After several weeks of working on a written report and a handful of intense days creating and practicing a related presentation, it arrived: the day of my confirmation. Given how nervous I’d been in early January when my supervisor and I reviewed my results, discussed panelists and finally set the date, I expected to be dying of anxiety. Instead, I felt surprisingly calm. I had run through my talk twice in front of audiences, and I’d edited my slides to make sure all the cues I needed were there. The only thing I was unsure about were the questions — you never know what the panel is going to ask. That’s almost helpful in controlling performance anxiety, though, because if you can’t control it, why worry about it?
The talk was scheduled as the first thing in the morning, and I am the furthest you can be from a morning person, but I still arrived an hour and a half early. The hour I spent looking through my slides one last time. The last half hour I spent in the room of my confirmation, strutting about and practicing ballet steps, feigning confidence until the confidence found me. Owning a space you’re about to give a presentation in is really helpful, actually. If there’s one thing you take away from this blog post, let it be that dancing in the room you’re about to give a talk in is a great way to get rid of nervous energy and to feel calm and confident.
The talk went well, although not quite as smoothly as the practice talk had gone. My voice went croaky a couple of times, and I had to settle with some less elegant word choices since my brain wasn’t working quite as fast. Still, I talked slowly and evenly, which goes against my natural instincts of prattling off my thoughts as fast as I physically can. I never froze and I remembered everything I had wanted to explain. I’m happy with how I did. I don’t really remember being asked anything difficult about my work specifically. Mostly, they gave me suggestions, which was nice – the perspective of another expert is always welcome. There were a few general chemistry questions about whether I’d considered the oxidation state of my metal and how I could tell the difference. I blanked on my first row transition metals, which annoyed me, especially since I easily listed them later in the day. I’m the type of personality that obsesses over insignificant failures like that, so I keep trying to push it out of my head so as not to get unreasonably angry with myself.
All in all, my panel was, in their words, “impressed” with the amount of work I’d done, commenting that I’d clearly been working hard. That was surprising for me to hear, since even though I know I have been, I didn’t think it showed from the results I had — which, frankly, feel meager to me. A lot of my time has been spent on wrestling with this infuriatingly complicated crystal structure, which isn’t conducive to the production of more concrete results.
There it is, though: my candidature has been confirmed. My panel assessed my work and believed that I could work the rest of the way through to the conclusion of a PhD. No longer a PhD candidate, I’m now a PhD student.
It feels good.
Share your own confirmation stories or questions in the comments, on Twitter with @Lady_Beaker, where I tweet about my daily life as a now-PhD student. You can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.