By Nowrin Tabassum
There are two opposing emotions which summarize my PhD experience. On one hand, it is about enjoying being a part of the academic world, and on the other hand, it is also a test of perseverance. I hope my story will provide you with hope that you are not alone, and that you can overcome the difficulties ahead.
I truly enjoyed my coursework in the first year of my PhD, thanks to the amazing professors who provided me with constructive feedback and encouragements. The difficult part of my journey happened while I was preparing for my comprehensive examinations. The studying demanded unwavering dedication, but that was not all; it took a lot of perseverance to prevent some people from planting seeds of doubt within me. There were some people who intentionally tried to make me frightened. They told me that I could not pass the comprehensive examinations because, as a newcomer in Canada whose mother tongue is not English, it would be very difficult for me to pass a Canadian exam. These individuals put doubts in my mind about my own capabilities. Whether inadvertently, or not, they took steps which had the potential to undermine my marriage; some of these individuals told my husband that if I completed my PhD, I would be highly intellectual and may no longer care for him; all of this was said while they were visitors under roof! At the same time, they criticized my parents for raising a bad daughter who has the audacity to spend time studying instead of taking care of her family. Putting me down made them feel better, I guess.
Now imagine having to study with all of that going on in the background. The reading list of the comprehensive examination consisted of hundreds of books and academic articles. Some of the material was very dull, making it difficult to commit to reading them. However, I turned these dull tasks into a routine; I held myself accountable to reading at least two books or articles each day and typing notes from those readings diligently in a word document. It was with these efforts, and my support network, that I passed those examinations! It took four long months to write my thesis proposal, and another to receive the approval of the supervisory committee for my proposal defence. I then had completed my six-month long fieldwork in my home country of Bangladesh. After all that, I am now writing my thesis!
This experience has been a test which extends beyond academics. I do not live my life through the commentary of others; and neither do my parents or husband. The pressure I felt from others during my PhD journey taught me one thing:
Be yourself! Trust you own intellect! You will be fine!
(No matter how difficult the situation is)!
Nowrin Tabassum is a fourth year PhD student at the Department of Political Science, McMaster University. Her dissertation topic is: ‘From Climate refugees to Climate-induced Displacement: The Role of a Transnational Actor Network in Redefining Bangladeshi Climate Victims’.