I hit “send” on my dissertation on Sunday evening, and turned the hard copies in to my committee members’ boxes for review on Monday morning. You might imagine, after so much time and effort, so many hours working on this major project, that this moment would feel amazing–I did it! I did it! I finished my dissertation!
Well, it does, and it doesn’t. Certainly, there is an initial elation. If you have friends or family in the vicinity, they might fete you with a nice meal or dessert or a toast in your honor, and you might spend the rest of the evening basking in the glow of your accomplishment, and you totally should. You have definitely earned a reward! In my case, the self-indulgence took the form of a new pair of shoes, which I am sure surprises exactly no-one who knows me…..
But then, you go to bed, and you wake up, and… nothing happens.
At some point—maybe the day after, maybe two days after, you turn in the dissertation, you realize that it’s off your plate, at least for the next month or more until your defense. You no longer have to cobble together research time; you no longer have to fight everyone in your life for time to read and write and re-read and re-write; you no longer have to scrabble to get requested revisions completed by a deadline. No one is emailing you with revision suggestions or to ask how the chapter is coming along. It’s complete, it’s turned in, it is now out of your hands. You are now on no one’s time frame but your own. This is…. disconcerting.
After so much time working at hyperdrive levels to juggle everything, now the biggest portion is cleared off of your plate. How do you deal with not having an overly-full plate? How do you manage a “normal” workload? I got through Monday fairly unscathed, still coasting on the “I did it! I did it!” high. By Tuesday, though, I had two immediate reactions to my suddenly extremely-lighter workload: my body, with its immune system pretty much destroyed by my iron will not to get sick until the thing was done, promptly succombed to a major sinus infection, and I made an appointment with my advisor on Wednesday to discuss “what next?” because I feel like I should be doing something! What about revising the dissertation into a book now? That’s the next logical step, right?
My advisor reminded me that I haven’t even defended the dissertation yet, and recommended that I enjoy the down time and not take on any major projects or even look at my dissertation for a few weeks, because now I am on my own timeframe and I don’t have any deadlines. Maybe, you know, after a couple weeks I might start a little project, or work on an R&R (revise and resubmit); then, after the defense, maybe not too much until after graduation. Just enjoy not being super swamped all the time. Enjoy time with the family where I’m not all stressed about the dissertation all the time. It actually sounded pretty good, the way she framed it. So, with the next few months solidly NOT mapped out, I went home and slept all day Thursday. By Thursday night, I had Googled and determined that my sinus infection was, in fact, five different potentially deadly maladies. I started reading lifestyle blogs for ideas on how to construct a completely different, post-dissertation life. I worried aloud about the job market, about health insurance, about travel accommodations for a conference, and about the future more broadly. After two hours, my husband BEGGED me to take on another major project–any major project–because I absolutely suck at having nothing to do. (Actually, the poor man was hit with a double-whammy, because I suck at two things more than I suck at any of the other things in the world–one, “taking some down time” and the other, “being sick”.)
Here is the thing: my advisor and my husband are both right: I definitely need down time. I know this. I can feel it. My body is exhausted, my brain is exhausted, my spirit is exhausted. I currently have the attention span of a nit. So yes, I am going to take the next few weeks “off”–meaning, I will read in my field without a project in mind just because it is interesting; I will read something completely unrelated to my field “just for fun”; I will catch up on television and films I wanted to see; I will go hiking and run more; and I will try really, really hard not to get too involved in any major scholarly projects between now and my defense. After the defense, I can expect some more revisions to the dissertation prior to final submission with the Graduate School. Then, from what I’ve read, I can expect some form of post-dissertation stress disorder to descend upon me. But on the plus side, I have an excellent support network and I don’t feel dread, but rather desire, for more of the same grueling, punishing work schedule going forward after graduation. It’s just who I am–like my husband says, if I’m not over-scheduled and too busy and using fifteen differnt parts of my brain at the same time, I’m not a happy person, and so academia, with its multidisciplinary and often-excessive workload, is absolutely the right fit for me. So, while I’m taking the advice and doing the down-time thing right now, I am also eagerly looking forward to the next intellectual adventure.
What about you? How did you or do you plan to handle the post-dissertation or post-thesis blahs?