The PhD Epilogue

After the final act, the climactic battle between good and evil, heroes and villains clashing, a white knuckle adventure with thrills and chills…

…there’s corrections.

It’s always worth remembering that for most candidates the PhD process does not end with the viva and a little paperwork. After your viva – which, white-knuckle-or-not, comes after weeks of preparation and years of work – there will probably be a few more weeks of work while you finalise your thesis. You remove any typos, tweak a few paragraphs, add something here and there.

A little epilogue when the battle is done (and won!) but where the hero has to think about what they’ve learned, and leave their adventure behind. Perhaps they find a new adventure, maybe they retire to a different life or return to what they knew before.

Don’t forget about this period. Look forward to it if you can.

A short time to finish things, to calm down, to recover, to find your feet before adventure calls again and you start on a new journey.

Finally!!!

There’s lots of Finally!!! moments at the end of a PhD.

Finally!!! My thesis is finished!

Finally!!! My viva is almost here!

Finally!!! I’ve passed my viva!

Finally!!! My corrections are done!

Finally!!! I’ve graduated! I’m finally, finally, done!

At each moment where you think Finally!!! take time to think: what got you this far? How far have you come?

And what can you do to get you to the next Finally!!!?

Changing My Thesis

I re-read my thesis now and cringe!

There are long, waffly sentences that need serious editing. The diagrams look amateur. The structure of the thesis barely supports how I frame my ideas. It could be so much better – and this doesn’t take into account what more or different research could show!

My thesis will never be perfect. Your thesis can never be perfect. There will always be things you could make better, but that doesn’t you won’t reach a point where you’re done.

Before submission you have to decide what “good enough” means, then work to achieve that standard. At your viva justify your decision. Your examiners might ask for some corrections you didn’t anticipate (or some you don’t agree with), but they’ll largely be requests to make it as good as they can reasonably imagine.

And eleven years later you might cringe!

It will never be perfect, but through submission time, the viva and afterwards you will find a good enough thesis to contain your research. Keep going until you’re finally done.

Three Cheers!

As far as I know a round of applause isn’t that common immediately after a viva. Maybe if you have a group of friends and colleagues on hand, perhaps with a bottle of something sparkling, there’ll be a call to applaud you. Probably circumstances won’t make it happen for you, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it.

We clap our hands when we’re happy. We clap our hands at the end of something good. We clap our hands to show others that we agree. We do it to show respect.

There are lots of reasons for you to get a round of applause. I hope you do!

Whatever Comes Next

Remember at the end of your PhD – after the viva is done, after the corrections are finished, when you can breathe – take a moment to pause.

Whatever you do afterwards – whether you’re returning to a role you’ve had before, continuing with research in some form, going on to some new challenge – take time to unpack what you’ve got from your PhD.

Whatever comes next, you can meet that challenge in a new way.

Whatever comes next, you have talent that you didn’t have before.

Whatever comes next, you can draw on your experience, your grit and your commitment to getting something big done.

Your PhD is a big deal. Now go do the next big deal.

Who? You!

Doctor Who was first broadcast fifty-five years ago today. Given my past posts on superheroes, it should come as no surprise I’m a fan. One of the highlights of my time recording interviews for the Viva Survivors Podcast was interviewing Tatiana, whose love of Doctor Who helped her through her PhD.

The Doctor is a time-travelling alien who helps people. They’ve taken on the name as a signifier. It tells people something about themselves. It’s not the name they’ve always had; it’s something that marks them out because of what they’ve done and what they intend to do.

That’s a little like you, right? After your viva, you’re a doctor. You did the work, so you get to be a doctor. That title means something.

Being a doctor, like being the Doctor, sets expectations. People make assumptions about what PhDs are like, what they do and what they “should” do. I think it’s better to set your own expectations. You’re talented to have achieved what you have. Keep being talented: expect yourself to do good things, but pick the things you want to be good at.

Whenever an actor is ready to step down from playing the Doctor, the character regenerates into a new persona. Passing your viva, getting your doctorate is similar. You’re the same underneath, but there’s also something different about you now.

What will be different? And what will you do with the difference?

Onwards

After your viva there’s more to do. Not your corrections, not wrapping things up, not admin. Your PhD is coming to a close…

…and the rest of your life is right there waiting for you.

You’re not the same. Your PhD means something. What might it mean for you?

A change of title? A mark of respect? New opportunities? More money? More responsibility?

While you’re doing your PhD, it could feel like the most important thing you’ll ever do. Afterwards, as you go on, you have to find something else. So what will it be?

Expect Corrections

Most people have to do some. They’re not a punishment. They’re your examiners saying, “Here, you missed this,” or “This is good, but if you try this it will be better.”

Or occasionally, “That’s not how you spell that!”

You can’t predict exactly what you’ll be asked to do. Most PhD candidates will get minor corrections. Some don’t get any. Some are asked to do major corrections or resubmit. Check with your institution’s regulations about what different outcomes could mean for you. Be sure so you can plan ahead.

Expect that you’ll have some corrections to do, but expect that your thesis – and you – will be pretty good by the time your viva comes around.

A Really Cool Post-Viva Idea

Last month I came across a lovely idea by Dr Kay Guccione: Corrections Club!

I love the idea of a dedicated space and time in a university’s calendar that says, “Come here and get it finished!”

Even if you’ve got more to do than will fit in a couple of hours, this will help along the way. If you’re not at the University of Sheffield like Kay, see if you can set something going at your own institution. It only takes a couple of people to start something awesome.

Turn up, get to work and celebrate with others that you’ve all almost passed the final finish line for your PhD!