Thesis The End

On any given night, from about 10 pm to whenever gets the job done, you’re likely to find a single light on in my house–one in the living room by a recliner we inherited from my wife’s grandfather. And in that chair, you are likely to find a disheveled, stubbly-faced thirty-something man hunched over a laptop, cussing out a Microsoft Word document at a volume that will wake neither the sleeping three-year-olds around the corner nor a pregnant woman passed out on the nine-pillow sculpture she has meticulously perfected over the past few weeks. While verbally abusing his own abused verbiage, he’ll likely be nursing a craft IPA or a bowl of ice cream (or both)–you know, just to take the edge off.

In case you haven’t already Sherlocked where I’m going with this, the insomniac in question is me.

While sleep and I are super duper BFFs and take cute selfies with each other like every single night, I elect to stay up after corralling the kids into the bathroom so they can spend 15 minutes whining about not wanting to brush their teeth and two minutes actually doing it; after reading multiple bedtime stories and refusing third encores; after watching my unborn child kick around my wife’s uterus while taking in whatever’s on our DVR; after my wife crashes in the middle of a show and I’m fighting sleep myself even though it’s only 9:30. Yes, despite all of this, I stay up because I have unfinished bidness. Even though I’ve found a big boy job I absolutely love and am working it full-time, I still have that all important, all-encompassing, all-kinds-of-psychotic last step of my PhD to plow through–my dissertation.

I’ll admit I take weekends off, and even a weekday here and there, but since about May of this year, I’ve been on this late-night regiment for a consistent four nights a week. Come 10 pm, I’m in that chair. Thinking. Number-crunching. Writing. Chasing. Snoozing. Wiping the drool off my face. Deleting the full page and a half of letter W’s my dead hand made while I was unconscious. Taking a sip of beer. Taking another five sips. Sighing loudly. Thinking. Number-crunching. Writing. Chasing.

In mid-September I cleared the first hurdle and laid the first draft of my thesis to rest–all 229 pages of it–and turned it into the chair of my committee for his feedback. Then came revisions, which bled into October, and once that was finally done, November’s late nights have been spent tackling the slideshow for presentation at my defense.

For those unfamiliar with the process, after writing and revising your kajillion-page dissertation, you are then asked to “defend” it to a committee of faculty chosen by you. This committee reviews your thesis, and then, at the “defense,” you present your findings in person, followed by the committee asking questions to challenge the validity and thoroughness of your work while barraging you with paintball guns to break your concentration. If the committee is satisfied with the answers you provide, 99 red balloons fall from the ceiling and Bill Murray inexplicably wanders in from the street to shake your hand and congratulate you on becoming a doctor just before performing an impromptu karaoke rendition of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” On the other hand, if the committee is not satisfied, you are handcuffed by an enormous sluglike creature named Jabba and shuttled out to the middle of the desert to be cast into a Sarlacc pit for all eternity.

Sarlacc Pit (Star Wars)

Artist’s Rendering

Anyway, I’m super-psyched to announce that my defense is TODAY! Come hell or high water, this journey is finally drawing to a close. When I started my PhD program, the Twins were still wrestling in their mommy’s belly, and oddly enough, four years later as I’m finishing, I find myself not only with two toddlers, but also with yet another bun in my wife’s oven.

And that’s really how I’ve kept my eyes on the prize all these late nights. With a Christmas-week due date for Baby #3, I was determined to graduate this semester (otherwise, I’d never finish). I wanted it over and done with so I could focus on what’s coming. Whether she realizes it or not (most likely not), that little girl is the real reason I’m facing Bill Murray or Jabba the Hutt today. She motivated me to buckle down and get this done, and on the day she’s born, I’m going to thank her for it.

Yes, that’s right, I said “she.” I’ve been keeping the gender of our new arrival under wraps, but yes, we’re having a little girl, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

So as I enter my defense today, whatever happens, I’m choosing to celebrate. I’m going to celebrate all of the ridiculously hard work I’ve done to get this far. I’m going to celebrate the knowledge, experience, and insights I’ve gained from this whole process, and the fantastic job I scored as a result. I’m going to celebrate my family, who have supported and motivated me from day one. Yes, I’m going to celebrate all of these things.

But if I’m being really honest with myself, I have to admit that I’d REALLY love to celebrate them with Bill Murray.



You may also enjoy:

Doctoring Up   Ruh Roh! (The Pee Pee Prophecy)   The Stay-At-Homestretch

If not, the Sarlacc pit awaits.


  1. A.PROMPTreply

    Wow…not even born yet and she’s propelling you to greater heights…..quite a powerful little girl you’re getting there! Congrats on getting it (defense) done! Am sure you’ll do just great!


  2. Darren Penix

    In common: insomnia and offspring who shared quality uterine time together.

    Now, as I read I begin to dread a graduate degree more than ever. Dissertation? No thank you. I don’t believe I want to defend a 200 plus page research paper to “committee,” even if chosen my me. I would assume pass on that. However, it is only a small hurtle in this crazy life. If I am to be the best I can me and show my sons there are no limits a graduate degree is most definitely in order.

    Wonderful Blog. I believe you have a new reader, Mr. P.


    • John Pseudonymous

      Thanks, man! I will say this–while the whole PhD process plus twins was exhausting on so many levels, they also somehow made sense together. Sure, I had less time to work on my thesis than I would have without twins, but as imply above and as you mention in your comment, my kids were a big motivation for even doing it in the first place and sticking with it. Part of it was wanting to show them the importance of education and that (as you say) there are no limits to what you can accomplish, but honestly, it was also about advancing my career so that I could bring in a higher income than I had as a middle school teacher and be able to provide similar opportunities to them when it’s time for them to go to college. Throughout the process, my kids also helped me keep things in perspective and focus on what’s REALLY important, which I really appreciated, too. People get intimidated by the idea of pursuing an advanced degree while raising young kids, but for me, it was the only way to do it. :)


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