I officially turned in my dissertation on Monday, and I felt…numb. I thought I would be ecstatic, floating six inches off the ground and ready to party all week. Instead, I just wanted to take a nap. Then I read this post yesterday at The Research Whisperer blog. It was timely. This blogger reflects on the post-thesis-submission experience. The author says:
…a surprisingly large number of my (competent, successful) friends admitted that the PhD came wrapped up with a deep sense of inadequacy. One said that he couldn’t bear to open the thesis at all because it made him feel sick. Another can’t face turning it into a book project because it reminds her of how miserable she was (she has instead been focusing on her postdoc, which she loves). A third, deep in the book project, says that even three years later she is struggling to knuckle down and finish it because of how stressful it is being immersed in something that makes her feel so insecure.
As for my part, I found myself distracted, fretful, and desperately avoiding finishing my (minor) corrections. This came to a head one evening in my kitchen with a full-blown breakdown followed by a trip to the psychologist, who related my symptoms to those of PTSD.
I’m going to call this the Post Turn-In Stress Disorder of the PhD (I must give credit to my wife for that cleverness).
Two major things have happened in my life over the last couple weeks. First, we hired a full-time youth director. That means I will, once again, move from hands-on ministry to supervising the one doing the hands-on ministry with the youth. I have been dreaming about this hire for four years, because I have told myself that the youth deserve better than what I was able to give them, and that I need to spend more time focusing on adult ministry. The truth is that I will miss working directly with our high school students, even though I know it is the right decision in the long run.
Second, I turned in the dissertation. I have been working toward this moment since the fall of 2010 when I first submitted my application to Luther Seminary. Now, all that is left is the defense. (It has not yet been scheduled, but won’t be any sooner than the last week of June.)
These two things have shaped my life for the past four years. Now I am left wondering, “Who am I?” or, more accurately, “What am I called to do now?” This is a bit of an identity crisis for me. (I know, I know…#firstworldproblems, call a “waaaaambulance”, quit your whining. I get it.)
So, to any fellow PhDers out there who may be reading, or to my friends and ministry colleagues who may be wondering, this process is way more complicated than I thought it would be. Pray with me as we navigate the transitions of the next few months.
Have any of you had a similar experience?