Even more fear!

Posted by September Blue Friday, 28 December 2007

You know how some people can't stand hearing their own voice on an answerphone? How they (we) cower away, hands over ears, squeaking "Do I really sound like that? I don't sound like that, do I?", and refuse to be in the same room if the thing needs to be replayed? I am also like that with my work. When I'm writing, I can revise and rewrite ad infinitum (and if I had a different supervisor, that might not be an exaggeration; I see your stories of supervisors sending Strongly Worded E-mails and raise you my supervisor appearing out of nowhere to shout 'Go back to your desk and write your damn thesis!' at me down corridors), but once it's done, it's done. Gone. Over. I never want to see it again. Re-reading my own work is like operating on my own scalp, without anaesthetic or a mirror.

As you can guess, then, re-reading my entire PhD thesis as viva preparation is not my idea of fun.

The agony is of several types. First, there is the stabbing pain experienced when spotting a typo, or a messed-up reference, or a 'p.???' next to a quotation, or on at least one occasion an actual missing word and how the hell did I not notice that?, knowing that my examiners will see exactly the same thing and that there is nothing I can do to fix it, short of sneaking into their offices with Tipp-Ex, which let's just pretend is ethically beneath me. I knew this was coming, and numbed myself to it with Twiglets and several episodes of The Armando Iannucci Show to reward myself with when the pain gets too bad.

Second is the growing realisation, radiating across my soul like the tendrils of a migraine, that I cannot actually write. This isn't true, really - my academic prose style might not be anything to lead troops into battle with, but it is, she says humbly, usually somewhere around 'decent' - but re-reading brings all the flaws to the front. All the flaws. Every single awkward sentence construction from pages 1 to 36 is now scratched in letters of fire on the thin, trembling membrane of my self-esteem, and I only stopped there because I couldn't bear to read any further.

Third is a nagging ache, threatening to explode into something terrible. Re-reading, you see, means reading my entire thesis from front cover to back, in that order. And I, um... I haven't actually done this before. Obviously, I've read and re-read all of it, at different points, and obviously I've done some thinking about how various chapters fitted together, and obviously I've re-read the second half of chapter 3 with the new conclusions from chapter 2 in mind, and so on, but I've never actually read through the whole thing as an entity in its own right. Yes, maybe this would have been a good idea, but, listen, the only time when I had the whole thing together to read was at 4.30am on the night before the submission deadline, and I was very, very tired and had not yet entered the weirdly euphoric state I ended up in for most of the next day, and also I was busy with more immediate matters like making my footnotes not be in 2-point font (about which, screw you, Word) and trying to nestle enough office chairs together to sleep on and getting images in the right order for my appendix and working out a battle strategy for a fight over the printer the next day, which never actually happened, as it turned out, but had the potential to be fairly draining if it had, and anyway, by that time it would have been too late to do anything substantial even if I had read the whole thesis cover-to-cover, right? Right.

Or wrong. Whatever. It's too late, now, and if I find any massive structural problems at this point, even Tipp-Ex and a skeleton key won't help me get them past the examiners.


  1. francofou Says:
  2. What a worry wart. You write purty good, and you sound purty smart.

  3. I fear that I sound far less smart in the thesis. Although I am hoping to overwhelm the examiners by sheer volume of footnotes alone. I think this will work.

  4. francofou Says:
  5. "I fear that I sound far less smart in the thesis."

    That's what theses are for. Who can feel smart in a thesis?

    Write it. Submit it. Defend it. Trash it.

    A grueling rite of passage, nothing more.

    When do you defend?

  6. First week of January. I wanted it before Christmas, so I could spend the entire break in a comatose, pudding-filled trance, but such is life.

    And heh, yes.

  7. francofou Says:
  8. Take a deep breath.

    Let us (me) know how it went.

    I will pray to Geneva 12, the goddess of theses and her little sister 9, goddess of footnotes.

  9. Autumn Song Says:
  10. I'm also feeling the fear. And sympathising. It's nice to hear this gets better. As you say, the more you read the less convinced you are that you are totally incompetent. I'm hoping this continues...

    I'm not yet convinced that I'm clever enough to pass, but hoping I'm not bad enough to fail.