PhDgirl goes to graduation


This is PhDgirl – I introduced you to her last year in a post about PhD fantasies. Last week she went to her graduation. This is a post about celebrating yourself – your mind, your perseverance, your drive and your overall fabulousness.

Graduation is, I think, something PhD students daydream about a great deal while they are going through the struggle of researching and writing their dissertations. Graduation is the end-point of this particular journey – the peak of the mountain where you stake your flag and claim your new title. Graduation is where you get to finally celebrate and be nothing but happy, and relieved and damn proud of yourself for what you have achieved through your own hard work, determination and perseverance. It’s a good day.

My university is wonderful because they do graduation with all the pomp and circumstance you could hope for. It was a grand graduation event, with official photographs beforehand, alumni packs handed out (where I got to fill in my first form as Dr NameandSurname), so many people to see and congratulate and be congratulated by. At the ceremony itself the Dean read out a citation about my research as I stood before the audience in my scarlet gown and new LBD, feeling like I was floating and praying I wouldn’t fall into the Chancellor’s lap when I knelt before him. Then the Chancellor – a really lovely man – conferred my degree and congratulated me as he shook my hand (I managed not to pitch into him, thankfully!). Finally, the Registrar invested me by placing my hood over my head and telling me ‘Well done, you can put on your bonnet now’. Then my part was over. Bonnet balanced precariously on my head, I took the wrong route back to my seat, forgetting to collect my parchment, and when I got the official pictures, I discovered that I had done all the things I was not supposed to do, like let my hair fall in front of my face and look down at my hood as it was being put onto me. But it was, nonetheless, a glorious and too-brief moment and I wished later on that I could do it all over again.

Of course there were other glorious moments – the Vice-Chancellor’s luncheon for PhD graduates and their partners and supervisors, where I found a placecard with my name preceded by Dr – the first official printed incarnation (I have kept it, of course); the garden party for all the graduates and their families, on a gorgeous warm afternoon where my children got to see me in my finery (they were not allowed to come to the ceremony) and eat cupcakes in the sunshine. It was a long, well-deserved and joyous celebration of all of us – myself and my peers – and this achievement we are so proud of. As a friend and fellow graduate said, ‘This [event] is all about being happy. Happy, happy, happy’. She was so very right.

I hope your graduation celebrations, when you get there, will be everything you have daydreamed about and so much more. Mine certainly were.



PhD fantasies and why you should have them


I want to introduce you to someone: this little gal in the handdrawn picture is PhDgirl. She is my alter-ego, my superhero other. She can write and think and come up with ideas and connections and put it all together like a pro. See the LBD she is wearing, and the cute shoes? The swinging red gown and the funny red hat? She is at her PhD graduation. It’s April 2014. She is thinner and more toned than I am now, having taken up Pilates and stopped eating so much chocolate. She is fabulous and clever and accomplished. She is Dr Clarence. She is the main character in my PhD fantasies.

This post is about PhD fantasies and why they can be useful, and good to nurture. They give you a goal, an endpoint in what can sometimes seem like an endless process. They give you something to focus on and push towards; a positive beacon. Maybe your fantasy is that the next time someone says ‘Is that Mrs or Miss?’ and you are a Ms, you can say “Actually, it’s Dr’. And then smile a slightly smug smile (you have earned that small bit of smugness, really). Maybe it’s being addressed as ‘Dr’ by a colleague in front of others who perhaps have not yet given you the credit you deserve and have earned. Maybe it’s that graduation ceremony, and hearing your name called out and having a lovely, and hopefully flattering, paragraph read out about your research and the contribution it has made to your field; being handed the scroll and having it framed and hanging on your wall. Maybe it’s a change in your email signature. Maybe it’s a fantasy about getting really great reports from examiners full of praise, and, if there must be corrections, constructive and helpful feedback. Maybe it’s an improbable but oh-so-fabulous verdict from examiners of ‘pass with no corrections’.

I have had all of these PhD fantasies from time to time. They can be distracting, as most fantasising can be if you let it be, and if you think about these things too much rather than actually working on the PhD that will make your fantasies a reality. But they encourage me and push me on, especially on the days when I really just want to nap instead of writing or thinking or reading. I recommend nurturing a few of your own. Keep them for rainy, gloomy days when you need a point in the future to focus on, to keep you plodding on. I also highly recommend a superhero alter-ego – they are there inside you anyway. Give them a name and channel all those superpowers when you need to push on and keep going in the face of work and tiredness and family and all of the stuff that life throws your way. Have fun with your fantasies. And don’t feel guilty about the inevitable procrastination that they will bring about – everyone needs a wander into fantasy-land every now and then.

PhDgirl over and out :-).