There's another F-word that I could have used to title this post, but I know that some of my readership prefer more Ph.amily-Ph.riendly language.
It's hard to get a Ph.D., and not just in the sense that a lot of work goes into the coursework, finding a topic, making an original contribution to the field, etc. After it seems that everything is done; after all 130 pages have been edited, re-edited, and verified by three committee members; after it's been printed on at least 20# paper with at least 25% cotton content; after the cover sheet has been signed by all three members (one of whom is in Australia, another of whom is now in Paris); after two additional copies of the abstract (without page numbers) have been printed; the work isn't done. There are two anonymous questionnaires, one from the NSF and one from UC Davis; there is a release form authorizing the powers that be to copy the document that I spent the last four years preparing onto microfilm and bind it in the library; there is an appointment (between the hours of 1:00 and 4:00 on Tuesday) to be made with one of the staff in the office of graduate studies, wherein the above forms are put in order to be passed on the appropriate offices, and every page of my dissertation is examined to ensure that the pages are consecutive, as are the chapters, and the sections, and the subsections, and that my font is suficiently large and uniform throughout, and that the margins are respected (god forbid you disrespect the margins!). Frankly, if this kind of administrative scrutiny was demanded of bachelors recipients, the numbers for that degree would be much lower. But if you can make it through all of that, then you will have satisfied all requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, and I'm proud to report that I have done precisely that.
I was somewhat surprised by my elation when D. Swindall handed me that certificate. For many months now, when asked how far along I was, I've said something like "It's mostly paperwork at this point," or "I just have some administrative details to take care of," or "I'm down to minor editing." After saying such a white lie so many times I started to believe that the work I had left really was negligible, and that, for all intents and purposes, I was done. I had even walked; how much could that feeling of completion be enhanced by mere paperwork?
A whole lot, as it turns out. After spending those fifteen minutes yesterday witnessing the inspection of my dissertation's pages, I could say, for the first time without qualification, that I am Dr. Philip Max Sternberg. I'm now as educated as my wife, (although the jury's still out as to who's the smarter one). I'm also the second Dr. Sternberg in my family, a tradition that my father would be happy to see me carry on. Of course, in his view, the important aspect of this endeavor is scholarship, not the title; I'm glad to have had him instill me with that sense of values. For this, and many other reasons, I'm extremely grateful to have the opportunity to dedicate my dissertation to his memory.
Yesterday marked the end of this stage of my life in another way, too; my Jetta, my first car, my graduation present, the car that carried me through all of grad school, was sold to a young couple, both of whom just started their graduate studies. It served me well, and was with me for many fond memories. But it was time to let it go. I think it was best to have it pass out of my hands at the same time as my dissertation; the sense of completion and finality is made all the more real because of it.
A big day, in so many ways.