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I’ve had a PhD for a week now. I don’t even know how I feel about it. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to feel about it. Am I even supposed to feel different from how I felt before?

I suppose, having worked my arse off for so long for this, I was half expecting this would be some kind of epiphany. It doesn’t feel like that at all. If anything, I feel much the same as I ever did. Coming home in the evening after my viva last week, I just slumped into a chair and stared into space for about 5 hours. My mind was completely blank. I couldn’t make up my mind whether I should get changed out of my suit, or cook, or take a shower, or eat or sleep. After a while, I started replaying everything that had happened that day. Suddenly my mind was buzzing. I couldn’t make it stop.

Yes, I’ve had my PhD for a week now. I don’t even know what that means.

I don’t even know what that means.

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Well, my viva is today.

It’s occurred to me more than once in the last couple of months that I really ought to update this blog, but to be honest, I didn’t have much to say. After the relentless drudgery of data collection and analysis and the mad rush to write up and submit my thesis, my head just went blank and all I wanted to do was spend the days bumming around, listening to the radio, eating, and going out for long walks. Sometimes I would flick through my thesis or read a paper or two. Most of the time, I just sat around, dazed, still unable to quite believe I had no urgent work to do.

Anyway, the days passed quicker than I thought they would. Already it’s been nearly 12 weeks since I submitted. Since the first day I started this PhD, the viva has always seemed like a mysterious event, very vague, very far off in the distance. I always knew it would come time to have it eventually, but now that the day’s here, I’m feeling a little nervous. Nervous not just because I’m anxious to do well, but also because I want desperately for things to change now that I’m finally putting the finishing touches to this long, almost never-ending chapter of my life.

It’s at 1pm today. Everything’s set, ready to go. I feel both comfortable and restless in my suit. My shirt’s quite loose and nothing’s itchy or pinchy, but at the same time the newness of the clothes gives me a sense of self-consciousness that’s just slightly daunting. I don’t think I’ve ever even worn a suit before.

My mock viva last week went surprisingly well. I was warned by one of my supervisors not to assume the real viva will be exactly the same, if only because it’s just impossible to predict what the exact questions are going to be, but still, I think having the experience of being ‘interrogated’ by two well-versed academics independent of your supervisory team and having to think on your feet and come up with feasible answers on the spot will prove to be quite indispensable.

Honestly, I’ve no idea what’s going to happen today. I’ve done my best all through this crazy journey. Now’s the time to give this one last shot. With any luck, I’ll pass the damn thing and be done with it.

Some people look forward to getting ‘Dr.’ put on their credit cards when they pass their vivas. I’m just looking forward to my freedom.

I submitted my thesis nearly two weeks ago now.

And as clichéd as it may sound, it feels like an absolute eternity.

For several days afterwards, as I posted about in my previous post, it felt like I had emerged from a massive, never-ending nightmare where I was constantly on the go and constantly, narrowly, blindly obsessing about this central, all-consuming thing in my life: My thesis. Well, it’s gone now. The light-headedness has faded away. The shock has subsided. I feel like maybe I have returned to a degree of normality in my life, even though, at this point, I concede I am not all too sure what normality is supposed to feel like.

There are still things going on that have been keeping me occupied. I am due to give some talks over the next few weeks so there have been presentations to prepare. I’ve been worrying about whether my thesis has reached my examiners safely. I’ve managed to ascertain, through my supervisor, that my internal examiner and chair have their copies, but am still waiting for confirmation from the external. That’s a real worrying point for me. I’ve been having horrible thoughts of the grad school posting it out to the wrong address or the package getting lost in the post or the postal services going on strike. I’ve been trying to block these out but don’t think they will go away until I know the thesis has arrived safely. And going on two weeks now, I really would have expected it to have arrived. To block these thoughts out, I’ve also taken on some paper-grading work, which I finished just yesterday well ahead of the deadline.

Then there’s my life in general…but I’m really not up for talking about that at any length right now.

My viva has been provisionally scheduled for July 29th. I am apprehensive about it to say the least, and for all my hoarding of viva advice from across the breadth of the internet, my nerves still aren’t settled. I feel jumpy, uncertain, and restless about my viva. I don’t know what anything’s going to be like. I have no idea what the examiners are going to think about my thesis or whether they are going to go easy on me or eat me alive, or whether some horrific untoward event is going to happen that cancels my viva altogether, leading to a massive anti-climax.

Thinking about it too much makes me nauseous.

I feel blank, like I don’t know what to do or what to focus my energy and attention on. I feel blank like after having emerged from such an intense, sustained period of disciplined work I am at a loss as to how to spend my time or what to do with myself that will yield something productive and worthwhile.

Well, hasn’t it been a crazy fortnight.

It’s surprising how much stress builds up in your body subconsciously when you wake up at 6am each day, force down a quick breakfast, power-walk to the office, spend the entire day typing, chasing up things you have to rely on other people to do for you, and teaching undergrads, power-walk home at 6pm, force down a quick dinner, and then proofread the day’s work before hitting the pillow at midnight. When I was doing that for the last 2 weeks I never once felt sick. I didn’t even feel particularly tired or cranky. It was just go, go, go.

But now it’s finished, and I’ve stopped, stopped, stopped.

And the migraine has begun.

I was up at 6am again this morning out of habit, but I felt really strange. I finished writing my thesis yesterday. I mean actually fully, totally, finished. Including proofing, cross-checking the references, and formatting. The weirdness started yesterday afternoon when I finished formatting the lists of tables and figures (the last thing I was working on in the thesis). I converted the file to pdf, made multiple backups, and went and delivered a copy to my supervisor. This morning I went to the binder to order the four copies with glue binding. Three for the examiners and the viva chair, one for me.

And today, I’ve just been feeling blank. My head hurts, especially my frontal lobes (which have no doubt been overworked for the last few years and are now in a strange blank state, having nothing left to do). I’ve been chasing up a few last things for submission. I’ve printed my declaration form, and my accompanying materials. Things are almost ready to go for next Wednesday.

I just feel so strange. This has to be the strangest feeling I’ve ever felt. Headache-y, happy, sad, sick, joyful, focused, and insane, all at the same time. And sleepy. Dude, I could do with some sleep right now to get rid of this migraine.

Three years ago I would never have believed I would one day be here, where I am right now. Actually, I didn’t even believe that last week. It didn’t really sink in until the work-till-you-drop routine I’d been on ended yesterday, and I realised there was nothing else left to do. I just sat there at my desk, dazed and stupefied.

I guess that’s what I’m doing now. I just…feel so blank.

But this blankness is different from the blankness I felt when I couldn’t write before. I think it’s a content kind of blankness, a blankness that has seen more than eighty thousand words written, unwritten, and rewritten, and the many thousands more that have come to pass as old, discarded drafts – a blankness that sits back and thinks, well, it’s done. There’s nothing more left to do.

And after I submit next week, I guess I’ll progress to the next stage of the PhD – worrying about my viva.

I wonder if this will ever end.

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.

The heat is on.

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.

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The Final Countdown

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