By Brendan Hanger
Recently a number of the original OnCirculation contributors have reached the ‘end’ of their PhDs including Evan, Kelly, Nick and myself; however this has led to the question, ‘When is the true end of the PhD?’ or in popular terms ‘Can I call myself a doctor yet?’. Here in Australia, the PhD approval process is different to many other countries, based on our relative isolation from the rest of world. In this post I am going to talk about the various ‘end’ points and where they fit into the process. These stages are what I have been through or still have to come here at RSES, but are similar to most departments around the country.
- The Final Seminar: In our school we are required to give a final seminar 5 months or less before we submit our thesis, so it’s the first step of the finishing process. By convention, our seminars are given in front of the entire school (and open to the public), with a normal audience of 60-80 people. This provides a great opportunity to show your colleagues what you have spent the last 3-4 years doing, as well as get some final input before the thesis chapters get set in stone. After the seminar we also get to enjoy some drinks and a dinner, which again is open to everyone to attend, and will often get 30 people at it. This is generally the first party of the finishing process and is a great night.
- Choosing Examiners: One of the biggest differences between Australian PhDs and those in the USA, UK or Europe is the examination process. Due to the low density of researchers and large distances from the rest of the world, our PhDs are examined externally in a peer review system, rather than by bringing in examiners for a defence or viva. So about 3 months out from submitting we have to submit paperwork to begin the process of choosing the examiners. Three examiners are chosen, generally from a shortlist developed by the student and supervisor, though the final choices are unknown to the student during the process. There a number of rules regarding the examiners: no more than one can be based in Australia, they can’t have published or collaborated with the student or supervisors in the last five years, and they must have the right knowledge to examine the thesis. Generally the chosen examiners are experts in either the content or the techniques used in the thesis, but often not both.
- Submitting the Thesis: This one is the big one, submitting the thesis for examination. After 3.5 to 4.5 years of hard work, and a few months where days have no meaning, you finally get the thesis written, printed and bound (generally just sift comb binding, nothing fancy yet) and walk it over to the examinations office to submit. At ANU, they then give you a gift, leading to the common question from those in the know “Cup or Pen?” (I chose the pen) and send the thesis to the examiners, who have three months to examine it and report back. Following the submission we tend to party, and when I submitted I was lucky enough to have one o my close mates submit at the same time, so it was a double party. This is by far the biggest celebration of the PhD, but it is really only the beginning of the end, which drags on for months.
- Examiners’ reports: About three months after the thesis is submitted, all students start to get nervous about the imminent arrival of the examiners’ report and their recommendations (the closest thing we have to a grade for the PhD). There is often a period where you know that some reviews have arrived but are waiting on others, and then also a week or so as the reviews travel through the university admin before you get the results (and the actual reviews).Most of us (including myself) will receive “accepted subject to minor corrections”, whilst some lucky people just get “accepted” (there is also major corrections and fail, but they are rare, at least in my school). Once these results are received its time to make the corrections and prepare the final thesis, which can take days to months, depending on what else you have on your plate.
- Submitting the final thesis: Once the corrections are all complete, it is time to send the thesis of for printing again, however this time it will get the proper hard binding typical of theses, which can take another week. Once the bound theses are returned it time to hand them to people, I had six copies made, one each for the University Library (an official requirement), School thesis collection, supervisor and parents, as well as two for myself. The University copy gets submitted to the department administrator along with a report of the corrections, which then travels around the School and College for approvals (more waiting) before it is officially accepted.
- Graduation: The final step is graduation, which for me will be in December. This is the one where you get to dress up in academic robes (robes, hood and cap) and receive the degree officially. I’m really looking forward to this as ANU graduation week always feels like a celebration and I will be part of it this time. This is also the point at which you officially (finally) call yourself a doctor.
As you can see, there are many ‘ends’ of the PhD and we try to celebrate most of them.