• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


I Defended: Now What?

One GradHacker thinks about the next steps.

May 1, 2016

Wendy Robinson just completed her PhD in Higher Education at Iowa State University. You can find here on Twitter at @wendyrmonkey.



Last month I walked into a ridiculously overheated conference room, spent two hours sharing the findings from a year’s worth of research, sweated profusely, and then walked out with the title of “Dr. Robinson.”


Successfully defending my dissertation was the hoped-for, and even to some extent expected, outcome. Still, it felt surreal to walk across campus knowing that I was essentially done being a student for the rest of my life. I had some minor revisions to make and a few last details to wrap up but I was suddenly staring at a future that didn’t include guilt about not working enough on my dissertation and that ever-magical thing called “free time.”  


I spent my first few days after submitting my revisions laying in bed, having finally succumbed to the cold I’d been fighting since before my defense. I’m pretty sure my immune system felt me relax after completing my defense and decided to take a long vacation. Surrounded by crumpled tissues and empty bowls of soup, I spent three days watching shows about vampires on Netflix and reading magazines from the stack that had been building for the last year. I felt physically awful but the feeling of being able to rest without having to worry about school was a little beacon of pleasure.


I’m recovered now and although having free time still feels like a novelty, I’m finding myself facing the question that every graduate must consider: now what?


Unlike some recent graduates, I don’t have to worry about doing a job search. Although working full-time while being a student has its challenges, having secure employment after completing school means not having to worry about moving or doing a two-body search. I went back to work the day after my defense, accepted the congratulations of my coworkers, and resumed working on projects I’d started months ago.


But I do have to think about what is next in terms of my research. I’d like to rework some sections of my dissertation for publication. I also have some other research interests that I haven’t had the time or intellectual energy to pursue in the last year. While I am well versed in the literature relating to my dissertation topic, I’ve fallen shamefully behind on other literature in my field so I have reading to catch up on. I have some professional development money available to me, so I should probably also consider my options for conference travel and presentations, especially now that I can introduce myself as “Dr. Robinson”.


While all of the things I just listed are valuable uses of my time, I don’t think I am going to do any of them just yet. In fact, I have a list of other ways I’ll spend my first few weeks or maybe even months after dissertation. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think all recent grads should consider doing the following three things before they start the next chapter of their scholarly lives:


1. Ignore the dissertation: I’m proud of my dissertation. I think I did a good job and that there are valuable findings in it. That said, I need to not look at it for a few more weeks. I need some intellectual and emotional distance from it. After poring over every detail of it for months, I need a break so I can see it again with fresh eyes.


2. Go to graduation: I wasn’t planning to go to graduation or to have any sort of a party. But then my parents said they wanted to see me walk and I started imagining what it would be like for my four year old to look at pictures of her mama in regalia someday and, well, I changed my mind. Despite my Midwestern tendency toward self-effacement and the desire not to have people make a fuss, let’s be honest: finishing a PhD is a fuss-worthy occasion. I think celebrating having finished something challenging is a good thing. Plus? Maybe there will be presents.


3. Do some intensive self-care: There is a lot of stress, long nights, and lost sleep leading up to a dissertation defense. After talking to other friends in my program, I’ve come to understand that a feeling of exhilaration combined with exhaustion is pretty common. Now is the time to rest on our shiny new laurels a little bit. For me self-care is taking the form of reading for pleasure, knitting in front of the television, and hanging out with my family. The more self-care I do, the more I feel my energy for my next research project increasing.

My graduation ceremony is this week. The books I’ve been meaning to read is stacked neatly next to my bed. I’ve set up the hammock in my backyard. Bring on the post-PhD life. I’m ready.


What do you look forward doing to after you graduate?


[Image by Flickr user Sarah Sammis and used under Creative Commons license]


Back to Top