Writing a PhD thesis is tough and it takes a long time. Amy Poehler said, “The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not. Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing away dirt from a fossil. What a load of shit. It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver.”
I mixed the challenges of writing a 411 page thesis with the sleep deprivation of raising a child under two and the demands of running a busy research project. Crazy times. But despite this, I enjoyed writing up a lot of the time. Sometimes it actually was like uncovering fossils…I think. I have never actually uncovered a fossil but I did find a shark’s tooth at the beach once. That was pretty cool. The fossil moments were when everything seemed to come together.
That’s until I got near to the end or what I thought was the end. Then it was all screwdrivers and freezers all day long. At this point, I just wanted it done, finished, vamoosed, no matter what it took. It was kind of like pregnancy. Being pregnant was fine until the last few weeks. At that point, I just wanted him out no matter what. I’d had enough.
At the end of September 2016, exactly 4 years after starting the PhD, I submitted my thesis. It was over! I was elated.
But here’s the thing about finishing a PhD, it is not clear-cut. Most people don’t just get to cross it off the to do list when they hand in. I think finishing a PhD is like a TV villain that keeps coming back. The protagonist thinks they’ve defeated the baddie and so they celebrate and relax. But the baddie was just stunned and comes back with a vengeance to attack again. Then the good guy has to fight again. This time maybe he banishes the baddie to a desert island or puts him in a rocket heading towards the sun. But in the next episode the baddie will somehow find a way to boomerang back for revenge.
My viva in mid-December was the return of the stunned villain. I had romantic notions that the day of my viva would be filled with champagne, joyous congratulations, and revelry. I thought I would feel like a knight who defeated a dragon. This did not happen. Instead, I unfortunately had a bad viva experience and I felt like the dragon burnt me to a crispy ember. It sucked. And on top of that, I had a list of corrections to do. My PhD was not finished. There were more words to be written. I knew there would be, but I thought it would have happened in a different way.
Towards the end of January I submitted my corrected thesis and last week I heard that my corrections have been accepted and I have passed. Passed as in done, done, done, no more writing. I am a graduand. This is a word I learned from Sam and it means a person who is eligible to graduate, but who has not yet graduated. Sweet weird word. Graduation is in June but as it is in Durham and I am not, I am not planning on going so I will have to wear a bed sheet and a weird hat around the house on my graduation day instead. I already had a graduation in Durham Cathedral so I don’t feel like I’m missing out too much.
As someone who loves crossing accomplishments off of to do lists and feeling the satisfaction of a job well done, the ever-moving finish line of completing a PhD was hard to cope with. But I’m happy to brandish my pen and cross it off my list now. PhDone.