Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Thesis End Game

At last, I am nearing completion of my PhD: at least I think I am. In fact, it has been the continuous uncertainty that has been one of the most difficult problems to come to terms with. Will I ever complete it? Will it ever be good enough? These are the kinds of question that frequently run through the mind of the PhD student. However, after umpteen versions and a previous thumbs up on the first draft from my supervisor, I now feel I am entering the End Game.

What are the different phases one passes through when writing a PhD? Well, the first (sometimes lasting for decades!) is to decide exactly what you are going to write your thesis about. This can be a hideously difficult process as a vague interest needs to morph into a very specific set of questions to be answered in your doctorate. Some would-be PhDers never get beyond this stage, becoming serial presenters of thesis proposals that never come to anything. If you are lucky enough to establish exactly what you want to write about in conjunction with your supervisor, then the next stage will almost certainly be a wide reading program intended to bring you up to scratch with all the conflicting ideas and information in your area. This too can be very daunting, as the more one reads the less one tends to feel that there is really anything left to say. If, in spite of these doubts, the research student actually gets round to lifting a pen, then the agony of composing a first draft will begin. For those who are not used to writing even long letters, let alone an 80000 word thesis, this process has the potential to be a real heart-breaker. Were you always good at writing your essays in the exam room? Doesn't matter, this is a different skill and one for the long haul. Quite brilliant students who got Firsts, sometimes don't have what it takes to order their own ideas and words into a 250-300 page book. One can end up feeling very queasy at the idea that not only does one need to write so much, but that it must also be original and a contribution to knowledge. For those who are able to pass through the pain barrier, yet another shock to the system will come when the Supervisor reads the first draft. Usually, he will make it apparent that you haven't sufficiently mastered all the ideas in the field of study. The notes will be merely functional rather than luxurious and all your repetition will need to be ruthlessly excised.

After a long period of deconstruction and inner reflection, you will go on a second or third reading spree and become a master of the cross reference and subtle aside. You will begin to finally feel that you are nearing a point where you can knowledgeably take part in a discourse with experts. Now, furiously, you will write your far more complex second version which should be highly organized, flexibly able to take its position in a discourse with other experts and, most of all, be a complete and minutely referenced scholastic contribution to knowledge. Finally, you will need to tweak it all for a couple of months more before orally defending your ideas in the sometimes hostile presence of several experts in the field. If you deal with this oral defense adequately, then you should finally be recognized as a Doctor of Philosophy.

Not easy is it?


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Anonymous InspiredWritingResearch said...

Hi John, the first book cover is the best!Stumbled.

12:03 AM  
Blogger ely said...

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