Posts Tagged ‘can’t finish phd’
This post is long overdue.
But every time I’ve sat down to write it, I come down with a terrible case of ennui. And boredom is so much worse when its french, no? The whole thing was so strange that a month later, I still don’t think I’ve been able to process my feelings about it.
So the viva, defense, simulated drowning, whatever you want to call it wasn’t actually that bad. I ‘studied’ for weeks, which mostly involved torturing myself by rereading my thesis several times and alternately praising my own genius (rare moments, let me tell ya) and mostly crying about how dumb I am and how the examiners are going to see right through the thin veneer of my ‘expertise’ which is in fact more narrow and insubstantial than the ‘wood’ part of an ikea dresser. Then I reread 5-10 of the books I relied on most heavily to do my research, and beat myself up even more about all of these good bits that I didn’t quote, or realized that I didn’t actually understand the author’s argument, and shit, what if they ask me about (insert random theory I could care less about here), because I will have nothing to say and look like a fool.
So basically, the month or so I took preparing for the viva was like the condensed soup version of the last 3 ish years. All of the emotions you experience during the course of your phd timesmushed one last panic bursty rush. And the worst bit is the knowledge that you can’t really really prepare for a viva. Rereading your thesis and being really familiar with your own work is really all you can do. I have a friend who went though her entire bibliography and wrote a paragraph sized summary of every single thing she read. (I was too lazy, too disorganized, and too disinterested to do that.) In the end, did they end up asking her about any of these fucking sources? No. Although you could get caught out by some dickhead examiner who will ask. So yeah. But anyways, the only bit of my manic preparations that helped was rereading my own thesis, but I do say that with the caveat that unfortunately this advice ended up working in my situation but might not in yours. YMMV and other internet acronyms. To anyone preparing for their viva, I’d suggest doing whatever level of prep will help alleviate your anxiety and not make you feel worse, whatever that is.
The viva itself was actually kind of fun. My examiners had both clearly read my thesis and were familiar with a number of the primary texts I used. They started off by telling me how much they enjoyed (?!?!!!?!) reading it and asked me a whole bunch of interesting questions that either asked me to clarify my position on something or asked my opinion on something else. There was only one part where I metaphorically shat myself- they asked about some obscure philosopher whose name I never fucking heard of in my life, but I was able to explain why it didn’t occur to me to go there, and they accepted that just fine. But for the like 5 minutes while ze went on and on about the works of this person, I was imagining that I was chained to a desk like Bartleby the Scrivener in some room made of algae covered stones with iron clamps around my legs, reading shitty books about this philosopher and writing yet MORE crap until I squeezed myself between the rusty window bars and jumped out the window to my doom.
But here I am still, so obviously it didn’t come to that.
I will say that the university’s impartial moderator (whose function was to fill out the paperwork and make sure nobody got stabbed?) was very fucking rude. Ze was texting the entire fucking time and after about an hour, started making throat clearing noises, because this was probably interfering with hir SimCity or feeding stray cats time or whatever the fuck they wanted to go home and do. Which ok, I get that this isn’t particularly fascinating for you and its one more shitty administrative duty you have to do for your shitty tenured job with amazing benefits and good pay, but seriously sit the fuck down because this is the only time in my life I will be in the same room as people who have read my thesis and want to fucking discuss it with me, bitch.
The final result is that I passed with minor corrections, so just a few typos to fix. I still can’t believe it. I do know how lucky I got with my examiners. Really fucking lucky that they 1. read the thesis 2. behaved like compassionate human beings 3. had totally reasonable expectations for a phd thesis and realize that I am not a 73 year old wizard guru with infinite knowledge. And thank Allah for that, because after all of the shitty experiences I’ve had with various advisers, I needed a fucking break.
My brain is still trying to process the mindfuck though. Because according to these people, my ideas were original and convincing and my writing was GOOD and INTERESTING and shit. And I’m not saying this to sound like I’m up my own ass, but to hopefully provide some reassurance for anyone out there that has heard nothing but how stupid they are for the last 3,4,5 years that it’s not fucking true. I was told up until the time I submitted (for the parts of my thesis that my adviser actually claimed to have read) that there were chapters where ze just ‘didn’t buy the argument.’ Guess which chapters the examiners liked best? And based on the very specific things said examiners referenced, I knew they took the time to actually read it. So after 3+ years of being told that my ideas weren’t deep enough, that I needed a writing tutor, and never getting any kind of positive feedback, these independent examiners evaluated my work in detail and felt that it was good enough for a phd.
Maybe I should feel vindicated? Run around with my spartan brushy helmet thing beating my gold plated breastplate, yelling incomprehensible testosterone fueled shit? I don’t know what to feel, besides relief. I’m so glad I don’t have to write anything else and that I can finally graduate and be done with it and that I’m free from that horrible sadistic relationship of submitting work and getting shat on for no reason. But I don’t feel proud or like I accomplished something. I just feel like I survived. Which is a start, right? But why did I put myself through this torture to begin with? Was it worth it? I honestly don’t know.
This is all made more complicated by the fact that I am now unemployed. You see, getting a phd really fucking impressed that shitty school I was working for. I want to say more about this but there’s some investigation thing going on surrounding my unceremonious discharge so I’m going to wait until that’s resolved to get into specifics.
I’m very very lucky in that I have a partner with a job and health insurance and a good support network. Thank god for that. I’m going to use the time between now and graduation to focus on getting my writing ‘business’ off the ground. More on that soon.
Yesterday I rediscovered an old mix
tape cd from my undergraduate days. These songs were the background noise for a really exciting time in my life. I was getting ready to graduate, giving my passport a good workout every few months, and crizazy in love. I felt so fucking happy and hopeful about the future.
Hearing those songs again after such a long time really jolted me. I had forgotten what it felt like to be 21 and uncrushed by the world. That electric feeling, like you’re going to go out and grab the universe by the balls and do all of this cool shit, just gradually faded away until I forgot it ever existed. Then you wake up and it’s 10 years later and you feel trapped by the mundane nature of your daily routine and all the shitty things you don’t really want to do but you’ve convinced yourself that you have to. It’s easy to forget that you have a choice.
And this is fucking tragic. I know that I whine and complain a lot on this blog, and I’m grateful to have it as an outlet, but just because academia is stupid and my adviser is stupid and my job is stupid, so what?
SO FUCKING WHAT?
I have a place to sleep at night, food to eat, and someone to love. I am fucking rich yo! And as long as I’m alive, anything can happen! I can do the things I was excited to do before I willingly let academia fit me for cement shoes. I can change my job. I can change who I associate with and try to think more positively. Once I submit my thesis and finish teaching this semester, I can walk away from those things and try to find meaningful work that doesn’t give me restless leg syndrome. Or maybe I won’t find meaningful work. Then I can find something that I don’t mind and seek fulfillment elsewhere.
I AM ALIVE! And if you’re reading this, you probably are too! This just gets better and better!
I’ll leave you with two of the songs that, 10 years later, still make me feel very fucking lucky that we are here and capable of making such beautiful things.