Panic, trepidation, doubt…and hope. All these have been surging through me in the last twenty-four hours, and probably shall for the next fourteen weeks. Yesterday was my first day back at work after the break, and the reality of my situation flooded over me when I looked at the calendar. Fourteen weeks remain until the last date for oral defenses for the spring semester…fourteen weeks for me to wrap up everything I’ve done in the last 7.5 years of graduate school and bring it to a conclusion. I felt utter terror at the prospect and panic welling up inside of me, though all I can do is tamp them down, ignore them the best I can, keep my head down, and work like crazy.

I met with my advisor yesterday and today, and he has been very encouraging and supportive; this is allowing me to subdue my fears and actually give me hope. Moreover, there was some question about finances for me, which I absolutely did not need to have to be thinking about. But he adamantly demands me to not worry or think about that at all and to focus on the task at hand; it’s incredibly calming to not have that burden on me anymore. We created a writing plan that gives me deadlines for completing sections of my thesis as I go along, allowing plenty of time to finish measurements, revise, and fine-tune as well as prepare my oral defense, which in reality is what I will actually be judged upon at the time of my defense. Well, “plenty” is a relative term at this point, but the schedule leaves nothing until the last minute, provided I can stick to it.

Technically, if I don’t get done by the drop-dead date, I can just defend during the summer semester. However, my advisor and I agree that we should just push for it. There is nothing left but to do it now; why languish for another few months unless the upcoming weeks show that it just isn’t possible?

My biggest fears about this whole process are twofold. First, I fear not having enough time to finish measurements and writing. I suppose there will be enough time if I work around the clock. I think it’s possible. Secondly, and most grippingly, I’m terrified of getting to my defense and not impressing my committee enough with my knowledge and ability to answer questions that they decide to not pass me. This probably stems from some trouble I had at my thesis proposal answering a few questions; while not a totally unwarranted fear, I have to keep in mind that it’s probably unlikely. First, after having written my thesis and bouncing it off all my colleagues, I should have a very solid understanding of all the measurements I did, what the results mean, the motivations for the work, and any tangential questions they might have. Second, my advisor is probably not going to let me get up in front of them without feeling I am prepared enough. Thirdly, once you’ve gotten this far, it probably takes a lot to have it not all-together enough for a committee to deny a student passage into scientist-hood (though I’m sure they will if necessary). This is why I am leaving plenty of time in my schedule for preparing my presentation, so I can be as prepared as possible. So whenever this panic tries to rise up inside of me, I can shove it back down and remain confident instead. Even just acting confident can cover a multitude of sins.

Above all, I have one more tool in my arsenal. With constant prayer and supplication of the Spirit, I can trust that whatever happens, God will take care of me. I’m sure He’s not as concerned about my actually getting the PhD as He is with how I am shaped by the experience. A dose of perspective in a trying time might not make everything better, but it can make it bearable.

Well, friends, this is it. There is nothing left but to do it.

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