In my last entry, I explored some of the bad habits I’ve formed regarding how I think about writing and some of the things I might do to change that way of thinking. For today’s entry I want to build on the idea of habit formation and discuss how I have been thinking about the end of this process up to now. I think a good way to get at my thought processes will be to examine how I think about graduating.
I don’t know how most graduate students feel about graduating and finishing beyond the obvious. The road to graduation is a fairly long and arduous one, and finishing brings a sense of completion (though I’ve also read this sense of accomplishment can be accompanied by one of anxiety about what comes next, since graduating is more of a transitional phase than an ending). I know in my case that I would like to be done already. I chose to get a master’s degree along the way. Most of the folks I came into graduate school with either already had their MA or came in as PhD students (thus bypassing MA requirements). As such, these people have finished their degrees and have moved on, while I’m still here. In addition, while I moved through my course requirements in a timely fashion, the dissertation process has been a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. That is one reason I started this blog, so that I could think through my process and voice my feelings about it while not denigrating it or myself.
I gave what I think about graduating some serious thought over the weekend. Despite feeling that I want to graduate, I’ve realized that I have not been imagining myself graduating. I mean a few things by this. In the first place, I mean the simple idea that I have not been picturing myself standing next to my dissertation director as she hoods me; walking onto the stage and receiving a symbolic representation of my diploma; seeing colleagues about me and friends and family smiling at me in the audience; and all of the happy feelings that should accompany such a momentous day. I also mean the more abstract ideas about graduating: starting a new phase in my life, which should be both frightening and exhilarating; becoming a fully recognized member of the professional academic community; working on new projects that have occurred to me as I have gone through coursework and the dissertation process; and so on. When I have thought about the end of the dissertation process, in fact, I have not had very clear images of what that will mean for me. I have felt as though there is some kind of post‑graduation fog that will come rolling in over me, and that I will be unable to find my way out.
I’m not going to write that these feelings of uncertainty have left now that I have begun to think about them. But I do think it is important for me to recognize what I have been doing to myself all this time without realizing it. It may seem obvious to point this out, but imagining the end of this process in such negative terms has been a hindrance: at best I’ve been confusing myself, and at worst I have been setting myself up for failure. Luckily, I think the first step I need to take is a simple one. I've already written it down in the previous paragraph, in fact: to begin imagining myself on graduation day surrounded by people who are happy for me and feeling happy for myself. This will undoubtedly take some effort on my part. I will have to devote a little bit of time each day to imagining myself as a doctor, as an expert in my particular field of study and as an educator who has something meaningful to contribute to academia. But it takes every bit as much effort, at least until it becomes a habit, to not imagine myself graduating. In the end, I think imagination is everything, by which I mean I can continue to imagine myself being swept away in the fog of the unknown, or I can choose to imagine myself standing on my own two feet with my diploma in hand.