Hoooorah! Yehey! Whee! Whoohoo!
I want to write about something before many of the small memories and mental pictures fade from my brain, before I go on vacation and get loads of other impressions from this spring. I’d likely not forget the factual details about this event. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. The memory of it – and its implications in my life – will be a part of me forever. But certainly, sooner or later, some of the feelings and memories connected to that moment might feel less concrete after a while. So I write in a way that travelers write about their travels: because I want to be able to look back and remember how it felt, and share my memories with others.
The thing I want to write about is that I’ve crossed to the other side. I’ve written four articles over the past 5 years, printed a book last month and passed my thesis defense last Friday. This series in my life had sometimes felt long and drawn-out. At other times, it felt hectic and and intense. I’ve been through periods of both triumph and insecurity, but also satisfaction of getting good things done, and a feeling of competence. In particular, the last half year had been a very intense period that was both an intellectual challenge (and a feat, when I look back at it!) but also an emotional one. I began to understand more and more how the PhD studies are formative years in more ways than just getting a title. Now, I write this, I’m now a PhD. After a week passed, I also feel that I am getting more satisfied and “at home” with the idea, as I begin used to the thought that my PhD studies are, indeed, all over. I made it!!!
The defense itself – all two and a half hours of it! – went pretty well. The opponent summarized my thesis for the public and presented some of its key points. This was followed by a part where we she asked me questions about the thesis and we discussed different dimensions of it. It seemed to me that the opponent didn’t raise very serious critiques. On the contrary I think we had an agreeable discussion and she enjoyed reading the thesis. She did raise thought-provoking points during our discussion though, which forced me to think on my feet. Yet the more we talked, the more I enjoyed our discussion and the more I enjoyed the whole impromptu aspect of the defense. I remembered that I actually like public speaking. Anyway, I enjoyed the feeling of being able to find the right words to say, and that my answers came out as clear and eloquent as I had imagined them. I must admit that that my hands were pretty cold the whole time though, probably from concentrating and from still not getting over the apprehension of going to my own thesis defense. But I did feel that I was in control of the situation, self-confident and “owning” my thesis defense in the best way. My colleague Annika warned me that she used to wake up in the middle of the night after her own thesis defense, thinking of alternative answers to questions posed at her. As for me, I feel that wouldn’t have changed anything about my defense, which is a sign of true satisfaction. Some pictures from when I was waiting for "the verdict" to arrive:
In anticipation for my grade to be announced (some seconds before),
the department was already pouring out the bubbly!
Ida, a colleague, made a flower wreath for me and placed it on my head...
... Soon, it fell down on my neck, but it was pretty nonetheless!
During the party celebrating my defense, my supervisor told me over dinner that I was right in the middle of a rite of passage. With the defense over and my PhD reached, she said, I was now a “senior” in the academe and have a proof of an achievement – a social capital – that no one could take away from me in a world full of change. Like all rites of passage, this one also seemed overwhelming and very personal though. Feelings of relief, happiness, pride, humility, gratitude and disbelief were all brewing up inside me during the dinner party. The thought that everyone in the party celebrated this success with me and were happy for me and my achievements made me feel really appreciated. All the work invested into thesis and all the worries about it suddenly seemed like a thing of the past. It was wonderful – but also a strange new feeling – to have so many cheer for my achievements, and hear so many heart-warming words addressed to me. When I said on this to one of my friends, he said that I seemed to be able to take all the attention well. Actually, I did feel a little self-conscious at times with all the attention focused on mostly me. But I enjoyed the atmosphere of the party really much, and was both touched, entertained and honored. In that room were all my best friends and those that mean very much to me. And I've also done something quite extraordinary, and worth – yes – gloating over. Besides, the shower of gifts to me was unbelievable. It felt like Christmas opening the packages the next day. Now why don’t people do PhD theses more often? :-)
But the feeling of pride and the realization of what I had gone through didn’t actually come until a couple of days later, the Sunday after the party. Mom, dad, Lea and I walked my old friends Per and Paulina to the station. I tend to see P&P in Norrköping when big occasions happen in my life. Since their move to Gothenburg, that had been a wedding, a funeral and a PhD in the span of less than four years. It suddenly struck me how they travelled to witness a chapter in my life close and a new one begin. And that this was all about me and my own special occasion that they came for this time. As the train moved away, I shed tears as P&P were waving goodbye through the window. I walked back to the end of the platform to mom, dad and Lea. Even if I knew that they had been standing there all along, I was more thankful than ever that they were there.
The four of us opened a bottle of champagne when we got home. My fat hot tears and happy laughter combined. I felt happy, proud and satisfied. I had achieved something huge and had done an enormous work by myself. The thesis was also – with little doubt after the defense – a job well done. I have great reason to be damn proud of myself. And there are people who love me for whatever happens, and even at times when I’m not trying to be smart. Wonderful both ways. What are friends and family for? :-)
“There’s a doctor in the house!”