On Tuesday, March 17th, 2020 I switched my thesis and forever changed the trajectory of my academic career. It was also St. Patrick’s Day. And the day before my 24th birthday.
Ain’t that just lovely, eh?
My dad had called the previous day, early in the afternoon. It had been a sunny, pleasant Monday. Back then, my living room was in a different arrangement and I had naïve hope.
People often use “naïve” as if it’s a bad thing, but naivety can allow for optimism even in dark times. Optimism and hope can be born from naivety and persist even when wiser. I’m thankful that I was naïve with hope in the face of a global pandemic. If I hadn’t been so blinded by optimism and hope for an ideal future, I would be back in my childhood home with my parents driving me up the wall. As much as I love my parents, and I love them a lot, I have discovered that not being home during the apocalypse is hard, but ultimately worth it.
Hi, I’m Shannon, and I have OCD. My pronouns are they/them and I’m in the second year of my Master’s in Sociology. I study Haunted Houses. For the foreseeable summer, I am living in Newfoundland and writing my thesis. Where will I be in one year? Five? Eh, who knows where anyone will be in five years? This is a worldwide epidemic – nothing will be the same and our global society will have to adapt. Not even the best-paid academics across the fields could tell you what the world will look like in a year, let alone a month.
So, as a sociologist, I decided from the start of COVID-19’s impact on Newfoundland and my everyday life to heed wisdom from my department. Through my two years in MUN’s sociology department, I have learned so much about capitalism, life, our global society, different cultures and research and theories. I have had the honour of meeting wonderful and brilliant academics, colleagues and peers. There have been so many fantastic life-changing experiences and opportunities in my grad student life. Now, it is finally time to use everything that my sociology degree has taught me to both A) survive an apocalypse and B) write my thesis. Thus, I embarked on my thesis-switching adventure with the help of a mantra my supervisor likes.
Trust the process. It is a phrase which my supervisor learned from her mother, who’s a sociological Rockstar. Ordinarily, this is where I would insert an academic-y-sounding definition for what “trust the process” means and I would cite these two badass women of sociology properly… but this is a blog post, not my thesis. (Don’t worry, they are both cited at the bottom of the post – check ’em out!)
To me, trusting the process is all about having faith in the academic tradition of sociological training, doing rich qualitative research, and believing in your worth as an academic. I know this may not be the exact definition of the phrase, but that’s okay: I’m all about social constructions, so I don’t believe in anything having a “true” or “real” or “perfect” or “exact” definition. After all, everything’s socially constructed so why not socially construct definitions of potentially ambiguous phrases that best fit your understandings and needs. In my eyes, that means that when I say, “trust the process”, I really mean “I trust my thoughts and ideas”.
Trusting myself and my thoughts may sound trivial, but it has been a long journey. I think it’s a journey of identity-exploration like any other self-reflection: challenging, uncomfortable, and full of twists and turns. As anything related to personal identity is very private, I shall – rather than tell the whole tale – summarize briefly… As someone with OCD, my experience of OCD is different from other peoples’ experiences of OCD. In my particular situation, I experience a lot of anxiety, audio fixations, and intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts have an especial tenacity for sticking in your head and trampling over other thoughts. Basically, I’ve had to learn how to deal with those intrusive thoughts and their desolation (which is my self-doubt).
Anyway, enough of me, and back to Mondays.
My dad called me on the Monday when Trudeau first addressed Canada from self-isolation at his home in Ottawa. “Dad, I’m staying in Newfoundland. I am not driving across the island and taking the ferry… no… no, Dad, cancel the ferry ticket, I am not – no, I am not coming home on a ferry in the morning. Yes, yes, I know. I will come home as soon as there are zombies – I draw the line at zombies. If we hit zombies, we’ll load up the car and Zombieland road trip across Canada. Yep. Don’t worry, yeah, we’ve got GPS. Yep. Alright. Don’t worry, we’re gonna be alright. Okay. Yep, Love you too. Yep, yep – buh-bye!”
I am so thankful that my sheer optimistic willpower managed to win over the anxious voice in the back of my head screaming at me about a Zombie Apocalypse starting. Yes, naïve optimism and sociological reasoning allowed me to hunker down and wait out COVID-19 in Newfoundland and not back in Ontario.
On Tuesday, I felt secure and confident in my decision and went on to make my next reality-bending choice. I drove to campus for my last in-person meeting, rehearsed what I was going to say, and sat down with both my supervisors. “This may sound crazy, but I think that there is no better time than now – during a legit apocalypse – to switch my thesis topic. There is no other time in my life – hopefully – when I will have the opportunity to study haunted houses full-time while literally isolated in my house.”
Yes, I decided that the best time to do a study of haunted house horror movies was during the panic over Coronavirus and heavily-encouraged voluntary home-isolation. Yep, watch a bunch of haunted house horror movies while isolated from the rest of society and trapped in my own home. Yep. Sounds like a great idea.
And truly, it was. Now months into the global pandemic, and weeks into my stint with home-isolation… I can safely say that I’m glad for the choices I made on the two days leading up to my birthday (and Newfoundland’s shutdown #2 in 2020). Because of my naïve hope and trust in the process, I am now doing research on and writing about a topic that I love.
Writing my thesis during a global pandemic is hard, don’t get me wrong. It’s draining and tiring and confusing. I’m lost and have no real sense of where my future is heading. But, even though that is the case, I’m happy to be studying something that I love.
Have Hope and Trust the Process! Cheers,
My supervisor is Dr. Lisa-Jo van den Scott; she’s an Assistant Professor and Graduate Coordinator for Memorial University’s Sociology department: [Dr. van den Scott’s bio on MUN’s website]
Her mother is Dr. Deborah van den Hoonaard, she’s a professor emerita at St. Thomas University and sociological Rockstar: [Dr. van den Hoonaard’s bio on ResearchGate]