anotherlongshot (anotherlongshot) wrote,

Officially a PhD Student!

After fretting over the re-viva over the past two weeks and subjecting Dr P and Tom (on separate occasions) to the pain of doing a mock and discussing my paper with me, I was informed today that not only have I finally passed the first year of my PhD, but that I don't have to do another viva.


Well, that's not quite accurate; that is, I wasn't informed only today that I don't have to do another viva. I ran into one of my examiners yesterday in the law faculty and she asked if I'd heard from the degree committee as my examiners had submitted their recommendation for me to pass last week. I was confused; didn't I have to do a viva? I asked.

She said no, said that the resubmitted paper is much better than the first one, and told me not to worry.

I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I'd imagined this scenario: that I would be informed that I am allowed to move on without going through the horrors of another viva which would've had a 50% likelihood of degenerating into another shitfest. But in my mind, that was merely a fantastical scenario, one which I didn't seriously think would happen.


I am obviously very happy to have passed; it means that I didn't waste my three months working on it for nothing, and I actually developed a project which I find interesting - clearly a plus. But I am genuinely happier about the fact that I don't have to do another viva.

Have I already mentioned this? Because FUCK YEAH.

It's lucky that both John and Raffie are busy this weekend, and that I received the news now and not next week, because we had vague plans for a mock sometime at the start of next week. Now we don't have to do that anymore! But how nice of them to offer, right? And of course, their comments on the almost-final draft were very helpful as well. I feel really lucky to have a group of friends who work in the same general area and who are really clever and generous with their time, and the sense of mutual support and camaraderie that have developed over the year. I have never experienced such academic in sync-ness with anyone before until now, due to a combination of my relative lack of academic maturity and inclination both at NUS and at the LSE (though less so for the latter) and the simple fact that things are quite different at doctoral level...and also the obvious but still worth pointing out fact that it is Cambridge.

I am doing a PhD in one of the best universities in the world. This felt like a hazy dream come true when I was first accepted and when I first arrived here, and although reality quickly set in and I started complaining about things, I am finally experiencing the magic in realising - in the dawning upon, the sinking in - that my life is now situated in those greater heights that I've always wanted to achieve.


It strikes me once again just how much I owe to my parents, both literally and figuratively. I wouldn't be here - I really wouldn't be here - if it weren't for their support. I am also extremely lucky that they are willing and able. I often take for granted the latter point, or I forget it. John likes to say that I'm rich, which isn't really true, but I am quite privileged. My parents aren't rich but they're relatively well-to-do, enough to pay for my exorbitant school fees and provide me with more than enough for a more than comfortable student life in one of the 3 most expensive cities in the United Kingdom.


So. Were the angst and pissing and moaning and near-depression at my lowest point during the three months of re-writing worth it? I was on the verge of giving up, but I'm not someone who changes her life plans with a snap of the fingers, not someone who drops out of an academic institution, who quits a degree. I held on because I had to; because I didn't know any other way; because I didn't want to fail; because I didn't want to let my parents down.

I was genuinely miserable. It really felt like private practice at times. I sincerely questioned the point of my existence and of the PhD at all. I really didn't care about it anymore at times. I did the paper for the sake of doing it, not because I was passionate about the topic. At one point, I didn't even care about the topic anymore, about making a contribution to the literature, about saying something worth saying. I wrote the paper, forced myself to stick to my routine even when I would rather sit and stare at a blank wall than sit in the library and write the paper, and at the back of my mind was the nagging voice, high pitched with desperation, shrieking at me over and over how awful it would be if I failed, how it would undermine my sense of self-worth (I can't help thinking a certain irrational way), how I would let my parents down; and how failure is simply distasteful, ugly, soul-crushing and dirty in and of itself. This nagging voice forced me out of my torpor on days when my motivation was on short supply and it kept me going. When all else failed - when I cared about nothing else - I still cared that I did not want to fail.

You see, this is why I don't fix something that isn't broken. My main motivating factor in those five weeks leading up to my LLM exams was my fear of failure - and I defined 'failure' as anything that wasn't a distinction. Did I enjoy going to the library every day from 10am to midnight for 5 weeks straight, especially when it was summer and beautiful outside? Hell no. But I did it because I didn't want to fail. Did I really care about qualifying as a solicitor in England & Wales after I'd decided to do a PhD? Not really. But I did the assessment anyway and I prepared for it becauase I didn't want to fail.

I think it is sometimes irrelevant whether the process is enjoyed; sometimes the only thing that counts is the end result. I hated so many moments of those three months spent rewriting the paper, I fundamentally questioned my sanity for subjecting myself to this pain, and the only thing that has made it all worthwhile is the outcome: the positive outcome, the outcome that has converted me to a full-time PhD student, not one on probation. This seems like an obvious point to make; obviously the positive outcome has outweighed the negativity of the experience leading up to it, and obviously the experience would not have been worth it if I hadn't made it. But I think it's not as obvious as it seems. Some people enjoy the experience and would not have been as angsty and antagonistic as I was, and they may even still say that the experience was worth it even if the outcome hadn't been what they'd worked for, precisely because the experience was enjoyed. Some people think it is the journey that matters, not the destination.

For me, it's the destination that counts the most. It's a bonus if the journey is replete with beautiful scenery, but I don't expect it. I expect the journey to be bumpy, a strong wind blowing sand and dust in my face as I try to navigate a dry, arid landscape. The next two years (plus) will be painful; I will probably hate what I am doing more often than not; I will on many occasions question the very meaning of my existence; I will probably even regret coming here and/or not getting the hell out of here when the faculty held the door half-open for me.

But when I get my PhD, it will be fucking worth it. And of course, needless to say, failure is not an option.


I am very grateful to Dr P for all his help and his really useful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts. The paper would not have been as polished (though it's not really that polished; every time I read it I wanted to stab my eyes out with a knife, not even a fork) or coherent if it hadn't been for him. I can't imagine how I would have died over and over if I'd had a supervisor who didn't give a shit, especially when I ceased to give a shit at one point. He's also so nice and encouraging and believed in my paper when I didn't think it was worth anyone's time to read. I don't think I would have passed without his help.

Have I already mentioned that I am really lucky?

This is especially the case if we consider the fact that, while I made several valiant attempts at working on the paper during the six weeks I was at home and in Australia, whatever I did during those weeks did not make it to the final paper (though a bit of it made it to the proposal). Effectively, I wrote the paper over the second half of summer. I wrote a different draft before I wrote the first rough draft of the final version, and if Dr P hadn't told me (in his polite way) that it was crap, I would've probably submitted that. And then I would be writing a very different entry now.

I am also lucky that Daniel Bell's Communitarianism and Its Critics which is the main inspiration for the paper is so easy to read. Why don't philosophers and theorists write in dialogue form anymore? I read the book in a day, a day after I got back to Cambridge, all jetlagged and shit, and it was just - it was a complete life-saver. I actually borrowed the book in Melbourne but I could only have it for 24 hours and we were going to Sydney the next day, so I didn't read it carefully. That was obviously a mistaken, on hindsight.

Oh well. All's well that ends all.


Also, I felt a palpable sense of accomplishment and triumph when I read this part of the examiners' report:

We congratulate Ms Chang on the huge improvement which she has wrought in her thinking, research and writing in the past three and a half months.


I have to edit John's paper (I forgot about it!) so I'll end this quickly.

Tuesday was actually a good day, especially after I heard the news from my examiner. We also had a PhD dinner for the first year students which I organised because no one else did it. It was fun. Today, I walked all the way to Hills Road, which is fucking far away, to restring my racquet at a proper pro shop, which was en route to the orthodontist. The stringer initially said that he could have it done by 7.30pm; I was there at 2pm and I really didn't want to hang around that part of Cambridge, with nothing to do, for 5 hours. He eventually agreed to do it immediately when I said that I walked there from Magdalene.

It took maybe 10 minutes at the orthodontist. I will get retainers in two weeks. I can't wait; my teeth are driving me crazy.

My racquet was ready when I went back to the pro shop. On the way there, I called my parents and told them the news. They were very pleased.

So I basically spent two hours walking today. I was going to take a taxi to the orthodontist as it did not make sense to spend an hour walking there, but quite fortuitously, my string broke, so I had a reason not to take a taxi, hence saving some money.

John met me for a celebratory dinner and as always, it was lovely hanging out with him.
Tags: cambridge, friends, parents, phd

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