By Evan

Last time I posted on this blog, I was in a pretty stressful state of being. Deadlines were piling up, as I was preparing for a presentation at the AGU Fall Meeting (BTW, the presentation was a success). At the end of the post, I concluded by saying:

I think the best cure is to work hard and get things done!

Well, it is late April, and here I am sitting in Japan, a week removed from handing in my PHD thesis (note, this post was written April 25). I have spent the past week not thinking about it! I have to say, I had hoped that I would have completed things at least a month earlier than I did, but that is not how things worked. It came down to the wire, and the hours piled on much more than I would have liked. For those of you who are in a PHD program, but not yet at the end point, here are some comments on my experience.

  • Save your pennies. I went a full three months past the three and a half year mark in which I got paid. Luckily, I had enough saved up from my previous work in the mining industry to get me through that time. It is extremely rare for people to finish within that three and half year threshold, and I don’t know of many examples of it happening during my time at RSES. For those who think they can do it in three years, I’ll leave this here:
  • Set a hard deadline: You know, when I handed my thesis last week, there was that lingering thought in my mind: Man, if I had another week or two, this could be much better. The only problem with that is that if I had another two weeks, I probably would have though the exact same thing after that. A PHD thesis is a monster that will consume all time allotted to it. Kind of like donut hell:
  •  Take the time. Despite the deadlines and pressure, it is almost a necessity to take some time off now and then to keep yourself sane. Back in February, all sorts of things were piling on, such as passing the three and a half year mark, job interviews and applications, and it was wearing me down. Things were not going well at all, and progress was halting. What did I do to turn the tide? I took a full weekend off, where I did absolutely nothing related to my thesis, and instead focusing on my hobby. When things are falling into disarray, I think the best cure is to take a weekend off and enjoy life. I can’t stress this enough, do not work 12 hour days and 7 day weeks. You will not achieve your deadline this way, it will only cause you to become discouraged. That full weekend off is likely the reason I finished!
  • Latex is your friend. Imagine for a moment that I did my entire thesis in Microsoft Word, or some alternative word processing software. What would happen if I added some new reference or image, mid-chapter? What if I wanted to move a section from one chapter to another? What would be the result? Pure frustration. I wrote my honours and masters thesis in Word, and I remember the pain that this entails, especially when dealing with several annoying bugs. A PHD thesis will almost certainly be much longer than an honours or masters thesis. By writing my thesis in Latex, I avoided many common issues with using Word, namely: formatting, organisation, referencing. Want to resize a figure without worrying how it will affect page layout? Latex can do that for you. Want to change the entire layout of the thesis? Latex can do this with little modification. Want to add or remove references without thinking about maintaining a bibliography? Latex does this automatically. Want to move a section? All you have to do is move one line in your main file (provided you keep all sections in separate text files, as I do). I can’t conceive being able to finish my thesis when I did if I had done it in Word. Perhaps the biggest negative is the lack of grammar check, so I found many instances where I wrote “the the”. There is nice, easy to use Latex thesis template on the ANU Physics website (it is set up for an honours thesis, but this is easily changed).
  • The final seminar is a great opportunity to organize yourself. Since everyone must do a seminar within six months of submitting, it serves as a prefect time to organize the setup of your thesis. You have to assess what figures are needed for the main presentation of the thesis, and allows you to sum up the main points of your research. Also, it serves as a time to show off your work, so enjoy it!

Well, my thesis got handed in, exactly one day before I flew off to Japan for a well deserved break. In all likelihood, this will be my final post on this blog, as I am now no longer a student! I have had a great time contributing to this blog. I highly recommend other students contribute, as it gives you practice in writing. This is the final point I make: practice practice practice! Writing is a skill, and if you are past your midterm, you may not have any practical things to write for upwards of a year. Do not let your skills fade, continue writing! Write at least 1000 words a week on something! I was able to pound out upwards of 5000-10000 words a week in the final few weeks of my thesis writing, which was made so much easier by the fact that I had plenty of writing experience throughout my PHD, predominantly through On Circulation. If nothing else, it will take your mind off your work, at least for a short time, and helps soothe the mind.

Anyways, this sums it up: