Back again! This time in less than a year. In this third and final ramble, I talk about what happened to me when I finished writing my thesis.
As it turned out, quite a lot.
By the time I handed in the complete draft to my supervisor, he had already commented on earlier drafts of each section. This would be the last check, and after it my last opportunity to make changes before handing in the final draft for evaluation. When he took my paper, my supervisor asked me what grade I had in mind. By then, I was already pretty sick of my thesis, and the deadline for the graduation ceremony was closing in, so I put any lingering dreams of revolutionizing the way English literature is studied to rest and aimed for a decent, if not spectacular, grade. After getting his comments, it only took me a week or two to put on the finishing touches, and I found myself in the almost surreal position of having a complete master’s thesis—title page, table of contents, bibliography and all—sitting on my desk in front of me. Three of them in fact, because the Humanities Faculty requires you to submit two and I wanted to have a copy bound for myself as a souvenir.
Handing over my thesis at the faculty office drove home the fact that the project that I had started and been working and struggling with for so long was actually over. It was a moment I’d been waiting for a long time. I left the office feeling good, and bought myself a nice meal and a beer. Then I remembered that I still had three 2,000-word essays to write before I could graduate.
The downer wasn’t so much that the essays would be a lot of work, they weren’t. It was more that it was just a bummer to have completed the biggest writing project I’d ever undertaken and then still not be completely done with university. It felt like reaching the top of a steep hill and realizing that before you could walk downhill-or even enjoy the view-you have to cross a really boring plateau. On the plus side, having been writing almost every day for over two months straight meant that I was able to churn out these smaller essays with relative ease, even though it was still annoying at that point.
Unfortunately, the stress didn’t end with completing the essays. I was pretty much down to the wire in completing them, and I still had to wait on getting the grades registered. I wrote e-mails to the professors in question, in which I politely explained that I really needed to get graded quick or I’d miss graduation and my head would explode. My e-mails worked, and I got my final missing grades with a whole couple of days to spare before the deadline for graduation.
I don’t recommend leaving things this late. It was nerve-wracking enough waiting for the grades to come in so I could get all my study modules registered, but few things in my life can match the utter horror that I experienced when I tried to sign up for graduation.
It started out innocently, if bureaucratically, enough. The way the sign up system works is that you get an official transcript of your studies, which shows all the courses you’ve done, how many credits they’re worth, etc. You then proceed to copy all of this information by hand onto the sign-up form. You then go to the faculty office, where the office clerk compares your sign-up sheet to your official transcript to make sure you copied it right. The point of this whole exercise is … still a mystery to me.
Anyway, I walked into the faculty office with my double- and triple-checked sign-up forms. I handed them to the office clerk and sat across from her biting my nails while she checked them. Everything was fine, I told myself. I had made sure that I had all the courses I needed, hadn’t I? Then, two noises that stopped my heart,
A pause, and then, “There seems to be a problem.”
Utter paralysis. I had to remind myself to breath.
The clerk referred to some small-print syllabus detail that no-one else I’ve spoken to has ever heard of. According to this detail, I had too many credits in my free studies category, so I couldn’t register them all. This meant that I didn’t have enough total credits to graduate. Having remembered to breath, I now had to keep myself from hyperventilating.
Luckily, a solution was found. In keeping with the approach embodied by the sign-up form merry-go-round, I ended up having to go to the English Department office, get them to rearrange how some of my English credits were registered and then run back to the faculty office before it closed to finish signing up for graduation. Getting my nerves back under control after all this took several strong drinks.
Then came a relatively anticlimactic wait for the graduation ceremony. The ceremony itself was an austere affair. The names of everyone who had graduated were read, and as the names were read, people went up to get their diplomas. After everyone got their diplomas, the dean gave a little speech and then, in a somewhat surreal move, sang a song. After that, a free drink from the faculty and that was that. University was over.
I have to admit that all the expectations I had invested into graduation left me feeling a little empty. I was fortunate to have a soft landing after graduation. I already had a job, and after graduating, my part-time contract got upgraded to a full-time contract. After that it’s been a steady nine-to-five with five weeks paid vacation a year. Am I happier now that I’m done with my thesis? In many ways, yes. Are there things I miss about university? Definitely. But if nothing else, I’m much happier being on this side of my thesis. The sun feels so much warmer when you’ve spent some time crawling through the crypt.