Posted by: jleventon | June 21, 2011

Graduation – the end?

I attended my graduation ceremony last week, just three days after I defended my PhD thesis.  I pushed to get my defence done in time to graduate then; my university only does one ceremony a year, and I didn’t want to defend and then wait 12 months to graduate.  It was difficult to explain to anyone why it was so important to me.  Whether or not I did the ceremony now or next year made no difference to my status as a doctor.  Its a very long ceremony where I had to sit in a hot and airless room in Budapest in summer while wearing a synthetic full-length gown.  I knew that my parents couldn’t come and on the day I was utterly exhausted after writing the thesis, then completing pre-defence, corrections and final defence within six weeks of submission.  But I knew that I really needed to be at that graduation.

My motivation for being there was that I needed a full-stop to the PhD.  Finishing a degree can be fairly anti-climatic.  For my undergraduate degree, I worked hard, got through exams, then 2 weeks later the result was pinned on a wall in a corridor. It wasn’t until we all, as a class, entered the graduation hall dressed in robes, that I actually felt any sense of achievement. For my Master’s degree, I handed in my thesis, then moved to Hungary and started my PhD.  My mum opened my results and phoned to tell me.   I wasn’t able to attend the graduation ceremony, and I don’t feel like I ever really took the time to celebrate or acknowledge the completion of that phase of my life.  Maybe something about the ceremony and the tradition changes something in my head and lets me feel like its over.  Maybe its the idea that there is a brief moment of collective recognition for an achievement.  Or maybe its just the fact that there is a day, a definite date instead of a petering out, to which you can mentally assign the end of the degree, and therefore a day on which you can finally breathe out and begin to feel like its all behind you.

Certainly, my PhD graduation goes down in my mental scrapbook as one of the most emotional days of my life.  Receiving my results at the end of my defence was an odd experience.  An audience member remarked afterwards that I hadn’t smiled and I just looked kind of numb.  Which is appropriate as thats how I felt.  The next couple of days were frantic as I completed administrative tasks and entertained my brother in Budapest.  Then suddenly it was graduation day, which I was pleased to be sharing with four other colleagues from my department.  We did class photos, drank champagne in the Gresham Palace and nervously lined up together for the academic procession onto the stage.  Standing on the stage, being hooded by the professors and collecting my diploma was an intense experience for me, and it did provide the moment at which I started feeling elation that I have completed a PhD.  But to my surprise, the moments of realisation and celebration didn’t end there.  When I got home to the Czech Republic and my friends and almost-family held a party to celebrate, I felt it all over again.  And I think the feeling has translated into a drive and renewed motivation to write up my planned papers, get them published, and find a job in which to continue my research, which despite the tribulations of completing a PhD, I do love.  So it feels a little like the graduation formed only one of the dots on an ellipsis (PhD… to be continued), rather than the full stop I was expecting.

P.S.  I applied for a job this week using the title Dr and that felt good!



  1. Congratulations on reaching the start of a new beginning, Julia!

    Good luck with establishing an academic career & hope you get the job you applied for. If you haven’t seen it yet, you might be interested in a new careers website we launched earlier this year called “An Academic Career” –

    There’s information and advice on life beyond the PhD, academic career structures around the world, and how to put together an academic CV (plus interviews and the importance of networking – but you know that bit, of course…)

    Best wishes to all the other AQUATrainers, and enjoy being “Dr Leventon”.

    Elizabeth Wilkinson
    University of Manchester Careers Service

    (PS Picked up this link from a tweet by @postgradtoolbox & recognised the name – the power of social media, eh?)

  2. Thank you, Elizabeth! I will spend some time on the “An Academic Career” website – it looks great. I am definitely already benefitting from the advice you gave us at the training day, and from the resources available on the Manchester site.
    Best wishes, Julia

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