When I was a first-year doctoral student, a recent graduate came to one of our doctoral seminars and regaled us with her wild stories of dissertation research. She told us about Faustian deals with her husband, exchanging a few hours of childcare every night for some promise of delight in the year 2024 so she could write.
I remember scoffing at her and the methods she wantonly flaunted. (Apparently her organizational methods involved stacks of journal articles tucked away in color-coded Tupperware bins.) And I likely rolled my eyes when she mentioned that she wrote every weeknight until some ungodly hour and locked herself in the library on the weekends. I thought she was in hyperbole overdrive when she commented on the loneliness associated with doctoral research.
Fast forward three years.
In hindsight, my arrogant naiveté at the time was understandable, if not expected. You don’t really know what you get yourself into when you sign up for something like getting a doctorate. And even though you know that you’re going to have this tremendously long paper at the culmination of all the wheel-spinning, you don’t really grasp what that means until… well, until you’re there.
The past week has been simultaneously climactic and anticlimactic for me. Much like a more academic and much less consequential version of 24, I was running around trying to get signatures and other manner of bureaucracy completed. But I was finally able to submit my dissertation to the school, schedule my oral defense, and apply for graduation. And I even signed away $670 of my hard-earned student loan money to purchase my graduation regalia. (For that much money, rest assured it will be worn on all sorts of other occasions).
But now I get a good four weeks to prepare for the defense.
And now I get to catch my breath.
That’s a good thing. I’ve literally been working on this stupid dissertation nonstop since November. (Yes on the nightly writing until the wee hours. Ditto on the locking myself in the library on the weekends.) In the process, I’ve neglected friends, family, and any semblance of a social life. Assessment in student affairs is now oozing out of every pore of my body. I have dreams about accountability. My body is staging a strike; it knows it’s time for a break.
But I suspect that the four-week break is also going to be an intense time of reflection and processing for me. It hasn’t quite hit me yet, but the culmination of four long years of papers, projects, and presentations is literally around the corner. And as incredibly self-aware as I am, I know for certain that this sobering reality will dawn on me: I’ve completed my terminal degree and have nowhere else to go except the real world. I can no longer rely on my twisted Peter Pan syndrome. I must face the harsh fact that I can no longer defer paying off my student loans. Just in time for my 30th birthday. 🙂
Until then (March 12 for the oral defense, April 1 for the final edits before the document is submitted for publication), I wait.