Well, I’m done. This last half-a-year I have been completely consumed with bringing my doctoral dissertation to a close. And now it’s finished. It’s a very surreal feeling to have four years of work come to a close — reading, writing, learning, analyzing, and presenting. The defense will come in a few months, but the hardest part is over. My heart was pounding in my chest as I printed out the final version this week. To finally see all 300 pages take physical form was both nerve wracking and awe inspiring.
I will walk away from these four years with both a degree and a certain level of “expertise” on one very specific topic, but it feels so much bigger than that.
This whole experience has been extremely humbling. I thought learning German was the most humbling thing I’d ever do, but, oh, was I wrong. Constantly putting your ideas and work out on the line for criticism is no easy task, but that is at the heart of research. It’s not about developing your ideas in a vacuum and then hiding them away somewhere. You have to send your work out into the world, talk about your ideas, incorporate critique, improve your work, and then do it all over again. And again. And again. That’s how we learn, and that’s how science progresses. But man, is it painful sometimes.
Very related to that was letting go of my perfectionism. Perfection really is the enemy of the good, and definitely an enemy of a finished dissertation. As every doctoral student has heard at one point or another: a good dissertation is a finished dissertation. It shouldn’t be the culmination of a lifetime of work, but rather just the starting point for a lifetime of research. But that’s so hard to see when you’re in the middle of it all. I really thought I would be able to complete my PhD in three years, but I clearly had no idea what I was getting into.
Especially as someone who is older and has had a less traditional academic path, there’s a huge incentive to bring this phase to a close and move on to the next one. My desire to be able to contribute again to something larger than myself and my own research aims has become overwhelming as of late. No doubt, it was the right time to let go of the perfect and aim for the finished.
And now what? Well, in the very immediate future, I’ll be taking a few vacation days on the North Sea. I want nothing more than just to relax, walk along the ocean shores, warm myself up in the sauna, read a book, and drink some East Frisian tea. Everything else will just have to wait…