PhD thesis S. U. B. M. I. T. T. E. D.

thesis submission gift to self: my favourite bubbles

thesis submission gift to self: my favourite bubbles

 Yay. Yay. And yay.

Right now I have very few words left in me to write a blog post, which says in itself a lot about what the final days of the PhD are like.

But here I am.

2 years and 359 days after enrolling.

I have 95,777 words (not including front matter, references or appendices).

355 cited references.

3 illustrations.

1 figure.

4 appendices.

Exhaustion gratitude excitement pride.

Delirium relief disbelief happiness.

It is Ph.inishe.D.

For now.

Until the examiners’ reports arrive.

by @debsnet

3 spiral bound copies, ready to be posted to examiners

As predicted, submission didn’t bring with it ceremonious trumpeting, thunderous cheers, or a blessing of unicorns galloping over a shimmering rainbow. But I did get hugs from my supervisors and heartfelt congratulations from the staff in the Graduate Research Office, as well as a signed congratulations card, a Polaroid photograph of me holding my thesis and a Freddo frog chocolate.

And on the way home I gifted myself a bottle of my favourite champagne, because if you can’t do that when you’ve submitted a PhD thesis, when can you?

Tonight I’m off to my school’s valedictory dinner for our Year 12 students, a big milestone for them. So I’ll get to relax and celebrate with colleagues and my Year 12s. Then I’ll celebrate with my husband and children over the weekend.

I’ve loved the PhD journey so far, but I’m looking forward to taking a break from the obsession and luxuriating in some family time and self care.

Thanks to all who supported me thus far in my PhD narrative. Your support has been so important to me.

It’s a wonderful milestone, but it’s not over! I’ve yet to see what the examiners make of my work, or the extent of recommended revisions.

To be continued … 



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?

Risky business: Living on the PhD edge

The doctoral requirement for the candidate to produce a significant and original piece of work … indicates that the most significant and original ideas can be those that are most likely to challenge the status quo or the scholarly paradigm within which they are examined. … the ‘best’ doctoral research is likely to be much riskier than modest research. ~ Professor Terry Evans



As I inch towards the thesis submission finish line, I have been pointed towards Terry Evans’ 2004 AARE paper, ‘Risky doctorates: Managing doctoral studies in Australia as managing risk’ by the How to Survive Your PhD MOOC. The above quote is from this paper and surfaces the interesting point that the pursuit of knowledge and science is perhaps better served by research which is willing to take risks and challenge accepted knowledge and paradigms. Yet Evans goes on to note that the performative measures imposed on academics and universities encourage modest paradigm-following research, rather than that which is risky, status-quo-challenging and paradigm-bending. That is, PhD researchers are most likely to play within the established rules of the game, in order to complete within time and assure a pass. Evans argues that this results in the loss of “unknown and incalculable benefits” to science and scholarship.

This makes me feel better and worse about the PhD thesis which I’m hoping to submit in the next few weeks. Better, because I think my research is risky; at least the bricolaged – that is, bespoke and woven-together from a number of traditions – paradigm and the way I’ve chosen to communicate my findings. I haven’t totally smashed through academic norms; my thesis is still recognisable as such. But I have pushed at the edges of what is accepted. I’ve been ok with embracing my discomfort and doing things that seem, within the traditional schema of the academe, ‘out there’. My work proposes slightly new ways to go about protecting participant anonymity and communicating participant stories. It is these things about which I am presenting at the AARE conference in November.

While I am feeling proud of my research and my writing (despite having chosen not to employ a professional editor), Evans’ paper also makes me feel nervous because I am getting ready to send my thesis off to three external experts who are to examine my thesis. In the USA and the UK PhD examination usually involves a viva voce, or oral defense, of the thesis, followed by questions. Examiners are then able to deliberate before deciding on the result. In the USA the committee is made up primarily of professors from the candidate’s university, including their supervisor (who hopefully supports the work). Under the Australian system, my thesis will be sent off to three different individuals, including one external Australian examiner and two international examiners, who don’t know me or the work at all. These three people will read my thesis and send in their (potentially conflicting reports), without any discussion between them. At least if examiners’ reports disagree about the quality of thesis, there is a majority one way or another.

While I hope that my thesis is one in which the examiners think the work is interesting an original, and the text worth reading, there’s a lot riding on the opinions of three people, coming from different places, different perspectives and different paradigms. That’s part of the challenge of a bricolaged thesis which weaves together multiple phenomena and methodological threads; there isn’t a clear box in which it fits. Risky.

writing retreat collage, by @debsnet

Having just come back from a mini revision retreat in Sydney (read: 2 nights solo, away from work and family commitments – a PhD-working-parent’s dream), I am so deep ‘in’ my text that I can’t see the wood from the trees. As I have worked at the various levels of editing, I’ve been in the forest, sometimes looking at the whole lot together, sometimes at patches in between and sometimes at teeny micro details. Undergrowth. Canopy. Bark. Branches. Veins of leaves. Reflections in dewdrops. The feel of earth and sound of sticks underfoot. Birdsong. I’m so immersed at this point that I’ve lost direction. Time to take a brief step back to regain perspective. A helicopter ride to survey the scene wouldn’t go astray.

A couple of iterations ago, my primary supervisor said, ‘You could hand it in like this,’ which gives me hope that if the text is better now, it can only be more submittable. I’ll have to see what my supervisors say tomorrow about the most recent version of my thesis. Is it good? Is it good enough? Is it risky? Is it finished? Is it finished enough? Are there mistakes? Will the examiners be sympathetic to my approach? It’s so hard to know because, while I can read other dissertations, the PhD process for me has been in isolation from other students; I don’t know where my work sits on a continuum of doctoral standards.

I guess at some point, it’s time to trust, print, send, and see.