I’m going to be a doctor. A Doctor? A PhD.
My examiners’ reports (for those of you not from Oz, you might not know that we don’t get a viva, or a defense or anything; we’re too geographically isolated for that. We get three reports from different examiners) arrived a little while ago. The HDRU (Higher Degree Research Unit) people wrote to me, making me panic by saying that they’d been forwarded to my supervisor, who would write a report about them, and then the committee would meet and come to some kind of a conclusion. I was sure that this meant that there had been massive discrepancies between the reports, but as it turns out, the answer to that worry is ‘No.’
I hadn’t written about this anxiety here, but I’m going to describe it now, because I know a few people round the place are waiting on results, and everyone who’d come before me told me stories that just didn’t match with how I felt. I didn’t want my reports. I sincerely didn’t. I wanted having handed the goddamn thing in to be the end of it. I wanted that to have been enough. Enough of an achievement, to just get it in. I wanted no criticism, not even constructive criticism. I know this is childish and stupid, but it felt like any tiny piece of criticism would be enormously devastating; would erase the whole goddamn thing. I’m like this at the best of times (insane, I know, and unsustainable, I know that too; we’re working on it, ‘kay?). My supervisor had completely lost any capacity to convince me of the worth of my work by the end of the thesis. I fell for the probably stupid and untrusting belief that she would say anything positive to get me to hurry the fuck up and hand it in (ooh, she deserves more than that, my friends! I am a terrible person!) I have a general tendency to believe every negative thing to the nth degree, and to disbelieve anything positive (generally by the bad bit of me telling me that people have investments in making me feel good. This is silly, I know; most people can’t be bothered having those kinds of investments.)
But really: I had worked so hard, but I was so so so horribly aware of its flaws: of stilted patches, of argumentation I remained unconvinced by (even as I was convinced enough to write it), of examples that didn’t match the argument. Quite possibly lots of this happened in imagination; I haven’t dared to pick the thing up again since I submitted it. When I received the letter that told me my supervisor had my reports, and that I would get a copy of them soon, my heart pounded and I (did I mention childish?) called my mama and said all of the things I’ve just said. She told me I didn’t mean all of them, and I assured her I did. And she ran out of comforting things to say, as is inevitable when someone has already decided the situation will be devastating with a tiny drop of negativity.
And then the reports came in. I am a wimp. I called my mama again, and made her sit on the phone with me; the first reading of my reports, then, was out loud. If I’d thought about it properly, this is dumb: words get weighty in the air.
But these reports, my friends, these reports?
Glowing, i believe is the term. I have had to carry around a copy of the reports with me, for when the bad bit of me starts to think I must have made up the positives. Pinching doesn’t work, even though it (my present state, not the pinching so much) feels dreamy. These reports have gone a fair distance to restoring some of my faith in academia (!), not because I like people who like my work (though I do), but because there is no point-scoring in them, no ego, massive amounts of encouragement, of a recognition of what they see as valuable and a real generosity in both the reading and articulation of why they call it (and they do) “a remarkable achievement”.
I could boast by pulling out ‘the best bits’ (as my sister wanted me to do) but I’m not going to. I’m just going to say: I didn’t want my reports; but the affirmation they’ve given me is… well, let’s just hope that this brief moment out from the ever-present imposter syndrome lasts; because it is astonishingly gorgeous. And that’s despite the numerous typos I have to fix!
[raises champagne glass] Cheers! (and be sure to meet my eyes; no seven years of bad sex for me, thanks!)