A tale of thesis submission and lockdown

I HAVE SUBMITTED MY THESIS!

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(Here is a tweet with the obligatory post-submission photo and a video of the very moment I submitted, with sound. Full submission experience.)

On the 19th of April 2020, I submitted my PhD thesis. 3 years, 8 months, 8 days. 432 participants, including 135 met in person during a total of 385.5 hours of testing. 269 pages. 88,245 words. Longest labour of my life.

This is the story of my simultaneously hectic and underwhelming thesis submission journey.

H-48

I had planned to have all the formatting, cross-referencing, and grammar corrections (from my English native-speaker friends) done several days ahead, before one final pre-pdf-conversion read a day or two before my deadline. I had planned to have my thesis ready (in pdf, no paper copy during lockdown!) the day before I submit. I had planned that the last 24h before submission would be organised, panic-free, composed. Needless to say, this did not happen. To finish off in style, the last 24h before I submitted were as chaotic as the rest of the PhD. 48h before submission, I was still chasing down the aforementioned grammar corrections and supervisors’ comments. The atmosphere was not relaxed.

H-24

After finally receiving and implementing all the final comments and corrections, I had to sprint through my last read of the full thesis, which still took me about 12h. Checking, cross checking, triple checking everything.

H-10

And then I converted into PDF. Only to see dozens of formatting mistakes suddenly appearing both in the PDF, and the original word doc. Submission Brain kicked in, followed by total panic regarding details such as (top 5):

  • landscape pages, for which the page numbering doesn’t show up on the correct side of the page nor in the correct orientation (+ wrong margins on these pages)
  • Zotero crashing
  • page breaks suddenly appearing in the cross-referencing of tables and figures
  • chapters and sections cross referencing suddenly showing totally random numbers
  • cross-referencing links simply not working in the PDF

After suffering through an entire PhD, making sure during write-up that I was doing all the formatting properly to avoid such unnecessary troubles, I genuinely felt like this $%£&* conversion into PDF would break me. In the middle of a panic attack I even ended up asking my friend Maggi where I could find the University logo for the cover page (answer: in Google and on the Uni website, obviously). That’s how mashed-potato-y my Submission Brain was.

H-1

But after a short night and a long meal-free coffee-loaded day, I finally fixed most issues and converted into PDF. I showered. I checked a random page just in case… and found the cross-referencing was all over the place AGAIN. I was so done with it, I did not even cry. I just gave up on the fancy cross-references and went through the ENTIRE thesis AGAIN to remove all the fancy cross-referencing links and type them by hand. Vintage. Well that took me another hour, and when I was finally done, I knew the office lady would be done with her working day. Should I just keep the thesis and only send it tomorrow morning?

H-0

NOPE. BYE BYE THESIS.

I had been told that submitting the thesis was highly underwhelming: You bring 2 copies to the admin office. You receive a piece of paper and a lolly. The end. Well, my submission was even more underwhelming. It was an email. 3 years, 8 months, countless episodes of deep misery… All over in one email. “Please find attached my thesis”. Voilà. Anti-climactic.

H+1

Oddly enough, after I handed in, it didn’t really feel like the end of something that lasted 3 and a half years. It had all merged into one big thing. Maybe like a very, very, very long year. It felt like both the end of something enormous, and something not THAT enormous. It was a very odd feeling.

This might be why it took me so long to realise I was done. I didn’t get to see a full printed copy of my work. I didn’t get to physically hand in the thesis. Instead, I went back and forth between crying to not feeling anything for a few hours. I phoned all my friends and family, and after repeating dozens of times I was done, it made the whole thing a bit more real (1st prize for best reaction goes to my older brother: “Oh you’ve submitted? Cool! Though, can I call you back later, cause I’m in the middle of a run just now and I don’t want to pause.” That’s his way of saying he is proud of me.)

H+2

Between the general lockdown and my general poverty, I was expecting very limited celebrations, but then again, I was very wrong! My amazing supervisor sent me a large bottle of actual Champagne (not Prosecco, no no, real Champagne!), my friends showered me with more bubbles and gifts, and even Scotland put on its most glorious weather to celebrate with me.

H+48

It took me a few days to actually realise that I was done (until the viva), that I didn’t have to work 12h a day on my PhD anymore, that I could do whatever I wanted. The last time I had a free full day was in December, for a funeral. Before that, it was in mid-September. Honestly, I had no idea what to do with myself! Everybody was saying “you can do whatever you like!”, but I didn’t even know what I liked to do! So I started with things that had to be done, just to have some sort of a to-do list to tick: clean the flat, go grocery shopping, exercise… Old habits of to-do lists die hard! It took me a few days, but I’m all good now, embracing the end of the PhD (until the viva prep), spending my time reading books in the garden.

Bisous,

Bérengère

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