Jottings on science, religion, technology, pop culture and faith from the Antipodes.

Finishing the PhD

1. Don’t Panic! (Finishing the PhD)

(Part 1 of 10)

When faced with the perceived enormity of finishing the thesis (N.B. the thesis by this stage is often referred to in less polite terms), it is not unreasonable to experience varying degrees of panic. However, while some manner of concern over finishing the thesis and indeed feeling pressure to finish are useful motivators, panic is not your friend. Neither is excessive stress.

So, sit down and work out exactly what has to be done and when it has to be done by. Take into account all the other commitments you have to family, other people, work, your own health etc, and break the path to finishing down into bite-sized, manageable chunks. This is helpful because:

  1. You can identify what is critical to finishing and thereby ignore things that look important but are actually distractions.
  2. Each mini-section or task you complete helps to affirm you’re on the right track.
  3. You know when in the day you do different types of work well and can select (within reason) the right type of work to do. For example, I don’t concentrate well straight after lunch (1-3pm) so I’d do thesis tasks then that required less concentration. The best times to write for me are 10am-12pm and 4pm-8pm (which never worked out with family life). Sure you need to work whenever you can but try to work smarter.
  4. You get an idea of how long particular tasks take, such as revising an established piece of writing or checking a set of references, so you can estimate how long other tasks might take (allowing for the fact that they always take longer than you think).

At this stage it’s all about grinding it out. You know your stuff, the thesis structure is pretty much set in stone, and it’s just plod, plod, plod until it’s done. There is no other way.

One other thing. Related to the feelings of panic are also feelings of guilt about how much you haven’t done, and the perception that you mucked around in the first two years and should have worked harder. Perhaps, but things that took weeks then now take hours or days because you’ve become immersed in the material for so long and have thought researchy-type thoughts for longer. The worst case scenario is that the guilty feeling gets in the way of getting finished, as you wallow around in it for a while. You are where you are, acknowledge that you might have been able to be further along, also acknowledge that you know more now than then, and then get on and finish anyway.

See PHD Comics: Time to end this

Making sure you’re getting regular exercise and contact with other people helps both with managing the panic and guilt stuff. It may help to have an ‘academic confessor’ (not your supervisor necessarily) to vent to – I had one or two from time to time and it was useful to get my head straight in the thesis process.

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