Endings and Beginnings

Let me start at the end, since that’s where I am right now. It’s September 1st, which means that 3 years and 11 months ago I started my PhD. Officially, at least. I had been researching and reading in advance for several months prior to that.

It’s September 1st, however, and as of August 31st I have officially ‘completed’. So officially, in fact, that the UK has revoked my visa and would please like me to leave the country on the next available flight, thanks ever so much. [No worries; I left the UK 8 months ago].

So what does it feel like to be ‘completed’? It’s wonderful. And strange. It’s a relief, and it’s stressful too. I’ll break those diametrically opposed emotions down a bit more.

It’s wonderful because it means I have a doctorate. Four years of hard work has led to a pretty piece of paper and a few more initials after my name (and a couple before it). It’s a huge achievement and I am ever so proud of myself; though slightly less proud for finishing and more proud for surviving.

It’s strange because for the first time since I was five I’m not a student this autumn. I am, for better or worse, an adult now. Maybe one day I’ll be a student again, but it’s going to be a while. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself or where to go next (other than the obvious things like find a job and sort my career out). It’s a very odd sensation, being here, on the cusp of a new school year, and knowing I’m not one of those people anymore. I’m outside the academy now. How bizarre.

I’m relieved to be done. As will become apparent over the next months as you read this blog, it’s been a bit of a battle. I had three years that were, if very stressful, at least pretty normal for a PhD student. Then I submitted and it sort of went down hill from there. Since January, things have been very, very trying, and it’s taken more courage and perseverance than I knew I had to hang on. I have been very close to quitting at more than one time during my PhD, but I have never been so close as I was in May of this year. More about that later.

It’s a bit stressful too, this completing. I have always been a student. I’ve been a very good student. Studenting was something I knew how to do. You get quite skilled at a role if you do it for long enough; and I’ve been doing it for quite long enough, thanks ever so much. I’m not quite sure how to not be a student. I’ve worked before, I’ve held full-time jobs before, but only ever between degrees and in order to make money for the next degree. I’ve never had a job that was ‘it’. That was ‘the job’ I would be doing for the foreseeable future. That was a career. I’ve been busy studying for a career, instead of working for one. And yes, that has its pros and cons, and we’ll talk about those, but I don’t have a single regret about all my years at university: they have made me who I am. But it’s stressful, being in an entirely new place, at a new point in my life, with a future that isn’t – at least partly – written in stone.

It’s a funny thing, because doing a PhD is wonderful and strange, and it’s stressful too, but there are moments of immense relief. To a certain extend, completing is a lot like doing.

And in other ways? It’s a whole new life.

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