Rolling with the punches: or, how I came by this black eye
June 21, 2011 § 14 Comments
I’ve just gotten beat up by Grad School.
We would break up…but I know it loves me. It didn’t mean to beat me up. I’m to blame. It just loves me so much. And I just made it so mad. It really needs me. How could I leave it now?
(Have I covered all the cliched and borderline offensive bases? Yes? Good. Moving on.)
Yesterday morning at 8 a.m., I was informed that my plan to complete my paperwork for graduation the first week of August was ill-fated. In fact, as it turns out, the woman I spoke to in February (a mysterious, nameless individual who has inadvertently taught me the lesson of asking for names and writing them down) misled me. She allowed me to believe that I simply had to be done by August 5th in order to walk* in the August 6th ceremony. From February to yesterday, I planned the progress of my dissertation according to this August 5th advice. Yesterday morning, I learned that the deadline is actually July 29th. To some, this is not a big difference. To those in the academy, particularly those who know my specific committee members and their special needs (in one case), the difference is stark and obvious. A week eliminated means a week less spent on reading and commenting on drafts. A week eliminated means a week less spent on revisions based on those comments. A week eliminated means the difference between graduating in August…and not.
I e-mailed my committee chair, who responded in a doubtful (but still maybe kind of sort of hopeful) way. She said it would depend upon the rest of my committee members. So I lobbed it out to the committee. And by the afternoon, I heard from one of my readers. The one who has the most explicit special needs. He requires more time to read because he is seeing impaired. It requires a great deal more of him to get through a document that’s over 200 pages. He told me this new deadline would be extremely difficult to meet. We might be able to make it to July 28th. Which would give me a single day to work on revisions. As I began to weep (no, no…literally), I came to the realization: I’m not going to walk in the August ceremony.
I spent the rest of the day sobbing. Robert came home from work, and I rehashed the entire saga to him. And we talked for nearly three hours about my options. In order to make it to August, I would have to give up everything else. I’ve already limited my social life to the point where I’m saying “no” more often than “yes.” It’s devastating. I’d have to exchange sleep for work. And my eating habits would follow those of a graduate student under intense deadlines. (Picture a poor, young person shaking the library vending machine in hopes a bag of chips might fall. That’d be me.) I might gain massive weight. Or worse, put my body through hell. And I am just not willing to do that. Despite all those physical and social sacrifices, I cannot guarantee my committee would approve the dissertation.
Moving graduation to December only gives me time. I could take my time churning out pages. My committee could read the dissertation more slowly, giving higher quality comments. I could spend more time thoughtfully responding to comments and producing a draft worthy of approval. Worthy of pride.
After our talk, I sent my committee chair an e-mail detailing the highlights of my conversation with Robert. I cried off and on for the rest of the night. This morning, I awoke to an e-mail response from my chair, and she agreed with my reasoning. I wrote back that I was disappointed in myself, but that she was right. I made the new plan official shortly thereafter by e-mailing the rest of my committee members, as well as some important people in the graduate school and English department.
I struggled with feelings of failure and disappointment. How could I work so hard since January and still not meet the deadline? How could I have made such confident claims that I would graduate in August…only to have to rescind those claims just a couple of weeks later? How could I allow my parents to make financial commitments (in the form of invitations, a hotel banquet room deposit, etc.) when I wasn’t actually guaranteed to graduate?
My chair e-mailed me back and invited me to lunch where we could talk. She was extremely supportive and sympathetic. But she agrees with my decision to postpone graduation to December. When I expressed my disappointment in my production, she was speechless. She said she didn’t know how I could have produced any faster. I’m forbidden from punishing myself for not writing more and faster.
I spent the rest of my day with V, which cheered me up beyond belief. I came home laughing and smiling.
I know I’m going to be okay.
This is the right decision.
It’s going to be okay.
*In terms of graduation, there are two ways to get across the stage on that magnificent day. You can graduate outright, which means you’ve met all deadlines in time to have your paperwork processed so that your diploma has time to be printed and will be handed to you in person on the day of graduation (after the ceremony; there are many people who graduate). If you graduate outright, you will also see your special name printed in the special commencement program. The other way to make it across that stage is to walk. Walking requires the completion of all paperwork by a super-secret, unpublished (but still super official) deadline. People who complete their work and forms between the published deadlines and the unpublished deadlines will walk in the ceremony. Their diploma will be printed by the next graduation ceremony (so, if walking in May, the degree will read “August”). Their name will not appear in the special commencement program until the following graduation ceremony.