Last month, after almost six years of writing, researching, talking to people, re-writing, editing, eating, stressing and the occasional cry, I finally submitted my PhD thesis. You may be asking why anyone would ever dream of even starting a PhD. Trust me, I asked myself that most days, sometimes multiple times a day and to be honest I’m still not absolutely sure why I did it. This blog is a little bit about that journey so far (as its still not quite over).
Over the years I found that there were a number of things that made my life a bit easier along the way, and Colette recently presented some of these at the Material All Agency Meeting covering her journey to getting a First Class Honours degree. While this blog is focused on my own journey, there are some little hints and tips for completing any massive project be it academic or work/client related.
Have a good supervisory team
I was very, VERY lucky to get a strong academic team to support me, guide me and help me with any problems that I had. Even in something like a PhD thesis, which looks like it is all your own work, its still a collaboration which requires a strong team effort, listening to other people and taking their feedback on board, even when it makes you cry….
In worklife you should have a strong relationship with your line manager, and with your mentor and take their advice on board where you can, even when its hard to take.
Have a strong network around you
On my first day of starting my new life as a PhD student I was placed in an office with another student who was also starting that day. This gave me someone to talk through ideas with, share papers and knowledge (and cups of tea/coffee/sweets/biscuits).
As time passed our little circle of friends grew and expanded, giving us people to lean on, to celebrate their achievements and listen when things were going wrong. These people have become close friends and a great support network. While a PhD thesis is very much an individual piece of work, it does help to have friends going through the same kind of thing. It is also equally important to have a network that has absolutely NO interest in your PhD so that it doesn’t over consume your life.
It goes without saying that this is the same in any job. You need your workmates but you also need a life outside work.
Give yourself mini-deadlines and rewards
My PhD buddies and I became focused on working to mini-deadlines by implemented our special ‘Geek Time” where we put our heads down and wrote as much as we could for a pre-allocated amount of time.
I also tried to work to other deadlines such as holidays, Christmas and Easter so that I knew I had time off after periods of intense work. As for rewards, there is a reason that most PhD students gain weight, as the rewards are pretty much always a cake, sweets, a glass of wine or all three. These mini-deadlines help you to focus and celebrate the mini-achievements.
Try to make life easy for yourself
This is absolutely an area where I excelled… ok I failed dismally. I started my thesis the week after I got married.
Then, because doing my PhD, having a toddler, taking on some teaching and some other research just wasn’t enough I moved house, then had another baby, then moved house again. Once my teaching contract ended I took on a ‘small’ research project with my fellow PhD friend Dr Jillian Ney as she started her consultancy Disruptive Insight. This two day per week project led to me becoming Senior Researcher with new responsibilities, clients and a real focus on building and growing the company with Jillian.
This kind of explains why the three/four years that you are allocated to complete a PhD stretched into almost 6 years for me, but hey I did have an excuse or two.
It will come as no surprise that as we approached the absolute final submission of the thesis I was told in no uncertain terms that I was absolutely not to take on anything new, not even a new goldfish! This, I actually stuck to as I was pretty knackered by this point.
So, the final version of the PhD has been submitted to the examiners, weighing in at a not-too-shabby 85,000 words.
And this isn’t the end of the journey… I still have the Viva (a 2-3 hour oral exam with two examiners) in August where I need to defend all of my research choices and decisions. As you can imagine I cannot wait for that.