The viva is not the end of your PhD

PhDs are hard. Really hard.

They take a big chunk of time and energy out of your life, and you end up with a big book full of words, and hopefully, a Doctorate.

However, a Doctorate is by no means guaranteed. You slog away for years with a varying amount of success, fuelled mostly by stubbornness and beer, and you present your examiners with a thesis and in exchange they subject you to a viva examination.

And it doesn’t end there. After the viva, you’ll most likely be asked to do corrections (I prefer ‘amends’, as it implies that you weren’t actually wrong the first time round, but instead you’re simply enhancing your work).

It is only once these amends have been signed off are you officially a Doctor, and can go about confusing your non-academic family with the whole “no, not THAT kind of Doctor” conversation.

Put down like this, it seems like a simple process. Do the amends, hand them in, done. But reality of getting them done can be much more complicated than it seems. For starters, you’ll likely have to do them alongside something else, unless your lab or supervisor has funds to keep you on for a ‘writeup’ phase, in which you may or may not include the time it takes you to do amends. If you stay on in academia and are lucky enough to land a postdoc position, you will quite probably have to do those thesis amends in your own time, depending how lenient your boss is. If you get a job outside of academia, you really just have to do them in your own time and lump it.

The extent of the amends is of course a key factor in how difficult and how long they’ll take to get finished. Some PhD students come away with a typo here and there to fix – in which case, sit down for a day at the weekend and get it sorted! Others have more complex and detailed corrections to work on – chapter rewrites, re-doing some statistical tests or even collecting and analysing more data. They are particularly difficult to fit into post-PhD life, especially the latter.

This is something that I’m struggling with right now. After my PhD I had to get a job; I didn’t want to stay in academia, and finances just would not allow me to, well, live, without one. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been in this situation. After my viva, I struggled with motivation to get started on my (somewhat more extensive than I would like) amends. I just wanted a break, and luckily my examiners had given me quite a while to do them, so I gave myself a bit of time off. I say time off – I was, and still am working full-time – I just was just giving myself a break from my thesis for a little while. Once I came back to it and got stuck into amends, my motivation returned, with an energy to just get this thing DONE. But, one key thing I was lacking on: time.

My life isn’t all that busy. I work full time. I have around 4 hours for four evenings a week to have dinner, see my other half, to do at least 1 hour of PhD work, and to watch a bit of telly before bed. I cannot work on PhD right up until bedtime; I’ve tried before, and I don’t sleep, and the next day I’m knackered and get no work done, so it’s just a sorry cycle. One evening a week I go to brass band practice, because it is awesome and importantly, is not working on my thesis. At the weekends I run, do some food shopping, very occasionally go out for lunch – and then sit at my desk to do PhD work (or write these posts). About one weekend a month I’m away visiting family, but broadly that is my week. And still I feel like I am making achingly small progress on my thesis amends. I don’t know how to increase the amount of time I spend on them without making myself ill.

It’s a really tough break. You think when you hand in your thesis you’re almost done – and for some of you, you might be. Others may have a little way to go. But it’s important to manage it properly – whilst you might be trying to juggle thesis stuff, full-time work stuff, and other life stuff, that other life stuff is still super important, as it is throughout PhD. You still need to see family and friends and unwind somehow.

In my experience, PhD amends are a really unspoken about area of the PhD process. Of course you should never aim to have corrections after your viva, but the reality is that you’ll very likely have to do a bit of extra work to get that Doctorate you’ve been working so hard towards. It’s worth factoring that into your post-PhD plans, if finances and time allow. And if you’re struggling, talk to others about how they managed it – they may have some useful tips to share.

If anyone has suggestions on how to juggle PhD corrections with life, please do comment!

2 Comments for “The viva is not the end of your PhD”

Meera

says:

First of all, huge congratulations of passing your viva. It is no small feat to submit a huge document and then be examined on it. I was in a similar place to you – it took me a few months between my viva and the final submission. Arguably this was almost as bad as the writing up phase. I think the important thing to remember is that you have done the majority of the hard work already. It is easy to forget that when the end point is so close but the hurdles appear so large. Plan in time to do your corrections – take some time of work if you need to. Keep chipping away at it and it will come to an end. You’ve done it all, planning, editing, etc, before in actually writing your thesis so you can do it again. I found planning something good to look forward to (a holiday) was a good motivator. Most importantly, be kind to yourself and look after your health. Hope you find some comfort in these words and good luck!

says:

Thanks Meera, I appreciate your comment! Glad to know it’s not just me who finds this part of the PhD tricky. Not many people seem to talk about it! Sadly time off work isn’t an option, but booking a motivational holiday is a great idea 🙂

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