“Post-submission thoughts” is a short series of blog posts that are reflections on my PhD journey.  Nowadays, I feel I have some head space to write about my experiences. Today’s blog post describes the final few weeks before I submitted my thesis. Generally speaking, the eight weeks before my submission deadline could be summed up in the following cartoon by KC Green of Gunshow Comics:

Comic by K C Green of Gumshow Comics http://gunshowcomic.com/648
Comic by K C Green of Gunshow Comics http://gunshowcomic.com/648 – all copyrights are his.

This comic has been doing the internet rounds for describing academic life, and for many, it’s not far off reality. However, I used this comic to illustrate my emotional state during the last few weeks of writing. Looking back, my situation wasn’t extreme to the point to meltdown (literally and figuratively), but it was intense. I was so stressed that the only way I could get anything done was to go into a weird state of denial. I had expected these last few weeks would be hard, but knowing this did not prepare me for the reality of it all. So, I went into this emotional auto-pilot as a way of keeping it together.

Getting my thesis into a state ready for submission was not the same as getting my thesis done. There is no ‘finished’ thesis because there is always something that could be changed / improved upon / added. At some point, however, I decided that enough was enough and I needed to hand the damn thing in. I accepted that it didn’t need to be perfect. It just had to be enough.

Practically speaking, my days became highly regimented in which everything, and I mean, everything was scheduled. My thesis working day looked a little like this:

6am – 6:45 – morning run
6:45-8:30 – shower and breakfast
8:30-10:30am – THESIS: chapter 7, section 7.2 and 7.3
10:30am – 11am – check email / social media
11am-11:30 – coffee break (away from desk)
11:30-12:30 noon – THESIS: chapter 7, sections 7.4-7.6 (proof)
12:30-1:30pm – lunch (away)
1:30pm-2pm – general admin
2pm-3pm – THESIS: editing chapter 1, section 1.4
3:30-4pm – coffee break (away!)
4pm-5pm – THESIS: chapter 8, section 8.1
5pm-6pm – THESIS: check refs in new sections / formatting
6pm-7pm – dinner
7pm-8pm – everything else (e.g. laundry, cleaning etc.)
9pm – bed

This is an example of how scheduled my days became. I usually spent about 5 minutes every morning writing out my schedule for the day. It was a way of getting my mind mentally prepared. I worked in chunks of time, often using the pomodoro technique to keep me focused on making progress. I often worked on one section at a time, and not always sequentially. Working this way helped me focus mentally on the immediate task at hand and psychologically kept me from becoming overwhelmed. I’m not sure if this was the most effective way of working but, at the time, it worked for me. Looking back, I realised it was my way of creating some semblance of control over my life. At the time, I thought I was a good way to monitor my progress. In the end I suppose it was a bit of both.

I continued following this schedule for several weeks and although I made steady progress on my thesis, I was miserable. I see myself as a relatively calm and grounded individual, so reaching this level of stress was very, very hard on my mental health. At the time I didn’t realise I had gone into auto-pilot emotionally. All I knew is that I didn’t feel quite myself. It’s been over a month since I’ve submitted my thesis, yet, it is only now that I’m able to process my experiences. I still feel like I’m recovering.

(“Under Pressure” Image by eschipul licensed CC BY-NC-SA)

For those of you who submitted your thesis, and those of you who are submitting soon, what were/are your final few weeks like? Please share you experiences in the comments below.

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