This week I thought I’d look back on my Graduation, which happened 8 months after my Viva, and the mix of emotions now that the dust had settled on the PhD.
I will say it was a good decision to go to my Graduation. It was important, and enjoyable. Also the hat. Frankly it’s worth it for that hat.
It’s an odd thing on one hand Graduating with a PhD. When you graduate from other degrees you have a class that you’re with. Even when for my Undergrad due to an optional year abroad there were significantly less of us, there’s still a group. For my MA I distinctly remember making our weirdo actor-ly/theatrical selves known among the more dour politics graduates….But for me I was going to be on my own. Actually it turns out very much on my own because instead of announcing all the PhDs together they spread them over the ceremony, so I ended up both last and with some Welsh PGCE students.
In all seriousness the hat is a big part of it. From going to collect my gowns and the lovely lady from Ede and Ravenscroft being really excited for me, wanting to know all about my PhD, and congratulating me, to the funny looks I got all day. I kept forgetting that I was a) wearing a frankly ridiculous hat and b) wearing even more ridiculous robes that looked different to everyone else, so everyone was looking at me before the ceremony just a bit confused, afterwards I heard a few whispered ‘She’s got a doctorate’. And being terribly British it’s in my nature to be fairly self-deprecating about it, but yet that did feel good.
I realized I was literally the last person to Graduate. For someone a) shy and b) scared of falling on stage as me this was not the most fun I’ve had. Not least when they accidentally half-announced my PhD at the wrong moment. Finally I did get to walk across that stage. Waiting to go out I did start to feel a bit emotional. All day it had been too busy to think about it, but there’s a little pause as you wait to go on where nothing else is really going on, and then it hit me. I did tell myself not to cry (lord knows I’ve done enough of that over the last 4 years…) Everywhere does it a bit different, but we get a short description of our research read out. I had a choice between the director of research and my supervisor, I chose my supervisor because despite our ups and downs, she helped get me there and that felt righto. It is a really satisfying moment to hear a description of your research read out, to acknowledge what you did specifically, not just that you did it. And for the activist in me, having it read aloud that I did this work on AIDS, to have it highlighted as something important that I did, really meant a lot too.
And then, 8 months after finally finishing, and after 4 long years it was officially official and I Graduated. I’d worried it would be a bit of an anti-climax, but actually it was a really satisfying moment. And it felt good to bookend the PhD with a bit of pomp and circumstance.
Post-PhD life can be a bit of a comedown, as I’ve blogged about before. The PhD also has lots of false endings, from submission to viva to corrections, so it’s really important to use Graduation if you can to put that pin in it and say yes, it’s over.
What’s more important is to take that moment to congratulate yourself and let yourself be congratulated. We forget often, in the midst of it, surrounded by people who have done it or are doing it, that it is a massive achievement. Enjoy the results of the hard work and wear the silly hat for a day.