July 16, 2018
And now, it’s been just over one month since convocation. (Which conveniently can be viewed here! I appear around the 32 minute mark.) Last month I was in Canada, donning robes that would not be out of place at Hogwart’s, remembering to smile, remembering to breathe, doing all I could to be emotionally and physically present to every. single. second.
This was the fourth convocation I’ve been part of (three where I was a student and one where I was acting program dean.) The venues ranged from a chapel-like auditorium with distinctly puritanical decor to a massive arena which was built in the early 1940s as a livestock showcase, to a turn of the century art deco theater–heavy on the gold, to most recently a large multipurpose room in a sports complex, adjacent to a curling rink because….Canada. Though location, institution, and overall tone differed in pretty profound ways, I am convinced there is nothing quite like the magic of convocation. I know it is more a formality than anything–the hard work and deep transformation happens in all the mundane daily months and years leading up to it but still…there is romance in hearing your name called and walking across a stage to mark physically the identity shift that has been happening behind the scenes.
Before the big day I was 100% prepared to be an emotional mess and cry through most of the proceedings because this was legit such a big deal. Turns out, the only time I got even a little misty was during an acapella trilingual rendition of Oh Canada. It was equal parts joyful and haunting and, to my American ears, felt like a beautiful sign of inclusivity. Oh Canada indeed. Regarding my own role in the big day, I was number two of about three hundred graduates. As my name was called it was an out of body experience, floating from receiving my hood to a handshake to a photo to more handshakes to an exit stage right. I remember lots of lights, and lots of smiles from people in elaborate robes, and mumbling lots of thank you’s to said smiles and fancy robes. It was perfect.
The remainder of the event (because about three hundred graduates equals about three hours) was spent sitting on stage (in the second row) trying to chat discretely with my fellow doctors, regretting how much water I drank before the event, and repeating in my head “you did it Lisa!” Then the bagpipes began, the Mountie reappeared and I progressed off the stage and into the happy congratulatory chaos from my family (both biological and cohort). I 100% felt like a doctor. Also, it must have worked because I immediately stopped having panicked dreams that about the Faculty of Grad Studies telling me I need to redo all. the. things. Ruby appeared fully robed a short time later for a photoshoot and once again…it was perfect.
Since convocation I’ve been mostly on the move in the annual tradition of #nomadsummer. Last summer #nomadsummer meant I conducted dissertation research interviews throughout five different states and two countries and never stopped being thankful (and kind of amazed) by the power of the internet. It was logistically wild and crazy but I think in many ways the motion was catalytic in taking me out of my own mundane routine and helping me enter the worlds of my participants.
This summer, traveling is decidedly more low key. The only research question I am pursuing is a very personal “what is the experience of a newly hooded doctor transitioning from student to post doctorate identity?” (Yep…nearly five years of academic study mean I default to research questions for all. the. things. At this point I’m just accepting the quirky.) The frequent moves and general rootlessness in this season serve as a good embodiment of my internal identity shift as, metaphorically, home is no longer “student” or “candidate” or “hoping to be done in the next year.” Like this summer’s long term road trip that hasn’t been pre-planned, this shift is mostly exciting in its potential and occasionally deeply inconvenient in its messy uncertainty.
Just over two weeks ago we spent three days in the Pacific Northwest, at the edge of the continent. Though our house fronted onto an inlet, if you looked out over a certain side of the deck, you could see land’s end and open ocean. From here, the next piece of solid ground is Japan. I love big water and though it was ridiculously cold for being the end of June, I did my best to spend as much time as possible in close proximity to the Pacific. One evening as the Pacific and I drank wine together, I remembered another trip not so long ago where I was once again on the edge of the continent, realizing some unfortunate things.
Back in February we were in Florida, living about five hundred steps to the open Atlantic. Though the context was ideal it seemed as though everything was going wrong. The deadline for applying to graduate was approaching and my committee was dead silent (and had been for nearly six weeks) on final dissertation feedback. The process was in an indefinite holding pattern. I was trying to be more patient and philosophical than bitter about it all but…the waiting was taking its toll. On that trip the ocean taught me about mutual dependence and letting go. I sometimes am a terrible student but I did try my best to learn.
Reflecting back on those times in a place that was both different and similar provided a wonderful synchronicity. I told this to the Pacific. The waves applauded me in celebration and delight, glad I was on this end of things. I also told the Pacific about my summer research question, noting I was a little hesitant about the future…and, though I knew I couldn’t go back, slightly nostalgic for the identity I had acquired the past many years. I confessed that making the transition was harder than I anticipated. No doubt I felt like a doctor in many ways but also in many ways….not so much. This instability was vaguely concerning to me. The Pacific too is a good listener.
I was hoping the Pacific would have some magical answers about how to actualize all the way to a doctor, preferably in three easy steps. Turns out, instead the Pacific told me actualization is overrated. It manages to balance constant motion and flow in the immediate with clockwork regularity in the long term–one extreme holding the other in a dance of beautiful tension. The waves change minute by minute but the tides can be mapped months in advance. This both/and tension admittedly baffles me. And yet, this both/and fluidity is enough to nurture so much diverse life. For the sake of the world, this both/and fluidity is indeed very very good.
Which brings me back to my own highly myopic research question. It seems the experience of a newly hooded doctor now transitioning to a post doctorate identity is messy and changeable. I recently learned I was accepted to present my research at two different conferences this fall. This made me feel exceedingly doctoral. I also recently was in yet another work meeting trying to devise yet more strategy to help our students better persist and succeed. The problem is beyond complex. Needless to say, I felt far from doctoral.
Against this mercurial landscape, I like the ocean view of things. In the long term, I know I am now a doctor…this process has marked and transformed me in profound ways and there’s no going back. In the minute by minute pace of life, constant motion and flow reign supreme. More often anything goes and the long term is often obscured. There is solid ground regarding identity but perhaps it is something meant to live out of rather than grasp compulsively. This is exciting in its potential and deeply inconvenient for someone who likes to orient toward actualization. And so here is what I am learning in this season…if motion/flow along with grounded regularity can coexist in ocean, perhaps they can coexist in me too….perhaps this can indeed be very good.
May 8, 2018
Today marks days 31 that I have been Dr. Hammershaimb. One month ago I defended, one month from today I will be partying the night away at a pre-convocation fest. One month and one day from today, I will be walking the stage and will acquire the wardrobe and hat which are the final step in making it officially, officially, official.
In response to a panicked email the received the day before my formal defense, my supervisor replied that he was confident all would be fine, I’d pass, and all my wildest dreams would come true. I may or may not have read that email about a hundred times over the course of the next twenty four hours. Now that it is all over I can say with confidence that all was fine and I did pass. I think I would even go so far as to say that, as finishing my doctorate was pretty much the wildest dream I’ve had yet, my wildest dreams did in fact come true.
And so begins life in the post-doctorate phase.
This past weekend I went on a silent retreat. The idea was that it would be good to get away for a weekend, be intentionally quiet, be intentionally open, and begin to heal some of the necessary trauma that was the final months of this process. I realized many things over the course of the forty-ish hours of silence. The first was pretty obvious: silence sounds like a great idea but thinking about being silent and actually quieting your mind to rest into the silence are two very different things. The silence also allowed a low level sub-narrative that’s been playing within me since passing my final defense come to the surface. The specifics shift a bit but overall assume some version of the following: I am a newly minted doctor. In the market of academia if I do not get myself out there right now, begin immediately working on a new project, begin publicizing my dissertation research as widely as possible, begin making people like me, I will be old news. Once I am old news I will miss my chance and it will not come back around. Ever. Opportunities are scarce. This narrative says that rather than getting all silently zen and taking a weekend, I should be working, and producing….pushing myself and pushing ahead.
I know for me this is more a recipe for personal burnout than a sustainable life but…once more knowing it in theory and actually living it out are two very different things. Because I have no aspirations to move out of the position I’ve held for the past seven years, I am at yet another liminal space, making the traverse between what has been and whatever comes next. Nothing is set in stone just yet as to what this season might look like…just who Dr. Hammershaimb might be. This means I have the agency to shape this time however I desire (well, within reason). I know for many people who are finishing their degrees this freedom isn’t available because they must make something new work and they must push as hard as they can because they have no other options. Considering the leverage of my own situation is super exciting. Considering my own personal responsibility in light of what I know is great privilege is also a little bit terrifying.
Ironically, life in the post-doctorate phase feels a lot like life in the early doctorate stages, before you’ve actually settled into your research direction. After the requisite “Congrats Dr. Hammershaimb! I’m so happy for you!!” the inevitable next question is “Now what?” It feels a bit anticlimactic, but at the moment my only honest answer is I’m enjoying having evenings free. Also, I’ve been tentatively trying out this thing I’ve heard so much about called a “weekend” and I think I might like it. A lot. I want to get back to personal creative projects and reading dystopian novels without feeling guilty. I’ve begun dreaming too of getting back to some of the research ideas I encountered over the course of my own research but put on hold. The metaphorical knowledge fields are open once more and I am ready to explore the abundance.
April 7, 2018
Presentation Result: Success
And just like that…the presentation is complete. I survived my twenty minutes of speaking. With the exception of my supervisor (who once again asked a somewhat left field question about an aspect of my study I hadn’t thought about for almost a year now) the committee asked questions that were mostly more thought-provoking than terrifying. They challenged word choices and some general semantics but they overall praised what I’d done, how it came together, and what was created in the end. I have minor revisions but the supervisor tweeted to the world I am now Dr. Hammershaimb and as he is mostly right most of the time, for all intents and purposes, I am finished.
Last night was about drinking all the champagne and soaking up the many many many congrats messages that came from all around the world. (Ironically, I slept way better the night before the defense than the night after because last night I kept reminding myself it was all finished, and then getting way too excited to fall back asleep.) Today it is making plans with friends for celebratory drinks and dinners and (finally) beginning the travel plans for convocation.
Though I am basically finished from a technical standpoint, things have moved so quickly that I have a feeling this will take a bit longer to process on an emotional level. There’s been lots of question on the theme of, “How does it feel to be done, Dr. Hammershaimb?” Very honestly…it feels wonderful and all the positive adjectives but I also feel more than a little disoriented and incredibly tired. I just checked the blog and realized last month today I didn’t have an external and was still in the middle of the endless waiting. Now it is all complete. Yep, I’d say given the pace of this past month not to mention this past year…my feelings of disorientation and tiredness might be normal.
For now I think the official countdown to convocation postings will slow down as I’m hopeful the week ahead will be a beautifully boring one, but to complete things I am going to take further inspiration from Dr. Cronin (who I’ve viewed as kind of my big sister on this doctoral process and who, paradoxically ended up having her own viva just a couple weeks before me!) and conclude this season with the Dedication and Acknowledgements from my dissertation. Disclaimer: My final dissertation was just about 112 pages total. I took this to mean I could go extra long on the acknowledgements and no one would notice…clearly, flawless logic and further proof of my new doctoral status! : )
April 6, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 26 days
Presentation Countdown: 1 days
One. Day. More.
I wish I had some great, clever reflection to reveal today…some deep learning and wise words for what it means to be living, literally, on the brink of something so large. I have nothing. I am mostly numb and at this moment, I am totally okay with that.
My goal tomorrow is to keep breathing and stay alive. It is also to listen way way way more to the voices of everyone who is calling out the truth that I have this, I am prepared, and I am worthy. My goal is also to listen way way way less to the voice that still says I am an imposter…I won’t know the right answers thus I should remain silent.
So tomorrow, no matter how hard it is, I will take deep breadths and speak slowly. Tomorrow, I will trust my supervisor and I will trust the process. Finally, (and admittedly hardest…) tomorrow, I will trust myself.
Here’s to doing hard things.
Here’s to believing we are enough…just as we are.
April 5, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 27 days
Presentation Countdown: 2 days
Tonight I passed the “present to the cohort” milestone. Though I legit want to impress my formal committee because they are the ones who will officially pass me on this journey, in many ways presenting to the cohort felt slightly more intimidating for me. This wasn’t because the cohort is intimidating, because they’re family now for me but because, like family, I both totally know I’m loved for just who I am in all my quirkiness and with all my issues yet still always want to do everything I can to make them proud because they do know (and put up with) my aforementioned quirkiness and issues.
Tonight along with some a couple hard questions and some good diversionary strategy for answering hard questions…I did indeed get their blessing. They told me they are impressed and know that I will make it through…they told me they will all send positive vibes and they told me they are so, so proud of me.
Whatever happens two days from now tonight I am reminded once more how profoundly thankful I am for all the people who have come into my life as a result of this process. The cohort is for sure the center but the lines of connection radiate out in so many beautifully unexpected patterns that Lisa of five years ago could never comprehend or hope might exist. I kind of wish that instead of a defense, I could spend two hours talking about everyone I’ve met during this process…bring them in via webcam, name them, and thank them for how they’ve impacted and changed me for the better. My world is so much larger for this process and though it sounds super cheesey…my heart too has grown exponentially as I’ve learned to be brave and open myself a bit more to others. I know this sort of defense would be totally self centered and probably a total snooze fest to attend for others (and clearly…lacking in APA!) but still…I think some alt version of it may need to happen in the next little bit.
Also, I think I may be entering into the tearful-in-a-good-way phase of things. Though I still default to disliking feeling all feelings…I’ve learned enough in this process to welcome this new phase with more or less open arms and also lots of Kleenex.
Two. More. Days.
April 4, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 28 days
Presentation Countdown: 3 days
Today begins the final, final read through the dissertation to prepare for the defense. You know that thing where it is difficult to hear yourself recorded because you end up thinking so much about how you sound that you forget to listen to what you are actually saying? Reading my dissertation is basically that…except with words. I have the urge to remove sentences, reorder paragraphs and generally tidy up rather than do the one ting I need to do which is sit in it and stay put.
So yeah…it is slow going to say the least. Though I know I will power through, it definitely may be more an exercise in grit as opposed to happy nostalgia. This is making me even more glad I’m at 112 pages total. Double spaced.
Speaking of grit…back to it.
April 3, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 29 days
Presentation Countdown: 4 days
As I’m getting ready to finish out the day, I feel ready to do this. I don’t know if this is a developmental thing or a practice thing or me finally feeling all the positive support that has been directed my way come together but….I think I actually might survive Friday. Even more, while it won’t be “fun” in sense that drinking fancy cocktails on a rooftop is fun or shopping for cute new shoes is fun, I think there may be a chance that some parts of this process might have the slightest hint of fun to them.
I have not felt this before and it may wear off and become replaced by the much more familiar ones of low grade panic and inadequacy but for the moment I am savoring this feeling of grounded whole…this feeling that I will me okay in the end and just maybe my tribe, the network, is right in their positive affirmations. If you have believed in me…thank you. And please keep at it! I think it just might be beginning to work…forgive my slowness.
March 31, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 33 days
Presentation Countdown: 7 days
Seven. Days. (and if we want to get obsessive….less than seven 24 hour time slots because it is now nighttime on Friday and the defense is late afternoon. ahhhhhhhhh.)
I have no large or exciting news to report other than today I was annoyingly aware of the time and trying to forecast what I “might” be doing between the hours of 4 and 6 next week…what part I would be on, if I would still be alive, etc. I am hopeful the answer to the latter will be an emphatic yes while the former really is anyone’s guess. All I really know is next week at this time something will have happened. I am trying to be immensely patient between now and then.
In order to turn my mind toward more productive things, I am also slowly working through a hot tip on “Questions typically asked in a Viva” I got from Helen DeWaard who in turn learned about it from Dr. Catherine Cronin.
When I asked the supervisor what I should be doing to prepare, he said “Don’t over think it. You’re the expert and be confident.” While I believe him and all, I also know his ratio of being correct only actualizes about 2/3 of the time so, because it has already been well established that I am a control freak…I’m doing a bit of side work. And in all honesty, the questions are open ended enough that they’re just helping to get me limbered up after being away from my research for almost four months. It’s been a fun process so far and I’m looking to digging in pretty hard over the holiday weekend. I am also toying with the idea of giving my presentation every two hours over the course of the weekend. We shall see at what point Ruby begins wearing earplugs!
March 29, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 35 days
Presentation Countdown: 9 days
In completely unrelated news…I am now freshly tattooed. Interlocked rectangles for balanced geometry and, somewhat, in keeping with my overall slide design. I am telling myself girls with fresh balanced geometry tattoos are presentation wizards. I think I just might believe it. And yep, I’m totally wearing pajama pants in this pic and did put them on shortly after arriving home. It has been my experience that healing a tattoo is legit self care on a whole new level and…that level is best executed in flannel.
And….because clearly this whole “girls with fresh balanced geometry tattoos are presentation wizards” is a research proposition that needs testing and not just blind speculation, below is the most recent run through with all the slides (even though admittedly that References one doesn’t get any play…just trust me, it is there as the stoic 44.)
March 28, 2018
Convocation Countdown: 36 days
Presentation Countdown: 10 days
Deeply noteworthy update: the presentation is now 44 pages total because on the slide previously the third from the final (i.e. the stairs leading to ocean for everyone who is playing along from home) I said what felt like about 500 words but on all the other slides I say about 10 words total. So, I added in another slide to just break it up and also inserted a little more of what I am hoping is clever use of metaphor and word smithing which will make my external smile and like me and think I’m cool since at the end of the day…this is kind of what matters, eh?
And on a much more rational note, I also added in a reference slide so I am officially #academicadulting with all the things. (Or, all the things I think I need which could very well be missing something still….)
Tomorrow we enter the realm of single digits in the presentation countdown numbers. Woah. My mom reminded me that for 3/4 of my committee I will be presenting late on a Friday afternoon and for 1/4 of my committee I will be presenting super early on a Saturday morning. She also helpfully added that the times where people are most mentally checked out and basically could care less about anything that requires deep and focused brain waves are late on Friday afternoons and also super early on Saturday mornings thus, I could probably change the middle of my presentation to gibberish and no one would notice. Moms are basically the best thing ever.
No recordings tonight but…here are updated slides and updated script for posterity.