You’ve come to the end of your PhD and after years and years of hard work, one last question remains: “Should I go to my PhD graduation?”. This week, we have one of our editors Kiran Chotalia sharing her two cents after she finally attended her in-person graduation this year after it was delayed by the pandemic (TLDR; definitely go!).
In March 2020, after four and a half years of hard work, meeting some incredible people and standing at the edge of our knowledge about the Earth, the time came for those big PhD hurdles. I handed in copies of my thesis which get sent to the examiners, I had my viva voce (aka my thesis defence), after which I made my corrections before handing in my final copy. So there I am, handing in the final copy of my thesis on an unseasonably warm and sunny day in March, ready for some relaxation, travelling and getting ready to move for my current post doc position at the University of Florida.
One week later, the whole of the UK is told to stay at home. Luckily, I managed to start my post doc remotely but with all of the restrictions, one of the things that was also dragged online was my graduation celebration. One of the benefits of having an online graduation is professors in the department were able to give small speeches as a well done. The downside? We could see them, but they couldn’t see us! And whilst it was great to celebrate between lockdowns, I was relieved when we got an email asking whether we would attend an in-person lockdown. After sending off an emphatic yes, I went back waiting to hear about the details.
The thing about a PhD graduation is, you know what to expect. In general, the day goes the same as an undergrad graduation and barring the achievement itself, the biggest differences are the gown and when you get called on stage. I spent most of my MSci graduation in a mild state of terror that I would fall in my heels whilst walking across the stage, this time I wore flats. But once I got onto that stage, and I could hear the whoops and cheers of the fellow PhD students behind me in the queue and my family and friends somewhere in their seats, a sense of pure joy took over at the opportunity to finally celebrate anything after so long, let alone something I managed to achieve.
So if you’re asking me “should I go to my PhD graduation?”, my answer is 100% yes.
Different institutions across the globe host graduations in different ways, but here’s some hints and tips you might want to consider if your celebrations are on the horizon:
- Take an entourage
This really depends on the ticketing restrictions (and prices) for guests at your ceremony. If the option is there to invite your nearest and dearest, go for it. I was lucky enough to have a mix of friends (both guests and fellow PhDs graduating) and family to share the joy of the day with, and it’s a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
- Heels? Not unless you wear them every day
The outfit you choose for the day will really impact your enjoyment! Whether it’s fancy footwear or a suit that’s a bit too tight, go for the slightly more comfortable option – wear what makes you feel good! And if you do decide to go for the no pain, no (fashion) gain option, I recommend getting that entourage to hang onto something more comfortable to head home in.
- Take pictures
With our smart phones, some may say we’ve all become amateur photographers these days. Whilst the professional shots are all well and good for hanging on your wall, it’s the candid shots of celebration that will tell a story of the day and take you right back. And thanks to technology, if you’re graduating on a budget and have to skip the professional photos, you can get some great shots in your gowns too.
- When the opportunity comes to celebrate you, take it
After seeing the few grey PhD gowns in the sea of black worn by undergraduates, it really hit home how few people undertake the challenge. Especially if you hang around in academia surrounded by students working towards one or those that have already got theirs, it can be easy to forget that getting your PhD is no mean feat. You did it! Make sure to take the time to celebrate this incredible achievement whether you end up going to the graduation ceremony itself or decide to celebrate in another way.