Mommy PhD: The last steps

Lisa Kane_Mommy PhD_Last Steps

At last – the publisher! I handed over the PhD in PDF. Got the quote; approved the quote. Cleared up a niggle regarding the university regulations about hard/soft binding via and confirmed numbers of copies required. Got the invoice; paid the invoice. Then waited… remembered that I didn’t have a cover! But the kind man at the print shop made up a cover for me — very plain but suitable. An hour later. Hurrah!! A real, live, proof! I was so excited that I took a photo of Crystal behind the desk at the print shop. I hope she has forgiven me for posting her picture on Facebook – she wasn’t very happy with the pic – but I thought she was such a warm, efficient and special lady that she deserved a photo credit. And anyway I was delirious with relief.

So surely, now, time to post it off. Alas, no. Lots of niggles that I just couldn’t leave be: pages not lining up side by side; graphics, which looked lovely on the screen, suddenly seemed weird printed. I mean really, REALLY weird. Too weird to leave. And then the Figure  I had annotated with a blue dotted blob. More weird. And finally, a speed wobble in the glue. Deep, deep, DEEP breath.

Friday was not to be the day I sent off my thesis. Monday wasn’t the day either. Not even Tuesday would not be the day I’d finally send this thing off. Deep breath (again). I dig deep into my reserves of bloody-mindedness and then realise that I simply don’t have any reserves left, so I dig deep into my bank balance. At this stage, I choose to pay someone who knows how to do this kind of print-checking stuff and who has the patience I no longer have. Enough already!

TIP: Budget time and money for help at the very, very end.

Mommy PhD: Biting tails

Lisa Kane_Mommy PhD_Biting bullets

Over the last few weeks of my PhD my Facebook posts grew in number and prophetic statements: “Nearly there!!” I wrote. “So close I can almost smell the printer!!” “Days to go!!” “Hours to go!!”

Well, how naive was I. Those last few jobs stretched on endlessly and took about four times longer than expected. “The tail of the lizard,” my Zimbabwean husband chimed in, “is always the hardest to eat.”

Knowing this, don’t be a fool like me, and think that those final jobs will be done in a flash. One of the big reasons for my delays were leaving those tricky-to-find page numbers of quotes till last. I realised too late that the page numbers for those classic quotes don’t get any easier to find just because you have procrastinated about them for a few years.

Sure, Google did a great job finding some of the sources, but those classic quotes I had from material dating back to 1937 ended up staying in the drafts folder. By that stage of the process my tired eyes simply couldn’t scan the page for quotes anymore.

TIP: Bite this bullet early on and find the quote page number, or ditch the quote.

Mommy PhD: Guilt

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In the midst of PhD completion crisis management I felt Guilty all of the time. Guilty about the lack of order, the lack of time, energy, attention. Guilty about the toilet paper and cereal running out. (“Really” said the devil on my shoulder”, what kind of a mom does that?!”) and guilty about the outbreaks of frustration that would erupt from time to time and turn me into a whirling dervish of the not-so-saintly kind. White guilt, mothering guilt, working class guilt, I was capable if it all, in whatever shade or hue you wished to see.
Fast forward then to the end of my PhD studies when the light is clear at the end of the tunnel and the chaos is receding. What do I do? Do I start ticking off those (by now voluminous) mother-to-do lists and start feeling holy and self-satisfied?! Are you kidding, I help start up a very worthy but very time consuming NGO and I move house. Several people close to me asked:”are you mad?!” In a way, I was. I was so ingrained, so practiced, so habitually used to feeling guilty that I selected things to do which just perpetuated that feeling which had become “me”. But of course it wasn’t really me. So thanks to some wise counsel I am experiencing the giddy weird experience of paying bills on time, gardening, shopping and doing the Domestic Goddess thing. Strangely difficult for a recovering Guilt Martyr but quite fun when I allow it to be.

Mommy PhD: The last 500m

Mommy PhD: The last 500m

Lisa Kane_Mommy PhD_Last 500mSurely, I thought, I will get to the printer today?! All I need to do is to convert my Word file to PDF and then we are done?! Well, it seems that every step of the PhD process is designed to test your fortitude and iron will.

There must be a special place in hell reserved for the programmers who put together the software for converting Word to PDF documents. Maybe they had some real belly laughs around the water cooler about those random errors generated by the Word to PDF conversion of long documents. Haha!

When you finally, finally decide that the thesis is finished and that you are ready to take the next step and that the next step is a mountain called Adobe is sore indeed. I probably should have smelt a rat when the publisher laughed when asked him if he did the Word to PDF conversion in-house. Hahaha.

I had already read the horror stories online and had decided to enroll help to do this. But what should surely have taken two minutes ended up taking nearly six hours. You would think converting Word to PDF simply means the output PDF pages would look exactly like the output Word pages, right? But no!!

Figure captions, which were perfectly placed in Word suddenly unmoored themselves and floated around the page in the PDF; labels on figures would similarly go walkabout; page numbers would fail to correlate and most mysteriously the notes formatting simply failed.

In the end I checked it again, sent a little prayer and whisked it off to the printer, reassuring myself that the reader wouldn’t be familiar with the Word version and so wouldn’t know what they were missing out on.

TIP: Leave yourself wide margins of time at the end. Find a friend, or pay someone to help you with desktop publishing. By then you really won’t give a damn about line spacing, but first impressions and the finishing touch really do count.

Mommy PhD: Practical tips to overcome a crises of writing confidence

Lisa Kane_Mommy PhD_Just write

Write for an audience: Print off a list of all the people who want to read what you are writing and write for them

Revisit inspired times: Flip through your notebooks to reconnect with energy and enthusiasm from earlier in the process

Intellectual nourishment: Reread an inspiring paper

Seek out the muse: Check out the latest writing of someone I admire

External affirmation: Print off the nice things people have said about me and my writing and put them on a board

The right context: Create a more beautiful physical space for my writing

Work to schedule: Make time in my diary for my writing

Play to a schedule: Make time in my diary to do fun, happy things

Just write.

Anything.

Now.

Mommy, PhD: Ice-cream and endings

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The day I dispatched my PhD I was, frankly, exhausted. It followed a week of nervous jangling with layout and photo resolution issues, a month of seemingly endless checks on the thesis text, three months of wrangling with my supervisor and six months of tying up empirical loose ends. Exactly as some friends predicted, I was completely depleted. I ‘celebrated’ with a huge glass of red wine and a bowl of ice-cream. Inebriated, and with an ice-cream headache, I slumped on the sofa and fell asleep in front of the TV. There was an anticlimax and a feeling of complete disorientation. Some lightness, yes, but also the realisation that while so much was completed, I now had the viva voce process to face. I wrote nervously to my supervisor: “what now?” My supervisor wrote back with hearty congratulations and some kind words but also a reminder that the process was far from over and that the viva could well throw up more revisions, and some months of work.
When would it end? Well, of course it wouldn’t ever really end. The day came when I called myself Dr Kane for the first time. A type of closure. The learning, understanding, expanding, growing, that very process that I had yearned for, in fact the reason I started the PhD in the first place – that hasn’t ended. I’m still doing that and, probably will still be doing that for some time to come. That was and is me.
The pushing, the proving, the tightening, the endless, endless, pulling together of a PhD? Yes, that ended. Hurray.
What are you looking forward to after your PhD?

Mommy, PhD: Finding time – saying no

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If you’re going to find time then you’re going to have to start saying “no”. This may be one of the toughest tasks for a mamma doing a PhD. No to birthday parties (your friends’ and your children’s). No to nights out with your bestie, with your partner. No to time with dear family. No to ‘unmissable’ movies, shows, openings. No to must-attend school events. In the end no to even the essential things – the walk, the exercise class, the weekly shopping, the Doctor check-ups. For me the only way to finish was to adopt, for a time, the life of the ascetic. Pared down, inward looking, intensely centered and removed from social context.
And although it had its costs (to friendships in particular) it had a simple, restorative beauty of its own. And through it I discovered a real gratitude for down time doing the simplest of things which I reconnected with post-PhD. Yay to coffee and cake with a good friend. The joy of it. After months without it.
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