6, 12, 25: reaching the educational finish line
October 23, 2012 § 17 Comments
The number of years I spent in my PhD program.
The number of years I spent in higher education programs.
The number of years I spent in all educational programs.
Reaching the educational finish line is not always as easily mapped-out as it may at first appear. On that first jittery morning, standing on the hearth with plastic Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox in hand, plaid jumper and be-ribboned pigtails quivering, I grinned until my cheeks hurt. This was the day. I would get to ride on the Big Girl Bus, stay away from home all day long, and return with tales as long as my arm about the lessons learned in kindergarten.
I didn’t know, couldn’t know, that on that Day One I would embark on a journey that would carry me for 25 years. To the passive observer, my path was clear-cut from the beginning. I was the child who lined her stuffed animals up (and later added her younger sister to the group) in order to offer reading instruction, pointing to letters and imagining their chorused response. The destiny was obvious: this child will teach. So I carried that in my heart for 25 years, positioning myself and repositioning myself until that goal was no longer a shimmering possibility but a very real outcome. Although I was not a driven high schooler, I managed well enough to get into a good liberal arts college. From there, I buckled down, ultimately clawing my way into a graduate program in spite of unimpressive GRE scores, in spite of a decision from the admissions faculty not to fund my education with a teaching assistantship. A week before classes began, I took advantage of an opportunity in order to swoop in and take an assistantship from a graduate student who had rejected hers earlier that morning. I took a chance by applying to a single doctoral program, not expecting to be accepted; feeling utter joy, gratitude, and fear upon reading my acceptance letter.
Six years later, I have reached the inevitable telos of my path. My journey is not unlike the journeys of other people, and not just of the academic nature. It began with excitement and anxiety, maintained a level of energy and motivation for a while, dipped into nadir-depths, trudged through sluggish valleys, cautiously ascended…until I reached the summit, battered, bruised, but there dammit.
Have I wavered on my life goal? Yes. Do I doubt my training, my ability, indeed my own interests? No.
Yesterday afternoon I defended my dissertation.
I am no longer a graduate student.
I will graduate this December as A.Hab., PhD.
Congratulations! Well done. Did the defense feel anti-climactic? I’m currently in the “nadir-depths” stage. Glad to hear the summit is reachable!
Thank you! Yes, it was a bit anti-climatic, in a way. I think I expected myself to jump gleefully or sob joyfully…neither of which has happened yet. Maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet, or maybe my confidence tempered my reaction. On Monday, I knew they were going to pass me. I finally was able to trust in what everyone had been telling me: the committee doesn’t get the candidate to the defense unless they are prepared to pass the candidate. The question is to what degree they pass you. At my university, there are three ways to pass: they can outright put a checkmark by “Satisfactory” on the approval form and all committee members sign. Or, all committee members but the director can sign the approval form, upon the contingency that the candidate makes the requested revisions. After the revisions have been made, the director will check “Satisfactory” and sign the approval form. Or, no one can sign the form and request to see all revisions before they agree to sign the form. (I know this one sounds like failure…but I define “failing” the defense as being told that there is no way the project will ever be passable.)
At the end of my defense, I expected the second scenario, just judging by the way the defense had been going. I knew that at least one of my committee members was unhappy with a portion of the dissertation, so I assumed I would have to make the revisions. But when my director came to retrieve me after they had deliberated, she surprised me by extending her hand and saying, “Congratulations, Dr. Hab.!” My committee had checked “Satisfactory” and had all signed the form. There were a few revisions, which I plan to fix this weekend (write a couple of additional paragraphs to elaborate a point in the introduction, clean up my footnotes, and double-check my bibliography). It won’t be much work, to my surprise. Maybe it will sink in more once I submit the final draft of the dissertation to our university’s database.
The overwhelming emotion I had was relief. If you have ever thrown a full-to-bursting backpack to the ground after a long day at school…it was reminiscent of that sense of relief.
You will get through the nadir, I promise. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you will get through. Also, check out this website. I discovered it while I was preparing for my defense and truly wish I had found it much earlier: ABD Survival Guide. I hope it helps you, and please feel free to write any time you feel like you need some support. 🙂
Thanks for your reply and for the helpful link!
It sounds like you ruled that defense! Excellent job. I don’t even know you, but I still feel impressed and proud about your success. Enjoy it!
Brava! Jen and I are both incredibly proud of you =)
Thank you, Childrees!! 🙂
This just brought tears of joy to my eyes. Congratulations Dr. H.
Aw, you are so sweet Lisa! Thank you so much!
Woo hoo, congratulations!!!
Thanks Katie!! 🙂 (Sure has been a long time coming, huh? ;))
Congratulations! I can’t wait to join you there in a year. Glad to know it’s possible, even after you’ve stopped being a Haley resident, to finish in a reasonable amount of time.
It is definitely possible! It is challenging, since the fear of running into your director at any given moment is gone, but as long as you stay in touch with your director (and occasionally your committee likes to hear from you, too, as it turns out) and keep up with the graduate school deadlines, you can manage. 🙂 Do you have a writing buddy? My writing buddy made a world of difference in helping me stay focused and goal-oriented. Also, check out the website I mentioned in the comment above: ABD Survival Guide.
Congrats, Amanda! And if your experience is anything like mine, it may be sometime in the summer before it really sinks in that you’re done. That was when I really felt “finished.” It takes a while to stop feeling guilty every time you do something not-dissertation-related or to stop feeling panicked every time you look at a calendar. 🙂
Thanks Kristen! Haha, today I’ve been watching some trashy television while grading quizzes and daily work, and in the back of my mind the little dissertation voice is saying, “B-but, you still have revisions!” I’m trying to shut that voice up because my plan is to work on the revisions this weekend when I can sit still and concentrate on them (i.e. when there is someone else present to watch the sweet little baby, lol). Glad to hear that one day it sinks in–I’m looking forward to not feeling guilty or panicky! Hope you’re doing well! 🙂
Congratulations, officemaaaaate! I’m so proud of you!
Gah! I haven’t been doing a good job of keeping up with comments lately. Thank you for the congratulations, and I hope you’ve been doing well! I miss you!
Woo to the WHOOOOOO! I hope you are super proud of your accomplishment, missy. You should be!
Congrats! So happy for you!