Preparing the thesis for examination: Days until submission

A work is never completed except by some accident such as weariness, satisfaction, the need to deliver, or death: for, in relation to who or what is making it, it can only be one stage in a series of inner transformations.. ~ Paul Valery

by @debsnet

I have reached that point of the PhD which every candidate feels might never come … only days until submission. While I have been pushing to the end, it has not been a manic panic to a firm deadline. I will be submitting within three years from enrolling but there was no real reason to work to this submission date except that I had a personal goal of completing within three years, and the thesis played along so it became possible (yay!). I did have Plans B and C in the back of my mind in case it didn’t happen as I hoped it would. I considered pushing out my self-imposed deadline, or if I was really struggling, taking six months off work and applying for a completion scholarship. As it happened, I’ve managed to achieve my personal deadline while working, so I didn’t need to activate alternate plans.

In this last week, I’ll have no more meetings with supervisors. They have a new electronic copy of the thesis and will be giving me their final feedback by phone two days before I finalise the document. Then I will be sending the final copy electronically to my principal supervisor for sighting, before we both sign off on it, after which point I’ll walk my usb stick ceremoniously to the print shop, and ask for four copies of the thesis to be printed. Whenever the printing is done (I’m told it might be same-day, or up to two working days) I’ll submit it and receive … glory? champagne? fanfare? the sound of angels singing and unicorns galloping over shimmery rainbows? … a receipt of submission.

In this post, I’d like to share a couple of tech tools that I’ve found useful in this last few weeks to submission.

While I decided not to use a professional editor for my thesis (I’ll let you know how that goes!), I was so pleased when a comment on this blog led me to PerfectIt editing software, which has a 30 day free trial – just in time for me in the month before submission. PerfectIt checks for consistency of language such as hyphenated words, use of numerals and abbreviations. Just like a spell check, you need to consider each individual case rather than clicking ‘Fix All’. Finding this software was brilliant because it helped me look at what is a really big document with a view to ensuring my word choice was consistent from start to finish.

I was also delighted to discover, just yesterday, the free online tool Recite, which checks references, including between the reference list and the body of the document. So helpful for someone like me who has done manual referencing throughout!

So the thesis is feeling, not finished, but ready for examination. The above quote by Paul Valery is often misquoted as “art is never finished; it is abandoned”. The thesis is never finished, it is submitted. I think that’s different because I could keep reading (and reading and reading). I could keep editing over and over, although I’m finding mostly minor errors now. But it’s a little like renovating a house. Just as you improve one thing (replace the curtains!) you realise the next thing to be done (the walls need to be painted!). The layers of final thesis refinement go on and on as small iterations and improvements are made. The final formatting makes it feel like the real deal; a document coming together in readiness for a home open. Yet despite my best efforts, the observer-examiner coming through might think it needs a new bathroom or a different kind of flooring, no matter how much I’ve painted or polished.

As Valery says, it is finished because of the need to deliver. And it is one in a series of small transformations; not an end-of-the-road magnum opus but a beginning-of-being-a-researcher moment of identity formation. So it feels finished enough to take flight to be judged by those outside of myself and my supervisors. We think the thesis is at doctoral examinable quality, but I’ll be interested in what three external experts, each with their own lens, think about it. Perhaps they’ll have questions about theory or method. Perhaps corrections will be minor. Maybe there’ll be no corrections at all! Isn’t that the PhD dream?

I’m trying to look at examination through the rose-coloured lens that it is a process to improve and strengthen my work, so that, as one examiner in the Mullins and Kiley (2002) paper said, it ‘glows more brightly’ on the library shelf. Surely, I think, the examiners have agreed to examine my thesis because the abstract piqued their interest in some way? And surely they will approach it with a view to both recognising my work and giving feedback to make the thesis a better product. Right?


7 thoughts on “Preparing the thesis for examination: Days until submission

  1. Another great post, Deb. The excitement and anticipation is palpable as you near the end of this journey. And to do it in three years part-time – wow! Your blog is a treasure trove of great advice and support for would-be-PhDers as well as a fantastic source of inspiration. Thank you for sharing your journey so candidly.


    • Thanks, Chris. Now that I’m through what I think is the worst of it, I AM excited! Technically I was enrolled as a full-time student. Ha! My Plan C was to switch to part-time status to if I needed to extend my candidature.

      I really hope this blog might help some people on their own journeys to PhDdom. I’ve certainly found the reflections of others to be demystifying, reassuring and helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Deb! How extraordinary has been your journey and to do it in 3 years part time with small children and a full time job – do you sleep? Enjoy the last few days with your ‘baby’, it must fly the coop soon to meet with different places and different people. You have done a great job of nurturing it, checking to see if it’s traveling well, making sure it looks (and reads) the part – now time to share your good work -of course it will return home after its adventure all the more grown up and ready to take on the world. My best wishes to you and thanks for sharing your journey…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jo! As I said in my reply to Chris, technically I was enrolled as a full-time student as I was aiming for a 3-4 year completion time. I’m really not sure what I’ll do once I send this baby off into the world. Sleep? Enjoy my summer? Write copious journal articles? Sit in the dark and mourn the loss of what has been one of the most transformative and exhilarating learning experiences of my life?

      No doubt future posts will be full of pictures of the beach and other not-working-on-the-PhD recovery.

      Thanks so much for your solidarity and support, PhD sista. It means a lot!

      Liked by 1 person

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