After seven and a half years of it hanging over my head from varying heights, I received this email:
Somewhat anticlimactic. I haven’t worked in the lab since May 2013, at which point lack of funding, opportunities to move into science writing, and Hubs moving to NC all combined and I left. Because I was just so close to finishing that it felt silly not to, I continued to be associated with my scientific work throughout my paper and dissertation writing, my defense last April, and my paper’s acceptance by a peer-reviewed journal last month. (It should be said that I owe quite a lot of the successful end of the story to the labmate who is co-first author on my paper and to my grad school boss). While I’m lucky that I could start a postdoctoral fellowship without officially having the doctorate, the unfinished PhD was ever-present in my mind over the last year and a half. I am incredibly relieved to be finished, but I don’t think I quite believe that it is over.
My adult life has been defined by being a graduate student, and I feel exhausted in the way that I imagine someone ending an eight-year relationship might feel. And the PhD process was so like a relationship. I gained friends through my PhD, as well as experienced great joy, immense frustration, and huge emotional growth. I sought the answers to questions like, can I continue to depend on what other people think of me? What do my values say about how I want my work and career to look? Is it wrong to put so much time into something and then leave it behind as it becomes more and more clear that it doesn’t serve my highest good? How do I define professional success, and in what ways does my personal life intersect with it? I don’t regret anything about my PhD experience because of what I’ve gained in self-knowledge, understanding, and experience. And in the same breath, I am so thankful to move forward, degree [finally] firmly in hand.