Writing up – Welcome back to adolescence!


Having written an honours thesis, I thought I knew what I was in for with the final write-up phase of my PhD. Granted, I understood that it would be a lot more intense this time round, but surely not all that different? Wrong!

The write-up is probably the most bizarre part of the whole PhD and that’s saying something because the whole degree is pretty bizarre; spend four years on a project with only one goal: demonstrating an original contribution to research. Who spends four years on any project with only one official deadline with the risk of getting scooped or finding nothing new by the end? Me, apparently. But I digress.

Through a series of unfortunate events my write-up timeline leaves me needing to churn out a chapter of my thesis, more or less from scratch, each fortnight. If you’re writing a traditional (giant book form) thesis like me, a chapter could be the giant literature review / introduction at the start of your thesis, a write-up of a study you’ve run or, the giant discussion / conclusion at the end of your thesis. The discussion and intro chapters can be a bit shorter, but generally each chapter is the length of an honours thesis. I have six of these chapters to write…

Without further ado, this is why the write-up phase reminds me of society’s caricature of the teen years:

  • I am a total night owl. I am up to the wee hours and struggle to surface from bed before 10 a.m. As a self-confessed lark, this is easily the most amusing part of writing up.
  • I wear a uniform. So the standard write-up uniform of pajamas or exercise gear might not be quite the same as my high school uniform, but still.
  • I consume the weirdest foods at the weirdest of times. I find myself eating biscuits at 3 a.m. or having lunch for breakfast. Sometimes I forget to eat because I get so caught up in my thesis! And then there’s the writing sessions fuelled by Snake lollies. Another novelty for me, as I would ordinarily go for months without chocolate or lollies, I just don’t have a sweet tooth.
  • I get lost in day-dreams. Sadly this time round these ‘day-dreams’ are thesis related notes to self about how to fix up chapters etc. and generally, they lead to being scatterbrained about all things non-thesis. Like the time I put scissors in the pantry…
  • Mood swings. One moment I’m on top of the world because I finally finished a chapter, the next I discover my statistical software has turned part of my data into Latin. It swings in roundabouts.
  • I’m worried about getting my assignments in on time. Whether it be chapter drafts or the final thesis, it’s a constant battle to push through all the speed bumps in my way to get this thing done once and for all. As a result I have no days off and have now experienced pulling all-nighters on an assignment for the first time in my life.

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To those of you out there in the midst of writing up your PhD, I salute you. Do you relate to any of this?

For those of you about to embark on this phase, I sincerely hope your experience isn’t like mine. Some of my experiences of the write-up phase are a byproduct of my unforgiving timeline and huge thesis,* but the general consensus with other PhD students is that most people will experience these things to some degree at points throughout writing up. On that note, I can’t stress enough about how important it is to take care of and be kind to yourself. You are more than your PhD and more important than your PhD.

*I’m doing a Clinical PhD so my thesis should be only two thirds the scope and length of a standard PhD. As it is, one of my four studies would have been enough to substantiate a full PhD.

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