Before the oral defense officially started this morning, Judith (one of my committee members) and I were making polite small talk, chit chat. She told me that around the same time I passed off my dissertation to her, another one of her students had turned one in that was 700 pages long. Mine’s a mere 250 (more or less). So she thanked me for brevity, but also told me that it was a joy to read.
So things got off to a good start.
And all in all, it was a relatively painless experience. It’s always weird to have to talk about myself, or my work for that matter. (Writing about it is one thing. I could write about my work till the cows come home. Talking about it is an entirely different story.) And by 11 a.m. it was, for all intents and purposes, official: I am a Doctor of Philosophy in Buddhist studies.
There’s still a lot of details to work out, of course. Final edits, the filing of paper work, the returning of books. But today, right now, I think I’d like to simply enjoy that feeling of being Done, let out a long and slow breath, and take a break. Relax. I know that on some level I’ll never really be done with this stuff. There’s the still the none-too-small issues of making the dissertation publishable and then finding a job (or at least convincing them to pay me more), and that will require me to think about, write about, and (good lord yes) talk about the dissertation’s subject for years to come. (Fortunately for me, I happen to like this subject a whole lot.)
But it’s also true that I’m at another turning point. It’s no small thing finishing a dissertation. It’s no small thing being able to stick those extra letters after your name. And by no small thing, I mean that it’s something I’ve worked at, worked at for nearly eight years. It always feels weird, for me, to toot my own horn like this, to be self-congratulatory; but c’mon now. How often am I going to be able to say I did this?
After the defense, I walked back across Berkeley to the JSC, where my office is, and Richard, my advisor, had already gotten there. He was sitting in his office and I poked my head in to say hi, still giddy with relief. He congratulated me again and I think I made some comment about how it hadn’t sunk in yet. I mean, there I was, back at my office, another day at the IBS, and there’s my advisor who’s also my boss. And tomorrow I’ll have to start planning for the next crop of Japanese students. So there’s all this familiarity around me. And he said to me something to the effect of even though I may not feel it, I’ve changed. Maybe not much in the last couple of hours, but I’ve changed. And I know he was referring the change in me from where I was in September of 2000, to who I am now.
Today, the oral defense, is one more moment in that process. Each moment, taken individually, often seems small, almost trivial. But collectively, they’re the stuff of deep and profound personal changes.
So. What more can I say? (Hooray for me!)