27 April 2009

End of an Era

I defended my Master's thesis today.

It was the moment I've been working toward for many months; the apex of my short graduate career here at OldSchool. And now it's done.

I've been working on the actual talk for about a week now, but the research has taken me more than two years. In that time, I've written two theses and co-authored several academic papers about my work. I've presented my research both formally at poster sessions and informally, to peers and professors, including a million different conversations about my research during my graduate school interviews. This topic has consumed my life for ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day every day for many weeks this past year. And now I can stop talking about it.

Despite my deep understanding of the topic and surrounding subfield (understanding acquired slowly over time and after being asked many questions that---embarassingly---I couldn't answer), designing the talk was hard. A talk is not as easy as being able to recite facts or technical details. The first few versions were certainly too specific; I tried to cram too many (interesting) ideas about my work into too little time. It took me several tries and some critical words from my advisor to broaden the scope and make the work accessible to people outside of my little corner of the field.

I think I succeeded. As my committee congratulated me on passing, one professor told me that it was the best Master's defense he'd ever seen. I'm in a pretty particular program, and this professor hasn't seen defenses every year or even every other year, but wow. I thought I was kind of boring, but thanks!

I'm feeling many different things: there is relief, naturally; there is pride in my work; there is a sense of emptiness now that my central focus is gone. There's excitement for my next step (a PhD program). There's sadness at leaving behind professors (particularly my advisor) with whom I've developed close relationships.

This day feels like a turning point, and at the same time not. I'm still me; my body still feels the same when I move it, my hearing sounds the same, colors have not changed. Still, there's some sense of this being the end of an era, the completion of a long path that has led me to this point and now deposits me here for my next journey.

I can't believe this one is quite finished; I can't wait to start the next.

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