The post PhD-thesis-submission funk

By Aleksandra A Staneva; University of Queensland, Australia; a.staneva@uq.edu.au

It has been 1 month, 17 days, and 3 hours since I submitted my PhD thesis.

A PhD study involves an interesting and unexpectedly non-linear process. Non-linear, because it does not happen independently, in a vacuum; on the contrary, it happens while life unfolds with all its messiness. People move, die, give birth etc. whilst your PhD demands your time regardless.

The final stages of a PhD usually involve a ‘meta’ approach to everything. Everything you have discovered in order to not only synthesize, apply and polish the final product – the thesis, but also to make a contribution, to be able to answer the very first question that made you go for it in the first place: So what?

During the last month pre-submission, I played on repeat this song, “Technologic” by Daft Punk from their Human after All 2005 album. As I strangely spiraled down into the hypnotic tunes of command-like instructions, music kept me close to the fabric of the process and almost provided a sense of eternity. By the time I was swearing off Times New Roman, size 12, for life, I pressed SUBMIT. The 2 milliseconds of an action put an end to a 3 ½ years of a process. A gasp of relief, and a slight unfamiliar pain.

Oscar Wilde sums it up: “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it!”. This is also known as the Summit Syndrome (Parsons & Pascale, 2007) referring to the flatness and depression usually experienced after finally having achieved something. In my case it came when I was asked: So what’s next for you?

wave

Some things that helped (me)

  1. Don’t snap out of it

My advice is to stay with it. Stay with the strange sensation of a pause, of in-betweenness. Take a day, a week; a month off. The inevitable question “Is academia good for me?” can wait until you can answer it from a place of calmness rather than worry. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to experience some slow academia

  1. Debrief

Find a listener and tell them all about it. And when their patience slowly ebbs away retract to a personal journal. Ideally, you have kept one throughout your studies and this can be a great final entry.

  1. Take care of your health

Stack up on sleep, stretching, running, meditation, sunshine, and water. Do more of what makes you feel good. The sooner you do this, chances are, the less chronic the issues may become. Make a list.

camping
Marianne Dubuc: The Bird and the Lion
  1. Take a good look back

What was best about your PhD? The process? The people? Finishing it? Think about the person you are today, the relationships you have made, and the people your research has touched. Make a list.

  1. Laugh it out

Remember the first time you gave a talk on your work? That time the powerpoint software jammed? Or the awkward semi-conversation you made with someone you admire in your field? Try laughing it out- it provides a balmy feeling of a closure.

  1. Read

Catch up on those books you set aside for after I submit. You know, from that list.

  1. Do a book review

Strangely, despite the added work involved writing a book review can be a good bridge between your former and your future writing selves. It can have a “un-sticking” effect of pulling you back out in the field. Also, consider writing a blog post for the ISCHP website J

  1. Go camping

The connection with nature is what I found myself missing on a regular basis. Nature is the affordable and original way to leave your usual abode, and hopefully the wi-fi behind. Get the chance to hug trees, and swap keyboards for sand, and headphones for birds.

wood.jpg

  1. Be social or… don’t

Do whatever works best for you to make you feel recharged. When you feel flat it’s easy to decline social invitations which can of course make you feel even more despondent. However, there are all the shows that you kept hearing about during the past 3 or so years to catch up on. So indulge!

  1. Get rid of some lists and be spontaneous. Al least until the thesis examiners’ feedback.

The predominant post-thesis-submission rhetoric is to prepare, conquer, publish, contact, plan strategically and be ready for the next job, postdoc, or funding opportunity. I find such an approach problematic. Indulging in leisure and doing nothing is not just a form of resistance towards a culture of compulsive workaholism and the glorification of busyness. I propose an alternative of staying with the experience and moving out of it slowly, with potentially greater long-term benefits for both health and career.

Parsons, G. D., & Pascale, R. T. (2007). Crisis at the summit. Harvard business review, 85(3), 80-89, 142.

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