Minor revisions

Posted by September Blue Sunday, 2 March 2008

My PhD was passed with minor revisions, meaning I got a couple of months to fix some typos, shuffle around some footnotes, and add an extra paragraph or so into one of my chapters. If that doesn't sound like a couple of months' work, well, I won't argue; it's the sort of thing that could be done in an afternoon, easily. If I wanted to. If, when I opened the letter from Registry that listed the things I had to do, I hadn't put it back in its envelope, tucked it into a bookcase, and put the whole thing off until another day.

So seven weeks out of my eight weeks went past, and I didn't do the revisions, and my supervisor sent me pointed e-mails, and I didn't do the revisions, and my friends pointed out that I wasn't ever going to get to call myself Doctor unless I did the revisions, and I didn't do the revisions. I know, I know, I know. But that deadline was creeping ever closer, so today I sat down in the office and opened up the folder named 'FINAL final thesis', and found out why I'd put those revisions off for so long. It turns out, see, that putting the finishing touches on your thesis the second time around brings back all the memories of doing it the first time. And finishing the thesis the first time was Not Fun.

This was late September, when I spent most of my time in the office, working on my thesis, or at home, working on my thesis, or at work, sneakily proofreading chapters of my thesis whenever things were quiet. The rest of the time, I was planning classes and writing lectures for the courses I was teaching on, both of which were completely new to me. On Wednesday nights, I lectured from 6.30 to 7.30, then held a tutorial from 7.30 to 8.30, then went back across campus to my office and wrote until the ten-to-midnight bus home, then put in another hour or so of work at the kitchen table, then went to bed in time to get up for the 8.30am shift at work on Thursdays, after which I'd write all afternoon, go back to work for the evening shift, then head back over to the office at 9pm to write some more. Then home, then more writing, then back in at 8.30am on Friday for the morning shift... and so on. Sometimes I slept. I think. It's all a bit hazy now.

For the months leading up to September, there was ongoing noisy building work in the corridors on either side of my office. Drills, hammers, yelling, more drills, every day from nine to five. The evenings would have been quieter, but the only way to stop myself falling asleep at my desk was loud music, and so loud music it was. I was tired right through to my soul, and hating every word of my thesis. My to-do list was a five-page stapled document. I was terrified of not getting the thesis finished in time, and equally terrified of getting an extension and spending another three months living that way.

And then the computer ate one of my chapters, and I spent a day drenched in cold sweat and terror as the file retrieval software chugged its way slowly, slowly, slowly through the hard drive.

And then our printer broke, in a sneaky, underhanded way that disguised itself as just needing to be cleaned. We'd call the technicians; the technicians would clean it and print out a test sheet in dazzling whiteness; we'd express scepticism over the lasting power of the fix; the technicians would give us that 'yeah, right' look that only IT professionals have truly mastered, and leave; the printer would print fifty sheets fine, and then cover everything in smudgy lines of ink again. This went on for, I kid you not, months. Mid-September, ten days before two of us were due to print off our PhD theses on the printer that the technicians kept saying was fine, the head of department got involved and the whole thing turned into an adolescent carousel of snappy e-mails and hurt feelings: nobody had told the senior technicians! nobody had told the secretaries! and now we were whining and stamping our feet and going over their heads like they weren't trying to help when they hadn't even had a chance to get it fixed for us! Which, all right, fine, nobody knew, the fault-reporting system was messed up, but dear God we had more important things to care about and why won't somebody fix the damn printer?

Three days before the PhD was due in, I was sitting on my desk trying to reassure the head IT guru that nobody had meant any offence by the whole thing, really, honestly, and it wasn't that we were angry with him, per se, or any of the others, and we knew everyone was doing the best they could, really we did, but things were kind of urgent here so - no, no, I wasn't implying he didn't care about that, it's just that we are handing these in on Friday so - no, we weren't mad at anybody personally... etc. It was one of the most surreal moments of my academic career so far, perfected when my e-mail notification went 'bing!' and the IT guru saw an e-mail from the other nearly-done printerless PhD student titled something like 'Re: WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE INCOMPETENT FUCKWITS AND HOW IS IT OUR FAULT?' Heh.

I was crushingly, achingly tired, and writing, writing, writing (and then teaching, and writing lectures, and going to work, and coming back to the office, and writing, writing, writing some more). I wanted to curl up in a little heap under my desk and cry myself to sleep, and if I hadn't been so scared of not being finished in time I think I would have done. I remember sitting in the office late one night, my head buried in my hands, muttering 'I don't want to do this, I don't want to do this, I don't want to do this,' over and over again. When I found out I had an extra two days to finish the thesis, I considered taking them for maybe thirty seconds before deciding that if I had to spend two more days on the damn thing, I would either collapse or go crazy or both. I knew that. I still know it now.

And yet, the day of the deadline I'd passed into some weird euphoric state, smiling and joking and noticing how beautiful the world was. I didn't care that I'd had two hours of sleep, or that the new printer was spitting out my pages all over the floor, or that I'd forgotten to bring in my student card and would have to face down the ogres at Registry without it. The world was a good place again. I was almost skipping along the path down to the Registry office; I couldn't keep myself from smiling for hours afterwards. I had my self back. And what got me from misery to euphoria was the knowledge that it was done, and that I was never, never, never again going to have to spend one more night working on that damn thesis.

All of which is why I left my corrections to the absolute last minute (and why I was back in the office three hours ago, yelling "Oh, you will NOT do this to me again!" at a printer). But now, finally, finally, it's all done.

Can I call myself Dr yet? Please?


  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. Yes, Doc.

  3. Autumn Song Says:
  4. Now I'm worried. I'm sure my 'you have to get your final hard bound copy in to registry' letter said May on it. I've checked this 4 times, and now, reading this, I'm very very worried that I've missed the deadline and won't get to graduate. But I don't have time to go home, find the letter and check. Eeek!

  5. Oh, don't worry! I don't have a hardbound copy yet either - the final revisions are on an unbound printout for the internal examiner to approve of before I get it bound. May sounds reasonable for the final copies.