even cause unexplained bouts of insomnia and exhaustion, but you have to push on despite the times that you just want to give up.  The process is long, tedious, full of frustration, time-consuming, and exhausting; simply put, painful.  It can also be joyful and exciting.

As one nears the finish line, the process can feel like endless labor where nothing can help except for deep breathing and focus (the CD of ocean music, the walking off the writer’s block, and the encouraging partner that just needs to find the ice chips). This sensation can also give way to panic. All in all this whole experience is a process full of high and lows – and tremendous emotion; it is a roller-coaster ride that has an impact not just you, but everyone around you.  At the end, you give birth to a new creation; one that you created with the support of mentors, advisors, friends, and partners. Some who will just applaud your efforts and never read a word and others that take the time to read your work and admire this new creation.

For the creator, this creation is sometimes met with exhaustion, elation, adrenaline, and/or pride.  This new work is a contribution to the growing body of scholarship out there either adding, dissenting, or re-creating an idea that is already out there.  Putting this new creation out there for all to see, read, and comment on is difficult and at times scary; it is like your child and you become protective of it, but you want it to be the best so you listen, sometimes endure criticism, and possibly modify or expand this creation into something better.  In other words, you are letting this creation grow and blossom into something even more beautiful.

Writing publicly in a forum like this blog helps to promote community and dialogue; engaging, growing, expanding, and sustaining one another.  As we all put a piece of ourselves on display in our writing; our opinions, our faith beliefs, and our struggles spiritually and personally. We are putting our children, the product of our writing, research, experience, and education out there for all to see, love, admire, criticize; but hopefully never bully or make fun of.  We do not always have to agree and dialogue is always welcomed, actually I would go so far as to say encouraged.

Through this dialogue, we will grow and continue to grow.  We are a global community, we come from different cultures, we have the ability to learn so much from each other.    It is my hope that within this blog, we can create a worldwide dialogue of mutual respect, tolerance, and even acceptance about the F-word and Religion while we continue to explore the intersection between scholarship, activism, and community.

 Michele Stopera Freyhauf is currently a Doctoral Student in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, and post-graduate researcher in and member of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University. She has a Master of Arts Degree from John Carroll University in Theology and Religious Studies, is a Member of Sigma Nu, performed post-graduate work in History focusing on Gender, Religion, and Sexuality at the University of Akron, and is a part-time instructor at John Carroll University in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies.  Her bio is on the main contributor’s page  or at http://durham.academia.edu/MSFreyhauf  and she can be followed on twitter at @msfreyhauf.

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Categories: Academy, college, Community, Feminism, General, Motherhood

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2 replies

  1. Boy, do I remember this! I ran into a “learned article” while I was working on my M.A. that compared grad school to pregnancy. Like having a sore back from carrying extra weight (books. Baby) I actually was pregnant in graduate school. This was in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I was six months’ pregnant at commencement on a hot, humid day in June. Wearing the traditional black robe, of course. I took another class and threatened to go into labor right there in the seminar room if the professor gave us a final. No final. I started my Ph.D. work the day after my son turned 3. What a life we lead!

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  2. As I near the end of this graduate school roller coaster, I pray that you are right, Michele, and that it was worth it in the end. For now, it feels like I’m at the precipice of a gaping void.

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