Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Diary of a PhD Student: Wait, is that a finish line?

As of about half an hour ago, my PhD novel is with a wonderful collective of beta readers, and my PhD research paper – the second draft – is in the email inbox of my supervisor.

Boom.


I’d like to take a second here to thank all of the amazing people who offered to read the book. I put a call-out online and it didn’t for a second cross my mind that so many people would offer their time and patience towards reading this project. So many people offered, in fact, that I’ve had to turn people down and only send it to a select few – which has broken my heart a bit, I won’t lie. When the list of possible readers was edging close to twenty, I panicked and emailed my supervisor:

‘Bizarre question: How many readers is too many readers?’

It felt like I was giving him a riddle, but he understood the concern:

‘You don’t want more feedback than you can handle at this stage, and different people will approach the text differently. Maybe one or two for thing, one or two for another.’

Try as I might, I couldn’t justify sending the book to twenty-three people after that; he did, after all, have a point. Whatever people find, I have a limited amount of time to fix. Plus – and it will always happen, no matter how many or how few – one reader will love one thing that another one hates, and then starts the horrendous battle of trying to keep everyone happy without compromising your own vision for the project. So the book is with a handful of people – at the moment – and when and if the time comes when I can handle more readers (probably some time after the PhD, but before I approach an agent), then I will go cap in hand to everyone who previously offered with a decidedly buttery email where I beg them to still be interested in my work – if you’re one of these people, then you can brace yourself for that.

So that’s that. Work is sent out, and now all I have to do is sit around and wait for feedback. I have a little bit of time to myself – for the first time in a while – and, typically, it took me about five minutes to start panicking about that!


To clarify, I’m not panicking because I don’t have any work to do (okay maybe I am, a little); I’m panicking because I’ve done all of the work that I feel I can do. The book – despite my knowing that there are still minor issues with it – is in a place now where I cannot work on it anymore without external help – hence the readers. Similarly, the research paper is in a place where I need my supervisor to check over all of five comment boxes – most of which relate to comments he made that my small mind doesn’t understand – and beyond that, I need him to read it through again and tell me where we’re at. Because I’m spent. I’ve looked for problems as far as my own eyes can see and, while I know they’re there, I still can’t spot them. I have literally maxed out my own input – for the time being. When feedback starts rolling in, then it will be a different matter.

Now, here’s my second point of panic: Things are wrapping up.

Sure, my research paper needs another draft – maybe even another two; the book needs a tidy up, if not a little more than a tidy up, depending on how people react to it. But we’re in the final stages now. I wish I played sports so I could give you a touchdown analogy!  The bottom line is that I’m weeks away from submitting this thing. My internal and external examiners have both been confirmed in the last week – and a massive hooray for that, please – and both parts of my project are in the best places that they’ve been in (God, wouldn’t it be terrible if the readers found a thousand things wrong with the book and it turned out to not actually be nearly-finished at all?). So yes, things are wrapping up. Paperwork is being filed and deadlines are being set and the bottom line is, I’m coming very close to the end of something that a big part of me doubted whether I’d actually finish.

And there it is.

I’m not the first person to feel like this – in fact, I’m quietly confident that if you were to track the emotional journey of a PhD student, this near-climax is probably a completely natural occurrence, but it’s still one that I felt it was worth documenting. In the three years that I have been doing this, I’ve never really thought about it being over. When people ask about what happens next, I usually say something like:

‘No idea. I’ve only done this so I can put Dr on my credit card; I’m not sure what else I can do with it!’

And then people usually laugh and talk about how cool it is that I’ll be a ‘Doctor’ (‘Of books,’ I flatly remind them) and the future is forgotten. But the future isn’t three years away anymore; it’s not even three months (I’m still not telling you my hand-in date). I’m panicking, rightly so, I think, but I’m also thinking: Isn’t this kind of nice? I’ve worked pretty hard – hardly a surprise, it’s a PhD after all – and there’s some pretty hard work to go – again, hardly a surprise – but I can see the finish line. Sure, I’m low on supplies and energy, and I’ll probably sit down and cry a bit between now and when I make it to line itself, but it’s there alright – within touching distance (so close that the next time I panic and throw my toys out of the pram, one of them pay actually pass the line before me).

I don’t have anything to do now (that’s a lie; there’s always something, I just haven’t worked out what it is yet). So I’m going to make tea and read – The Girl With The Clock For A Heart by Peter Swanson, if you’re interested – and then I’m going to go out for a little bit. I haven’t decided where yet; I’ll work it out on the way.

Thank you for reading this; thank you to the people reading my book; thank you to the people who have consistently read my grumbles (don’t worry, there are more to come).

And brace yourselves for when the reader feedback starts coming in... 

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