A final farewell from Dr. Van Hook

Well hello to you, all of my long lost friends! It has been ages (years even) since I wrote to you about my graduate school happenings and I feel I owe you an update and a bit of an explanation for my absence.

First and foremost, I’M DONE! I did it, I pulled the sword from the stone, slayed the dragon, and kissed the fat lady on the cheek as she was singing my swan song. I am officially Dr. Van Hook forever!

I first want to address the reason for my radio silence all these long (and I’m assuming painful for you) months. I stopped writing in part to give the newer students a chance to share their stories, but also in part because during my final push toward graduation I was a whirling dervish of emotions…most of them unsavory to say the least. It felt for a while that every time I sat to write a blog post, I had nothing productive to tell you. Experiments weren’t progressing, my dissertation wasn’t shaping up into a glorious book chapter or Cell paper and I felt less like a runner elated to cross the finish line and more like dead weight being dragged toward completion. In a nutshell, I was broken down and embarrassed. We all want to hit a grand slam and make it look easy in the end, right?  

It took me a lot of time to put down my pre-conceived notions about what my data should actually look like and really sit down and focus on the bigger picture; what had I actually learned? I was told once that getting your Ph.D. is less about the actual discoveries that you make and more about changing the way that you think – that this process turns you into a scholar. It’s a transition I liken to an actual change in my brain chemistry that has altered the way that I think about everything I encounter in life, from politics and religion to where I want to live and how I choose my friendships.

There is no doubt that I have become a scholar, and the transition was never more tangible than when I was writing my dissertation. I organized, analyzed, and synthesized a gigantic document of some of the most abstruse and esoteric information in the world. I did it. And it’s awesome. Seriously, I love my dissertation. Not because I cured cancer (I assure you I did nothing of the sort) but because it is 100 percent me. It is my work, my discoveries, and my blood, sweat, and tears (emphasis on the tears) and I could not be more proud. I am forever a scholar.

In moving forward I feel relief, calm, doubt, happiness, and even a bit of loss. Finishing grad school is the hardest thing I have ever done and if I take nothing else away from it I at least know that I am strong.

To all the incoming students: You are going to hear a lot of stories, I mean A LOT. Take them with a grain of salt. Everyone’s experience is vastly different. Make mistakes and learn from them. You’re going to be fine.

Current students: Please remember to be kind to yourself. We sometimes live in a dark place, but our work does not define us. As always, lean on your fellow students for help.

Faculty, staff, friends and parents: Remember to take time to teach AND praise. We’re working hard, it’s important to remind us you appreciate it. A few simple words can be incredibly impactful on the mental health of a student.

Thank you all for listening and enjoying the blog over the years!

3 responses to “A final farewell from Dr. Van Hook

  1. Congratulations Dr. van Hook! When I first entered graduate school, I, too, was told the process is much less about discrete bits of data as it was about learning how to think, analyze, produce and embody what it means to be a scholar. I initially thought that was silly advice, since I was going to produce papers and data and experimental awesomeness. Learning that the underpinning of a PhD lies not in the figures produced but the neurons in the head producing it took me quite a while… In many respects my transformation was silent – I didn’t broadly share my experience with others. I want to applaud and thank you for sharing your journey with so many others here on this blog. Your humor, enthusiasm and honesty will surely help others through the process! Best of luck to you in your future endeavors!

  2. Great final post! (Are you sure it has to be a final post?) You’re a very talented writer….I bet your dissertation is a page-turner.

  3. Dear Dr Van Hook.
    I am so pleased for you! Congratulations on writing, defending and earning your doctorate!!! ‘Think Different’ was a learning objective for graduate school, long before S Jobs used it to advertise Macs. I have followed your graduate career and read every one of your funny, poignant and forthright posts. Thank you so very much for being one of the StudentSpeak founders. Enjoy your postdoc!

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