To get to the other side: finishing the doctoral thesis

I am 1 year and 3 months away from my thesis dissertation and defense deadline; the finishing of the PhD. For those in pursuit or were formerly in pursuit of their PhD, you know the feeling of that looming deadline and the intangible and yet intimidating amount of work you still need to do. Though on the other hand, I love objectives, goals, a list of things to do and thus a deadline. These parameters are what bring structure to my day and motivate me to get on that computer and crunch numbers, build my ideas and tease through the enormous pile of peer-reviewed literature. In my opinion, a little fear behind missing a deadline ends up being my strength.

Don’t get me wrong, the thesis is a process and one that I have relished over the past 3 years. Truly, my education has been and is a privilege that I don’t take lightly nor resent in any way. The past year alone has been one of the best years of my life and without the opportunities of my education; none of it would have happened. But I get this feeling that the fourth and final year of a PhD is the hardest and one where most students will waiver in their productivity and motivations.

left to right: Brandan Norman, Gill Holmes and Kevin Young. Southampton Island Nunavut 2015

So how am I planning on organizing my time and tackling my objectives over the next year and a bit? Well, for starters I opted to not be a teaching assistant. Surveying those that have come before me, I asked them what they thought was the biggest reason why PhD students didn’t finish on time and the main response was that teaching eats up too much time and prevents students from having nice chunky blocks of time to just immerse themselves in data analysis and writing. DONE. So I don’t make as much money; in the end, if you go over your 4-year time, you end up paying tuition anyways so really are you making THAT much money? Secondly, I write things as I go. Not that this has proven from start to finish that I’ll finish on time but I know I saved myself a lot of digging by just writing thoughts down, referencing works and statements from those papers that are applicable and inserted them into the section or chapter it will eventually end up in. This file is titled, “First ever thesis draft.outline”. It’s kind of an interesting file of finished pages, finished paragraphs but many bullets containing a smattering of content. This file is 55 pages long. As the content grows and those page numbers increase, it helps alleviate the overwhelming feeling as I proceed to write the longest document I will have written in my life and perhaps will ever.

So far I have found this book really helpful.

I know finishing this monster, the thing they call ‘the thesis’ on time is ambitious. I won’t be punishing myself for not finishing on time but at some point we students need to finish what we started and move on with our lives, enter the work force and start using those skills we’ve worked so hard to build. I look forward to seeing all of us on the other side.


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