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life on the other side

May 8, 2018

lisa hammershaimb

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.

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