The ‘few months post’ post

This is a guest post by Maia Sauren, a Ph.D. student at RMIT who submitted her thesis a few months ago.  Maia has written quite a few guest posts for us now about the process of doing a PhD, how to make writing one more efficient and strange feelings provoked by the period immediately post submission. In this post she reflects on how she feels now that a few months have passed – was it all worth it?

There is so much you can achieve with your life when all you do is work full time. I’d forgotten what it was like, not to feel guilty and scared all the time. Compared to a thesis, forty hours a week is a laughably small sum of hours to be spending on work.

The first six weeks after submission I spent having what I like to call a slow motion nervous breakdown. The further I get from that part of my life, the better my decision-making becomes, and the clearer I see my own craziness during that period. Spending a good few months locked in a room with nothing but pyjamas and tea gives you a very odd perspective. My ability to make good decisions was, shall we say, diminished.

And then – well, maybe the thing to do is show you the change in my desktop image:



(Editor’s note: I had to substitute Maia’s real desktop photos with royalty free images, but these capture the spirit of the ones she sent)

My attitude at the moment can be summed up as, ‘life can just never be that shit again’.

In terms of work, I’ve been doing short contracts as a data analyst – a month here, two days there. The low-commitment lifestyle is suiting me well at the moment. I do a great job, but I have no connection to the overall projects beyond my part. Was the data collected accurately? Was the survey designed to provide statistical significance? Do I agree with the project aims? Who cares! I liberally and gratuitously avoid knowing. I’m starting to feel the itch of doing a project I’m passionate about, but it’s still tentative.

After so many years of being body-and-soul invested in the quality and outcome of my work, it’s a relief to be unattached.

Some of that has been consciously re-training my instincts. I’ve made sure I have evening plans, otherwise I find myself at work at 8pm.

You know what I’ve realised? I’m smart and capable. My resume could’ve told you that, and I’ve known it intellectually. My emotional response for a few years has been that I am not worthy of taking on any ‘real’ job, because I haven’t completed… something.

I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time feeling I was crap at things. There is no substantive difference between who I am now, and who I was six months ago, but today I feel confident and strident. I apply for jobs with clarity about how my skills fit, how quickly I can learn the systems and provide usefulness, and that I can do All The Things.

The issue wasn’t ability to learn or apply knowledge. The problem was my attachment to the equation: when I have a Ph.D., then I become a Good Clever Able Person, and until then I am not those things. Which is utter rubbish, clearly. I wish I could explain this to my past self, and to all the tortured souls around me still in thesis-land.

Ph.D. may not worth it for you. I’m still not convinced I haven’t wasted my time. But here I am, and there’s no point regretting it. As my supervisor said once, it may not always add anything to your circumstances, but it certainly can’t hurt. I’m a little jaded right now, so maybe ask me again in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, I’ve been procrastinating doing my minor corrections. Oh yeh – I passed! With nothing more than a few ‘rewrite this bit a little’! I’m stunned. It hasn’t sunk in yet, but I’m certainly enjoying the after-effects.

(and may we say, belated congratulations from The Thesis Whisperer Maia! – Ed)

Related Posts

The nowhere, everywhere place

PhD detachment

12 thoughts on “The ‘few months post’ post

  1. lindathestar says:

    Thank you for this lovely post. I’m sure most PhD students need reminders and reassurance about their current skills and capacity, whether they finish or not. Congratulations on passing, too.

    A random, irrelevant question: Where did the phrase ‘all the things’ begin? I first saw it in Hyperbole and a Half’s wonderful cartoon ‘Why I’ll never be an adult’, in the context of ‘clean all the things’. It’s a phrase that says so much about trying to encompass everything. I like it.

  2. Zelda says:

    I know how you feel. 6 months into my new job, I am still going “people think I am capable?” but that feeling is getting less and less and I am now more going “I can do this…”. Though I am still struggling with the not working at home thing…

  3. Connie B. Dowell says:

    “As my supervisor said once, it may not always add anything to your circumstances, but it certainly can’t hurt.”

    I wish I knew that would be true for me. I’ve gotten one graduate degree only to find that the market for the kinds of jobs I was trained for had dropped away. I really want to get a PhD and I want to be a professor, but having been burned before, I can’t help worrying that no matter how hard I study and work I’ll end up with no job and more student debt.

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