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December 16, 2007

Humor - The Post Ph.D. Blues

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Hello Readers,

This week's contribution was sent to the English-Blog by Natalie Dorfeld:

The Post Ph.D. Blues

Sometime around mid-June, I received a large yellow envelope from my alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. It was my prestigious Doctor of Philosophy diploma. I should have been cutting the rug like Snoopy in the midst of a happy dance, but I wasn’t much in the mood for celebrating. Instead, I buried it under a pile of junk mail and quietly deliberated the age old question: diagonally or horizontally? (I opted to mow the lawn in a diagonal cut.)

To truly comprehend this little known funk in English circles, otherwise known as the post Ph.D. blues, we must start at . . .

. . . the very beginning, approximately one year prior, back when I had a full head of brown hair and exceptionally good posture.

Like most ABD students, I was blissfully unaware of what the Big D would actually entail. Two weeks into my literature review, I realized I could not causally date my dissertation. No, I needed a long-term commitment: the rings, the ceremony, the whole shebang. My weekend project turned into a Tuesday and Thursday project. From there, it mushroomed into a Monday - Friday project. With two days left in the week, I figured, “What the hell? Let’s utilize all seven days of the week, including Sunday morning. God will understand. After all, a Bible doesn’t write itself.”

And that’s how it all began. I shunned the outside world and wholeheartedly threw myself into reading, writing, and researching. Much to my friends and fiancée’s delight, I showered infrequently, blatantly ignored important phone calls, and snarled at any well-meaning observer who mentioned the dreaded “b” word: break.

When the occasional crack surfaced, I would call my director and leave semi-coherent messages on his voicemail. “Hi, it’s Natalie. I sent you my last three chapters on Friday. Will you have them read by Monday morning? Wait, the squirrels are talking my ear off, so I’ll have to let you go. Please send news.”
In retrospect, I don’t know how the man put up with me. I am thoroughly convinced of two things. One, he had the patience of a saint. Or two, he deleted most of my voicemails after “Hi, it’s Natalie . . .” It’s really a toss up at this point. I am fairly certain, however, that he would have kindly cut me loose if he saw me riding my bicycle up and down his street like Duckie in Pretty in Pink.

But unlike our dearest protagonist, my persistence paid off. My seven day-a-week dissertation habit landed me the golden ticket of academia, the three signature page. I saved one for the fridge; placed the rest in a folder to be bound; and gleefully started packing up every last scrap of paper that accumulated in my study for the last year. It was a time of unabashed joy, and it was short-lived.

After the high fives and dessert trays made their rounds, I found myself in an unfamiliar state of solitude. One would think isolation goes hand-in-hand with the dissertation process, but I’m talking about the kind of stillness that comes with unexpected leisure time. All of the sudden, I had whole days -- from sunrise to sunset -- off. I was free, and like a workaholic without that next fix, I simply did not know what to do with myself.

I wish I could report that I quickly snapped out of it, but I did not. After all, I was still the same 18 year old kid who decided to run an entire marathon without fluids. (I made it to mile 21 before I saw purple Care Bears in the trees.) Just as I had thrown myself into my studies, I had to throw myself back into the land of the living.

As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, I slowly became reacquainted with my B.D. (before dissertation) life. I began buying large quantities of body wash. I called friends for leisurely lunches at Panera Bread. I resurrected date night, which previously died a slow and painful death somewhere between chapters two and three.

I’m still not 100% myself, and perhaps I never will be. Like a recovering addict (“Hello, my name is Natalie, and I like to write dissertations”), I know I must be extremely cautious with my next big hurdle: the job search. Part of me realizes I could relapse and dedicate ungodly amounts of time to the classified ads, but the older and wiser part of me recognizes the need for balance. After all, a Ph.D. diploma is something to get excited about. Dancing should be involved. And the lawn, well, it can wait until tomorrow.

Dr. Natalie M. Dorfeld
natalie_dorfeld [at] hotmail [dot com]


Thanks Natalie, that was really funny. I've spoken to many who can relate to this!


Posted by lhobbs at December 16, 2007 05:31 PM

Readers' Comments:

Nice good blog!

Posted by: Sharon at September 21, 2008 05:37 AM

I used to have a pretty good career in nuclear
instrumentation and electronics - house, nice
car, pulling down the big bucks.

Then I did a physics Ph.D. I finished, sort of.
They gave me the degree. Now I am totally, hard
core unemployable. I can't even get a job at

Moral of the story, don't do a Ph.D.


Posted by: Anna Harding at January 18, 2009 09:33 AM

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