So I am just under 3 weeks out from submitting my PhD and I thought I would put together a list of all the things I wish someone told me BEFORE I got this far. Because I’m nice like that. These aren’t in any order. Some are on practical details while others are common sense, but it helps to be reminded.
Images in your thesis aren’t referenced like you would a quote from regular printed sources. You must receive copyright approval. I know! Why didn’t my supervisors tell me this? While this won’t be a huge issue for putting together my work for my examiners, it will be problematic when it is entered into the University’s digital repository. Thankfully, my university has a copyright specialist in the library who I’ve booked in to see so check if you’ve got someone at your own uni who can help. Also, the above comic can be found here!
You will reach a point when you’re going to have to stop listening to advice on your argument. That point for me was at the 1 month mark to Sub-Day (submission day). Your supervisors, fellow students, and other people you’ve roped into reading your work will all have an opinion on how it can be better, which is great. Really. Yet anything more than punctuation or tightening up a few chunky sentences is going to be too much and bring on a whole lot of unnecessary stress. Could it be better? Definitely. You could work on your PhD for another decade and it will never reach the point of perfection you desire. One month or less to go to Sub-Day and you’re going to have to believe it is good enough. After so many years working on it (for me it was 3.5 very full on years), introducing new concepts, chapters, material etc at this stage of the end game is going to make you feel like your brain is inverting. Just don’t do it. And think, it will make your examiners happy to be able to make suggestions!
Choc-chip biscuits is not a main food group.
Organise your printer in advance and give them a call to ask their advice on formatting. Your university may either have its own printing service or have go-to printers for theses, and these guys will have seen a lot more PhDs than either you or I ever will. They can shed light on this very confusing process. Hopefully your uni has given you guidelines on how to present your thesis, but it helps to get clarification especially regarding margin sizes, and the printer will now what the minimum is for binding your work.
Find a PhD student who has successfully completed their thesis and submitted within the last 6 to 12 months and have a good sit down chat with them. My amazing go to person helped me figure out how to have roman numerals for my introductory pages while the rest were normal (because that’s something I never had to do ever nor will I likely have to do again). She gave me feedback on the printers she used as well as gave me the name of the proofreader who edited her work (and she was also the one who told be about the copyrighting rules). They’ve been through it all and they can tell you all the mistakes they made so you can avoid those ones (and probably make others).
Be careful how you name your documents. I’ve far too many copies of my thesis that are titled FINAL VERSION, FINAL VERSION JUNE, FINAL VERSION JUNE VERSION TWO, NO REALLY THIS IS THE FINAL VERSION! I have nightmares of sending the wrong copy to the printers.
Check your references. You need to set aside a whole day to go through and check that the references you do use match up with those in your reference list (and delete any lost orphan ones still floating around). Then check your referencing style both in text citations and the referencing list (mine is MLA). I used EndNote to keep track and then compile my references, but unfortunately it doesn’t have a brilliant grasp on electronic sources so I had to check every single one. I also made silly mistakes like referencing page numbers for a quote as 11-10 instead of 9-10. Read your long quotes and don’t just assume you’ve written them down properly. On attempting to check one of my quotes with the original source, I was also horrified to find that the page number I had cited was incorrect. This proved quite aggravating in tracking it down again. I really should have given myself more time to go through all the references I made at the beginning of my PhD.
Hunt down and return any overdue library book. I know my uni doesn’t give out results if you have an overdue fine or fee.
I wish I’d made more PhD friends sooner. In the early days I was so focused on what I was doing that I completely dismissed everyone else in the same boat. Other PhD students know what you’re going through. They understand the angst, frustrations, and head banging challenges like no one else. Friends and family aren’t going to get it. Not really. So make PhD friends.
Make a list of everything you want to do after Sub-Day. Even if it’s just so you can tell people something when they ask “What are you going to do when it’s over?” It’s less painful for everyone all round if you have something prepared rather than bursting into tears or laughing hysterically. And, you know, it’s also nice to know there will be life after your PhD.
Or so I’ve been told.