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Just getting started…

A picture of Jess Hughes on her graduation day. She's wearing a black robe and a floppy, blue velvet hat with a gold tassle and a big smile.
Picture or it didn’t happen: Me in my funny hat on graduation day. (For image description, see alt text.)

I am a newly doctored doctor. I successfully defended my dissertation–a study of U.S. neurodiversity advocacy online–in May. It’s now the start of a new school year, and I’m still getting used to the idea that I actually finished my Ph.D. I was at it so hard and so long, my body and my brain still aren’t accustomed to being done, to not being a student anymore.

In a sense, of course, I’m not done. As I said at my defense, I finished this big project but I feel like it’s just the beginning. I’m nowhere near done with the questions that I started with, and I’ve heaped more questions on top of those. I’ll be working to understand and amplify autistic perspectives and consider the implications of neurodiversity for communication and disability theory and pedagogy for a long time to come.

Little by little, though, I am starting to feel like a scholar as opposed to a student. Not that I’ll ever stop learning, but I’m starting to shift into a peer role and out of the n00b role in relation to my former teachers. I’m still figuring out what that means, and I still have my ‘I’m not worthy’ moments. But I’m starting to get used to the idea that I’ve contributed something worthwhile, and to have faith that I’ll continue to do so. I’m committed to the work, and I’ve proven I’m up for it. It’s a good feeling.

Stay with me, good feeling. We’re just getting started.


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