Short Answers/Chat – July 27

Good morning! Today we’re doing the thing!

Submit your question before noon either at Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) and I will answer as many as I can between noon and 1pm Chicago time. Comments open when the full transcript is posted.

Search Terms drop Monday, so, short answers all around! Short answers (literally) for days.

And we’re off: Financial stuff with parents, being a wedding buffer, the hellscape of academic career decisions, more academia with added grief, Mourning Periods, revisited, new dating partners and mismatched feelings, “but we just fell in love how can we be breaking up already” breakups, and avoiding cultural appropriation at family weddings.

Q1: Any advice on tactful ways to ask my parents to take me off their credit cards? I’m 29, and my parents had me on some credit cards while I was growing up for emergencies and to help me build credit. I check my credit score regularly, and it’s been going down lately due to two of my parents cards being fairly close to the limit. I have enough of my own lines of credit now that I don’t need them to build my score anymore (mortgage, student loans, etc.). How do I approach the subject of getting me off these accounts? Thanks!

A1: It looks like you might be able to remove yourself by calling the credit card company. If that works, the conversation could be “Oh hey btw I removed myself from the family credit cards. Thanks for the assist way back when, but I’ve got my own credit history now and don’t need to piggyback on yours anymore!” 

In your shoes I’d try that first, but if it doesn’t work just be direct, “Thanks for adding me to the family credit cards way back when, but I’ve got my own credit history now and I’d like to be removed from the joint accounts. Can you handle that for me this week?” 

You don’t have to get into the score stuff or the spending (the whole point is that y’all are adults and adults get to do what they want with their $) , just frame it as the totally reasonable request that it is.

Q2: A dear friend of mine is getting married, and I’ve been invited to be a bridespal. Yay! I asked her how I can be most helpful, and she said she’d appreciate my being a buffer between her and her (somewhat overbearing) parents. I know you’ve mentioned being a buffer on the blog a few times, but I’d really appreciate suggestions of 1) how to tell when buffering might be helpful and 2) how to take bufferly action (e.g., what I can try to do). Thanks very much! (they/them pronouns)

A2: Taking lessons from Commander Logic, aka THE GREATEST PARENT BUFFER OF ALL TIME, most of it involves positively engaging the potentially troublesome people in enthusiastic and friendly conversation. The parents can’t get all “is that what you’re wearing?” on the bride or groom when a gregarious person is in their faces like “HI, SO NICE TO SEE YOU, TELL ME EVERYTHING THAT’S NEW IN YOUR LIFE, WHATCHA DRINKING?” and just, like, relentlessly fangirls them into being chill. It’s not fake or a performance, Logic is just friendly and gregarious and parents are helpless against her charisma.

The rest is taking direction from the person getting married – Are there certain communications about logistics that they want you to send out instead of them (b/c the parents might argue with them about it but won’t argue with you), are there certain parts of the day where the person getting married wants space from them (maybe judge-y mom isn’t invited to the Getting Ready stuff).

You’ll be great at this and your friend is smart to ask for this, specifically, ahead of time.

Q3: I’m feeling stuck. I’m a PhD Candidate at a competitive university. A year ago, I really reckoned with the notion that I am perhaps not willing/able to contend with what a career in academia entails (the precarity! the pressure to publish! the lack of control over where I live!). I committed to ‘parallel planning’ (career centre term!) – planning for both the prospect of an academic *or* a non-academic career, and all the networking/researching/positioning/skill-building that both entail. This has not solved the problem. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do all the things and I frequently and aggressively interrogated my experiences and feelings for ‘signs’ of what I was ‘meant’ to be doing (for example, translating my knowledge-based CV into a skill-based resume and reaching out to relevant sectors (and scrutinizing every interaction), or teaching and putting every student evaluation and lecture performance under a microscope – all in an effort to ascertain whether I felt ‘called’ to one path or another). Clear direction has not been forthcoming. A year later, I am feeling burnt out and fraudulent on a level that is distinct from the bouts of impostor syndrome I’ve had. Past release valves (volunteering, gym, time with friends and fam) don’t provide the same rest and restoration that they used to. Moreover, where I used to be able to power through and do the work even when it was hard and I doubted myself, my discipline has dissolved and been replaced by a daily paralyzing existential crisis about how to finish the PhD, what should be prioritized, and what will come next. I sought some therapy for a month. I was hoping for clarity, but I mostly just cried a lot trying to figure out how my self-worth/identity had become so bound up in my work. My supervisor says that this is normal and I’m well-placed for a good academic gig (provided I publish more this year), but I don’t think I can do the dissertation and the publishing and the non-academic preparation and the make-rent-money-work. I want to finish this PhD (I’ve got ~1 year left), so perhaps I should focus on that. But, I’m worried that if I don’t actively prepare for both academic/non-academic options, there won’t actually *be* an option available to me when the time comes. But then again, what I’ve been doing isn’t working, so what is to be done instead? Should I just do the damn dissertation and get out and come what may? What does one do when the coping/work strategies that have always worked lose their efficacy? Should I go back to therapy? Thank you so much for any insight! She/her pronouns.

A3: Hello and thanks for this real-time glimpse inside academia career decision hell and the mindset of “I WILL NEVER POSSIBLY PRODUCE ENOUGH OR GET THIS RIGHT” it produces in a bunch of smart and driven people.

For you, I will try to boil my thoughts down from the TEN MILLION WORDS OF RAGE ESSAYS surging inside me:

  1. Academia has some deeply unjust employment practices and norms and I get why you’re freaking out right now. “You, Person A, have a new PhD, here is a reasonable full time teaching job with reasonable pay and excellent benefits! You, Person B, also have a new PhD, you will also teach college students who will go into crushing debt and pay the same amount of $ to take your classes that they do for Person A’s classes, but you might want to also get a job at the Trader Joe’s for the grocery discounts and the health insurance. Person A, you are Good Enough! Person B, you are Not Quite Good Enough and will probably never be Good Enough (don’t tell the students paying out the A$$ to learn from you, though, ’cause we are still gonna sell the hell out of your not-good-enough labor until you die in your car like all those articles about adjunct poverty your friends keep sharing on Facebook).” Like ok I promised no rage essays but ADJUNCTING IS BULLSHIT (please tell everyone)(also read Megan Stielstra’s book, esp. all the essays about working in academia) and your feelings of dread are normal.
  2. Yes, go back to therapy. At worst, once a week, you get one structured 50-minute-hour to lose your shit and have a trained, helpful, kind listener help you get your shit back together so you can function for another week. Do it.
  3. You’re allowed to stop. To not finish. “ABD” doesn’t have the ring of “Doctor” but you can decide to do something else with your life if you want to. Whatever you decide, try tacking “I am choosing ____” onto the beginning of the sentence. “I am choosing to finish my degree.” “I am choosing to put school on hiatus while take an internship in the private sector.” You’re so close to finishing, and your advisors believe in you, and finishing might give you more options (like maybe let those hiring committee bastards your esteemed future colleagues reject you, don’t reject yourself when you’ve come so far?), so finishing is probably the best choice but it’s just one of the choices.
  4. More than anything you probably need a break right now, like, three weeks of reading for pleasure and making your house clean and nice and taking walks and staring out the window and getting an annual physical and studiously NOT trying to deal with career stuff this second.
  5. Publishing is necessary, MEETING PEOPLE IS NECESSARY-ER. More necessary. Conferences, professional associations in your discipline (academic and potential non-academic), going to karaoke night or explain your thesis in dance or Model UN (but grownups!) or whatever is there socially and professionally has gotta be a thing for you. People. Human beings. Who are making a life and making work. A community of scholars and learners. Meet them. Practically, they are gonna know about job openings and good places to work and y’all are gonna cite each other and collaborate and build a body of work together. Emotionally they are gonna remind you that you are so very not alone. :looks at inbox which is literally burning from all the questions like these: You are so very not alone. 
  6. There are jobs and there is the work. Something drew you to this field, there was something you wanted to be when you grew up that led you here. Is that a teacher? Is that a researcher? Is that a writer? I know you’re supposed to be all three all the time all things to all people but if given a choice, how would you spend your days if you could choose? That’s what you need to hone in on for your academic AND your alt-ac job searching. “I’m a writer and a researcher, I want to work on x kinds of problems.” “I’m a writer, I want to communicate about x kinds of ideas.” “I’m a teacher, I want to be in the classroom talking about x with students who want to learn about y.” “I”m a trainer, I want to train specialists to do highly technical work in x” “I’m a researcher, I want to investigate x kinds of problems.” “I’m a speaker, I want to get my work in front of x kinds of audiences.” Example: One of my favorite students ever is a career scientist with a fat PhD who started taking improv and film classes in her 50s because what she really wanted to do was to help her fellow scientists visualize and explain and communicate what they do. Last time I saw her she was starting a consulting business where she translates their work into different kinds of media – academic publishing, popular/general public kinds of articles, social media, TED talks, video essays, etc. – and teaches them to be better communicators. It’s the coolest thing.

Do you like writing exercises? I like writing exercises. So, take out a notebook and write down:

  • What are five universities you’d most like to work for someday? (Follow up later: What do their job postings look like? What do the bios* of the people they’ve hired look like? Track this stuff.)
  • What are five private companies you’d most like to work for? (Follow up later: What do their job postings look like? What do their staff bios* look like? Track this stuff.)
  • What are five things you do really well (don’t have to be academic or career things)?
  • When you work in a team, what role(s) do you shine in? Are you the leader/the idea person/the scribe/the planner/the researcher/the presenter/the mediator/the moderator/the savior/the explainer/the manager/the translator/the compiler/the editor/the fact checker? (Those roles all map onto different jobs and can help you make sense of alt-ac job descriptions).
  • Who are five people in your field you’d most like to meet or work with? Do they have Twitter or other social media presence? (Follow themmmmmm)
  • If you had to describe what you do to those people, what would you say? (Follow up: Could you tweet out your research in digestible chunks? I’m not just being selfish b/c I love reading when people tweet their research – It’s a skill to be able to hone down and explain what it is you’re doing in that format, and the more practice you get telling the story of your work the more it shapes the work)
  • What are five outlets you’d most like to write for? Sure, academic journals where you must publish for it to count, but also, publications that normal human people actually read in their free time? (The content you create for your dissertation may be able to be recycled into many forms for many audiences, including freelance pieces that pay your bills).
  • Close your eyes. Imagine you wrote and published a book. Who do you send the first 10 copies of this book to? What do you write in the inscription? What does the cover look like? What do you wear in your cool author photo? Who in your wildest dreams comes across this book and reads the book and whispers “I read your book, it is so great” in your ear?
  • Who are five teachers from your whole life you think are great? What did they do right? Who are your five worst teachers? What did they do wrong? (Follow up: Write your Statement of Teaching Philosophy, it will be at least 75% less boilerplate bullshit than it was before).
  • In the work you’ve done so far on your PhD and dissertation, what are five things that you didn’t know before you started?
  • Without looking anything up, what are five things you read in grad school that made you go “whoa, now I get it” or “omg I need to learn more” or “no, you are completely wrong about that”?  (What is sticky for you)(Where is your work fitting in the conversations that need to happen in your field)
  • Are there any happy people around you where you are – (colleagues, advisors, mentors)? Can you hang out with them more than you do now?
  • Which of these was the hardest question to answer?

*Professional bios are the hardest thing to write and also a fucking goldmine for anyone who is trying to figure out what career words mean and how to position themselves. How do the people you aspire to be describe who they are and what they do? What buzzwords and key words and titles do they use? Can you apply that to how you describe and promote yourself? In those lists of grants they won and stuff they did on their way up, are there things you didn’t know about that you could also do?

I can’t unfuck academia for you and I can’t make these choices for you but I hope I can make your period of anxiety-procrastination at least slightly more productive and interesting.

Q4: My beloved cat died yesterday after a heartbreaking fight with cancer. I defend my dissertation on Monday, hopefully finishing my PhD. Finishing my dissertation while my cat was so sick (surgery, being fed via feeding tube for over a month, the general emotional exhaustion and sadness) was a nightmare, and now I’m alternating between feeling numb and sobbing. I have no idea how I’m going to make it through my defense. My advisor and committee don’t know about any of this (because heaven forbid anyone ever actually ask you how you are in academia). I have a good but not personally close rapport with them all. Do I tell them what’s going on? Do I suck it up and say nothing and pray that I have my shit together better on Monday and that I won’t start sobbing during my defense? (Although apparently it’s normal to sob during your defense.) I’m supposed to prep for Monday, and I just don’t care about any of it, other than a low grade sense of panic, because I’m so freaking burned out and miserable after managing to write the thing under so much additional stress and the crushing sadness of losing my baby. Delaying the defense is not an option because I’m moving to another state next month. Any advice for getting through this colossally important event without crashing and burning would be much appreciated.

A4: I am so sorry. My cat friend died in March and I probably cry once a day for at least a few minutes when I think of her.

Here’s my advice:


You know your shit backwards and forwards and what you don’t know you’re not going to magically cram between now and Monday. Trust that you know your shit, you’ve done the work, and that when you’re in that room the shit you know will follow you there. You don’t have to feel any kind of way about the shit you know in order to know it. Numb is good. Numb is useful. Numb will get it done.

In your shoes I would not tell anyone on the committee that my cat died before the defense because (and this is just me) if I am on the verge of crying and someone is sympathetic and warm and asks me about the thing that is making me sad, it will trigger FULL UGLY CRY.

If I did tell my advisor in advance it would be like “The cat died I am a mess I need you to NOT ASK ME ABOUT IT also DON’T HUG ME and please JUST BE SUPER BUSINESSLIKE AND EVEN A LITTLE MEAN IF YOU CAN HANDLE THAT, IT WILL MAKE IT EASIER.”

I would also not tell anyone for practical reasons: It does not help you to set expectations lower. You are an expert on your dissertation topic, in fact you are THE expert on that topic in that room. You phoning it in about your topic while distracted by grief is still the phoning it in of a motherfucking expert. You will not be the worst, least-prepared thesis defender they’ve ever seen, you will not be the only crier of yesterday who goes by “doctor” today. It is not a weakness to have strong emotions upon losing a friend OR upon completion of a very hard milestone. If you happen to biff a question, or feel yourself totally breaking down in the middle, you always have the option to say “Listen, I’m a mess, my cat just died and I need a few minutes to get my thoughts back on track” and then you go to the bathroom, you clean your face, you come back and stick the landing like the champion EXPERT you are. Do not call attention to your weaknesses. Let others do that…if they dare.

I have one weird practical suggestion if you can afford it: Right after Beadie died, the apartment was so very haunted by her. I couldn’t stop looking at her usual spot, or talking to her, or looking for her underfoot, or pulling her hair off my clothes. If you can afford a hotel room or an AirBnB for a couple days, this is a GREAT couple of days to pack a suitcase and GTFO to a sterile space with good TV and fewer feelings.

If you can’t, you can’t. Moving on.

Today is Friday. Today you cry, wallow, nap, eat comforting things, distract yourself. Drink fluids (some of those can be booze if you partake).

Tomorrow is Saturday. Tomorrow you read your dissertation out loud to yourself from cover to cover, exactly once. Practice saying the things you asserted/learned/no/discovered/argue out loud in your voice. Take a long walk or bike ride or drive, imagine yourself answering all the arguments and questions in your head. Drink fluids (booze still allowed). Eat regularly. Sleep often.

Then comes Sunday. Fluids, good. Booze, no. Three meals, good. Pick out your outfit and get it ready. Don’t try anything new with your hair or face. Sleep as much as you need to.

Monday. Eat breakfast. Drink fluids (esp. water). Some caffeine, not too much. Put on your outfit. Pee before you go into the room. If it’s allowed and you think it will help you, take a blank notebook and pen with you to the defense and take notes as people ask questions and discuss – It gives you something to do with your hands and something to look at and helps you slow the process down a little while you think.


Then do something celebratory. It’s okay if you cry – relief, grief, it’s all good.

Then crash.

Schedule NOTHING for Tuesday.

Q5: Hi Captain – I’m looking for advice on getting through a formal mourning period, when I have promised people who matter to me I’ll stay in mourning for a prescribed time, but my mind and heart are now chafing at the restrictions. Specifically, early this year my beloved gentleman companion of several years (who was also a long-term friend before we were romantically involved) passed away suddenly. In the wake of my shock and devastation, when I was so heartbroken I couldn’t contemplate ever being happy again, I promised to join his family in the one-year formal mourning period prescribed by their faith (different from mine) and family traditions. The mourning period includes the usual specifications, such as wearing dark colors, declining discretionary social invitations (work-related socializing and family commitments such as holiday gatherings are okay, just not things like going to parties and the movies), and spending a chunk of time each day on somber reflection. Their home, which I am asked to visit regularly, is also set up basically like a mausoleum during the mourning period, with only dim lighting allowed, most of the shades drawn, and pictures/mementos of him everywhere. And several months down the road…I am having a hard time with all this. My own grief is lifting quite a bit – I still miss him horribly, but the “pain in every fiber of my being” intensity has subsided enough that I am able to look to the future with hope, instead of dwelling exclusively on what I’ve lost. But I keep getting drawn back into it, especially when the mourning period doesn’t allow much socializing, or even solo fun stuff, essentially all the things I would normally do during a tough time to lift my spirits. I don’t think abandoning the mourning period is an option – his family tells me repeatedly that my participation has tremendous meaning to them and brings incredible comfort during the most difficult time of their lives. And surely, I can handle another 6 months or so of a reduced social schedule. But any tips for self-care (within the parameters described here) would be most appreciated. (I’m already working with a therapist on grief issues – which is one of the reasons I’m no longer feeling quite so glum!)

A5: I’m so sorry for your loss.

We talked a little about formal mourning traditions last week, and the good/helpful parts that let people compartmentalize grief and rely on rituals when feelings are messy. Now we’re running into the constrictions. I think one of the reasons the traditions DO work so well is that by the end of the enforced dark clothing/dim lights/no doing fun stuff/photos everywhere period there is also a ritual where you have permission to put it all down and take up normal life again, and that feels more like a relief than a betrayal.  But their tradition is not your tradition and it’s okay if your heart is running on a different schedule.

I think before you talk to the family about any choices you’re going to make, give yourself permission to identify some things that you need.

  • Do you you actually need to go to the movies? Would it make you feel better to see some friends?
  • Of course you want to continue visiting his family and stay close with them, but what’s the right, sustainable schedule for you? Do you have to go to everything, every time they ask? (I mean, ostensibly, yes, you do, because they want you to and you theoretically shouldn’t be busy with something else social, but, can you start going to every other thing instead of every one?)
  • Is there someone in your family you’re close to that you could be honest with about how you’re feeling? “I’m so honored to be a part of this, but the way I grieve is different, and I’m starting to need to do joyful things, sometimes, too. Do you think [beloved] would understand if I went to the movies, or to see our friend’s band play?”
  • If you privately gave yourself one day/a month “off” from observing mourning for the rest of the year, what’s the worst thing that would happen? Could you keep this off social media, etc. and just privately do what you need to do, while still visiting them and staying connected?

If you’re committed to following through and just looking for ways to pass the time and take care of yourself:

  • Could you put yourself in service of other people and the things you believe in? Volunteer, do good works, etc.?
  • What’s a giant book series you’ve always wanted to get through?
  • Or a giant, picky, absorbing hobby or craft you could take up?
  • Or a thing – a foreign language, shoemaking, cheesemaking – you’ve always wanted to learn?
  • Are you moving your body and getting outside on the regular?
  • Could social things with friends be more “let’s take a walk in nature” or “let’s go to the art museum together” or “come over and help me make cheese” than parties?
  • What mourning rituals did you grow up with and are any of them worth getting in touch with now?
  • What are the places and activities that your beloved most loved, could you revisit them in his name?

That’s what I got. There is an end date to the expectations, I think you’re allowed to try to find a balance between taking care of yourself and keeping your promises.

Q6: I have recently been told I am very important to someone new I am seeing, and it makes me twitch. not sure I want to be important, not sure how to answer his statement to myself or him. Seeing each other for about 3 months, non primary poly. (I am she)

A6: The twitch you’re feeling is good information.

Let’s look at it like that, like information.

The person is giving you information about how they feel about you. They’d probably love it if you said “I feel the same way!” but if “I don’t know what to say but thank you for telling me that” is the truth, say that. It’s okay to need more time to figure out how you feel, it’s okay to be a slow processor, it’s okay not to mirror back exactly what people are feeling about you at a given moment. It’s also okay to be enthusiastic and forthright, like your dating person is.

Everything about this says “still processing, need more time” to me. If you’re still twitching a month from now you’ll know what to do.

Q7: I (he/him) recently started dating a guy with whom I feel a deep kinship on a level I’ve only experienced one other time in my life. Now he needs to press pause on things for mental health reasons. How can I healthily grieve this potential relationship?

A7: You’ve felt this before, and now you’re feeling it again, which is telling you that this is rare and must be held onto at all costs but is telling me (an Old) that “well, it’s happened twice, so it’s possible again someday, because the same good qualities that drew wonderful people to you are still in you.”

I think you can say “I really like you, and I hate to part ways right now, but please do what you need to do to take care of yourself. If you change your mind when you’re feeling better, please promise me you won’t be shy about reaching out again.” 

And then you disengage and work the getting over somebody steps like with any other breakup.

Q8: My cousin is getting married and has appropriated a “Native American Blanket Ritual” (of no legitimate origins I can find) into her wedding. We are not Native, nor is the groom, nor is the officiant. I’ve RSVP’d no, but do I tell her why?

A8: Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikes! That would also give me pause/whatever the opposite of schadenfreude is where you might die of secondary shame instead of feeling pleasure in it.

You’ve RSVP’d no already, so, leave the no in place and plan not to attend. I wouldn’t attach the RSVP specifically to the discussion you’re wanting to have – What I wanna know from your RSVP is “do I gotta rent you a chair or no” not “is your attendance conditional on your objections to the plans I’ve made.”

If you normally email or call or text with this cousin, you could try a “Cousin, congratulations, again, I’m so sorry I’m going to miss the wedding. I’m so curious about the Native American Blanket Ritual you have planned, what’s the source of that?” and see what she says. I did a little research just now and there was an Offbeat Bride thread where someone was like “ew, cultural appropriation” and the actual bride was like “Nope! You don’t know what you don’t know about my actual heritage!” so, while you probably know, maybe you don’t 100% KNOW-know. If she’s like “No reason! Just liked it!” then you have room to say “Hey, it’s your wedding, and I get why you like it, but are you sure you want to risk cultural appropriation?

If you don’t normally email or call or text her about other things – like, you’re related but you’re not friends like that – then consider what she is going to say to wedding critiques (even justified, accurate, “I’m trying to help you not be a gross colonizer”) from someone she barely talks to who just said they aren’t coming. You might still need to say something to her! But yeah, that bridge is gonna burrrrrrrrrnnnn and she’s gonna do the blanket thing anyway.

And that’s all she wrote today. Comments are open.










178 thoughts on “Short Answers/Chat – July 27

  1. “As short as Captain Awkward can manage with her wordy ass” answer Fridays

    1. Why did you put yourself down just now? Audrey just said that zie loves this feature. I know that’s not how you’d want us to accept a compliment. ❤

        1. I love this feature too — and got a lot of help from it a few weeks ago. I’m the reader whose parents were balking on my kid’s they/them pronouns, and I’m happy to say they have completely come around and are not only using the correct language but researching stuff by and about non-binary folks on their own now, to catch up on the things they realize it is not their grandchild’s job to have to teach them. My kid is delighted and everything’s cool… and you and the Awkward Army gave me the language with which to make my folks see that this was important. Thank you!!

    2. One thing I often do when reading CA is scroll down to see how much text there is so I know how much goodness to expect. I am ALWAYS happier when it’s longer.

  2. Q3 – as a fellow PhD student at a competitive university, I deeply sympathize with you. I’d like to second the Captain’s recommendation to return to therapy and I’d like to put forth group therapy as an option. I’m in a group with grad students that identify as women (mostly PhDs, a MS or two), and I can’t emphasize enough how validating it is to hear from other students in situations that are similar enough for you to relate to, but different enough that your brain weasels can’t argue logic away. To hear other super smart, badass women who are also insanely busy, stressed out, and all fighting imposter syndrome that what you’re going through does sound like a lot, that anyone would be stressed in those shoes is so validating. Plus, you have probably developed your own ways of fighting your brain weasels, and hearing other people use those techniques on themselves to help in a low moment is amazing. For example, I have to remind myself not to have feelings about my feelings, cause that just leads downwards into a spiral, and another student said she was spiraling and hear me saying that and was able to stop that spiral. It was such a wonderful thing, to realize that my brain weasels can lead somehow to helping someone else.

    I’d also like to advocate for mindfulness meditation and writing morning pages to deal with the anxiety. Meditation has helped me get some space between me and my thoughts, which is very welcome as a PhD is LITERALLY GETTING PAID TO THINK. Thinking is a tool to use and wield, and when we speed our brains up to the speed we need to think at that level, it’s hard to come down and relax. Meditation has helped that. Secondly, morning pages, which are a concept someone came up with for artists, but I’ve found helpful and less intimidating than journaling. You just wake up, and write 3 pages stream of consciousness, whatever comes to mind. A lot of times it ends up being me writing to myself, as in, “you will graduate, you will get a job, everything is going to be okay and it’s also okay right now too”. Some days are just that pretty much repeated over and over again for 3 pages, because we can listen to others like your advisor saying ‘you’re in a good position to get an academic job’, but there is power in YOU saying it to YOURSELF. After you read/say it enough times, it starts to become believable and real.

    Jedi hugs if you would like them, and good luck!!

    1. Bingo. I almost went the way of ABD but made myself finish. I’d planned it since I was about eight. I finished at forty-two.

      Originally I planned to work in academia but then I realized how much I hate writing “on demand” and the whole publish or perish thing wasn’t going to work for me.

      I do some adjunct work by choice (sorry CA) but my main work is primarily feminist based victim advocacy and education in a very specific area. Because…I really like doing it and because as the good Captain says I am the expert in my area.

      1. Oh and just to split a hair, even if someone chooses ABD, they are still an expert just not “doctor.” Most PhDs I know never use that outside of a classroom…if they even use it there.

    2. LW3 here! Jedi hugs are gladly accepted! Thanks so much for recommending the morning pages! I remember reading about that exercise in The Artist’s Way many years ago. I think that this would be a great strategy to build a pen for the brain weasels and just, put a little egg timer on the daily existential crisis. This is a good strategy to couple with the Captain’s writing exercises!

      1. hi LW. i’m four years out from my PhD and oh my god, so real. this is so real. I want to give you a hug/buy you a drink/turn on your favorite brainless TV/ whatever signifies “you are not alone and it’s gonna be ok” to you.

        Captain has great advice. one thing i will say is that academia teaches you – taught me – that every choice was LIFE OR DEATH and could not be unmade. (you taught in xx low-tier school which disqualifies you from yy high-tier job, sorry you had to eat!)

        THIS IS A LIE. most people in the world have career trajectories that do not follow an established line. I currently work outside of academia and my coworkers have had previous careers in: clergy, public health, education, social work, academia, & event planning. (yes its a nonprofit what clued you in). Which is to say – whatever you decide in the next few months you can decide differently later. i promise.

      2. Hi LW!

        Adding to the Captain’s comment about taking a break… It’s totally allowed. I was hitting major burnout in the last year of my doctoral program, and I was just FRIED and hated everything about my research. I needed to know whether I actually even cared enough about it to finish it, and I was too buried in it to even think objectively about it.

        So… I took a leave of absence and went on a three-month solo trip to Australia where I didn’t know anybody and no one was even aware of my dissertation or anything, and I basically pretended it didn’t exist for those three months. And then I came back, and I was MUCH more motivated to finish the damn thing. That distance, and perspective, really helped.

        So if you can take even a couple of weeks off to JUST NOT with regards to all that you’re carrying, I encourage you to do so. 🙂

        Academia is whole-body mind fuck. It’s legit okay to need breaks from it.

    1. I just read an article on words which are often absent in most languages and Fremdschämen was indeed among them – and along with it, if you for some reason want some variety, is the Finnish counterpart “myötähäpeä” (although I am quite sure that Fremdschämen is easier to pronounce for most English speakers). No other languages I know have a word which means exactly this – feeling ashamed for someone else’s actions.

      1. Sorry, I commented before I saw this thread! There’s vergüenza ajena in Spanish. I didn’t know about Fremdschämen, that’s neat!

        1. I can’t say this word quite right and it sounds a lot like “friend shaman,” which seems TOO SPOT ON for this context of white people appropriating indigenous American cultural ritual.

    2. I need this word! Does it apply to stronger situations than social embarrassment? For example, I still feel vicarious guilt about the dodo, even though it was centuries before my parents were born. There are stories that hurt for me to read because of the characters making bad decisions and regretting them.

      1. For the dodo thing, simply “feeling guilty” would be more accurate.
        Fremdschämen is generally used in relation to a specific action by a specific person/people.
        it’s usually appropriate when you would say that someone is embarrassing themselves.

    3. I need this word. I call it “cringe humor” since it usually comes up when I say I can’t watch a show because seriously the uncomfortable feeling is just…. uuuuugggghhh. I don’t care that I’m laughing at 80% of the show that 20% of me feeling deeply uncomfortable ruins it for me.

      1. Oh yes, I can’t watch The Office (UK) as it took under a minute of season 1 episode 1 for me to curl into a foetal ball.

  3. Q3: All of CA’s advice was great. One more important thing that helped me during my PhD was the realization that academia is just a job and the PhD is just a job qualification. It’s no different than any other educational license that lets you do a specific kind of work (and trains you for that type of work). While you’re in there (or at least while I was in there) it seemed like so much more, like maybe there was no life outside of academia and everyone would know I’d failed and all the other stuff that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy got me to cognitively restructure into things that were accurate rather than what my lying automatic thoughts (aka brain weasels) were telling me, but once you’re on the other side and have had some time out… there’s a world out there that just doesn’t care and there are a lot of things to do and the people who leave academia, both those who finish and those who never finish grad school… they seem as generally successful and happy as those who stayed (and sometimes moreso!) So… if it’s anxiety about the high stakes, they’re not as high as they seem. Life goes on and the training you get as a PhD isn’t wasted time even if you don’t finish, or even if you do finish and get a completely unrelated job.

    1. a PhD isn’t wasted time even if you don’t finish, or even if you do finish and get a completely unrelated job.

      Thiiiiiiiiiiis. It’s not an easy thought to keep in mind– I struggle DAILY– but it’s so important to say it to yourself even if/when you don’t immediately believe it. I got a PhD from a big name school eight years ago, had a huge crisis of confidence and identity for an entire summer, time passed, and now I’m a stay at home parent of all things. Besides certain handling-of-biohazards training, I’m not “using” any of that training. It’s still not wasted time because it was MY time. It was just a different lifetime that I had, and now I’m doing some combination of what I need and/or want to do in this particular moment.

      But it’s okay if the thought that a PhD or ABD is an end in and of itself feels super foreign or even repulsive to your brain right now, Q3. You’re in the thick of it, and academia likes nothing more than to perpetuate itself by convincing you there are no other options (or was that just my advisor?). Just try thinking it for a sec if you feel up for it, okay? A PhD isn’t a commitment to your field forever. If nothing else, some rando on the internets said so, yeah?

      1. LW3 here! Thank you nicoleandmaggie and Robin for the perspective! I’m increasingly okay with the notion of an unrelated job after the fact. The PhD time has allowed me to do some awesome things – to conference at wonderful places, to work on compelling and fundamental problems, to visit my siblings for a week or two every time one of them had a kid because of the flexible schedule. I don’t, and won’t, regret my time here if I end up doing something else. But, I do have a really hard time entertaining the idea of not finishing… I appreciate your perspective check here, and the Captain’s advice to preface with “I am choosing…” is helpful here too! Thank you!

  4. What a rich, layered, meaningful collection of questions and answers. I am sorry for the struggles of those who wrote in but I really valued the reading.

    Q4: Just so you know, I cried twice during my defense. Just eyes-filling-with-tears, throat-closed stuff in response to kind words or praise. Each time it happened, I squeaked “That was very helpful, I am making a note” and then bent my head and wrote furiously until the wave passed. My committee either did not notice or pretended not to; if the latter, I’m pretty confident they haven’t thought about it since, and when I think about it I feel sympathetic for my exhausted, emotional self at that defense. I am so sorry for your loss, but if what you need to do is show up and do the thing and then make some space for grief when it’s done, I believe you can do that. Best of luck.

    Q3: This advice is Very Good, especially the thought exercises, and in the spirit of remembering you’re not alone, maybe you can find some folks who will want to do the exercises at the same time as you? When I first considered non-academic employment while I was finishing my PhD, I had the good fortune to stumble upon some similar exercises, and I actually sat down with a group of friends (both academic and non) to do them. Hearing my peers’ answers helped me unpick some of my knotted-up feelings and beliefs about the value of my labor in or out of academia.
    And if you want to talk to someone who half-left academia, started a new non-academic career, took a long time to finish the PhD but did finally finish it, then returned to the safe land of salaries and health benefits, please feel free to ask. 🙂

  5. Q4: YMMV, of course, but you know what got me through my dissertation defense I was overwhelmed and anxious about and afraid I would cry during for entirely different reasons than yours? My doctor prescribed me a single dose of a fast-acting med to even out the anxiety. I don’t know if there are moderation rules around mentioning specific meds (if so, sorry!), but I got a beta-blocker (an alpha-agonist would do the same thing). It’s a blood-pressure med, entirely non-habit-forming, and unless you’ve got extremely low blood pressure the only side effect is to make you feel less anxious. You can still think just as well as usual, you’re not loopy, you’re not deadened, just…not anxious. And in my understanding (I’m not a psychiatrist, but I am in the mental health field) there is nothing hinky or off-label about it. It’s a perfectly cromulent intervention for someone who has to get through one big scary event without losing it, whether that’s getting on an airplane, public speaking, whatever.

    1. People can talk about their own experiences, within reason. Nobody should take any medication whatsoever without talking to their own specific doctor, but if the questioner has time & access this might be worth asking a doctor about.

    2. I’ve used Ativan for the same sort of thing, although it made me weirdly talkative sometimes. So much that when I took it at a conference I had to sneak out of the talk I was watching and go think out loud in the bathroom for a couple of minutes. 🙂

    3. Q4 LW here. First, Captain, thank you so so so much for answering my question. I feel like I have a workable game plan now, even if I still feel like a collection of broken glass instead of a person. And I’m so sorry for the loss of your sweet Beadie, too. I don’t have the words for how hard it is.

      YouCanCallMeDoctorK: If I had more time to try this before my defense, I would totally do it. However, I don’t think I can get in to see a doctor, get the prescription, and test it out before Monday (I have low blood pressure and am prone to fainting. So fun, such charming.) But thank you very much for the suggestion.

      1. I am a stress cryer. If I am crying it’s not necessarily because I’m sad, it’s just how I react to stress most of the time. On the upside it’s better than my other reaction which is to throw things. I’ve gotten that under control over the years (or else I’m just too tired to expend the energy these days…tomato/tomaato) but the stress crying still happens.

        I cried during my defense. Not blubbery crying, just a little bit of sniffle crying. Part of it was stress and part because I was thinking about my son who had been my cheerleader as I went back to finish my doctorate at such a late point in my life and how he couldn’t be there to share it with me.

        Even though I am a died in the wool atheist and don’t believe in any kind of afterlife stuff I like to comfort myself with the idea that he would be proud of me for finishing, even though my entire reason for doing it was for me rather than to be “an academic” or for a job. Your kitty would likewise be proud of you.

        FWIW I have five kitty friends sitting here helping me write this and they are all cheering you on! You got this. Go rock the defense and know that when you come out of the room you will be Dr. Snow.

  6. LW4 – I am so sorry about your loss. One thing that helps me is to give myself permission to completely fall apart after whatever is important is done. So I just have to keep it together until Monday afternoon/evening when I get home and then I can cry and wail and just sit in a corner and be miserable as long as I need. Good luck!

    1. Thank you ❤ Part of what makes me feel especially out of control about this is that I almost never cry. I have literally gone years without crying. And this month, my face has transformed into a broken faucet. I will try to bribe myself with the promise of a good meltdown, post-defense, but all of this is so outside of my normal experience that I don't quite know how to tamp it down, other than to desperately not think about my kitty.

      1. I literally didn’t cry for my entire adult life until my 21 and a half year old cat died when I was 30. And now I cry at, like, videos of donkeys and goats who became best friends at the animal shelter….

      2. One thing that works for me is to have some kind of mantra I can repeat silently if I feel myself starting to tear up. I say mantra, but really it can be anything that’s repetitive, that you know well enough to recite without pause but that’s long enough and involved enough that you have to think about it a little. Usually I recite multiplication tables in my head, but I’ve also used things like the alphabet in a foreign language, lines from poems, song lyrics, and the actual Litany Against Fear.

  7. Q5: I’m not really clear why you need to forgo your own traditions and habits around mourning to mourn according to a religion you don’t follow, and it seems very strange of his family to require this. Maybe I read this the wrong way, but the way you describe it it seems like people took advantage of you when you were at your most vulnerable and made you promise to selflessly put your grief away to support them in their grief, and that’s simply not something people are entitled to from a griefing person. You don’t need to explain, but maybe you could think it over? If your tradition to deal with grief is to go to the movies with friends (by the way, this is part of my traditions) or other social activities, then you can choose to follow them. You are entitled to your own grief. What gives you comfort and meaning is just as important for you as other people’s traditions are to them.

    1. I agree with this! I think my initial answer was, ok, it seems really important to the questioner to follow through on this promise, but, yeah, it’s okay to want to be happier and feel better and embrace life.

    2. Hi! LW for Q5 here. I’m sorry I didn’t explain better in my question (was trying to keep it short-ish in honor of this week’s format). Basically my own family doesn’t have much of a grief/mourning tradition – after the funeral/service you’re just supposed to get on with things and get back to normal activities ASAP. That definitely didn’t feel right to me, especially as my own grief seemed deep and pervasive. His close family members were so completely devastated by his sudden death that I wanted to do *something* – and they invited me to participate in their mourning period. It was definitely an invitation, not a demand, and for several months I was so incredibly grateful to have a specific outlet and structure to my grief process, not having had a framework from my upbringing. I am a person who generally derives great psychic rewards from helping others, so I was glad to know that my company and support brought genuine comfort to those whose emotional needs were even greater than mine. I have not dealt with a loss like this before – only older relatives, or casual acquaintances who weren’t in my inner circle – so I really had no idea how my emotions would unfold. I do agree I need to figure out my own grief-related traditions and incorporate those into whatever I am doing with his family, rather than following their traditions 100% to the letter instead of balancing with what makes sense for me – but want to honor the spirit of my promise as well. I hope that makes a bit more sense?

      1. Dear Q5 LW, I am so sorry of your loss.

        Hearing more about your experience it does sound like both you and the family of your gentleman friend have given each other much needed solace and support. You have done a wonderful thing.

        I completely agree with The Captain: your feelings are telling you that you need some variety so, please, feel free to give you that. In my opinion you do not need to ask permission from the family, just try out some of the less boisterous things you like – or perhaps something your friend and you used to do together? Beside his family did he have friends – or did you have friends in common? I am quite sure if there are common friends they would love to take part in a passtime in his memory. That would also give you a stepping stone to allow yourself to see what it feels like to do things you loved to do with him together. Grief is different for everyone but for me it was a bit tricky; it sometimes manifested itself in things I did with the deceased family member.

        The Captain’s suggestions for the passtimes for slowly emerging from the grief period sound really great.

        You sound like a wonderful human being. Your friend and his family are truly lucky to know you.

      2. It makes total sense – especially since initially their practices helped you too. But it sounds like you have other outlets for your grief than visiting with them and participating in their religion – and that’s OK! I think the advice given is a good start to see what you are comfortable with outside of the families practices. You could do something as simple as take a good book to a coffee shop just to sit there, enjoy a good drink/snack and “participate” in everyday life without going full on party animal. Just do what feels right to you.
        I’m so sorry for your loss.

      3. I’m so sorry for your loss. ❤

        I wonder though why you say: “those whose emotional needs were even greater than mine.”

        Your emotional needs after the loss of an intimate partner are just as important as the needs of someone who lost a family member. In “silk ring” theory, I believe you and his family would both be in the centre circle as the most affected by this loss.

        I really hope you’re able to find self care ways that work for you, while also still feeling your connection to his family. ❤❤❤

        1. Thank you, Kitty! I appreciate you validating my own emotional needs. I do tend to set own own feelings aside for the sake of others, which is well-intentioned but can end up making me feel depleted if I don’t have my own balance of self-care in the mix.

          In this case, I meant that their grief seemed more…paralyzing than mine, like even in the worst of my grief I was able to (however shakily) keep going to work and attending to other life responsibilities. So while I was/am devastated I wasn’t completely consumed by grief, and thus wanted to use some of my remaining energy to give back to those who seemed to be having an even harder time on a day-to-day basis.

          Still – thank you for the very welcome reminder that my emotions are just as important. I need to acknowledge and honor the difficult feelings as they arise, no matter how “strong” I can seem in terms of keeping it together on the outside.

      4. Q5 LW, I think it’s kind of you to want to be there for your partner’s family in their mourning period, but I also think that the six months to come are six months of your own life that you only get to live once, and you do not have an obligation to spend them doing things that are going to endanger your own mental health (e.g. socially isolating yourself). A year is a long time, and it’s reasonable to feel differently six months in; it doesn’t mean that the commitment you made at the beginning was fake or that you have forgotten about your partner.

        I agree with other commenters that it would be totally ok to just start doing things quietly on your own without telling the family; however, if it would make you feel guilty or anxious to do things “secretly,” I think it would be reasonable to tell them (without too much explanation, and without expecting their approval) that you need to begin having a more social life for your own mental/emotional health, that it doesn’t diminish how much you loved and still remember your partner, but that you are not going to be able to follow the full mourning protocol for the full year. If you like, ask them if they would still like you to visit at certain intervals. If they say they don’t want visits, respect their wishes. There is a risk that, in their grief, they will be angry and accuse you of not caring about their son/brother, but know in your own mind that your partner would have wanted you to do what you needed to take care of yourself.

      5. That makes perfect sense. It’s a beautiful thing that you are trying to do. You have suffered your own huge loss, and you’re also trying to be there for people who have experienced the completely world-breaking out-of-order loss of a child. That’s enormous.

        At the same time: I am, for instance, from an extended family with a much more rooted religious tradition than what I practice in my own life, and here’s what I’ve got from observing my own family: there… is a lot of quiet meeting-of-needs in a lot of peoples’ lives. You only see these people sometimes, and I am sure that their grief and their mourning is entire and sincere, but you don’t know who looked at a corgi video at work or stopped and browsed the shoe section for 20 minutes. I’m not saying people are being hypocritical. I am saying that the green shoots are probably breaking through the snow for more people than just you.

        I guess what I’m wondering is if you’re holding yourself to an extremely high standard exactly because this isn’t your tradition, and so you don’t feel as able to negotiate within it as someone who lives inside it might be. I think the Captain’s suggestions for finding ways to have meaningful, good experiences without formally breaking mourning are good ones; I also definitely think that you need people in your life who are outside this grief bubble, and I hope you’re reaching out to your friends and asking them to socialize with you in a way that you can do. I’m also looking at this and thinking of my own more religiously-rooted side of the family: if I lived nearer to them and could only socialize at family gatherings and holidays, that would be well on sixty people including cousins and second cousins who I’d have access to. It would be a pretty big social world, and it would include people across the lifespan and people who would be nearer and farther from the loss. But I don’t live near that side of the family. If I went into that kind of mourning here, I’d be very isolated. I’m wondering if the spirit of the social rules might be understood through the lense of a certain kind of family network? I don’t know if that applies here, but it might.

        1. I am also wondering if this is a religious versus cultural tradition. For instance, if this is shneim asar chodesh Iiii wonder if you might be able to talk to a rabbi somewhere about making meaning out of this stage of grief while respecting your loved one’s family. Some external sources on the meaning and structure of what you’re doing might help, instead of just feeling trapped in the spiritual equivalent of that dim house?

          By the way, this is also a beautiful offer from his family to recognize how important a person you are in the scope of this grief and include you. I can see where it would be really hard, having committed to this, to start wanting to have other stuff in your life. I think you’re a good and honorable person no matter how you approach this, and again, I am sorry for your loss.

      6. Hi LW,

        I’m sorry for your loss. I wonder if part of why his family appreciates your participation in their tradition is that it provides a counter to feeling like the rest of the world has moved on from the person they are still actively grieving. If that’s the case, the suggestions here about finding joyful ways to honor his memory might actually be in line with that (such as by revisiting some things or places you spent time on together). So it’s not quite getting back to ‘normal’ activities, but it’s about spending time refocusing on the joy of some of your memories of him, not only on the grief of his passing. Only if those things work for you, of course.

    3. The other thing I took from that is that the LW is seeing themselves as less important than their partner’s family. On the circles of grieving thing, you’re at the centre *with* xir family, and you don’t need to subsume your grief to be a comfort to them.

      (The one thing I disagree with the Captain about is asking the question “do you think it would be ok with Partner if I …?” You are just as entitled to decide the respectful way to mourn YOUR PARTNER as xir family are. They don’t own your mourning process or xir memory. If you need to start softening the edges of their strict mourning traditions, you can do that without telling them or you can (gently!) tell them, but you don’t need to ask permission.)

      (Sorry if I have misgendered or misnamed anyone – I’m on my phone and can’t scroll easily without losing my place!)

    4. I feel the same. I don’t like how they are making this ‘not’ your thing. On the one hand he is their child. They are miserable at the unbearable loss and i can’t imagine what that’s like. And maybe in the immediate aftermath they didn’t realize what a boundary violation this might become later. And maybe that’s understandable because it’s the worst thing I can imagine happening to a parent. And maybe time is standing still for them. Maybe it always will, to an extent. So they don’t realize in the aftermath of this horror, that it is natural that you will move on, and that it may be inappropriate to hold you to their own belief system, which is at the same time disrespecting YOUR belief system. And even if you’re atheist, you’ve got a belief system (the one that says there’s no god). Maybe clinging to the idea that you are his ‘wife’ in practice, with this mourning ritual, is something they slipped into, and maybe they don’t see how unfair it is. And hopefully that’s grief talking for them, and not a bad sense of boundaries. But either way, they’re stepping on your foot. Maybe they got lost in these terrible sad woods, and they would never have brought you along if they knew how it would hurt you. Or maybe they wouldn’t have cared about you at all and it’s all about them. But either way they are stepping on your foot. And it’s not ok. Please think over the idea that you’ve got lots of options. You can tell them the truth and hope they rethink their position. It will be another ‘loss’ probably in their eyes. But that isn’t your cross to bear. Maybe you could choose to not tell them, and just live your life how you see fit and not necessarily lie but just don’t volunteer the info. Maybe you could do some hybrid of this that feels right to you. But please don’t let someone else hijack your grief process. It’s yours. It’s highly individual. And no one gets to judge it as right or wrong. Ask yourself this: would you have thought to impose YOUR belief system on a person in this way? I’m so sorry you lost your partner. I am glad you are beginning to find joy, even in little bits, in life again. Please don’t feel guilty about that.

      1. Hi Jers – I am afraid I have very much given the wrong impression of my partner’s family in the name of being brief in my initial question! As I indicated in response to another similar comment above, I was invited to participate in their grief/mourning tradition because my family did not have one of its own. I felt a very strong need to have some structure to what, at the time, seemed like a bottomless chasm of grief, and I definitely did not feel up to creating my own rituals from scratch. There was absolutely no pressure to accept the initial invitation; doing so was entirely at my discretion. For the most part, I am very, very glad I did so, because I have had a place to process all my feelings about Partner and to continue to share memories of him. I just had no idea I would be feeling markedly better already, not having been through this kind of loss before; I didn’t know what a “year” of mourning would feel like.

        I do know, as expressed in my initial question, how incredibly grateful Partner’s family has been to have me participate in the mourning period. They repeatedly express how much comfort my presence provides during the assorted family events (which are maybe a couple times a month, it’s not like I am visiting daily). As such, I don’t want to make a show of abandoning the mourning period – it would feel like I appropriated their traditions for my own benefit, then just left them to their grief when I was finished. I do think there is room to introduce, gently, some more joyful things into my life (especially in private), while continuing to spend time with them as opportunities permit and offering the support and comfort that means so much to them. These are really lovely people who are still in great pain, who have been kind and welcoming to me during my own time of great sadness, and I want to find a way to keep helping them while at the same time slowly getting on with my own life.

  8. Q5: I heartily cosign CAs advice. Everyone mourns in their own way. What support to beloved’s family looks like vs what support to yourself looks like may be somewhat different. I encourage you to find balance there as you also deserve support and comfort at this time.

    Just over a year ago my dear friend lost her beloved in a sudden and terrible way. It has been terrible and sad and traumatic in more ways than one. But from day one she was cracking jokes…dark ones for sure…in between crying and aching loneliness. But her best way to process this has been holistically with fun and grief and laughter and anger and they had a memorial one week after the incident in which over 400 friends and family held a memorial at their favorite watering hole and put edible glitter in whiskey shots and danced in unicorn hoodies and laughed and cried and drank. It was the best most accurate funeral I have ever attended and so incredibly him.

    So…I guess what I’m trying to say is grief and mourning can be many different things to different people…and honoring their mourning period by attending events that is not your culture may bring the family comfort but you get to say…I’m here for you and this…but also I need my own version of mourning…even if it takes a different shape/color/lighting.

  9. Hello – German commenter here, and there *is* a German opposite to „Schadenfreude“, it‘s „fremdschämen“, which means feeling shame over somebody else‘s actions.

  10. Q8 boy howdy do I feel this one. I have now attended two weddings of white pagans who “jumped the broom.” In case anyone else is not clear on the origins of this tradition, it is 100% a tradition by and for African Americans, and has been stolen by white pagans because of the association of brooms with witchcraft. Both times it was totally a cringey surprise because I wasn’t close enough to the couples to know any of their planning beforehand.

    I’d like to think that if I was about to do something equally clueless and harmful, I would want my friends or relatives to tell me. But you know far better than randos on the internet how your cousin might respond to even the most well intended criticism of her plans.

    1. I think the practice actually originated in Wales, among the Roma who did not have a Christian ceremony. It spread into southern England, and immigrants took it to North America. There was some intermingling of cultures among slaves and poor/lower class whites, and this was one of the traditions that was adopted. This might be because it had a distinct utility for slaves, who might be barred from marrying legally or with any recognized clergy to officiate.

      1. I don’t know about the practice of actually jumping over a broom, but “broomstick marriage” was early 19th/late 18th? century slang. If you couldn’t/didn’t want to go through the more formal procedures necessary to marry, you could run off to Gretna Green in Scotland – which didn’t have the same requirements as England, and if you didn’t want to do that, there was always a broomstick marriage, that is, you call yourself married, but maybe it’s not officially legal.

        1. 19th/late 18th? century *England* slang – I don’t recall where they think the term came from.

    2. It’s also a German tradition; jumping over a broom proves you’re not a witch. (Germany has a number of weird wedding traditions). Not to say that’s why your friends opted for it; just to point out that people who jump over a broom may well have gotten the idea from a different source. Whether it’s appropriate for a US wedding is then another question.

    3. It’s fairly well researched and establishedto be something the Welsh, Scottish, and Northen English brought to the USA.

      It appears in legal documents and codes of the UK several hundred years ago. There is reference to it in Scotland and Wales much earlier. So there’s zero disputes of origins in the British isles. The only disputes is whether the Roma and Irish gyosies brought it or whether it was indigenous and they copied it bc they weren’t allowed church marriages,

      The reason black folk do it today is not continuous tradition from slave times, Didn’t happen in the 1960s. It was something shown in Roots. So it became part of the “reclaiming Africa” movement post-Roots.

      It’s actually something appropriated by black folk from poor whites. So it’s ok both for black folk and for those w Celtic and Welsh roots,

      Of course, that depends upon why and how it is used.

    4. Aaaand… this is why we don’t appoint ourselves Appropriation Police willy-nilly. Now go apologize to all the RL friends of those couples whose wedding you slagged behind their backs.

        1. What’s harsh is that you were badmouthing other people’s weddings and calling them cultural appropriators, ignorant and probably racist when actually you were the ignorant one.

  11. Q3: When I was doing my PhD, I found it really helped to understand what I was doing as a job rather than training for a future job. I had no idea if I wanted to stay in academia long term, but I believed in the actual research I was actually doing and the teaching I was doing so I decided that my grad school experience was a job to do to the best of my ability. No obsessing about the future. (I acknowledge that this perspective was enabled by the privilege of being debt free.)

    Looking at the economics of the department (heavily and probably exploitatively dependant on grad student labour) it was a job damnit. A junior job without any job security, sure, but a job.

    It may not have been optimal for my overall career trajectory, (I’m still trying to figure out exactly what’s next. Having children didn’t help with that part of the situation.) but it meant that I got to skip all the angst about “Am I a failure if I don’t continue in academia?” and “Will I be wasting my degree?” and “Do I have to set up my whole future career Right Now?” I did good work and now it’s time for a career change.

    1. Yes, totally agree!
      I am finishing up a PhD and treating the last 3 years as a job is a helpful way to frame it.
      I keep being asked what I want to do now I am finally done studying and that has always rubbed me the wrong way.
      I have a job now, I go in every day, work at least 40 hours a week and get paid (not a lot, but enough which I am very grateful for).
      Sure I get a degree in the end but in the other aspects it is very much a job and a hard one at that.

      1. Oh God, yes, there are annoying and insulting questions you get when you do a PhD. Many non-grad-school people I know genuinely seemed to expect me to find the transition to a 9-5 job _difficult_. It was nuts, and really insulting and ignorant.

        1. I was rather entertained by similar expectations, in a wry and rueful sort of way. Because what made the transition difficult (aside from personal career angst issues) was that I had to unlearn being efficient and willing to plow through tons of work at a non-stop pace. I was hourly, and low in the hierarchy, so if I was too good at my job… there was no more work to do, and four hours of empty time stuck at a desk is really long.

          On the other hand, learning that I could leave my work AT WORK when I clocked out (instead of it following me around everywhere whimpering for attention from me) was astonishingly wonderful.

    2. Thank you Rivikah and Norawora for your comments on Q3 on the virtues of treating this like a job! That is very helpful advice!

      “Looking at the economics of the department (heavily and probably exploitatively dependant on grad student labour) it was a job damnit. A junior job without any job security, sure, but a job.”

      ^ This really resonates! Thank you!

  12. Q6: How he responds to your not being on the same page as him at this moment will also be a clue. Does he remain chill, things continue more or less as they have been? Does he initiate a feelings talk, takes your ambivalence on board with some disappointment, but mostly acceptance for now? Or does he press for an answer, and act badly when it’s not the answer he wants?

    Elements of each? Other reactions entirely? Learning how a person deals with disappointment, frustration, etc., is a good look at a bug piece of their character.

  13. Re: native cultural appropriation: I’m married to a man who’s half Sioux, and my mother (one bajillionth Native, if that) is so freaking thrilled by this that she sends my children moccasins, dream-catchers, and other indiscriminate “Native” affects on every single holiday. My husband doesn’t even practice or study Sioux culture, but my mom was always obsessed with her “Native American” heritage and has used the fact that her grandkids are part Sioux to somehow try and retrograde their heritage back down the family tree so she can absorb it. The way she talks, she’s now more Native because the grands are. Try explaining cultural appropriation to a lady like this.

    1. I hope that’s *in addition* to the gifts they actually want. Holy carp. Stop tokenizing your grandkids, lady!

    2. Hey mom: objectify much? My kids are people. They’re people. Stop reducing them to a fantasy of yours, of being ‘in the club’. It’s neocolonialist and gross. Really gross. And i’m Going to start opening all gifts you send and if they have the slightest hint of ‘native’ about them, i’m Tossing them in the trash….
      Good lord poor you!!!

  14. Another comment for the PhD defense candidate: I heart you. My cat died right before a huge academic milestone during my degree as well. I buried her in a beautiful field. Then I got poison ivy all over my face because I guess I pulled up poison ivy roots digging the grave. Then I had to present. It was horrible. But — Captain is right. You’re the expert and you know your shit. I think my body went into autopilot that day because I just — got through it. That’s all I can say. But you’ve done so much work and your body and brain and mind will kick in and they will defend YOU. You’re going to get through it. I’m so sorry for your loss. I completely understand.

    1. I heart you, too. You did the thing (despite the poison ivy), and you are amazing. I hope I go into autopilot, too.

  15. I didn’t even read all the posts here but I needed to comment to express empathy for Final Year of PhD Hell. I graduated with my doctorate this past May and I never ever thought I could do it. I’ve done a lot of hard things in my life and the final year of this was the most hellish experience I have ever had to get through in my life. I nearly had a nervous breakdown 8 times, I lost confidence, gained it, lost it again, over and over. I’m a marathon runner and I used to compare the last year, the last 6 months, the submission, to the last 6 miles of the marathon — the shortest and the hardest part of the push to the end.

    I’m going to agree with the Captain that you ARE allowed to do what makes you happy even if it means not finishing. I’m also going to say that if it’s safe for you, if you’re going to therapy, getting sleep, trying to eat well (I know, it’s all fucking hard, even the little things), you can do it. When I got that diploma I nearly wept. I’m not going to be one of those people who says, “I did it and now everything is falling into place!!!!” It’s not. I’m terrified of the future, I don’t know what’s going to happen, if I’m going to be one of the lucky ones or someone who goes on to something else or someone who struggles for a while before finding my place in life. It’s hard. BUT. No one. Will ever. Take away. My doctorate. That shit IS MINE. I bled for it, I suffered for it, I poured the love and pain into my work the way you’d pour yourself into a child. And underneath the struggle it took to get it, there is still the love for the subject I study and care about. No matter what happens, I loved what I did and love what I do. If that love is still there for you — the original love that drew you to the thing you study, the passion that made you take this crazy leap — that might be worth looking at, and letting that love steer you in the direction you’re meant to take, no matter what that direction is.

    And here’s some love from me. I get it. Many many hugs and confidence.

    P.S. If you have a mentor, someone you trust and can talk to frankly about these struggles, go to them and tell them all of this. Sometimes they can have insights in how to balance your days and make things work. I was actually really surprised by some of the advice I got — it allowed me to forgive myself and accept my OWN way of working and flow, and not constantly feel I wasn’t meeting The Demands Of Academia on a daily basis. We all do it differently, and there are many ways of being right. Be okay with yourself. We cannot do all the things, it’s life. Do what you want to, and what you can. xxxxx

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this with me! It’s very validating to hear that the final year is the hardest.

      “When I got that diploma I nearly wept. I’m not going to be one of those people who says, “I did it and now everything is falling into place!!!!” It’s not. I’m terrified of the future, I don’t know what’s going to happen, if I’m going to be one of the lucky ones or someone who goes on to something else or someone who struggles for a while before finding my place in life. It’s hard. BUT. No one. Will ever. Take away. My doctorate. That shit IS MINE.”

      ^This gave me goosebumps! I’ve been so worried that finishing isn’t enough without a firm plan or offers in hand, but holy smokes, this makes me look forward to the prospect of just reveling in HAVING the damn degree and what that signifies. This ignites me! Thank you so much for sharing! And CONGRATS on receiving your doctorate!

  16. First of all: Yay, I LOVE these short Friday questions and answers! Dear Captain, you are so awesome!

    Dear LW4, I especially wanted to answer to you. In my opinion The Captain gave excellent advice and a fantastic schedule. I am so sorry for your loss. You lost a family member after providing them with all the possible care you could. You are a fantastic human being for a cat.

    I have understood that grieving the loss of a pet is often very similar to grieving a loss of a human family member except often the relationship is more simple: cats do not usually have terrible political opinions so usually it is not a relationship with mixed feelings of love and hate. I volunteer in a local animal rescue organization so the grief after the death of a beloved cat is familiar to me, too.

    I find The Captain’s schedule very good. When my beloved cat passed away six years ago I had to go to a very important field trip the next day. It was very tiring so I decided to distract my self by joining the company of the most talkative person in the study group and listening to what he had to say and really paying attention. My friend in the group later wondered how I could stand it but it helped me not to lose my shit. Oh, yes, he was kind of a mansplainer but for that one day it really did not matter although now I wonder whether I should have told him that I was using his stories as a distraction, not because I really enjoyed them so much. I still grieve for the loss of that lovely cat although it takes many kinds of forms and now most often manifests as a warm and loving longing.

    Dear LW, just like The Captain I am absolutely sure you can do this. Also, it is absolutely fine to cry, if that happens. I wish I could be there next Tuesday for you so that if you felt like it, you could tell everything about your cat and your journey together.

    You are wonderful.

  17. Oh man, Q3, follow Captain’s advice and do what you can to release yourself from trying to find out which of these paths is “your calling.” That way lies ruin. No sign will ever be definite enough for the nagging little voice in your head that need more evidence that any particular path is what you were “meant” to do. No one is really “meant” to do anything.

    Tbh, I think that trying to glean too much meaning from work is a fool’s errand (or perhaps a clever trick of a capitalist society). You are a complete person and can create or find meaning in all facets of your life. If you felt like you needed to have a meaningful marriage, no one would say it’s healthy to disregard meaning in your life elsewhere, in your hobbies, career, kids, etc. so why do we say that a job should provide all of the meaning in our lives? Sometimes it’s just a thing we do that we’re good at. As long as you’re cultivating meaning in the rest of your life, sometimes that can be enough.

    If the precarity and pressure that comes with an academic career as the unfortunate new normal is not the way you want to live, THAT IS OKAY. IT IS OKAY IF THAT IS NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU.

    1. Agree. The idea that everything we do needs to be a vocation can get a bit toxic. Or that ‘having all the options’ is the be-all and end-all. You can deal with whatever options you have, and find meaning in whatever life you have.

      I did a PhD in a STEM subject and now work in a different STEM field, very happily. The credential was important only to the extent of convincing the people hiring me that I could learn new things despite not having a lot of formal training in the field I was being hired in.

      I am very glad I finished my PhD, partly because it was difficult and it feels good to succeed in the end when something’s difficult, but also because of the things I learned through it, by which I don’t really mean [insert thesis title here]. Teaching myself stuff, working with minimal supervision, problem solving, and the confidence that I can go into a subject knowing absolutely nothing, and figure out how to research it.

      But very little of that stuff is the actual credential. And very little of it matters to other people! The only people who use my title are the bank (where I changed it for fun) and a few friends who use it jokingly.

      The stakes are not as high as they feel. When you’re in a PhD program you tend to live a lot of your life surrounded by people who are either getting or got a PhD. Sometimes it’s refreshing to spend some time in other environments and remind yourself that the vast majority of people don’t have PhDs, and most people are living at least as happy, meaningful, financially comfortable lives.

      Take some time to breathe, maybe find some hobby outside of academia, even if it’s just briefly every week. If you feel you can’t continue in your program, don’t. You will probably have regrets but in time they won’t seem so important. If you feel you can continue, then stick it out and do it. Some of it will suck but it will feel great when you’re done.

  18. Q8: Seconding Captain’s great line for broaching cultural appropriation “I’m so curious about the ___ you have planned, what’s the source of that?”

    How best to approach these chats has been on my mind since a few months ago a close friend of mine who is half native and closely tied to his tribe’s culture was called out publicly for wearing a necklace his grandmother gave him. He’s white passing, and it left him with a ton of weird feelings about “not being native enough”, etc.

    Using the Captain’s line above is an awesome way to broach the subject, /especially/ if you don’t know the other person well. At worst, you have a convenient way to open up the conversation. At best, you avoid triggering someone who is doing/wearing something out of pride/respect/memory of their own culture.

    1. Exactly. You never know what someone’s deal is! Lots of “white” people actually just… aren’t. It’s so important to tread carefully.

    2. It seems unlikely that it’s a legitimate family tradition in this case – I think they would have said ‘Cree tradition’ or ‘Anishinaabe tradition’ or something similarly specific.

      But there’s no harm in asking it this way. In the small chance that it’s real, you avoid the mistake of assuming, and even in the more likely scenario, it’s far more likely to be a useful conversation anyway.

  19. For Q4: I’m so sorry for your loss. One way to ease your anxiety might be to email your defense committee chair and ask about general protocols/what to expect in the room. It’s a completely legit email to send and might help you find something concrete to focus on through the fog of grief.

    Also Q4: As a professor who’s been on lots of dissertation/thesis defenses, I can say that unless your committee is a completely dysfunctional bunch, they would never have scheduled the defense if they thought you couldn’t do this. They might not be the type of people who ask how you are, but the fact that they scheduled a summer defense suggests to me that they are basically on Team Professional You. Most tenured faculty are on 10-month contracts. We’re not contractually obligated to be super-active with grad students during June and July, though many of us do it for students who are ready to defend and go on to the next stage of their careers. So I’m thinking your committee is feeling positive about your work! Entropy is in your favor, too–your professors don’t want to go to the hassle of rescheduling the defense and redoing paperwork any more than you do. And if you’re a little emotionally scattered during the defense, that’s okay. As long as you can talk about your work in a reasonably coherent way (which you can) and accept feedback without being a total jerk (which you’re not), that’s great. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

    For Q3: The Captain gives great advice! Please follow it! And you’re not abnormal or lost if you don’t feel “called”. I can only speak for myself, but the job and location I’m now happily in is not one I would’ve imagined for myself a year before I graduated. Spread your net widely, and pay attention to the stuff that falls in your lap as a result. Sometimes the “call” looks a whole lot like Random Opportunity I Wasn’t Looking For, But Hey, Cool!

    1. The Captain DOES give exceptional advice! Thanks for the reply! I would definitely like to be open to Random Opportunity I Wasn’t Looking For, But Hey, Cool!

  20. A8 – If you’re still looking for the opposite of “Schadenfreude”, we call that “vergüenza ajena” (/bar-‘hooen-tha ah-‘hen-na/, lit. ‘other’s shame’) in Spanish. I would probably combust in a vergüenza ajena-filled burst if I witnessed that level of cultural appropriation in a white wedding.

    1. Ah, thank you for this!! I’m bilingual in Spanish but not a native speaker, and always have more to learn…

  21. Q4, I am someone who, when I’m sad, pretty much either looks and seems normal or is sobbing hysterically. There is no middle ground! And it makes me feel so anxious when I have to deal with an important situation while I’m feeling sad. I am always sure I’m going to make a fool of myself – which is silly because *everybody cries* – but I still feel that way.

    One thing I do, that might be helpful for you, is give myself a really good cry the night before by watching a sad movie alone. I try to trigger the kind of cry that exhausts me and wrings me out like a damp dishrag! It helps me get some of the tension and sadness out of me for a little while, and then I can generally manage the stressful event the next day.

    Captain is right – you know your stuff backward and forward by now, and even if you do get teary you can excuse yourself, take some deep breaths, splash cold water on your face and wrists and go right back in. You have the inner strength, I promise. And remember – your kitty loved you and would want you to move forward and get all the accolades you’ve worked so hard for. It is OK to do that.

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

  22. Q3: Be sure to check out the forums at It’s so helpful to have a virtual community of people in the same boat who are soul-searching and wrestling with the career decisions of whether and how to transition to non-academic careers and/or sharing the wisdom of having been through it. It was helpful for me when I was finishing my PhD and postdoc and planning for the next phase of my career. Hopefully something there speaks to you!

  23. Hey Q3! I flamed out of academia four-ish years ago, one step short of ABD. Tl;dr – I was in a MSW/PhD program and had done varying combo packs of my actual paid job + MSW field internship + coursework for both programs + actually seeing my husband and two then-small children. And then I had a nasty string of health problems in the form of more than six months of “it’s not *technically* MRSA but it’s sure doing its best imitation of it!” skin infections showing up, me going on a strong course of antibiotics to deal with them, and then a few weeks later it happening again, and again, and AGAIN.

    Something had to fucking give. And then I realized that I would either be taking a massive pay cut that I couldn’t afford or moving to a place I really REALLY did not want to live in order to get the clinical hours that would make me a viable faculty member for a school of social work, around finishing the dissertation, etc. So I … just stopped, and started trying to put that time I was spending on the academic stuff into fixing my health, which is now considerably better than it was at the time. But I ended up taking the statistical coursework from my unfinished PhD program and translating it into a promotion where I do really cool big data analytics stuff in a field that is at least close to my original interests. It doesn’t feel like the thing that would make my heart sing, but right now it’s keeping our bills paid and our health covered and I am in no position at this point to follow my heart to less than half my current salary. Maybe someday, or maybe I will keep enjoying the geekier aspects of what I do now and it will turn out this was The Right Thing in a big way after all.

    It sounds like your brain is giving you the “STOP AND BREATHE” signals pretty hard. I wish I’d listened to my brain when it did that before my body got in on the act. I hope this goes well for you whichever direction you go in.

  24. Q4, please check back in after Monday and let us know how it went! Best of luck and sympathies for the loss of your furry friend; I hope the Captain’s advice works for you and you CRUSH it.

  25. The feeling of cringing embarrassment on behalf of someone else, especially if that person is not experiencing the shame their embarrassing behavior calls for, is called pena ajena (in Mexico).

  26. Q8 Black Indian here. The fact you cousin call it “Native American Blanket Ritual” raises question marks. Despite what mainstream culture implies, we are not a monolith. That your cousin isn’t referring to a particular tribe/ethnicity makes me skeptical as to whether it’s actually indigenous or made up and given an “exotic” name.

    There IS a powwow custom called a blanket dance in which a few dancers carry a blanket around the grounds while drummers play. Those who can afford it toss in money to subsidize travel expenses for the dancers, help pay the drummers or related matters. Doing it for a white person’s wedding is very misplaced.

    1. Oh, there is like, a 0.01% chance that anything about this proposed ritual is legit and a good idea at a white person’s wedding. I’m glad the questioner was like “fuck no, not going.” Just, in the follow-up conversations, starting with a question might be a way into the discussion.

    2. If you google image search “Native American blanket wedding”you get a bunch of Beckies and Chads wrapped in Navajo print, no pics of discernible tribal members w distinct traditions.

      it appears as a reference in a few articles and blog posts about Native American traditions,…articles written by non-tribal members. So, it’s a marketing tactic used to get eyeballs on pages by the wedding-industrial. Implies and clearly made up.

      It’s very disrespectful at best and openly racist and worst.

    3. Real traditions are things like honoring the elders w special seating and recognition. Most of them require work and sacrifice by the coupe, not more glorifying the greed and attention seeking of the couple.

      At least, at the tribal weddings I’ve been to, the elements of tradition were not things young privileged white peoples would want to copy. Too much work and sacrifice,

      In one of them, the groom had to kill and dress a deer ahead of time and bring jersey to the bride and her family. She had to show she could prepare corn properly. By making enough herself to feed everyone present,

      Can’t see many young men or women doing that.

      1. If that was my family’s tradition, then I would have had to limit my guest list to whoever many people a can of creamed corn can feed. 🙂

        1. It was corn ground down and made into a substance somewhere between corn pudding and bread. I don’t know the name of it. Was quite delicious.

    4. That’s what makes me wary as well. Whose traditions are involved? Are we talking Seminole, Mohawk, or Alaska Athabascan? There’s a big difference.

  27. LW4, the Capt is right. Mourn and care for yourself this weekend. And remember that YOU are the expert on your dissertation. They will ask questions, but you’re the expert. If they ask a question that you’re not sure what they’re getting at, it’s OK to ask “can you please rephrase your question so I understand your concern. I’ve been an expert witness for science stuff for years, and it took me a while to figure out that NO ONE in the room knew as much as I did in my chosen field. You’re gonna do ok.

  28. Q5: I am kind of assuming the mourning traditions you’re dealing with are Jewish, but I’ve found that some of this still applies if they aren’t. (I was raised modern Orthodox but have family who belong to many different denominations – ultra Orthodox, Hassidic, Reform, Conservative, loosely affiliated, outspokenly secular, etc.) One of the difficulties in dealing with a religion that has a lot of rules, when you didn’t spend years of your life learning the rules, is that it can be hard to distinguish personal or family practices from the actual rules, and there are strong traditions that can seem like rules but aren’t. For example, there is no actual obligation to have matzoh ball soup on Passover. Have you discussed with the family which aspects might be which? The dim lighting thing, for example, isn’t something I’ve heard of people doing past the seven day period of sitting shiva. And a lot of the rules that various groups adhere to that I would find constricting are ones you don’t mention, like attending prayers or not listening to music. I would encourage you to discuss this with them, and maybe ask for a book that discusses their particular traditions, as there are dozens available in English on the subject, many written for people without an extensive religious background. Most religious people would be extremely touched by you expressing an interest beyond simply following rules. I can also tell you with absolute certainty that many extremely religious people break rules so that they can cope during emotionally difficult times. The important thing is to contribute to a shared experience of being in mourning, which means obviously not breaking rules in front of them or flaunting it. My parents and family know that I don’t follow the rules, but it is meaningful to them that I do so when we are together. May you be comforted.

    1. Thank you, Plonit – I appreciate and am very grateful for your sentiments of comfort. Actually, I’m Jewish (but not very observant, and my core family did not follow any of the usual Jewish mourning traditions while i was growing up – we do have some extended family members who are much more religious, but they live in other parts of the country and are very much in the minority, so I never got to observe those traditions in detail). My partner’s family is devoutly Catholic, and I get the sense that their mourning traditions are religiously inspired (rather than dictated) and that many of the specific guidelines are of the family’s own creation based on what feels right and wrong to them during times of extensive and ongoing grief. They are very respectful of the fact that I come from a different (and not very intensive) faith tradition. I agree that contributing to the shared mourning experience is the most important thing, including observing the house rules when I am visiting them and generally not breaking the mourning guidelines in a public way.

      1. oh, no–those are cultural, not religious. Or certainly not biblical!

        I’m not Catholic; I’m Lutheran, which is close. And no Catholic I’ve ever met had those rules from their church.

        But I’ve seen people from my Catholic ILs’ Yugoslavian family act like this.

        It still matters to them, of course, but it’s cultural, not religious.

        Also, even in my ILs’ family’s culture, quiet gatherings with friends are OK–just not raucous parties.

        1. It might be either… To most people who care about religion, religion means far far far more than ‘rules from their church’. It’s intensely personal and every formal religious grouping, especially large ones, is filled with many many different theologies and ritual traditions, and people fill their spiritual needs and articulate their religious beliefs in all kinds of ways.

          From what the letter writer has said though, it doesn’t necessarily matter precisely what it is. Their tradition is valuable to them, but they understand that it may not have the same exact meaning or value to other people, which is the main thing.

  29. LW 4 here. Thank you all very, very much for the good thoughts, advice, and CRUSHING IT vibes. I am binge-watching Harry Potter movies with my husband and one of my best friends, and I have a glass of wine, a very large glass of water, and takeout. Tomorrow, I’m going to chat with my husband about possibly relocating to a hotel for a couple of days and stick to the Captain’s timeline.

    The good news is that my committee is made up of good people who want me to succeed, and, as someone pointed out above, I know my advisor would not have let me schedule a defense if she didn’t think I could pass. So I just have to keep my shit together for two hours, and then I can be Dr. Snow and go sob in a corner in peace.

  30. For Q1, please also take into consideration longevity of your credit history before deciding to opt out of being an authorized user. If the only reason you think your score is declining is because the credit report lists “large utilization of credit” as one of the factors, well – they *have* to list factors, even when they are negligible, and it may not be dragging your score down nearly as much as you think. Shortening your credit history may well have a much larger negative effect than improving utilization ratio.

    Also I hope you are optimizing your credit score because you are on the brink of 700 and applying for a mortgage – if not please remember there’s really zero reason to worry about small variations in your credit score and it’s usually a trivial thing that people tend to obsess over. If you’re, like, getting a monthly credit score sent to your email, filter that shit to spam and just keep being financially responsible instead of stressing on it.

  31. Dear Q3 PhD friend – I have two advanced degrees, one that I mostly use, the other that I mostly don’t. It took me some time to come to peace with mostly not using that second degree. But once I did, it was easier for me to appreciate all that I did gain from it. It wasn’t the conventional path, but I definitely took the right path for me. I believe you will find the right path for you, no matter how conventional or not.

  32. Tenure-track assistant professor here weighing in to VEHEMENTLY agree that networking is key to success. Superior (in moderate degree) to publishing. Your network is what gets your name recognized so that your application makes it out of the pile of hundreds and into the first short list where you get a chance. Then your CV matters.

    The main difference between myself (tenure track at a top 10 R1 university) and my PhD baymate (2 years on the job market and no luck yet), is that I have built and strengthened and nurtured a network to make the most talented orbweaver jealous. Our publication records are equivalent. And that’s also why I now take my entire research group to conferences and introduce them to everyone and send them to courses I can’t really afford: because networks are key and their success is my success.

    The other factor is luck. Which sucks. But you can best use luck to your advantage if you have a deep network and your ear to the ground for opportunities that fit.

    Finally, the last year of the PhD is the hardest. You’ve reached the melting point in the crucible of academia, but you’ll come through it fire-hardened like Valyrian steel. Best wishes.

  33. Dear Q3,
    I also haved a PhD. I hope you, like me, did not have to go in much debt for it. I found that advice I received while in a PhD program was biased toward academia. I’ve found out a lot during decades in my field, and want to share what I learned about the job market.

    Working in academia will pay the least, throughout your career. It can be stable with great benefits, a pleasant place to work, and flexible hours. It will also require teaching classes you do not want to teach at times you do not want to be working. Your status will come from your own work, and is important in obtaining preferred class times and topics, and space. Competition for jobs is fierce.

    At institutions emphasizing undergraduates, your job will center on teaching, student counseling, and helping students develp their careers. Publications and grants are less important. Vacation time is generous. Careers in undergraduate institutions are often reasnably stable.

    At institutions emphasizing advanced degrees, publishing and grants will be essential. Quality of teaching will not affect career advancement. Without tenure your job is not secure. Your status will come from the quality and number of your publications and the size of your grants. You will have to be aggressive about maintaining your status.

    Many full time teaching positions in medicine, law, and other applied areas do not require publications and grants, unless you are in a research-oriented institutions like UCSF and Harvard. You will not have equal status with staff who work in the applied area, such as doctors or lawyers.

    Jobs in industy, government, or nonprofits will pay more, have more fixed hours, and offer better job security from the beginning. Hours and tasks are less likely to be self-chosen. Competition for jobs is lower. Your status often comes from where you work, and will be much lower when you are not employed. You are not likely to be expected to work on manuscripts and grants in addition to your other work, unless you are in a research arm of a government institution. Jobs in government pay a little more than academia, have great benefits, are hard to lose, and allow movement between between departments, institutions, and locations. There is less room for personal choice in government jobs, and more regulations.

    There may be jobs types and locations you are not aware of. They could include a range from a local nonprofit to the National Academies to the Department of State, and from Kansas to Saudi Arabia.

  34. Dear Q3 LW: I was there about two years ago, and it sucked. So much. You’ve gotten a lot of good advice, I have just a couple of points that I don’t think anyone else has mentioned. I can totally see the advantage of parallel preparation, but I’m not at all surprised that it’s contributing to burn out. Doing a PhD and prepping for one desired career was bad enough. My question is, are you doing it because you feel like you should be, or because you honestly don’t know whether you want to be in academia or industry? I ask because once I had figured out for sure what track I wanted to be in (teaching at small colleges) I got so much less stressed about all of the research career-focused stuff that I didn’t have to worry about quite as much (although still some). If you know that one option is what you want to do (at least at the moment), can you drop the contingency planning for now and just focus on it?

    The other thing that caught me a bit by surprise near the end of my PhD is the availabiity of short-term jobs, and the fact that you can make up your mind during them, too. I don’t know what field you’re in, but I have friends doing post-docs who aren’t sure that they want to stay in academia–they’re using the post-doc to get paid, get more experience, and start making connections in industry. I got a one-year teaching position right away, and while I’m hoping to stay in that field, I definitely could have gotten a post-doc or moved to industry right after that. And I know people who have gone into industry for a year or two and then gotten a post-doc to continue in the academic track. The thing you do the year after you graduate is not necessarily the track you’re locked into forever, as much as it sometimes seems like it is. If all you can do right now is finish your dissertation and then find a job that will do for a year, that’s also fine. A VAP, a post-doc, a fellowship of some kind somewhere, anything like that. I know one person who got a PhD, worked as a paid full-time TA for an intro course for a couple of years (which only required a BA) and then went to get a post-doc. You still have some time to build up connections and figure out a final plan, even if you can’t do it this year.

    Dear Q4 LW: You have all my sympathy. I’ve (sort of) been there. My grandma died about a month before my defense; I was there with her in hospice the week before my final draft was due, etc. It was hard. I was lucky in that I had a few weeks to process it before my defense, at least–I couldn’t have done it right away. And while I’d give anything to have her back for a while, of course, losing her then actually made the time period before my defense easier, because it just didn’t seem to matter as much. I was in therapy for anxiety at the time, and I’d anticipated that the weeks before my defense would be hell. But from the moment that I decided to fly home for an indeterminate amount of time, and that if I couldn’t get my writing done my defense would just have to be re-scheduled, I just had this sense of peace about it. Defending was so far from the most important thing that it just got so much easier–not the actual academic/intellectual aspects, but the anxiety about it. I don’t have any real advice for reaching that point, I’m afraid, but I hope you can maybe reach it too.

    I know you can do this (so does your committee, and I hope so do you)! And if you do start crying, that’s hardly the end of the world, nor the first time that it’s happened. I feel like all of the advisors in my program had people crying in their offices sometimes, and even the most awkward managed to deal with it.

    I could see one potential advantage of telling your advisor, which is that if you start to get upset they could suggest a 10-minute break more easily than you could. At least in my department, it was pretty common to have at least one during a defense. If you do want to tell them, could you do it in an email? Less chance of breaking down during the conversation, at least.

  35. Re Q5. My partner of several years died last September – he was Hindu, I’m an atheist, and I ended up sort of observing some of the formalities for various complicated reasons. Some of them were, on reflection, vaguely passive aggressive reasons – he’d been separated from his wife for years but, while my presence was accepted by his family, divorce has a huge negative impact on relatives in that part of rural India (eg. his elderly parents would’ve be ridiculed, his wife would’ve be shunned and his four kids would’ve struggled to get married and would’ve ended up like the cautionary tale that was me), so my partner was never going to become my husband. I was there throughout the crisis part of his illness, trailing around various hospitals in his state and a neighbouring one, travelling in ambulances, sleeping on a stool in the ICU and on one occasion on the pavement outside a government hospital, feeding him, cleaning him, changing him, being vomited on, handling him in the throes of hepatic encephalopathy etc, and I was the one holding his hand when he actually died … but because I wasn’t his wife there was a lot of stuff I was excluded from, including his funeral. So doggedly adhering to some of the customs helped me to feel legitimate. I made sure to stay in his country for the initial twelve-day mourning period (because we couldn’t marry I could only visit him on a tourist visa, so we were part-time long distance), and while his widow received condoling visitors at home in the village, some of his friends visited me daily in my hotel room in town, which meant a great deal to me.

    But since coming home, I’ve let up a bit. I remember some of his friends asking me what our mourning traditions were, and I struggled for a moment before saying those who aren’t part of a religious community with its own guidelines are essentially permitted to do what they feel is right. If that means withdrawing from the world for a period of time, that’s acceptable, and if it means getting on with life and marking their usual celebrations with gusto because it makes them feel better and because the person they’re mourning would’ve wanted them to be happy, that’s fine too. It sounds a bit nothing-y compared to ‘we don’t shave for 12 days, we cry in front of visitors if we feel like it or not, and then we don’t buy anything new or celebrate anything for a year’, but the more I thought about it the more valuable it seemed to me. In my partner’s community, what other people are saying about you is given a lot of weight, and anyone slipping outside the boundaries of expected mourning behaviour has been subject, at the very least, to raised eyebrows. Even his son was talked about in negative terms for having a cake on his 13th birthday. The kid lost his father, I was thinking – let him have some cake. So I had some cake on my own birthday two months later. I just didn’t post anything about it on Facebook.

    (Apologies if this comment was submitted multiple times – I tried to post it as a reply to one above but it didn’t seem to be getting through.)

    1. Hi Sam – I am so sorry for your loss, too. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story of how you honored the spirit of many of your partner’s cultural traditions, while also doing what made sense for you personally as time went on. (And I agree, cake is wonderful and should not be denied, even in grief.)

  36. Q3: phd here too. I feeeeeeeel your pain!!! I had it years ago. I found, and i think this is true of many PhD advisors and PIs, that they’re self selecting. It’s almost like grooming. Or maybe it IS grooming. ‘Oh you’d be good at this, you’re so bright!’ ‘Here, you just need to publish a, b, and c and this will set you up for postdoc x, academic track y, and bob’s yer uncle!’ They, perhaps semi-understandably, had no advice for a non-academic career. BUT!!! They also didn’t have advice like ‘I don’t know much about non-academic careers but here’s a good resource: z’. Any time i expressed the thought out loud about pursuing nonacademic career things, they would do subtle or overt judgement. The final take home is: if you’re fabulous and amazing, you do academia. If you’re, well, kind of average and just getting by, you get OUT, and do other things. But we are the fabulous and amazing club and we’re grooming you to join us because we need you to justify our existence, justify our own choices in life about not having kids and not ever getting to do things on weekends we want, and not having a good salary, and we want you to join our amazing ‘we never get sleep’ club. And we worry about grants a lot club. And if you don’t say enthusiastically you want to join this club well it must be because, deep down, you know that you’re not really up to snuff and you should do some soul searching about that (shake head sadly here). And hopefully after careful reflection you’ll decide to take the plunge do the right thing, and just work your fingers to the bone for a looooooong lead time before you ever even get tot he point where you’re up for evaluation for tenure and in the meantime you will endure long hours, shitty pay, and uncertainty about your future. But it’s all int he pursuit of greatness! What about greatness!!!???
    Q3: you do you. Those guys are saying all that bc of them. Find a career center, find people who do alternate careers. Not because you should pursue a nonacademic option, but because you can hear other voices in your head besides the academic ones. I felt so unworthy when i decided to leave, even though i’d Spoken with folks who told me how they felt the same way but were now so happy and were angry at all the academics who groomed and pressure them to stay. Now i am angry at all the academic arses who groomed and pressured me. That kind of crap is on them, it’s got nothing to do with you. But it’s hard when your mentors who have so much influence and power at a vulnerable time in your career, are basically pushing ONE option. Listen to that inner voice, and get a larger population of data.

    1. I got out of academia because I was getting tired of the “Do you love science? Do you really, REALLY, love science and so you don’t feel like it’s at all an imposition to work for 12 hours every weekend? Because if you don’t want to spend all day every day in the lab, I don’t know that you REALLY love science as much as you claim…” Sadly, it doesn’t seem that there are many paths in academia for people who, I don’t know, really like science as a friend but also want to do things like watch their kids grow up. :\

  37. Q4, one thing my graduate adviser told me is that they wouldn’t let you schedule a dissertation, unless they knew you were going to pass. This is your chance to teach *them* about your work. I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but Captain Awkward is absolutely right that you’re the expert in the room on the subject. There will come a moment in the defense where suddenly you’re a room full of colleagues discussing the topic, and not a student getting questions asked of by a bunch of teachers. It’s goosebump-inducing when it happens. That having been said, my chair said that sometimes people have bad days, and blow things they shouldn’t. It’s really no fault of theirs, and every program I’ve had experience does let you do a number of do-overs. If anything, it’s your committee’s fault, if you don’t pass at this stage, because they should’ve said something earlier, if there was a problem in your work. Honestly, in my experience, writing the damn dissertation was worse than defending it.

    You got this. You’re gonna rock on Monday, too.

  38. Re Blanket ceremony…I find LW’s stance on cultural appropriation troubling. I absolutely agree it is an important area to raise consciousness of and to open conversations on, but boycotting someone’s wedding on that factor alone I personally find shocking in its attempt to police and control another individual’s behaviour using the justification of greater righteousness. I suspect it is likely to backfire and won’t cause the bride to ‘come around’ because attempting to change someone’s behaviour based on fear of public shaming does not win over hearts and minds or bring about enlightenment.

    This is such an interesting example, because the bride has named and credited the (supposed) origins of the ceremony. What if she had used the same ceremony and just labelled it ‘New Age’ – I would find that more problematic, because it might then have been appropriated but not credited…

    I say this as someone whose own cultural background is claimed by literally millions of north Americans based on the most fragile ancestral/genetic basis, and often zero actual familial passed-on culture – let alone the language! I understand this as a desperate need to find meaning and belonging in life and I choose to be bemused but tolerant of it.

    My own preference is to find ways to acknowledge this issue in ways that don’t lead everyday individuals to be fearful of putting a foot wrong or being publicly vilified. Just my own preference – but maybe some of this righteousness could be visited on Disney and other Hollywood companies who are much more pervasive appropriators – and more especially profiteers – of minority and vulnerable cultural, ethnic and racial groups.

    1. I say this as someone whose own cultural background is claimed by literally millions of north Americans based on the most fragile ancestral/genetic basis, and often zero actual familial passed-on culture – let alone the language! I understand this as a desperate need to find meaning and belonging in life and I choose to be bemused but tolerant of it.

      Is this cultural background something that both historically and currently gets people of your group sexually assaulted, locked up, over-policed, murdered, environmentally poisoned, children taken away, etc. in the way Native Americans still deal with? The pain of cultural appropriation also comes with the very real pain of erasure.

      Because if not, you’re talking about two different things. Like, if I knew a wedding of two white people I was invited to was a Southern Plantation Gone With The Wind Fantasy type thing, I’d skip it, too.

      1. FWIW, pushing back can change behavior.

        A Japanese friend convinced some of our mutual friends that there are rules to kimonos and other dress. You follow them it’s ok to wear a kimono as a non-Japanese. If not, you are being rude.

        Example #1 – wearing a kimono with a family Kamon if you aren’t a member.
        Example #2 – Wearing a kimono in the wrong season.
        Example #3 – wearing it right over left like American women Dress. (Wrapping like an American woman naturally does is only for dressing corpses).

        Some things are, however, appropriation and gross no matter what: wearing geisha makeup, sexualizing the kimono, chopsticks in the hair.

        One cannot compare Americans clinging to distant Irish or Scottish or Norwegian ancestry to a white person dressing as a geisha. Wearing a kilt or tartan because of your great grandparents’ migration from Scotland is not the same thing, And the Geisha wannabes don’t comepare to black face or appropriation of Native American or First Nations or Maori practices. Because we are still killing and oppressing those groups. Today. Right now.

        Power and context matters.

        Also, FYI, a lot of the blankets used in these ceremonies are “Southwestern” designs that riipoff the Navajo, even some are outright stolen designs the Navajo have legally protected. So it’s doubly wrong,

        i could write a diatribe about the Scots-Irish in America, but that would be too derailing. Suffice it to say, the clinging to the old heritage exists for a reason, those reasons go back to the clearances and back to Essex and political and social issues that existed before there was a USA, it’s not just faux nostalgia. It’s not drunken frat boys on St. Paddy’s Day. The relationship of white Americans to their ancestors’ countries of origin is not so easily reduced. But not the point either. And even if it were equally as important in 2p18, it would not excuse this appropriation.

        Two wrongs really don’t make it right.

    2. I think your shock is an overreaction. OP just said “No, I won’t be attending,” and is asking the Captain whether they should say why, and the Captain said “not now.” In what universe is a simple “no thank you” an attempt to control the behavior of the people who are having this as part of their wedding?

      A private email, phone call, carrier pigeon message saying either “this bothers me because…” or “I’m wondering about this ‘blanket ceremony'” is not a boycott. There’s no suggestion that the OP is going to ask other relatives to skip the wedding because of this.

      As the Captain wrote, the chances that the OP’s cousin and her fiance would respond to a challenge with “you’re right, we shouldn’t do that” instead of angrily defending the plan or saying something like “how dare you tell us what to have in my wedding?” are slim. But the chances that the OP saying these things after the wedding will help are even less, because even if the now-married people think about it and decide OP was right, they can’t go back and take this out of the wedding. They can still be angry at the OP, for criticizing or judging them, but now they can also be angry because the OP didn’t tell them in time to keep them from doing something offensive or embarrassing.

    3. “My own preference is to find ways to acknowledge this issue in ways that don’t lead everyday individuals to be fearful of putting a foot wrong or being publicly vilified”

      Isn’t that what the LW has done? They (politely, I presume) declined to attend this wedding. They haven’t even told the couple why, so unless they’re psychic the couple shouldn’t be fearing making a mistake, nor have they mentioned this publicly or even asked if they should.

      If taking the incredibly mild stand of not attending a voluntary event is troubling to you, what exactly do you see as appropriate, other than saying and doing nothing ever?

      1. Mae – I agree with all you said. I want to add my 2 cents.

        ““My own preference is to find ways to acknowledge this issue in ways that don’t lead everyday individuals to be fearful of putting a foot wrong or being publicly vilified””

        Then don’t include a ceremony in your WEDDING in front of a lot of people that derives from a culture/or is made-up but allegedly from a culture that your ancestors slaughtered and whose land your country now occupies.People that are still being oppressed.

        That’s really not that difficult.

        Honestly, far to often white people through this out as a reason for not even trying. It’s exactly the same thing men are doing now with #MeToo.

        Hint: If your first response is “it’s too hard” or “innocent white men will be hurt” by this, then stop. Just stop. Take a few minutes to think about the sweep of history and about current power structures.

        Not appropriating Native American rituals is a very easy thing to do. It’s like not raping people. Shouldn’t be that hard. Pretty clear where the line is.

        And the behavior is entirely optional. The bridge and groom are choosing – actively choosing – to do this. It’s not as if they are going about their day to day lives doing what everyone else is and *Whammo* they get falsely accused of being evil appropriators. They very specifically are incorporating what they (falsely) believe to be a Native American tradition in their wedding. They could have just as easily done some hand-binding or other form of joining that has deep history in British and European cultures. They didn’t. They chose something Native American.

        Heck, they could have even asked family members to make them a blanket to be wrapped in at the conclusion of the ceremony and left the Native American part out.

        Here’s a clue: unless a specific band, tribe, or nation is coming forward to say “this is a part of our culture that we want to share/we want to offer for sale/we want you to use” don’t use any aspect of Native art or rituals. Let them come to you.

        Some tribes do this. The Navajo do this. But not with everything. Let them decide.

        You deciding it’s too difficult and people are getting accused when they didn’t intend to shows where you are on this. You start from the position of protecting the existing white order. I don’t.

    4. This is such an interesting example, because the bride has named and credited the (supposed) origins of the ceremony.

      A vague handwavy “Native American” is not naming or crediting anything. If the bride didn’t specify which of the hundreds of possible native cultures it’s from, she almost certainly doesn’t know whether it’s really a native tradition at all, let alone where from.

  39. Q4: First Things first: I’m so sorry about your cat. I have been there (three times, most recently a year ago), and I feel for you. It’s very painful.

    Second things second: congratulations on making it to your defense! I have been there, too, and to that place of pre-defense anxiety. (FWIW I had given birth ten weeks earlier, so I was sleep-deprived and hormonally/emotionally all over the place. That’s different from grief, of course, but if someone were to name the ideal conditions for intellectual authority, I’m sure they wouldn’t be on the list.)

    The best piece of advice I ever got was the reminder that I was the expert on my topic. Not my advisor, not my second or third reader, not the other members of the committee. So says the Captain, and so say I.

    NB: Feel free to disregard the following if it’s too late, too unworkable, or not relevant in your department. One thing I did rbefore my defense was spitball a brief (like 3minutes) spoken prologue, a kind of “story of my dissertation.” It was very informal language, not High Academese. I wound up using it at the defense. It was a way of calming my nerves, because its informal language put me in the mindset of having a conversation with peers. The defense (and deposit) are the last steps that remain before you are admitted to this circle of peers. *This* is the last hoop. You’re almost there. Picture yourself as being among peers who are going to spend the next few hours treating you as the authority in the conversation.

    For me, telling the story of my dissertation reminded me of this authority. Who knew how it came about better than I did?

    You’ve got this! Rock on!

  40. Thanks for these short answers. It’s interesting to see what other people are interested in and coping with.

  41. Q5 – Maybe the family would be offended at your not following rules, and maybe they’d prefer you either follow the rules traditionally or not participate. However it also could be that they just appreciate that you’re visiting and you haven’t forgotten. FWIW, I’ve seen many grieving families say to the outsiders who were close to the deceased that they’re so grateful for whatever it is the outsider is giving– visits, casseroles, vigil organizing, babysitting, whatever it is is bringing them so much comfort. It could be that the family is just appreciative of whatever you DO have to give at this point, 6 months in. And, it could be that their feelings have also changed over the last 6 months– maybe you following some rule that meant the world to a family member a week after you partner’s death is something they feel much more detached about 6 months in. This is about you taking care of yourself as you grieve, not about forgetting your partner or abandoning them. You may not have your own mourning traditions, but that doesn’t mean you’re a blank slate. You have your own needs and practices. Basically, there’s no need to frame it as, “I’m letting you all down,” even if they feel you are; you’re just taking good care of yourself and thanking them for allowing you in and offering support these last 6 months. These are kind things.

    Whatever you do, cut yourself some personal slack. Grieving together as a family in a familiar tradition is bound to feel different than grieving in someone else’s tradition mostly alone but also with someone else’s family. I can see how it would be exceptionally isolating for you. This family’s grieving traditions have plenty of advocates in that family, so I’ll point out that on the other hand, following your own instincts and listening to what you really need and expressing your feelings how they need to be expressed in the moment is SO important to your own growth and well-being.

    1. Hi, tortillachipmonster – thank you for your insights. I think you are correct that it is my continued participation and support on some level that is most important. I have been putting pressure on myself to follow the mourning guidelines to the letter, but I don’t even actually know that Partner’s family would expect or even care about that much diligence from me. I do think there is actually at least a little room for flexibility, so long as I am not doing anything blatantly disrespectful of the mourning period. (I.e., I think grabbing lunch to catch up with friends would be fine, but not wearing skimpy attire to a club, getting intoxicated, and posting the pictures on social media – not that this would be my thing anyway.)

  42. Thank you for these, Captain Awkward… Especially the one about the PhD and the one about the thesis defense were really helpful to me (young academic on a casual contact here, have asked for a permanent job, am having to interview for it, short turnaround, have had a week to prepare and this very week has been full of upheavals. Will follow your advice – drink fluids and go in there like the frickin’ expert I AM. And then celebrate!… Thank you!…… X

  43. Long time ghost first time commenter and all that. But Q3 really stuck out to me as very close to what I’m dealing with at the moment, though I’m at a slightly different stage, and I want to emphasise the suggestion to take a break if at all possible.
    I’m doing my PhD. Part-time, working part-time. The spring before last I started getting stressed. It started getting harder and harder to write, to research, and eventually to do anything at all that was to do with the PhD. I did some counselling, which helped some. I took two weeks off on holiday, came back – that helped for a couple of weeks. But I was still falling apart. Part of my falling-apart-ness was worrying that actually, I wasn’t suited to this. I love my subject, and I love the idea of sharing my love of it with other people. But… I’m in year four of five and I’m not published. I don’t go to conferences, really. Because if I’m going to complete this PhD, I can’t do those other things at the same time. I don’t know why, but I’m just not up to it. And that is absolutely going to impact my future in academia.
    After talking it out with my supervisors etc, I elected to take a formal break from PhD. I took six months off. I did therapy in my time off, but I also just… did things that I liked. I banned all PhD-related reading and thinking. I didn’t do any academic work at all. I did some am dram, saw my friends.
    I came back last month, and you know… I think I might be able to finish this thing. Gently. Carefully. In the way that works for me.
    I wrote 1.5k in the last two days, which is a huge step up, and I’m no longer sitting down to work and bursting into tears. I feel okay when I study, and I’m beginning to see some enjoyment in it again.
    I guess what I’m working around to is: there’s no deadline. Sure, things you do will impact your employability, and I imagine the Captain knows way more about that me! But you don’t have to know what you’re going to do post-phd. The PhD is worth doing in its own right, and it’s okay to take some breathing room. FInish the PhD and get a job that you like and is low-stress, even if it’s not paid that well and you’re overqualified. Go straight from PhD to high-flying research. Jump careers entirely. You have a lot more freedom than it feels like, and above all, I promise you: you have time.
    I hope that was at least faintly articulate 🙂

  44. Q4: Oh, I feel for you so hard. I have some idea how hard this is–I miscarried a wanted child that I believed was my only shot literally *one week* before my General Exam. But after spending that week staying home recovering physically and cramming knowledge between bouts of gut-wrenching sobs, I managed to pass. I burst out crying when they told me I passed, but guess what, they can’t take it back for that. I passed because, as the Captain said, I knew my stuff.

    Defending is hard enough at the best of times, and these are really, really not the best of times. But you got this. As raw as you are feeling, you got this.

    Also Q3: OH MY GOD GRAD SCHOOL IS LIKE DEPRESSION FACTORY so don’t feel bad that it’s making you emotional and self-doubting and anxious and unsure of what you are doing and what you were thinking and what do I even enjoy doing I don’t even remember anymore. No matter where you end up, you got this far and that’s something to be proud of. (Also, as a Person B *fuck adjuncting SO HARD*)

  45. Q4 LW here: I PASSED, AND I AM NOW DR. SNOW. Captain, thank you again for the advice and game plan – I can’t even tell you how much it helped.

    1. Gosh I sure got emotionally invested in this one! I came back here specifically to see if you had updated about how things went today, and I literally just shouted “YESSSSSSS!!” and pumped my fist in the air for you! Sending my condolences and congratulations both, Doctor Snow – plus all of the jedi hugs and fist bumps you might want.

    2. Congrats Dr. Snow! You are incredible! I hope, as per Cap’s advice, that you have nothing scheduled for today except basking!

    3. DR. SNOW !! Congratulations on finishing your PhD in style… also sending so much love and sympathy for the passing of your sweet cat. ❤

    4. Thank you all so much for the good thoughts and cheer!! I couldn’t manage a longer post yesterday because my brain was just DONE post-defense, but I wanted to add that it went really, really well. My committee asked some seriously challenging questions, but it turns out that they were thinking about how to turn the dissertation into a book – I have no major revisions (which, I don’t even know how, because I was literally writing through tears for the final 40 pages of the document.) I didn’t cry at all, and the only time I came close was at the very end, after they’d passed me, when they started talking about how good/ timely/ well-written/ important (???!!!!!) my dissertation is. My committee is made up of absolutely lovely, supportive people, but historically they are not big on praise or talking about the stuff that’s going well, so hearing this overwhelmingly positive response nearly made me lose it because I was so utterly unprepared to hear it.

      I still miss my cat desperately, but I feel less like I’m going to pieces now.

      1. It just keeps getting better! I hope that you do turn it into a book someday, and that you tell us all about that.

  46. Seeing the Caps tweet about Dr Snow (wonderful news!) reminded me I meant to comment here about PhD vivas (dissertation defence).

    There are all kinds of horror stories which go around about examiners, and I won’t say that none of them are true. But equally, I have examined 8 PhDs now and I have NEVER not gone into the room wanting to give the candidate the absolute best chance to pass. I’ve examined work that was flawless and work that was a long way off what was required and I’ve always spent the viva trying to find ways to help the candidate show me their expertise. Sometimes this has involved asking tough questions and pressing the candidate for more but I always try to do it in a constructive way – if I feel like the candidate just CAN’T answer I don’t torture them. I’ve never had a student cry in a viva, but I’ve had someone ask to stop and take a break for physical reasons, and I was totally okay with that. If someone got emotional, my response would be to let them pause and restart when they felt able. And I think all this is true of the vast, vast majority of examiners. (I learnt so much from the very experienced person I co-examined with my first time, where we had to ask the student to completely resubmit and she framed it in the kindest, most supportive way possible.)

    All of which is to say – PhD students facing this most high stakes of life events – just remember that everyone in the room is almost certainly on your side, and if you cry / fart / go blank / need to stand up and walk around that is totally fine. And if an examiner DOES make you feel like shit that says something about them and not about you.

    Congratulations again Dr Snow, and good luck to all of you facing defences!

    1. As someone who’s just in the process of finishing her thesis and on a roller coaster of anxiety and emotional exhaustion, thank you for this comment.

      1. Glad to know it helped! You will get there! Don’t forget to keep on doing whatever self care looks like for you – I remember getting so locked into ‘must not do anything but thesis’ and it did NOT make me more productive.

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