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 panicked.

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.

Onward…to December.

*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.

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§ 14 Responses to Rolling with the punches: or, how I came by this black eye

  • Lisa (Woman Wielding Words) says:

    I think you’ve made the right decision. Don’t be upset with yourself. You are going to walk with pride of a fabulously written dissertation in December, and we will be here to celebrate with you. Meanwhile, it gives you time to perfect and recognize the wonderful work you are doing. Plus, you will have time to take care of yourself, and that’s important too.

    Big hugs!
    Lisa

  • Kirsten says:

    I’m so sorry that this happened to you because it’s obvious how hard you’ve been busting your ass…but your dissertation director is right– you’ve nothing to be ashamed of!

    A very similar thing happened to my husband, actually. Both our families made plans to drive down from Illinois in May, and he had to call about a week before the ceremony and break the news to everyone. Needless to say, he was devastated.

    But you know what? That new graduation date will be here before you know it. And as for the graduation announcements, you can just do what we did– put a little sticky label over the month, and write the new one in! šŸ™‚

  • This brings back (bad) memories of my Master’s thesis. After months of researching, writing, planning, I was all set to submit the thesis to my committee when the chair informed me he was making a two-month research trip to the Middle East. There was no possible way to do all of the inevitable revisions and defend before he left.

    I know how disheartening this is, but at least you’ll be able to prepare your dissertation carefully and thoughtfully while remaining sane. In the end you’ll have pride knowing that it was done to the best of your ability.

    Sounds like a big ol’ pint of ice cream is in order. December is a lovely time of year for graduation.

  • Cori says:

    I hate to hear this, and I can imagine your disappointment. (I can also imagine how hard it is to express to those outside of the academy–that week is major, but it wouldn’t be at most jobs.) But I’m with your chair; what you did in six months was extremely impressive. Honestly, finishing in a year is equally impressive to me. I will not be done in a year. My procrastination/second guessing issues will prevent that. I envy your discipline!

    I will also say that I’m glad you’ve chosen to take some more time. You should be rested when graduation comes so that you can really take it in. If you have to deal with all this stress, you probably won’t enjoy the ceremony–and then what’s the point? (Even worse, it could lead to some real problems with your back.) Still, no matter when you walk, we’re all incredibly proud of you!

  • Gosh, Amanda, I’m so, so sorry!

    But your chair is right–how could you have woked any harder or faster or smarter!? Delaying till December is the only sane option. (And I should know a thing or two about sanity!)

    Now about that eye . . . .

    Hugs,
    Kathy

  • I’m so sorry, Amanda. You’ve worked so hard on this and really should be proud of all the work you’ve done. I’m glad that your committee is supportive of your decision and that you have such an awesome husband to talk with about it. December will be good–you’ll get some rest and will really be able to enjoy your ceremony and there will be no doubt or anxiety about finishing on time. You have done so well, Amanda! I’m so proud of you!

  • Tim says:

    It is not right that a bit of careless advisement has forced this delay on you, and I’m sorry. I know the dread of finding out you might not graduate when you’re supposed to, but I was lucky enough to have a loophole available to me that pulled me through by the skin of my teeth, so I won’t even pretend to know how much this news hurt.

    Just know that, as your chair said, the work you have done and the pace at which you have done it is something to be proud of. I know I’m proud of you, and I’m absolutely awestruck by the amount you’ve managed to produce in the time allotted to you.

    • Robert says:

      I’m right there with you, Tim. As an unofficial reader, I’m humbled by the voracious speed Amanda has produced pages and the quality of the arguments she is marshaling. It’s good. Goooood.

  • Lacy says:

    Regardless of when you graduate, you should be so proud of what you have achieved! Right now my chair and I are planning for an August 2012 graduation, and I can’t even fathom how I’m going to get it all done in a year, much less six months like you’ve done!

    And I think that you should still keep your early deadline, August 5th or close to it. Don’t kill yourself doing it, of course, but you’ve got so much momentum going you should just go ahead and get it done. Even if you don’t walk in August, you will still know that you are done and can move on to better things. šŸ™‚

  • Tori Nelson says:

    Oh, lady. I know you are feeling disappointed, but there is no shame in taking some time. I love Kathy’s comment because it is the RIGHTEST, you couldn’t have worked any harder, faster, smarter. You’ve done the very best any person can do and the difference between August and December is smaller than it feels to you right now!

  • petthedog says:

    I know we talked about all this in person, but I want to say this again: This new date is not the result of any failure on your part. I was there when you talked to the Grad School in Feb and can attest to the fact that you were told August 5. The admin people in that Grad School need some serious retraining.

    Also, I’ve read most of your dissertation and see no reason why you would need more time to make it “better.” It’s so good already! I think that’s just something people say to give you a reason to wait. You have a stellar diss regardless of when you defend. The extra time is for your committee and for the Grad School to figure out what on earth they are doing.

    All that to say, though, I’m glad you have some breathing room for your own sanity. Yesterday was so fun, and I’m so glad we can take some time to hang out now and not talk about dissertations! Yay for time!

  • Amanda, I’m missing you and your wonderful words, my dear! Hoping you’re okay!
    Hugs,
    Kathy

  • Tawnysha Greene says:

    Hope everything is okay! We are all thinking of you!

  • Kristen M says:

    I’m late to the party, but I’m curious if the person who screwed up your graduation deadline is the same person who had me crying about three or four separate times in my last two semesters from her inability not just to volunteer important information without it being asked for but also to answer direct questions submitted in written form. Just getting the stupid and redundant paperwork filled out was easily the most frustrating and stressful part of my graduate school experience.

    Congrats on the pregnancy!!

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