Please Welcome… Dr Nessie Monster! aka Post-Viva Feelings

Hello my dears, how are you?

I am exhausted but relieved. I passed my viva, emerging with minor corrections, so you may now address me as Dr Nessie Monster!


I slept for 11 hours straight last night and feel somewhat more human today, although I am yet to get out of my pajamas and red fluffy dressing-gown.

I can’t believe the viva is over and went so smoothly. It was difficult at first and there was a bit of scrabbling for answers to the more general questions at the beginning but once we got into the specifics of my text and experiments, it was fine. The first thing they did was congratulate me on producing one of the best written theses they’d read in years, that was also clearly structured, which is high praise from such experienced examiners. Their biggest criticism was a lack of illustrative diagrams for the signalling pathways and cross-talk mechanisms, and that, as with many students, I hadn’t spent enough time in “fantasy land” in the Discussion Chapter. I could have been far more explicit and specific about what I would do next if I had all the money, resources and time in the world, and if I had the opportunity to start over, what I would do differently. However, as I was able to talk about that at length in the viva, it wasn’t a major stumbling block.

The main thing about the viva is that it felt like it was over soooooo quickly! It took three hours on the dot, on the grounds that my external examiner “doesn’t do vivas longer than three hours because my brain turns to mush”, which, fair play to her! Vivas have been known to run on as long as five hours… *shudder*

My best personal achievements were that a) I didn’t cry once and b) I didn’t get the hiccups. Given that I get hiccups all the time, most every day, and that I was in tears of panic and despair on and off all morning prior to the viva at 2pm, both of these things were blessings.

The hilarity and angst of being on the phone to my supervisor the morning of my viva to have him talk *at* me for 45 minutes straight and then say at the end of the phone call “you seem really calm and in the right frame of mind” cannot be conveyed through mere words. Since my side of the conversation consisted solely of   “yes”, “uh huh”, and “ok” repeated ad nauseam, Squishy, who hasn’t actually heard me on the phone to my supervisor prior to that conversation, was fairly outraged and not at all surprised my supervisor had the wrong end of the stick about my frame of mind that morning.

It was after all my dearest Squishy who held me while I sobbed and whimpered in bed the night before the viva, at 6am on the day of when I woke up from a bad dream, and all morning after I got up at 9am.

The deep terror and belief that I would fail the viva had been haunting me for weeks, and whilst it is now over and I have emerged triumphant, it doesn’t seem the slightest bit real. I would go so far as to say it’s an anti-climax after all the emotional energy I have expended on the damn thing over the last two months.

I am Doctor Nessie Monster now and can call myself as such. I’ve been signing my name as “Dr” in texts and emails and on FB but it feels rude, presumptuous and arrogant, which is ridiculous, because I should be proud of what I have achieved and shouldn’t be ashamed to mention it.

It’s so wierd to feel that way when everyone else is busy congratulating me and declaring how proud they are of my achievements, and how it’s all paid off at last, when all I want to do is hide in bed and sleep for a week. I don’t even feel elated or joyful or ecstatic. I just want to cry and hide. And I have no idea if that’s a common immediate post-PhD feeling or not. It’s certainly nothing like how I felt after I submitted the hard copies of my thesis.

Also because of the necessary corrections I need to make (it is possible to fail your PhD by failing to make the required changes!), and the academic paper writing that still needs to be done, the PhD is not actually over yet, nor am I entirely free.

Regardless of these inconvenient matters, succeeding in the Viva Voce exam represents a huge change in my life, an acknowledgement of what I’ve been working towards for the last five years, or two decades, depending on how you look at it. (Ugh, yes, I have spent two whole decades in formal education – what madness!). It’s also the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. I am now free to really consider what I want to do next and apply for the full-time, “real world”, “grown-up” jobs I’ve been avoiding since I started my undergrad education the year of the Financial Crisis, the consequent Economic Collapse and the resulting Great Recession.

I don’t really have a positive note to end on because I don’t yet feel positive about the matter but I do trust that my feelings will change over the next few weeks and that as I keep busy at my temp admin job and in moving house to be with Squishy, normality will reassert itself.

Much Loves

Dr Nessie Monster


Adrienne Rich, Power

Living in the earth-deposits of our history

Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
her wounds came from the same source as her power

– Adriene Rich, Power


Celexa Side-Effects

Soooo, I’ve been taking Celexa/Citalopram for 6 months now. Two months ago we increased my dose to 40 mg/day because I was sufferring badly with depression and anxiety symptoms.

Two weeks after handing in my thesis, I had a PHQ-9 score of 11 and a GAD-7 score of 14, flagging up as moderate depression and moderate generalised anxiety. I was having crying boughts/hysterics every day, nightmares *every* night and what I now know is “sleep maintenance insomnia”, which is where you wake up in the small hours of the morning and are unable to get back into (a deep) sleep. I couldn’t make any decisions and trying to plan anything resulted in my mind going completely blank with fear and dread. Alternatively, my mind would get stuck in a loop of a list of all the things I have to do and the order in which to do them. So I’d decide “first this then that, then the other thing….” ending up with a massive list and yet being unable to complete even the “simplest” first task on the list, which would be something like “get out of bed” or “put on clothes” or “clean teeth”.

After upping the the dose to 40 mg, these problems slowly subsided, particularly the anxiety-type symptoms, only to be replaced with crushing anhedonia. This alleviated after two to three weeks of being on the higher dose. After that time, I started my new job at the RCN (which is going really well by the way!).

Turns out I am capable of getting up in the morning, doing the London commute (only by avoiding the Central line entirely!), and turning up to work *on time*. Turning up on time was emphatically NOT something I was capable of whilst doing the PhD, to the point that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to manage it on the job. So, winning so far.

Once at work, I can make polite/friendly conversation and LEARN NEW THINGS. Yes!

AND…. *drumroll please*…. NOT dick about on Facebook/Wordpress/Tumblr/the Internets in general aaaaall day. Again, not my strong suit whilst doing the PhD. This equals win number 3.

So, it’s sounding good, right?

The downsides are:

  1. Still suffering the with sleep maintenance insomnia
  2. Still suffering with nightmares/bad dreams
  3. Being so tired when I get home after work that I basically go straight to bed. I didn’t used to be a bed-by-9pm gal. This has affected my plans for working on my thesis/reading papers for a couple of hours every evening, which is really, really bad given how close my viva is.
  4. Libido, what libido? Squishy has been like “sex? pretty please?” and I’m like “nah, not really feeling it”. This is SO UNLIKE me, you don’t even know! I haven’t even felt inclined to masturbate. Sad, sad times.
  5. Rapid weight gain. I’ve gone up to a size 18 for my jeans, which I noticed round about Christmas, and when I weighed myself for the first time in months, turns out I’ve gained over a stone (14 lbs for you Americans). That is a lot to gain in the space of a few months.

Guess who’s going back to her GP! Perhaps once her viva is out of the way…


Hope you find what you’re looking for at the end of the desert

Sir Terry Pratchett awakens. A skeleton stands at his bedside, wearing a long black robe. He sits up. “Well, hang on, let me get my hat,” he tells it.

The skeleton reaches into its robe. From abyssal depths it produces a heavy book bound in sheets of lead and night. It is the kind of book that gets stolen by a rugged adventurer from a temple with more spike-traps than the average house of worship contains. It is the kind of book to which the word “tome” might properly be applied. Frost forms on its pages from the lingering chill of the void.

The skeleton coughs once and holds the book out to the man sitting on the bed.


Exciting Life Updates!

So I started my part-time job this week working for the Royal College of Nursing! It’s for 3 months, which is pretty much ideal whilst I hunt for permanent work in sci comms/med comms and get through my viva (and do post-viva corrections/paper writing). I’m arranging travel so it’s not overly exciting but it pays all right, and hot damn, if it isn’t a good feeling to be off jobseekers. Everyone’s been really friendly so far and the office and building are really nice. Also the food in the canteen is yummy. Always a bonus. :-) Continue reading

TV Shows You Absolutely Must Watch If You Like Your Sci Fi

We have been spoilt for TV shows between Christmas and now: Agent Carter, Sleepy Hollow and The 100.

What do they have in common? Awesome female leads, a diverse number of solid women characters, who talk to each other, and great character arcs. Sleepy Hollow and The 100 also have women of colour in central roles. To top it off The 100 features a disabled Latina woman who happens to be the best mechanic ever and the lead girl, Clarke, is bisexual.

Agent Carter was fantastic IMO, although lots of people have pointed out there are no POC characters in the show. Which, yep, is “problematic” – no arguments there. Peggy has two close female friends and the show explicitly deals with the sexism Peggy and her friends experience at work. Peggy’s character arc is about her coming to realise her value for herself, even when all the men at work like to forget she’s anything more than a secretary. I really, really hope they do another season, where we get to see Peggy actually set up S.H.I.E.L.D. I highly recommend following Kiss My Wonder Woman, and reading these two articles with her take on the show (Warning: SPIOLERS!).

Agent Carter on Window Ledge

Hiding out on a window ledge, as you do!

Continue reading

Viva Update

So in fact neither of my supervisors will be present on the day.

Consequently, I am roping Squishy, Kat and Nikki in for moral support.

Friends on FB tell me I’ll be better off without my supervisors there, and they may well be right, but it just adds to the litany of inconsiderate behaviour on their part.

And as Squishy pointed out, they will have had their commitments arranged long before they knew when my viva would be so it’s not active malice, however much it feels that way. Just, you know, a sentence saying “I’m so sorry, I have prior commitments and can’t be there” would be so much more courteous that “I won’t be there but it doesn’t matter”.

Sigh. I don’t know why I still hope they’ll treat me kindly and with respect.