The last few miles are sometimes the hardest part of the journey. In our new post, Salma shares her tips on acing the PhD thesis submission…
I recently submitted my full draft thesis to my three supervisors to check. Prior to that each chapter had been checked by at least one supervisor, and at least two revisions had been made to each chapter. However, this still felt like a huge milestone. I was however expecting to be over the moon; however to be completely honest, I feel lost without my thesis. My daughter also started her first full day at nursery on the same day; and the ‘loss’ of both the thesis and my daughter felt a little overwhelming, and I suddenly realised that letting go was not as easy as I had envisaged. However, the past few months have been hard work, and I thought I’d share with you a few key things that helped me reach this stage:
- Create a thesis submission plan for each chapter and the thesis. Print a copy for yourself and send one to your supervisors too. This way you are all on the same page about when to submit each draft chapter and the full draft thesis. The following template may help you create a submission plan.
- Choose a reference management software – Ideally you want to use a reference management software to cite references, because this will automatically generate your reference list, and will also automatically allocate a,b,c to references from the same author/s in the same year. I used Mendeley, and as some of you may know, I am a huge fan of Mendeley (more here), but you could use other reference management software too (such as Zotero, EndNote). I was worried that Mendeley may let me down when I placed all the chapters together into one document, but it worked beautifully thankfully.
- Choose a referencing style and stick to it – Choose a referencing style ideally prior to writing up the chapters and stick to it. I changed referencing styles about 3-4 times in the writing up stage, which meant at the end I had to edit and change the style for most chapters. This was a lot easier to do because I used Mendeley (a reference management software), but it would have been much easier if I had not changed my mind.
- Use a fast computer/laptop – This will really help you, especially if you are using reference management software too. I find technical glitches very frustrating, and these are common especially when you are working on a large document in Word. Thankfully I did not have any problems, but my Computer Spec is fast (16BG RAM, Windows 74 bit, and a SSD Hard drive).
- Write, write but only for 4/5 hours a day – My advice is slightly unorthodox, but my recommendation would be to only write or for 4-5 hours a day, at the time when you have the most energy. I work part-time, which meant that I wrote from 9am – 1pm/2pm, without taking a break, and without using social media or any other websites. I then took the afternoon off to work on other projects, or occasionally I just rested. This way I was not wasting time, and it also meant that I worked on the thesis when I was most energetic and focused.
- Check your university guidelines for formatting and submission – Here at Warwick, we have a submission guideline document, which contains all the details about when you can submit, how you submit, length of the thesis, details of viva, and also the formatting of the thesis. The thesis has to be double spaced for example, but it can be in any font, and each page has to be numbered in a specific format.
- Create a master template for the thesis – This means that create a ‘style set’ for your thesis, ideally before you start writing up. If all your chapters are using the same ‘style set’ and page layout, then when you bring together all your chapters into one document, it’ll be much easier to format the document.
- Allocate sufficient time for formatting – Formatting the complete document when it is all put together will take time, and I would allocate at least 1-2 weeks just for formatting. You will also need to add contents pages, list of tables, list of figures etc. It is up to you how well you format the document. For example, if you want your Tables to match the chapter number (for example the 1st Table in Chapter 3 would be Table 3.1), I found this guide useful. I also obsessed a little over which fonts to use, and I found this post at the thesiswhisperer blog useful in helping me decide which to use. I also found it extremely helpful to look at other theses in my department, and see how they were formatted (see WRAP). The graduate school were also very helpful in replying to my queries (email firstname.lastname@example.org) .
- Allocate at least a month for proofreading– Do not underestimate how long it takes to proof read each chapter of the thesis. I printed copies off, visited different cafes, and read out loud each chapter to spot mistakes. Each chapter does require at least 2-3 checks, so I would say allocate ideally a month to proofread and edit your chapter. I still need to more proofreading before final submission.
- Treat yourself – You’ve worked hard; you deserve a treat. Each chapter you write/proofread/edit, treat yourself to something nice. For me that was usually cake, but I also splashed out on a leather rucksack towards the end.
Have you recently submitted? Do you have any advice/suggestions? I would love to hear from you.
Salma Patel is a doctoral researcher at the University of Warwick, with a primary research interest in digital engagement and participation in healthcare. She has a background in computing, web design, education, librarianship and management. She blogs on her own website and others, and you can follow her on Twitter.