Defending My Dissertation and Other Things I’ve Experienced Recently

On Monday, February 8, I successfully defended my dissertation. I stood up in front of a room of people and presented my dissertation research, opening myself up to questions and critiques (constructive). I’ve talked about my fear of public speaking on this blog before. While my fear has calmed somewhat, I still hate speaking in front of people. HATE. To help deal with this during my defense, I went with an old school approach. I printed off my lecture notes, glued them to large index cards, and presented with those by my side. To me, this felt like cheating. Shouldn’t I be confident enough to present my hard work to a room full of people who care about me? (No). But as my major professor said, “This isn’t a public speaking competition. It’s a dissertation defense”. It doesn’t really matter. I survived and passed.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends and acquaintances since my defense. “How do you feel now that you’re on the other side?”, “Don’t you feel more relaxed?”, “Has your work load changed”, and my least favorites,”What are your next steps? Where do you go from here?”. I realize people are well-meaning and generally care about me, but I have trouble dealing with these questions. I generally feel a sense of helplessness, frustration, and dread when one of these questions pops up. I’ve decided to respond to these questions in a post (a place where none of these people will ever see my responses).

First, let’s address, “How do you feel now that you’re on the other side?”. Right after the defense, I felt numb. I didn’t know what to feel or think. I went on like this for several days. There’s such a build up (emotionally and intellectually) to the defense. So much anxiety, stress, and fear. It’s hard to know what to feel after the presentation is over, you’ve met with your committee, and all the forms are signed. After awhile, this numbness turned into nothingness. Right now, I feel nothing. I don’t feel happy, excited, sad, or upset about the end of my dissertation or even the end of my doctoral career. I don’t feel anything except a vague sense of confusion. Maybe this is because I have revisions I need to make. It could be that once I complete these minor revisions , I’ll feel like I truly succeeded. Or maybe it’ll be after graduation when I officially receive my PhD and can be called Dr. Phillips. I don’t know.

Second, “Don’t you feel more relaxed? Has your work load changed?”. No and no. I am  person who is incapable of fully relaxing. Are there others like me? I should investigate this further. I have trouble relaxing for a variety of reasons, but I right now I can’t relax. Defending my dissertation didn’t help me relax or decrease my workload. I still have to find a job and finish edits to my dissertation. Maybe people believe that after defending your dissertation you have all this free time or can shift gears and work on something else. This hasn’t been the case for me. Perhaps it is for others. Lucky you!

Finally, the questions of “What are your next steps? Where do you go from here?”. Well, looking for a job is what I’m doing (and editing my dis). In all honesty, I don’t know where I’ll go from here. It depends on where I get a job. The job search process is kind of exciting, terrifying, nerve wracking, and frustrating. Applying to jobs is so time consuming and tedious. Sometimes it feels like you’re throwing yourself into the void, forced to patiently wait for some sort of response. I will find a job (I say this in a confident, convincing sort of voice to myself a lot, “Yes, I will!”). Then, go from there.

Hopefully, my ramblings aren’t coming across as negative or concerning. I’m simply using this post as a way to deal with the range of emotions I’m feeling (or not feeling) at the moment. Enjoy the confusion with me!

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