y caminar y caminar y caminar

by Sarah Luna

Ph.D. school is neither school nor work.
Ph.D. school is a monastic experience. And, a jealous hobby.
Solving problems and writing up papers well enough to pass peer review demands contemplative labor on days, nights and weekends.
Reading through all of the related work takes biblical levels of devotion.
Ph.D. school even comes with built-in vows of poverty and obedience.
The end brings an ecclesiastical robe and a clerical hood.
Students that treat Ph.D. school like a 9-5 endeavor are the ones that take 7+ years to finish, or end up ABD.

“10 Ways to Fail a PhD”

I like this comparison. Never having been a monk, I can’t really speak to its accuracy. However, I have been a pilgrim, so lately I’ve been amending that statement to “Ph.D. school is a pilgrimage”.

I still don’t know why I walked the Camino. Sure, it was international experience, a chance to use my fledgling Spanish, an opportunity to see centuries of history…but seriously, who things walking 790km is a good idea?? It’s insane. Sometimes I question why I started a PhD program. Yeah, I get to work with the giants in my field. I have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution. I get to avoid the “real world” for five more years (ok, not really, but that’s another post).

The first year was tough. It was like hiking from Roncesvalles to Pamplona…you realize just how high those mountains really are. You get your feet wet and dirty and torn, and then you sew them up with a needle and slap on some bandaids and keep trudging. There are plenty of pilgrims at the beginning, too, all eager to get going. The conviviality reassures you and you think: “Hey, I can do this after all.”

Then you hit the Meseta. That’s what this summer has been–a dry, hot, lonely spell in the PhD world. Monotonous, tedious, endless work. I’ve been reading for weeks on end everything that has to do with my subject ever grasping for some sense of academic purpose. It’s just me. No one’s watching. My colleagues are lost in their own Mesetas. Sometimes I go whole days without talking to anyone.

Summer is almost over. All I’ve done is read, and test, and run statistics. I feel boring and wonder why I do this. At one point I knew, and that is enough for now. 🙂

Polvo, barro, sol y lluvia en el camino de Santiago.
Millones de peregrinos y más de un millar de años.
Peregrino ¿quién te llama?
¿qué fuerza oculta te atrae?

Ni el campo de las estrellas ni las grandes catedrales
No es la bravura Navarra, ni el vino de los riojanos,
ni los mariscos gallegos
ni los campos castellanos. 

Peregrino ¿quién te llama?
¿qué fuerza oculta te atrae?
Ni las gentes del camino,

ni las costumbres rurales,

ni la historia, ni la cultura

ni el gallo de la calzada 
ni el palacio de Gaudi
ni el castillo de Ponferrada.

Todo lo veo al pasar

y es un gozo verlo todo.
Más la voz que a mí me llama
la siento más hondo.

La fuerza que a mí me empuja,
la fuerza que a mí me atrae
no sé explicarla ni yo.
Solo el de arriba lo sabe.

on a boxcar along the Camino