If it ain’t broke don’t fix it

By this time I was hoping to have a post ready to go something along the lines of “woo I finally submitted my PhD and now I can have a life again” (although whether I had one before starting a PhD may be subject to debate). Sad to say that post is a bit premature but I will definitely be submitting my PhD (first submission before viva) within the next 7 days as I really have no choice unless I want to pay Newcastle University another bundle of tuition fees and plead with my funder (the wonderful Economic and Social Research Council; ESRC) for just a little more time. In reality though there will be no problem whatsoever in submitting before I absolutely need to as it only really needs a bit if tidying up and making sure all the dots and the crosses are present and correct.

If you allow it to, it will keep you running foreverHowever, if there was no such deadline in place it may be another matter; It has become evident that it is very difficult to ‘let go’ of my PhD. No doubt this is down to it being a big part of my life for the last four years and it’s more or less defined who I am: ‘Hi I’m Chris, I’m studying/researching for a PhD in speech and language sciences’ or something to that effect has become a fairly well worn introduction. Now that it is drawing to a close and the last 8 months have been pretty much solidly devoted to writing, there is now a constant feeling that ‘it could be better if only I did x‘ or ‘I know there is another article out there somewhere that may feed into my argument on y‘ or even ‘there must be something really relevant in that pile of articles over there in the box in the corner that I’ve printed out but never quite got around to reading‘. In reality, there probably most definitely are infinite ways in which my PhD could be improved, which is one of the reasons why it’s so difficult to be 100% satisfied with what I’ve produced. There’s always that danger that I’ve missed something so blindingly obvious that’s been around in the literature for decades that my external examiner will highlight in the viva – but then again if I haven’t come across it in four years of searching, then how relevant can it be?

It’s during these times of self doubt that it really helps to remember those postgraduate training sessions (and some of the more informal chats with my supervisors and others) which emphasised that doing a PhD is a means to an end and it is not the end itself, i.e. people aren’t really expecting perfection, especially in something that in truth very few people will ever read in its entirety. When it comes to publishing articles (or reports or other such things) which arise out of a PhD then naturally that is another matter and I’m sure could fill a future blog post (note to self).

Now that I’ve come to realise that I’m most likely to pursue a career in academia, with a first step hopefully into post-doctoral or research associate positions the true purpose of my PhD has become a lot clearer. I’ve come to treat it as ‘just’ a (very important) springboard into the kind of future career I’m after. So my PhD has given me research experience and a foundation on which to build. Naturally I’m not suggesting that you should aim to do ‘just enough to get by’ with a PhD as if this is your intention you’ll quickly be found out by your own supervisors early on in the process, not to mention a viva panel. But when it comes to finishing off the PhD, the key for me has been to remember why I’m doing it in the first place and what I’m aiming to get out of it. In my case, this only become truly clear within the last year or so as I got into the PhD in the first place purely based on my interest in a particular research area that had been developing over a number of years and the fact that there was a funding opportunity available – but I think it’s only natural that something as significant as a PhD will change the way you think about things.

So I think the lesson I have learned is that while perfection would be lovely, the truth is more likely to be that a PhD needs to be ‘good enough’ for the individual to build upon in whatever direction they are choosing to go. I think I can confidently say that I have achieved this (pending viva of course!). My PhD experience has given me an enthusiasm for future careers that really to be honest, four years ago, I would not have been the slightest bit interested in.


About chrissp1980
Currently a lecturer in speech pathology in North Queensland, Australia. I'm lecturing in acquired disorders of speech and language and also attempting to enthuse students in conducting clinically-relevant projects using principles of Evidence-Based Practice. Wish me luck!

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