The End of the PhD Road

I’m not gonna lie. I wondered if I would ever reach this milestone. One by one, I saw my friends defend their dissertation and celebrate them passing the dreaded defence. We would go to the Phoenix and as per tradition, the chalice would come out along with free alcoholic beverage and a notebook where past students who have also attained this moment write down words of wisdom. There comes a point when jealousy sets in, when impatience sets in, and you wonder when is it your turn?

May 27, 2020 was one for the books. It was the day that the Lord has made for me to defend my dissertation. And let me tell you, every nightmare that I could think of that would happen during an online defence came true. I joined the Webex room and one by one, members of my dissertation committee came on. And then the technical difficulties started to happen. A member had their video working but not their audio. As they tried to fix it, another version of them popped up and now there’s feedback happening. More fixing led to a third version come up with a doubled loudness for the feedback. And I’m sitting there going, this is the type of technical glitches I was so afraid of and now was happening before my very eyes. Eventually, the glitches were taken care of.

And so the questions were asked and questions were answered. At some point, I think I realized that I was doing well. I had to remind myself that I wrote every single word and every single sentence. I agonized over every thought and concept and reference and footnote. I know this material since I wrote it. After answering questions for what felt like an eternity, I was put in a virtual lobby while they deliberated.

It’s the waiting that was probably the hardest part of the whole thing. Imagine… seven years of hard work distilled into a single moment. What if I failed? What if they thought that this dissertation was a joke, unworthy to be read by any reader? Once I was invited back, ready to hear the outcome, they gave some brief comments. The chair mentioned that I gave an excellent defence and that I did well. After hearing that, I was wondering if that meant I passed. If I defended well, then I should pass, right? But until I hear those words, I dare not expect too much. Finally, the time came when I heard “you passed!” Honestly, I just felt relieved. The whole process was overwhelming. I was so nervous, I wanted to vomit. Thankfully, I didn’t. There was this overwhelming sense of relief that I didn’t fail… that somehow I didn’t bring shame to myself, to my family, to my friends and to everyone who knew me.

Days after, I felt a new feeling. I didn’t know I was able to simultaneously have a fear of failure and fear of success. I felt like they would suddenly realize that they made a mistake and they were going to take it back. Turns out I was a failure after all. I passed because a glitch was made. It took the many encouragements of friends who have gone through this same feeling to tel me that it’s normal and that no, I earned it and I deserved it and I should enjoy it. Right now, I think I’ve stopped fearing that somehow it’s going to be taken away from me.

I thought I was going to feel differently. I don’t. I still have the same insecurities and hang-ups like before. The only difference is that now I’m a doctor. In some ways, I’m kinda happy that nothing changed in terms of how I felt. It is a reminder that there is nothing external or internal that can truly give me the peace I’m searching for. At the end of the day, it’s only God who can make me feel good about myself as he reminds me that he is pleased with me and that he loves me and cherishes me as his son.

I’m thankful for all my family, friends, and foes who have helped me be the person I am today. I’m thankful for all those who saw my success before I could. I’m thankful for those who doubted if I could ever make it. Both groups of people fanned the fire inside of me that moved me to work hard and achieve greatness. Most of all, I thank God, because without him I wouldn’t have been able to make it this far.

There’s something beautiful about closing this chapter of my life. Looking forward to what the future holds!

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