I Had a Little Trouble on the Way to a Ph.D.
by Sandra Monteath
With my forehead resting on my hands and my elbows resting on my knees, I contemplate the abyss. I am using as my seat of contemplation a toilet in the women's room outside the third-floor examining room of the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto. I have just defended my doctoral thesis on women's experience, knowledge and education. Inside the examining room, the examining committee is voting whether to accept my thesis as it stands, with minor changes, or to send me away to make major revisions before giving me a second and final chance to defend it.
I swear to myself, choosing a word particularly suited to my location. Through the lens of fatigue and anxiety, I see myself as having given a very bad defence for what I know is a very good thesis. Before my eyes, like scenes at the end of a life, flash recollections from my long struggle to complete my doctorate. On the road to this Ph.D. I have had to deal with despair, financial difficulties, psychic dislocation from unsuitable employment, problems with my thesis topic and thesis supervisor, disease, and, just when I thought I was home free, the adolescent distress of my daughter. Was it all to come to this?
I began my doctoral studies in the Sociology of Education in the autumn of 1975. At the same time, I got married for the second time to a man who professed to adore me. Because I was doing well in both my life of thought and the life about which I thought, I felt more than happy. In my second year of doctoral studies, when I was three months pregnant, my husband assaulted me. I immediately abandoned my idea of doing a thesis on the hidden injuries of sex, as the topic was a little too close to home. But caught up as I was in what I have come to call cultural stories about love and marriage, I remained in the relationship.