“When girls are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous.” – Michelle Obama
After three hard fought years, I can’t believe I made it to this academic milestone. I successfully defended my master’s thesis. I feel both proud and accomplished. But only a handful of people know that I actually wanted to drop out in my first semester, and every semester after that.
Finishing my thesis has been bittersweet. The sweetness coming from the pride of the accomplishment, but the bitterness lingered from the many times I contemplated dropping out of the graduate program. I was mentally dragged through the mud with this program, but I have somehow come out clean on the other side.
Personally, I always felt selfish pursuing higher education. This recurring thought ran through my mind that “there are people starving in this world, why do I deserve to spend thousands of dollars on education when I can go help others?” This mindset was my biggest obstacle. But once I was able to move past the academic side and breakthrough into research I was able to find that humanity piece I was really searching for.
I explored the experiences of cancer survivors who were enrolled in a long-term group exercise program called STAY-FIT. The best part of conducting research was interviewing members and listening to their cancer journeys. Over a twelve week period I interviewed sixteen participants at two separate time points. My study acted as their voice. I interpreted their experiences and shared how valuable this exercise program had become to them as more than just a place to exercise but also a place to feel normal, understood, and connected with others. Being able to share their stories and beliefs in this program helped me get through the completion of my degree.
In the end my degree took three years to complete instead of the average two. Normally there is one year of coursework and one year of research, but I took one year of coursework and two years of research. There were many days when I felt embarrassed or ashamed, especially when people asked “when are you gonna be done?” I never had a clear cut answer. I knew that my project was the largest qualitative study taken on by a graduate student in our department, but I didn’t know how to explain that to them. My study has a high level of value tagged to it, but I always discouraged the level of excellence that my project was trying to achieve.
My thesis study ended up being the largest qualitative study to come out of our department by a master’s student. My study has implications that extend beyond research and go into helping the STAY-FIT program understand their members, and shed a light on the importance of more long-term group-based exercise programs like STAY-FIT. My study went on to get nominated for a Gold Medal of Academic Excellence (which is basically an Oscar nomination in my eyes 🤩).
Three years felt long, they felt hard, they felt mentally exhausting at times, but these three years are a chapter in my life that I have grown to become proud of. Completing a master’s thesis was the most challenging yet rewarding experience I’ve had thus far in my life. It took a lot of grit, fight, and strength to get through some of those hard days. But there were many good days that kept my spirit alive.
I never loved graduate school, but without pursuing this degree I would have never had the opportunities to do other things like foster Hera my future dog guide puppy, work for the Heart & Stroke Foundation, live with three guys who became to me like the brothers I never had, and develop friendships that I know will last a lifetime. The list goes on and on.
After three years of my parents encouraging me to stick through this degree, I have successfully completed it. My dad always told me to just get through this and “get to the next level” and that “this is only one chapter in your book of life.” He was right. Although I may not find out the reason for writing this chapter until later on in my book, one thing I do know is that this chapter will add value to my story.
As this graduate school chapter closes and I eagerly wait for the next one to begin, I want to thank everyone who helped me out and became a part of this journey. I love my life. I am blessed. I am proud. And now I’m a ‘master’! 😉
– Liv ✨✌🏽