It’s a cliche, but the journey is different for everyone.
My grad program was designed to take four years to complete - three years of coursework, and a year to write the dissertation. Bing, bam, boom, you’re done. Out of my cohort of nine, it happened that way for … exactly one person.
We did have one over-achiever, a woman who finished everything, including writing and defending her dissertation, in three years. But here comes the journey part: she had her reasons. She was a newlywed, her husband had given up his job to move to Boondocks University town, and they had agreed that she would honor that sacrifice by getting them out of there as soon as possible.
The person who finished “on time” was an international student whose visa wouldn’t permit her to stay longer.
The rest of us took a variety of paths. Some took a job at the end of that fourth year, and started working ABD. Most have since finished their dissertations, but several have not. Others stayed in Boondocks for a fifth year, extending their assistantship, taking an adjunct gig, or living off savings. Some got jobs during their first foray into the job market, some of us (including me) took two seasons on the market, and some are still unemployed.
In the midst of all this, there have been marriages, divorces, babies, illness, deaths in the family, and financial hardships. If I wrote the story of each of my cohort-mates, you’d have nine very different tales.
Sure, there’s a model, an ideal - in and out in four years. Three years of coursework, one year of writing the diss while looking for a job, getting the job, defending the diss, leaving Boondocks University with diploma in hand. And everyone who starts the program seems to think that’s the map of the journey. We don’t anticipate any detours or potholes along the way.
In the end, the map doesn’t match the reality. Life happens. And we needn’t feel guilty about writing a different story.