(Retro-)/(Pro-)spective

(Retro-)/(Pro-)spective
By Claire-Marie Brisson
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It’s been a while since I’ve posted something to my personal blog, but I was inspired to take a step back and look at a brief chronology of where I’ve been, and where I’m headed.
2016
“It is our great pleasure to offer you admission to the doctoral program in French in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia for the Fall 2016 term.”
These words moved me to tears. I fell on the floor, with my hands in the sky in thanks. As a person of faith, I thanked God for watching over this. I cannot think of a time that tested me more than in the months leading up to this e-mail. After a plethora of rejection letters, the small number of acceptances meant the world to me – particularly since UVa was my dream program. I thought it was a long shot, but it turned out that it wasn’t in the slightest.
After months of preparation, several thousand dollars spent on applications and updated test scores, and weeks of nervous anticipation, the path to the Ph.D. was set. I couldn’t believe it, and I still can’t.
I hugged my family and friends. We celebrated, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to be with them or see them as often now that I had to journey over 600 miles to start my new degree program.
2020
This is the second semester in Year 4 of 5 of my Ph.D. program.
In the first year, I felt isolated. I knew only a few people in my program that helped me discover my new city. I’d spend lots of time alone, contemplating what it means to leave a place you called home to forge a new path. It wasn’t always easy, but it was worth it.
As the years went on, I focused on building bridges and learning from others from a wide span of disciplines. I made some incredible friends and mentors along the way. Others distanced themselves from me. Everything and everyone was in constant flux.
Through the years, I’ve spent hours reading books that I’ve loved, articles that have made me groan, and sitting in on lectures that made me want to learn more. I’ve finished coursework, have had incredible experiences teaching abroad (in Germany, twice… soon to be three times), and continue to push myself towards goals that are sometimes attainable, and sometimes not.
I’ve had the great fortune of many interdisciplinary crossovers with scholars in Art History, Religious Studies, Architecture, and even in Engineering. I took on many roles and continue to do so.
I discovered what it means to be an academic. The community of scholars sticks together, learns together, and grows together. Likeminded academics nourish others, while necessary critique is given by others with contrasting viewpoints. Sometimes you run into a bad apple or two, as one does in any profession.
Those who are not within the academic community have their own opinions on what your work means and who you are as a person for undertaking what is commonly viewed as a daunting task. The reality is – it can be at times. But the passion that flows through a work breathes its own life into a subject. The research becomes much greater than the researcher, and I sit in awe at the bountiful resources that exist.
I started sharing these encounters on my new self-supported podcast. And tomorrow, I’m recording my first monthly interview in French with ICI Alberta. Part of my dissertation deals with the influence Radio-Canada had (and continues to have) on French-Canadian and Franco-American intellectual communities, and knowing that I have been asked to contribute in my own small way to that is humbling beyond words… though I’ve made an attempt to author a few.
I felt it necessary to pause and appreciate all of the challenges and inspirations that have brought me to where I am today… which is still a work in progress. I’m as energized as ever to make it across the finish line.
The people who have crossed paths on this journey continue to inspire me every day. Without the people who send their support, share a laugh, or spend time with me, I don’t think my project or my studies would have flourished in the ways that continue to surprise me.
Here’s to the road ahead.