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I thought I’d have all six chapters of my thesis edited and a full drafts ready to go by the end of March. I didn’t. I’ve only just barely got to the end of Chapter Three, and there’s still a bit to touch up on that today before I can get started on the other three chapters tomorrow.

I’ve been at university for 6 years and I still haven’t learnt that everything – everything – takes longer than you think it will. I know that I still think I can edit a 12,000-word chapter in two days. That’s ridiculous. I know it takes at least three days to edit, and after that it takes another two days, at least, to type up the changes. Yet knowing this doesn’t make me accept that it’s true. I still make work schedules that overestimate the amount of work I can realistically get done in a day. I still seem to think I’m Super Woman.

I’ve managed to edit three chapters in the last 13 days or so. If I apply myself, I can probably, realistically, get the other three done in the next 10. I’ll then have three weeks to proofread the whole thing and make any final changes before I have to take the manuscript to the printer at the end of the month.

Which reminds me. The printer! I have to get my soft-bound copies produced at a professional thesis-binding service. There are a few of them around my part of London and from what I’ve seen on their websites their prices are pretty reasonable. But it does mean I have to have my whole manuscript ready, with a full list of binding requirements, by April 29th.

The fact that that date is so close just makes me feel down in the dumps. How am I ever, ever going to get this done!

Ok. I’m going home now to get back to work.

Today I feel disillusioned with just about every aspect of working in this place that I can think of. I came to my desk this morning with the intention of finishing another chapter’s edits, but to be honest, I’ve hardly achieved as much today as I would have liked to. I’m going to see if I can pick up speed between now and about 5:30pm. I have three hours.

I’m not sure I like my colleagues any more. I’m not sure if I ever genuinely liked them, but I do remember feeling warm about them in times past. I don’t feel that way any more. I suppose there comes a point in long, involved journeys with people that you can’t take their quirks any more no matter how much there’s reason to like them on the surface. I don’t like them. I can’t make myself try to like them. I don’t even want to like them. I don’t even try to be part of their exclusive get-togethers any more. What’s the point of forcing yourself into circles where you’re not really wanted?

There are academics here I don’t like too. I remember liking just about all of them before, but now, one by one, they all seem to have become repulsive to me. I don’t like seeing some of them any more. With others, I just steer clear altogether. Perhaps like my colleagues, none of them have been specifically rude – they just annoy me. They annoy me in the same way that my colleagues annoy me – not by actually saying or doing anything inherently bad, just by their indifference to me or to things that matter more than me – like ethics – and the way they fail to see how fortunate they are in ways I am not.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to speak in riddles. Maybe I don’t. Maybe it’s just an old habit.

 

 

 

I have, at best, 6 weeks left before I submit. Just like I thought my last year would be more peaceful than previous years (but then found out it’s actually about twice as chaotic), I thought my last couple of months would be peaceful,  but it turns out they’re the epitome of chaos. Although my thesis is, for all intents and purposes, written, it still has some holes in it that need to be filled. It’s going to take some serious editing.

I haven’t been keen to jump straight into editing after finishing the writing because I thought taking some time off away from the content would help me come back to it with ‘fresh eyes’. That’s what I’m doing now. Of course, so as not to let the time go to waste, I’ve been collating my reference list instead, and wishing horribly that I’d done that as I wrote, rather than now, because it’s turning out to be a massive job. Working 8 hours a day, I’m taking about a day per chapter. If I could work on it longer, I might get it done in half that time, but then I’d go mad and risk burnout.

Well, isn’t this nice.

I’m aiming to have my references collated by Monday. Then, the rest of the time up until the end of this month will be spent finishing up the hole-filling. I’ve promised to send my supervisors an edited draft by the end of March, and I’m worried I won’t make it. This is really, really daunting and I worry about it a lot. I worry I’ll either miss my submission deadline and have to extend it, or somehow force myself to submit on time but take the risk that I’m handing in substandard work, or a thesis that somehow doesn’t meet the expectations of my examiners.

One of the things I find most worrying is the possibility that somehow I’ve fluked my way through grad school all this time and that I’m not really as good as I’m made out to be, and, even worse, that my stupidity and incompetence are going to be revealed in all their laughing-stock glory at my viva in July. I can imagine my examiners sighing disappointedly when, after a gruelling 3-hour interrogation during which I stutter, freeze, and faint, they call me back into the room to announce their decision and say that although I’ve worked hard, my research just isn’t at PhD level and I’m not fit to be awarded the degree.

Yes, I’m aware I suffer from chronic imposter syndrome. But for all my awareness, I can’t seem to shake it off. I feel incompetent compared to my ‘peers’ and like nothing I do in my research is really of any value. When people show interest in my work I get the impression they’re only asking me questions in order to be polite or to humour me.

Today’s Friday.

The labs have been deathly quiet this morning. I haven’t seen anyone about. The offices, apart from this one I’m sitting in, are dark and deserted. The silence and the stillness make the perceived loneliness worse.

Two colleagues have just walked in.

It’s incomplete in places and riddled with errors, but I have it! A full thesis draft! I can’t believe it!

…and now, to the massive, tedious task of editing.

Probably about a decade or more ago now, I remember John Farnham went on a tour called ‘The Last Time’. I have never been a huge fan of his music, but I feel a strange, nostalgic, brotherly kind of bond with him now, because I’m up to my last chapter.

It’s a long, boring, theory chapter and needs a lot of work. It’s due at 5:30pm this Friday. I got off to a good start yesterday, but I have a lot of work to do on it if I want to get it done on time. I don’t fancy still being stuck with this next weekend. I’m running out of time and I need to get started on my editing as soon as I possibly can.

So, this is going to be a week of hell. It doesn’t help that tomorrow afternoon is going to be ‘wasted’ (at least for me) teaching undergrads, plus there’s the added nuisance of everyday life chores, like eating and sleeping and showering. I feel like I’m in a race against time and winning is against all odds.

Yes, well, I know I am technically procrastinating now. But after my brief spell of depressive feelings on Saturday and a lot of dark contemplation on Sunday, I woke up this morning feeling hopeful that I could take concrete steps to make my work routine ‘work’ for me. I can’t work in my shared office any more so I block-booked computer bays for March and April to do my thesis editing. Right now I’m working in a disused shared office on the other side of the labs. I’m alone and it’s silent except for the tap-tap-tapping of my fingers in the keyboard.

I like it when it’s silent like this. I feel focused, and free to work productively without the worry of disturbing others or, as is more often the case, being disturbed by them. People coming and going incessantly throughout the day. Chit-chatting amongst themselves. Making phone calls. Having meetings. Asking me inane questions.

They’re fine. But I just want to work in silence. I want to walk into a silent room each day and work in silence all day and then go home and sit in more silence.

Anyway, I’ve sorted things out now and I’ll have a silent place to work most of the time. Today I’ve resolved to begin typing Chapter 6. I’ll get a good 5 hours’ work done today, because I’m feeling productive and motivated. This is rare, so it’s a good day. I’m feeling good today.

I like feeling good.

No, really.

Everything that is unattainable for us now will one day be near and clear . . . but we must work. -Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard

Yes, dear Chekhov, work we must!

In what seems like an impossible task (and there are many such tasks, along the road to PhDs), we must not fail to see the opportunities, the positivities, and the little things that make us smile. While we are labouring over drafts of hundreds of thousands of words, correcting, editing, rewriting altogether, while our experiments are failing and our software malfunctioning, while, because we live in the quiet, timeless bubble of academia, life seems to pass us by- there is hope.

We will work hard, and we will keep up hope, and one day, not so far away, we will accomplish what we set out to achieve.

 

I spent the weekend rewriting some of my chapter outlines because I’d figured out that the chaotic scribbles, notes and corrections I’d added all over them in times of afterthought were preventing me from really seeing what the final product looked like. Now, I have new, revised chapter outlines for my first four chapters, and I’m about halfway through planning the fifth one. I’ll probably get to the sixth and final outline tomorrow. Maybe. Potentially. But I do pen-and-paper work at home. Right now, I am sitting at my desk in the office again, and my mind is completely blank. I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.

You see, that’s a problem with being nearly finished in a PhD programme. When you’re at the beginning, everything is new and exciting and you’re busy setting up your studies. When you’re in the middle, you’re busy running the studies, reading, and running to conferences. But when you get to the end, your studies are complete, you have no data to analyse, your supervisors never see you any more because you’re supposed to be writing, and you walk around like a ghost every day, quietly procrastinating on one pointless activity or another, all the while wondering what on earth it is you are meant to be doing. Life feels so…meaningless. As if you have no worthwhile purpose in it.

I know I’m going to submit in May. I know I’m going to do whatever it takes to have my thesis ready on time. I know I have to start now before it’s too late. I just don’t know how.

So I’ve taken to looking ahead at what my life is probably going to look like from now until I submit.

It’s probably going to go something like this:

From now until November 28th: Dragging myself into the lab to do data clean-up and preliminary analysis for my last study, and whipping up the results into a snazzy conference presentation for a conference in December.

November 29th to Christmas: Assessing the possibility probability of doing mop-up data collection to up my sample size, doing the full analysis, analysing another dataset I collected last summer, and writing up summary reports for both datasets.

Christmas/New Year: Notoriously avoiding all celebratory activities, people, shopping madness and social media to spend the winter break writing, and probably feeling paradoxically sorrowful that I’m all alone and nobody likes me.

January, February, and potentially March: Becoming a complete social recluse and writing, not even coming to the office any more for fear of running into my supervisors/reviewers/optimistic colleagues who always expect me to say I’m fine and would no doubt get uncomfortable if I burst into tears about not being able to write well, and editing, and daydreaming about how unreal my thesis is going to look when it’s printed and bound.

April and maybe the first half of May: Completely crashing and potentially going mad after spending three months in self-imposed solitary confinement while doing final editing and proofing and sending off the file for printing and binding.

Sometime in the rest of May: Submitting the thesis, breathing a huge sigh of relief that’s it over, and then starting to worry again when I remember my viva is in July.

Oh, to be an undergrad again!

Don’t you just love Monday mornings? I’ve been in the office for over an hour and a half already and have only just finished wading through a swamp of weekend emails. Now I have to blog some of the chaos in my head before moving on to some light data collection.

I’ve been worrying about writing my thesis. Although about half of it’s drafted, I still worry about it because it’s, well, a draft. There are so many imperfections in the drafts that I’ve forgotten about, and I know that when I some across them in the editing stage they’re just going to make me flip. I’ve been battling this perfectionism for years and still it seems stronger than ever. Then there’s the half that’s still, gasp, undrafted. Unwritten. Thin air. Non-existent. Where on earth is that going to come from? How am I ever going to write all that? When the hell am I going to graduate?

Thinking back over the last couple of weeks, the main thing that’s changed drastically is my perspective on my thesis. Two weeks ago my thesis seemed like something an obscure suit-clad academic would read and interrogate me about over the tops of his wire-rimmed spectacles. Now, he is gone and instead I have two jolly old sweet-tempered professors (hopefully) coming to examine me. I have a concrete idea of who is going to read my thesis. The pressure is officially on to impress them!

Suddenly my ability to graduate at the time scheduled in my work plan seems to be almost completely dependent on me submitting my absolutely perfect hurriedly written and edited thesis on time, my examiners reading it in a timely fashion, and all of us meeting up in July to have the viva without having caught on fire, been taken hostage, or accidentally fallen down a bottomless hole whilst following a plump white rabbit. Why do there have to be so many things that could go wrong?!

I’m going to go and collect some data now.

*Danish for “I want to graduate”…at least according to Google Translate.

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The Final Countdown

Submission of PhD ThesisMay 1st, 2013
The big day is here. Joy to the world!