I have found myself in a bit of a situation regarding my PhD deadline. A very dear friend of mine has helped me see a way to get myself out of this rather deep hole, for which I will be eternally grateful (and ready at a moments notice to return the favour). Here’s how the story goes, and I hope that it is useful to someone else in need.

After my viva, I had 12 months of registration in which to complete somewhat major corrections to my doctoral thesis. I could not re-register immediately after the viva, and in the period since then, I have had a term’s intermission due to ill health. I am now rapidly approaching my maximum registration date, which is the date by which I *must* submit my corrected thesis back to the University. The due date is Monday 16th April. There is no ‘or else…’, there is no negotiation to be had, even with myself.

I am a chronic procrastinator in regard to my thesis – but not in any other aspect of my life. My reluctance to work, and attraction to displacement activity is thesis-specific. I have thesis-specific procrastination. I would write a second thesis on the topic, though it might take me several years to actually complete the project. I have recently discovered that I am not the only one to suffer in this way: two people I have spoken to recently have had the same experience throughout their doctorates. Both are very bright, very capable ladies, know their stuff inside and out, and both are ‘do-ers’. Both are the kind of folk you go to when you need stuff done. Unless of course, the stuff you want done is a thesis written.

Both said they had to be in a position of no-way-out before they could / would work on it. The result was intermittent episodes of frantic and fraught activity involving copious amounts of caffeine and self-hatred, interspersed with long – sometimes painfully long – periods where they could not bring themselves to even look at the big T. It must be noted that both of them revealed this information from a position on other side of the invisible, yet deeply significant line that divides those of us ‘writing corrections’, and those who ‘have submitted corrections and had them accepted’. Is it a guilty and shameful secret that some of us keep to ourselves until we can call ourselves Dr.? Maybe. But that is not what concerns me. Both Doctors are ladies that I admire, that I look up to, and that I wish to emulate , yet neither had learned to overcome thesis-specific procrastination (henceforth I shall refer to it as TSP) – they had instead learned to cope with it. This isn’t going where you might think it is – I am in no way disappointed or disillusioned to learn of our shared TSP: stand down momentarily and bear with me.

My point is this: it seems to me, that if others can achieve a doctorate *despite* having TSP, and go on to do what these ladies are doing now, and were doing before they finished their corrections, too (awesome things, I kid you not), then TSP isn’t the millstone-round-my-neck I had thought it was. It doesn’t have to be a problem I solve. It is merely (hah!) a problem I must get around. A question, for those of you who have by now self-diagnosed with TSP, and for those that haven’t (I envy you):

Are you ever going to write a thesis again?

Let’s expand on that: are you ever going to take on a three to four-year project, AND learn how to do it at the very same time as actually doing it, AND write it up in several tens of thousands of words, AND expound on the flaws and limitations of the work, AND defend it in a 2-hour-plus discussion with two respected academics, at least one of which will be the expert in your field, AND then correct the work in light of the academic’s feedback, AND sometimes make further corrections (this has happened to more than one poor soul I know)? For those of you that are saying ‘yes’ – ok, maybe you really will. But you are in the teeny-tiniest minority.

So, I put my hand up for ‘no’. I am never going to write a thesis again. Papers, yes. Maybe a book. Not a thesis. As already discussed, TSP is thesis-specific by its very nature. Therefore, once I’m over this mega-hump in my career roller coaster, no writing I do will ever be this difficult again.

I’m going to take the evening to steep in that thought, with the aid of a large gin and tonic. Then tomorrow I’ll tell you how my friend came to my rescue 🙂

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