Why selling a house is like finishing a doctorate

Sold! Now what?

Sold! Now what?

This week my husband and I sold our house and bought another one, so it’s been a week filled with terrifying leaps of faith, trembling uncertainty, and dizzying highs that have involved actual whooping and jumping up and down. During this selling-buying-a-home experience, I was viscerally reminded of what it feels like at the end stages of a PhD.

Firstly, no matter how much work you have put in to getting your home ready for sale (or getting your PhD ready for examination), you don’t know how it’s going to go in the marketplace (or examiners’ eyes). There’s nail-biting insecurity that you won’t get the result you want. The waiting is insomnia-inducing. What if there is a low offer or no offer (a major revisions or a revise and resubmit)?

Secondly, there is no clear ending to the process, and no clear-cut moment to celebrate. We put our house on the market in January, like submitting a PhD to examiners, and then we have waited for results to come in. On Sunday night we received an offer, but it didn’t seem time to open the champagne. Nor did it the next night when we accepted that offer. Yes, we had sold our house, but celebrating the possibility of being without a home for our family didn’t seem appropriate. We put an offer on another house, but until it was accepted we didn’t feel we could celebrate. Even then (and we did celebrate) we are still faced with small milestones to complete and dominoes to fall, before we know that both sales are unconditional (finance, inspections, settlement).

Similarly, the end of the PhD seems to go on and on. There’s thesis submission. There’s the waiting game for examiners’ reports. Often, there’re the revisions. There is acceptance of those corrections and conferral of the degree and the title of ‘Doctor’ (which for me, was marked by having just presented at the AERA conference in DC). The printing of the bound PhD thesis that will luxuriate on the library shelf. The rollercoaster of completion emotions. There is graduation. Then there’s the first aeroplane boarding pass with ‘Dr’ on it, and the first post-graduation event when you get to wear the floppy hat and doctoral robes. There’s even the identity tussle as you come to terms with your doctorness, just as I’m sure my husband and I will need to transition from our current home, which we love and in which we have raised two young boys, to a new home which offers up the stage for the next chapter in our story.

It was interesting for me to note the way that an unrelated life event could bring my memories of the tail end of my PhD rushing back so vividly. Perhaps some of life’s most rewarding experiences are those which test our mental toughness, give us sleepless nights, and which don’t have clear cut endings.

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Diary of a PhD completion: All the feels

The thane of Cawdor lives. Why do you dress me In borrowed robes? ~ Shakespeare’s Macbeth

In my last post, I described how I felt once I knew that my thesis amendments had been approved by my supervisors. I really didn’t think that this very pointy end of the PhD would be complex. Surely there would be a quiet moment of joy followed by the pop of a champagne cork. Well, I was right about the champagne, but the last week has been more of a rollercoaster than I imagined. It turns out that finishing a doctorate is wound up in some messy identity-entangled feelings. Below, I try to give a sense of what that looked and felt like for me.

My week’s diary of PhD completion went something like this.

Friday: Supervisors sign off on the amended thesis. Form goes to the Dean for university sign off. Elation. Excitement. Light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. Hugs. Champagne. I tell my kids. My 5 year old shouts “Wooohooo! No more PhD!” I remember that I’ve been doing this most of their lives (they were 6 months and 2 years old when I started; now they are 4 and 5).

Saturday and Sunday: Checking and re-checking the thesis, especially the amendments. I fully proof the first and last chapters, line by line, punctuation mark by punctuation mark. Obsess over commas and hyphens, or the lack of commas and hyphens. Wonder why I’m so unable to let go of a document which I’ve been told is done. My husband takes me to lunch on the coast on a glorious day. I drink a bellini. We cheers to the thesis being done.

Monday: Dean signs off on my thesis. It’s through. Accepted. Officially done. I jump up and down. Whooping. Air-punching. Triumph.

Tuesday: I’m still tinkering with the already-approved thesis. I’m haunted by nightmares and daydreams of mistakes existing somewhere in the 300 page document despite it being checked by me, two supervisors and three examiners. Impossible obsession with checking over and over. And over. I keep reminding myself the thesis has been signed off. It is considered doctorate worthy. I save the document as a pdf to stop myself from my compulsive tinkering. I sneak another peek. Ok, maybe more than one.

Wednesday: Wake with a cracking headache, knowing that today is the day I print the final final final copies for permanent binding (buckram cloth! gold letters!). One of which will live on the library shelf (maybe never to be opened). Anxiety builds as I worry that this final copy means there can be no more tinkering. I am overwhelmed by the pressure of printing the tangible final pages. It’s a relinquishing of control. If there are errors, they will be inked there for eternity. I feel increasingly ill as I print and check the final copies of my thesis. I take the box of printed pages in to university and submit them to the library to be sent for final binding. I drive to pick up sick child from school; no time to savour the moment. I upload the thesis document to the university library. Fall into a heap of exhaustion and hollowness. It’s the thesis finishing comedown, an emotional and energetic crumbling, a descent into the post-thesis abyss. I tweet my feelings of emptiness and strangeness. Responses come: yes, the mourning, the crash, the void. Others have felt this, too. I head out for dinner and champagne. Company helps and I’m reminded that – without lab partners, a writing group or colleagues at the university – my journey is mostly in my head. I’ve been the working mama who comes and goes from uni in a blinding flash, working mostly alone, often in the night. It’s good to be out, and to talk about it. And to talk about other things to forget about it.

Thursday: I get word that my thesis is online. There it is, a citation with my name on it, and a downloadable document. My thesis title in black and white. My words out of my head and into the world. My work now in the public realm. Elation again. Pride. And then the crack of the Imposter Syndrome whip. I hadn’t felt it until now. I was perfectly comfortable being a PhD candidate. An eager student. A work in progress. Of course I am still a neophyte. A partially-formed apprentice scholar. I realise I’m almost doctored, but feel unworthy of the title. I know I’ve worked hard for this. My family has both sacrificed and benefited from my doing the PhD; we’ve lived it. I know I’ve walked the path that leads to the ‘Dr’ and the medieval flourish of the Tudor bonnet. Yet I hear Macbeth’s line in my head “Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?” My sense of identity hasn’t caught up with the reality of finishing the PhD. My new almost-doctor-ness feels ill-fitting. My neverending PhD story is coming to an end. Or is that a beginning? When I started the doctorate I saw its completion as the pinnacle. Now I realise it’s entry level.

Friday: I notice missing Oxford commas in the text. I begin to think about the work I’ve now projected out into the world. I remember how non-traditional my thesis is. That it was risky. That some might be inspired by my novel approach and others bemused or horrified. I reflect on how I have attempted to push at the boundaries of what an acceptable thesis is. I’ve worked within the accepted parameters of a thesis (introduction, literature, method, results, discussion; some use of the distant academic voice). But I’ve also challenged the traditional thesis genre by embracing creativity, shifting voices, and a literary lens as a way to make meaning. I wonder how my attempt to create a text which compels and propels the reader will be received now that it lives outside of my laptop and my head. I’m comforted by accepted journal articles and conference papers which affirm that my work fits somewhere. I breathe.

The ride continues. Maybe soon, I’ll grow into the robes.

all the feels means all the bubbles

all the feels means all the bubbles