Broken by Paperwork, or The Basement Drones Try to Steal My Doctorate

I knew you were out there! You smart, savvy friends who’ve been slowly overtaken by the fog of indecipherable bureaucracy! I feel better already sharing some champagne out of a can with you from afar (thanks, Esther, for that new find!).

After Broken by Paperwork part one, a dear friend who is in the home stretch of the marathon to get her Ph.D. wrote to tell me this story. We’re going to call it….

The Basement Drones Try to Steal my Doctorate, And I Wrestle it Back at the Mouth of Hello

In my Ph.D. program, when you are about to graduate, you have to “apply” to graduate.

This means that in March, you run around and get all of these papers signed and filed saying that you have done everything you needed to in order to be ready to graduate. [Editor’s note: I know that this generally involves hunting down half-time, troll-like department assistants to validate your paperwork with a special wax stamp that must be sealed onto goatskin.]

I did this.

Then the system booted me out. Chewed me up. Spit me out.

I got a panicked phone call from the secretary in my office last Wednesday. She was shocked that I had decided to quit.

I had no idea what she was talking about. I checked my email, then got very panicky myself.

I got an email from the grad school with the header: “Application for Degree Withdrawn by Student.”

I am less than 30 days from graduating. I am NOT quitting now. 

So then I made some phone calls.

One to a Ms. Cheeryface, who sounded suspiciously like our old friend Saul in Americorps. Y’know: bureacratic basement dweller, never does anything quickly, requires forms in triplicate, etc.

She looked through my file and then said,” Oh, I accidentally hit ‘withdraw from degree program.'”

It turned out that some of my paperwork had been filed incorrectly, and this needed revising. Instead of revising, SHE HIT WITHDRAW!

What the flip?!!!

Had this error not been caught by my secretary friend, I would have been KICKED OUT OF MY DOCTORAL PROGRAM.

Like you, I wanted to cry. It is the only logical thing to do.

Later that day I also received a hefty fine from the library for some technology equipment I had checked out (and returned on time!). I went in there and read the riot act. It was not pretty. I am not proud of my actions. I got my dollars back. But I am sleep deprived and annoyed, and my fightin’ energy has to go someplace.

Yours in the struggle,

3 responses to “Broken by Paperwork, or The Basement Drones Try to Steal My Doctorate

  1. I’m kind of terrified of applying to graduate next year. I plan on defending sometime in the fall just to give myself the extra months to deal with the paper work. You see, they mucked up my IRB status. Mid-way through my dissertation, after I was done with field work, they decided I had to get IRB (human subjects research) approval from the campus to which my advisor has a primary appointment. Even though my advisor doesn’t actually have a primary appointment, she is 50/50 at the Grad Center and another campus. So I asked if I could just stick with the GC because my vulnerable populations work would be a dozens of pages of paperwork for the new campus while staying at the GC would be a one page form for continuance. No answer. My IRB approval technically expired, but no one came after me. The GC wasn’t sure I was supposed to file there, but the new campus wasn’t sure either. Neither thought I was their responsibility, neither wanted to deal with my paperwork, and I certainly didn’t feel like doing loads of superfluous paperwork or hunting down the answer to my situation.
    BUT to graduate you need to get a sign off from the IRB coordinator saying you were in compliance. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME???? No one else is in my position; everyone was either grandfathered and allowed to stay at the GC OR was new and forced to apply for the first time to the other campus (referring specifically to other advisees of my advisor). No one else had an ACTIVE research approval – they were either past that point or before that point. So I have no one else to look at for guidance.
    So yes, leaving months to get the paperwork done so I can graduate. Boo.

    • You need canned champagne! It comes with a straw and can be packed for lunch! Buy in bulk. The only other thing I have to say is, UGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Oh my soul. Anything with the IRB involved cannot end well. Sending big East-Coast-grad-school-survivor-home-purchaser-and-seller-iPhone-shattering hugs and kisses to you all.

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