The Religion Graduate Student (RGS) passed her dissertation defense and graduated “with distinction”. In the lead-up to her oral defense she reread her dissertation twice, came up with potential questions, and then performed a mock defense with some of her graduate student colleagues. It was a bit hectic bringing her committee members together on November 14, 2012 and one member skyped in, but in the end everything proceeded smoothly and at the conclusion attendees raised glasses of champagne mimosas to toast the newly minted PhD.
In our (bittersweet) concluding interview on February 22, 2013, RGS had just graduated and I had read her dissertation beginning to end. First she filled me in on the details of her big defense day. Then we discussed the content of her dissertation, the writing process, her thoughts about graduate education, and her immediate post-graduation life. In contrast to my medieval notions, the defense did not resemble an inquisition. RGS was satisfied with what she had accomplished but identified a few areas of her dissertation that needed work. She had some trouble describing the writing process and she mourned the many dozens of pages she had written that never made it into her dissertation. The routine she tried to establish at the start never quite came together. In the end it was “tasty treats” that helped her to the finish line. Graduate education is definitely not sustainable and RGS was still struggling to balance her monthly budget, now on an adjunct’s wages. It’s tough to be a scholar in the twenty-first century.
This interview occurred almost three years to the day from the first time RGS and I spoke about the journey awaiting her. In my first blog post of this series, I described the dissertation as a “ritual initiation in which the student is dropped deep into an unfamiliar wilderness area with nothing but a compass and asked to find her way out.” Having now completed my seventh and final interview with RGS, I am thrilled to know that RGS found her way out of the wilderness. She has now entered the world of scholars. I congratulate RGS on her achievement and thank her for allowing me to share in the journey.