Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Like everybody else we've got a dream

It's November already. I knew it was coming, but it still doesn't seem possible that the year is almost over and winter is knocking, even pounding, at our door. I'm so not ready for winter. And I'm so not ready for next year.

I suppose if we had a plan in place I'd feel better about next year. Half of me is excited for next least, half of me was excited for next year. Graduation! No more school! A job...

But then Andrew came home from school last week and said, "What if I said I still wanted to try for a PhD?"

And I squealed, "I say go for it!" even as I was trying to stop those words from tumbling out of my mouth. I was like, Oh, no! Words are coming out! Then one half of my brain (the sane half?) screamed at the other, "What are you saying?!"

Truthfully, though, I think I said those words because I was supposed to say those words. I surprised myself by how quickly I jumped on the PhD train—I've been bugging Andrew about getting a job for months now. And we've been looking, trust me. We made a spreadsheet where we compile information about jobs he needs to apply for. I felt productive doing this, like I was taking charge of the future. If there was an opportunity out there, we'd know about it because I was combing through USA Jobs and every day, among other sites. Lots of other sites.

But then that crafty PhD dream that we'd so unceremoniously shoved into the closet fell out and hit us on the head. I guess with so many dead and broken dreams hiding in our closet there just wasn't room for that one. We've dusted it off and fixed it up a bit and now that dream is looking rather alluring once more.

And so we find ourselves back where we were two years ago, and two years before that, when we were researching places and programs and professors and feverishly studying for the GRE. Our timing is about spot on this time around, I think. When Andrew applied for AUC he hadn't even made up his mind that he wanted to go to graduate school at all until after Christmas, which is far too late for most programs. When we were looking at a PhD in Middle East History we started researching graduate programs early, but it didn't do us much good to get a head start, did it? This time he decided at the end of October that he wanted to go on. That gives us enough time to poke around a bit and get his application materials together, though he does feel a little rushed with retaking the GRE—he signed up for it last week and will be taking it on Thursday.

We were supposed to hear back from the PMF today. They sent out a message saying that they were still on track to send out notices today and so we started holding our breath. We were more than a little blue in the face when we realized that we were not going to get our notice today. A little while after that we got a message saying that they ran into technical difficulties and if we didn't get our notice today we'd get it tomorrow. So now we're crossing our fingers tomorrow. If he advances, Andrew will head out to Colorado sometime this month for interviews.

We're still weighing our Option A's: PhD vs. PMF

It's a little ridiculous to be thinking about which one is Option A at this point since we don't know if we'll be accepted into either. But they're both looking like good options, though truthfully, and this surprises even me, I think a PhD is slowly starting to outweigh the thought of a full-time job.

Andrew has wanted to get a PhD for so long. He loves teaching. He loves researching. He loves writing. He is the very definition of an academic. I've never seen dancing line graphs make anybody so happy.

When we lived in Egypt we prayed about whether or not Andrew should get a PhD. We felt that a PhD would be a good option for us so we went full steam ahead and applied all over the place only to be disappointed over and over again as the rejection letters poured in. We were pretty confused but now I can't help but wonder if we were going in the right direction the whole time, but were on the completely wrong track. We've since changed tracks and he'll be seeking a PhD in public administration or public policy—specifically he wants to research post-revolutionary Egypt and the whole Arab Spring movement. Doing a PhD now will tie his two masters degrees—in Middle East Studies and Public Administration—together so nicely.

It's almost crazy how clear (and comfortable) this plan has become in such a short amount of time (approximately one week).

There are still things we're worried about, such as how we'll survive four or five more years of schooling. We're also experiencing a bit of trepidation about applying, in general. What if no one likes us? Facing all that rejection again would hurt—but then again, we've already felt it once. It couldn't feel much worse the second time around, right? Hopefully we'll never find out.

For now, the job hunt has been slowed and instead I've been looking at what life might be like in various cities and at various universities. I've been looking at elementary schools—because Rachel will be in kindergarten next year—and determining the walkability of different places and looking at the cost of living and the distance to interesting places I've always wanted to go. It's a bit of a fairytale for me.

It's much less glamorous for Andrew, who has been studying his brains out for the GRE and corresponding with various professors tucked away in their officies in various corners of the country, all the while keeping up with his classes and working three jobs. He's a little bit stressed out but is handling it all remarkably well. I try to help him out where I can, but he's still there to pick me up when I'm down—like when he came home from school today and I said, "I can't do anything else today! Rachel's been screaming for over an hour and won't stop and I just want to take a nap!"

Actually, I didn't say any of that. He may or may not be able to read minds and suggested, "Why don't you go rest and I'll make dinner?" just after looking at my face. He is that good.

So, our options at this point are:

Option A — PhD
Option a — PMF (which branches into option b, c, d, e...)
Option B — USAID
Option C — FSO
  - - -
Option X — Contracting jobs with USAID
Option Y — Other jobs
Option Z — Go live in China, teaching English at a friend's school

Fortunately for us there are a lot of letters in the alphabet. We have six months until graduation which means we also have six months left to sort out our future. Somehow, though, no matter how much sorting we do and no matter how neatly we stack the deck, life keeps throwing the cards into the air and demanding that we play 52-card pickup.

And so we play.



  2. PhD's are good...although I'm not going to lie...sometimes the dream felt like a nightmare :) Keeping all your options open seems like best way to go right now. Get into a phD program great. Get a job, better. Have the option of both, excellent! Good luck Nancy and Andrew. I hope whatever you'd best like to happen, happens :)

  3. PhD's are good. Most even pay you a bit and give a scholarship (we only had to pay fees and books for Joe) to help keep the loans down. It does get crazy but I think it'd be good for you guys. That said, getting a job and being out of school would also be great for you too... I know what the whole 52 card pickup feels like; we did it a couple of years ago and it's crazy. But looking back we can see how it all worked out just like it was supposed to. Even though I still wake up thinking "How do we live in Nebraska?" some days. (Like today when it's crazy windy.) Good luck managing the chaos; it'll be okay!!!

  4. Jennifer—we'd totally be open to going abroad. That's what Andrew said about getting his PhD in Public Admin—AUC just started an MPA if to get me even more on his side. :)