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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’m submitting my application for examination arrangements this week. Looking back, it was a hell of a lot of worry negotiating with my now-examiners, plus considering and being knocked back by others, and I’m not even the one who was doing the negotiating!

The bottom line is, I now have both of my examiners confirmed, and all that’s left to do is have them approved by the research committee. Paperwork’s going in on Wednesday, and if all goes well, I should have the final approval by the end of March.

That feels like it’ll be a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, but I’m wary of it coming and passing and me probably still not feeling like I’m out of the woods, because, well, I’m not.

I’m getting through yet another chapter at the moment…and, after I (hopefully) send it off this weekend, I’ll have just the conclusion and editing of my literature review chapter to go before I can proceed to full editing.

It’s crazy. Writing a thesis is crazy. It drives you mad. Lately I’ve been feeling like all I do is wake up, write, eat, write, shower, write, eat again, write, sleep, and then write some more. I know everything will no doubt make sense at the very end, but until then, I have resigned myself to the probability that I will feel this chaos until I finally finish.

Everything right now is centered on my viva. Getting examiner for my viva, doing paperwork for the viva, writing the thesis for the viva, making sure it’s ready in time for the viva, thinking about the viva, catastrophising about the viva. Wondering how all this madness that seems to be going on right now is all going to sort itself out with my, and only my intervention and converge tidily to arrive at my viva’s doorstep. Then, of course, what’s going to happen in my viva? Will the examiners think my thesis has even half a chance of being anywhere near anything that could even potentially be considered to be possibly approaching a standard even remotely near PhD standard?

This madness, this chaos. And through it all, write on I must.

Well, today I’m back in the office trying to type up another chapter. I’ve resolved to have it done and sent off to my supervisors by this Saturday at 12 noon.

There’s been melodrama on the examiner front, to say the least. It’s been stressful knowing that the identity of my internal examiner is still unknown after my previous, provisionally confirmed internal backed out because he wouldn’t be available for a July viva. That did have me feeling down in the dumps for a few days, and I noticed a sharp decrease in my ability to concentrate on my thesis work with that milling around in my head.

Anyway, cut to two days later and I apparently almost have a new internal.

A wine expert.

This just gets better and better.

Apparently, while I was at home for the last two days weeping blood that I would have to delay my viva, give up my confirmed external, or quit my PhD (I know, I really should stop catastrophising), my supervisor had been chatting up a bloke on our DClinPsy programme who, unbeknownst to me, has an interest in my research area. This baffled me, as the guy in question is actually pretty famous for being a wine expert (yes, I know). However, subject to a little reshuffling in his schedule, he’s looking good for accepting my supervisor’s invitation to examine me.

I suppose when one door opens, and all that.

But a week ago, if someone had told me I’d be left without an internal, weep blood over it for two very painful days, then arrive at my desk to find I’d almost had an alternative confirmed, I’d probably have laughed my head off.

No, wait. I’d have laughed my head off if I’d known he would be a wine expert.

I spent 5 consecutive days at home last week and realised late last night that I was slowly going mad. So here I am, at my office, doing things more like a human being than a writing-crazed zombie, like checking emails and writing this post.

I am 2 chapters down at the moment and am halfway through a third. I have until March 4th, at the latest, to have a full working draft of my thesis done, and I’m feeling upbeat and hopeful about meeting my target.

That said though, it is HARD work. The paradox is that at the time when you need to be churning out words and sentences productively and producing logical, tangible volumes of writing, your mind goes blank. You spend hours just staring at the page, looking over your chapter plan, over the papers you have to cite. You know what you want to say but you can’t put it into words. Or if you can, it sounds cumbersome or illogical.

I’m supposed to be submitting in May and I still can’t write a sentence. Well, I can. I’ve written thousands of them already, and I will keep doing so until the job is done. But exactly how great my writing will convey my ideas, I have no clue.

On top of which I found out over the weekend my internal examiner has declined to examine me due to a clash in his schedule. So that’s great. I’ll be chasing after my supervisor today to see if we can have a chat about moving our viva date around a bit to make this work, because I really, really don’t fancy changing examiners at this late stage.

I just want them to stay alive and safe, not to have heart attacks or schedule clashes.

Everything’s all over the place again. This is supposed to be a peaceful time, I’m supposed to be sitting quietly at a desk in a peaceful room, turning all my research into a sensible narrative, all comfortably in time for my submission deadline. Instead, I am writing madly in the midst of examiner melodrama and trying fruitlessly to hold on to my sanity.

I’ve dragged myself to my office today to type up what I have of another chapter. Normally I don’t type until I’ve written the whole thing on paper, but today I just felt like I had to get out of the house. I go mad when I’m cooped up in four walls for days on end.

One thing I’ve noticed about my write-up over the last few weeks is that I feel less uncomfortable about it than I ever did about countless drafts I’ve tried to write in years gone by. I would spend evenings pushing myself to write up draft chapters, outlines, papers for my thesis. But they would all make me frustrated. I would feel as if what I was writing wasn’t good enough, like I was trying too hard to make it perfect yet the writing itself was painful to read. It read like it was ‘constipated’ – like it was trying to get a message across smoothly and concisely but nothing worthwhile was coming out. Like beating around the bush and not being able to say what you mean, try as you might. But now, these drafts I’m writing – I feel more at ease about them than I ever have. The things I write don’t stick in my mind and keep me awake at night, or make me wonder if I couldn’t have found a better way to write them. I feel like my writing really reflects what I want to say, and I don’t have the annoying feeling that my work is crap.

Maybe I’m kidding myself.

Or not.  I just don’t know. I have no idea if what I’m writing is any good, if my argument is persuasive enough, if I know my subject area in enough detail, or if my research is substantial enough or even tells an interesting enough story. Enough for what, I don’t know. Maybe enough to persuade my examiners that I’m good enough. But good enough for what? Surely all this isn’t just to be good enough to be awarded a PhD. Surely there  must be something more I’m working towards. But what?

I have no idea what’s going on.

I think I’ll go and keep writing now.

I think it’s psychosomatic.

Yesterday I felt elated at it being the first day of the new year, the year of 2013.

The year in which I will turn 23.

The year in which I will submit my thesis, have my viva, and gain my PhD.

The year in which I will start jobhunting in earnest, and hopefully land in a decent first post.

The year in which, after nearly 20 years in full time education, I will cease to be a student, at least officially.

Yesterday the rain that had been drizzling miserably over a cold and overcast London finally stopped. The sky was clear and the air clean and crisp.

Yesterday I felt hopeful that good things will happen this year.

Perhaps that feeling is yet to return.

But for the time being, today, I feel sick. I’ve spent the last 10 days or so, since Christmas, pushing myself to the limits of my sanity trying to rewrite Chapter 1 of my thesis. Surprisingly, the process proved less difficult than I had anticipated, and although I am only about 85% finished today (I had hoped it would be fully written by now), I have come into the campus to type up and send to my supervisors what I have written.

I am not at my desk in the office.

For some reason I feel estranged from it, and from the people I know will be there today. And if not today, then tomorrow, or Friday, or next week. They will have to come in eventually.

They’re not bad people. They just make me feel sick.

I’ve come to feel sensitive at the mention of names, places, things. Some of them remind me of the past, and some of them remind me of things inside my head. Things that may or may not exist, but that stay with me and make me feel sick anyway.

It feels like a kind of knot in my stomach that makes it impossible to eat, like my appetite has dwindled slowly to nothing. Throwing up doesn’t seem to be out of the question. I’m sitting in relative darkness in a deserted corner of a computer lab. I’m feeling sick, and also the constant, numbing pressure to stop procrastinating and type.

I’m probably going to be here until 4 or 5 this afternoon.

I can’t afford to procrastinate.

Other things have happened, too. A paper I had under review for the last 3 months came back with the request to revise and resubmit. Apparently the two reviewers were in almost direct disagreement; one was positive, the other suggested rejection. The comments were fair, I’m not taking it personally, but nevertheless the prospect of revisiting the same material to make revisions, and then going through another round of the holding-my-breath-for-the-decision process after resubmission, is daunting. It’s making me feel sick.

My viva is in July. Before, it felt like July 2013 was light years away. Now the calendar doesn’t say “2011” or “2012” any more. The neat little 2013 in my diary pages that I will work my way through as I write – I flick through them like one of those flipbook animations. The time is going to pass so quickly, I’m going to be confused, baffled, bamboozled. I’m not going to know where the days have gone.

I feel sick in my stomach, and half asleep in this dreary darkness of a deserted computer lab. The tap-tap-tapping of my fingers on the keyboard is the only sound I hear.

I’m going to start typing now.

My supervisor is going to be here in just over 4 hours. Perhaps I should clarify – my second supervisor, with whom I am meeting this afternoon, is a retired emeritus professor and lives in a small village in the middle of nowhere, a good three hours’ commute away from London. Fortunately, after several distasteful altercations with our head of department, she got permission to claim for travel expenses to come to London once in a while and discuss stats with me. She wouldn’t hear of me being given a replacement supervisor. “I will supervise you no matter what,” she said. God bless.

Except that now that she lives three hours away (on a good day), however much she has much more time to spend on our own research, I feel guilty about calling her in to see me because of all the time and stress it involves. And now that I have called her in for our meeting today, the pressure is on to show her that it was worth it!

My second supervisor is a little different from my first, although ironically, the two have known each other for donkey’s years and are the best of friends. My second supervisor is very focused, likes to get down to business immediately, and hates it when you make a fuss about anything. Until recently, she seemed to be irritated even by simple social conventions like saying “How are you?”, at the start of a meeting. I always felt silly asking her this, even though I would ask out of genuine interest rather than just paying lip service to British politeness, because she would give me a cold reply like “OK.” and not even return the enquiry. Fortunately though, perhaps because we have had some very in-depth debates about stats and psychometric theory in which she really seemed to enjoy herself, she has warmed up a bit and now actually asks me how I am back.

Now that’s progress.

Anyway, the fact that she has warmed to me isn’t the point here. The point is that she has a very focused way of working in which she likes to examine things in detail in advance, have a think about it, and only then hold a meeting. I’ve known this for some time and have, since then, always emailed her my datafiles and notes in advance. Whilst this helps her understand my questions better, and allows her to come prepared, I’ve found I feel very stressed between emailing her my stuff and meeting her, simply because of my anxiety about all the embarrassing mistakes I imagine she’ll find in my work. I keep thinking, “I’m a psychologist. Psychologists have rigorous academic training in statistics and research methods from year 1 right up to PhD level. I’m supposed to be on the ball with everything stats related. And here I am still having to look up ANOVAs in a textbook! I’m hopeless! My supervisor is going to eat me alive! I’ll never amount to anything! My thesis is going to suck! I’m going to fail my viva! And end up homeless and penniless on the streets!”

Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

These irrational thoughts are still stuck in my head even now, as I write this. It’s maddening. I know I have put in a good effort to try my hand at the analysis, so as not to make my supervisor feel like I am dumping my work at her feet and saying “Here. Just tell me the answer.” She hates that. She hates dumb, needy students coming to her and begging her to just tell them the answer, or, worse, to actually do their work for them. But still, I feel like I’m not going to be able to live up to her standards, like I have not done enough work to impress her, and like I am going to be left feeling like an idiot – not just for not being smart enough, but for wasting her time.

I have 4 hours to get my head straightened. I have to review my analysis, make sure all my datafiles are saved on my flashdrive, reread my notes, pick up the keys to the meeting room, and get everything set up early. I concede these things will not actually do much to get my head straightened, but they will, hopefully, distract me from the madness that’s brewing inside.

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The Final Countdown

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