Today marks fifteen years since I submitted my final PhD thesis.
I remember that I went with a friend to hand my copies in. I wanted someone to be a witness with me to this great moment. The university admin department I had to submit my thesis copies to was quiet. The person on reception duties looked up and just about managed to say, “Yes?” to indicate they would listen to me.
With a big smile I said, “I’ve finished my PhD. I’m here to submit my final thesis.”
They kept looking at me. Then looked down at the small pile of books and submission forms I had set on the counter. Then looked back at me. And finally looked over their shoulder and called, “Geoff?”
“There’s another one for you.”
Geoff came out from a back room. He quickly glanced over my form. He checked I had two copies of my thesis on the counter. Then picked them up and nodded, “OK, thanks,” and walked away.
My friend and I left the building entirely deflated. Was that it?
I celebrated later that day, but I look back on my final submission like many parts of my PhD journey and think, “Was that it?”
All the times I was stressed in advance of something – a presentation, a meeting, my viva – but the actual event worked out fine.
All the things that I thought would be super-amazing and impressive, but turned out to just be work. Still interesting, but work and time and effort.
Meeting my examiners. Going to my viva. Submitting my thesis.
In some respects, my whole PhD!
Was that it?
I have no regrets, but today reminds me that sometimes the things we think will be really big and important are just things. Important events are just one day. Great achievements are just one step towards success or progress. Our big news is just one more thing that someone else will hear.
And that’s the way it is. We have to find the meaning for ourselves. Your PhD success is important, but to you, not to everyone. You have to make it matter.
Don’t look back and think “Was that it?”
Make the special days as special as you can.