Here is my doctorial dissertation.

As I stated in the acknowledgments, I like the ideas in this dissertation, but I hate this dissertation itself. It still counts as a big achievement for me, but I think I can do much better on it, if I had enough time. Officially, I have spent about 14 months working on it, but during these months there were other non-academic related things going on as well.

Below is my acknowledgement:

This is a turbulent journey. Moving to a new country, learning a new language, studying a new subject (education of analytic philosophy in China, in general, was not very good, no mention I was not major in philosophy in my undergraduate), adjusting into a new culture, etc. I can keep listing all these difficulties that I have encountered during my years in the PhD program, however, none of them was the one that almost “killed” me.

At some point, I start to realize that I am not welcomed. I do not belong here. I start to notice how dismissive some people are, who have a good reputation of being supportive to other students. I start to notice that people keep conflating me with another Chinese woman (even though there are only 3 Asian women in the department). I start to notice the expression on their faces when they have to talk to me, which tells me that they seem to believe “This Chinese woman is nothing: stupid, quiet, working hard, but that’s everything she gets”.

They do not believe that, one day, I will become a good philosopher; and it is not only they do not believe it, but they never consider it as a remote possibility. However, they always have this hope to their other students. They support them unconditionally, they never “double check” their academic record, because they believe their students.

But they never believe me.

It is one thing to say “let’s just be me and show to them how good I am!”, it is another thing to act on this for six year. I think I have shown them evidence how good I am, but they never believe it. They just hold that belief that I am nothing, and they don’t update it on the new evidence. I don’t understand. But I can tell that they are really good philosophers, full of knowledge and experiences. I admire them. I admire them so much that it is really difficult for me to not believe them, even though believing in them means stabbing a dagger in the heart. It is hurt. It is painful. It is killing me.

And they are right that “I am nothing”, to some extent. I know there are some good points in this dissertation, and I like these points. But let’s be honest, I hate this dissertation. It is terrible. It is a real piece of shit. I would love to have at least one more year to polish it, make it “readable”, make it deserve my name on it, and make it deserve Terry and Reza putting their names on it. In this sense, I fail. I fail myself, and I fail Terry and Reza.

Terry and Reza are only people who believe me. Terry never expresses his worry, but he keeps coming up with solutions for my situation and keeps asking me questions with his poker face. That is how I know he cares. And Reza. Reza is more expressional, and he tells me directly that he thinks I am doing good. What’s more precious is that, they both not only care about my dissertation, but also my career as a philosopher. Even though, neither of them is able to push back on the nasty thoughts others cast on me, their support is the only light that leads me through the years of endless darkness.

I know I cannot stay there anymore. I have made an agreement with them that I will leave in my six year, and I have tried hard to obtain this deal. If I choose to stay, I need to talk to them again to change that deal. It is simply impossible for me to beg like a dog again. So I need to rush myself to graduate with this horribly terrible dissertation, with the guilty of failing Terry and Reza (I know they would not think like this, but this is the real thought I have), because I know I need to drag myself out of this place, before I fully break down.

I am on the edge. I am almost broken. I cannot even bring myself to physically near the social science building, so at least one third of my dissertation was written down on the bench inside the music school, near the water fountain and women restroom. Music school becomes a sanctuary to me. My interaction with people there makes me realize something is not going right in my department. I was so afraid of speaking English, because their reactions (for instance, they would lean in, widen their eyes, and put their ear towards my mouth) show that “my English is bad, I should not speak, I am wasting other people’s time” (as an East Asian woman, I don’t like waste others’ time). But I surprisedly find myself speaking English fluently in the music school, especially to my piano teacher, Daniel Linder. He not only accepts me in his studio but also restores my sanity as a human with dignity. I don’t think he is especially “supportive” to me. He simply supports everyone in his studio. But that is all I need. I simply need to be treated as everyone else. As a teacher, he also teaches me other things beyond piano, but the most important thing he helps me relearn is that I am not a piece of garbage, which was something, at some point, I truly believed. Having a minor in music is not only a “break” for me, but also a life buoy.

I started to look for a life buoy under the encouragement of my roommate and my sister Ke (who is often conflated with me, even though she has long hair and I have very short hair. So, we decide to have a name together: Yikeyikeyikeyi). Ke is both strong and caring. It is lucky for me to have her around. I have already said a lot to her at the end of my minor degree recital (link here: https://youtu.be/BqW5XYq8E5g, in the last a few minutes in this video). It happened at the end of the last semester, and I have nothing new to add on. So I stop here.

I want to mention that even though I am not close to all students in the department, many of them have helped me in a lot of ways. I own a proper “thank you” to them. And Rhys, I hate my dissertation but I love the paper we wrote and publish together, and thank you for putting my name before your name.

I want to thank my mom, and my childhood friends 倩倩,娜娜,蕾姐,王博,小黄,李䶮 as well. I know they are not going to read it (and I won’t send it to them). So I won’t say more here. See, I have family, I have friends, and I have supporting systems, both in China and here. How lucky I am.

I want to stop now. I am supposed to submit this dissertation today and I have been writing on this acknowledgment for 2 hours now, in the morning, without breakfast. My belly is complaining, and I hear my phone vibrate which is probably Yaowen looking for me. I am not going to proofread this (since my dissertation has been proofreaded by my friend Luke already). After reading it through, I will submit my dissertation, and look forward to my career as a professional philosopher.

I, ZHOU Yili, survived. I will keep working, and I hope I will keep loving philosophy till the end of my day.

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