Might as Well: overcoming grad school purgatory

Grad school purgatory, as I’ve decided to call it, is rough.  It’s that time many of us experience between our defense and our final draft of our thesis or dissertation, where most of the pressure is off, but you’re still not in the clear.  Your defense is arguably the most stressful moment of graduate school: you must present, in a clear and professional manner, what exactly it is that has kept you out of social situations for 2+ years.

This is not a professional manner.

You must present, to whoever decides your undoubtedly-too-long title sounds interesting, what has been on your mind when you get that glassy look in your eyes over Saturday night dinner.

While others are enjoying their sushi, you’re wondering whether this bag of rotting corn has been eaten yet by a wandering bear.

You must, under all circumstances, be able to simultaneously explain complicated processes using proper terminology, but simple enough words that anyone who waltzes into your conference room can understand what exactly all those Greek letters mean.

Use of cartoons is often frowned upon and considered “unprofessional.”  You find them to be clear and useful for breaking tension.

You must present, without neither too little more too much detail, that your research is important to the future of whatever it is you’re studying.  That your research, although it’s imperfect since it’s yours, is still absolutely worth publishing.

This singular bear hair could change the future of…well…something.

After you present, you must clearly and professionally answer the questions that, first, the audience, second, your committee throws at you–whether or not they are actually related to your work.  You and your committee have a powwow, after which they decide whether or not your presentation was worthy of a pass or a fail (after, of course, you take their edits and redo everything they ask you to redo).

Congratulations, you passed!

[Read: Welcome to purgatory!]

A huge weight is off your shoulders, you were deemed worthy by your peers and your committee.  You were allowed to glimpse the coveted initials of M.S.  Those initials, though, aren’t rightly yours until after you finish your thesis.  I’m not talking about “hey please remove these commas as they are grammatically incorrect.”  I’m talking about “we want you to reconsider the basic information you used to formulate your results.”  So, you take a weekend off, because you’re too weary to scoop your brain back up and into your skull after your defense.  You come back “fresh” on Monday, and have seemingly forgotten everything you knew three days ago.  You consult your notes, and press on.  You attempt to prioritize your edits, and address the most important ones first.  Without fail, something unexpected happens after applying a simple change.  You cry for help.  You get help, try the suggestions, receive an error you’ve never seen.

Suddenly you feel like this is what your thesis says.

This cycle continues, each turn of the wheel taking at least 1 week.

In the meantime, your personal life kicks into high gear in an attempt to recover from your lack of one for the duration of your program.  Oh, and you begin the dreaded hunt for permanent employment.  Amazingly, catching up with friends and family is far more appealing than beating your head against the wall that is your thesis edits.  Poring over online job boards, while not as fun, consumes your thoughts as fully as your research has previously.  You are so used to the discouragement and guilt that is graduate school, you must now ensure you feel the same about looking for employment.  With this lens, all the jobs you look at are “entry level” with minimum qualifications of “a master’s degree in a related field plus 6 years of professional experience.”  So you stall.  And you clean your house.  And reorganize your computer files.  And halfheartedly apply for some jobs that look interesting for which you’re woefully under-qualified.  And you revisit your thesis, again.

Graduate school purgatory isn’t fun, and it drags on as long as you let it.  So far, my time here in purgatory has lasted three months.  Last night, I thought that I was nearing the end, this morning I realized I just began my thesis-edit-cycle again.  So this morning, I’m procrastinating, sort of.  I’m waiting for the computer to finish computing thesis things, and I’m avoiding the discouragement of job boards.  It’s worked out okay so far…for three months, to be precise.  Except I’m not getting anywhere, besides getting more anxious about the unknown future, and getting closer to having to find a new place to live.  And I don’t like being in purgatory, sitting here, spinning my wheels, waiting for lightning to strike.  So I’ve decided that I won’t be put off by the intimidating job qualification descriptions, or the lack of progress on my thesis edits.  I can’t, if I ever expect to get out of here.  Might as well, just…jump.

Maybe something fun will catch me, and pull me out of this grad school purgatory.


Second entry for the Daily Post prompt.



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