There are lots of posts out there offering useful hints and tips about finishing a PhD thesis. Having recently submitted my own, I decided to write about my experience of finishing. Rather than provide a “top 10 tips” type of article I’ll highlight a few of the major moments and experiences I had.
Firstly, I had been told many times about “the fear” and “the pressure” that would plant itself without warning in my mind and push me towards the finish line. It’s real. Although I was working towards my final deadline (January
2015) for about a year before, it was in August of last year that a real drive towards the finish line kicked in. All of a sudden I was banging out 1,000+ words a day, and ploughing through books and articles I needed to read. I organised Shut Up and Write sessions in my university. These were great, not only for the amount of writing and editing I did in them, but also because they allowed me to meet up with my friends and colleagues, thus taking the edge off the sometimes painful loneliness that the majority of us feel at the end. #AcWriMo conveniently fell just two months before my submission date and this motivated me to tie up some loose ends and do a heap of editing. I wrote to the point where my arm ached. I strapped on a TENS machine and just kept going.
I think this maniacal rush to the end is responsible for something that surprised me the most. I insurmountable wall of stress that I expected to be confronted with never really happened. Mostly, my stress manifested itself in some of the weirdest dreams I ever had! I think I was so tired at the end of each day that the only outlet my stress had was within my subconscious mind. To give a sample of my stress dreams, one involved the devil who appeared to me horned, with red skin glowing like hot coals, and a big porn star moustache (thanks Orange is the New Black). He told me he had come to take me to hell because I was finishing my thesis, and pronounced a dear friend of mine who had recently finished hers, “the epitome of evil.” Madness! Another involved me running into my supervisor’s office to beg for help, only to find her sitting inside a glass box, motionless and unresponsive. The most disturbing one involved me sitting at my laptop to write my introduction only to find that my fingers started to fall off, popping off one by one and bouncing of the screen. There were many others, as well as, my Fiancé informed me, a lot of sleep-talking. But my waking hours were spent machine-like at my computer pulling my thesis together.
Once I had the full draft, one of the best decisions I made was to get it proofread. My colleagues Gwen Boyle and Paul O’Shea were incredibly generous with their time and spotted various errors and inconsistencies that my, by then, weary eyes would not have found. I also proofread it, looking closely at a chapter per day. I read it aloud and this really helped me to find typos and awkward phrasing. I also took a few days off – something I did not think I would be able to do! I was at the proofreading stage over the Christmas holidays and giving four full days to festivities was one of my better decisions as a PhD candidate. Not only was I able to enjoy Christmas, but I returned to my thesis refreshed and ready for the very final push. The break also put a degree of objective distance between me and the thesis. This is essential when proofreading your own work. Over-familiarity only leads to oversights!
Finally, the day came when I was ready to draw the line and submit. I had been told that there would be mixed emotions, but in those final weeks I couldn’t imagine anything other than joy at the end. When I pressed send and my thesis went to the printers my heart sank and I felt like I had lost a limb. For a few hours after I was in a daze. I couldn’t believe it was done and I couldn’t imagine being without it! The next day I submitted it and felt underwhelmed but pleased. It took a few days before I could fully appreciate and enjoy the feeling of submitting my thesis. I was of course helped along by a few luxurious lie-ins and that new Stephen King novel I had saved for my post-submission read!