First PhD Term, Complete

I took my thesis advisor’s advice and did little to no reading, researching, or writing this past summer after graduating from my masters programs. He recommended taking some time off in order to rejuvenate before jumping into the rigors of doctoral work. I traveled a bit, visited family and friends, attended a wonderful wedding, and spent time in the mountains.GoreTrail

When I began my first term as a PhD student in September I felt refreshed and excited. My classes were engaging and I enjoyed the discussions with my peers as I sorted out what this new beginning would look like. Perhaps most importantly, I provided myself with more structure so that my studies would not overflow into the rest of my life and take over, as they had periodically done during my masters work.

I fit my work into a 40ish hour week, making sure to knock off around 5 or 5:30 in the evening. I occasionally worked one weekend day, but tried to make that the exception rather than the rule, and kept the other weekend day free.

I also started training for a marathon the same week that the term started, and this provided a number of benefits. Training provided a counterbalance to my school work, so that school could not occupy the center of my world. I was not willing to lose sleep, eat poorly, or drink too much (caffeine/alcohol/etc.) because those behaviors affected my training negatively. I also found myself less stressed and more energized than during any other school term of my graduate studies.

Overall the term went well. My sitting practice suffered during the term, and that will be a focus for improvement during the upcoming winter quarter. I also plan to write more for Scholar Monk than I did this past term, and I look forward to engaging with you all!

To PhD or not to PhD…

That is the question I am currently considering. I received admittance to a doctoral program in the study of religion this week. I was delighted, to say the least, having considered long and hard whether this further educational commitment and career choice was the move for me to make. Working out my thoughts on Scholar Monk has been an important part of this process.

Many say that doctoral study will ruin relationships, take over your life, burn you out, beat you up. I am not interested in allowing any of this to happen. I see how academia encourages this sort of personal and interpersonal breakdown by putting the work before everything. There are so many unreasonable expectations placed on young scholars: publish incessantly, present papers at conferences all over, be educated in one place, do a postdoctoral fellowship somewhere else, and apply for a tenure-track position in an entirely different location, uprooting your life and family with each move. That is the only path to success.

Cherry blossom and moon

Blossom Moonlight by Megan Morris (1)

I say, “no thanks.”

Even though my spouse and I have discussed the possibility of further education, I knew once I was admitted that this would have to be a family decision. And it has prompted a wonderful discussion between us regarding our near-term goals, visions for our family and our free-time, and perhaps most importantly, to set our intentions.

I intend to root my work and study in practice. The slope can get slippery and it can be easy to fall into the “work-first” mentality. It is clear to me that of all things that would come first, scholarly work is not it – family and practice stand out as two very clear alternatives.

Clear and critical assessment is undoubtedly necessary in coming to a decision about doing a PhD. But ultimately, I feel that it is my job to get out of my own way and be open to the unfoldment of the universe. Thinking has its limits, and at some point the time to think through things has come to an end.

So, do it; don’t do it. Does it really matter? Or as the eminent martial arts master, Oogway, has said,”Noodles. Don’t noodles.” (2) Give up the past and future, along with cognition, and allow yourself to be.


(1) This Cherry Blossom Tree Art Print by Megan Norris can be purchased in various formats at

(2) The full quote is “Quit. Don’t quit. Noodles. Don’t noodles. You are too concerned with what was and what will be. There’s a saying: ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the “present.’ ” From the film Kung Fu Panda.