What it really means to finish a PhD


It’s early February. It’s 2016. That means it’s the beginning of the year in which I hope to FINISH MY PhD. I used CAPSLOCK in the hope that it will make it come true. I’m pretty sure it’s the online equivalent to blowing out birthday candles or dropping a coin in a wishing well.

It’s a frightening prospect, to think about THE END and to try not to think too much about what comes after it. (I have a massive list of crafternoon staycation activities ready to go – but that’s another post!). As I approach THE END I’ve been talking to more and more people about what THE END is like, and what it means for them.

There are several different processes, all of which probably occur for many people.

First of all, there’s the final push. The form of the final push varies from person to person. If you’re an international student with Visa deadlines and the threat of potential uni fees hanging over your head the final push will be days of very little sleep, mad chapter re-writes and a very poor diet. If you’re an Australian citizen you might not have a due date, but instead you will suffer from a case of ‘I’ve already spent four years on this so it should probably be perfect’itis. Your PhD might drag on for months, or even years, after you had intended on submitting it. It could even come to the point where you’re still writing your final draft, on weekends, outside of your newly minted job hours.

Secondly, there’s the let down. At UWA, when you submit your Masters by Research or PhD thesis you are handed a mug in recognition that have Mastered or PhinisheD your thesis (get it?). This is typically given to you, alone, by someone who hands out tens, if not hundreds, of these mugs a week. It might be a huge deal for you, but it’s not for them. You then might want to go out and celebrate, right? Except that no one else has submitted, so no one else is really feeling as excited. You then get a bus home, and you will pay full fare on your SmartRider. Because you’re not a student anymore.

You then enter purgatory. You don’t have a PhD until your award is conferred. This means that you wait, for up to six months, for your reviewers to provide comment on your thesis. Then you make corrections. Then the Graduate Research School board decides whether your corrections are sufficient or whether your progress should go back to your reviewers. Once everything is cleared by them you have to fill out more forms, have your thesis printed and wait for a graduation ceremony. This entire process can take up to 18 months. And in the meantime you are going for job interviews, unable to call yourself a ‘Doctor’ and therefore unable to account for whether the last 3-6 approx years of your life have been worthwhile. It’s awful.

You graduate. You call yourself a ‘Doctor’ (some people complain that you’re not a ‘real’ doctor) and you still can’t find a job. Welcome to the twenty first century and being one of the massively overeducated population. Don’t worry, you’re among good friends.

It’s not over yet. Really. You thought graduation was the end? But what about all those fantastic papers that are nearly good enough to be published? And after they are submitted the reviewers might tell you they are nearly good enough to be published – except of course for these 57 suggested changes. Or perhaps the reviewers think it is rubbish (and by this point you might agree – or maybe you just don’t care?) but your supervisor wants you to put all that ‘supervising’ s/he did to good work and submit it elsewhere. This process can go on for YEARS.

This is why, when I think about 2016. When I look down the barrel of THE END. It’s hard to think about what will actually happen when I FINISH. It’s also a good reminder of why it is ALWAYS impolite to ask someone doing their PhD when they are finishing.



  1. Oh Gen. This is heartbreaking. But you’re wrong about one little point. Handing in isn’t going to be a let-down for YOU because we are going to get you really, really drunk and make it a day worth remembering (or forgetting, depending on the previously mentioned level of drunk).

    1. Thanks Micha! I’ll even let you take a sip out of my mug so you’ll know what it’s like for the future!

      1. That would be a bit sacrilegious (let’s do it!)

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