I submitted my PhD thesis this week. Woo hoo.
I had planned to submit it earlier, the middle of the month, not the second last day before the deadline, but I kept proofreading and finding errors and I did not want to inflict the 70,000 word beast on a friend so I plodded on myself, until I ran out of time.
In between, as you know, I was scrambling with the job situation, and prepping for the FOUR courses that I will teach together. Ok, actually prepping for two, because I don’t know what is going on with the other two because it was only confirmed I was teaching it last week, and that’s when I got the textbook and a flood of info which I have only glanced at. And I still don’t have a contract.
I had all these plans for the way my PhD would end. I would submit at least a month in advance and use the last month and plentiful library access to write and submit a paper. That didn’t happen because a) I didn’t finish writing as quickly as I expected b) I realised I’d better prep for courses if I was going to take on enough work to make a liveable wage (by this I mean at least as much as my PhD stipend, oh how the mighty have fallen).
Then I planned to submit 15 days before and be completely prepped for the courses I would be teaching. That didn’t happen either. Well, I finished writing but the editing didn’t end, and I didn’t finish all the lecture PPTs, though maybe that was unrealistic too.
I held on to my 80 something books till the last minute because another of my grand plans was to scan everything I needed. Didn’t happen either. I did scan the material for the courses and got all of it (I hope) and some extras, but nowhere close to everything I would have wanted done. Finally, I just had to let go.
Returning my entire collection of books was the hardest part. In the end, I had to take a little suitcase to office and make two and something trips down to the book drop and finally, my bookcase was empty, and so was I.
I had also planned to hold on to my office key and use the office till the last day (or obnoxiously more) but a) I realised there were new students coming in, and they were being assigned the not-so-nice desks because we were still occupying ours b) I like abiding my the rules, but mainly c) something in me clicked shut when I saw my empty bookcase, and I cleared out my desk that very day and carted everything home in my little purple suitcase and handed back the key. And that was that. Happily it turns out that because I am part-time teaching I will get a desk in some other office, or at least some sort of office space, so I won’t be totally adrift.
I was soooo tired from a) lugging the six copies of my PhD across campus in the hard sun only to land up from at the Graduate School counter to an unceremonious “what?” from the inept woman there who acted like she had never encountered a student submitting a thesis before b) clearing out the office and lugging the admittedly stuffed suitcase to the MTR c) the emotional intensity of the ending.
The next day I felt incapable of doing anything, although there was so much to do, so I went for a run and cut myself some slack by sitting in the bath for like an hour, reading fittingly Bridget Jones’s Baby and when I finally got myself to emerge, I had finished half of the (slim) novel and so said what the hell and basically read the whole thing. That evening, some of us grad students met in a bar to celebrate/drown our sorrows and it was nice, though the sad thing is, I don’t think these people are my friends, not really. You can tell I’m in a maudlin mood, right?
At drinks, the other two people who submitted described their feeling as empty. I don’t feel empty, just… detached? I had finished writing and disengaged from the thesis a while ago, and had moved on if not made peace with to the next phase of my life which is being an underpaid adjunct, though there was something about having to give back my books that made me feel like I don’t know something died.
It really is the end of an era. The other day, I was grumbling to V about our department and he said that you shouldn’t say such negative things (eyeroll), you spent so long there, why did you do this anyway. And I said, don’t get me wrong, I loved it. When I look back on my life, I will look back on this as one of the best periods of my life. Despite all the disappointments, the lack of money or being made to feel like I wasn’t bringing in enough money, the imposter syndrome and questioning whether I was good enough, the insecurity about what now after and the fact that it appears I cannot go back to where I was even if I wanted to, spending three years immersed in ideas surrounded by books and people similarly preoccupied was the experience of the lifetime. Maybe our desire to extend this experience into a career is unrealistic, and maybe even more unrealistic is that the experience will not be sullied by the realities of ‘career’ but can you blame us? Not to mention the travel for conferences, getting hotels paid for and exploring a city on my own. The sitting alone, entirely alone in an office for days on end, and writing about something that probably noone else cared about but which I was being paid to do anyway. And the not small achievement of writing essentially a book, finally forming an argument even if not the most groundbreaking one (well, of course I’m going to downplay it).
So yeah, for this I am grateful.