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?


  1. Not just a rainbow, either, but a double rainbow. Maybe it symbolised the multiple versions of the PDF. Congrats on finishing and submitting. I think slight disappointment with one's signature is pretty normal (I hope so anyway), and you're doing well if that's the main source of disappointment.

    1. Yes - DOUBLE RAINBOW FTW!!! It was slightly surreal for summer.
      My submission story is a good one - with validation of results I can now be happy with it all. But I will practise my signature for the final copies. With a nice inky pen!

  2. Your thesis submission story is overwhelming. Just like the rainbow that you have seen which gives hope after the rain and reminded you that all is well, you were able to overcome everything that came your way prior to submission an indeed everything went well. This can be a great reminder to a lot of students who are still faced with a difficulty with their thesis that everything will be alright in the end. hence you may also want to share some of the good thesis ideas that you have learned during your thesis writing journey. Again, congratulations.

  3. Highs and lows! I'm so glad you had other people to submit with too! I was luck enough to have half a dozen lab buddies to walk over with me. One of my fellow Nepal fieldworkers brought kattas with her - white or coloured silk scarves which everybody gave me, which was really sweet. Melbourne Uni also very sweetly take your photo and make a bit of a deal out of it.

    When I submitted the final bound copies it was much more low key - my supervisor came for a stroll with me, as she was away for the original submission, then we had a drink (the bar just behind the grad office is really very useful). I liked that submission better in some ways, because it was so much more relaxed and everything was completely sorted.

    Looking forward to seeing what colour binding you get!

    1. They both sound lovely, Lauren!

      What colour is your thesis? I'm eyeing off shades of green and blue at the moment. I visited what everyone says is the only binder in Adelaide yesterday and their colours are a little restrained. I'm trying to figure out if I can visit White Law (I think it's called) when I'm there for a conference in a couple of weeks to see if their choices look as good IRL as online.

      Yes, the colour of the thesis is perhaps the most important decision left!!!

      But it's such a pleasure to be facing that decision at long, long last.