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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.

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.

The offices where I work on campus are being reorganised. New staff arriving, old staff being called to meetings to talk about the new staff and the reorganisation. New staff getting settled in by the old staff. Old staff being asked to update upstairs staff about new staff. New staff not knowing how things work and asking old staff. Old staff getting frustrated.

I’m glad I’m finishing this thesis. Maybe I’m wrong to feel this way, but I am disillusioned. I think every project has its course and this project has run that course fine and well. If this were to be dragged out any longer, I would go mad. I am glad I am close to finishing, and glad I will be leaving soon. I am politically progressive in every sense of the word but having seen new staff come, old staff go for more than 2 years and being miserably stuck here all along, I’m starting to feel like it’s high time I left. Finished and left. I don’t want to watch new staff come and go and still be stuck here. I don’t want more change in the place I work. I want to change myself.

These last couple of months are probably the hardest. There’s this sense of dread eating away inside me, constantly hurrying me along, telling me there’s no time, no time at all, stop procrastinating and keep writing, writing, writing. But worse than that, I’m starting to feel even more irritated at the people who work around me, especially, and perhaps undeservedly, at the new people, who arrive fresh and bright-eyed and oozing with enthusiasm. I was the same as them when I started; their outlook is natural for their position; I have no place being cynical about them. Yet they have started annoying me to no end.

Sometimes it feels like I am so much part of the furniture that people see right through me; they are indifferent. After all, furniture just sits there silently. Yet inside it’s as if I’m screaming to get out of this place, kicking the doors in, smashing down the windows.

It’s my birthday tomorrow. If I manage to get this chapter I’m working on done by 5pm today, which I’d really like to, but I’m not quite sure, I’ll see how it goes, well…I’m thinking about having the day off tomorrow.

The day off. It even sounds weird when you say it. Thesis writers don’t take days off.

But hey, whatever. Once this chapter is sent off I just have my conclusion chapter and some editing/rewriting of the lit review, and then the full thesis draft will be done. I’m nearly there. I think I might be able to afford 24 hours away from the grindstone. Maybe.

I’m thinking of doing some baking.

And, having recently come by a ‘hip’ commercial radio station by accident whilst looking for some decent background tunes while writing my thesis, I also find that I am allergic to Justin Boober and that makes-me-want-to-tear-my-ears-off annoying boyband…One Dimension, or something.

Ok. I’m going to keep calm and write my thesis.

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.

Friend of WikiLeaks

June 2017
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The Final Countdown

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