Look at the first line of this email I received yesterday:

Hello Kate,

I have approved your dissertation and awarded your degree for the Ph.D. in Sociology. Congratulations Dr. Burrows!

I can’t believe I finally did it. I defended my dissertation back in July, so have been completed with my PhD for almost 6 months, but now it is finally official. It took me 14years to complete my PhD- I started in Fall of 2007. I started off strong- published four articles in the first few years of grad school, top of my class, very high expectations. I was teaching 1-2 classes a term plus attending 4-5 classes. But the hospitalizations got in the way- I was hospitalized 5-6 times, AT LEAST, during the course of my degree process. One social worker, at a hospital in Pennsylvania, said I should just give up on my PhD- I should be proud of my accomplishments as a MA, and stop trying so hard. People with schizoaffective don’t get PhDs, she said. But look at Elyn Saks (Schizophrenia)- MD, and countless others with serious mental illnesses, probably including schizoaffective, that have made it. The social worker was really condescending- she might as well have patted my head and said, “there, there, you have accomplished all you are going to accomplish.” But I wanted more.

Moving back to Portland was the death knell for my dissertation, though. This was back in 2011, before me or anybody else really knew how to work remotely. I failed by not reaching out to my committee to tell them I was struggling, and they were at fault for not reaching out to me, to say, “hey, haven’t heard from you in a year.” On both sides, it was “not seen and forgotten.” I missed out on the casual conversations in the hallways,because I was all the way in Oregon and my graduate school, Rutgers, was in New Jersey. Slowly, I completed all the research for my dissertation, and started writing it up. But I was slow. I let other things come in the way. Finally, in March 2019, I had a final call with my committee and they told me it was over. My chair was retiring, I’d already been at the institution 12 years, and was not making progress towards my degree. They cut me loose.

What was I supposed to do with a half-written dissertation? No¬† school would take that on, I thought, and I seriously considered giving up. I was sick of having the dissertation hang over my head, and I was sick of my topic. But two close friends- Ryan and Ashley- kept poking at me, telling me I had come this far, I owed it to myself to at least see if I could finish. I didn’t want to finish, but knew they were right. So I looked into PSU, certain they wouldn’t accept a 12-year transfer student with a half-written dissertation. But to my delight, the acting Graduate Director at PSU at the time was Dr. Maura Kelly, and she saw something in me, and in my work, that made her decide to accept me, half-written dissertation and all!

I started at PSU in the fall of 2019, had to take one course, and then spent all of the Pandemic year of 2020 and half of 2021 writing like a mad man. It took the pandemic to help me learn how to work remotely, at my own pace, away from the institution. And Maura, my chair, and the rest of my committee was so wonderful. Maura checked up on me, or asked me to check in with her, every other week or so, and her feedback was thoughtful and thorough. The experience I had with my committee at PSU couldn’t have been more different than my committee at Rutgers. At RU, I had a “dream team” committee- filled with experts from my field, whereas at PSU, nobody on my committee knew much about my topics or theories, but they tried, and I tried, and in June of 2021 I finally finished!

I am grateful for the 12 years I spent at RU- I got an exemplary education and came in contact with some of the luminaries in my field. I am also grateful to PSU, who took me under their wing, and with careful help, helped guide me to write the dissertation I wanted to write. I think my dissertation at PSU was stronger than it would have been had I stayed at RU.

Here I am now, an official PhD. What lies in store for me? I know I’m going to keep writing and keep publishing. I have three papers under review (one is an Revise & Resubmit), five published papers, and several other papers in varying states. I’m satisfied to keep working at the VA for now, and teaching and publishing on the side. Will I ever want to work at a university? Maybe. We’ll see. But for now, I am happy to call myself “Dr.” and look forward to framing my degree!