I have handed in my PhD thesis. (Pause for yells of triumph and applause :-))
I feel quite different now compared to when I handed in my first draft at the end of September. At that time I just felt wiped out, exhausted, out of words and ideas. I did not think I could make it to this point, quite honestly, and I was really worried. I put off the revisions for the longest period of time I could get away with to avoid having to go back into the thinking and writing and worrying and fatigue that has been a huge part of my life for the last couple of years at least. But go back into it all, I did, and now the thing is finished enough to submit and I am very proud of myself and of the way it has turned out.
I have heard people refer jokingly to doing a PhD as like being pregnant and having a long labour, with the thesis being the ‘baby’ that one gives birth to and rejoices in after this long, painful period of time. Possible issues aside, let’s go with this metaphor for this post (with apologies to male readers who may need to find a similar metaphor – I’d be keen to hear one).
Pregnancy and labour are pretty tough, although there are really lovely parts, of pregnancy at least – one of which is the fuss people tend to make of you, even people you don’t know very well. Not all of labour is painful and these are respites from the painful bits, but it feels endlessly long and difficult and exhausting and even though you know it cannot actually last forever, it’s often hard to see the end in your line of sight. So, in some ways I guess I can see the connections with the process of doing a PhD.
Not all of the PhD process is hard and painful, and there are some lovely bits too – the relationships you build with your fellow PhD scholars and supervisor; the way you can see your ability to write, read and think more critically and analytically growing over time; the pleasure you can take in learning new things about a field you are really interested in – and these lovely bits often make the more painful bits feel like they just might be worth it.
But the painful bits of both processes are really awful, and even though you will (and should) have people around you, coaching you and encouraging you and giving you sage advice, you are the one who has to go through it all and you can feel quite alone at times, even though you know you are not the only one who is going through something like this.
It’s a lovely relief when that little baby appears and the pain and discomfort and swollen ankles and heartburn are at an end. You know that the next phase is beginning, and it’s scary and also exhilarating. And with a PhD, it’s a huge relief to print out the thesis, ring-bind it and send it off. The next phase of your career is starting – post-doc research, writing, conferences and so on. It’s also scary and heady all at the same time.
There is another similarity too: not too long after going through all of that pain and discomfort, you look down at that little baby and think (somewhat bizarrely considering how much you whinged and carried on about how long the pregnancy and labour were taking): ‘that wasn’t so hard, really. I think I could do that again’. I must say that, in some ways, I am thinking already that doing a PhD was not so hard in the end. Of course, this is not actually the case: it was hard, and it’s not over yet. I still have corrections coming and my final submission before I can graduate. But I feel like I could gear up to do this again sometime in the future, except next time I’ll be having a book! 🙂