2017 – PhD Reflections

As Sam has already blogged (in very flattering terms), I passed my viva on Friday 16th December. (Minor corrections if you were wondering). Following this I have taken two weeks of radio silence to celebrate Christmas, the end of 2016, and to try and get my head around what I’ve achieved over the last few years. I managed to do the first two. The PhD seems a bit like a dream. I know I did it – it’s sitting in front of me and it’s large enough I could bludgeon an intruder with it should I so choose. Whilst many people use the metaphor of pregnancy to discuss doing a PhD, I prefer the idea of running. Earlier this year I did a half marathon and the experience was not dissimilar: there are times when you don’t see how you can finish, let alone start, and it’s a matter of setting yourself a target and then putting one foot (or one word) in front of another until it’s done. Equally, in the moments after you run a long distance, you get a rush of endorphins and then it’s done. Your body holds the aches of exertion – my back is never going to be the same after the PhD – but ultimately the pain is over. And be assured, doing a PhD is incredibly difficult in ways that you won’t realise or expect.

A little over two years ago I wrote a blog full of advice about doing a PhD. During this blog I questioned whether I wouldn’t find my opinions laughable by the end of my studies. Returning to this post, I still agree with it though I might add an addendum or two.

“Passion/ Know thyself”: I stand by this advice. In fact, I think it’s darned good advice for those thinking of doing a PhD. Passion is not just a great episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it’s a major motivator. It was a relief that when I got to the end of this process, I didn’t hate my work. I was proud of it and I’m even looking forward to doing my corrections. And if you don’t know yourself at the beginning of a PhD, you certainly will by the end.

Practical Advice: If I had anything to add to my practical advice it would be to include more holidays. Especially towards submission. Keep a balance of academic and non-academic friends. The academic friends will understand your pain and the non-academic ones will keep you grounded.

Viva: I don’t have extensive advice for the viva partly because so many other people have written on this topic. I found Sophie Coulombeau’s advice particularly useful which you can read here. Much of the advice I read was very contradictory. In the end it all came back to ‘knowing yourself’, which you should do by the end of your PhD. You have to find what works for you. For me, it was the realisation that I wasn’t rehearsing answers, rather I was preparing my thinking process for an oral examination in which I would be disseminating information in a very different way to writing up.

Filing/ Books: You need a filing system and a triple back-up system. Email yourself copies of your work. Date everything. Have files within files. Know where all your notes are. Put more publication information than you think you need. Always work from the same editions of texts where possible.

Cut down on paper waste. I have used four PhD notebooks, two lever arch files of chapter drafts, and, including primary texts, I only bought 15 books in total. I found typing up all my notes very useful as the search option in Word made finding quotations superbly easy.

I guess the only other thing to say at this point is that a great supervisor makes all the difference, and I found that in Sam. Our lunches during the summer before I submitted kept me sane and she dedicated so much time to reassuring me about my ability. We were a formidable PhD team.

Nor would I have been able to submit if it wasn’t for Bill who is a formatting genius. Which, it turns out, I am not. He made my thesis look beautiful and ready to be read.

Oh, and if you are thinking of doing a PhD, get ready to spend more time in your pyjamas, eating food out of tins than you did as an undergrad.


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2 Responses to 2017 – PhD Reflections

  1. Useful thoughts Kaja. Every PhD journey is unique and that is why it is so tricky to give advice or to even talk about it at times. I was going to ask you to write something on the viva that would be useful for other doctoral students so I am glad you put together these words. I think you probably don’t have closure yet as it is still quite raw and you need to do the corrections but I look forward to graduation in the abbey and presenting you with your hard earned award!! We were a great team yes perhaps even legendary! I am glad fate and OGOM threw us together!

    • firekrank says:

      Thank you. It is hard to write about the PhD. Even now I’m not sure I have perspective on it. I will write a little more about the viva as I think it’s hard to understand what the purpose of the preparation is. Also, I did some really fun things to prepare which made me smile. I think have PhD-lag. That’s a thing, right?

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