My actual dissertation defense was fairly easy, with no curve balls from the committee or moments of doubt once the defense started. While I stayed fairly calm in the weeks leading up to the defense, the day before I was ABSOLUTELY. FREAKING. OUT. I felt that I was going to forget some key piece of my dissertation (like one of my research questions or main findings), and/or that I would completely choke under the pressure.
Everyone I knew who had already gone through it (including my own dissertation committee members) said the defense would be fine, and would be more like a friendly chat about my research and future directions than an actual defense of the work I completed. While I "heard" what they said, I wasn't able to really internalize it and overcome my self doubt.
|I imagine I looked a little like this|
during the defense. I blame coffee.
Immediately after the defense, I felt pretty damn good. I was finished, and even if I got hit by a car and killed walking back to the parking lot, I'd go out as a Doctor (sorta). After going back to my (on-campus) office and receiving some congratulations from coworkers, and calling my wife and my mom, I went home early to crash. I slept for about six hours, got up, and then felt... well... nothing much. Maybe a little relieved, but otherwise just sort of empty. I knew I was basically finished (barring some minor formatting things required by the University beancounters), and was already a 'doctor' in title, but I still just felt a little... blah... if that makes sense. I had a 'so what' kind of feeling about the successful defense, the culmination of what I'd spent the last 5 years pursuing, and the last 2 years directly working on.
|If you DO see a sad|
little bubble following
your every move, you
should probably call
a real doctor...
After a while, the 'blah' feelings subsided, and were replaced with other feelings and thoughts, like stressing about upcoming deadlines, travel plans, and work, my upcoming cross-country move, and day-to-day things like working on research projects. I began to get more and more excited about other things, too, like submitting (revised) pieces of my dissertation to journals for publishing, planning out my fall syllabus, looking into housing options where I would be moving to, etc. The feelings that were at the forefront of my thoughts, namely my new status as a doctor, eventually became a feeling in the background of my thoughts, that I now forget about more often than not. A somewhat similar experience happened after I finished my Master's degree, but it was on a much smaller scale compared to finishing my Ph.D.
I'm writing this blog post not as a review of what everyone always experiences after defending their dissertation, nor is it meant as a warning of impending post-dissertation depression. I simply want to throw out the idea that you might feel a little 'blah,' a little sad, a little depressed, a little angry, a little scared, or feel nothing much in the days and weeks after you defend. So, if you know this *might* happen, you can hopefully deal with it if it occurs, whether that's by surrounding yourself with friends and family, going on a relaxing trip, diving into your next project, rewarding yourself with a post-defense gift, or even talking with a professional if need be.
Now that it's been about 4 months since I defended, on a typical day I usually don't remember that I'm a Doctor/Ph.D. unless something or someone reminds me (like when someone refers to me as 'Doctor.') While I'm very proud of my accomplishment, 'being a Doctor' doesn't define who I am as much as I thought it would. That might change the more time I spend in my new position as an assistant professor, but until that point, I feel I'm just someone that successfully survived the dissertation and made it through the post-defense blahs.
Picture Credits: Beaker Zoloft_Bubble