the final throes

Last week, I returned to Berkeley to defend my dissertation on the Day of Atonement (ironic, eh?). This involved both a public dissertation talk and a private defense. The public talk was an opportunity for me to share my findings with my department. The private defense was an opportunity for my committee to share their critiques and feedback with me. For those sitting on pins and needles, don’t worry, I passed. What this means is that my committee has now handed me a tree’s worth of paper covered in red pen and 2.5 hours worth of feedback to integrate in the next 6-8 weeks. Luckily, their general attitude was: “Good job! You’re almost there! Here’s a few thoughts for the dissertation and a large stack of thoughts for the book.”

This now means that I’m officially in the final throes of my PhD. I’m not yet Dr. but I’m close… real close… the kind of close where failing to finish is not an option. The kind of close where looking at my dissertation makes me want to vomit. The kind of close where I’ve started dreaming about the next project. The kind of close where I’m no longer convinced that I’m going to fail and where I’m completely shocked that this is for realz. Of course, it’s not yet over… I still need to edit this puppy and get it into a format that the Borg will accept at which point I will need to deftly enact circus tricks to get it through the layers of UC bureaucracy. But still… close! I can see the light!

The whole defense process was pretty emotionally overwhelming. I’m super duper thankful for the most amazing committee a girl can ask for. I call them the goddesses because they have been truly supportive in ways that I wasn’t really prepared for. That said, I can’t help but miss Peter. I wasn’t alone in this thought. Right before my defense, Mimi posted a Tweet that got me all choked up: “happy to get to play proud advisor today though really wishing a certain other advisor was here to share the moment.” We were all missing him. Many of those who attended my public talk had him on their mind and when I got to the end of my slide deck, I concluded with a dedication to Peter. Upon seeing tears in the eyes of people in the room, I had to choke back my own for the second time that day.

It’s weird to be nearing the end and to realize that I’m about to move on to a new phase in my life. Everyone says that post-PhD is much better than grad school. I hope they’re right. My body certainly hopes they’re right. At the same time, it’s been an unbelievable 5.5 years. I can’t help but think of all that I’ve learned and done and the amazing people that I’ve been able to work with. I still can’t believe that Berkeley’s iSchool and my committee let me get away with all that I’ve done. When I started at Berkeley, Peter promised me that it would be the perfect place to cause trouble and grow into my own kind of scholar. He vowed to protect me as long as I vowed to kick ass and take names. I can’t help but smile thinking about those conversations and I hope that, somewhere out there, he’s smiling too.

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19 thoughts on “the final throes

  1. Britt Watwood

    Never doubted it! You description instantly took me back to 1996 and my defense. The key thing is that it is not an end, it is the start of a scholarly journey, and I for one look forward to the learning I will gain from you in the future!

  2. Danyel

    Congratulations, ever-closer-to-Dr-boyd! (I have to admit that it was two days before my own defense that I turned to my girlfriend and said, “I don’t really need to do this, right? I can just walk out now.”

  3. Darren James Harkness

    Congratulations danah!

    My partner’s supervisor gave her this piece of advice post-defense: “Congratulations… but you haven’t reached the end of the road, you’ve just got out of the parking lot.”

  4. kellyinkansas

    Congrats, Danah, on getting within inches of the finish line.

    We all owe you a huge debt for the scholarly research and attention you’ve brought to the fields that you are studying and fields I muck around in. Keep up the great work!

  5. Deirdre

    That’s brilliant news!

    You still seem pretty sane after five years or so of going through this process.

    I hope I’ll still have my sanity when I get to the end of mine.

    All the best with completing these last bits.

    Eye of the tiger to you!


    P.S. And thanks for continuing to post during what must have been a somewhat stressful time. I like reading your posts.

  6. James

    Congratulations from a person still caught in the whirlwind of their own dissertation work. The time I’ve spent on my own efforts so far has been a little bit longer that 5.5 years, but what the heck! I’ve got the rest of my life. Right?

    Wishing you all the best!

  7. Jay Fienberg

    Congrats danah! Just remember, before you’re all done, you still have to decide whether to change the name of your blog to dr. apophenia or to apophenia, phd!

  8. Raul


    I’ve read your blog for a long while now (even before I actually started blogging). Your writing compelled me to try and understand what people now call social media. I am now fully immersed in social media in Vancouver and often mention you both in conversations and on my own blog (and on Twitter).

    Congratulations on reaching this milestone. I sure as hell know how hard it is. You certainly have achieved greater success than many already minted PhDs, so you have a very bright future! When I defended my dissertation, I prepared like crazy and thought I was going to fail.

    I stood at the front of the defense room, a printout of my slide deck in my hands, and then the defense chair said “the candidate will start his presentation now”. I no longer had the choice of fainting/failing. It was for real. I was defending my PhD.

    I passed, and I am really happy that I ended up doing this PhD thingie, and I can assure you that you’ll get through the red ink and the feedback and the bureaucracy. Most importantly, you will see the light. And for that, you should be proud.

    Congratulations on your defense again.

  9. Mark Federman

    Congratulations, danah! I feel your ambivalence (I’m within the last less-than-a-year for mine). It’s not the product, or even the degree, but the transformation that has occurred during the process. You’ve undoubtedly been transformed, and because of that, so has the part of the world that you have touched. And, I think that we’re all the better for it.

    When you finally get to wear it, wear it proudly!

  10. Mark Donovan


    Of course you won’t be able to really catch your breath until you’ve gotten in a quarrel with the diss monitor who, despite your years of work and deep commitment, may cause you undue anxiety because your margins are not quite right . . . at least that was the case when I finished in 1998 and a friend reported as recently as last year that the “Margin Police” were the ultimate, final hurdle.

    But HOORAY! This is such a big deal–you know that–a really huge milestone and I do hope that you’re able, once you finally turn the corner and have your margins approved, to rapidly rid yourself of any and all of the anxiety and self-doubt that the experience of a PhD program is so damn good at creating.

    You rock.

  11. Shion

    Congratulations !

    I have been a somewhat lurker on your blog for quite sometime. I love your writings and your publications. Please keep up the good work.

  12. Bijan

    Congratulations! I’ve been following your blog, off and on, for the past few years. Where is the California Ballot Propositions recommendations?

  13. ben shine

    Oh wow! Keep up the good work, honey! And let me know next time you’re giving a talk in the bay area! Or maybe I should be reading your blog more often 🙂 so I know these things.

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