It’s the time of the year when writing the thesis gets pretty serious for a lot of PhDers. The endpoint is there in the distance, but there is still so much to do. So many words. So many pages. So much more to sort out.
Is this you?
The timetable to completion is tacked above your desk along with your research questions. It seems clear and do-able. But… but…
Your supervisor is very focused on the text and what needs to happen when. They exercise their red marker a lot, and ask questions that seem to muddy, as much as clarify, your thinking. They count down along with you and sometimes you think that they are just as anxious as you are about when you’ll get done. (They are.)
It’s true. Thesis writing can be a very lonely stage. No-one else can write the text for you. No-one else can sort through the muddle of ideas that still exist around some sections of the work. You can easily feel – and become – very isolated as you shut yourself away to get completely free from distractions.
While your family may be very supportive and do whatever they can to help, they may find it hard to identify with your growing and overwhelming obsession with the text. That waking up in the middle of the night with a thought. That getting up at 4 am because there is no point lying there anymore. The new biscuit and ice cream habit you seem to have developed. The lack of attention to your gym regime.
Seriously. Now is the time to make like the lonely goatherd and yodelayeehoo very loudly. Loud enough for other PhDers to hear.
The friends you made earlier in grad school are now crucial. Often you just need to commiserate – for the life of me I can’t work out what to write in the discussion, do I have a claim at all? – and to celebrate the small victories – I sorted out how to write about the tricky ethical issue, I finally worked out how to finish off this chapter, start this chapter, what to put in the appendix. Yay! Go me.
It’s a good time to reconnect with a scholarly group too – to feel part of a larger cohort. So thesis boot camps and shut up and write sessions now provide a much-needed sense of community as well as a time to write. You are not the only person feeling all on your own. Here, lots of other people are also beavering away.
PhDers at a similar stage can be very helpful to you. Other goatherds high on their own thesis mountains, but not yet at the top, know exactly what you’re going through.
Those things that you feel silly telling your nearest and dearest? You can now say them out loud. Just want to moan and vent? Go ahead, do it together. Want to make a pact to exercise at regular intervals – nothing like a colleague who also spends far too much time seated at the keyboard.
Think seriously about taking the initiative too – perhaps organising regular meetups at the pub or local coffee shop. Meet outside of the university. Make it social. Make it supportive. Whatever works.
Breaking the loneliness of the long-distance thesis writer is important. It not only helps you to finish, but also means you’ll be in MUCH better mental and emotional condition when you do.
Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash
I loved this post Pat. We get so focused on the academic side of a PhD and can forget the emotional side. I am part of PhD group of gals that have been supporting each other for the last two years as we all complete our PhD’s. We unofficially call ourselves the ‘geek gals’ …corny I know! We get together at least 4 times a year for dinners to as you have mentioned ‘commiserate, celebrate and chat’ because we usually can’t talk to anyone else that would understand what we are going through. I would be lost without this group – for the emotional support, the kick up the backside that is some times needed and also to celebrate with – even just the small accomplishments. We are a tribe joined by the insanity of completing PhD’s whilst working full and part time. And I can’t wait for the celebrations we are going to have when we are all done!!!
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I have long admired and learned from your posts. This post is no exception. To add: As coach and editor for doctoral candidates wrestling with their dissertations (U.S.), I have found that, as much as any technical expertise, they need a friend who understands. So I encourage clients to vent, voice, scream to me (confidentially and generally phone or email). With their admissions often come relief, insights, and the miracle of breaking their writing blocks. At every step, I prompt and support and rejoice with them. I am happy too to say that some of the relationships have lasted long after they have attained their degrees.
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… and sometimes the whole idea, method, style, conclusion and all just rest within us but it is obviously only our internal motivations that is required to hit the keyboards and type our brains and minds out … but … I really much enjoyed reading this text. Thank you very much for posting this …