A Reflection on the ‘Finishing’ Stages of a PhD: Pre, During, and Post

If you do not like ellipses, self-(indulgent)reflections, and/or critiques of academia, then I would highly recommend clicking off this blog. If you do like reading about a person’s navigation of ‘finishing’ a thesis, then I would highly recommend reading on…

In a nutshell ‘finishing’ a PhD in my academic field, at my institution, and in 2020 goes something like this. HAND IN (88k word thesis), WAIT FOR (viva-examination data), REST AND PREP FOR (viva-examination), DEAL WITH OUTCOME (in my case, a pass/award pending minor amends), then the work to FINALISE and APPROVE… then I will be a Doctor of Philosophy.

All in all, this ‘finishing’ has been from January 2020 to now for me.

Here are my NINE significant moments and reflections (with a quote or amusing photo in between each). And FYI this is not a universal representation and very specific to me as a person and my situation.

It is the mock viva… Of all the processes and points I will describe in this blog this is by far the most applicable to ALL, I would recommend ALWAYS doing a mock viva. I did it a week before my actual viva with my two primary supervisors. They had collected questions from colleagues, my other supervisor, and past viva questions. It was a productive experience and on reflection prepared me to relax for my actual viva.

cat at a computer

It is viva eve… I decided to be out in public on this day, mincing around the Uni. of Worcester campus. Trying to be present and distracted, this in hindsight was an excellent decision. I was very open with friends and colleagues that the viva was the next day (they could probably tell anyway from my dishevelled look). Then, in the evening, I relaxed with friends (a decent home-cooked meal, thanks Rach and Jose) and made a detailed plan of how the viva day would work concerning all the details I could control. Making this plan allowed me to feel in control of the fixed variables, so if anything did go wrong, I was prepared!

inspirational-quotes-eleanor-roosevelt-1562000222

It is the post viva weekend… exhaustion. I was on a high for the first 72 hours post my viva. I was treated like a Queen by many people. Alas, by the weekend, the stress, anxiety, and planning of the viva hit me. I think I slept in a dark room for most of this weekend and turned off my phone! I think academia is dreadful for reminding post-grads to make time to crash or be exhausted. In my opinion, it should be made a celebrated habit and people should be trained to do this effectively. Otherwise, the never-ending guilt of ‘stopping’ or ‘relaxing’ consumes you and even at your most exhausted, you try to battle on and be doing. This weekend post viva, I did nothing.

cat a picture x 2

It is a week on from the viva… on a comedown and writing a lot with pen and pencil. I received my official decision letter and summary of the minor amendments I needed to make. An academic made a flippant comment about the ‘amount’ of corrections I had, then raised their eyebrows about them being minor. Does academia ever not judge or review? Can more be done to foster a productive reaction that involves encouraging mindfulness (as well as the inevitable judgement)? Their flippant words have not left me through the whole amendment process.

inspirational-quotes-dr-seuss-1562000222

It is the many days of receiving messages, cards, and meeting up with people… I actually cannot thank people enough for the generous and thoughtful words. My thesis acknowledgements page is a testament to all these folks, and I am incredibly grateful for you all. My reflection here is that it takes a village to complete a thesis, B-S to anyone who says you can productively achieve it on your own.

Beer

It is the nagging of corrections… two weeks on from the viva, I created an ambitious plan and set of notes to swiftly complete my list of corrections and submit my thesis for approval. My supervisors’ were encouraging but cautious as it would have meant me working flat out for a good week or so. They were right, I am now over eight weeks past my viva and just about to hit submit on my corrected thesis. On reflection, I am glad I made detailed notes and an ambitious plan soon after my viva as it has given me a shelf the past eight weeks to lean on. Although they haven’t been ‘done’ as quickly as possible I have kept them fresh in my mind and chipping away.

cat at a comp x 3

It is the letting go… I am jumping the gun slightly here as my corrections have not been approved yet, so I am still somewhat in purgatory. Yet, this is the time I have reflected the most and written this blog. I’ve contacted two or three colleagues this week for pep talks of ‘how to let go’ … I am now incredibly nervous about giving up my thesis, incredibly sad and tormented by making it perfect, and scared of reflecting on the trials and tribulations of the past 5 years. This past week I’ve been incredibly grumpy and emotional!

dumbo

It is the realisation… the whole post viva process is for you and your work to be internally approved and externally validated. I enjoy this as for 5 years there have been few times such stable rewards can be received. Alas, does the PhD process force a person into self-accepting or to accept the relative nature of what they have produced? It is a massive task, but also a huge privilege. Too many post-grads I speak to are spoiled brats. I’ve come to realise the past couple of years that I want to surround myself with researchers (people) who have and value perspective.

peter pan

It is the moving on… I recognise my achievement. I value and remember everyone and everything that has helped me achieve this feat. I will be moving on (this does involve going back to the thesis to make any potential further corrections and start to publish from it)… My reflection here is to have things to move to during this ‘finishing’ process. Whether that be a holiday, new hobby, a house decoration project/move, a change in jobs, several post-doc applications… I’ve found moving on a transition rather than a clean break. I don’t necessarily need space from my thesis or time to rest (as you can see from the above I’ve found those pockets already). I’m ready to reflect and move to other things, e.g. put my PhD skills to good use, spread some key messages from my project, and continue the ever-illusive quest for a healthy work/life balance…

inspirational-quotes-albert-einstein-1562000222

Thanks for listening.

VPos

Sources of pictures:

Goodhousekeeping.com ’50 short inspirational quotes’

Google images (accessible and free to re-use) ‘cats at computers’

Random photos from my camera roll (my beer and drawings) 

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