Dear Fellow PhD Students

I think it's high time we wrote a letter to you, because I know at least a few of you follow this blog, and a few more have since graduated, but started following us when you were students.

If you've finished, congratulations! I hope your careers are going well for you.

If you haven't finished, I promise there is a light at the end of the tunnel, though you may not yet be close enough to the end to see it. But it is there.

I know this, because up until three months ago there was no light. It was just a long and very dark tunnel and I had begun to lose hope. But there's a light now, and it's been growing steadily brighter ever since it appeared. And I can almost - almost - glimpse the shape of that light. It's sort of curved at the top, and flat on the bottom and sides. It's starting to look more like a tunnel exit (or entrance).

I have just, literally, started the last 30 days of my PhD. In 30 days I have to have edited, proofread, printed and submitted my thesis, because in 30 days I have to be on an airplane. Which is one of those deadlines that is rather...set in stone, as it were. Or in metal.

And I thought, in admits all that work, that I'd stop for a moment and share what life is like for me right now. Because, I admit, I don't think most people talk about the last couple of months of their PhD, because they are too stressed or anxious or overworked to stop and have that talk with others. And that's unfortunate, because it's just as important a time as any other month in your PhD. But I've concluded that I really had no idea what this month would consist of, and perhaps knowing ahead of time would have been better for me; mentally, at least.

Everyone is different and everyone's timeline is different, but the last month roughly consists of finishing edits, having your work reviewed by your supervisors, proofreading and finally printing the copies to submit (or having them printed for you).

I have found, so far, that all of it is a bit anti-climatic. And I don't say that to worry you, just to make you aware. I though the overwhelming excitement and relief of each step in this last final push would be wonderful and exciting and any other words you can think of. But it's not. I'm tired. I really, really am exhausted after a very busy six months of trying to get this finished. It's winter. I'm cold. The department is growing quiet after the new influx of students have slowly dispersed to work on their own PhDs. Last week, I submitted my draft to my second supervisor, after having gone through my first supervisor's edits. And I thought I'd feel elated. I really, honestly, did. Instead, I wondered around the department for the rest of the day in something of a mental fugue, wondering what exactly I was supposed to do with myself for the interim. I'm still not quite sure, even though I have my edits from the 2nd back now (the first round, that is). I found it far too easy to fall out of the habit of writing after I finished in September, and even easier to fall out of the habit that editing brings. I have been left to poke at things, which is fine; poking still gets stuff done, but I'm not as focused or as driven as I was a few weeks ago. And perhaps that's normal. Perhaps it isn't normal. I'm not certain, because people don't talk about these last few weeks of edits.

But I'm sharing my experience with you now, not because I expect yours will be/has been the same, but because I wanted those of you who are reaching this point (or will reach it) to know that everyone goes through it. That it's not easier or harder than anything that came before. That it's going to be strange and new and weird, because everything you've gone through in your PhD experience has been that way (unless you're on your second PhD, and if so, congratulations). I guess, in the end, what I really want is for people to talk more. Not just at the beginning about how scared they are, or in the middle about how tired they are, but all the time, to people who are behind you and people who are in front of you and at all the stages in between. Because I have found that, singlehandedly, the most helpful thing in my PhD has been to discuss the experience with others.


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