7 Oct 2019

I Received My PhD Degree. What's Next?

Goal achieved! More than a week ago I got my PhD degree in humanities and I can finally say that my studies are OVER! Eleven years of my life were dedicated to this moment and I am both happy about reaching the finish line, and somehow dispirited, since the road was not an easy one. So I thought that even though I gave my thank-you speech at the ceremony, I left many things unsaid. So these are some of my thoughts on my path to academia and an attempt to answer the eternal question: was it wort it?


When I was an undergraduate student at Vilnius University, I didn't think that I will be going this far. Although as a child I imagined that I am going to be an archaeologist (egyptologist, to be more precise), as the years went by, I kind of stopped imagining my future and just enjoyed my time in high school, writing poetry, playing music, drawing, and so on. So, to put it simply, if you'd think about getting diplomas as catching Pokémon, my goal never was to "catch 'em all". My goal was to enjoy my studies, and I did exactly that. I liked studying literature and folklore so much, to be honest, that I decided to get Master's degree. At first, I wanted to continue my studies in the field of literature, but my BA supervisor talked me into studying semiotics, and so I did. It was a challenge, that I cannot deny.  Each and every day, for two years I was finding myself both excited and miserable. However, looking back now, my MA studies gave me so much, it basically shaped who I am today. This background now allows me to competently discuss and analyse a wide variety of objects, and sometimes... I just love being that know-it-all person.

   Nevertheless, after getting my Master's degree, I felt quite depleted. I studied hard and also worked diligently on my MA thesis, so my "battery" was reaching all time low. I thought about having a year off before applying for PhD studies, but my mentor told me that it would be better if I didn't. So I passed the interview and started studying ethnology. What happened next, I already wrote in one of my previous posts, and, to put it simply, during my first year of studying PhD, I... burned out. Three more years and one additional year to "wrap everything up" went by, and all the time I felt like a spectator of my own life. I was overwhelmed with self-inflicted sense of responsibility, stress of doing everything 110 percent, constantly  suffocating under the sense of writing guilt ("You are doing this and that, but in fact you should be writing!" - this voice in my head was growing louder with every year) and inferiority. I cannot remember when was the last time when i genuinely enjoyed something, because each vacation moment was pretty much persecuted by the guilt and sense of being less than average. The stress just piled up, and by the end of my third year I started feeling that it affected my health. My stomach started aching, I got severe headaches, and my nervous system went completely bonkers. I started getting inflammation of the nerves, e.g. trigeminal neuralgia so often, that I just had medications on stand-by in my home. Even though I went through all sorts of treatments and consulted psychologist, because I understood that my illnesses are mostly psychosomatic, it was, and still is, a challenge to keep myself calm, because otherwise, stress just consumes me and this usually just provokes some ailment. 
   So this is the dark side of my studies.
   So was it worth it? To go through all this, to mess up my health and peace of mind? For the sake of chasing my childhood dream?

   I don't have a clear answer.

   Because there always was a silver lining. 

   I met lots of wonderful people: professors, other PhD students, I (re)discovered my colleagues, who showed me their constant support (and I'll be forever grateful for that!..). Through various scholarships I got to work in other countries, other institutions, I visited conferences, seminars, and congresses... This made my life brighter, I got to check my ideas, to validate my research. 
   Not to mention those joyous moments of discovering something during my research, or writing an entire page of thesis that will not be deleted upon later review!.. 
   
   When I look back, I see that my PhD studies was not only about completing my work. It was also about reinventing myself. It was about taking myself apart and putting back, and I quite like the person that I became. For the past two years I feel more confident, I don't really care about what people say or think about me (when I know that the worst critic of myself is...me). Finally I have my priorities set straight, and it's my health and my own personal happiness. I don't want to live to please the others, since I've been doing this my whole life, basically. 

   Could I have reconstructed myself like this without being a PhD student? I don't know. And there's no point on pondering what could have happened. 

   So what now? 

   Rest. My goal now is to regain my health, to charge my "battery" (N.B. to all my colleagues who read this blog, jests about doing a postdoc now are going to be met with equally painful verbal roasting, so I warned you). 
   
   I hope my plans and wishes will be fulfilled.



   

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