Countdown to a PhD : the VIVA

It’s been a while since my last post about my progress towards handing in. Have no fear, hand in was achieved, Thursday 24th March 2016.

The nervous wait for a VIVA date followed. I say it was a nervous wait but I actually managed to distract myself quite successfully by filling my diary with freelance excavation work. In fact, I was so successful at occupying my time that I completely forgot about the VIVA until some unsuspecting soul asked me about it. Even after the date had been confirmed I was not connected to or engaged with it. It seemed like this thing that I knew was going to happen to me but was far from being real at that point.

V Day – THIS FRIDAY! 17th June 2pm.

I spent my time enjoying doing my day job. I also taught on the undergraduate training excavation which was exhausting and rewarding. Still had nothing to do with my VIVA though.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I faced up to the fact that I suppose I’d better do some prep for it. I had a meeting with my supervisor the outcome of which was him telling me he wasn’t worried about it and couldn’t think of any serious issues off the top of his head. A win right?

That’s what you’d think. In fact I spent the following week mostly doing commercial work and other non-VIVA related activities (including the Great Knaresborough Bed Race) and telling anyone who asked that I was relaxed about the whole situation.

Then came Monday, yesterday. I realised I have 4 and a half days until V day. I expected the little panic monkey in my heard to wake up and start running around in abject terror, and yet… I think I have more of a panic sloth.

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I am revising this week (re-reading and making edits to my thesis). And I am aware that my VIVA is in2 and a half days. But somehow I still feel rather disconnected. I think this is good as I am not panicking and will hopefully have a cool, calm and collected head on Friday afternoon. I’m not sure how I’m going to feel when it is all over.

It’s true what they say, you have to account for the fact you will grieve for your PhD.

Hopefully this is all indicative of the fact that I know my thesis and my research so well the sloth has decided it is all nothing to worry about and the panic monkey, with his tiny voice, is being ridiculous.

Perhaps its more of a faith-in-myself sloth…


Countdown to a PhD: Keeping it together with 2 weeks to go…

Yep, you read that right. As of tomorrow I will have 14 days till I plan to hand in. My official deadline is now the 15th April (supervisor’s advice was to give myself 2 extra weeks ‘just in case’) BUT I am planning on sticking to the original deadline of the end of March. Once you’ve factored in the bank holidays that accompany Easter, this means I will be handing in Thursday 24th March. So how am I ‘keeping it together’ with two weeks to go?

Well, it turns out you keep learning right up to the end of your PhD experience. I know that might sound like an obvious statement but you’d have thought that by the time you are in the final throws of your edits, learning would be over. Wrong. The latest thing my thesis is teaching me (and yes, it is as if its a living breathing thing ,passing on its own wisdom now), is how to deal with finishing a 3year project, practically (editing, making time for appendices, binding etc.) but also psychologically (grieving for the looming loss of something that has been an all consuming part of my life).

The fact that I will, very shortly, no longer have my cubby-hole desk to work at, will no longer be in the department everyday, will no longer be engaging in the daily banter and chat that occurs in the office, is all very suddenly extremely real.

I am about to be thrust out into the real world of archaeology.

Having finally learnt to ignore the ‘imposter syndrome’ feeling all PhD’s experience, I will suddenly have to learn to have confidence in myself in a whole new environment. I have spent the past 7 years in academia and the past 4 in the same department. Moving on from my PhD is therefore feeling like a massive life change, which is exactly what it is.

I do know that the experience of my PhD has not only given me the skills I need to function as a professional in my discipline, both in the academic and commercial worlds, but it has also taught me the skills I need to move into this next part of my life. A life removed from the relatively safe world of a student.

I am excited about a change, and, more importantly, I am ready for it (forcing myself to make more edits everyday is getting increasingly difficult).

Bring it on world.

The Final Throws of a PhD VS a Fledgling Career

Some may argue that undertaking a PhD is starting a career. In some cases this is entirely true. In others, like mine, there comes the inevitable point when your supervisors starts discussing examiners with you, you are frantically working to submit written material for your final 6monthly panel meeting and you are increasingly and uncomfortably aware of the looming end of the beast that has consumed the past 3/4 years of your life.

A couple of months into the 3rd (and final) year of my studies I started applying for jobs. I had guesstimated that it would take a few months of interviews and unanswered applications before I came close to securing myself a job. By that time I would be suitably close to handing in my PhD and could comfortably make that transition from academia into the cut and thrust world of commercial archaeology. To my amazement it was a mere few weeks before I was offered a job. A kink in my otherwise well thought out plan. Although entirely unscheduled, it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down and I subsequently did the short term work for the company (taking a few weeks off from PhD work).

What turned this welcome kink into a full on set of ‘S’ bends in my plan was the expansion of my fledging freelance career. A colleague knew a director at a local unit who was in need of a geophysicist on a freelance basis and suggested I get in contact. I figured there was no harm in making contact with the unit (you never know what it may lead to in the future) and hey presto I had a second job…. This contact has continued to provide me with freelance work on an increasing basis.

This is all fantastic and has been an exciting time for me. I have had my eyes opened to the world of commercial archaeology – its ups, its downs, and its shortcuts! Although you hear from your wizened colleagues and lecturers about the commercial world, it really cannot be understood without experiencing it for yourself.

With my final Thesis Advisory Panel swiftly approaching (chapters are due for scrutiny in 2 weeks!) I have been forced to reconsider the career / PhD balance in my life. I have been doing my best to compensate for the time I have taken off from writing to undertake commercial work (I even switched the last 6months of my PhD to part time to accommodate the extra work) but inevitably things have been mildly neglected. I am now facing the challenge of getting back into academic writing, and writing to a level that is acceptable to the higher echelons of “PhD land”. Many procrastinations are looming, Facebook, trips to Hadrian’s Wall etc. (and writing this blog!). The challenge is regaining the focus I had during a rare few days in the middle of doing some commercial work. It was the fact that I only had a couple of days to get some writing done that made me sit down and put words to paper.

So, to all those fledging archaeologists out there – whether you are starting your undergraduate degree later this year or are entering the world of work for the first time – the lesson I have learnt recently is to take the opportunities when they occur but also to know when to say no (nicely!). Know your worth, know your limitations, know your other commitments and have a good grasp of what you can achieve in the time you have. Archaeology is all about who you know and making connections with units and clients outside of the academic bubble is ultimately what will help you get a job better than any hand crafted CV.

Starting a career and leaving the relative safety of academics is scary but it is also exhilarating and exciting. The phrase ‘the beginning of the rest of your life’ is so often a cliche but is so apt in many ways. Starting that career is a major changing point in your life, so embrace it…

…go forth and dig!