The diploma dilemma

I’ve been living in “survivorship” for a while now. It’s that period when you’re done with treatment and you “go back to normal life”…except you don’t. I have found survivorship to be more difficult than going through radiation and chemo. I’ve spent the last almost 3 years living my best life with my current abilities, which aren’t what they used to be. I constantly question whether I’m doing enough, what I could be doing differently, etc. I recently moved back to my home state to be closer to family and friends, to both have a support system and provide a support system. I’m in the process of deciding what artwork I want up on the walls of my new apartment, what I want to be seeing on a regular basis. I have found that generally I am leaning toward artwork that is more representative of me longer term rather than things I’ve accumulated in the last 5 years after my diagnosis. Perhaps this goes with moving home and getting in touch with my roots. Star Wars posters are up. Australian aboriginal paintings are up. Old fire hydrant advertisements are hung. New Jersey pieces are given their places.

The one thing I haven’t decided on is my diploma that showcases my PhD. It’s been in a pile of stuff that I haven’t quite figured out yet. I hadn’t really given it much thought, but some topics came up in tonight’s support group that brought this subject to my forefront. First there was a discussion of grief and grieving for things lost, including our former selves. Then there was the topic of contemplating who you are when you’re not doing what you used to do and may never be able to do that again. These both directly related to my diploma dilemma.

I worked very hard for 10 years to get that degree. It was the biggest accomplishment of my life. And now it’s a piece of paper, in a big fancy frame, that reminds me of my current limitations, of my disabilities, of a former life. Sure I’m immensely proud of it, but it’s not me anymore. I can’t practice in my field anymore. My brain has knowledge that it can mildly apply to life around me. And now I’m asking myself, have I grieved the loss of my former professional career? I would absolutely prefer to still be working and have a normal functioning brain and not gotten a brain tumor. I loved my profession. But it’s not mine anymore. Now I’m defined by my volunteering, by my participation in support groups, my focus on improving the daily lives of those important to me in ways that I am capable of. Yes these are fulfilling goals, given my situation. I just need to decide whether I want to (a) display my diploma at at all, (b) display it prominently, or (c) display it in a corner where I can see it when I want to. What a weird dilemma that I never would have thought I’d have…first world problems…

One thought on “The diploma dilemma

  1. I want to politely object to a few of your assessments about “it’s not me anymore”. I believe that your ability to produce this blog, with so many insights and valuable pieces of “participant observation” and self-awareness, is an exemplary demonstration of your intellectual capability, adaptability, and capacity for innovation and advancing the frontiers of understanding. This is the true definition and hallmark of the PhD, not whether or not you are working in a specific type of faculty position with a well-worn set of experimentally controlled data collection efforts and incremental journal papers. You have done a profound service in helping a number of people (including myself) determine and assess how one’s sense of self should be much more than how much we make or what job title we have. As you know, I have some experience in evaluating scholarship, and I have looked forward to your posts as a form of scholarship that most of us would be unable or terrified to attempt. You are not even the first scholar of my acquaintance who has had to re-configure their own capability for professional contributions in cognitive ergonomics based on… an organic trauma to the seat of cognition. As I consider additional ways to leave legacy and expand knowledge frontiers, I will have you as a “first tier” expert to whom I hope to come with requests and queries. That is a function of who you are, not who or what generates your paycheck.


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