Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Diary of a PhD Student: Due date.

A lot has happened since I last updated this. Personally, my health got a little shaky and I had to take chunks of time away from work – which only added to the work stress, of course. Professionally – and by that I mean, PhD-lly – things are moving in a general forwards motion that everyone, including myself, feels quite happy about. And that’s always nice, right?

There’s no catch 22, by the way. Things are genuinely coming together nicely and I am genuinely quite calm about it. Which is largely why I’m writing this post now rather than in a week, by which time I will no doubt be panicking about something/anything again.

So to pick up where we left off: In my last blog post I said that I was going to start the read-through of the fourth/final draft of my novel. I was wrong. What I actually meant was that I was going to read the prologue and then email my supervisor to tell him I was panicking about the amendments to that troublesome plotline and that he needed to tell me what to do because I didn’t know what to do and all the deadlines were crashing and I just needed help because ARGH!

He emailed back and told me to chill.

Actually, what he said was: ‘First of all, don't lose heart--the book is very nearly there and is a good piece of work.

Then he started talking about my research paper – which, it turned out, wasn’t quite as bad as I’d prepared myself for it to be. By this point in time he’d already given me back the introduction and the first chapter – which totted up to just over 100 Word comments. I was overwhelmed, sure, but I wasn’t exactly surprised. It was a first draft after all and, if the first draft of the novel was anything to go by, then my research paper was due a few turns on the wheel before it landed anywhere close to being finished. But the encouraging follow-up email to that first round of edits informed me that the first chapter – limping and bleeding with its comments and track changes galore – was actually the worst of the bunch. ‘Once you’re through the first one, you’ve done the worst of the edits,’ my supervisor told me, and he was right. 

Since then, I’ve done the rest of the edits – I know, it’s been so long and we’ve missed so much! In terms of life skills the PhD has taught me that I absolutely cannot effectively manage my stress levels, but it has also taught me how to be quite ruthless with self-editing. So I printed my full research paper – annotations and all – and I tore the thing apart, and then I started the slow process of piecing it all back together. The time away from it had worked wonders and the pen-to-paper edits made it easier to be brutal with my own comments – as well as objectively looking over the sometimes-brutal comments that my supervisor had made. It took a few weeks – but two weeks less than I had predicted it would – but I finally had something the resembled a second draft.

And so earlier this week I emailed my supervisor – and the convenor of the PhD programme.

Context: Before you can submit your PhD, you have to dance around the mythical administrative processes that mean you’re actually allowed to submit your PhD. My supervisor said: ‘Give yourself a couple of weeks and then email me and X, and we’ll talk paperwork.’

(Further context: The PhD convenor at my university is not X, nor Professor X, although what an amazing twist would that be for this blog series if that turned out to be the case?)

I emailed them both and gave them an update on where I was with work, and then I innocently – naively, stupidly – asked: ‘What’s the deal with paperwork?’ Both lecturers are away on their own study/research leave at the moment, so after I sent that email, I gently set any thoughts relating to it right to the back of my mind. I had the second draft of my paper to read through and I was quietly aware that that pesky fourth draft of the novel was also looming on the horizon, so it was easy to not over-think the paperwork/formalities/what might happen next plotline of my actual life. And so it came as something of a surprise – having not thought about this at all with any real depth because apparently I’m that stupid – when my supervisor replied to my email with a date. An actual date that I can mark on all calendars everywhere around the world as the day I will be submitting my PhD thesis.

And just like that...

 I’m not telling you the date. A select few know, and it’s staying that way. Don’t worry though, there will be a blog post, containing a photograph of me in metaphorical labour, a bound thesis pressed hard against my nervous stomach before with a wince and push I reluctantly hand it over to a complete albeit qualified stranger for them to check its credentials and tell me whether it really works as a living, breathing, autonomous piece of work (did that metaphor stick, I can’t tell?).

And that’s where we are. Days away from a second draft of my research paper; a couple of weeks away from a read-through and final draft of my novel; two months away from submitting. Stay tuned...

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