Thursday, August 20, 2015

Upon Completion

There are certain times in your life when something occurs so unexpectedly that you gap in awe (or shock). Sometimes these are moments of sheer surprise. Other times they are moments you have hoped and prayed for, but never actually believed would happen.

And sometimes, they're both.

I've been rather quiet the last months, I realize. I have been especially quiet on discussing my thesis amendments. Partly this is because I don't want to turn off people who are currently doing their PhDs, or are contemplating starting one. The last thing you want to hear in Year 3 is 'you think writing the thesis the first time was hard? Try THIS'. I have taken a note from the book of students that finished before me and, on the whole, remained rather silent.

But perhaps that isn't helpful. Perhaps you need to know exactly what a pain in the ass it can be so you can be prepared. Or, on the other hand, so you can realize you aren't suffering alone.

If you'd rather not know, you had best stop reading now.

There are various levels of amendments. In the university I attended, they come in three likely options: minor 1 month (spelling/grammar mistakes), minor 3 months (sentence structure, small issues, more references, etc.), and major 6 months (big things). The other option is resubmit, but that is the one everyone fears and, thankfully, few get.

I got 6 months. It bordered on resubmit, in fact, because of the number of issues. Different examiners might have given me a different outcome (it could have gone either way), but we'll never know. All I know is what I got.

And I got lucky. Yes, the list was long. Yes, for the first month after I received them, just opening the document gave me an all out panic attack. And yes, I cried a lot after my viva, mostly in despair of ever finishing. But no, they were not impossible. And no, they were not ambiguous or general. And no, I was not at any point confused by what I had to do. I had a clear list of exactly what needed doing, it just came down to finding the will power (and the calmness) to do it.

It took me 5 months. I had 6, but I didn't want to push that, in case further amendments were forthcoming. For the first two months I worked part-time on the smallest corrections (spelling/grammar, sentence structure, missing info/references, rhetoric), and then spent the last three months working full-time on the major stuff. Some of it took me a week. One thing took me a month. I despaired of ever finishing. I despaired of ever passing. I despaired of getting out of bed in the morning. It was ten times worse than any point in my PhD before (and I had thought my last months prior to submission were the worst it could be).

But I had good friends. And I had people who had gone through this and survived. And the best piece of advice I received in the six months since my viva was this:

It sucks. It really, really sucks. At times you will want to give up. At times you may completely give up. At times you will be convinced nothing will fix the issue and you will never pass. At times you will question your sanity of ever doing a PhD in the first place. At times you will be depressed. At times you will be anxious (for me, always). At times you will be confused, confounded, muddled, etc. At rare times you will have a Eureka! moment. At times you will wonder if you ever will again. At times it will all seem impossible.

And that's normal, okay? It's all, completely, entirely, 100% normal.

That doesn't make it better. If the PhD taught be anything, it's that knowing it's normal does not make it better. But it does make it a tiny bit easier.

And every little bit counts, when after 4 years you've been told you have another 6 months of this.

But in the end, you'll get it done. You'll get it done because, after 4 years, you have no other choice. After all this work, it's only 6 more months. You cannot falter at the final hurdle. So you will complete. You will submit again. And you will find out the outcome.

And it's probably going to be a shock. It's probably going to leave you in awe for a little bit. But it is also the greatest email/letter you will ever receive. Savour that. Enjoy it. Take the time to come to terms with what it really means.

You're a Doctor now.

And so am I.

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