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
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