jeudi 10 février 2011

2010, Part Two: Finishing my M.A.

I've decided to cut my post on 2010 into five parts, as it's just too long for a single one.

Part One: Our Plane
Part Two: Finishing my M.A.
Part Three: Our New Jobs
Part Four: Our Trip Out West
Part Five: Our Wedding

It was quite the year!
There was a point when I thought I'd never finish. There were several points, in fact. Watching deadlines come and go. Late nights of blubbering, pacing up and down in our hallway, trying to muster up the energy to write just a few more pages.

My master's degree was a long, drawn-out ordeal that happened at a turning point in my life. Although I always knew I'd be the type to go on to graduate studies, I didn't really choose this program. I did it because it was easy -- I hardly had to make a choice. I was about to finish my undergraduate degree, I had several professors encouraging me to pursue it, and they offered me a scholarship. I was unhappy in my relationship but not motivated enough to leave. So the M.A. fit my life perfectly: I didn't have to face "reality", I could keep spending all of my evenings at school, hardly ever seeing my boyfriend.

If the situation had been different--if I had been single, for example--I would have probably compared several different graduate programs, and gone elsewhere (probably abroad) to further my studies. But it was easier not to move, so I stayed at the same university where I had done my undergrad.

I loved my thesis supervisor. Everyone expected us to work together, because I had been working with her as a research assistant, and then as a teaching assistant, for three years already. We had similar viewpoints and interests, and got along really well together. She agreed to supervise me right away.

My courses were stimulating. Well, most of them were. Some professors were more disorganized than others, and I didn't feel that they took the teaching component of their jobs seriously, coming to class unprepared and just talking about disparate subjects for two hours. Other profs were wonderful, though, using tried-and-true teaching techniques (such as having us research and present theoretical material), asking thought-provoking questions and engaging us in the discussion.

I had a ton of ideas for thesis topics, and discussed them enthusiastically with my supervisor, other profs, and other students. I changed my mind several times. I did a lot of reading. The summer after the first year of courses, when I should have been starting to work on my thesis, I accepted a second part-time job--and tried to plan a wedding at the same time. Needless to say, it was too much. And I was probably avoiding the truth by keeping myself so busy. I delegated wedding planning to my fiancé and mother-in-law, saying I was "too busy" to do it myself. Those who knew me best were aware that something was up--I have NEVER been good at delegating; I always prefer to do it myself. To make a long story short, I ended up cancelling the wedding, which would have taken place on the Labour Day weekend in 2007.

Happily, I met MB and we began our relationship shortly after. I told him I was working on my M.A. the first night I met him. He later told me his ex-girlfriend had been working on an M.A. too... and it seemed to me that he resented the time that she spent working on it instead of being with him (as I'm sure my ex-fiancé did too). I vowed to myself that I wouldn't let him feel neglected. So I neglected my thesis work instead. (He was out of town for work a lot, so I tried to work on it only when he was away--never when he was around.) I focused on our budding relationship instead of making my M.A. my priority. I still think that was the right decision, because with MB's work schedule, we had to make the most of our time together to get to know each other.

I gave a brown bag presentation (lunchtime conference) to fellow students and professors that fall, and one professor asked me why I didn't just do a practical assignment instead of writing the thesis--"just so I could get it done". As much as I loved and admired this professor, I remained stubborn and said that I wanted to write a thesis.

Two years passed and my 100-page thesis hadn't progressed much. In fact, it had barely gotten off the ground. I was having trouble getting momentum going because I was only working on it evenings and weekends, and taking long breaks (several weeks) when MB was around. My part-time job was developing into a great career prospect and I put a lot of my energy into that. I didn't feel like a student anymore--I felt like I had joined the workforce. But because I had already gotten through all the coursework, and I "only" had my thesis to finish, I wanted to see my M.A. through to the end. A friend of mine had taken the summer off work and written her thesis in four months. MB and I agreed that it was the best way for me to finish, so I asked for -- and obtained -- a three-month leave of absence from work.

During those three months, I dutifully went to my campus office every day, treating thesis-writing like a job. It didn't take long for me to figure out that my topic wasn't well-defined--or at the very least, it wasn't very interesting. When I asked my supervisor for help, she told me she couldn't write the thesis for me. (!) She said that it didn't matter if I found the subject uninteresting; I shouldn't expect to change the world with a Master's thesis. It was just an exercise to show I could do research. So I plodded on, writing and writing, but still not really knowing where I was going. Her feedback on my first three chapters was less than enthusiastic. I nevertheless moved on to the next step of my plan, which was to send out a survey. When I finally got the results back, my three-month leave was almost over. I had one last meeting with my thesis supervisor... and she told me that maybe I should just give up. That lots of people didn't finish their M.A.s, especially people who had already joined the workforce.

I went home and cried, feeling like a failure.

A few days later, I was at a conference for work. I ran into the same professor who had told me, two years earlier, that maybe I should choose the practical option instead of writing a thesis. I told her I wished I'd taken her advice then. And she said: "it's not too late"!

I went home ecstatic, a new project taking shape in my mind. I sent off an outline of my idea to this professor and another professor who I had worked with, who knew the subject well. They responded immediately, enthusiastically encouraging me to pursue this fascinating topic. I was renewed with energy. I sent off another email, to my thesis supervisor this time, telling her I had an idea for another project, and would she like to meet me to discuss it? She offered to meet me... three weeks later.

Needless to say, she was less enthusiastic than the other profs--but how could I blame her, after what we had been through? She said she'd supervise this new project for me too, but I felt like she was just doing me a favour. I think she was actually relieved when I asked her if she would be offended if I worked with another, more enthusiastic prof instead. I knew I needed someone else to give me energy to finish. And I was right...

My new thesis supervisor (it wasn't technically a thesis, more like a final paper, but I'm going to keep calling it a thesis for simplicity's sake) was so excited about my project it was hard for me not to get excited too. I threw myself into it, and the project took shape quickly. I realized that I enjoyed writing about practical topics more than theoretical ones -- maybe because of my nature. I still wasn't able to finish as quickly as I hoped, and those last few weeks were the hardest. But I did it. I finished. I couldn't have done it without the help of my supervisor, who sent back comments and corrections super quickly, knowing I was on a tight deadline. I was working through the night at the end (this was April 2010). And the day before I finally submitted (April 30), I went for a job interview. I think I was on an adrenaline high, because I hadn't gotten a full night of sleep in weeks. But the interview is the topic for the next post...

MB convinced me I HAD to go to my graduation ceremony. I didn't feel the need to attend. But my parents egged me on too, so we all went. I was holding back tears the entire time, thinking "it wasn't like this at my B.A. graduation ceremony!". I hadn't fought so hard to finish that time... I was shaking by the time they called my name and walked onto the stage. I was biting my lip as I shook the university President's hand--and almost skipped shaking the Rector's hand when I saw that my thesis supervisor and the other professor who had encouraged me were up on stage, waiting for me. It was all over then. The tears were streaming down my face when I hugged them. I couldn't believe I had done it.

(Continued in Part Three...)

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