Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Life after a PhD (Anoo Bhopti)

Anoo's faithful PhD companion, Keanu. | Photo by Anoo Bhopti
For this post, I was invited to reflect on my very new life post-submission.

Yes! It has been a month since I submitted my PhD thesis and it's still a very new phase of my life.

My PhD spanned over six and half years (6 years and 7 months to be precise), but it has felt like a whole lifetime!

The immersed body and soul of a PhD student is only known to the one who lives it. The non-PhD world needs to know that what they are getting is only a superficial self. The deep-rooted PhD self within the body just wants everyone to disappear, to be left alone with their work.

We don’t want to be asked questions about when we are going to finish or where we are up to, or any of these questions - they, and the answers to them, can feel absolutely meaningless. You may judge me, but I didn't really care about how that might seem. I truly only wanted to be alone or in the company of other struggling PhD students (not the overachievers, though!), who made me feel a tiny bit better about myself!

Then one day, it happened. Things started to come together and, suddenly, I felt like this was it! It was almost submission time and there was nothing more that I could do. I never thought that I'd get to this stage when I was stuck in those middle years of the candidature! But it happened.

There was a rush of blood to my head, and a gush of adrenalin, and I was almost ready for it. The discussion came together, the implications started to pour out, then the last three months was a diarrhoea of writing, re-writing and palpitations. I was always a stickler for timelines and now my thesis timeline to submission was getting so real!

A final look, contents page, appendices, random checks for page numbers, the correct final version among multiple final versions...then I started the upload.

A press of a button, then a return email that said "Thesis submission – received". All within five minutes! I had to call my supervisor to confirm whether that was it. Luckily, it was! I also printed out two copies and submitted them physically to the office where I felt a true sense of completion! I did it! It was gone.

What did I feel?

I felt warm around my ears and could feel all the cells alive in my body. It was so weird. I could not describe it to anyone. So, I pretended that I was relieved. This must be what relief feels like, right?

But I was still feeling very anxious. Why? The next morning was strange! I woke up at 3 am only to realise that I had to go back to sleep as there was nothing to do! That was a moment of excitement!

These moments of excitement came and went. I walked aimlessly at home, circled my study, looked at my computer, and felt odd. I’m going to call it odd because it was all a bit anticlimactic! Even though there is immense relief that it's finally submitted, it is weird.

People are lovely. They hug you, congratulate you, and even announce to everyone that you have just submitted. They call you "Doctor" and you resist the urge to say "I’m not a doctor yet…don’t jinx it!". It mostly feels good and helps to make it real.

Then they start asking, "So, when will you know the results?" Oh, no! The PhD student inside me comes alive again and rolls her eyes. Not this again!

As I said earlier, it has been a month. I feel light-headed whenever I think about my life now. I try to celebrate and tell everyone how my life has changed…and it has. But I haven’t yet learnt to live a life without a PhD in it.

I walk my dog with a lighter step, I cook, I come to work. Everyone else feels I’m different and feels so happy for me! I have my weekends back. But I’m not yet over it. Maybe I need to go for a holiday without my computer to make me feel it is real?

The truth is I haven’t settled at all. I miss my home computer, but I don’t miss the stress. It was so big! It was my whole life and now it is over!

I do feel a great sense of achievement. I run my fingers through the printed copy and I cannot believe I did all this work. Now, I'm waiting for the results, but not in a panic. I am used to critiques and harsh feedback - the past six years have made me strong in this way.

After I submitted, I stood up tall, on top of my bed, in my pyjamas, and let out a big scream and applauded myself! My dog was a bit shocked at my scream but joined in with enthusiastic tail-wagging. Oh, what a feeling!

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Anoo Bhopti is a lecturer in occupational therapy (OT) at Latrobe University. 

Anoo has worked as an OT for more than 25 years with children with disabilities and their families. Her OT experience includes working in countries from the global south, including India. 

Anoo’s PhD focused on “Family quality of life when there is a child with disability”. She hopes to inform policy and practice with her research to enable better outcomes for families and children with disability.

She tweets from @OTbhopti.

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