How Terribly Unpleasant, and in Some Ways Less Unpleasant, Things will be for me in the Next Few Months

I might be graduating this semester. Then again maybe I won’t. Y’see I have this paper.  There’s a lot of writing to be done but that’s not the problem. If it were just writing, oh, it would be heaven. My kingdom for it just to be writing, but no. I can’t just write stuff and pass this. I need results and these results are very slow in coming.

What’s more, it matters how good the results are. If they’re good enough I’m home free. If they’re not, I may have to take some extra time. At the moment it’s looking like they’re not.

Fortunately, the difference between graduating this semester and graduating during the summer session is largely symbolic. Although of course every day that my dissertation isn’t finished is another day that I have to be working on my dissertation, the deadline itself is all a matter of whether I will be walking in May or in December. I’d rather walk in May, but it’s not so bad walking later. There’s more to it than that, though.

I really understand now what is so awful about a dissertation. You see, my oral prelim was ambitious. I had big plans, but in the end I was able to accomplish only a small fraction of my goals. Now it comes down to whether my committee will pass me despite my underwhelming achievements or if they are in fact so underwhelming that my advisor will not let me present at all and sends me back to the knowledge mines. Work until the work is done, indefinitely, until it gets over the hurdle between unacceptable and mediocre. I think it’s this feeling of fighting and fighting for mediocrity that is so hard when finishing up one’s PhD. After the kind of academic success that someone usually has leading up to a PhD, it’s humbling.

The good news is I understand that this is common. So common in fact that it’s generally understood to be the experience of graduate students finishing up their dissertations. The bad news is it doesn’t make it a lot easier or rather even if it makes it much easier, it’s still hard.

More good news though. Since the main bottleneck is the computational ability of my computer, even if I get slowed down too much and don’t make my deadline, a large portion of the extra work will be done by my computer, and I can just live my life while I wait. There will be a cloud hanging over me, but oh well. I can handle clouds.


4 thoughts on “How Terribly Unpleasant, and in Some Ways Less Unpleasant, Things will be for me in the Next Few Months”

  1. Yes. This was the way of my dissertation — endless. Like you, I was someone for whom almost all academics to that point had been a relative cakewalk. You seem to be doing much better.

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