Submitting my Thesis
This blog has been very quiet for the past couple of weeks while I was lost in the turbulence of submitting my doctoral thesis. I’ve spent the past four years working on my thesis, and it’s only after I’ve handed it in that I have realised what a journey I have been on and how deeply the PhD has defined my existence.
I have been passionate about literature as far back as I can remember. As a child I was always one to sneak a torch to bed so that I could read under the covers after my parents had turned the lights out. I remember when I was given my first book on myth when I was seven years old. I thought it was brilliant. I read it from cover to cover until I knew each story inside out. And then when I was older there was this slight awkwardness in High School when the English teacher had to ask me about the details of the myths quoted by John Keats in Hyperion. So when I was choosing a topic for doctoral research, myth came naturally.
I love the topic of my research, and I find my investigations into how authors use myth a challenging and rewarding topic. And I felt like I was making a genuine contribution of knowledge to a previously understudied area, as well as enjoying myself. The love I had for my research was the driving force behind my work, but it went hand in hand with the ennui that the majority of students experience at some point in the doctoral process. The depth of your research can be overwhelming, and the sheer number of drafts of the thesis you need to produce to rework your arguments to a coherent and stylistically pleasing level can be extreme. I wrote between five and six drafts of my thesis before I was happy with the way it read as a whole. As a rough calculation, I have written somewhere in the region of 600, 000 words to produce a completed thesis of just under 100, 000 words. Rewriting at such an intense level can be a very rewarding experience when you see the difference your toil has made. But it can also be a never-ending slog. And it can reduce you to leaping up in fear and walking out of the house… which is what I did at one point when I got all my notes out and tried to organise them into chapters:
The PhD is an emotional rollercoaster. You love it and you hate it. In your imagination, the doctorate becomes an ogre. A gigantic time thief who also pickpockets your social life and hobbies. And carries a huge club to knock you over the head with from time to time. But no matter how many times you get knocked out, you know you’ll end up picking yourself up off the floor, dusting yourself down, taking up the sword again and marching back into the ogre’s cave with grim determination etched on your tired face. This goes on for four years, and it looks like you will never finish it off. Somewhere in the final year, you start to realise that you may be able to beat this thing. You have been wearing this monster down bit by bit for the past four years, meting out a slow lingering death. Then come the last few months before your submission deadline, and they bring with them a maelstrom of Tarantinoesque blood and violence as you hack the PhD down, removing the weak bits and cutting it down to be within the 100,000 word limit. I had never known how ruthless I could be until a month before my submission date.
Then the submission date arrived, and by that time I hadn’t slept or eaten properly in about six weeks. A twitching combination of stress, insomnia, and coffee, I was a jibbering idiot. It was time to hand it in. I’m eternally grateful to my friends who took care of me on my submission day… I was so tired that I needed someone to help me fill in the paperwork correctly, and then to make sure that I enjoyed the rest of the day before I collapsed in relief. The moment I handed over my thesis to the nice lady in the university office was an incredibly surreal moment. It’s one that I had dreamt about for years, and finally it was here. I kept asking my friends if this was really happening, and seeking endless reassurance that it was ready to hand in. I have never reached this level of emotional neediness before, hopefully it was just a symptom of a toxic combination of exhaustion and hysteria on completing a thesis. It was also a jubilant moment, and I’m glad that my friend took me out to celebrate. Spending the afternoon in a champagne bar drinking cocktails looking over the river was the best way possible to mark the occasion.
A day after I handed in I was hit by a tidal wave of exhaustion. I spent nearly a fortnight sleeping over twelve hours a night. It was strange not having a thesis to work on. It felt as if I had lost something important, and I was just waiting to get it back and then my normal routine would resume. I had been warned about the possibility of “going into freefall” after submission by the careers advisors at the university, but it was only after I handed in that I realised that this could be a very real danger now that the focus of my existence had been removed from my life. I’m very fortunate in that I managed to secure a part-time job in business while I was still studying, and my boss very kindly agreed to delay my start until after I’d submitted my PhD. I’ve just started my new job now – it has given me a new focus in life and I’m really enjoying it.
Looking back on the four years I spent on my PhD, I can now see that it took up all my time. It was the indomitable centre of my universe- it defined how I lived my life and also how others perceived me (particularly when faced with the tactless question of “So… what do you do?” at parties). A PhD is not something that anyone should ever go into lightly, everyone should think seriously about how much they are prepared to sacrifice for the thesis. I loved my topic and researching my area, but at times I hated the PhD. But I’m still glad I did it. After all, nothing easy is ever worth having… at least that’s what I keep telling myself as I prepare to defend my thesis in a few month’s time.