I have mixed feels about today. Two years ago was my viva. It was bittersweet in a lot of ways. I was very glad when it was over, but at the same time, the whole experience really shook me.
I was jet lagged, hadn’t slept in 4 days, had a panic attack, and then got on a plane and flew 8 hours home only to go directly to a friend’s party. Needless to say, I slept the next week solid.
But what I didn’t know – and couldn’t know – at the time was what came after. What being ‘post-viva’ was like. It wasn’t as exciting as I thought. It was a lot of time explaining to people not in academia what a viva was, what it meant, what came after. It was a lot of months being very stressed about my job, and even more stressed (or disenchanted) about my corrections. I didn’t enjoy most of 2015 and most of the reasons are linked to my viva and finishing my PhD.
Afterwards is hard. It feels like something has been stolen from you, as much as it feels something has been given. Your brain doesn’t quite know what to do with itself ‘afterwards’. You mean I don’t have to read articles for 12 hours today? You mean I don’t have to write 5000 words before 9am when my advisor expects them? You mean I don’t have a class to prep for?
There feels like this vacuum. And for a while afterwards, that vacuum was filled with corrections and final submission (and lots and lots of emailing for permissions). It was filled with a stressful job (but unlike PhD stress). And it was filled with an overwhelming sense of imposter syndrome, worse than I had ever experienced in 3.5 years of doing my PhD. I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I felt like they had surely made a mistake. I felt completely and utterly unprepared to be a ‘Doctor’.
People congratulate you, though they really don’t understand what they are congratulating you for. People say to you ‘must be great to be done!’ People ask a lot of ‘what’s next?’ until you are sick and tired of hearing it and get more and more creative in your responses (my best one was ‘I think I’ll run away to a cabin in the woods and write romance novels’*).
It kind of feels like the Twilight Zone. It feels like you’ve strayed over into another world. It feels like the last few years (or more) haven’t really happened.
It kind of still feels like that, two years on. I graduated a year ago. I have a pretty piece of paper and a picture framed on my wall. I still don’t completely believe it’s happened. And maybe that’s normal. Maybe it’s okay too, because it means I’ll never stop thinking about it. I’ll never stop remembering what I went through, and how hard it was, and that the paper is there to remind me what I accomplished.
*Still a possibility