holy moly - I'm a PhD

Sarah Boomer sarai at u.washington.edu
Wed Nov 27 20:32:36 EST 1996

Hi you all,
	I've been out of commission a few days prepping for my big talk
and now it's over.  In the words of a good friend, I feel like someone
stopped hitting me with a hammer.
	But seriously - it wasn't bad at all;  it was great.  It was fun. 
I gave a heavily praised and very clear talk laden with good humour and
lots of color. Jenn and many friends came out and my boss was exceptional! 
Dedications were boldly made to Jenn and other friends (mostly PhDs or
masters scientists) who have made bold and individualistic career choices
and been my mentors over the years.  I made apparent history in the dept.
by inviting the dept. teaching staff to the thing and giving them
hearty acknowledgments, something important because of my career
intentions.  I don't really feel very different, though. Everyone around
me says it's the end of an era in our lab, though.  All the founding
members are finished after a long, sometimes difficult haul.
	We had our little party, drank (in my case) the sparkling cider,
toasted, etc.  And then I had about thirty minutes before the partying
continues to sit down and read the posts on this group.
	Some gut reactions:  I was somewhat saddened to read that someone
feels that the boss' future hangs on their advisees.  I don't doubt that
is some unwritten rule that goes hand in hand with what I think of as the
whole conformity thing in science (and other) careers.  But I done my boss
proud today and I'm proud of having been a part of her lab during
formative years.  Alicia pointed out that I had written to her earlier
this week and heartily defended my boss, despite poor interactions with
Jenn early on.  I'd just like to expand on this and say that my boss
literally came here in 1988 to an ill-defined non-tenure track position
and has been ignored for a long-standing tenure spot since.  The dept. 
track record with women is pretty represensible.  To correct one thing: 
there have been I think 3-4 women in the history of the dept. who have
every received tenure.  At present, though, no one in the grad. school
core of faculty is a female with tenure.  My boss acknowledged me for,
among other things, sticking with the program and really getting the lab
started when we really did struggle the hardest - not to mention being a
vocal leader of grad. students and women's issues here (ie sometimes a
troublemaker - like herself, I suppose)... and having a necessary sense of
humour.  And I acknowledged her profoundly for having been a strong woman
boss who has supported me through it all.  Her successes - in terms of
publications and grants and respect within the field - have been
outstanding and I have been grateful to be a part of a lab that has
flourished under often difficult conditions in poor soil.  As a metaphor,
I even put the head of my boss on a 70s era well-built female climber for
one of a few "joke-slides", making analogies about the size of this
woman's huge hardware rack to the appreciable successes and "protection"
she has accrued (I do a little climbing myself).  It's a good relationship
we have after all these years.  It was nice to see Jenn there and see some
respectable interactions too - and good-hearted laughter about the funny
	Anyway - to all the people who are struggling - don't know what to
say.  Do what you want;  do what makes you happy.  Prracticality must
enter at some point, yes.  But I have gone through the motions of knowing
after about 5 years of struggling that this was not going to be my
long-term path.  At that point, the PhD became something personal, a
personal best isue.  I am proud of having done it and am proud, in
particular, of what I accomplished today.

	In my thesis, I quoted a significant section from "The Stone
Diaries," the Nobel prize winner for literature last year (by Carol
Shields).  I cannot quote it verbatim right now but it has to do with the
father of the main character, Cuyler Goodwill.  Cuyler is a guy who
changes his life every few years in a rather nonchalant though clearly
proud manner.  At one point, he is a simple rocksmith, then an artist,
then a businessman, and so on.  It is not that he is suddenly becomes bad
at each one - it is that he knows it is good at many things and that his
life is an evolving thing.  

	Every potential PhD should accept that being a Cuyler is likely
going to be a way of life.  As an evolutionist to the core, I think it
really is important to be flexible.  I stayed in the program not because
science was ALL I wanted to do but because I knew I could do anything I
set my mind to.  For me, too, it was important to climb high enough to
hopefully see the way more clearly.  If anything, I did that.  Anyone from
the northwest, though, will know that there was a LOT of bushwacking out
there before you get to the high country. 

	Sarah Boomer, Ph.D. 

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