Yesterday I submitted my dissertation.
21696 words (that count),
£18 to have it printed and bound.
Hours spent on it: I can’t even begin to estimate.
I have officially completed and turned in the pinnacle of my postgraduate career thus far, and now have only to wait until November to find out my marks. Back in April when I began working on it, the months stretched out endlessly, an August due date somewhere in the future but much too far away to see clearly. Now it is the end of August and I am done, and that thought is practically unfathomable. Firstly, how is the summer already over? And second, how did I complete what seemed to be an insurmountable task?
This year has taught me so many things I feel as though I could write a book. And maybe I will at this rate, the words flowing out of me like I have severed an artery. Ask my friends–while they were still struggling with their dissertations, I had gone 6000 words above the limit. I just posted a 1000-word blog post, and this one will probably be comparable in length. I have a great need to write.
I’ve read a lot of Buzzfeed articles and the like about going through “dissertation hell,” and seen Instagram photos with the caption: “finally submitted the damn thing, good riddance.” But that’s not how I felt about submitting mine. That’s not how I felt while writing it. I was frustrated often, sure. Anxious, even. I was tired and distracted and my back hurt from sitting in a chair all day while slowly regressing to a position of being hunched over the keyboard. But was this hell? No. This was a challenge, and I was ready for it.
I knew the skills and knowledge I had gained this year prepared me for this task. The difference this time is that I had to apply them at a larger scale. I set goals for myself: at first, when gathering primary data, I wanted to analyze 10 skeletons a day. Took a step back, laughed at myself, then made a goal of spending 6 hours in the lab each day and completing as many skeletons as I could in that time. Sometimes it was nine skeletons in a day, other times as few as three. The same thing happened when I began writing: at first I wanted to write 1000 words a day, but I quickly adjusted that to 500. A lot of times I wrote 1000 words anyway. Some days are more productive than others.
Not to go overboard with my use of analogies, but it is like climbing a mountain. It doesn’t matter if some days you scale 100 feet and other days you scale 500. What matters is that you keep moving, no matter what. If you keep moving, you know that eventually you will make it to the top.
I like challenging myself. In elementary school I took the advanced spelling tests, in high school all the AP classes I could get my hands on. In August 2010, I moved to Indianapolis knowing no one. Last September I moved to England, again knowing no one in the city but also no one in the entire country. It was the first time I ever flew by myself, and if I was nervous, the excitement of the future surely overshadowed it. I’m scared to death of heights, but this year I have stood at the edges of cliffs and felt the ocean breeze, and I knew no regrets. This dissertation was just one challenge in a line of them, but certainly the largest in terms of my academic career.
I’m also extremely competitive. This is less applicable in the case of my dissertation, as the finish line was forever away and my only competitor was lack of motivation. But some days I didn’t stop to eat proper meals or even go to the bathroom for many hours. If I slacked the day before, I punished myself by writing twice as much next time. I’d stay up late late late to complete a task I had set for myself.
Alongside this challenge, I ran another marathon. A Netflix marathon. I watched all nine seasons of Scrubs, the first (and only) season of Orange is the New Black, and the first (and only) series of Broadchurch. Every day is a battle of wills.
I’ve submitted my dissertation, but I can’t say I feel an overwhelming sense of relief. No fireworks were set off at Queens Building, no parade followed me home. I can’t help but wonder if it is the very best it could be, if I could have missed something. I do know that it is the culmination of a summer of inestimable hard work, and that the challenge is over. I have finished my masters program and have only to wait for the result. But while this challenge may be over, many more lie ahead; the race continues.