On December 25th, at about 4 pm, I emailed my advisor the full draft of my dissertation. The last few weeks leading to the 25th flew by like a haze; after Thanksgiving, I emailed my advisor my fourth dissertation chapter, and I quickly moved on to revising the whole thing. (In my department we get feedback per chapter, and you either revise as soon as you get the comments or revise the chapters all at once. I chose option B.) I also had to write an introduction to the dissertation…on top of all the other things I had going on: work, blogging for Sounding Out, editing, blogging for U Venus. The past five weeks I work on my dissertation almost every day, with the exception of maybe two to three days where I was too panicked to work or I was too tired. And yes, panic settled in on several occasions. I’m sure I cried about three times while revising this dissertation; I held back the tears on several others.
I am writing this post today because, even though I still have to revise the dissertation at least one more time before I defend next semester and even though my work is not done, I feel like this is the beginning of the end. The past few weeks I had to remind myself again and again about how far I have come and how little I have left to do…at least in comparison to what I had accomplished at this point last year. In one year I have done what I thought would be almost impossible: I wrote three and a half chapters of a dissertation, in addition to one introduction. But it is easy to lose sight of this when you’re on the verge of a cold, you can’t keep your eyes open, and you still have plenty of reading and writing left to do.
On Friday December 23rd, the day before I flew out to New York City, I was still writing at midnight, forcing out the last few sentences I had in me about Langston Hughes’ Montage of a Dream Deferred. Once I saved that draft and added it to the MS Word doc “dissertation draft 1” I smiled to myself. I couldn’t believe I had made it through December…and yet there I was, printing out my introduction and my Chapter 1 so I could read them and edit them on the plane ride to NYC.
What’s left is this: my committee needs to read my whole dissertation and give me feedback. I also need to schedule a defense date. By the end of the spring semester, I hope to go to Commencement and become Dr. S. There’s a whole semester left, and a dissertation defense, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve made it to the other side.
Last year, around this time, I made a new year’s resolution to make the dissertation a priority. I’ve made resolutions before, but nothing out of the ordinary: eat less, lose weight, read more. But last year I resolved to make the dissertation my priority and get it done. Month in and month out I chipped away at my project; some months were harder than others. The last weeks of revising proved to be the hardest. The burn-out was real. My brain just couldn’t take it any more. But I pushed through. I had to. Not finishing was not an option.
It took me about two and a half years to get here, and I did the bulk of the writing in one year—even though I’ve been thinking about cities and their potential to be a home for years. Part of me thinks if I had another chance I would have done it differently. I know there are others who think in my position they would’ve done it differently. But I believe that every single step brought me to where I am today. If my circumstances had been different, I don’t think I would have felt the urgency to buckle down and commit to working on the dissertation every work day. At this point, what I could have done differently is irrelevant. What I have accomplished is what matters.
Here’s to a new year, and to making our resolutions come true. PhD or bust.