What It Feels Like To Hand In Your Thesis (Electronically)

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    The PhD thesis hand-in is one of those life events which feels like a distant mirage of success - right up until it hits you like a dry, unyielding sand-storm amidst an arid landscape of sparse post-doctoral employment. As early-career researchers, we dream for years about this moment; the precise moment we 'level-up' as scientists, as if we've touched the Monolith in '2001'. The fabled moment of submission feels different for everybody, as we each live through out own unique experience in the final days of our PhD; however, as we each share our common ground it's difficult to wonder " What does it feel like to submit your PhD thesis?".

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    Most of my regular readers (or those of you who follow me on Twitter) will already know that I recently submitted my own PhD thesis (back in late October). I can now announce that I've received my viva date (mid-December) and I'm sitting fairly pretty in academic limbo. For me, the PhD submission was perhaps a more-so unique experience, as I battled psychotic depression leading up to and over the period of my submission. Perhaps it was the uniqueness of my experience which made me realise the commonalities that we share, the positive and the negative feelings which come with submitting a PhD thesis. Then there's the small matter of a raging global pandemic - it does affect your PhD hand-in experience somewhat.

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    You Struggle to Let Go

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    Submitting a PhD in 2020 isn't quite the experience of pomp and ceremony you might have once expected it to be. Of course there's no hard feelings as we all do our bit to control the spread of COVID-19, however it does make the experience somewhat unnervingly modest. I found it very difficult to press 'send' on my PhD submission, as I handed over my work to my examiners by email. My finger hovered over left-click some time whilst I processed the moment: is this really all I have to do? One last click and it's over? It can feel very hard to 'let go' of you PhD at the best of times, but doing it during lockdown when it's been your best companion - that's even harder. I called my Dad, so I could share the moment with him; that helped me push the scary button.

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    You Suddenly Feel the Void

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    Amidst the feelings of relief and success, you'll also feel The Void. Having worked upon your PhD for so long now, you're bound to feel an empty space in your life once its gone - The Void is what I'm calling this empty space. The Void doesn't have to be bad; it can represent an opportunity to do many of the thing you perhaps didn't have time for prior to your submission. Nonetheless, it can feel a bit odd.

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    Back in the olden days of 2019 (when you had to hand in your work as a physical copy) The Void was a slightly different experience. Back then, The Void opened up later, after you'd gone to celebrate with you family, friends, or lab group, when you found yourself back at home again. These days, The Void consumes you pretty much as soon as you hit 'send' with your life's work as a PDF attachment to a rather informal-feeling email. For me, it was a very strange feeling indeed; I was isolating (thanks to COVID) alone, and I had no-one to share my moment of PhD completion with. I think I celebrated with an egg on toast for lunch.

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    The Sweet Relief Isn't Quite What You Expected

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    You'd intended to rest for days immediately after the submission of your PhD, but suddenly your institutionalised mind finds this hard. Maybe you manage a duvet day, but its not as easy as you'd thought thanks to already having been in isolation, suck at home with nowhere to go thanks again to COVID-19 - every other day has been a duvet day, as you've already been writing your thesis from home. The sweet relief you actually crave is the freedom to see your friends and family, but this is something you might have to save for later. Again, no hard feelings, it just would be nice.

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    I realise that my insight into the PhD thesis hand-in might some across a little negative in tone, but don't get me wrong its one of life's most joyous moments. Its the moment you level-up as a person, as you realise your strength of character as well as your intelligence, entrepreneurship, and [hopefully] integrity. I'll repeat myself again, it's not an easy feeling to submit your PhD during a global pandemic and if you've achieved this you should be exceptionally proud. My words of advice are this: try not to think about the moment that your hand-in could have been, think about what it is. It's your moment, not your isolation nor just another email. It's not The Void you feel immediately after, it's a lifetime of you knowing you submitted your thesis against all odds amidst the strangest of modern times.

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