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…


How do you ‘finish’ a PhD? 111 days and counting…

111 = days I have until my hand in deadline.

1197 = days since I started my PhD research.

With 111 days to go until the thesis has to be written, bound and submitted, it is fair to say I am starting to panic more than a little bit. Perhaps panic isn’t quite the right word – I am starting to feel the overwhelming weight of pressure more than I have done since I started this in 2012. Pressure to succeed from (and for) myself, but also pressure not to have wasted the time and support of my parents, not to mention my exceedingly patient supervisor.

The pressure has always been there but the deadline has been a distant and disconnected being. Now, as that entity is very much present and connected, I have felt a shift in the nature of the pressure I have been feeling.

You can read a multitude of articles online about what its like for a final year PhD student and indeed throughout the experience as a whole. Some deal with the unexpected mental cost suffered by PhD students such as this one. But in my experience reading about it hasn’t exactly helped. Sure it has made me aware of the fact that I am not the first to feel this shift in pressure and I certainly won’t be the last.

But the issue still remains: how am I going to get through the last 111 days and submit a successful thesis?

I’m not sure I have an answer and I’m even less sure I will have found one by the time I submit.

I have increasingly struggled with avoidance issues in these last 6 months before my deadline. There are so many other things I can be doing (like writing this post!). I have puzzled about why, when I am still passionate about my thesis and enjoy my work, have I found myself subconsciously doing things to actively avoid it. The answer I came up with is fear, looming self doubt and the imposter syndrome.

Fear: will I actually produce a thesis worthy of a PhD? Will I fulfil the expectations of myself / my parents / my supervisor?

Self doubt: can I do what I need to to bring my thesis up to a state in which it can be submitted? Am I really a good enough academic to achieve a PhD?

Imposter syndrome: am I good enough? I’m not as good as my colleagues and don’t deserve to be here! This is a feeling suffered by most PhD students, particularly in their first years but is one that never goes away. There is always someone you think is better at your job than you are and you can never quite fathom why those in the ivory tower ever let you begin your research in the first place.

Its all well and good telling myself to have a stiff upper lip and persevere in order to get through the 111 days but will this really help me?

I don’t know. I know that I feel marginally better for reading about PhD life online, for writing about it here and I am sure I would if I talked to friends and family about it. Certainly being aware of the pressure shift and actively doing something, anything, to help myself through is beneficial.

For me, getting to my deadline will be about being clear with myself what I need to do to bring my thesis up to the required standard. What exactly is it I need to write and edit to produce a thesis that can be submitted with confidence and pride? I will do my best to remember to get through these 111 days in my way and not feel guilty for not pulling all night writing sessions or spending 16 hours a day in the office. No doubt these will happen at some point but finishing this thesis will be best achieved in my own way.

Will the 1308 days spent on this research be worth it? I hope so. It has already jump started a career in commercial archaeology for me and I hope it will do the same in the academic sphere. Whatever happens I will (hopefully) have produced something I can be proud of and is a piece of research that has something to contribute to our collective knowledge. here’s hoping I can do the research justice!

As the saying goes, keep calm and carry on.