I submitted my Phd thesis a few days ago.
It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I have been doing a fair bit of casual work, and just sleeping, so I haven’t had much time to stop and reflect that it has Happened.
Apparently so. Surreal. A trickling away of the tasks and to-do’s until I am just uploading a file. Glitches and snags on the way. Sitting on my bed on a Sunday night with my partner. Finally after needless glitches angst due to a lack of clear explanation about the uploading process, I couldn’t wait and watch it and see that the upload had failed one more time, so I left the job with my partner. Then I hear: “Sucess!”
A little bit of tears that night, and the next day while working, probably from exhaustion. Lots of people are happy for me. I imagine that I will catch up to their happiness once I have grasped it.
Yet I think that, partly, the process doesn’t help, as there is very little concrete sense of a milestone, an event, a landmark. Instead, a trickling of an uploading process, a dwindling of final tasks to do, and then a: that will do, I just need this to be gone because I have so much other work.
So that was it.
I have been trying to create my own lunches and coffees on the fly this week. Like me, most people are busy and it has felt a little haphazard, so I figure I will have a week or two of rolling catch-ups with people. Which, really, means that I am very lucky.
How strange that this thing, or not even a thing, an atmosphere, a weight, a factor that impacted my life, my other activities, partners, days and nights, a constant low level guilt, is finished with an upload button. (I still have to finish uploading music files, which hopefully I can get to today).
Having said that, I am very lucky to have some kind and lovely people around me to congratulate me and be happy for me.
I think the main sense of surreal dislocation is when people say that it is a tremendous achievement: it is, I guess, but the last five years have been a horrible awakening into how a PhD isn’t valued, how I am a job-seeker with the same casual shit prospects, how competitive and mangerialist and horrible much of academic life is, how little value most people place on a PhD, how cynical so many early career researchers are about academia, how little postgrads are valued by their faculties, (yet called on to fill teaching gaps when in panic mode), how little understanding a broader sense of the ‘public’ has of the value of Arts or critique, how the vices of perfectionism, procrastination and anxiety love to cluster in and around researchers who are only valued for their quanitified output, how toxic management of Universities truly is … all of this makes it hard to feel the ACHIEVEMENT.
However, as I read and edited and proofread the thesis itself, I did occasionally go: whoa, that’s right, I remember thinking through that, reading that, writing that … re-drafting that 26 times … and then I get a glimpse of the effort.
It’s done. Whatever it is, it’s done.
(Until the revisions …)
Yeah, really. The process of doing a PhD for me has been a great exercise in ego death. Die! I mean, the ego is resilient. The vanity, fear, self-doubt, perfectionism, depression, self-doubt, radical questioning of meaning and what-the-hell-can-I assert is bound in the ego knot.
Many spiritual teachers talk about the blessings in struggle. It’s not a pat meaning, but something to be discovered. It’s good to say that things are not okay. Also, struggle can yield a new open perspective, more space inside, less hair-knots around the self-doubt-self.
Being in an enduring process of criticism and critique has been one of facing a fear of my right to be, in a way. (whoa). But, of course, when you face what you fear (criticism, someone thinks that what I think is crap, or unclear, or confused) YOU ACTUALLY SURVIVE. Over and over. And keep on surviving. And there have been many low points where I have felt completely ground down with no self-esteem left. And I kept on surviving.
At this point I reckon I wil sound precious. But, hey, we are all, ultimately, pretty self-obsessed. Again, another gift of this process of a long project of being up for critique is loosening off the preciousness. Having those rare moments of detachment between the ego and the work.
And there is the blessing. Really. So when people ask me if they should do a PhD … there may be a blessing in it. And I am blessed to be privileged enough to be able to do it. Here’s to the birth of the doctorate baby. Soooooon.