When are you going to be done?

December 3, 2012

So, like any graduate student, I often get asked the question, “When are you going to be done?” And like any graduate student, I become less enamored with the question every time I hear it.

But! You say. Surely you don’t mind now that you REALLY. ARE. DONE?!

Er, I’m not done.  I mean, I’m done, but I’m not done.  I mean… graduate school doesn’t end; it tapers off.

I’ll show you what I mean.

Witness this timeline of my time at UCSB.  Clicky to embiggen.  (Also, spot the spelling error I'm too lazy to fix!)

Witness this timeline of my time at UCSB. Clicky to embiggen. (Also, spot the spelling error I’m too lazy to fix!)

Around the time I finished coursework (partway through Year 3, or Dec 2009 for those playing at home) was when people started pinging me with The Question.  I think this is for 2 reasons:

  1. I had been in my Ph.D. program for almost as long as med students go to school, and that was on top of the 1.5 years in my Master’s’ program* (in another, related discipline).  To outsiders, it seemed like I should have a degree “by now.”
  2. I was done with coursework.  Most people who aren’t insane enough to go to graduate school don’t have any concept of what graduate school is, aside from, well, school… where you take classes.  If you’re not taking classes anymore, what are you doing?!

My program has a rather lengthy qualifying exams process, and once that was over with and I was officially “All But Dissertation,” it only became worse from there.  Not only because even people with a passing familiarity of the Ph.D. process were now joining in the chorus, but now because every instance of The Question seemed like an indictment on my “slow” pace.

And, naturally, I had to choose then to change my dissertation topic.

Hilariously (in retrospect), the rationale for the switch was that a brain-imaging study like the one I outlined in my qualifying exams** would take a very long time to finish, like 2 years!  OMG! The amount of time it took me to start over from scratch proposing a new topic, defending it, and then doing THAT dissertation!  (On the bright side, I have a lot of groundwork–and collaborators–for a series of studies on another topic that I can begin if when I get a position as a professor.)

I walked in Commencement in June, because UCSB only does 1 commencement ceremony per year.

My daughter was not impressed.

My daughter was not impressed.

That’s when people just stopped asking and started calling me “Dr.”  Nonono, not yet!, says I.  But proud family members will always take an opportunity to brag.

And then finally!  In October, I turned in my dissertation.

My Dissertation.  Producing it was nothing like having a baby.

My Dissertation. Producing it was nothing like having a baby.

I'd like to say no trees were harmed in the making of this dissertation, but...

I’d like to say no trees were harmed in the making of this dissertation, but…

And Facebook rejoiced, until I pointed out that this is not the end.  There was still the defense.

But then after the defense?  That was the end, right?

Well… enough that colleagues now call me “Dr.”  But I don’t have a Ph.D. until:

  1. I make a few minor organizational revisions to the text of the dissertation.
  2. I get those revisions approved by my advisor and any interested committee members.
  3. I obtain signatures from all my committee members on Super Special Paper.
  4. I get the seal of approval from … I’m not even sure who, the library? Graduate Division? …to make sure my dissertation is formatted correctly.  (As in, margins and fonts and stuff are in spec.)
  5. I pay $90 for the Ph.D. + $20 for each of my 2 interdisciplinary emphases to the cashier’s office, as well as any outstanding charges to my student account.
  6. I file my dissertation electronically on ProQuest.
  7. I complete “exit surveys,” whatever that means.
  8. I meet with a Graduate Academic Advisor with a bunch of paperwork and stuff.
  9. The next degree conferral happens.

This is how getting a Ph.D. turns into a series of tiny, bureaucratic hurdles that end up making the actual degree (or, in my case, even the successful defense) into a massive anticlimax.  I may have a Ph.D. this December, or I may not file it until after the deadline (in 10 days, so yeah), in which case I technically won’t have a Ph.D. until late March even if I file later this month.

…But for all intents and purposes, OK, yeah, I’m done.

* Seriously, how do you form the possessive of “Master’s”?  It’s already a possessive!

** In our system, quals are only loosely and unofficially tied to the dissertation.  The proposal/prospectus/whatever-you-want-to-call-it is a separate hurdle that is not required to advance to candidacy (instead we just take a 6-month-long exam!).


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