Disclaimer: I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder with comorbid anxiety. My medication and therapy keep most symptoms to a minimum, but I've been experiencing a high degree of breakthrough anxiety during this time.
Monday, it will make four weeks since I've submitted my PhD thesis. In my program, the examiners review the thesis and write reports. Once everything passes, an oral examination is scheduled. I've been anxious to the point of losing hair. I'm having panic attacks. The day after I submitted, I felt relieved. Every day since then has been utter hell. I do nothing but check and re-check my email inbox hoping for an answer. The examiners have six weeks from the date they receive the thesis to send their reports. My supervisor told me that they often take longer. I'm not sure how long I can handle this.
My supervisor signed off on my submission and said it is an excellent thesis. He is more than happy with it and said he is optimistic. One thing he said that bothers me, however, is the statement that we can never predict the examiners' responses. He has never seen anyone fail outright, and I'm convinced that I will be the first. Trying to think on the "bright side" doesn't help in the last and honestly just fuels the fire that is my anxiety. People have said that failing isn't the end of the world. It is to me. I was hired as a tenure track professor in 2017. I was approved for tenure last semester but it will not begin until I finish my PhD. It's sort of a "tenure promise" and I was allowed to go up for tenure early due to the excellence of my service work and teaching evaluations. I can't lose this job. There's nothing else I want to do with my life.
Here are the reasons I'm convinced I'll be the first outright fail my supervisor has seen;
- I feel like the language in my thesis is simplistic. The thesis itself is very easy to understand compared to papers and other dissertations I've seen which were heavier in jargon and more dense.
- One of the theories that I applied to my thesis was learned while writing the thesis. What if I misunderstood it or there are holes in my knowledge?
- I found three typographical errors upon re-reading my thesis after submission. They were super small, but they're haunting me.
- My supervisor allowed me to submit earlier than we had previously anticipated. What if he just wants to get rid of me and get it over with?
- My thesis isn't a groundbreaking piece of research. If anything, it has only managed to make a minor adjustment to an already existing idea.
- FINALLY, my masters was in creative writing. As such, when I entered into the English literature and creative writing PhD program, my academic writing was rusty. I feel as though I made substantial edits with my supervisors help, but I'm never 100% confident in the things I write.
I'm not sure what I'm expecting with this post. Perhaps I'm seeking re-assurance. I needed to vent.
I can't imagine how nerve-wracking the time between submission and viva is, especially when dealing with mental health difficulties on top of it all :( At the very least it strikes me that you really love and care about what you do, 'there's nothing else I want to do with my life', hence you're so anxious about it.
Regarding your reasons you think you'll fail,
Thank you for addressing my individual worries, Cucaracha. My academic career certainly is my passion. I remember deciding that I eventually wanted to become a professor during my sophomore year of undergrad. I had just switched from biology/pre-med to English literature. I've never wavered from that plan. Like you said, that's probably why this is so worrisome for me. Your statement that accessible writing is actually a good thing really helped. My supervisor sent me a copy of another successful dissertation he had supervised while I was writing mine up. The information was just so dense and complex that mine felt overly simplistic. I was actually deeply surprised when my supervisor sent my draft back with minor corrections and a note saying that he was happy with it. My thesis is comprised of two parts -- a 40,000 word short story collection and a 40,000 word research thesis. I knew he loved my short stories, but I seriously doubted that he would enjoy my academic writing. I was 100% expecting him to just be like "maybe this isn't the right place for you" after I started sending chapter drafts for my research thesis, lol.
Rewt, I want to thank you too. You are right that I can't control the situation and that worrying won't help. I'm not worried about the VIVA since, in my program, the examiners provide their reports and decisions prior to the oral examination (kind of the opposite of how it's done in other places). The 27th made four weeks since submission and the examiners have six weeks. Hopefully time will pass quickly. Thank you again for your support and kind words!
I want to reach out and give you a virtual hug. I know how you feel, I felt like I was going to have a breakdown waiting for mine. I had mental health issues throughout my PhD too. I know it's hard, but most academics are adapting to this strange new world we are in now, so things are taking a lot longer than usual. There's no other advise than to sit tight. Stop checking your emails though, give yourself set times to check or it becomes obsessive to the point of distracting form day to day lives.
- I feel like the language in my thesis is simplistic. The thesis itself is very easy to understand compared to papers and other dissertations I've seen which were heavier in jargon and more dense.: jargon isn't great, your work should be academic but readable. Thesis that rely on jargon are, from what I've read, hiding weaknesses. For example, the one chapter I was uncomfortable with in my own thesis was jargon filled, I guess it's a 'wow them with big words so they don't see you're talking out your ar$e', so I had to change it.
- One of the theories that I applied to my thesis was learned while writing the thesis. What if I misunderstood it or there are holes in my knowledge?: A thesis is about learning, so you've demonstrated your capacity to learn. Sometimes theories are open to interpretation, just defend your own interpretation.
- I found three typographical errors upon re-reading my thesis after submission. They were super small, but they're haunting me.: Sorry but I'm laughing right now, I found all my tables and appendices had changed to 'Error not found', I'd written 'tits' instead of 'it's' and missed loads of connecting words. I had so many typo's (I'm dyslexic), my examiners were not aware of my dyslexia and still put 'minor typo's'
- My supervisor allowed me to submit earlier than we had previously anticipated. What if he just wants to get rid of me and get it over with?: he won't, it looks bad on him. Academic's have intellectual ego's, we do not let our name be attached to substandard work. It's been submitted earlier because you've exceeded expectations, well done!
- My thesis isn't a groundbreaking piece of research. If anything, it has only managed to make a minor adjustment to an already existing idea.: It's still a contribution to your area, however you need to see that. You need to be excited by your research - you adjusted another study but these findings are new, and they're yours!
- FINALLY, my masters was in creative writing. As such, when I entered into the English literature and creative writing PhD program, my academic writing was rusty. I feel as though I made substantial edits with my supervisors help, but I'm never 100% confident in the things I write.: I had a career in marketing before going back to studies, so my writing was not academic, but my supervisors helped, your's seem to be really impressed with you so please don't worry
You sound like you've done an excellent job, now be kind to yourself, and remember so few people actually get to a point where they've submitted a thesis. You're doing great
Thank you, Em89. I love that all of you have taken the time to deconstruct my worries point-by-point. What stuck out to me in your response is that theories are often open to interpretation and that the PhD is about learning. I'm the first in my family to attempt a PhD (or even get a degree of any sort), as such the process has always been mysterious to me. At first, I assumed my work needed to be groundbreaking (like John Nash in "A Beautiful Mind"). Then, I assumed that I need to be an absolute expert in whatever it is I'm writing about. Of course, I've been studying literature since I was 18, but I still don't feel like an expert.
I know just what you mean! I'm the first in my family to pursue higher education and because I grew up away from academia, I always put academics on pedestals, like every person working in research was some how answering the great mysteries of life. In reality, we all work on a tiny area that we become experts in, but the nature of research is such that we never truly become experts, because we are always seeking to further our understanding. Sometimes we will come to the wrong conclusions, and sometimes we come to the right conclusions that are only 'right' in the time and context the exist. So in a few years time, your research may be changed, to adapt to the change in context and time. I hope that makes sense
That actually makes a lot of sense! I've calmed down a great deal since I originally made this post. Of course, I still get the occasional moment of panic and dread, but it isn't consuming me like it was at first. Today made six weeks since the day of submission! Fingers crossed that I'll hear back soon. :)
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