Closing the PhD Chapter

As I return to this blog and begin posting again, I realise that I never did bring closure to the PhD situ. I wish I could write a series of helpful and witty posts on the details of a VIVA, and the process of minor amendments, and the mixed feelings of loss and exhilaration at passing, but there is so much distance between me and that period now, that to recall it and attempt to re-live those memories and emotions would be triggering to say the least.

“Triggering”, a psychological reaction one might associate with PTSD or deep rooted trauma. Funny to be framing the PhD in this context. This framing is partially true, and partially subconscious. A PhD is no small step … It is a long and laborious commitment that requires sustained passion, resilience, and perseverance. Developing and strengthening these traits inevitably leaves one intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally strained to say the least. I am yet to meet a peer that has acquired one unscathed. The trauma of a PhD is perhaps one that is seldom talked about after its attainment, but I think it should be. We need to debunk the mythology around the qualification and allow ourselves to be honest about its pressures and our vulnerabilities.

Returning to my story, I had left off at the point of awaiting a VIVA. My VIVA was conducted by a leading scholar in an aspect of my research. What could have been a daunting process was managed beautifully by my external examiner. I was put at ease with her friendly and approachable manner, which allowed me to shed my anxiety and to fully engage with the process. After a lengthy and often challenging (in a good way) VIVA, I was delighted to learn that I had “passed with minor amendments”.

My amendments took 3 months and while I was pleased with the VIVA outcome, I couldn’t feel completely at ease until I had re-submitted and had a pass confirmed. I religiously made notes of all track changes and drafted detailed responses to how I had addressed each bit of minor amendment feedback. I received confirmation of my pass some months after. The relief I felt is indescribable.

I had a love, hate relationship with my PhD. While I would miss it as the safe and familiar constant, the welcome intellectual escape when things got too ‘same/same’, it felt good to know that I was getting my life back. That I had done it! That I wasn’t one of the statistics of non completions (not that there is anything wrong with this, but for me, after the amount of time, money, and labour spent, it was something I didn’t have the courage to consider).

My PhD was a beautiful, sad, sometimes soul destroying, but strangely rewarding journey. My advice to anyone considering one would be to think very carefully before embarking, and if you are, be sure to align with a focus you are likely to remain passionate about a few years down the line. As after all these decades of learning and teaching, I have concluded that learning is always so much more fun when you feel passionate about it.

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