Flavor: Finishing the PhD.

1. What’s going on mathematically?

I graduated with a mathematics PhD.

2. What is the emotional and logistical context?

Many years (for me, six) had gone by since I signed up for this. The last few involved working for hundreds, probably thousands, of hours on writing a dissertation that a handful (really!) of people will ever read.

3. What thoughts are there?

For me, “I am invincible” and “It’s over.”

4. What quality of awareness?

Sublime, peaceful, and quiet. My mind was light and free, as a huge burden was gone. For the first time in six years, there was no work to do, and I could let go.

There was also an extreme intimacy with my own mind and being. Remember the scene in Star Wars, when Luke Skywalker is the last hope for destroying the Death Star, and at the last minute he disconnects himself from his radio and homing equipment, to just use the force? During that last act, he is alone with himself. I thought of this scene often, and it captures my mindset from the time right before my dissertation defense, up until the graduation receptions I attended.

5. What emotions?

My operational metaphor during years 3 – 6 of graduate school were that of a pine tree in the Cascades during winter, burdened with snow but beautiful. Finishing the PhD, the snow fell to the ground and the bough rebounded and oscillated with uncertainty. I felt expansive elation and lightness, and spent hours crying. There was a lot of deep sleep. Eventually, there was several weeks of stratified relaxation, during which I realized just how tense and focused the lead-up to graduation was.

Handing in the dissertation, there was a feeling of invincibility but also a sort of creative ecstasy. Condensing so much effort into a creative act and object brings a deep joy and feeling of meaning.

6. What does it resolve to, after how much time?

There’s more work, eventually, and next steps. After emailing out my thesis to folks I thought might care, I took a few months off.

7. How frequent is this flavor?

Once, unless you really want to do it again…

8. What are good/bad ways to change or follow it up?

I think you’re entitled to do whatever you want, no questions asked, for a little while.

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