On Tuesday the 27th of August, I submitted my PhD thesis. I thought that this day would never arrive. I had so many dark moments, ups downs, had to change lab, supervisor, research topic, how could one see the light at the end of the tunnel? But I did it. And, although I still feel overwhelmed by the whole process, it’s a good way of being tired. It comes from a sense of accomplishment. Everything I worked for over the last 4 years finally came together.
I started writing my thesis back in March. My initial idea was to ask for an extension of my PhD, spend as much time as I could in the lab doing experiments and start writing up after the end of my PhD contract. Unfortunately, back in March, something unexpected happened and I had to stop going in the lab. I decided to use that time wisely and start writing my thesis. Honestly, it was the best thing happened to me! I managed to write down all the experiments I did during the last year of my PhD in 2 weeks by using the Pomodoro Technique. To learn more check this out.
Negative events aren’t necessarily bad if you know how to make the most out of them!
My thesis was pretty much over. In fact, I wrote a full report for my second-year annual review which then became the third chapter of my thesis. So the vast majority of that manuscript was done. I then went back to the lab with a different and way more relaxed mindset. I realised that I accomplished a lot during my PhD, I did loads of work and the fact that my research didn’t lead to a positive result didn’t mean that I was a bad scientist. I, too often, see students getting depressed because they have no positive data. A PhD thesis isn’t about cracking papers, it’s about learning how to apply the scientific method, doing research professionally, doing critical evaluations, making predictions and envisaging future trends.
Stop questioning your skills as a scientist! Chances are that you are doing better than you think you do!
So, my advice for everyone that has to write a PhD thesis is:
GET IT DONE ALONG THE WAY. I am so glad that my PhD programme and the UK education system require you to write down a full report with all your experiments and data every year. That is a massive support because you can keep on track with your work and gather it together when it’s still fresh in your mind. I couldn’t picture myself going through stuff I have done 4 years ago.
The point of the first draft is to get it done, not perfect!
DON’T STRESS TOO MUCH ABOUT PERFECTION. Honestly, you will never get it perfect at your first shot, none does, not even trained scientists with loads of experience (peer-reviewing anyone?). My professor always forced me to send drafts of documents even when I wasn’t happy about it. What’s the point of spending days and days restyling, embellishing, formatting when 1. your thesis goes under review anyone, 2. you could spend that time playing in the sunshine?
Finally, please do not forget that your LIFE DOES NOT STOP BECAUSE YOU START A PHD. Writing up was a huge stress, a pain in the backside, I had days when I couldn’t drag myself out of bed. This is okay. Please don’t forget that down time is as important as productive time. There is life beyond this and it won’t be the end of the world if it takes longer than expected to finish off!