Submitted: now what?

Submitting my thesis was not the relief I thought it would be.

After receiving feedback and comments from two of my PhD supervisors on my draft thesis, I worked for a few more weeks on updating and editing the manuscript. Until finally, on the 28 June 2013, I walked into the Faculty secretariat and handed over eight pristine printed and bound copies of my thesis – several years’ work condensed into a box. And it was a seriously underwhelming experience.

The secretariat of the Faculty was almost apologetic at the lack of pomp and ceremony. “Ok, that’s it, thanks”, I was told. And that was it indeed. No taking it back now. The waves of relief I expected, the rush of joy: none of that hit me.

Since then I’ve found myself with plenty of work to do to keep me busy, but not quite so busy as in the last months of the thesis finalisation (I am not working weekends, hurray!). All the items on my to-do list that had been dropping in priority were suddenly again near the top. I found myself carrying out research again, finding out new things, preparing papers for conferences, developing ideas for publications. It’s actually quite nice and exciting. But I have a niggle in the back of my mind. I feel like all of this is just me killing time until the Big Days. Those Big Days are the two defences I have to do.

My internal defence is scheduled for the 26 August. In Belgium, the PhD defence system involves two steps. The first step is an “internal” or “private” defence with the members of the PhD jury. In my case, I have seven professors on my jury. If the majority of these professors agree that my PhD is sufficiently good then I can go on to defend my PhD publicly. The world and its mother can attend the public defence if they so wish – and the public is invited to pose questions also!

The jury can make one of three decisions:

–> the PhD fails – that’s the end of the road;

–> the PhD needs some (usually considerable) corrections: the researcher needs to make the corrections, resubmit and go through the internal defence again;

–> the PhD is good enough to pass and can go to public defence.

Needless to say I am crossing fingers for option number three. But it’s still a strange time now. I am waiting for the procedure to continue, but everything is out of my control. After several years working on one project, it’s an odd feeling to think about it being judged (probably harshly) by people I hardly know.

T-minus circa six weeks and counting to Big Day number one.

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Editing and motivating

There is some truth to the notion that deadlines are motivating… but I wonder whether boredom can outweigh that motivating factor sometimes?

These days I am trying to rework the text of my thesis, yet again. I think I am going to struggle to look at this text again. I am officially sick of it. And bored with it. And wishing that it was already behind me. I received some of the comments from the members of my PhD committee on Thursday, and am waiting for comments from a few others today and tomorrow. But I’ve already started working out some of the smaller, less time-consuming issues while waiting. Fingers crossed the comments of the various members of the committee are not contradictory. I’m hoping for smooth-sailing from now on. 

The trouble is not so much with the comments, or with the committee, or even with the PhD itself, the trouble is more with myself. I just find that I no longer want to work on this book. It’s 300+ pages tell a story that I know inside-out, that can’t teach me anything. I am spending my days restructuring sections, changing words here and there, thinking about the conclusions a bit more, but I am learning nothing new. And it’s pretty boring. 

 Boring means unmotivating. 

I wonder already how on earth I could ever come back to this text once the whole process is over. As part of my PhD contract here, I have to publish the PhD (which will require some text editing – AGAIN). I think a long holiday before I even think about it will be required. 

Back to the editing. Sigh.

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Made it!

On 10 May, I handed a full draft of my thesis to my PhD committee… And then I enjoyed a weekend off for the first time in ages!

 

Not quite passed the finish line yet, as the doctoral committee have three weeks to read my thesis. The committee members (three professors) will then give me their comments on the text. I will have about three weeks after that to update the text, change parts etc. according to their comments (which will hopefully not be too many with nothing too drastic requiring change!).

The next steps for me include proofreading, checking formatting, taking care of the references and all that jazz while the committee are reading, before updating the text after I receive their comments. Nearly there, but it was such a relief to have handed in the full text already!

Getting close to the finish line…

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Got a brain? Forget daytime tv.

On a sick day at home and took a break from work (yes, even on a sick day) on the couch. Discovered daytime tv is just horrible. And insulting.

If it wasn’t for BBC World News‘ repetitive coverage of the life of Margaret Thatcher,* I probably would never have known… But French daytime tv is just awful. Perhaps people have warned me that this was the case, but I’ve never taken the time to pay attention before today.

Of course it’s not my fault that I was home sick the same day that Margaret Thatcher passed away, but it is a pity that BBC World News spent so long on that one story and less on the stories of the rest of the world (what with “World News” being part of its title). BBC’s usually interesting news stories were replaced with a loop of people describing their impressions of the life and influence of the late Iron Lady – resulting in too much repetition for my liking.

I ending up zapping/channel hopping. Oh dear.

And I landed on “Comment ça va bien” on France 2. Dear God.

Firstly, is all daytime tv outside of the 24-hour news channels so blatantly targeted at women assumed to be living in the 1950s? The show was horrific. The first segment was about fake hair accessories, with Max (complete with red dicky-bow) demonstrating with the youngest and slimmest member of the (seemingly all-female) audience how to wear a high-ponytail attachment (real hair, though). Then Max showed us the wonders of the synthetic hair bow clip (just like Lady Gaga!). And last, but not least, the full-blown wig that you simply clip over your ponytail and add a hairband for that retro Brigitte Bardot look! Cringe.

Secondly, there was a “craft” segment. Just what do you do with those boring old plates? Why not give them some new life with porcelain markers! Or a dash of paint! Yes, a whole segment on drawing designs on plates. Just like you did in playschool/kindergarten/crèche. But as a grown woman, of course you’ll be very excited by this.

To top it off, there was a special guest whose name I can’t remember (not being up-to-speed with the minor French celebrities), who plainly thought most of this was ridiculous. They made him take part in the hair and plate demonstrations. It seemed he was taking the piss, but everyone else was Deadly. Serious.

Then I couldn’t handle it anymore. I switched off, and in my indignation wrote a tweet in French about it, but that wasn’t enough venting, so here I am writing this.

I generally felt sad about the very existence of this show:

– because the clear target audience for this show (airing at 3 o’clock in the afternoon) is women. Women are more likely to be at home watching tv at 3pm than anyone else? Still?

– because this daytime tv show seems to be aimed at no women I know (i.e. is this target audience of the tv show the majority intelligent, independent women of the 21st century? It doesn’t seem so);

– because the question I can’t answer is whether tv shows exist like this because there is actually a demand for them or whether these tv shows exist because they’ve always existed… Where does this start/end?

– because I always thought that we were so close to the day on which women wouldn’t have their intelligence and brains insulted so blatantly in public. Call me naïve.

Sigh.

Needless to say, those two segments on the show were as much as I could handle and motivation enough to get back to work/twitter/blog venting. But sick day blues has been topped off with general fed-upness with the state of the world.

 

 *Very impressed with how speedily Wikipedia updated Margaret Thatcher’s date of death on their page about her…

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When all the world is partying…

In those final months and weeks of writing-up, there’s a cloud of guilt every time I do something other than writing… The world can party on St. Patrick’s day, but I’ll be here tapping away at my laptop.

There are two breaks from my laptop and my various draft chapter versions I foresee over the next 8 weeks (besides when I’m sleeping): the Easter weekend when I visit family, and Earth Hour on 23 March when I’ll turn off the lights and the computer. Beyond that, I cannot manage to pull myself away from work: whether that is actually writing, re-reading chapter drafts, thinking about what needs to be written next, panicking when I discover there’s a vital piece of information that I’m missing, or feeling guilty for watching rugby games when I should be writing (thank goodness the Six Nations is over, and not only because both Ireland and France sucked this year and it’s something we’d rather forget…). 

I don’t mean to make the whole PhD process sound like hell, it’s just a bit testing at times. But the light at the end of the tunnel is there! And in some masochistic way, there is a real pleasure to be found in seeing the pages mount up, and the number of corrections reducing… Plus there is a massive community of people out there who are going through the same, or have gone through the same. If they can do it, so can you. I often take heart from seeing comments on twitter from fellow researchers on a weekend when they are also knuckling down to their own to-do list.

Working on Sundays is not forever, just for the moment.

P.S. Happy St. Patrick’s day

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Time mis-used

The other day I was reading a book called “How to write a lot” on the métro on the way to work. The book is really excellently written – informative and funny. Its one central message is simple: schedule time for writing and stick to that schedule.

I had scheduled writing time from 9am to 11am that particular morning. But, irony of ironies, because I was so engrossed in the book, I actually missed my stop on the métro! I ended up going too far, had to get off and wait for a métro back, then missed my connecting tram and had to wait for the next one.

The upshot? I arrived at the office 20 minutes later than planned (at 9:15am) and lost precious “scheduled” writing time, all because I was so engrossed in the book that tells me how important it is to stick to a writing schedule…

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Deadlines approach

I have just realised that I need to finish EVERYTHING in the next two months, or else wait until September. The curse of the university summer semester.

Lesson of the week: be sure to read the PhD regulations of your faculty early enough so that you know the sort of hoops through which you’ll have to jump in order to get this thing over and done with. This week I discovered that there are no PhD examinations in July and August. And that once I submit the thesis the jury have two months to read it before I have the internal examination. Then there’s another month before the external examination. So the examination process takes three months, unless they want me to carry out major corrections, then it would take longer.

Penny-dropping realisation that I had: my plan to submit my thesis in May is flawed. If the jury have two months to read it, then my internal defence would have to take place in July. But there are no defences in July and August, so in reality it wouldn’t happen until September! So what would be the point of submitting in May? I could just wait and submit in September and graduate later. But that would mean the whole thesis would be hanging over my head during the summer, and frankly, I just want to be rid of it.

New unbreakable deadline: APRIL 2013. AH!

 

 

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