How Did I Choose My Research Topic You Say?

Here’s a bit I wrote about my educational history after I got a nasty comment from someone on Twitter. The person assumed I didn’t have a trauma history and was challenging my opinions. I owe nothing to this person who I subsequently blocked — I intentionally carefully curate my twitter feed. But maybe I do have something to say about why I chose the research topic I have chosen for my phd, which focuses on how college instructors approach trauma-informed online learning. Here is what I wrote about how trauma affected my educational experience.

As a child, when I wouldn’t get up fast enough in the morning, my dad would pick me up and take me outside and drop me in the horse trough. When my parents divorced, it was a mixed blessing. I no longer had the physical abuse of my dad, but mom had her own unresolved trauma issues and was an emotionally and physically absent parent. For all intents and purposes, I was on my own. At some point before age ten I developed ADD, anxiety and depression – the sequalae of the trauma of having to essentially raise myself. I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings and my mom rarely made me try. I missed a lot of school. I got bullied at school by both boys and girls from fourth grade all the way through high school. I was overweight, and they didn’t let me forget it. I got my first D for the semester in seventh grade but there wasn’t anyone at home who cared so the Ds turned into Fs – still no one cared. While all this was going on, I had some teachers who did care. Mrs. Branson, my junior high school counselor, was a loving adult presence when I didn’t have that at home. But teachers can’t replace the presence of a parent. I first tried to commit suicide when I was sixteen, but again, it did little to grab the attention of the adults at home. School was excruciating. Sitting still for all those hours on end with ADD was the worse kind of torture I knew. I became promiscuous. I would go to parties and sleep with the boys from my school. I could come home whenever I wanted, as drunk as I wanted, because nobody was up waiting for me. By my senior year I have failed so many classes that I wasn’t allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony. It didn’t matter though. Nobody was paying any attention.

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How We Interact with Students Matters

It’s hard for me to distinguish among the many traumatic events that I experienced in grad school which was the most traumatic. But thus far, it was probably the interaction I had with the professor in my seminar class. In the middle of one particular class, I had an emotional flashback so overwhelming that I left the room and didn’t return until class was over. I didn’t feel safe returning, and I felt deeply ashamed of being so emotional in front of my classmates. On my way out of the building, I saw my professor and knew he wasn’t going to allow me to simply go on my way, which I desperately wanted. He walked up to me and started demanding answers about what happened to me, answers he wasn’t prepared to receive. My response was this, “I can’t talk about this right now. I just calmed down.” He totally ignored my request and continued questioning me, pushing his agenda which had nothing to do with my well-being. When he was done talking, he instructed me to thank my classmate for collecting my belongings and turned on his heel and walked away.

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FAQs about PhDs

What I wish my friends and family knew about my PhD. I strongly encourage anyone reading this to start with the previously hyperlinked article. The title is self-explanatory, and I’ll leave it at that. As I was read it myself, it reminded me that I’ve been wanting to write something about this for some time now. As far as I’m concerned, Kate Samardzic got it exactly right.

To give you some idea of what this pursuit has been like for me, within the past couple of weeks I came to realize that this past year was the hardest I’ve had since I went through cancer treatment nearly fifteen years ago. And to be entirely honest, cancer treatment was significantly less traumatic – or at least what I remember of that painful time. To be clear, it’s not the content of my PhD program that is so challenging. It’s negotiating the expectations I have for myself, trying to navigate the emotional side of an extremely competitive environment, as well as a situation populated by highly intelligent people many of whom do not have my best interest at heart. Or, if they do, their idea of supporting me is unequivocally wrong regardless of how well intentioned they may be.

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Update! More Content to Come!

I want to reflect briefly on my first experiences as a PhD student – still can’t believe I’m saying that. The seminar I’m taking in Educational Technology and Learning Design is keeping me busy. I’m working with my supervisor on a research project as well, and those two projects are time consuming and draining. However, I feel like I’m working harder than I have many times in the past, and that feels good.

I still don’t consider myself an overachiever or a particularly hard worker. I think that if SFU found out what my principles are in regards to work, they’d rescind both my scholarship and my place in the program. I feel a bit like I’m working the system. Some PhD students have to take multiple classes as well as teach several. I don’t know how I did it, but I am grateful every day that I have a schedule that works for me, and that I’m doing something I love.

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