What good shall I do with this knowledge now?

A hand holding a bouquet of flowers with alphabet letters 'DR'

If it isn’t quite obvious from the picture above, I have passed my viva examination with minor corrections!

While I understand having nerves would be natural in times like this, I was initially shitting hard, concrete, rigged bricks. My viva was scheduled to be on Friday morning and I have scheduled a practice with a friend two days before so I could pretend-present my slides and she could become my pretend-examiner and ask hard questions, but I had to cancel it because I caught a fever of which I realised was largely psychosomatic. I had a call with my supervisor earlier in the week, of which I conducted with no holds barred — I literally lamented to him of how nervous I was, that I was afraid I might freeze in the middle of a question and the examiners might find me a fraud, and that despite having gone through the thesis again three times before the exam, I might lose sight of the important points and said something contradictory of which the examiners might catch and mark me as a fraud again. It was a vicious pattern! My supervisor, calm and collected as he always was, assured me that I had nothing to worry about, and adding into the pressure, said that “I’m sure you will do great.” He did not just say well, he said great. I walked out of the call convinced that he wouldn’t take anything less than great, and if I were to perform anything less than great, then, what kind of a mentee would I be after he had invested so much time and effort in my development?

A week before the exam, I decided to text a couple of friends who had defended their thesis to ask about their experiences, and what advice they might have to deal with nerves. I collected more wisdom than I expected, which is a given because I am blessed to be surrounded by people with much self-assurance, kindness, and intelligence I could ever aspire to have. Someone I looked up very highly to mentioned that the morning of her viva exam, she walked into the room telling herself saying, “So if I fail, I fail.” situating herself in the fact that she had done her best, and that a PhD, however a monumental event in one’s life, does not define your life entirely. I talked about it with my mother, and while she obviously looked worried — “but, you’ve done the job, they should pass you anyway,” then 10 minutes later, “RIGHT?” — I think about the notion all the time. I decided that I was going to adopt that confidence, in hopes that in some ways it would seep into my bones and become mine.

The day itself, surprisingly, was rather breezy. I signed into the Webex call initially nervous of course, but my examiners, in all their unbridled wisdom and experience, had made the session so comfortable I realised I had SO much to talk about my research when prompted. They have proven again and again that what it takes to dispel all the nerves in amateur academic researchers such as myself is to believe in them and their hard work, and I was very grateful for that. The questions they posed to me were more around their curiosity about the research more so than the horror stories of ‘grilling’ and ‘scrutinising’ of every chapter that I had often heard of. After an hour, I was ushered out of the call, and when I came back in, I was inundated with a flurry of congratulations.

My work isn’t quite over. On top of the list of minor corrections, one of the examiners suggested my thesis for an award and a book publication, so there’s more work. My thesis has survived three significant events in the history: a government change within electoral means, a government change with non-electoral means, and is currently surviving a global pandemic. Which is to say in extension, the whole journey is also a test on my character, my professional and my personal growth, and what good I shall do with this knowledge now. That was the question that had kept me grounded throughout my doctoral journey: What good shall I do with this knowledge now? In all its vagueness of what ‘good’ entails and how wide the scope is, I know for once the focus would be on minimising harms for all diversity of people, and that requires a great deal of unlearning and framework building of which I needed to find out where to start.

In my list of questions I prepared for myself before the viva, one of it was: “What advice do you have for researchers entering your field?” My answer, although I did not get asked this in my viva, was: 1) When it comes to writing research about technology and politics, always critically analyse every issue from the point of the intersections of gender, race, class, and other possible human diversity in your thesis, because if we fail to do this, we fail to see how technology could harm people in the margins, and 2) Cite less white men, and re-center the work and experience of others who would be largely affected by technology, which is to say, not white men.

In my journal, I wrote a reminder to myself to write about this word when I had successfully defended my PhD — opsivo — which is Greek to describe “an act of arriving too late to the feast, or to feast today with the weight of all the wasted yesteryears”. I had ‘kept’ the word tucked between the pages for months, convinced I was going to write about it to describe my feelings today. Little that I know today that I would not describe the yesteryears — filled with failed relationships and severe work burnout and friendships gone awry out of different directions — as wasted, but more so as a journey, a test that had contributed to my growth to who I am today. I wouldn’t say I would thank all of these people involved in these experiences, but I would say my resilience and tenacity was also what bounced me out of all them. I am not late to the feast, but rather, I am exactly where I needed to be.

The word more apt for the journey so far today, I guess, would be — phlotimo — literally translated as “love of honour”, essentially “at its core, is about goodness, selflessness, giving without wanting anything in return and the force that drives individuals to think about the people and the world around them”. Although still virtually untranslatable, it is what I would aspire to achieve in my journey of what good I shall do with this knowledge that I have earned.

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