It does happen! Finishing the thesis (Linda Kirkman)

Photo by Linda Kirkman

Finishing the writing

I completed my first full thesis draft on Monday, 12 January 2015.

On the afternoon of the day before, while driving to attend a party with my Central Victorian Twitter tribe, I decided that Monday would be the day I finished the full document.

The feeling of excitement was awesome! I resolved that it would be done, and told everyone at the party that night of this plan. I drank too much Prosecco to celebrate in advance. Oh well. But I was still at the lab before 8 am Monday, and got stuck into it!

I used the template suggested by Pat Thompson for constructing a conclusion: what I set out to do; how I did it; what I found; where it fits in with the existing literature; the implications or 'so what?' factor; and its limitations. I checked that the sources I used in the conclusion were in the lit. review.

I considered adding a quote from Sasha Roseneil,an academic hero of mine, but decided the focus needed to be on my writing, not hers.

By the end of the day, I had finished the conclusion and pulled all my recommendations together. I finished the dedication (to my father), cried a bit, then wrote the final acknowledgements (taking care to be diplomatic). I taught myself to format the page numbers so page 1 was at the start of chapter 1, and the rest went i, ii, iii, iv, etc.

I edited the introduction chapter, checked for consistency in abbreviations, spelling and hyphenation, and read the whole thing from start to finish, making sure I had put references in the right part of the sentence. EndNote takes its time at this stage when I add or make changes, so I did lots of pelvic floor exercises while waiting. The whole document is 80,208 words. The cover page, dedication, and acknowledgements add up to 666 words, so it is well under the 80,000 limit.

By 8.30 pm, I had completed the thesis and emailed it to my supervisors, then I drove home stiff and exhausted.

I wrote a version of the above in my personal blog, tweeted the link, and Sasha Roseneil replied! I fell about in a total fangirl squee. She wrote: “Congratulations! I am glad to hear I was cut and you focused on your arguments! I look forward to your publications from the PhD.” No pressure then.

Later, I made up a motivational sign for my desk (see above).

I was a zombie the next day. In fact, all the week after I was up and down, energy and concentration-wise. I was unsure if I was sick or just recovering from sustained hard work over a long time.

By the Friday, I was feeling antsy and disappointed that I had not had any acknowledgement from my supervisors. I'd expected a congratulatory reply email, even if they could not look at the thesis for a while. Hearing nothing was hard.

Reflecting about this later, and after reading Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking, I realised that I hadn't let my supervisors know what I needed. I couldn’t expect them to give me the reaction I was hoping for if I had not, at any stage, indicated that what I needed for my wellbeing was a reply email, even a brief one, with a congratulatory acknowledgement.

They ended up coming up trumps, giving feedback within eight days about some areas to work on, and used words like ‘brilliant’ and ‘enjoying reading’ in their responses. I got stuck in with renewed energy.

The mysterious bits: actual submission, and afterwards

On 17 February, my supervisors were ready to sign the thesis off for submission. Paperwork happened at their end. I like to be in control and know what happens, so it was frustrating that the behind-the-scenes process was not explicit.

I didn’t know how I could check that the thesis had been received; it all seemed to be a mystery. I knew I’d get an email to use to upload the thesis PDF. It was only afterwards that I found out what happens.

What happened for me was that my supervisors signed off on the second half of the notice of intention to submit (NOI) form, and send it to the Head of School to sign.

I was then sent an an email saying 'Congratulations, here is a link to upload the PDF’. There is no ritual or ceremony about this moment unless you create one for yourself. I suggest you think about how/where you want to do this for your own wellbeing: alone, or with support people around you? I think it’s important to plan some self-care.

I chose to have friends with me and have photos followed by fizzy wine and much cheering. Other people might prefer this to be a private moment.

A few days later, research services emailed me to say that the examiners had been sent the link to access my thesis for examination. With this email came a letter about the examination process, and some of this information I would have liked earlier!

I’ve since found out that the NOI and thesis submission and examination processes are the first to be overhauled now that the Graduate Research School has been formally established. Hopefully, this means that some of the issues I faced will not be issues for those submitting in the future.

They say it’s about three months before I’ll hear anything from the examiners, and that this can vary.

I have let the thesis go. I was ready to send it off. I have not re-read it, although friends who have are gleefully emailing me to say ‘there is a typo on page 15’, and other not-so-helpful remarks. It is done and sent, and I have other things to attend to, like update my CV, think about paid employment, and take weekends off.


Three weeks after submission, I have discovered I am really bad at not working. Weekends off still seem strange. I have some casual teaching and am writing job applications, and wondering how I fitted a PhD in, really.


Linda Kirkman has just submitted a PhD investigating the experiences of rural baby boomers in friends-with-benefits relationships, exploring their wellbeing, approaches to safe sex, and use of health services for sexual health. She advocates for awareness of and respect for diversity in sexuality, gender, and relationships.

Linda has been a secondary teacher, women’s health promotion worker, and - for the last 13 years - a lecturer and tutor at La Trobe’s Bendigo campus. She likes walking, singing, and looking at the sky. She tweets as @lindathestar, and credits her #phdchat community for getting her through the thesis.


Anonymous said…
Being at the beginning of my journey through PhD land, it's great to hear a completion story in full detail as inspiration! I'll definitely keep in mind ideas for an uploading final thesis ceremony :) Congratulations!