Best Laid Plans

Sorry for the silence.  I’ve just reviewed my last posting made on the 5th August, such a lot has changed since then.

I’m determined to keep this blog focused on the PhD journey, but sometimes things from the outside world come along and throw you a curve ball.  For me the care of my Father, and his subsequent death from a particularly nasty form of cancer on the first of September has been a blow that it’s taking me a long time to recover from.

So despite some time off, I was unable to do a fraction of the required amendments required.  It’s now very very unlikely I’ll get to graduation in December, and I’ll be looking at December 2015 instead.  More time to prepare and sort out hotels.

I’m not there yet, but I have spent the longest time in a long long time concentrating on work in my study today.  It’s the lack of concentration that’s really bugging me at the moment, I can’t focus on anything for any length of time.  Not good when you’re an academic and to some extent paid to think (or reply to emails, almost the same thing).

I’ll post an update once I’m back in the saddle.

After the champagne corks….

Well it’s (pretty well) all over.  What a journey, and what a day last Wednesday was.

I headed up to Lancaster on Tuesday afternoon, and stayed at the on-campus hotel.  I’d stayed here several times in the last four years, partly in an attempt to familiarise myself with the place so I would feel comfortable come the big day.  I can’t recommend sitting in an outdoor hot tub highly enough for relaxation.  I pottered between reading through my PhD, listening to music and a very modest drink and meal in the bar.  Given how nervous I was it’s not surprising I didn’t sleep brilliantly, but I did sleep OK.

Wednesday, and after a swim and bread-free breakfast (no carbs to slow me down), a final read through and then coffee on campus.  I still arrived an hour early, apparently the internal and external examiners had been chatting for an hour and there was another hour of waiting.  I would have much preferred a 10:00am viva, but of course individuals have to travel.  I had a pre-meeting with my supervisor too, which should have relaxed me a little, but didn’t.

At about 1:00 I was called in, the two externals, my supervisor, and a chair too… because my examiners were considered inexperienced it’s University regulations that there has to be a chair.  So four, plus myself.

The viva itself was a shade over two hours, this seems to be a long time in comparison to others in my cohort.  There was no preamble, and I’m afraid that not one of the viva cards questions came up.  They were all very specific, and focused on my thesis, chapter by chapter and in the case of one external, page by page the questions were asked.  Towards the end I was starting to flag a little, and one question in particular seemed to be worded in a very strange way.  Coming out of the viva, my supervisor and I had very different views, he felt it had been ‘easy’, I would rather have dental work without effective anaesthetic (again) than go through that.

Then the wait….. and the wait…..

When called back in, I really didn’t know how it had gone, and it did take some time to register that they were indeed saying that I had passed.  There are amendments, in four different areas, and one of them may be significant, but I’m awaiting the final report.  I did scrawl some notes on what was required, but they are a blur to me now.

You’ve seen the celebration pictures in the previous post, and good wishes came through social media and texts all the way home (I wasn’t driving).  The (slightly) official announcement is here too.

So, I have to make changes in time for the December graduation, and sort some logistics out there.  But before then I’m really hoping to get a long-deserved holiday in.  Whether I do or not is out of my hands though, as after the high of Wednesday I had some very bad news personally both on Thursday and Friday, along with some very long hospital visits.  Very much a week of highs and lows.

So that’s it, four and a half years, around 30,000 words written in the first two years and 55,000 in the thesis.  I’ll write another post about advice to prospective candidates, but I need to step a little away from the whole thing for a while (and do the amendments of course!).

As always, thanks to everyone who has supported me, both at Lancaster and across the world.  It’s been one heck of a journey.

The finish line

Four and a half years ago I started on my PhD journey.  It will end on Wednesday as I attend my PhD viva (or defence), and demonstrate that I have sufficient knowledge to gain my Doctorate.

The last few months have been tough, not just with my PhD.  I’ve had to deal with physical ailments from the seemingly trivial (toothache and an extraction that required sedation) to big scares and a regular bombardment of migraines that have regularly send me to bed with an ice pack and a dark room.  I’ve supported friends and family through their bad news, as they have supported me.  I’ve experienced massive changes in my work environment.

But when it comes down to it, on Wednesday it’s me, my thesis and two examiners are all that matter.

I’ve received a good luck card from my parents, though the PhD experience (and the viva) is one that they can hardly comprehend.  I’ve seen first-hand how emotional people can get when they hear the news that they have passed, I can only hope that I have reason to be that emotional, for all the right reasons on Wednesday.

Keep an eye on social media, after the one-man fan club that is supporting (and driving) me, and my parents, Twitter and Facebook will be the first to know, one way or the other.

Viva Lancaster!

It doesn’t feel a month since I submitted my thesis.  A lot has happened.

Firstly the PhD stuff.  The date for my viva was confirmed as the 30th July, between my two holidays.  At the time I thought this was going to be too far away. In reality it’s perfect timing for me.  I’ve been able to take a break from my thesis, and will start looking again on the 1st July.

I’ve also sorted out a mock viva with my supervisor.  As our relationship hasn’t been the closest, this mock viva will be a good test for me, as I don’t know either my external or internal examiner well at all, their selection is entirely based upon their association with the subject of my research.

I’ve been fortunate that someone else in our cohort has gone through the process before, and has been able to offer some helpful tips, ones which I intend to take on board.  I’m also supporting another cohort member as he goes through the process, so I’ll be the third to pass through the process.

I’m nervous, I think this is a good thing though, and I will be as well prepared as I can be.

But other things have kept me busy.  One thing that appears trivial but isn’t is a throbbing tooth and chronic toothache.  Three attempts have been made to extract it, and all have failed so far.  As I type I’m dosed up on antibiotics, paracetamol and ibuprofen and it’s still a dull ache.  The next attempt at a new surgery will be with sedation, which will be an interesting experience, the last time I was sedated for anything was when I was four years old – also at the dentist but for significantly smaller teeth.

And with a sense of timing only possible in Kafka-esque novels, four days after I submitted a close family relative (and I’ve only got two surviving blood relatives) was diagnosed with cancer.  We’re averaging a visit every ten days to the hospital as diagnosis and treatment plans are devised.

That, plus a workload at work that feels pretty relentless has made for a very stressed Andy over the last month, and with no immediate sign of the situation improving in the short term.  I’ve had these periods before, and I’m sure I will pass, but let’s hope that I can soon start to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

The calm after the storm

Wow, what a week.

Commercial proofreading is expensive, the cheapest quote was £1100 for a 50k thesis and that wasn’t in a timescale that I could consider.

Luckily I had two willing (mostly) volunteers.  One of them worked through it page by page, chapter by chapter and made comments, suggestions and corrections on pretty well every page.  I made these corrections, reprinted and then passed to my second proofreader.  We had allocated three days to do this work, I would make corrections on the fly.

In fact, and even with a couple of breaks to take in the sun on a glorious weekend, we completed this a lot quicker than we thought.  By late Saturday afternoon I was therefore sitting on a complete, double-proof read, fully referenced and formatted thesis as a pdf file.

In the end I slept on it (not literally, though it’s thick enough to act as a pillow), and submitted to the administrator early Sunday morning.  Would another read through have benefitted?  Possibly, but I was also aware that I had to ‘let it go’ at some point.

Again, above and beyond the call of duty she contacted me immediately about how to get it printed remotely, which I did.  Examiners are arranged, and just need to confirm a date now.  I have a fellow Cohort member who has a viva scheduled for early July, and it would be incredible if we could have our defences on the same day.

Lots of people have asked me what I intend to do now that I’ve submitted.  In reality it’s still there, I will re-read, check the key papers, create mind maps for each chapter based on the headings and subheadings.  But there will be a gap.  I’m looking forward to socialising again, spending more time with friends and family.  I do have a diploma in creative writing, which I may well go back to.

And how do I feel?  Relieved, anxious still, a little like having a tooth removed, I’m becoming aware of a gap.  Last night I spent a whole evening watching crap telly (though this was after a full days teaching too, when in reality I probably wouldn’t have had an evening working on PhD anyhow).

I’ll keep you updated on progress, and key dates.