Six things you should know about the final year of the PhD journey!

If you look for advice about the PhD process it largely seems to be ‘what I wished I’d know at the start’ or ‘what I wish I knew before starting my PhD’ etc. I thought I would go a little differently and list what I wish I had known about the final year.

What follows is a list of my reflections on the final year of my PhD. When reading, remember I am in Australia so we usually have a 2-4 year program and no comprehensive exams/vivas. We find a supervisor, get into the program and work on our project straight away. Our examination process does not include a viva, we await reports from two examiners unknown to us.

Before we get into the list, I will also caution that this list is more of a reflection, and offers next to no solutions. It is more of a cautionary tale.

Things I wish I had known about the final year:

  1. Editing and responding to feedback takes time. You will get frustrated as your supervisors send back your draft with more feedback. At times, it will feel as if you cannot get it right. But you will. You will get through it, you have made it this far and there is no turning back now.
  2. Close editing takes a lot of time and energy. As part of the final two weeks prior to submission, I checked the finer details of my thesis. I was surprised at how exhausted I was after checking my references and I encourage you to allocate double the time you think you will need. It will take longer than you think!
  3. You may restructure your thesis and this is okay. I submitted my thesis in June 2021, but I completely restructured my thesis three months prior (in March) and before that, I had restructured it in October 2020. Being strongly committed to one way of reporting your data or organising your front chapters may stifle your creativity. I was suprisingly upset at the thought of having to re-structure my thesis; however, once I restructured in March, I immediately saw a clearer vision for my thesis and it helped make a cohesive narrative.
  4. Any sense of organisation will probably go out the window. I am an extremely organised person. I have multiple back ups, neat file structures, I make lists, set weekly goals, follow set ways of organising my readings etc etc. But in the last year of my PhD, I felt I was increasingly losing my ability to keep things organised. At one point, I accidentally started making substantial changes in an old version of my thesis draft. Luckily I realised before I got too far.
  5. The day you submit, you will feel bone-tired and a little strange. Somebody told me that when they submitted they were too tired to enjoy themselves and that it was a strange feeling which wasn’t quite the jubilation you might expect. I smiled and commiserated, all the while thinking this wouldn’t happen to me! Spoiler alert: I was in bed at 8pm the night I submitted my thesis.
  6. When you get your results, you may be scared to open the email. I received the email with my results at 9:37am on a random Thursday in July. I remember staring at the email, knowing the results were in there waiting for me to see – but I found myself unable to open them. I spent at least a few minutes staring at the attachment and promptly burst into tears.
  7. You will feel a rollercoaster of emotions. In the last year of my PhD, I felt a range of emotions and my poor supervisors saw me cry in many meetings. Looking back, I think a lot of the emotions were about my own commitment to what I had written and being scared to change how it was written or structured (it all seemed too daunting).

Now, having written this list, I know those of you who are approaching your final year are probably thinking the same thing, ‘Yeah, but that won’t happen to me’. I sincerely hope it does not happen to you, but if it does, don’t say I didn’t warn you!