8 weeks 6 days

by Anna Blanch on April 30, 2012

Deadlines take on a weird shape during the PhD process.

When I started in September 2009, I set out a list of deadlines for different phases of the writing process, very few of which were externally governed. I even set a date for submission to my supervisors/examiners.

A great deal has happened since then. Including way too much time battling damp-related ill health and grief and life happening.

Yesterday marked 9 weeks until my planned submission deadline (about 2.5 years into my PhD). Given that I haven’t yet given my PhD supervisors a full draft of each chapter that I think is remotely ready for submission to my examiners, it is unlikely that I will make this original date. Of course, there is a great deal that will happen in the next 9 weeks.

  • I really want to have a solid draft of each of the five chapters that I’m beginning to be proud of.
  •  I will have slept on three different continents and set foot on four (if you count the layover in Singapore on the way back to the UK as the extra).
  • I will have finished quite a bit of other writing – including book reviews and other popular-audience articles and blog posts.

I was reminded the other day that most of this process is about arbitrary self-imposed deadlines and that I need to put these self-imposed deadlines into perspective. They have their purpose – to motivate and give me something to work hard towards, but they are not worth crying or gnashing teeth over.

They are not worth turning me into a stress-induced difficult to be around person.

But what’s the answer for someone who’s tried to use those stressors as motivators (going all the way back to primary school).  As a swimmer I was trained to always seek to swim through the wall. To not finish at the wall, but power always through it. This thinking has shaped my approach to life, not just to research or graduate school. But it’s also led me to collapse in a heap at the end of things: whether the end of a semester, a degree, or a project. My health has suffered because of this tendency towards driven-ness.

Curiously, I think the answer lies in the lessons I’ve been learning from running.

Specifically, I really am trying to learn to operate, work, run, within myself. That I might run more efficiently and for longer, and thus enjoy the process more.

I want to be someone my family and my boyfriend want to be around. They will support me as much as they are able, but having no first hand experience with the dissertation process, and having only me as their yardstick, I don’t want to make this a more arduous process for them than it already is, and has been, for me. And torturing myself with stress to meet my own, sometimes unrealistic, deadlines is really not going to help me (or them) either.

This learning to work within myself is a lesson, I feel, which will hopefully stand me in good stead for the rest of my working life. A life that I want to involve writing, teaching, higher education administration and all the kinds of things that involve reacting to self-imposed deadlines and the arbitrariness of other’s people’s self-imposed and external stressors being visited upon you. I want to have room in the tank, and extra gears for those times and projects where, for a short period, I need to put pedal to metal to get things done! Now, though, in the midst of the 3-4 year journey of the PhD is not a time to try and go full-tilt for months on end. That would not be conducive to health or wellbeing, for me or those who have to listen to my fears and tears.

So how do you work? Are you slow and steady writer? sprint and collapse and sprint again writer? or an interval training kind of writer?

So, what can I get done in 9 weeks? And just how close can I get this thesis document to being examiner-submission ready?


Listening. Observing. Relishing. Writing. Photographing. Reflecting.

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