The Doctor’s in: PhDone - life after your doctoral journey

It’s been three weeks now I’ve successfully defended my doctoral thesis. Three weeks and it’s still not sunk in. But I guess it takes a while to realise your work of three years has now come to an end.

Sitting in front of your examiners is the final test you have to go through to prove you’re worthy of your degree. The last couple of days before my big day, I just spent some quality time with my manuscript, which consolidated my feeling that this was a pretty good piece of work. The day before my oral examination involved long beach walks and some time of reflection. Looking back on how far I’ve come while both supervisors checking in and making sure I wasn’t a nervous wreck. I wasn’t because again, I knew this was a good thesis.

The time I got nervous was before I was entering the examination room as I could hear my examiners talking. Then it hit me: I’m in a doctoral examination, MY doctoral examination—pretty scary stuff. Maybe I should wear an examination room costume for Halloween. While everyone around me ensured this wouldn’t be an examination per se, but rather a friendly ‘conversation’ with like-minded folks, my introverted mind didn’t really pick up on that. While waiting to meet my examiners, I remember telling my supervisor that I’d rather swim with sharks than doing this right now.

On the other hand, however, I knew that my examiners would be fair and above all, would want to see me succeed. Other than in my oral exam in High School where my former French teacher who hated me (the feeling was mutual) was sitting on the panel. I still remember the look on her face when I entered the room, and immediately I knew I was doomed. So who knew that my doctoral exam would feel less threatening than a meaningless conversation about German literature…but that’s High School I guess.

When you do your examination, you know your stuff. You just do. Because whether you want to believe it or not, you’re the expert. Not your examiners and not even your supervisors because you are the one who has planned and orchestrated your research. You know what you’ve done and why. And that’s extremely powerful. Unless you’ve hired a ghostwriter. Then you’re screwed ;), and most questions you got to answer are about how you’ve made sense of all of this. There won’t be any nasty French teacher sitting in the corner enjoying giving you a hard time. Because ideally, your supervisors will nominate examiners who are compassionate and that’s a great thing to remember.

When it comes to me, I had exactly that which made it easy for me to prove that I deserve this. And after almost two hours, you feel tired and drained because your brain just completed the Olympics. But when you hear ‘Congratulations on your PhD’ and all the praise regarding your work, this can be an incredible feeling of relief.

So here I am. Finished and somehow uncertain. Because I really start missing my work. The first thing I did was going on a short trip which, of course, involved some dolphin watching. I went out with Carino wildlife cruises in the Bay of Islands but was very much confronted with the fact that my area of expertise is condition to chance. No dolphins for me that day. But quite some time in the bathtub and most importantly, quiet time.

After submission is before paper writing and so I am thinking about my next journal article already. I’ve also made the experience that people do not pay much attention to the enormous amount of work you have just completed and the associated achievement. They tend to ask ‘now what’ quickly. A legitimate question but I still do not possess a crystal ball, let alone any security in this global pandemic which is still raging. So even if I’d have the greatest 5-year plan of all time, these days I am not sure about anything. Let’s go back to 2015 and see whether we were able to answer ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ right. At this stage, I won’t even have my graduation. At least not as planned. And I never thought this would happen for me. But 2020 pretty much got cancelled.

Celebrating achievements is, however, essential when you’ve been working hard, and I probably have to come up with something for myself to give this a worthy wrap up.

But all uncertainty aside, I do look forward to this new life chapter because I managed to become an expert in an area I really love. Currently, I have picked up the work on my first book which may take all summer, but once it’s done, I think it’ll be amazing.

 

-The little whale shark wanted to reach for the stars.

He did not yet know he carried so many on himself - B. Salehi

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