Sohan's Blog

Things I'm Learning

The PhD Project

Finally, I defended my PhD thesis yesterday. Family, friends, and colleagues are all sending their wishes, and it feels great to have crossed this milestone.

To be honest, deep inside, I carry a sad and guilty feeling, which at times overshadows the feeling of acomplishment. This phenomenon is hard to write about, but I wanted to give it a try anyway.

So, it was 2012. Life was good. I got promoted to Senior Consultant at ThoughtWorks and Shahana got a job almost immediately following the completion of her grad school. We spent an amazing vacation to end the year 2011, and the summer of 2012 was full of weekend trips to all the beautiful touristy places. That summer we also found that we were gonna be first time parents. It was an exciting time.

Along came fall. It started getting cold and wintery in Calgary. Both of us would be home by 5:30 PM, and would look for things to do to keep busy till bed time, which is about midnight. With slippery and often icy sidewalk, going for walks oudoors would mean a serious risk for the soon-to-be mom. So, we mostly stayed indoors. We were naive, and didn’t quite learn to enjoy the serenity of the “nothing to do” time. So, in one of such evenings, out of sheer boredom, I decided to shoot an email to my then ex-supervisor asking if he could meet to discuss potentially a part-time PhD admission for me.

He wrote back and we meet next week. He was quick to accept that request and also ensured that he’d be able to pay my tuition and expences as a scholarship, if required, for the full four years. I discussed this with Shahana and we decided to take this opportunity. Officially, the program would start in Fall 2013, about 5 months after the due date of our first born.

This is going to be a long read. But I’m writing it while it’s fresh in my memory from this overwhelmingly emotional time that I’m going through since the exam yesterday. This write up is an attempt to dump the different incidents that are showing up like storms in my mind at this time. I think it’s written for myself, more than anything. But I appologize if you’re reading this, since it’s a long format story, the format that most people don’t like to read online.

Back to the story, even though the program officially started in Fall 2013, I actually started working on my research right after we had our meeting. The first sub-project was to run a literature review on the area of interest for the PhD. This would give me a head-start in terms of positioning my research a whole year before enrolling officially. And I thought, I’d also get a feeling about enrolling into a PhD that’d help to “fail fast”, essentially I could call it a “quit” if I didn’t like the work before enrolling. Also, I switeched my job to join SourceFire, now part of Cisco, because the traveling projects with ThoughtWorks weren’t working for me anymore. I wanted to be with my wife, and international travels were screwing up with my Canadian immigration and citizenship requirements.

Life was still quite easy till the April of 2013. Then, we had our first born and it changed upside down. I think like most other first time parents, we had little idea about how much work it is to raise a little child on your own without substantial family support. To make things a little more challenging, the deadline for the first paper I wrote was about two weeks after Shopoth was born. In that two week, we barely got any sleep. But Shahana was adament, and let me take the time away to complete the paper on time. It felt good to be able to submit the paper. We both felt that it was doable.

Fast forward about a month. So, Shopoth is about 7 weeks old. My mother had left after helping us with the first few weeks of Shopoth’s life. We , the three of us, went for a walk for the first time around the beautiful tree-laden neighborhood of the varsity community in Calgary. I recall precisely, it was a beautiful early summer day. We just crossed a playground and turned left on a corner. My phone beeped signaling an email notification about the paper I submitted. It had this:

We regret to inform you that your submission titled …has not been accepted…

I felt sweaty, and wanted to keep it to myself. I could only do so for a few hours, and then shared this with Shahana. She was still recovering from the c-section, and was under a lot of stress due to the sudden changes in her life. I remember, she was saying only positive things about it and tried to encourage me to carry on.

As it happens, I moved on and decided to get into the PhD program anyway. During this year, I also got quite a bit engaged with things at the new job and started taking more responsibilities from a leadership perspective. To complete the course requirements, I’d have to complete at least three graduate courses, and transfer the credits from one of the courses I did while doing my MBA before coming to Canada.