On doing what you came to do (~1 month post PhD hand-in)

The dust has settled on the submission of my PhD thesis, and now I can think back on this whole process. I left to travel 5 days after handing in my PhD, to give myself physical and mental distance from it all.

As I’m writing this in a hipster cafe in Phnom Penh, it feels a little surreal. Did I really do that?

At the top of Lion Rock Fortress in Sigiriya

Climbing hills: this one is the Lion Rock Fortress in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka (2.5 weeks post hand-in)

My thesis!

I had a few insecurities during the submission process. Was my thesis long enough? Did I do enough? What will my examiners think, or will they laugh at me?

My nephew is about 4 months younger than my PhD, and he is running around creating havoc nowadays. I should really get a photo of them side by side for comparison. Or better yet, have him hold it and maybe use it as doodling paper.

I know I’m not in a good position to apply for jobs in academia. I have no publications to my name, and haven’t networked very well. But I don’t mind that much. Plus, there are lots of things about academia that frustrate me to say the least. There are some things I’m going to apply for, but I’ve managed to regain my carefree perspective that I had before the PhD that something will work out in the end.

After a sufficient amount of time had passed, I could finally go back and edit my chapters down to proper length for submitting to academic journals. The thought of doing that the week after submission was just too much, so I left it alone. Getting some distance first, and regaining that perspective, has made this a lot easier than it would have been even just a few short weeks ago.

What was it that I wanted out of this

My main goals for doing the PhD were to 1) learn new skills, and 2) live abroad. And that is what I did.

My current main goal is to get back to New York so I can celebrate my niece’s first birthday!

A cat in Sri Lanka

Life is good

Life is interesting when you make a big life decision. A part of you wonders what would have happened in parallel lives that could have been. The danger with that though is that you stop appreciating what did happen and what is happening. I don’t care anymore what would have happened if I didn’t do the PhD. That is irrelevant now because it’s done. Maybe I would have stayed in New York. Maybe I’d be in a different place completely mentally and physically. Who knows? Why worry about that?

It’s like listening to an album that you used to listen to a lot back in the day. You can’t quite appreciate it the same way you did back then, but you are reminded of how you felt at the time. It brings you back to that place and time, but you can’t be that person again.

Sometimes I feel like when I return to New York, it’s trying to pull me back to being that person I used to be. I resist because I feel like I’ve grown up (at least a little) and don’t want to lose the progress I’ve made. That’s silly though, and I should ignore that feeling this time when I’m back indefinitely.

New friends and old

In these 4 years, I’ve made so many new and deep friendships, but I’ve also lost touch somewhat with some friends. I’ve also gotten back in touch with some old friends, some of whom I hadn’t talked to or seen in more than 5 years.

To my old friends who I haven’t spoken to much these past 4 years, let’s chat soon! I’ve missed you, and though I know we’re all changing all the time, it’s comforting to know that I have you guys.

To my new friends I’ve made in the past 4 years, I can’t imagine what it would have been like without you. I’m lucky enough to have had you there with me in Singapore, and in London. It’ll be hard for us to see each other now, but at least we’ve got a wedding to attend this summer!! 🙂

To my old friends whom I’ve reconnected with, it’s funny how we all change but then we haven’t changed much either. Childhood and school friends are a special category I guess. I always try to follow through on promises, so let’s try to see each other again soon!

Health and stuff

For the first time in a long time, I’ve felt like my health is in a good place mentally and physically. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. And, I am more confident and better at ultimate (although I have been playing outside of the US, so the level of play is inherently going to be lower except for that time I went to a tournament in Japan and when I competed at Worlds).

Most of this is because I’ve been avoiding wheat, garlic and onion for about 1 year now. I ate pretty strictly low FODMAPs for a few months in the beginning and it helped a lot. It was hard to get used to at first, but now it isn’t that difficult even when eating out. I do get served surprise garlic or onion once in a while, but it’s usually not too bad. Either I can send it back and they’ll redo it, or if it is garlic I can handle a little bit of it. I will write more about this soon for those interested.

If I’m ever sad these days, I just have to look at a photo of my niece and good feelings well up. I didn’t expect to love being an auntie so much, but my niece and nephew have really brought out my soft side. Like I wasn’t soft enough already! My sister responded to my email to tell me my nephew loved my elephant postcard and he made me a Valentine’s Day card and I was melting inside. Sheesh!

To boot, I think I really like someone for the first time in a long time. I was trying to be super cautious about it, but I think it can’t be helped for now anyway…Also, it’s definitely complicated. :-\

Lake at Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

Lake at Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

In the end

So I’m not too devastated by the whole PhD thing. A lot of good things have happened to me in the last 4 years. I can appreciate them more now that I’m out the other end (nearly, still need to do the defense, etc.). I know some people come out of it feeling pretty shattered, but each person has a different experience. All I can say is, I’ve learned, and I’ve grown.

I think I will go through a bit of an adjustment period when I get back to New York. Maybe I will also experience some reverse culture shock. Though I miss friends I’ve made across the globe, I’m happy to go home and spend at least a good chunk of time there. It’s been about 2 years since I’ve spent more than 2 weeks there at a time. I’ll be sad to have missed all of the snow, but I’m looking forward to spring and tryouts for ultimate teams.

Lastly, I want to say that I’m wondering what will happen in my home country (USA). I’m going back to a new president whom I’m unsure understands the gravity of what he is doing. I’m trying to maintain my hope that it won’t be that bad and that things will turn around, but these first few weeks since inauguration have not been promising.

On the flip side, I’m looking forward to continuing to surround myself by people who inspire me, and hopefully we can take on all of the challenges that seem to be cropping up for our generation. I know we are meant to do awesome things!

If you are interested in other posts I’ve written about the PhD stuff, here are a few:
Travel and my PhD
The final six months of my PhD

To my PhD twin (you know who you are), we did it, dang it!

Me and my PhD thesis

Me and my PhD thesis!