Wednesday, 18 July 2012

What makes a PhD Thesis?

*warning* this is a self-indulgent blog post. I am suffering from a large bout of PhD thesis 'tunnel vision'.

All I can think about at the moment is the massive amount of work I have to do in such a short space of time. When you have three years of work, a computer full of data and a head full of thoughts and ideas... where do you start?

The worry of unemployment also likes to creep in... I don't have a job lined up for when I finish (yet, but there are some things in the pipeline). My aim is to be mostly finished by October. My last payment from my PhD will be in August.

My brain starts panicking about all of these things at random times throughout the day, and then I can't get anything done.

It took me ages to get writing. I had a plan, but I still found it completely overwhelming.  I'm usually someone that forms a plan quickly and then gets going and I wasn't. So I started getting stressed about that.

The hard work has been done already. I know I have plenty of data, and (most) of it makes some kind of sense. The thinking, planning and discussions about my work have taken place throughout my PhD with my supervisor so there aren't too many 'unknowns' as I am writing.

I started with what I thought was the easiest/most straightforward part .. the methods section, and I am taking it from there. Once I got going I have found things to be OK. I made sure I had a good knowledge of all the software I am using, set myself templates up and decided how I would present all of my graphs early on, so I didn't waste whole days  playing around with fonts, formatting or references.

One thing I quickly realised is that I have been fairly good at writing summaries, and collating information throughout my PhD, so actually the amount of 'new' writing I have had to do is very little. I have also been disciplined in keeping my references up to date in refworks. This is making my life easier.

Some days I enjoy the writing, other days I can't seem to get anything done and I want to throw my computer out of the window. I know this isn't unusual.

I do worry that I haven't done enough, that there might be a fatal flaw in what I have found or the experiments I have done. I also have spotted a few areas that could have benefited from another experiment or another bit of data....

The biggest temptation is to stop everything other than the thesis writing, live in my PJs and become a hermit. So far I have resisted this. I don't cope well with being on my own, I start to worry about everything. I've purposefully  kept up with things that I enjoy, like Au Magazine and Skeptics in the Pub things. The social interactions help stop me from becoming isolated. I do find it hard to switch my brain on sometimes though and when people are talking to me, I often drift off in my head in to thesis land. Apologies to everyone I have spoken to in the past 4 weeks or so.

I don't read the health sections of any newspapers or magazines; they are far too much of a distraction at the moment! I also don't watch much T.V.

I am developing an addiction to exercise classes and gardening. There was one week where I couldn't do anything other than worry about my tomato plants. I was constantly googling information about tomato plants and I couldn't stop myself.

Thesis writing involves a lot of sitting, it doesn't make you feel great about yourself. I feel like the whole process, the writing, the worry about the thesis and unemployment, the constant self criticism and the sitting all slowly batters your confidence.

I know others with bigger worries than their thesis, and bigger worries about their thesis. Writing a thesis is a self-indulgent process. It's writing up the past three years of your life and asking someone else to judge you on it and, no matter how hard you try, you always end up comparing yourself to what others have done.

I will get through it, a thesis is by no means the worst thing to be doing, but it is rather a bizarre process. I want it finished, and I want to get on with the rest of my life.

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