This whole process of finishing feels so strange in many ways. I went through school for so long. I had this goal of completing a Ph.D. for a LONG time. I worked at it. Several times I wanted to quit. The process is so nebulous that aside from signing up for and completing the classes that are clearly defined (and not all are) the rest of it you have to figure out as you go so I've spent time wandering the lost forest of doctoral work never quite knowing exactly what the next step is or what it will take to finish. When you start you know about the dreaded "Dissertation" and just like any final step it seems impossible and is equally scary. It has been hanging over my head (along with the goal and all the work involved in completing the degree) for 7 1/2 years! It has been a major stresser in my life. I've desperately wanted to quit several times. My husband and I have fought at times, not necessarily about school but as a result of it. I've sacrificed sleep. I've sacrificed time with my kiddos. It has been hard.
I finished coursework in Spring 2011 and took about a year off just enjoying NOT doing schoolwork. The stress of having school still hanging over mie was a heavy weight and combined with a peer's graduation it helped motivate mie to actively finish the rest of the degree process this past spring. I got in gear. In a matter of 4 weeks or so I finished my comprehensive exams (writing over 100 pages in 2 weeks while working full-time and parenting) and I proposed my dissertation. For the next 4 months I collected and analyzed data then wrote the rest of my dissertation (ended up being approx. 145 pages). It was a LOT of work. Then after getting the approval of my major professor to proceed another professor on my committee said I needed to start over. With 3 weeks left to my dissertation defense. That was defeating. For the next 10 days I tried to coordinate schedules (while working...) with a professor half way around the world in a different time zone with myself and another professor who was a stickler for her own schedule.
I got really sick. 4/5 of my kids had birthdays in as many weeks. I got sick again. Twice. I threw a mega birthday party and sent a kid home. Twice. I got almost no sleep. My husband and I decided that if it didn't work now I'd probably stop the program (and give up on my dream). We just couldn't do it anymore.
So Oct. 18th came. I made my presentation for 10 minutes. I answered tough questions for 40 minutes or so. Then they kicked everyone out of the room to vote.
They opened the door and said "Doctor?..." indicating I passed. My committee greeted mie by shaking my hand, saying congratulations, and telling mie how well I did. That all lasted 60 seconds, tops. Everyone (school peers who were there to watch) came back in the room and said congrats. We sat down to do an informal Q&A for another 45 minutes or so.
....and it was done. I was done. School was done. I was ready to graduate. I was officially "Dr.".
All that work, suddenly over.
The relief and weight off my shoulders is something I can physically feel. The stress of it all is gone. My brain works better - it has one less thing to worry about. I am generally happier. I feel great.
On the other hand - it feels empty, like "that's it? It's over?" I don't need or want to be celebrated by others (in fact the congratulations has made mie very uncomfortable) but it feels like there should have been trumpets sounding or some other fanfare to accompany the finale. In other words, I just can't believe it's done and I'm finally on the other side of this long, long journey.
Usually I'm not really conscious of the fact that I've finished, that I'm now a "Dr.", or of all the hurdles I had to jump over to finish. But every once in a while I sit back and think "yeah, I did it".
I don't every want people to call mie Dr. unless it's appropriate for the professional situation. I'm not someone who's going to walk around introducing myself as "Dr. G...". I don't need a party or anything else. This was a personal goal that I desperately wanted to finish and finally have.
I am, however, looking forward to the first time I get to fill in an anonymous survey somewhere and can check "Dr." or under highest level of education completed "Ph.D." instead of "some graduate school".
I. Can't. Wait.