Friday, September 13, 2013

The First Submission

I was chatting on twitter with another PhD candidate about submitting the thesis. It made me realise that we all have our stories about submission day. Many have horror stories of an impossible number of things that went wrong. As for me, several moments from the last 24 hours before submission are crystal clear in my memory. Others I can't remember at all.

So I thought I'd write my story of the day before submission. 

It's a bit of an indulgence, but now that I have my results, I can look back on that day with pleasure, not with the uncertainty of the last eight months.

24 hours before submission

I was at a funeral. I had sobbed my eyes out, and I was exhausted, and then I went to uni.

I had decided to print my thesis out at uni for several reasons. 
1) It wouldn't cost me anything other than time and effort.
2) I had a lot of colour in my thesis between colour-coded analyses and headings. This would significantly increase the cost of printing it anywhere else.
3) I'd had some trouble with random page breaks appearing so I wanted to make sure myself that it printed out correctly.

I met up at the office about 3pm with Maria who I had been working with and who, in a supreme bout of serendipity, was also ready to submit her Masters thesis in Classics on the same day. 

I used up a ream of paper starting and stopping printing before I realised that turning the file into a pdf would show problems with the pagination without wasting paper. I still ended up with about 20 versions of the pdf that I haven't deleted yet until finally I decided that THIS was the last one. I didn't look at it, I didn't check again that the page numbers were on the right side of the page, I didn't check if that problematic diagram had played up again, I didn't check if a random page had inserted itself again. I just hit print.

I think it took about 4 hours to print four copies and burn five CDs.
Carefully matching the colour of the CDs with the cardboard folders

As we left the building with our bags full of cardboard folders of precious paper, there was a rainbow. No seriously. And the most unbelievable golden light shining through the uni. It was bizarrely apt.
It looked more impressive in real life

We drove to Officeworks as we thought the quality might be better, and we knew it would still be open at 7:30pm on a Thursday night. However, it turns out that six days before Christmas is not a good time to get binding done quickly. When the shop assistant said it could be done Monday, Maria and I looked at each other and left.

It was the week before Christmas so we went to the Christmas display on the riverbank because we were both too wired up to do nothing. We parked and locked the bags in the boot. I remember being slightly nervous walking away from the car and thinking well at least if the car was stolen or destroyed, I had my USB key with me with the final version of the thesis on it. I remember wishing I could wear the USB around my neck, keep it close to my heart. 

It's a little strange in hindsight.

We saw the Christmas display - the fairy tale characters, Vulcan and his volcano, Father Christmas in his sleigh. We ate cinnamon doughnuts and Maria bought some flashing light thingy. Those were good cinnamon doughnuts.

Submission Day

The next morning I drove to my supervisor's house to get his signature. He was at home recovering from a hip replacement. Then I went to uni. I needed a second signature. The entire linguistic staff weren't in the office - on leave, overseas or simply out of the office. I managed to squeeze in between meetings to get the signature of the Head of School who coincidentally had been my French lecturer in undergrad.

I vaguely remember taking the piles of paper to the Image and Copy centre on campus. I barely remember waiting and picking up the copies. I assume at some point I stuck the CD sleeves in the covers and inserted the disc in each copy. I think I practised my signature a couple of times before signing each copy. I'm pretty sure I was slightly disappointed with a couple of the signatures. But it's all a blur.

Maria was also ready, and Johanna had come into the office as she knew we were submitting. She took photos for us of us with our shiny freshly bound copies.

Submission buddies!

The Graduate Centre where we were to submit is two blocks from the main campus. The three of us walked there, oddly running into two separate PhD students we knew en route. It was like a coincidental parade.

At the Grad Centre, after we each ticked all the boxes, signed all the forms and handed over the Three Big Tomes, the admin person said congratulations and Johanna played a sound effect on an app on her phone: for one a trumpet fanfare, for the other a round of applause.

We left, and called our parents, texted a few friends, and had lunch at our regular cafe. I went back to the office, removed everything from my pinboard except a copy of the title page and the acknowledgements. And that's all I remember.

It was a big day. I haven't yet submitted the final copy, but for the moment I can't imagine it will be as big a day as the first submission day. But maybe it'll surprise me.

So that's my submission story. There was a funeral, an overly busy Officeworks, a supervisor with a walking stick, and a slightly grumpy guy at the Image and Copy Centre. But there was also a rainbow, and cinnamon doughnuts, a parade, a fanfare, and the company of friends.

What's your submission story? I know one friend had to post her thesis and her friends brought party poppers and hooters to the post office. Another PhD student told me handing over the thesis felt like handing over somebody else's baby - you weren't sure whether they would take care of it. Another colleague always expected having her daughter (who her thesis was about) with her when she submitted but by the time she did submit her daughter was in kindy. What's your submission story?

Monday, September 2, 2013


Ladies and gentlemen,

Eight months and ten days after I submitted my thesis, I finally received my results.

My thesis is accepted. The doctorate will be awarded. And all is right with the world.


During all this time I've been silent on my blog but I've always wanted to make this end of the thesis journey more transparent for students coming after me so they know what to expect.

The reason my results took so long is that the first two examiner reports were substantially different. It then took a while to go from one person to another to another and then finally to committee to decide it would go to a third examiner. Thankfully that examiner examined very promptly and I received my results on Friday.

It's a huge relief and I'm a bit numb really. It's a massive weight off my shoulders - after that long you can't help but start doubting the quality of your work and wondering what you should've done differently. That it has ultimately been accepted without changes is a huge honour and a better result than I had expected. It's been a long eight months of wondering, and promising people that as soon as I know they'll know!

For those of you from other countries, the thesis for me is the only form of assessment for the PhD - no oral defense, no viva, no coursework, no exams. So the thesis is the whole thing. And once results are received the question is how many changes you have to make to make it acceptable so you could be facing months or even a year of more work. 
(Here's a handy post from the Thesiswhisperer about the examination process in Australia.)

In hindsight, what I would do differently is start calling the Grad Centre earlier. I waited about four months, when really I should've called up sooner. They were helpful with telling me as much as I was allowed to know and it's always better when you know what's going on, even if it's knowing you have to wait longer. I probably also would've tried to work and travel more rather than try to expect when the results would arrive and thus when I would have to work on revisions.

So what now?

PhD-wise - I still need to make my final revisions to the thesis, but at least I can make changes as I wish rather than have to tick off any boxes or jump any hurdles to meet anyone else's requirements. Then it's a matter of deciding what colour to make the cover of my thesis, print and bind and submit. At some point the doctorate will be conferred and I'll then be able to answer to 'Doctor'. And in about March next year I'll graduate, with a silly hat and Harry Potter robe. So it's still awhile before it's completely done with, but the most major of summits has been scaled, and it's now just the formality of getting up on the pedestal.

Otherwise - get a job. If you are looking to hire, or know of someone who needs a fantastic... whatever I am: PhD, linguist, researcher, analyst, transcriber, editor, proofreader, slideshowster and accidental illustrator - then get in contact.

And after that: World conquest.