Envisioning The Finish Line

The two questions I get asked most:

1. When will you finish this Ph.D?
2. When will you get married? Do you even want to?

More on question 2 some other time but yes I want to but I'm not prepared to get married for the sake of crossing it off some to-do list that I'm convinced society-at-large maintains...or at least the one I find myself in. One quick note - it's intriguing how most people around me see the two as connected especially when I'm not so sure if going down one of those routes precludes the other. Having said that, the short answer is - I'll get married when I find the person I'd like to spend the rest of my life with. I'm n-o-t looking for Mr. Right/Perfect but there are certain things I don't think I can compromise on given that I tried it that way and it was sheer misery. I find it fairly amusing when female friends (not sure if men do that - maybe they do but no-one I know has ever made such a statement in my presence) of mine declare that year X or age X is when they'll "settle down" (a phrase I find bizarre because it has fairly depressing connotations if you ask me - why down? why settle?)

But back to question #1. I think that's the one I get asked most of late.

I'll be the first to admit that it bothers me when it is attached to "well why can't you just write it and be done?" Umm if I could do it that way don't you think I would have done it, or at least attempted to do it?! Of course when it's people who take an interest in what I do - be it my parents, extended family, or friends - I don't mind primarily because the question comes from me having expressed my desire to them to be done or having declared I'd be done at an earlier time but feeling like I have to explain myself to people I meet once a year or who aren't really connected to my life in any significant way (irrespective of the actual frequency) or with whom I haven't really shared any Ph.D-related conversations it seems to me like an intrusion.

I read an article in The Chronicle today titled "Death and Dissertation" written by a husband whose wife was on the last stages of her Ph.D. It was quite amusing, and maybe somewhat disconcerting given the bleakness of the metaphor, to see the comparisons drawn between death and dissertating. But it did resonate for sure.

So, in that spirit, some quick rambling thoughts about where I'm at and hope to be by the end of this year.

1. I want to - and even need to for my own sanity - graduate in time to make the December deadline. This might seem a bit frivolous but I'd originally thought that I'd manage to finishing Ph.Ding by 30. Since I turn 31 in January 2007 if I can make it during my 30th year I won't feel like I'm completely off of meeting my own expectations. Having been a student for almost 28 years now I'm ready to switch roles. I did teach in undergraduate courses in between but I was still student-ing so it's not quite the same thing.

2. I'm working feverishly on my dissertation. For better or for worse, I'm saddled with some other work commitments right now that give me very little time to work on it Tue-Fri but if I can keep at it the way I have the past 2 weeks i.e. work my butt off during nights and week-ends I know how far the finish line is, give or take a few days here and there if I get stuck moving forward with the argument.

3. I'll be the first to admit that part of me is fearful of finishing. Dissertating can be strange in that you might not always have your dream job lined up when you're done depending on which point during an academic year you can actually manage to finish. [There are certain types of dissertations and dissertating styles that I think can be more predictable I don't seem to fit either of the two well which can be a downer at times but I honestly like what I'm producing despite the fact that it is fairly time-consuming. However, at this stage, I can see the finish line and so can my chair which is definitely encouraging.] Given that we tend to associate accomplishment with reward it's scary to think that I will most likely not have more than a degree-in-hand when I'm done. The fact that I won't have something concrete to do that I know of in advance is definitely one that induces a certain amount of procrastination on my part. But I'm determined to not let that hold me back. Still, it is scary. Luckily I do have some options in my back-pocket to help me move forward but since none of them are written in stone there are times I feel scared of having nothing to do. After all, having worked for so long and so hard you kind of expect some kind of job that is financially and personally (emotionally and intellectually) satisfying; not knowing what and where you're headed once this is over with seems to release an urge to hang on to it if only for the sake of some certainty which is definitely a precious commodity when you're ABD because the entire ride seems fraught with low-level persistent stress with no end in sight until you actually get to The End (which is really just A Beginning so it shouldn't become The Big Bad Wolf but it does).

4. The quest for perfection can be fairly elusive. I'm not sure where it is on most days. Some days it feels like I'm on that path. Of course one of the most-repeated phrases by faculty to ABD students is "don't get it right, just get it written". I still want to do both....maybe not right because who knows what that might look like but I need to be satisfied with what I've produced. Unless it feels substantive, I do have trouble moving on.

5. The thought of waking up and having nothing to do seems blissful yet bizarre, even daunting at times. What will I do with myself? Will it become a reminder of everything else I've had to ignore to get to this point? What does the future look like? What does it hold for me? All questions to which having some answers, even if provisional, would be comforting especially since I seem to have become increasingly incapable of having uncertainty during the Ph.D. process -not that the two are necessarily directly related. Or maybe, without the constant stress of having to dissertate life will seem to present itself as more manageable.

6. In some respects, Ph.Ding became a safe haven for me especially when I went through some personal challenges. That was a good thing in that it provided something for me to focus on when times were rough. The bad thing - I'm not quite sure what lies ahead and the at-times-remote-at-times-distinct possibility of facing demons again that I thought were buried a long time ago makes me somewhat apprehensive. Then again, maybe the thrill and pride of having actually finished is more likely to take over so perhaps I ought not to worry about it.

7. Till a few days ago, I was struggling with trying to locate my own voice within an argument in the chapter on which I'm currently working. Since it's the chapter that will set the tone for the ones to follow I've had this insatiable urge to get it right despite knowing that it's probably going to have to be rewritten once I write the conclusion because that's how it goes for pretty much everyone I know and respect who has a Ph.D. Luckily, I found a way to do it now that allows me to move on. But I've got the opposite dilemma now - there's so much of me to put in there and fashion a nuanced and substantive argument that I can be proud of that I'm having trouble wading through all of it. It would be nice if I could just write but obsessing over perfection is apparently quintessentially, possibly genetically and even astrologically (so I've been told), me. I'm definitely not complaining about this problem because knowing what to refine and fashion is more familiar territory for me. Still, I wish I had a magic wand to wave because I've been working on this chapter for eons and it would be nice to have it behind me.

Speaking of which I better get back to plodding through it. Have a small window of time at my current work commitment and I'd really like to exploit it to the fullest.

I'm sure there is more on finishing the dissertation that I could/should write about but for now this is what seemed pressing. I'd post my actual timeline that I'm working with but I just don't want to jinx it. That my chair, parents, and a dear friend/colleague have it on file is probably enough to ensure that I have enough folks on my case to push me closer to The Finish Line.

Still, I'd like to announce on the blogosphere that I hope to have made it from ABD to Ph.D. by the time the upcoming fall semester is over.


Blogger Priya said...

Good luck! I'm waving pennants at you and cheering from the sidelines :)

Btw, I'm one of those who want to hang on to PhD-ing due to uncertainty about what to do in the future. And, I too have a "Finish PhD-ing by 30 deadline" but that gives me two more years so it's not much help, I reckon.

5:26 PM  

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