Thoughts on life after the PhD
I still can’t really bring myself to say I’m done.
I’ve copy-edited my entire dissertation, and the only thing really left to do is write the abstract (something I’m really dragging my feet on, which seems silly, but when it seems like you’ve written a dozen three-page versions of your dissertation, writing yet another “this is my project in a nutshell” piece can give you a queasy stomach).
I kind of hate looking at it now. I’ve read and edited each chapter so many times. Some of it reads all right, some of the arguments are actually kind of interesting, some of it just makes me cringe. But at this point I’ve lost so much perspective on the thing that I can’t say if it’s actually cringe-inducing work, or if I’m just so tired of it that it all looks gross to me.
It could have been a lot better. Yeah, I know that everything could have been a lot better, but in my case it could have been a lot better if a) my Japanese reading skills were better, b) I had more comprehensive knowledge of post-structural theory and literary theory in general, and c) I was more motivated to make it better.
That way lies madness, though, so at some point you just have to stop editing and let the damn thing go.
I’m still waiting for comments from my committee and dread getting a long list of suggested revisions only days before my defense. (Thankfully the manuscript itself doesn’t have to be submitted until July, so if people insist on major changes, I’ll at least have a bit more time.)
I’ve begun to fixate on mundane details: when I’ll have a chance to get measured for that (very expensive) rental cap and gown, whether my mother and stepfather will be able to make it to the ceremony on time, whether I’LL be able to make it to the ceremony on time, who will hood me, whether I should bring cake to my defense, whether I should get gifts for all of my committee members (or at least thank-you cards), whether my dissertation should include a dedication page, what to say when people call me “Doctor” (current response: no, no, no, do not call me that ever), what it means to be a PhD who isn’t actively pursuing an academic job, what the hell I should do with myself once this defense is done and the manuscript is submitted.
My brain does a lot of see-sawing these days. I downplay the PhD itself (it’s just about persistence, it’s not like I’m a genius), but that feels disrespectful somehow, and much as I’m loathe to admit it I *am* proud of seeing the whole process through. I’m not actively seeking an academic job, but I feel deeply sad at the thought of NEVER using my brain in that way again, of not maintaining a foothold in a community that has been the source of a lot of joy and fulfillment for me. I feel relief at the thought of the dissertation being finished and submitted and having the degree in my hand, but also fucking terrified, because when something has defined you for this long it’s kind of hard to imagine your life without it. I really don’t know what I’ll do with my spare time when I don’t have the dissertation or other academic projects looming over my head. Read, write, cook, sure. But those things are branches, and the dissertation was the tree trunk. I need a new tree trunk. (I’m going to stop that metaphor right there, because I could carry it right off a cliff. Or tree branch.)
I try to remind myself of all the things I’ve learned during this very long process, things that I think are relevant not just to the writing of a 200-page document, but to my life in general. I hope I’ve helped a few other researchers out with critiques and movie / book recommendations. I hope I’ve become a better writer. I hope that, even if my own dissertation isn’t paradigm-shifting or groundbreaking, it can inspire a few people in their own research. Or at least just provide an interesting new angle from which to view a movie or a book.
In the meantime I’ll just focus on looking forward to my first trip away from Japan in almost two years (friends! barbecue! California weather! New babies to meet! Pepperidge Farm Parmesan cheese-flavored goldfish crackers!). I’ll also be trying to sleep and eat as regularly as possible, and remind myself that, to my knowledge, no one has ever spontaneously combusted during their defense.
writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)
tales of travel, research, and life
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