A few weeks ago, I broke down in front of my PhD advisor. I felt lost. Trapped. Confused and unsure of where to go.
And we spoke for hours. About what had brought me to this place, and which direction to take towards the future. Mats had moved past the place of boss and had become something of a father figure to me. At times employer, at times a kick in the ass, but also now friend.
And he ended the conversation not by demanding I do a specific something, or by asking me where I saw myself in the future. He didn’t ask me what title or what career I wanted. Instead, he simply asked me what my goal was.
It wasn’t whether or not I wanted to teach. He didn’t demand I stay in research, or that I should strive for the highest tier journal to publish. He just wanted to know what I wanted. Not on paper, not in salary, but in life.
And I told him that I didn’t get this doctorate to earn millions. I didn’t need to publish in Science or Nature. And I didn’t need to be sitting in an endowed chair in 20 years.
I just wanted now what I wanted six years ago when I started school. Ten years ago when I moved to Lexington, Ky. Thirty years ago when I swung on my first pony.
I wanted to have a positive impact on horses.
And as the year of 2018 ends and 2019 begins, I’ve begun to think about this more and more. 2018 was a year of ups and downs. I have not felt more lost since my last vet school application was rejected. I have not felt more confused since I graduated college.
For 6 years now, I have had an end goal. And alongside that end goal, I had personal goals.
I wanted to earn those letters behind my name. I wanted to publish my findings. I wanted to prove to the world that you didn’t need DVM behind your name to help the industry in its entirety.
I also wanted to ride. I wanted to retrain horses that had finished their first career for their next. I wanted to move up the levels and tackle the goals I hadn’t checked off in my teenage years.
I never knew I wanted to write. But once this blog took off, it travelled along an uncontrollable path that even I couldn’t guide. It has allowed me to speak on panels, attend conferences as a journalist, get published in magazines I had read since childhood, and brought me into the barns, homes, and cars with all of you.
But in between all of these things is a proud, sensitive, educated, and confused woman. I got those letters. I moved up that level. I wrote those articles.
But I don’t know where to bring those things together. What is my identity? Where are those silver linings? Who am I? All 2018 has shown me is that I do not know.
Am I an equestrian? A scientist? A blogger? A writer? A reseller? An activist?
I have applied for jobs that utilize my degree only to find out they will eliminate my time in the saddle and my ability to speak my mind. I have found so much joy and pride in my posts that utilize my knowledge of science only to be told by academics to quiet my voice. And at the end of the day, I have thought long and hard about burning my degree and going into horse sales full time. Because if ignorance is bliss, than a doctorate is hell on the mind.
I was trail riding with some of my girlfriends the other day when this topic was brought up. How do you summarize a year? A life?
In ribbons? Publications? Monumental life moments?
Because to the outside world, it would look like I had it all this year. If you polled anyone who follows me, they would smile and say that I got engaged. Sold a bunch of really nice horses. Jumped big fences on Mak. Finally evented Nixon. Got to travel to 4 different countries on 3 continents, all to speak of equine science.
But the outside world doesn’t see the lows. We speak or write of our triumphs without explaining the set backs. The falls. The refusals. The reprimands. And the feeling of failure. Over, and over, and over. My social media doesn’t see the meltdowns at the trailer after another bad trip on XC. My blog doesn’t get to witness my vent sessions to my PhD advisor. And no one sees the long talks in the car with Luke.
I don’t know what the answer is. I know that many near and dear to me have had their own trials and tribulations in 2018, and I just hope that they all know that they are not alone. Loved ones were lost, relationships ended, diagnosis given, and goals set back.
It was a year of hardship. A year of confusion.
There were highs. I can still taste the fish and chips on Raglan Beach in New Zealand. My fiancé’s eyes when he saw the Pacific Ocean off of those cliffs. And knowing that my adventure into science and academia got us to that moment. I’m so lucky to have experienced moments like this.
But there were lows. Lows that nearly kicked my ankles out from under me, and yet still I kicked on. Did that next trot set. Galloped that next table. Wrote that discussion and faced those naysayers.
My 2018 can only be described as confused. It was one of ups and downs. Mountains and plateaus. But at the end of the day, I made it. You made it. We all got through it.
So as this year ends and the next begins, I don’t feel able to set any big resolutions. I learned from 2018 that what I can write on paper and you all can visualize alongside me aren’t what makes me happy.
I don’t want a big salary, or a blue ribbon. I don’t want a huge wedding, or the launch of a business.
I just want to do what I set out to do all those years ago. What I told Mats I wanted to do.
I want to have an impact on the industry that I love. Whether that is by teaching students how to induce ovulation, finding biomarkers for ascending placentitis, selling a 4yo off the track Thoroughbred to a 4* rider, or blogging of my stories in the breeding industry, I am not sure.
I hope it is all of the above, and I hope it brings me happiness. I hope your 2019 is full of happiness too.
Congratulations to you…you made it and have many great options…that’s a blessing!
Happy New Year!
Happy New Year. I hope you find your path in 2019 or at least the path that makes you happy for now.
I’ve had my dissertation done for nearly 10 years now, and sometimes I still wonder why I did it beyond knowing, like you, that I wanted those letters and I could make that happen. I still hear my advisers’ dismissive words ringing in my ears when I told her I was going to be an “applied” researcher rather than an academic: “You’ll always be underplaced if you go that way.” So I have spent the last decade underplaced yet ironically building a career that has allowed me to finally- after a lifetime of dreaming- have horses and do things with horses as a hobby I never imagined would be possible. I don’t know if the confusion really ever goes away, and I don’t think I have one ultimate life goal I’m working towards that keeps me on “the path.” I guess I take solace in knowing that I have options, and that there is some good that comes from my research. Sounds like you have that as well. Is it enough? I guess we all have to answer that for ourselves 😉 Here’s to another step down the path in 2019.
Ahhhhhh this is exactly what I’m feeling. I am told by my committee members that I am to never leave academia. I’m told by industry that they need me outside of academia. I’m told by my fiancé that he just wants me to be happy, but I know I got those letters for a reason. And I just don’t know how to make it all work.
If it makes you feel better, these post-PhD feelings of confusion are common in other fields too. I don’t have mine yet, but several friends and colleagues do…. we all work in an “applied” research field, and all of us have struggled with whether we should be in academia, or be “underplaced,” and which directions we should move to next. It’s always at the back of our minds, but we’ve all found that we enjoy the work, we feel the work has meaning and an impact on the industry, and we enjoy the balance. It’s the right fit, for us, for now…. and if that changes we can choose to move on. Best of luck in all of 2019, and hang in there! You’ll find a way to make it all work!
Thanks Carolyn! And it’s so true! They should warn incoming masters students of this predicament!!
It’s good to hear of the hardships too!
They inspire the rest of us to keep trying !
Thank you for being honest and sharing . . .
You came to New Zealand!!! Wish I had known-we could have met up!! I graduated with an M Sc over 20 years ago, and I’m still trying to find that balance!!
My husband went through the “PhD abyss” right after he “got the letters”. Such an arduous journey. It nearly wrecked our 20 plus year marriage but we both survived and I believe now, 5 years later he is finally reaping the rewards with a satisfying job in health care. Congratulations on your degree, a monumental accomplishment. I know in my life, it’s the horses that have been there for all my highs and lows and I am oh so grateful. Cheers
I always look forward to reading your blog—you are an asset to the TB industry and someone I admire very much.
Thank you for a “right on time” article. I love reading your blogs and this one really hits home. I received my doctorate in 2006, was licensed as a psychologist in 2008 and have always been so glad I did it. Like another writer above, it will open doors that otherwise would not be open. There is something about having the Dr. in front of your name that says education, hardwork and dedication. You are lucky to have such a great relationship with your advisor. I think others would agree with me that it is rare to have that. My dissertation process was like a trial by fire and my chair was stoking the fire! You also inspired me to let more people know what I am up to these days so thank you. I was finally able to rejoin horses after school was over and now my psychology and horses are intertwined. Rock on Carleigh! I will probably be reaching out to you once we are here in Kentucky full time. Have a blast on your journey. Its all good, even the harder parts.
As a woman in science, I can definitely identify with big parts of this. Like you, I don’t care about publishing my name in things. I don’t care about letters (no one cares about my M.S., lol). I care about the resources we all need to survive & I care about the fellow creatures trying to make alongside of us (freshwater conservation biologist here). You would think water would be an easy priority for everyone, but… I digress.
As for who you are, I think that is a question we should never stop asking & a compilation we should keep adding to until our very last breath. And I think our voice is one of the very few, if not the only, thing we have that is truly our own & cannot be taken. Don’t ever let “them” try to stifle it – speaking out is vital. And I for one have vowed that, even if I can’t change anything, I will at least have annoyed the snot out of “them” to the last. 😉
Carleigh, as another woman in science, academia, and health care, I understand where you are. Don’t limit yourself – you have so many things open to you! The question is “what do I do next”? I am going to let you in on a little secret: there is no one end goal. No such thing. As long as you are making a positive contribution to the horse world, you are meeting your goal. And at some point in time, you may find that all the pieces of your career will come together like the pieces of quilt. Maybe 20 years from now, maybe when you least expect it. So DO WHAT YOU LOVE. Let your ethical compass keep pointing true north (as it always has) and DO NOT DOUBT yourself. Keep on keeping on, because you are doing it right! Let your voice be heard. As for the person who said that preparing for a colt’s second career does not honor their first career…. I say in my Master’s Degree voice: “Bitch, please!”