It has been so very long since I wrote a blog post I barely know where to start. In this instance, I feel compelled start at the end…
I SUBMITTED MY THESIS!
The first article I ever posted was called ‘M’ is for Midterm and finally, two and a half years later, I get to write ‘F’ is for Finished! I have learned so many things since that first post, about blogging, about research, probably most importantly about deep-sea coral (that was* after all my PhD topic) and an AWFUL lot about myself; some things that I shall carry forward and a few things that I shall gladly leave behind. The whole process of doing a PhD is often described as a roller coaster, which was most definitely the case for me. The extreme highs were coupled to some rather uncomfortable lows. So perhaps I was naive to think that the ride ended on the day of submission, and I was not entirely prepared for how strange it would be to put my feet back on the ground. Like the astronaut returning from space readjusting to earth’s gravity, I discovered on my own re entry, that perspective on Planet PhD was so different to that on Planet Earth that I needed some time to learn how to walk again.
I’ll save my survival tips for another post, although I will say that Evan pretty much covered most of them in PhD: Epilogue. What I’d like to tell you about is the incredibly surreal period that culminates in the days leading up to (my) submission, and in my next post, the days that follow **.
In the week prior to submission, time loses all meaning. The days bleed in to one long ground-hog day that you live over, and over, and over again. I spent the last few months writing up at home, largely because I wasn’t allowed to bring my cat into the office, even though he didn’t always appreciate what I was writing. Because I was at home I could get up, get in to my ‘day’ pyjamas and start working. I would change in to my running gear, run, shower and then get back in to my pyjamas and work. I had a very hard deadline, and as it approached the rest of the world just kind of disappeared. I largely ceased communicating with it, and when I did I couldn’t actually remember who I had spoken to. Any synapses firing, fired for the finish. I woke in the mornings already in the process of making ‘to do’ lists, I ate purely to keep my body functioning and when I did speak it was to ask my awesome husband questions like ‘do you think I can pull out Chapter 3 and anyone will notice?”
Parts of my work that I had held on to so tightly for so long all of a sudden didn’t need to be included. In fact, if it wasn’t nailed down, I binned it. I set a very high standard for myself, and others that I work with for that matter, but you know it’s time to submit when you just don’t care anymore. And you don’t. I am very fortunate that my awesome husband is an academic, and although he didn’t read the bulk of the thesis, I caved and gave him the abstract, introduction and conclusions, as lets face it, they are the only bits that anyone reads. He was not overly impressed with my conclusions…apparently it was quite obvious that I had written them last. He very kindly, and gently pointed out that perhaps I’d like to sit on them for a day and then try to breathe a bit of life in to them. I thought it a curious statement until I sat on them for a day and then looked back to see I had written THE most bland and uninspired text I had ever written, not at all the way I wanted to conclude four years of work!
I finished writing at 2am the day I needed to get it to the printers. At 1am I was staring at the screen entirely unsure of how to write that last sentence. Fifty five thousand words and I just…could….not…..find….the….last….sentence. So back to the awesome husband I went and we opened his thesis. And there it was, a beautiful closing sentence! Robert has given me many presents in our time together but this one meant the most. I insist it was not plagiarism because I had to change many words, ‘deep-sea coral’ replaced ‘southern ocean diatoms’, ‘nitrogen biogeochemistry’ was substituted for ‘iron acquisition’, and ‘adaptive strategies’ became ‘ecosystem dynamics’. The content changed, but the meaning remained the same: look how relevant this work is. Is this cheating? Maybe. Did I care? Not in the slightest because it meant that I was done. And I could go to bed.
SO there you have it. I finished my thesis. And to celebrate I dashed straight from the submissions office, to home, to pack to go on a camel expedition in the Simpson Desert….and it was out here that it really hit home how skewed my perspective on the world had become. But that’s a story for next week 🙂
* Was, do you see that, past tense!
** Obviously the following statements are relevant to my experience and don’t necessarily apply to anyone else. I shouldn’t have to say this, but then again I also don’t think that you need a warning on coffee cup lids indicating the contents is hot. Alas, this is the world we live in.