Thoughts on life after the PhD
A friend wrote to me recently and said, “So your dissertation is basically done, right?” My immediate instinct was to respond with, “Haha, no way, not even close,” because that’s how I’ve responded to people who’ve asked me about my dissertation for the past two years. But then I realized that I sent off a 177-page draft to my committee two weeks ago. And I’m about to buy a plane ticket to California in May. Where I will, ostensibly, defend my dissertation.
So yeah…it’s kind of done.
But I keep wanting to say that it isn’t. Because it can’t be done. Nothing that’s defined your life for so long can ever actually END. Because when it ends…then what?
I may actually have plenty more work ahead of me–still waiting for those inevitable emails full of requested changes from my committee members. But there are four chapters. And an intro, and a conclusion, and a bibliography. Looking back all I can think is…how the hell did I get here?
It’s remarkable to think that every dissertation, every volume uploaded to ProQuest and skimmed over by researchers like me, must have a similar story. Each one must have been a chronicle of failures, struggles, false starts and re-starts, arguments, long periods of writer’s block, and eventual completion followed by a strange feeling of “what now?” I’m tempted to start some sort of NPR-like project in which I seek out the authors of random dissertations and ask them to tell their stories, sort of like Miranda July’s It Chooses You.
Or maybe I’ll just do all those things I’ve been wanting to do but have felt guilty about indulging in, things like
1. Reading for pleasure. I already do a lot of that, but even my pleasure reading usually has some Meaning to it. No more. I’m going to seek out the most pointless novels I can find and read them without a moment of thought for their socio-cultural significance. If such a thing is even possible anymore.
2. Being with people. I miss having a social life. Looking forward to being out with friends again on a regular basis.
3. Drawing. I’m not a great artist, but I love drawing. Maybe I’ll even take a drawing class.
4. Exercising. Shit, I need to do a lot more of that.
I’ll admit that I’m kind of frightened of the day that I’ll turn in the last of the paperwork and send this dissertation off to that great digital library in the sky (where in the next few years it will probably be found and read by a few random undergrads, or maybe a grad student or two who’ll just skim the bibliography). I like identifying as a “researcher.” I like my current job too, but “web content writer” just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
In the meantime, I still open up the dissertation file almost every night and tweak the bibliography or one of the chapters. Which is going to become a bit sad if I’m still doing it after it’s been officially submitted.
writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)
tales of travel, research, and life
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