Now What?

On Friday, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation. So, it’s done. I still need to print out copies for the library, which will be an elaborate process. And I still need to fill out a few forms. But all the hard work is over.

Now what?

After the defense, after everyone had shaken my hand and said “Congratulations, Dr. Goss,” I walked along the grassy strip behind the College of Arts and Sciences. It has a view of the river. There was a sort of mist in the air, falling – not rain exactly. But it was wet. I walked over the wet grass, looking at the river, feeling a curious blankness. For the last decade of my life, I have either been working on the dissertation or worried about not working on the dissertation (when I took time off, I mean).

And now, it’s over. I feel as though the rest of my life is in front of me, and I have no idea what it’s going to be like. I suppose it’s up to me to create, at least partly.

On Saturday, I went to Concord and bought myself two things. The first is a green transferware pitcher with pink flowers. Here is it on my desk, with clustered roses in it:

And I bought myself a book called How to Know the Wild Flowers, by Mrs. William Starr Dana, published in 1899.

I thought they were good presents to myself, for successfully defending.

I do have some projects I need to work on. I’ve promised a short story to an editor. I have a poetry collection to compile. But I still feel curiously blank. I wonder if I will feel like that for a while. I’d like to have a sense of joy and purpose again. I’m not entirely sure where they’ll come from. Perhaps they’ll return by themselves?

It does feel good, at least, to post here again. I couldn’t post for a while before the defense – I just didn’t have the concentration. Perhaps that will return too.

I think what’s happened is that I’ve gone through a liminal process. I’ve crossed a boundary and become something different from what I used to be. And now I’m not sure yet who I am. This is different from having finished the J.D. or M.A. Neither of those degrees were like this one. Perhaps part of the reason is that I’m now done with school. I will never be a student again. Even as I was graduating from law school, I knew I would be going back, pursuing a degree in English literature. Now, I can’t imagine a reason I would go back for another degree. I’m done. And it’s time to get to work, but I’m not sure who I am yet. And so, I’m not sure what work I need to do. (Writing, of course.  But writing what?  You see, it’s not so simple.)

It may take me a while to find out.

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9 Responses to Now What?

  1. ridlerville says:

    It will. So enjoy a respite. Recover. Have FUN! All that stuff you couldn’t do because the thesis loomed? Do it! Parties! More fun classes based on outside interests! Read whatever the BLEEP you want for a year and make zero apologize! Make a big dinner for all those who supported you! Etc! But make no mistake, the post Ph.D. blues, the good and the bad, are real. Talk to others who were in the boots you wear now. I found it helped, so, here’s a slice from my experience: I dedicated myself to novels while investigating my next academic topic for two years. That helped flex different muscles, gave me daily work I liked that was different from all the short stuff I’d written for the past decade, etc. And I let the academic brain cool. And, believe it or not, after watching a guest on THE DAILY SHOW, I found my academic fire rekindled. And off I went. Found my next project. Been rocking it ever since.

    Whatever you do, don’t just plunge into the next damn thing. You have earned a mighty accomplishment. Sleep the sleep of the just, enjoy the fruits of your effort, and . . . have FUN!

    Jay Ridler, Ph.D. Club since 2009.

  2. I’m sure it was more extreme for you, but I went through a fairly strong blank period after I finished my MA. Maybe I felt it most particularly because I do not plan on going back for a PhD. For awhile I felt strange, thinking I was for the first time no longer a student–except I eventually asked myself, are we ever really no longer students?

    Jason is totally right; take time to have fun, the rest will find its own time.

  3. I like your description of it as a liminal process. Having a goal gives your life a structure and path. Once achieved, those are gone. You will never be who you were.

    The blankness is normal.
    It will last a while.
    And a sense of joy and purpose will return.

    Congratulations on a massive achievement. There will be other goals and other triumphs, and they will all be different from this.

  4. Ted says:


  5. Alexa Duncan says:

    I don’t think I can come up with anything more wise than what others have said, so I’ll just say Congratulations! You should be so proud of yourself.

  6. sarah says:

    Congratulations! 🙂

  7. Have been following your blog for several years and this is the first time I tried ‘guest’ What an
    auspicious time to do so. I have never strived for a PHD but have had similar ‘graduations’
    with blank time. After a while, I started a novel and began to explore things I had not done for
    decades. After a while good things fell like apples off a tree. The novel has taken a lot more time
    than I expected. The other good things are magical and surprising. I know from my silent fanship
    you are an extraordinary creator of beautiful prose and poetry and I wait to read more, now.

  8. Rich Magahiz says:

    Earning your doctorate does change your life, but so many other things do as well, and surprising though it may seem at the time while you are still close to all the work and emotional investment that went into the degree, it will end up taking its place alongside all those other life-changing things. I also did not know who I was at the time of my degree, but long afterwards it would come to me, usually after I’d spent a good deal of time already being what I was. But as a writer you probably are familiar with the sensation as the one in which you discover who precisely your characters are.

  9. Evelyn says:


    By the way, the book on wildflowers looks fascinating.

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