Dr Alice Violett
Book thoughts and PhD-related posts

I graduated!

A selfie of Alice in her doctoral hat

NB I’m cross-posting this on my original PhD blog. All my old posts are here, but I haven’t got round to converting them all, so they’re not all showing up yet. Turns out that when you work with YAML all day, you don’t want to work with it all night too.

On Friday 20 July 2019, 145 weeks and two days after my original viva, nearly 15 months after my second viva, and just over ten months after my certificate was issued, I finally had my graduation ceremony.

It was definitely my favourite of the three graduations I’ve had - I was happier with my outfit and make-up than I had been on the other two occasions, I got to meet John Bercow, who said to me ‘nobody can take that away from you’, he and Alumna of the Year Melissa Johns gave amazing and inspiring speeches, and I enjoyed seeing my erstwhile department colleagues at the reception and taking advantage of the buffet (there were these mini-scones with jam and cream which were DIVINE). Four of my former students got their degrees, with two of them appearing as case studies in the graduation booklet for the day, and I felt so happy for them.

And yet, in the weeks leading up to it, I fell into a bit of a funk, because I felt that, as a PhD graduate, I should be impressing everyone with my achievements since completing, when I’m still in more or less the same position I was when I crashed some of my friends’ graduation reception last year. In the ceremony itself, there was a lot of talk about ‘getting out there’, making a difference’ and ‘slaying it’. There are always these messages around graduation time that you’re on the cusp of something amazing, yet I don’t feel like I am doing, or am going to do, amazing things. People with PhDs are always characterised as ambitious and high-achieving (aside from the PhD itself), but I’m an unspectacular being who happens to be really bloody-minded.

It’s occurred to me since, though, that those statements are more applicable to the majority of graduands - undergraduates who literally have just finished one thing and need to start another - than someone in my situation. I’m just on a different timeline to a lot of the other people there. I really started my ‘next chapter’ in October 2016 when I moved into full-time work - changing when and where I work, who with, what I do, and when and how I’m paid - and my PhD work became something I had to fit around that.

With all these messages of change in the air, I felt bad that I wasn’t shaking things up myself. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fear change, and welcome it if it looks to benefit me, but at the moment I like what I’m doing, can’t think of any other job (that anyone would let me do, anyway!) I’d rather have, and can’t imagine having nicer colleagues, so why change for the sake of it? All I was aiming for from the start was a full-time job that didn’t make me want to die, and I’ve got that.

Something that I wasn’t expecting was how nostalgic I’d get for my days at Essex. Picking up and returning my robes to the Lecture Theatre Building reminded me of when I had some of my MA classes in there, and sat in on the lectures for one of the courses I taught on; taking my habitual route off campus, and waiting for the bus put me in mind of all the times I did that same thing over the years. I have returned to campus since completing, to sit by the lake and feed the ducks (SEEDS, NOT BREAD!), but perhaps because I was reunited with so many people from the department I used to see all the time, this visit was really evocative.

Suddenly, it was 2012 again and I was returning to university after two years of a mind-numbing part-time job and I was getting excited for all the modules I was going to take, what I was going to learn, and the things there were to do and see on campus. I’d never do a PhD again, but I do miss the seminars and set reading of the BA and MA.

At least I did have one piece of news - I’ve agreed to contribute to an edited collection. I know I said I don’t want to publish, and I still wouldn’t actively ask to be published, but I was invited, and I have enough ideas and material in my thesis to write a stonking chapter without having to do extra research I don’t have the resources for. What’s more, I miss writing, I just don’t want to kill myself in the process of doing so, and this task looks to have an acceptable enjoyment-pain balance. I’m quite excited, actually!

So I guess this still isn’t my final PhD blog post - as long as my chapter is OK, I’ll be posting again in a couple of years’ time when the collection comes out. In the meantime, you can always enjoy my periodic ramblings about books.