I graduate tomorrow. I’ve graduated a bunch in my life, starting with kindergarten, but this is it. The end of the line. I’m even breaking with my personal tradition and attending the ceremony, which I’ve avoided the last few times. Partly because I’m not crazy about graduations, partly for logistical reasons (I seem to have a habit of graduating at the time of year when you have to come back later for a ceremony, which is a pain), and partly because I could always see another future graduation looming.

And now here I am. I’ve finished a PhD. I can’t tell you how bizarre this is to me. Someone asked me a while ago at what point I hit the point where I didn’t think I’d really finish, and I said honestly, that’s always how it’s felt to me. It’s an act of imagination, I think, to enter a degree program (or to embark on any other venture): you have to have some vision of it going somewhere. But while I could theoretically see all the steps and make a plan—I could intellectually imagine it—I couldn’t really imagine that I could personally do it. It just seemed too unlikely. I’m not saying that in some sort of tone of false modesty; I wouldn’t have started without some confidence in my abilities. But still. I’m stunned to have actually finished. My emotions about the whole thing are a combination of relief, excitement, and a bit of pure shock.

And some anxiety, of course. Because I don’t know where I’m going next, and I really have been in grad school forever and it’s disorienting to leave, and the state of higher education is incredibly depressing. I generally skip the articles about that death of academia that people share on Facebook, and don’t read The Chronicle of Higher Ed (which I think of as, The Chronicle of the Death of Higher Ed), because I can’t handle it right now. I’m building a nice collection of rejection letters. I was inspired by a colleague who said he was going to keep them all to wallpaper his office someday.

But back to graduation. It’s relatively easy to be excited about this with my family, and with my friends and colleagues at school, many of whom are also graduating, and who have offered the kind of moral support along the way that really has made the difference between surviving and dropping out. I can’t overstate how that has mattered; when people ask for thoughts on what makes a good grad program, that’s the thing that is so luck of the draw but which has such an impact: the cohort you have going through with you. There are a lot of things about my grad program I didn’t like, but that part has been amazingly good.

But this is the interesting thing I’m noticing. I feel really awkward talking about this in a Mormon setting. Even a little defensive. When I mention it, I find myself wanting to quickly add, but I do realize that getting a PhD is a worldly honor and pales in comparison with the eternally valuable work of raising a family. Because admitting what I’m doing almost feels like making a statement that I’m not really intending to make, about what women should be doing. When I really just did it because it felt incredibly right to me, because it meant studying a subject I love. Maybe that gives me some perspective on what it might be like for a woman who decided to stay at home to raise her kids, because that’s what felt right to her (or alternately, woman who is working outside the home while raising her kids)—whatever you say, it can all too easily be taken as a political statement, a moral prescription. The problem is that sometimes it is meant that way, and that we all have so much baggage from the gender wars that the topic is incredibly fraught. I wonder whether a man mentioning in church that he’s finishing a PhD feels the same awkwardness. I suspect not, though I imagine there might be other issues that come up.

That said, the ward I’m in now really has been enthusiastic in a way I’ve found touching. And that’s meant a lot to me, because I don’t expect to get that in an LDS context. I feel like it’s not supposed to matter. And I don’t want it to matter in a divisive way, and that’s why this feels tricky. But of course it matters, even though I find that ridiculously hard to say.

But this is exciting. I’m saying it. Even though it kind of feels like bragging. And it probably is. But I think I’m going to make my visiting siblings refer to me as Dr. Lynnette.


  1. Three cheers for the good Dr. Lynette.
    (Does this mean you will have even more time for posting here at ZD? ::rubs hands in a selfishly gleeful manner::)

  2. Congratulations! I’ve really enjoyed your posts about your experiences working on your PhD. I feel the same way working on my JD (graduation is next week). It’s been nice to have someone to e-suffer with!

    I definitely get where you’re coming from with the feeling that others view your education as a statement. People have acted like that with me, too. I guess, in a way, it is some sort of a statement. The statement is “I’m going to follow God’s path for my life regardless of the social consequences.”

    (Oh, and I’m totally going to make everyone call me Dr. for a day when I graduate, too!)

  3. Congratulations! Woohoo! Having been in a PhD program and fought the fight of self-doubt and imagination requisite to the pursuit, I’m so incredibly excited for you. I think you should change your ZD by-line to “Dr. Lynnette.” 🙂

    All through my time in my PhD program, I had stake members (many of whom had known me most of my life, since I went to grad school in the stake I grew up in) tell me how wonderful it was that I was pursuing a PhD. I think there was some genuine admiration in their comments. But (and it’s a big “but”) there was also always a tinge of condescension. Like the vocal admiration was a kind of verbal head-patting to congratulate a little girl doing something precocious. And there was a certain amount of implication that my pursuing a PhD in literature was seen as a Nice Thing To Do While Awaiting My Real Future As Wife-and-Mother. That just drove me bonkers (to put it mildly). And I had enough people express what I could tell was honest admiration and respect that I could tell the difference between that and the condescending variety. Not exactly the same experience you’ve had at church, but I certainly sympathize with the awkward position of being a single “older” Mormon woman on a clearly defined career path.

  4. .

    I was going to say you’re crazy for feeling like people might judge you. Then I realized I’ve worked up an entire apology re: why I want an MFA.

    Anyway, congratulations, Dr L.

  5. Congrats! A PhD is a true testament to survival.

    When I was in a PhD program in literature, many people also spoke condescendingly to me about it. But I don’t think it has to do with gender. I think that many people perceive humanities PhDs as an escape from reality or a lost part of their college experience that they feel nostalgic about. For most people, male or female, studying literature IS something that one does before one needs to deal with supporting a family. Hence, the association.

  6. Except, Natalie, my good friend in my PhD program who was male didn’t have the same experience of condescension at church. There were the expected questions about career opportunities that are associated with studying the humanities at any level, but he never felt condescended to because of it. I know that most of my male friends pursuing PhDs in the humanities or the “softer” social sciences were subjected to lots of questions about career opportunities and some of them felt criticized for not pursuing a career with greater earning capacity, but I don’t think any of them felt condescended to in quite the same fashion I did. This is the standard dichotomy of education for men and women in the church–I think Lynnette’s experience of feeling defensive about pursuing an education with a distinct career path is not unusual for Mormon women; and I think men feeling defensive about pursuing careers that aren’t high-power with high income potential (but not the “oh that’s a lovely thing you’re doing while you wait for your real life to start”).

  7. Three woots for Lynnette! And I can’t wait to shout those woots at you in my best Troll 2 costume from the most conspicuous place in the audience that I can find.

    I confess, when I started my graduate program, I told people in the branch what was doing with the anticipation that they would read a certain amount of “so no, I’m not interested in, like, NORMAL Mormon woman things” into the statement. (I hope that was mostly a side effect of coming straight here from BYU, where I felt like my decision to go to grad school was supported as perfectly normal by most of my friends, but was called into quesiton regularly by random strangers.) And this despite that I do very much want to get married and have kids, but I felt nonetheless that I had to work a bit to distance myself from the idea that single Mormon woman = primarily in search of a husband.

    Now, I find myself shying away from uttering the noxious term “PhD” when introducing myself to new branch members; I just say I’m in grad school. I suppose I feel like, if people get to know me, they’ll find out what I’m doing here; if they don’t, then they don’t to know things that will lead them to make assumptions about my faith and priorities.

  8. On the flip side, I feel like I need to set myself apart as a feminist Mormon, so I often find my self appending my SAHM-ness with, “I plan on doing a master’s in women’s studies once I decide on a program…” or something or other. You just can’t win!

    But I think you should introduce yourself as “Dr. Sister Lynette” or Sister Dr. Lynette” in Relief Society. That would rock.

  9. Congratulations to Dr. Lynnette!

    I completely understand your feelings of awkwardness. I’m one of two female PhD students in my ward. I constantly feel like my presence is some sort of statement, and worry about whether others’ comments to me are political statements to me. For example, just this afternoon I was at a meeting for ward members who are interested in participating in Meals on Wheels–all women, except for our former (and currently unemployed) bishop. We were discussing the possible day of the week for our route, and one of the women turned to the man and asked what he preferred, since he’s the only one who does anything outside the home. I know that she wasn’t consciously making a stab at me, but I can’t help but be unsettled that my work isn’t seen as such (a twist on women’s work being invisible). I know that the attitude towards the male PhD students and their time is the complete opposite. I genuinely believe that my ward members are kind-hearted and their attitude is unconscious, but that these kinds of political statements/attitudes tend to be unintended is perhaps more troubling than if I were continually encountering outright hostility (which, on occasion, I have).

  10. Congrats Doc. And I thought you didn’t listen to me before, now there’s no way I am every going to get to legitimize anything I say, cause you’ll just be able to retort that your the one with the PhD…

  11. Congratulations!

    And please know that people like me need to hear that there are people like you, doing what we would do if we only could. There may even be people who WILL do what you’ve done, after hearing that you’ve done it.

  12. Here’s a tip: you can use Dr. before your name or ,Ph.D. after your name. But don’t use both simultaneously; that’s just plain greedy.

    Your graduate program’s loss is our (and Farmvile’s) gain!

  13. Ha! Kevin’s comment #22 made me remember a friend who once met a guy who worked at the White House (my friend does contractor work with the government) who had two doctorates and actually wanted to be called Dr. Dr. ___________. Talk about greedy. 🙂

  14. Yay!! It’s actually possible to finish. Now you’re a real theologian.

    I was just inspired to make a new chart motivating me to make progress on my dissertation. The current theme: the Yggdrasil.

  15. Congratulations!

    I hate it that whatever we do with our lives as women in the church we feel like we’re making a political statement. Even though I’ve chosen to be a SAHM at the moment, and feel like it’s the right choice (for me, for now), it drives me crazy the assumptions people make because of that choice. The assumption I find the most annoying is from other women who are SAHMs (not all of them, but a few), who assume that I agree that that is the best and only thing women should be doing. Often when I tell people I’m a SAHM I have to fight the urge to place all sorts of caveats on it, like that I miss working, or that I want to go back to grad school.

    And then occasionally I feel bad in the other direction, too. When I talk about graduating from college, sometimes it makes my friends who didn’t feel like I’m judging them or looking down on them, even though I’m not. Just the other day I was at the park with a few other moms and we were talking about how long we’d been married, and it took us a few seconds to come up with the year. And I said that the only reason I could remember it was because we got married just after I graduated from college, and I remember that year, so then I just have to count forward. After I said it all the other moms there made statements that made me realize that none of them had graduated from college and that they felt defensive about it. I felt bad, because I was not being judgmental and I hated that it made them feel judged. It was such an innocuous comment from my perspective — but I think since I finished college I just see that as the default and assume everyone around me did. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to talk about things without making others feel like we’re judging them for thinking differently or doing things differently.

  16. Naked I speak, men are treacherous too

    What do you plan to do with the Yggdrasil? So you can get your PhD when you are ABD? That is neat. I’ve had friends who couldn’t and who went a long time ABD.

  17. It’s really awful that it doesn’t matter what a woman does, it has such stark political undertones. I would love it if women could just be left alone to make their decisions about what works best for them in their own personal circumstances without their decisions inviting people around them (I know, not everyone–but still a lot) to pass judgments of one variety or another.

    Of course that’s an impossibility so long as there’s a moral authority (the church masquerading as God) dictating what appropriate roles are for women.

  18. Congratulations, Dr. Lynnette!

    And now here I am. I’ve finished a PhD. I can’t tell you how bizarre this is to me. Someone asked me a while ago at what point I hit the point where I didn’t think I’d really finish, and I said honestly, that’s always how it’s felt to me. It’s an act of imagination, I think, to enter a degree program (or to embark on any other venture): you have to have some vision of it going somewhere. But while I could theoretically see all the steps and make a plan—I could intellectually imagine it—I couldn’t really imagine that I could personally do it. It just seemed too unlikely.

    I totally totally get this. I recall it being very close to the end for me before I honestly believed I would actually finish. Up until then, I was working toward it, but without faith really that I would ever complete the whole thing.

    I’m sorry about how whatever you do is making a statement (as Amelia and Vada and others have also noted). This very much reminds me of a post I wrote a couple of months ago on women’s actions being always taken as a statement on something, while men can more easily get by with comfortable defaults.

    Again, congratulations! I wish I could be there with you to celebrate.

  19. I don’t even know you, but I feel so proud of you. I’m joyous for you. That is such an awesome accomplishment.

    You should definitely do the wallpaper idea. It reminds me of a picture of a bathroom I saw that had a wall covered in pages from a book.

  20. I didn’t even realize there could be that sort of stigma for a woman in the church. (I guess that perspective is why I read this blog.)

    I’m curios if the reaction from telling people that you’re planning on getting a PhD is different from the reaction to saying that you have a PhD.

  21. Congratulations, Lynnette! It is the greatest regret of my life that I never finished graduate school, but it does warm my heart to see other women do it.

  22. Hooray! Now all you need to do is assume your divinely inspired role as Mormon studies prof at the U of Wyoming!

  23. Thanks so much, everyone! I wasn’t sure if going to the ceremony would be worth it, but it turned out to be really cool. Also, Melyngoch presented me with a bear with devil horns.

  24. I am glad that your graduation ceremony was cool. It is nice to have good memories. Does the devilish bear have a name?



Comments are closed.