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.

Let it go…..

I’m coming to the end of the PhD writing journey.  I have a submission date in mind, and it will have been double-proofread by that time. I’ve got the say-so from my supervisor to submit.  Though my weekend was once again dogged by migraines, I spent a good few hours responding to proof-readers comments.

Indeed, in his last email when I was after final, final confirmation that I could submit, he told me to ‘Let it Go’ –

And just as I get myself in this frame of mind, Piled Higher and Deeper publish this comic.

I’ll post a message here once it’s submitted, then the waiting starts… I’ll not ignore my thesis in the time betweens submission and viva, but I imagine like a son or daughter who have left the nest, I’ll be thinking about it in a different way, the PhD ‘baby’ will have grown up.

We heard some great news from another in the cohort, the first to defend and (subject I believe to minor changes) has passed with flying colours.  Others are arranging viva dates… I should be third or fourth, not bad considering the four month intercalation I needed to take.

Amongst all this comes a salutary lesson for those of us who trust the cloud with everything.  The qualitative analysis software that I used for my coding and analysis, Dedoose, suffered a catastrophic failure, losing everyone’s data.  The restore has been long, painful and as I type incomplete.  I am lucky, my analysis was completed a while back and whilst I’ve been in to get data from time to time, I’d not added anything new for a while.  Dedoose doesn’t let you make local backups, only extracts in Excel format of some of the data.  Yes, we’ve all lost data in the past (I lost a chapter of my MA dissertation due to naively thinking a pen drive would be more secure than my hard disk, way back in 2006), but part of Dedoose’s appeal was the promise of regular backups.  They’ve implemented steps going forward, but this doesn’t help the many researchers who have lost significant data.

Fingers crossed then the next posting here will be a single word, ‘submitted’.


May the Fourth….

Yeah, yeah.  Cheesy I know but I am watching Episode I whilst I type this, so it seems appropriate.

It’s been nearly a month since my last post, not a month since I drafted one but I decided not to publish.  Sometimes I can be my own most critical editor.

My supervisor switched about three weeks ago to talking about ‘when’ I submit, which I took as a hopeful sign.  The final iteration of revisions was relatively minor, he still has concerns about one area, and whilst I’ve tried to address these, I’m actually looking forward to being able to discuss this in the viva.  My internal and external examiners have been appointed, and provisional dates have been discussed, but not agreed yet.

I’ve printed off two draft copies and we’re independently proof-reading them, one by me and whoever pops over for coffee, the other by some willing volunteers at work, which I’m very grateful for.  I have in mind a day when I submit this, best to keep it to myself – until I post to this Blog, and Facebook, and Twitter, and I’ll be seen celebrating in a hostelry.

The acknowledgements section at the start was written a while back, and some things have changed within it.  It’s dedicated to my Aunt, who died almost a year to the day before I submit.  I may well post the page here after my viva, it says a lot more about the support team I’ve had behind me than I’ve shared here.

After submission we confirm the viva date.  I’d like to think that’s a breather, but it’s not, I’ll be spending time reading the important papers that have had an influence on my work.  There are four possible outcomes for the viva, but I’ll write more about that later no doubt.




I’m continuing to work on revisions to my thesis.  I’ve just received feedback on the second draft, and there’s still a way to go I can tell.

More than anything thought over the last couple of weeks I’ve bee aware of the sacrifices that are made when you tackle something this big.  There were three specific events that I would have really liked to have gone to in this last week – one of them a family event and the others what looked like fun social things that I would have really liked to go to.

It’s not just you who is doing a PhD, which is why a thesis always has an acknowledgements section.  Mine runs to a full page, I have a lot of people to thank, and in one instance a family member is mentioned who is no longer with us.

As I type this I’m up in Edinburgh for a few days at an academic conference.  I’ve met two others of my cohort who are also close to submitting, but also those that have gone through the process and are now Doctors.  Along with all the warnings of being prepared for disappointment if the viva doesn’t give you an outright pass (very few do), and how to work on revisions, there’s also talk of the feeling of relief when it’s all completed.

Friends have already started planning for weekends away, and as soon after submission I’m planning a holiday away somewhere, ideally without the Internet and possibly without a phone signal would be even better.

I think it will be a while however before I can objectively state if the sacrifices have been worth it, but I’m on the PhD train now, and being so close to the station it would be crazy to press the emergency stop cord now.