#alt-ac · altac · boast post · defense · PhD

When In Doubt, Buy Office Supplies (or, I Got My PhD)

I spent Saturday morning swimming in a soupy blend of emotion and leftover adrenaline. I don’t think I spoke much. Mostly I just read the Black Panther comic my husband had bought for me earlier that week, curled up in my favourite living room chair, and exclaimed quietly every time our eyes met: “I did a thing!”

I did. I did a thing. I did a big thing.

I got my PhD.

Dr. Dalgleish, happy and tired post-defense.

I’ve been so grateful for the family and friends who wanted to hear the story of the defense, because telling the story over again has let me consolidate in my mind what is a genuinely treasurable memory, one that has already become a touchstone. My defense was a joyful, fun, challenging, exciting, euphoria-inducing experience–probably the best single academic experience of my career. I had fun!  My committee made me think hard about how and why I’d done the work I had, and made me think more and differently about my place in the field. I shared in my post last week my worry that my day job has made me less effective as a researcher, but the defense proved that it was actually quite the opposite. Having a career in addition to my research practice has made me more confident, better spoken, more thoughtful, more stylish in my writing, less cautious and conventional in how I perform my research, far better able to articulate the value of my work, and far better able to craft a research practice that has real value in and out of the academy. I walked out of my defense completely over the moon, and that’s a feeling that I hope stays with me for a long time.

Aside from my happiness and pride at accomplishing something that was hard work and took a long time and demanded a lot, there are other things the PhD has given me that I don’t want to lose: the structure that having a large ongoing project lent to my days, the time I carved out for research and thinking and writing, the sense of purpose it lent me, the broad set of skills I developed, the confidence in my abilities, the friendships with fellow researchers and writers, and the deeper and more nuanced understanding of the world. I want to use this time, while I’m still on the high of having finished, to be intentional about crafting the next phase of my life, one that holds on to all of the space I’ve made for thinking and reading and writing. I also desperately want and need to reshape my life in ways that are more balanced than it has been recently, in ways that leave room for creativity, spontaneity, embodiment, exploration. Not having my dissertation fill so much of my time makes me both exhilarated by the possibility, and a little panicked about how best to make use of all the time not having it on my plate has opened up.

When in doubt, I buy office supplies. On Sunday, I picked up some lovely paper, some new highlighters, and more ink for a beautiful fountain pen I was gifted as a defense present. I sat down at the dining room table on Sunday afternoon, and I drew what I wanted my first week post-PhD to look like, the week that I’ve been dreaming about for years. I drew it with my new fountain pen, and beautiful paper, and all the colours of highlighter I could find. I took my time, and I thought about the things I wanted this first week to have, the week that would let me begin as I mean to go on.

And so I penned in time to read in the living room with Moose the cat. I drew in time to go running and swimming and yoga-ing, to remind myself that my body is something other than a living jar for my brain. I put in time to walk and listen to podcasts, time to cook, time to work on the novel I started at the beginning of the summer and some non-dissertation academic projects that are in the pipeline. I penned in time for relaxing and self-reflection and projects around the house. I drew in time with my husband, my family, my friends, and more time to sleep that I’ve allowed myself in a long time.

A very colourful week.

It’s a beautiful week, not just on paper but in practice. It’s a week that’s chock full of all the things that to me say a good life, one that’s full of intention and effort and expanding my horizons. On paper it looks a little like panic, a little like trying to keep the uncertainty of the future at bay by locking the present into tiny boxes, but to me it looks more like intention, like putting down on paper how I want my life to be, the life that the PhD gave me.

My external examiner mentioned that she’d read my “I quit” letter, and she jokingly told me that she thought that letter was a lie. She’s right. I didn’t actually quit. I’m just swimming in a different lane of the same pool. And the water’s fine.

3 thoughts on “When In Doubt, Buy Office Supplies (or, I Got My PhD)

  1. Warmest congratulations, Melissa! It's been fun follow your journey, and you've helped me (begin to) think through how I want to balance my own research with the alt-ac job I've found myself in, too. Thank you!

    Like

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