On Watching Your Proposed Submission Date Fly By

I had been going to frame this post in an entirely different way. I even had about 70% of a post written on the train on my way to the dreaded meeting with my supervisors. The one where when we went over exactly what was wrong with the thesis as to stood, but that disappeared into the unfathomable void that blog posts go to when left in the “quick draft” tab for too long. (At this appropriate juncture may I remind you to always save your work. Don’t rely of auto-save or you will lose stuff.) As this was yet another thing that didn’t quite work out I didn’t have it in me to try and re-write that post. The up side of that is that you, dear reader, are getting a more considered “after the fact” post rather than one from when it was still all quite raw.

My thesis submission date was set for the 31st August by my University based on my start date and as the 31st approached at the end of my 3-year supervised study period both myself and my supervisors decided that I would be applying for the expected 4th year writing-up extension. A new policy meant that this application was a little more complicated than it would have been had I started a year earlier, like my husband did, but it was considered par for the course that a great number of student would need and be granted this writing-up period. By mid-August my extension was granted and I re-matriculated into my 4th year.

As is often the way with the PhD journey, I encountered a number of set backs through the year, both from outside forces and from my own research. As a self-funded student I worked a part-time job for a different University to support my studies and while this is both a necessity and an opportunity for many self-funding students, it can be physically and emotionally taxing to juggle what effectively becomes two jobs. There was the added issue that all of us working in the department that I belonged to faced and that I suspect is becoming more and more common – it took more hours than we were contracted for to be able to do our jobs. This meant either working overtime for time off in lieu or working unofficial unpaid overtime. Working more hours to build up a bank of TOIL leave seemed to make sense at first. I used this to take time off during the quieter months and work on my thesis full time, instead of having to go to continue the juggling act. This made sense in theory as it meant both my team at work and my thesis got the support and attention from me that they needed. It seemed like a good way to honour all my commitments to the best of my ability.

Except this level of working meant that I effectively never had a break and was often unable to do much on “thesis days” except for catching-up on things I should have been doing as I went along: meeting my supervisors, reading articles, doing laundry, applying for funding, submitting abstracts to conferences. The actual writing of the thesis began to slide and in November I came to an agreement with my employer and took unpaid leave to work on writing. And write I did. I just about managed to catch-up, and looked to be on track to submit by August.

Up until the middle of June I thought I was still on track. Except I began to get a little nervous when I still hadn’t received feedback from my supervisors on the (very)rough full draft I had sent them. Even then, the news that arrived from them near the end of July still hit me like a ton of bricks. The thesis wasn’t at a suitable standard to be submitted for examination. It needed at least another 6 months, possibly more.

Part of me was utterly floored. No, I thought. No, I’m supposed to submit at the end of August. I’ve got a plan to start turning it into a manuscript for publication. I’ve got other research on the back-burner to start working on once it’s submitted. I’ve got conferences lined up in which to present the finished research. I was going to be applying for jobs. Real jobs. It needs to be this year. It needs to be now or the whole world will fall apart.

But the other part of me, the part that recognised what they were saying as the truth, the part that new I owed it to myself to present a better version of my research than I currently had on paper, was relieved.

Since then I’ve spoken with friends and family, as well as my supervisors about the situation and I’m much less worried about it. I was unable to shake the feeling that if I had just worked harder then I wouldn’t be in this situation. If I had just written more then the editing would be easier than the job that is currently staring me in the face, judging me for my sloppy argument and tangential offshoots. However, this week I closed the document containing the un-edited full draft and moved away from my laptop. I thought of all of the semi-formed arguments and partly explored analysis that I had convinced myself that I would just have to cut, as there wasn’t time to forge them into full ideas. The ticking clock has been quieted, and I no longer need to edit in a panic. It will be a better thesis for it, and I might just learn something from it.

Today was supposed to be the end of my PhD journey, but it looks like I have a small reprieve. I’ll be travelling this road for a little while longer, and for that I’m both grateful and excited.

7 thoughts on “On Watching Your Proposed Submission Date Fly By

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    1. Thanks Fiona. It was a difficult one to write, but the whole point of the blog is to talk about thinks like this. So many of us go through the same things but if it’s not talked about we feel like we’re alone.

  1. Sorry to hear you’ve had a tough couple of months. As someone who self-funded a PhD, I really empathize with you. I also recognize the ‘If I’d only worked harder…’ voice that you’ve been hearing – I think that voice might be an occupational hazard. 😦 Sometimes, life doesn’t fit neatly into the timeframes we create for ourselves; try not to beat yourself up about this (thought it sounds like you have a really healthy perspective on this now). Keep the faith. 🙂

    1. Thanks Hannah. It’s difficult to talk about those feelings, but it does help to hear that other people have similar experiences. I’m really trying to see it as a positive, although I’m not quite 100% there yet. Typing this up has actually helped though, and reminded me that I did actually feel relieved when I got the extension and the pressure was off a little.

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