After PhD Defense: I Found Myself in Tears. Not of Pain, But of Joy

phd defenseI bet this article is going to get 250+ Likes in facebook.

Following post is from Quora Thread How does it feel to complete your final PhD defense?

Reply posted by Aaron Wester, PhD.

I sat on the couch, clutching my iPhone tightly. I had just completed my oral defense and my heart was still racing a thousand beats per minute. My palms were sweaty, I mused, in an effort to pass the time.

At the completion of my presentation and Q&A round, I was asked by my mentor to step off the call. I knew they were discussing my research, my findings, my responses to their questions, my presentation, and were working together to make an informed mutual decision.

It would only take objections from one committee member to halt my progress and end my journey towards my end state goal.

I didn’t realize that the clock on our family room wall ticked so loudly until I sat there on the couch in excruciating silence, waiting for the inevitable call. Each tick was a reminder that time was not standing still, though it felt like an eternal wait. A thousand questions raced through my mind. Did they like my presentation? Was my research good enough?

Did my last “So What?” slide hammer home the final message that my findings were valid and reliable?

Did I answer their questions to their satisfaction?

Did I leave anything important out?

Did my mentor remember my phone number?

Should I call him back?

Could I live up to the title of “Doctor” that I had fought to earn? What would my family say if I failed?

The ring on my phone was startling. It brought me back from the depths of my darkest fears, thoughts, and concerns.

I pressed the answer button and raised the device to my ear.

It felt weighted down by the intensity of my emotions, if that were even possible. “Hello, this is Aaron.” I slowly stated. After what seemed like several minutes, though was probably only a split second instance, I heard the most wonderful six words stated back to me by my mentor, “Congratulations Dr. Wester, you earned it.”

At that moment, I was overwhelmed, happy, elated, excited, shaking, and terribly tense.

I had survived one of the most difficult experiences of my 38 years of existence on this earth, 3rd only to asking my wife to marry me, and being told by hospital staff that we could take our newborn first child home without being provided any additional guidance, instructions, or “Parenting Guide for Dummies” book.

I had survived almost 5 years of dedicated doctoral level research and statistics, quality reviews, respondent surveying, and more writing than I had ever done previous on a dissertation that spanned over 600 pages of meticulous study, analysis, and intricate synthesis. Such a flood of emotion that no dam could suppress.

An intensity of feelings that suddenly caught me off guard. Suddenly, I found myself in tears. Not of pain, but of joy, gladness, and relief.

I couldn’t help but think, ‘what a wonderful way to complete this journey after years of intensive study and diligent effort, and a day before my 39th birthday no less’.

So regardless of where you are in your educational journey, consider this to be proof that a doctoral degree is within your grasp if you but reach with all your effort and your best foot forward.

People would tell me there’s light at the end of tunnel when things looked darkest, but I didn’t believe them – I could have sworn they had to be referring to an oncoming train.

Not so, I discovered. Instead, I found that the light at the end is an incredibly brilliant and long lasting rainbow of accomplishment beyond description – so work hard, because it’s worth the view. 😉

After receiving the news, I immediately called my wife who relayed to our youngest 6 year old son.

He asked “Does that mean that Daddy gets to go to the Doctor building and help people?”, to which she replied “No honey, he’s the other kind of doctor, the kind that doesn’t help people”. We laughed as we were caught in the moment.

She had been through the trials and tears, the pain, and the hardships over the last several years that when combined, were the essential core ingredients of my educational journey. She understood, and she shared in the moment with love and respect.

I hadn’t made it, instead we had made it together as a family.

I immediately posted on Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter after hanging up with her. I Instant Messaged my friends, and called my parents. It was a good day, and a significant accomplishment in my life. Of all my Facebook posts, it received the most number of “likes” I’ve seen yet.

This reminded me that I was loved and supported by amazing individuals all over the world.

I’m now greatly looking forward to publishing my completed and publication ready dissertation entitled “Readers’ Trust, Socio-Demographics, and Acuity Influences in Citizen Journalism Credibility for Disrupted Online Newspapers”

More importantly, I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I have fond memories of yesterday, and today is the best day so far, but I’m positive that tomorrow will be even better. 🙂

//

This feeling is something you have to experience it.  Doing PhD  is not an easy task. You are actually putting a dent in the Knowledge Boundry and expanding it.

What Dent and Knowledge Boundry? You have to read Bachelors vs Masters vs PhD to understand dent and boundaries.

Why 250 Likes?

  • Show how does it really feel when you graduate PhD
  • Shows you can get PhD at 38 years of age
  • Gives motivation to others who want to experience this feeling
  • If you think this article gave you that, then Like this page.

27 Comments

  1. Dr. Aaron M. Wester, PhD on April 8, 2013 at 2:13 AM

    I extend special thanks to Raghuram Sukumar. I would not have received such wonderful feedback from such incredible individuals if he hadn’t thought it important enough to share my experience with you in this forum. For that I am tremendously grateful. All your thoughts and well wishes are received with utmost gratitude and sincere thanks. It is uplifting to the spirit, and I hope to be an effective instrument in God’s hands to help others where I can. So to each of you, thank you. May your journeys take you far, and your dreams and aspirations be fulfilled to the fullest. 🙂

  2. farha on April 1, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Congratulations Dr. Wester…!

    Thanks for sharing.
    Can you please share the most difficult part of your PhD? how you was able to manage such situations and any suggestions from your end those who want to do their PhD?

    • Dr. Aaron M. Wester, PhD on April 8, 2013 at 1:03 AM

      Hi Farha,

      Thank you for your support and questions. The most difficult part of earning my PhD has been persistance in writing the dissertation. Some of my best writing happened when I least wanted to write, but forced myself to work against external and internal forces. Some days life tended to get in the way, with chores, work issues, exhaustion, family affairs, friends, pets, so many distractions – but if I didn’t force myself to stay on schedule through diligence and extreme persistance, I would simply not make any progress, and the research study wasn’t going to write itself. I view the process very much like running a marathon. You try not to sprint at the beginning, and you try not to crawl at the end. Instead, you pace yourself, and work into a cadence where you control your breathing and your heart rate to win the race. Working towards a PhD is not an overnight process, and it’s easy to burn out early through stress and exhaustion. There were days where I only wrote for a few minutes, but the point was – “I WROTE!”. There were days where I wasn’t even sure if I was going down the right path with my writing, but I remembered and utilized three very fundamental rules. (1) I ALWAYS kept open communication with my mentor. I was never afraid to ask for help and advice to help adjust, redirect, and center my compass bearing on True North as was needed. (2) I recognized that my study was a “work in progress” until the final ink signatures – meaning that on some days it didn’t really matter what I wrote as I knew I’d later go back again and revise it, then revise it again, and then revise it again. (3) I had to remember to FOCUS on my central problem statement. I didn’t want to turn my dissertation into a life study, I wanted to focus on a central issue and work to resolve that particular issue to “put a dent in the knowledge boundry” for that particular problem as Sukumar smartly points out. The words of my mentor, “Just write. Whatever else, just write.” remind me of a terrific quote by Christopher McDougall, “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether your’e the lion or the gazelle. When the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

  3. sumera on March 26, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    well done. I m impressed. god bless you.

    • Dr. Aaron M. Wester, PhD on April 8, 2013 at 1:06 AM

      Thank you Sumera! He does. Every day of my life that I am granted breath is a tremendous blessing. 😉

  4. Khalid Habib on March 25, 2013 at 9:25 AM

    Dr,
    I really Appreciate your efforts…..Congrats from deep of my Heart.

  5. Mehdi Mousavi on March 24, 2013 at 1:27 AM

    My heartiest congrats, Dr.Wester.Wish u the best.

  6. Abhishek on March 23, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    huh? I have never heard of anyone who failed a PhD defense, at least not in science and not in the US.

    • Dr. Aaron M. Wester, PhD on April 8, 2013 at 1:27 AM

      Hi Abhishek – great thoughts! Remember what’s being defended. Once you get to the final defense, you’re really just primarily defending alignment with your problem and purpose statements (remember, you’ve already had the first three chapters approved by IRB & ARB at this point) with your statistical analysis and interpretation/conclusions. You are backing your findings with supportive evidence found in your literature review (Chapter 2) which you should be fully fluent in. If there is misalignment, or if you can not effectively explain your methodology and your findings, then you run a substantial risk of having to rewrite and redefend – certainly a burdensome worry after such an exhaustive process up to the point of the first (and hopefully ONLY) defense.

  7. Venkatesh on March 20, 2013 at 12:17 AM

    Congratulations Dr. Wester…. 😛

    I feel like watching a suspense movie… It is worth of message and motivation…
    You narrated superbly…

    • Dr. Aaron M. Wester, PhD on April 8, 2013 at 1:11 AM

      Thank you Venkatesh! I’ll let you know if Paramount Pictures or Warner Brothers opts to buy the movie rights! 😉

  8. Siddhartha on March 19, 2013 at 2:10 PM

    congratulations ,ur article was really motivating and effervescent…

    • Dr. Aaron M. Wester, PhD on April 8, 2013 at 1:14 AM

      Thank you for your kind words Siddhartha! Consider it a call to action – The word “problem” in Chinese is translates as “opportunity” so I’ve heard – so as the Chinese would point out, you do not have problems or issues in your path, only opportunities! 🙂

  9. mahvish on March 19, 2013 at 1:45 PM

    I feel like saying “Congratulations Dr. Wester” 🙂
    Really a motivational article, thanks for sharing.

    • Dr. Aaron M. Wester, PhD on April 8, 2013 at 1:16 AM

      Thank you Mahvish for the wonderful congrats, and for your kind words! May it fill your soul with enlightenment, encouragement, and perspective. All things are possible after all. 🙂

  10. mIr on March 19, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    You really earned it. Congratulations!

    • Dr. Aaron M. Wester, PhD on April 8, 2013 at 1:19 AM

      Thank you MLR! It took a tremendous action-verb I like to use; “efforting”, to really earn it. 🙂

  11. Akshay001 on March 19, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    seriously……. whatt?

    • Akshay001 on March 19, 2013 at 2:01 PM

      First of all Hearty Congratulations!!

      Since Raghu has made this into a blog post, i wish in addition to this beautiful emotional climax that converted into the peak of joy readers were made aware of exactly what was all about! its simply hard for a layman reader to join you at your emotional levels! what was ur field of research? how was ur journey? what difficulties u encounter, few lines are really needed man to share ur joy! please dont misunderstand me, but need some substance! still it was a great story! 🙂

      btw, i have one request for you! your wife explained ur kid “u became the Dr who doesnt help!” its crispy & nice fun to have but, i wish to give some lines on reality which i hope you will read and do something about it being a Doctor!!

      we are all supposed to be equal humans who are supposed to get equal opportunities and no one is denied what he/she deserves in addition to this every human being is made access the three basic needs of life food, clothing & shelter and other essential needs love, care & affection, respect, non discrimination & pride!
      however, human’s own selfish nature has turned life hell for the not so lucky other human beings who are deprived from all the basic as well as essential needs! when u r eagerly awaiting for the decision to confer the Doctorate there are millions of kids who are not lucky enough to even go to school, there are millions of families who are poverty ridden for ages, there are millions of ppl who are suffering from diseases and denied medical help, there are millions who sleep empty stomach not in comfortable homes but on streets may be half naked in chilly weather !
      while one visible part of the society has accomplished things to establish themselves successfully one majority of huminity is invisibly suffering from all things that no human ever wish to suffer from!

      You have became a Doctor now, u r lucky! But i urge you too become such a Doctor who HELPS more than Medical Doctors! with whatever you have accomplished in ur life i wish you should always have in ur mind the reality of “other side of humanity” and i wish you do some great work for them to lift them from anything that a human shouldnt be suffering from besides ur PhD level continiung research!

      All the best for your accomplishments!

      • Akshay001 on March 19, 2013 at 2:12 PM

        My opea mobile browser threw half part of this post below the comments section where u have mentioned ur dissertation. its a rendering to screen issue.i overlooked it, Apologies !

      • Dr. Aaron M. Wester, PhD on April 8, 2013 at 2:04 AM

        Hi Akshaay001 – Thank you for your critical and candid thoughts – they are highly appreciated. I will do my best to address the questions you’ve posed.
        (1) What was my field of study? My PhD is in Information Systems Technology
        (2) How was your journey? It was tremendously long and difficult. Mostly because I work full time as Director Web Analytics for a leading Digital Media organization, and am a husband and father of three wonderful children full time as well. It’s difficult to juggle my time accordingly and quite exhausting, but I have a tremendously high work ethic thanks to the example that my parents set for me. I recognize that many who will read this are not from the United States, and in some cases may not have the best impression of Americans (please know that I have a very high impression and greatly look up to those born and raised in other countries), however as a born and raised citizen of the United States, I can attest that many of us have had to fight our way to the top through dedicated effort, high work ethic, and disciplined self-sacrifice.

        I started on the path towards my bachelors degree after I returned home from serving a 2 year misison in Columbus Ohio for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (e.g. often referred to as Mormons or LDS Church). I stopped that path after I realized I could make considerable money by working full-time as a web designer and developer in the emerging DotCom industry. During that period in my life, I was married and started a family. As my career in the Internet industry blossomed, my opportunities became limited as a result of my education. I moved into management for a particular A-ranked company only to find that I didn’t have the knowledge or skills to effectively manage. It was then that I decided I would push my education to the limits and not stop until I was certain I had mastered transformational leadership and organizational management theories, and learned how to start and run every aspect of a business. Years later I now have my BS in Business Management and an MBA in Technology Management, along with my newly earned PhD – yet while I can confidently say I understand and know how to apply the principles and theories, I find that I am still constantly in need of continued life-long learning in effective leadership approaches, and how to start and run every aspect of a business. Along the way (on my path of educational pursuits), I discovered that I greatly enjoy statistics and big-data analytics. After I completed my MBA, I switched my career focus from Web Design/Development to Web Analytics. I now lead analytics in a highly fulfilling role for top media properties in the U.S. – so back to your question – it’s been a long but adventurous journey, and the path continues ahead of me with no real end in sight.
        (3) What Difficulties did you encounter? Wow, there have been so many! I broke my back skateboarding when I had a paper due the next day. I lost my job and had to relocate from one side of the United States to the other right after completing my MBA. My wife went into labor when I had class assignments due. There have been nights where it was easier to complete research from work rather than from home and found myself sleeping under my desk after passing out from sheer exhaustion in the early morning hours only to have to wake up and start the day with critical work-related escalations and meetings while unshowered and frazzled. We lived in Los Angeles while I worked on my bachelors degree and I had to complete a major class asssignment with only a couple hours remaining while our home took damage during a major earthquake. I had to conduct four seperate residencies in Phoenix Arizona, far from home on my own dime when money was tight for our family. This list just goes on and on!
        (4) This is not a response to a question so much as a thank you for your candid views. I believe that I am now in a position to do much good for others by raising the bar and setting a good example. I absolutely love every aspect of transformational leadership, and the active participatory need to share and extend the knowledge-base through collaboration and mutual trust – I believe this extends beyond the workplace into every day life as a “way of life”. It’s a paradigm shift for me after having worked in more transactional oriented organizations, and one that I intend to strengthen. I will make it my life long duty to help others pursue their dreams, especially now that I know it’s possible to attain the highest star with the most meager of means. Perhaps I will even write a book or two. 🙂

  12. vish on March 19, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    Congratulations Dr. Wester, you earned it.

  13. Mahesh on March 19, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    Congratulations doctor 🙂

    • Dr. Aaron M. Wester, PhD on April 8, 2013 at 1:32 AM

      Thanks Mahesh! It sounds so cool (yet still awkward) to hear or read “doctor” when addressed as such – and thank you very much for stating it – it’s a term I need to learn to get used to! 🙂

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