I have recently completed the second year of my doctoral program in Network Science at Northeastern University, and it feels an appropriate time to satisfy my periodic indulgence for self-reflection.
Two years. That is a long time, though also not a long time. I know “new” businesses which have been open more than two years; I remember “recent” events which took place far longer than two years ago. Two years is nothing, it is a blink of an eye. Yet the last two years have seemed so long. So long in a good way: I have learned so much, changed so much, grown so much.
It’s been a great two years.
Before I continue, it is worth noting – for those of you playing at home – that, no, I am not almost done. I have at least three years left; so even the halfway mark seems a distant point on the horizon.
But I am entering what I can only describe as the ‘grown up’ phase of my studies. I am officially done with course work – though I will no doubt continue to take classes from time to time. I’ve nearly put test-taking behind me – though I’ll spend the next several months studying for our Qualifying Exam. On the surface, then, it may seem as though little has changed…but this moment marks a subtle turning point in my academic life; as I increasingly shed the title of student and move into the role of researcher.
I rather imagined this would occur as a crystalizing event. As though I might crawl into my doctoral studies, quietly cocooned until I miraculously emerged a scholar.
And though I knew that’s never how it would happen, I find it nonetheless remarkable how transformative the meticulous metamorphosis has proven to be. I have learned so much – not just facts and skills, though I have learned those, too – but the past two years have fundamentally shifted the way I think and approach problems.
At the end of my first semester, I wrote that I had “been learning how to see the world through a particular epistemic frame: learning what questions to ask and what tools to deploy in answering them.”
At the end of my first year, I boasted that I could “trade nerdy jokes with people from any discipline” – a remark meant to highlight the value of interdisciplinary work. “As much as I have to learn from everyone I meet,” I wrote, “We all have something to learn from each other.”
This sentiment is reflected in the theme that comes to mind when I reflect on my past year of learning:
Year 2: I think I might know things.
The first year gave me the lay of the land; helped me learn the contours of all the things I didn’t know. The second year helped me start defining that landscape for myself. It would perhaps be an overstatement to say the second year helped be begin to make my own contributions – but it left me with the ineffable sense that I am on a path to be able to make contributions.
I still have much to learn – there is always more to learn. But as I wind down the second year of my studies, learning feels so much more like the every day act of living rather than the frantic attempts of someone in over their head.
That is to say, I am still learning – I frankly hope to always be learning – but for the first time it feels as though I could contribute nearly as much as I could learn.
Or more plainly: I think –
I might I know things.