Transitional markers

It sounds like Iceland is not going to be marking the transition to a new president anytime soon, even though today was an election day there. That is too bad, because transitions are a good thing.

Yesterday afternoon, several of us from my department went out for beers to celebrate our own little transitional moment. The occasion was both the end of the first summer teaching session and to celebrate the fact the my classmate, Carl, accepted a teaching position at Gustavus Adolfus college in Minnesota. It seemed like a good moment then to mark the transition from the old departmental make-up, which has included Carl teaching for the last six or seven years straight, into the next phase.

Another classmate of mine, Molly, started talking about other types of transitions we go through as graduate students in the Scandinavian Department at Berkeley. She recently finished her PhD qualifying exams, a process I went through in 2007. That is a grueling process of being locked in a room by oneself for seven hours every day for a week, writing out essays to questions provided by professors in our field, followed by one day the following week of being locked in a room for four hours with all of the professors that asked those questions, trying to justify and clarify one's answers. Just thinking about it makes me stressed out all over again.

But, because of the way my department organizes things, once one passes that exam, one is officially a PhD candidate, and there is no other requirement outstanding other than writing the dissertation. There is no written prospectus that gets approved or not approved, no oral defense after the dissertation is written, no more hoops to jump through. Basically, the department recognizes you as a responsible colleague in the field at that point, even though you are not officially finished with everything yet. Molly put it a bit more succinctly: "I realized I would never have to take another test again." And boy oh boy, is that a nice feeling!

Of course, in May, I had another transitional moment provided by my department, the graduation ceremony. That is a celebration of all the hard work done over the whole course of my graduate career, and no big test directly proceeded that moment. That is what made it so enjoyable.

At this point in my career, I am done having to prove myself. I guess Oláfur didn't feel the same way when he decided to run again.


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